Lobbing My Bombs

This morning I woke up knowing that this is my second day into year 52 and it was a Sunday. Scanning through the headlines or propagandist matter that floats through my media feeds, I realized in 52 years I have been leading a life filled with lies and hypocrisies. Some I have known long ago and some I have learned over the years.

I am sad and angry at the same time but you know that.

I think you’ve asked me a couple times indirectly, why I no longer go to church. It’s simple. I don’t believe that my faith in god requires me to present myself to a gathering other others to prove I believe. I go in there and all I can do is look around and see a bunch of poseurs just gracing each other with their presence in their finery and to me, it is purely superficial.

“When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for
they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the
corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most
certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward.” – Matt. 6:5

I believe every action and word is a prayer/offering to god. The omniscient ever present deity sees what is in your heart and all that you do. And although I should not, I do judge those who show up and posture in the churches and on the street corners –shouting/singing the loudest as if they think their volume lofts them closer to their place in heaven.

That’s why I do not go. I invest my time and money in the immediate community regardless of their faith because I believe that is what we are meant to be doing. And I am not looking for recognition for any of it.

This goes to my next bomb. I don’t think people need a pat on the back for every good deed turned.  Being a decent human being is not a show which requires some sort of compensation/reward.  I think that’s why it irks me to see people filming themselves doing good in the world as a sort of self promotion. Dear lord! If you have to be seen doing it otherwise you won’t, then you’re lost far beyond what a map can handle.

I will also stand by my avoidance of all things evangelical. I should not force my opinion on you or anyone else. I can tell you what it is, but I am not going to expect you to believe the same thing. Everyone has a choice to do good or not. It is not up to me or anyone else to coerce others toward a path to be a decent human being. Ultimately, one will face their deeds on their last day.

I will say it has taken a number of years to put aside my vigilante ways. Fighting against those who have done wrong to show them the error in their ways. I felt it was a cause I needed to front. Sometimes I was able to deal the punishment for the crime, but sometimes it backfired on me and I should have taken that as my hint to leave it to their last day as it was not for me to exact the retribution.  I know now it is not up to me.

I know we part ways on the next bomb and that is that I believe a woman has a right to choose how she handles her own body. If she chooses to terminate a pregnancy, prevent it from the onset, remove her reproductive organs, or change her sex completely; it is her choice and not yours or mine. What you do with your body is your business and yours alone and what I do with mine is mine alone. We do not get the right to decide how others should manage their own bodies.

Nor do we have the right to decide who lives or dies. This is ultimately not for us to make. No murder, death penalties, wars are something we should promote or participate.  That said, I do not decide your fate nor you do mine…

BUT….

I do decide my own, as that is my body – my choice. I will not serve to decide if someone gets the death penalty. I will not kill someone in self-defense or in times of war; but if my condition becomes so bad that I will be a burden you or anyone else I will find my way out.

The one other thing that I believe is that the guiltiest of guilty are the most vocal and exaggerating in their piety.

“The lady doth protest too much methinks.”  – Hamlet (Shakespeare)

Being an observer of people — when one overcompensates (too goody goody) or is totally vocally condemning and overly pious, there is a strong chance they are hiding something which is the opposite of their posture.

After all said, I am no saint and I know my fate if everything I have studied is correct. I would rather be a sinner than a hypocrite.

Less Than a Month To Go…

In less than a month, I will hit the milestone year which aligns with my father’s collapse at work and his resulting brain cancer diagnosis.  He did not last a year from that diagnosis. His half-sister, Cindy and his brother, Tony also had the same kind of cancer originally found in my father which caused him to have a kidney removed. Cindy survived. Tony did not.

Last month, my voice had become hoarser with all the speaking I had been doing at work and my neck and sinuses have been inflamed. Each year, a new set of symptoms present themselves and I struggle and carry on; but I often wonder if I won the genetic lottery and I am going to get the same diagnosis as those before me.

He died at age 53. I turn 52 in less than a month and I am finding it hard to enjoy things while I feel less and less like myself. I am not steady on my feet after prolonged sitting. I don’t quite trust myself on trips alone for fear of collapsing one day myself.

I’ve noticed changes as I get closer to 52. There is an odor to me which is unlike the natural scent I have always known. It is strange and putrid. My skin is an off shade. (Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was changing since 1999 when I got paler and paler) Now the pink hue is missing and it is sallow. Really notice it in my lower limbs and my left arm.

And oh how I am tired! I’m not eager to run errands on weekends or nights after work anymore. I’m now having the groceries delivered most weeks and ordering supplies for the house online.

On a good day I take advantage of what I’m given and do as much as I can. The good days are not as frequent as they were a year ago. I am struggling.

You might have wondered why I’m going on about all of this. One reason is the genetic factor of what killed my father and his brother and how to identify the onset should I be the one.

Second and most importantly, each day is one better than the last; and even if I struggle and I am barely hanging in there it’s a gift. I cannot stress this enough: don’t waste a single moment. Enjoy it like a fine meal–savor every second you have.

Each Birthday after this point is a huge milestone and I’m going to appreciate the hell out of the day each year.

Never Have I Ever

Remember when I offered you advice on manners and you considered that advice bullying?

Yeah, well buckle up dear buttercup, because I’m sharing more and take heart– this is not you this time, but the acts of others which are teachable moments:

Never…

  • Tell someone the price of a gift you have given them.
  • Pick a fight over politics at someone’s mother’s wake.
  • Crash or tag along to an event if you’re not specifically invited.
  • Express disdain over the food served to you at a dinner party which you do not like.
  • Express ingratitude when given a gift you do not like.
  • Be unkind to someone struggling.
  • Ignore the request to RSVP to an event.
  • Be late to an appointment.
  • Keep someone waiting for a handwritten thank you or an expression of gratitude when you’ve been given a gift or assistance.
  • Act put out if someone asks you for help.
  • Avoid apologizing if you have clearly wronged someone.
  • Never throw someone under the bus to advance yourself in earning esteem.
  • Expect recognition, material compensation or tips for good deeds done

These seem obvious but, in case I am not around let this tidy list of etiquette be a handy guide to living better.

Learnings through grief

When I was given the news that Mom’s condition has worsened quickly and her organs are shutting down as marbling process has begun, I fell into a whole host of emotions.

It’s an unimaginable sadness for her condition. Shocked over how quickly she had degraded since I was out there in July.

Anger & frustration because I cannot do anything from 16 hours away.

Remorseful for being such an asshat in childhood.

Guilt ridden that your Aunt has had to support and comfort mom in these worst days without me there to give her relief

Fearful that because this is hereditary our children will have to experience this very same thing

Really sad that there’s no cure for LBD and this couldn’t have been reversed

Hopeful mom’s suffering is short.

You weren’t aware of the pain I was processing while my mother was in her last days, as I try to shield you from most of the unnecessary burdens to keep you on your own path. You should never shoulder the pain of mine.

I had those who reached out to offer solace and comfort as I processed. My good friend offered these words,

“…our challenges are but learning opportunities. Sometimes we cannot make it right with that person but we can make it right going forward taking what we have learned.”

I share that opinion. And I searched for the learning. From the hospice website, it instructs to try to be a calming presence while the loved one is dying. Sharing memories and playing their favorite music because they can still hear.

I sent as many songs as I could think of for your Aunt to play softly to our mother. I played them myself and a whole flood of memories came back. A lot of these songs reminded me of the times we grooved and bopped along while spring cleaning. Or the summers sunbathing and planting marigolds, bachelor buttons and zinnias in the back yard.

This lead to extended memories while your Aunt and I were young and we’d spend days watching shows together with mom. Teaching us yoga in the living room, laughing along with the Galloping Gourmet and the game shows, or watching soaps, Phil Donahue and Oprah.

My best memories were the little moments.

But the larger learnings were those times when I would fall short of strength or courage and in her toughness she’d inspect the situation and declare, “Oh, you’ll live.”

She encouraged independence and self reliance, through her own example of complete dependence. As a cautionary tale, we knew she wanted more for us than she allowed herself.

And although she and I had a rocky relationship as I grew older, I often wished our relationship was as close as the mother-daughter bonds a lot of my friends had with their own mothers.

My take-away from all of this is that we may not get the mother we hoped we had, but the one we were intended to have to make us who we are today.

For that I am grateful, I am independent and self reliant. I strive to be attentive and ever present for you.

I know both you and your father feel I do things with so much extra effort that you deem may be over the top and over-extend myself for others needlessly; but you see, I am taking what I have learned and striving to be better with the time I have been given.

On Fearing the End

My mother tearfully told my sister she knows she is dying and she feels that it’s too soon and she doesn’t want to leave us.

I agree, it is too soon. But unless someone comes up with a miracle cure for dementia with Lewey Bodies, it is what it is.

I feel as though she is being given a powerful lesson on the gift of life. It is not to be wasted. I can only feel extreme sorrow for her situation.

As I read the Qu’ran this year as part of my annual reading challenge; I’ve come to understand that this is as prescribed for her. It states that we will all come to know the hour of our death when it is time. And God will reveal our destiny based on our deeds.

I’m eager to give her some comfort in knowing that her destiny lies ahead after her death and all of this suffering, the blindness, her hallucinations, her inability to find balance while mobile, her loss of memory are part of this journey and will be nothing but a relief when the end arrives.

Logically, it is something on which to look forward. Shedding this suffering for peace. Joining those who’ve departed before her.

Personally, I’m now looking forward to being able to shed my attachment to this material existence just after reading what I have so far from this book which offers so much comfort and something more concrete than the holy texts before it.

The problem I have is that now that she’s in a nursing home I cannot find the pocket of time to convey what I feel might bring her comfort and hope. Being so far away makes it difficult because when I can call, no one picks up or she is asleep.

So I’ve chosen to send flowers with messages of comfort every month with the hope that these messages will be read to her and bring her some peace.

I wish that someone could visit with here in a therapeutic capacity to help her process her feelings. Ease her fears and help her cope. I trusted that my sister would arrange for that level of care but she also is in need of assistance to process what is happening and cope with the stresses of this situation.

I pray that my sister finds the strength to ask for help instead of believing she must go at this alone.

Why I Study Religion

As a child, I had a series of recurring nightmares which began always in a similar manner. I could feel myself sinking in a tunneled blackness and I knew it was about to begin. The vision of this man whose face was splitting apart endlessly. He smiles as it happens; but it was so horrifying to me as a youngster. It seemed like he was right there in my room.

I would scream and scream and my Mom would rush in; turn on the light and he would be gone. As soon as the light went out, he would reappear and his face would continue to peel open revealing face after face. Smiling at me.

This occurred night after night. Quite a stressor for a 5 year old.

At some point my mother convinced me that he was not real and the dreams discontinued toward other recurring dreams fueled by the normal stressors most go through. Teeth falling out, falling from some endless height, the deaf and blind girl being mowed down by rolling logs in the darkness…The usual.

I didn’t really connect the first dream to anything spiritual until now. You see, I follow the work of Takashi Murakami on Instagram and he was doing a tribute to the statue of Hoshi Washo and I immediately recognized the statue as the figure in those recurring dreams of my youth.

It is so strange that it has come up now. But I think it is part of my quest.

When I was born, my parents had me baptized in the Roman Catholic tradition. Although, I was not immediately raised in that faith. We hopped from church to church. Unitarian, Lutheran and some neighbors who were Southern Baptists were adamant, that I needed to be “saved” and I was baptized in a backyard service in their peanut shaped above ground pool.

By third grade, my mother decided that the public school’s open classroom curriculum was doing no service to my attention deficit tendencies so I was enrolled in a private Catholic school. From there, I learned more about the Roman Catholic faith from grades 3-12.

During my last year in high school, I had a comparative religions course for one semester where we were tasked with attending services and reading texts of other faiths to compare and contrast with Catholicism. I chose to read ‘The Prophet’ by Khalil Gibran and my foundation of understanding was blown apart.  In a very good way.

I became fascinated by world beliefs from that point.

I chose to attend a private Presbyterian College after high school which had a diverse international student body. Exposing me to a variety of cultures and belief systems.

By far, my best decision in life was attending that college.

While visiting family on a holiday break my freshman year, I had another dream experience where I was in the blackness and in the distance a man in robes was approaching me. I knew in that moment I was meeting who I believed to be Jesus and I figured it was my time. I begged, pleaded and bargained for extra time to make more out of this life if I was given the time. He nodded and walked away and I awoke with a start.

In the back of my mind I have always believed that there is one God, one life creating force which ties us together. Every living thing — great and small.

It breaks my heart to hear the single minded, speak in the manner that they do about how their faith is the true faith and everyone else is wrong.

I simply cannot accept that.

What I can believe is that we were given a message from a variety of prophets all over the world and how we interpreted it over the centuries is what fractioned us unto the various believers we are today.

I love Paul Thorn’s song regarding faith, “You Might Be Wrong” (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=IFRM4oJwLdc
) which is why I continue to study.

Every year, I make it a point on my annual reading challenge to find books which explore and explain faiths of various cultures.

In my journey through this beautiful life, I have met people who are the closest to the ideal of what it is to be the embodiment of God’s message and not every one of them are of one particular faith. I’m in awe of them.

Some much closer than others. Because of that, I feel more certain that all who walk this earth are bound by one.

Now, I must reveal who Hoshi Washo represents and why now I should have not feared this face peeling spectre of my dreams.

This statue shows/represents the moment a monk reaches enlightenment. More specifically, in Japan, this is commonly referred to as the incarnation of Kannon (aka Guanyin aka Avalokitesvara). Kannon, as the stories tell, was actually a monk before he achieved enlightenment and became a Buddha.

So, I believe that I was being shown my path or rather, my purpose.

No, not to become a Buddha; but to pursue enlightenment. I think we are all called to be better versions of our prior selves and the peeling I witnessed was the act of discarding my old ways for better ways.

Heavy, no? I’m choosing to believe my course is to truth and I will forever be a student of faith and self actualization.

 

Losing Track of Your Whys

In my years on this big blue marble, I have found it most difficult to be a comfort to those grieving a tremendous loss.

I’ve experienced great sadness over the loss of dear friends, family members and I’ve been witness to those experiencing losses far greater than I can fathom.

In high school, a classmate was killed by a drunk driver and I couldn’t wrap my head around it. So I said what most say in their deepest sadness– “I’m sorry for your loss.”

It seemed a thin sentiment, because at the time, I couldn’t sense how profoundly losing someone you love can leave a chasm of emptiness and suffocating pain. And that grief would be ever present.

As the years went on and I journeyed through life, I had my share of grief personally. But before that, I experienced the helplessness of watching a friend process the loss of a beloved parent.

Nothing prepares a friend to be a support for that. Your heart breaks for them as they go through the five stages. It’s a dangerous time for some because they can lose their why.

No, that last statement wasn’t a word choice mistake. I really did mean why and not way. Although losing your why leads to losing your way in life.

You see, our why is our inner sense of purpose. What is our reason for being here? How is it we are here in this path we walk? That’s actually an opening to a song by the Moody Blues. (ref.: A Question of Balance) Though I digress… just check it out sometime. It’s a beautifully thoughtful song.

Sometimes the upending loss can make one question: “What’s the point of even being here? Why go on?”

They can begin a path of self destruction to deaden their pain or support their reasoning when they reach that depth of grief.

As a friend to someone who reaches that point, you can be their support best through carefully listening as they process this pain and help them find their path back towards their purpose by patiently employing a gentle Socratic method of questioning to lead them back to their whys.

Everyone has whys. They push them aside or forget about them in the noise that is the grief and sadness.

I learned most about this from the writings of Viktor Frankl– a holocaust survivor who was intent on studying those who survived the concentration camps and how they carried on. His findings further developed approaches to helping people contemplating suicide find their inner purpose. (ref.: Man’s Search For Meaning)

I can tell you I lost my whys a couple of times throughout my life. On 9/11 for example, I sat there for hours at my desk realizing nothing mattered. You were my why in that moment.

Later, I lost my whys when I realized I was grieving over love lost and paralyzed with fear after the heart attack and turned to self medication in the form of alcohol and danced ever so close to succumbing to the disease. You saw that and it really took a lot to bring me back. But I had to find my whys again. It was a little harder because you were older and my reasoning was stronger that you’re best off without me.

Through counseling and will, I was able to ask myself the questions to get me back to a personal sense of purpose.

Questions which really helped me comfort and guide when I was needed:

  • Who is left behind who still needs your care and love?
  • What impacts have you had on others so far?
  • What have you wanted to do that you haven’t already?
  • What do you think the person you’ve lost would advise you to do in this moment?
  • If it was reversed and they were here and you weren’t how would you hope that they cope?
  • What brings you happiness, joy and/or peace?
  • What are the ways to bring meaning of the lost one’s impact on you in your daily life?

Notice that none of these are yes/no sorts of questions. Always keep them open and encourage the sorting out of their feelings and thoughts.

Most importantly, be there for them and assure them of your love and support through it all.