Archive | October, 2010

Touch Time

27 Oct

Someone I know recently had a baby born prematurely. The little fellow only weighs about three pounds and thus must stay in the ICU until he is strong enough to go home. The hospital has what they call “touch time” when the parents can hold their baby.

If I were in this situation, I think it would be excruciatingly difficult to be separated from a new born. I would want to camp out at the hospital nursery until the security people had to drag me away. Because we all need touch and babies do especially.

Now I know the hospital does a great job ensuring that this need gets met through extensive staff and volunteers when family members are not allowed or able to intervene around the clock. But this situation has made reflect much on the need for touch in our lives.

At my house, my cats INSIST on touch time. Sometimes they are okay with sitting on my lap while I work on the computer or read but other times, they want my undivided attention during touch time – like this morning when one came and sat on my lap and the other sprawled out over my chest making it impossible for me to continue with the book I was reading. And if I’m not around much, they get increasingly frenetic until we can sit and be truly present with one another, which is what touch helps foster: just being.

So how do humans get their needs for touch met if they are not little babies or in a significant romantic relationship? And is touch merely a physical phenomenon or does it entail a sense of the otherworldly as well?

I’m currently researching commentaries on Exodus 34:29-35, the passage where Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and his face shines after being in the presence of the Lord. I think this is an extraordinary text because it addresses the fact that we as humans are touched in many ways. We can be touched through the hands of other humans, the feel of the sun on our skin or through the rhythms of our own breath. But even more profound, we can be touched by the Presence of the Lord. And like the baby in the ICU or my cats, I think we long for this contact with our Maker even when we don’t realize it. We long to be held in the arms of the love of the Divine. And we long to touch each other when we have felt the grace and radiance of God ourselves.

Sanity or Sanitation?

25 Oct

This afternoon I had to weigh which I needed more – my sanity or sanitation. I chose sanity.

Years ago I remember watching a television movie with John Travolta called “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” I was about five years old. Based on the real life of a boy with some terrible disease that resulted in a compromised immune system or the inability for blood to clot, Travolta’s character was confined in this type of bubble structure. He could never go outside for fear of breathing bad air or cutting himself and bleeding to death. Okay, okay. I don’t remember the details that well. After all, I was only five.

Anyway, anyone who surfs knows that after a certain amount of rainfall, the ocean water is contaminated with sewage runoff and it’s advised NOT to surf for about 72 hours afterwards. Well, we had rain all last week so one never really knows what the water quality is like when venturing in after precipitation. But today, my first day free to surf since the rains, I had to ask myself, “What do I need more? My sanity – (which surfing preserves) or sanitation? As I debated, I thought about the boy in the plastic bubble who if memory serves me correctly eventually said, “F— it!” and walked out of his protective environment. And the answer came, “I need my sanity more than sanitation. I need life!”

And I have to say – all fears of bacteria went straight out the window as soon as I caught my first wave of the day.

Here’s to freedom. And sanity.

House Cleaning

17 Oct

Awhile back in May, a dear family friend asked if for my birthday, I wanted her to pay someone to come in and clean my house. She meant this as a gesture of spoiling me, the way some women like to get their nails done (not me), yet I of course took this the wrong way. I thought she was subtly telling me my house was dirty and instead said I’d rather have a gift that went towards surfing gear. I was in the middle of finals and a thousand other things and the thought of having someone come in and tear up my space stressed me out.

Almost six months later, I called her for the number of the cleaning lady. It was more than time to have someone come in and clean my house. But I must confess I was dreading her coming – not only because it meant giving up time on a Saturday but because I sensed I had some inner house cleaning to do as well that the external would stimulate.

I was right.

The last time this house received a deep clean was when I moved in. It was a very stressful time because my mother was either in jail or the ER. I don’t remember exactly because my mother always seemed to get into crisis when I was in the middle of a move. I do recall experiencing symptoms of vertigo however, which I figured was symbolic of feeling off balance due to her chaos.

As the daughter of two addicts, I learned at a young age to be a clean freak, for this created an illusion of control over my environment. A perfectionist by nature, keeping a clean house was in line with my OCD tendencies and the expectations of my parents who raised me with a strong Puritan work ethic. But in this house where I live now and that I love, I have grown lax in my scrubbing and mopping and I’m not sure why. I’ve buried one parent since being here and lost the other parent shortly before. So maybe my focus has been on moving on. On living life instead of trying to control it and on surrendering (i.e. more surfing than scrubbing).

But finally, it was time to clean house. And I needed to be involved because I struggle with letting someone else assist me 100%. I’m still too much of a control freak and quite frankly, there was too much to do. But I liked having the cleaning lady here. I appreciated the help instead of always doing everything myself and I know I will have her come back. In fact, maybe next time I’ll leave a key and not even be around.

So, now that the house is ultra clean and smells severely of cleaning chemicals, I’m certain my OCD habits will creep back and I’ll soon be mopping and scrubbing neurotically. I don’t seem to do half way very well in my life. But in the scouring, something moved within me and I found myself in tears this morning. I thought of the little girl scrubbing and trying to keep a beautiful home in a three story structure where things looked “normal” on the outside but weren’t on the inside. I thought of aspects of my life that have been sterile and sanitary because I don’t want a “mess” and the price I’ve paid for such a condition.

Finally, I thought of my perfectionistic past and how glad I am that I no longer strive to be perfect. I’m thankful that in God’s eyes I’m perfect and that I don’t have to work so hard at things anymore or fight for control.

So, the house is clean. For now.


9 Oct

Last year around this time, a Harvard-educated MD friend/colleague of mine made the comment that my Facebook comments about school made me sound like a twenty year old. I was mortified. Sharing this with an older friend, she responded, “Who cares! Would that we all sounded like the passionate people we were at twenty.”

Her comment was interesting and made me think not only about my age but about my decision to go back to graduate school (not for the first time or the first masters but for a second round and a second masters) at age forty (now 41). While I find myself reaching middle age and the peak of maturity in some aspects, I find that going back to school simultaneously regresses me and wakes up my inner child. She comes to class with me, excited to talk to the teacher and see the other kids.

The blessings of being an older student is that you’re not a kid. I used to teach community college and my older students were a joy. They knew more, cared more and were more profound. (That is not to discredit the brilliance of young minds though). And I know that in some ways I am like a colleague of my teachers despite their expertise over mine and that I can juggle assignments with work in ways that my younger self could never pull off because my mind is simply more mature and sophisticated than it was before.

But the child in me is still excited by school and sees an entire world stretched out before me.

Learning allows for passion to be ignited. It is not enough for me to learn passively. I must possess knowledge. Interact with it. Taste and embody it like a teenager flirting with sexuality for the first time. I must be completely consumed by what I learn until the subject and I are one and something new emerges.

And I can think of nothing more rich than studying theology at this time in my life for my purpose in learning is entirely different than when I was young. For instance, as a theatre student, I wanted to be a star. As a psychology student, I wanted to heal and make a living. Yet as a theology student, I want to grow closer and closer to God. And ironically, being aligned with the latter is helping me meet the previous objectives. While not a star, I’m more creative than ever. I’m also more emotionally sound, plus my professional life is taking off in new and dynamic ways. But more than anything, being in school gives me a purpose that was previously elusive.

And perhaps that makes me sound like I’m twenty. So be it. I’m every inch a grown up with a purpose.