Tuesday, February 24, 2009

through the fog

We're having a whole week of rainy, foggy, cold weather here, and I'm at home for the second day with a sore throat, headache and cough. Sometimes I look forward to such an opportunity to sit and read and/or write. Today my head feels too foggy to produce much.

I work with some wonderful, caring people at hospice. The patients and families are uniquely interesting and challenging. Still, I haven't fit into the mold of romanticizing death as some of my co-workers have. I seldom think of a death as "beautiful." I do find the patients and families often amazing in what they try to accomplish and how well they care for one another, but not all the time. Many people die without splendid moments of clarity, without loving family members singing hymns aroun their bedside.

Some patients, and families, are in a fog about what's happening and what they should do. I'm not meaning this to be critical, just an observation. I too may just pull the covers up over my head and wait out my life when it comes time.

The surprising part to me is how few people have, or can articulate, any sense of what their life has been about, what their hopes were, what they believed.

A recent patient I'll call Helen stands out in my mind as a notable exception.

Helen was sitting in her recliner beside one of those Amish heaters that look like a fireplace. "I am an evolutionist," she continued. I nodded and said I also believe in evolution.

"My husband is one too," she said, "but not in the same way. He believes that God used evolution to create the universe, and so there is no conflict for him." I could agree with that too, but I kept quiet, waiting to hear what was different about what she believed.

"I'm not sure there is a God," she said, "at least not one who created the world. God is Love. I don't know about all the rest. Love is the only way we'll ever solve our problems in this world."

"I don't know about Jesus either," she went on. "I think the Jews made up a lot of those stories, like the Resurrection. That's not important to me. The important part is that Jesus is the only way we got to see God."

I was amazed. No one had ever articulated their faith to me so succinctly. She had really thought it out, and I congratulated her. I asked her if she believed in an afterlife, and she said, "No, not really. I'd like to. It's a nice idea, but no. I think this is it, and we have to do the best we can here."

I asked her if she considered herself to be a spiritual person. She said, "It's all the same thing, isn't it? Spirituality and religion?"

I told her no, that religion is more the tenets one believes, the way the story about the world and our place in it is told, and the rules of the faith that govern us.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is what gives our lives meaning, what enlivens us and makes life worth while. Our spirituality may well be made up of, and enriched by, our beliefs and certain rituals and practices that are part of our religion, but that isn't all it is.

For some people, the beauty and challenge of the natural world, nature, is a large part of their spirituality. Or music, or art, any creative activity. (We are co-creators with God, you know.) I went on to offer some other aspects of this topic.

She nodded as I talked on, and then said decisively, "My spirituality is one of service. I was a nurse all my life, and helping people was what I did and who I was."

I am so sorry not to have heard more, to have had many more visits to learn how she came to this way of thinking, how she distilled her early Presbyterian beginnings to this personal and precious faith. She died the following week.

Monday, November 10, 2008

long time gone

It seems as if years have gone by since I last wrote here. A lot of things have happened, and I'm feeling old and don't know where to start. Not that it's really necessary to catch you up on my life, but I feel the need.

The first picture is a good one for me. We buried our dog Seamus there in early July, and spread wildflower seeds on his grave. As late as it was in the summer, I didn't know if it would bloom at all, but it has, and still is blooming despite the cold. That's a wonderful sign of hope for me.

Late in August I found the dog in the second picture at the Humane Society. They had her labled as a male Wheaten Terrier, about three years old. When one of my co-workers was admiring her the next day, she remarked that the dog is a female. Oops. And when we took her to the vet to be spayed, he said she was probably about a year and some kind of terrier mix. Bill calls her a "wired hair terrier," because she is very lively.

A woman in the waiting room at the vet's told me she has a terrier too, and that as much as she loves the dog, she wouldn't wish a terrier on her worst enemy. With that propitious beginning, we quickly learned that our lives would change.

"Her name is Lola, she is a dancer...." And that she is. Also a racer, a tugger, a leaper, a fetcher and a stasher. I have thrown the ball or the squeaky pork chop two dozen times before I can get both legs into my pants, and even then I need to make sure she hasn't dropped it down my seat. There's nothing like having a squeaky pork chop fall out of your pants leg as you walk through the office door!

Just as we were beginning to get used to this bombshell in our life, another one dropped, only this one was a bad one. My daughter went to the clinic during the first week of school, thinking she had a sinus infection. She had a brain tumor, a large one, and her surgery was September 11. It could not all be removed without significant damage, but it is a slow growing one and we hope for the best. She's made it through her first series of oral chemo and is planning to go back to work part time on Wednesday.

So, that's what I've been doing. One of these days I'll redesign this page. I think that's one thing that's kept me away, not liking the look of it any more and not having any good ideas for a change and the energy to do it. I do miss it though, both the writing and the reading of others' blogs. So here's a start.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

the gift of today

It's been a very long time since I've been to this page, and even now I wouldn't know how to begin without the image from Christine's Poetry Party. I can't really call it poetry, but I needed an idea starter apart from the ups and downs of my life this past few months. Please visit her site and add your own reflections.

Questions Posed of a Leaf

Would I have even noticed you
if you had lain there in the drift
of leaves all red and orange and gold
just another vivid token
an ordinary miracle
trampled under foot?

How can it be that you,
separated and fallen from your source of life
can be so exquisite in your dying?

What is the measure of your worth by now?
Too old, beyond your chlorophyll bearing days
no longer exhaling oxygen and gulping CO2
or providing cooling shade,
is your only future the bonfire or the yard bag?
Will you now contribute to the carbon footprint
you reduced when you were truly ‘green’?

Maybe in the best scenario someone’s livelihood
will be to sweep you up to make you into mulch and
spread you on the garden beds. Or that a child will marvel at you,
choose and give you (gift you are!) to someone dear.

Until then, my brilliant friend, nothing is left for you to do
but to delight the eye.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

silent running

I have two things on my mind tonight, neither profound, but it's been a long time since I've blogged. So I'll say something. Can't find the photo I was hunting though, of our car at sunset. This is a picture of the Palouse River that I took while we flew over it last week to point out the geography to a passenger.

I had to come home early today, an inconvenience on a day I like to make my northern circuit of over 100 miles. I'll have to go back tomorrow for the rest.

The reason for this disruption is that I bought a wii on ebay for my husband for our anniversary. I didn't know it would come by Fedex and require an in-person signature, so I wasn't home yesterday. I called Fedex when I found the door tag, and no, they couldn't deliver today without me even if I left them a signed note. I emailed the seller asking him to re-route the package to the hospice office, but he said he could not. Paypal has a rule that the package must be sent to the confirmed address. Maybe that only applies to higher priced items because I've never run into this problem before.

The seller told me to "just drop by the Fedex center after work" to pick it up, and have my picture ID etc. My Fedex center is 70 miles away. No thanks.

Today was more convenient to wait for them than tomorrow will be. Tomorrow would be their last delivery attempt, and I didn't want to miss out. So I drove half my route and came home, fortunately in time to get the package.

The irony of it is that I had bid on several wiis without success, and although I'd been checking all the stores daily by phone, happened on one at Shopko last week. Then I won the bid. So, temporarily I have two of them, one at the $259 price the store charges and the difficult one for $330, which is cheaper than many were going for on eBay. What a surprise, to have things cost more on ebay! I'll be selling one for sure. Interesting, isn't it? People have taken advantage of the market and the shortage. Gosh I'm glad they don't sell gasoline there, or do they?

The second thing is sad. There was an article in the paper last week about the danger of Priuses and other hybrid cars to blind people. They can't hear them, and if the drivers aren't carefully watching, a blind person may step off the curb directly in front of them. Bill sort of pooh-poohed it, saying drivers always have to watch out.

Tonight, after he pulled out of the driveway to go to the airport, there was a dead dove and an injured sparrow lying there. Lots of birds peck seeds from our gravel because the feeders are nearby in a shrub bed. The doves and sparrows are always the last to fly away as I pull in, but they always do it. I bed they don't hear the Prius coming either.

What do you do when you find an injured bird? I've taken a couple of hawks to a wildlife rehab person in town, but a sparrow? It fluttered away under the barberry bushes, and I'm hoping it was just a little battered. The dove is dead, and at least one other dove looks concerned about it. I guess Bill will have to learn to honk when he turns in.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

on blogging: Blog On!

Blogging, to me, is a spiritual exercise, both in the writing and in the reading. Maybe not always, but when it’s at its best, it is an authentic medium for people to reveal the deepest thoughts and yearnings of their souls. When I write my blog thoughtfully, I give voice to who I am and what has influenced me. I become a little more than I was before I wrote about it. It is a medium of actualization.

Sometimes I use my writing time to discover things about myself and my world that I didn’t consciously know. You’ve all done that. You’ve typed out something and found yourself saying, “Where did that come from?” You credit your muse. I credit my unconscious, and even the collective unconscious, the spirit within. Maybe that’s the same thing? Whatever it is, it is the source of creativity, and creativity is definitely spiritual.

PHOTO By oldcactuswren Backyard Tree Peony
I read once that an important value in having a spouse is that they are witnesses to our lives, as our parents were to our childhood. They can chronicle what happened to us, and how we reacted. They know us.

Even those of us who are fortunate to have loving spouses may feel that they do not always know our innermost being. They maybe aren’t even particularly interested in the wanderings of our minds when they aren’t directly interacting with us or profiting from what we’ve been doing. E.g., Bill is happy that I made bean soup yesterday, but he has no attachment to how enchanted I am with the look of a handful of dried black beans in their shiny, ebony perfection and their little white eyes. They look like smooth river rocks, and if I were building a sand castle, I’d want black beans to line the moat.

Now that’s a silly example maybe, but it’s what I meant. Our imaginations go off in interesting ways, unknown to others who don’t read what we write. There’s a depth in all of us that doesn’t surface in our ordinary conversations about our activities of daily living. Who else, except the person with a very attentive listener, has the opportunity to reflect on her day, with its puzzles and its delights, besides a blogger? Who else takes the time to focus the lens of his mind both inward and outward? Poets, philosophers, those who meditate—sure, there are people who do take those daily journeys. But how many of them share what they find like bloggers do?

Reading the blogs of others is like seeing the world through many more sets of eyes, feeling the pulse of people throughout the world as they view their own unique circumstances that are out of our sight. By reading, we have a little better sense of what it’s like to be the mother of a soldier, a greeter at Wal-mart, a woman who was raped as a girl, a daughter with the care of her parents on her shoulders. We find we have things in common with people who are gay, or who live in Africa, or who struggle with addictions. Blogging opens up the world of others to us, and it opens our own world to us as well.

Here’s a quote from Thomas Merton that brings all this into my frame of reference: “His one Image is in us all, and we discover Him by discovering the likeness of His image in one another.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

two kinds of poverty

There are a lot of different ways to be poor. Mabel told me about one of them today.

Mabel has had a stroke and can talk, but doesn't talk much. Maybe she never has talked much-- that's possible. She has a quiet voice and a way of smiling with her head down, looking over the corner of her glasses at you that makes me think she's a little shy. She does like to be visited though, and is content to watch her shows on the TV along with her visitors.

The program she was watching today, until her favorite quiz show came on, was America's Top Models. We talked about the clothes they wore and which dresses we liked best, and she said she'd love to wear the filmy yellow one if she had it.

I asked her if she remembered any favorite dress she'd ever had, and she thought a minute. "I remember one my aunt sent me from California. I think it was yellow too." She didn't look like she had a clear picture of it, and she went on to say, "My aunt had a girl who was older than I was and she sent me all her clothes. Otherwise I just wore striped overalls."

"You probably didn't have a lot of places to wear fancy dresses," I said, knowing she grew up in the country. "And you probably had plenty of work to do around the farm," I said.

"It wasn't exactly a farm," she said. "We didn't grow anything. And I didn't have any chores to do or any thing like that." She looked very sad. "There were just us kids, and our mama, and she had to work. " Suddenly I pictured an old house with a dirt yard and no parents around, and I felt sad too.

Then she remembered, "There was a blue dress I had, that Mama bought me herself." She didn't have anything else to say about it, but she was proud.

The house she lives in now belongs to her granddaughter. It is in a run-down part of town, but her family has done a wonderful job of remodeling. It has a big, airy kitchen with pots and pans on hooks and a big butcher block in the center. The walls between bedrooms no longer go all the way to the high ceilings, and there are ceiling fans to increase the air flow. Mabel has her TV in her bedroom, and a comfortable chair next to the window. She watched a magpie pick on a neighborhood cat and enjoyed their little drama in her driveway.

Another woman, Stella, in another town is dying, inch by inch, and will probably still be giving orders with her last breath. Her house is authentically old and far from tidy. They heat with a wood stove, and the living room where she holds court from her hospital bed is always cozily warm and smells of wood smoke. When I knock on her door, I am always greeted by no fewer than three small, noisy dogs who do what they can to protect Stella. As does everyone. Family members and neighbors are constantly in and out, and the respite between peals of barking is short. The most ferocious of the dogs, a Chihuahua, retreats to Stella's bed, walking all over her bony frame beneath the blankets.

The bed has been moved recently to make room for a slot machine with bells and flashing lights. Stella likes to watch people play. She has a glass candy dish next to her bed that someone gave her, and it's filled with what looks like sayings from fortune cookies. They are scripture citations, and she asks each person who comes in to "pull" one, look it up in the Bible and read it out loud. The social worker and I do the reading, because few of her family members are able to, for various reasons including illiteracy. The Bible was a gift also, along with the scriptures, and is a book that Stella is not very familiar with but loves.

On the wall are framed photos of family members from several generations, and Stella has a wealth of stories to tell about them. She was married to one husband twice, and shouldn't have married him the second time because he beat her; but she did so to keep him from leaving the state with their young son. The son is in his forties now, and looks as if he's had a serious head injury at some time; but he remains positive and works hard in a local restaurant, hopes to run one of his own some day. Stella's significant other has been taking care of her for years now, and he is devoted. He is kind and generous of spirit, and works hard to understand how to deliver her medicines and treatments. He is a dandy.

If poverty meant just a lack of money, this family is one of the poorest I've ever met, but their lives are rich with love.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

festooned for Pentecost

The nave of St. Paul's is adorned in flaming colors for Pentecost. Assistant Rector Paula Whitmore, whose forte is liturgical art, had a team working hard last night and early this morning, due to a wedding on Saturday that prevented them from putting the decorations in place earlier.

We had two celebrations today: the birthday of the church, and the announcement that a new rector has been called, the Rev. Birch Rambo. He and his wife Kate and their two children are not expected until this summer when school is out and their responsibilities at their own diocesan camp are finished. We will certainly be looking forward to their arrival.

On an entirely different theme, Sunrise Sister tagged me to play the six word memoir game. I commented on her post with new patients, books, gardening, anticipation, contentment.

Then I read the link she left to the person who tagged her, and I discovered the six words are supposed to be the title to my memoir. So, after some revisions, this hospice chaplain, with many new patients coming and going quickly, would title her memoir, "Living, Loving, Dying-- with Good Humor." That may sound a little shallow, but it's important to me to keep some balance in my life.

Continually watching people you've come to like die can get heavy. What keeps me going is discovering the beauty in people's lives, celebrating the love I see in families, and laughing as often as possible.

Now I'm supposed to tag four other people, list their names, and link their websites. That part will take me a while, and maybe this will happen tomorrow. Peace.