Archive | August, 2013

Acceptance

29 Aug

I have a sick family member. Unlike my contemporaries who in the next ten to twenty years will be looking after aging parents, both my parents are deceased. But a furry member of my household has been informally diagnosed with intestinal cancer.

I’ve known for some time now that something was wrong with my cat Hafiz but countless vets couldn’t get to the bottom of it. Finally, in light of all the tests he has had and the fact that he inefficiently digests his food, has dropped half his body weight and has chronic diarrhea, the writing is on the wall. And I finally found a vet who knows what she is doing and who will come out to the house.

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Apparently, intestinal cancer sometimes reverses with the treatment of steroids. Regardless, steroids are prescribed to provide some comfort and quality of life to animals, and to stimulate the appetite and temporarily relieve symptoms. Hafiz now takes a half a steroid pill in the morning. When he received an additional one at night, he kept me up with his constant need for food and amped up energy.

Having worked in a nursing home years ago, I am well aware of the body’s decline with aging and/or illness. There is incontinence, decrease in appetite (or increase if the body can no longer metabolize well), organ deterioration and sometimes impaired hearing, seeing or memory. And so I see the signs in Hafiz. Sometimes he doesn’t realize there is food right in front of him and I have to show him a few times until it registers. And he goes through about five jars of baby food a day.

Hafiz is still happy. For a few hours he enjoys sitting by the screen door looking out and he still purrs when sitting next to me while I write. But he sleeps mostly on the floor now and in the closet. He has a new distressful meow that he calls out to me occasionally and all I can do is pet him and tell him it’s okay. I’m here. His brother, Rumi seems to know something is up.

We could go on for months like this but I have accepted what is happening. And I have carved out some time to be at home with him instead of traveling so much for work. Once he is gone, there will never be another Hafiz.

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Lamentations

20 Aug

Last night I heard a news story about a baby Orca that had gotten separated from his mother. He was out in the ocean crying mournfully for her and fishermen heard the high pitched wails coming from the sea. Orcas stay close to their mothers throughout their entire lives so the baby was quite distressed.

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To help the baby, they moved the whale along until it could join a pod of other whales.

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As I sat listening to the recording of the little guy wailing, I thought, “How we all lament. If even an animal cries out in anguish, why do we not give ourselves permission to do the same?”

In today’s sanitary culture of cognitive behavioral therapy, where we are told our thoughts influence our feelings and behaviors and thus if we but master our thoughts, we can manage our feelings, I reflect on that little Orca and think, “What a load of crap!” Sometimes we need to just cry out. There are some dimensions of experience that can only be expressed in a moan.

A theologian friend of mine the other day, recognizing my rationalizing over a profound wound in my life quietly said, “You know, Lise. God does let us down. You can admit that. It is okay to say, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'”

Perhaps that little Orca knew that he had permission to cry out. Perhaps he was simply acting from instinct. But there are places where the intellect has no defense. Where the only words that voice truth are those of the poet or the mourner. And sometimes that is, “Better than a hallelujah” (Amy Grant).

Be Thou My Vision

18 Aug

To yearn is inescapable. It is the human heart screaming for nourishment even if we have put it on some kind of ludicrous diet. But to acknowledge desire one must tolerate vulnerability; that we seek and often don’t find. That we reach out and often fall short. And that we most likely will be thrown off center.

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Ironically, a sense of profound connection, or the possibility of it, can suddenly induce a state of longing and aloneness that makes one want to crawl out of one’s skin. It’s the sudden realization that life isn’t meant to be lived alone and that some lessons can only be learned in tandem.

Carl Jung wrote that, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” And indeed, in the best of meetings, we are in more than a conversation. We are in a state of becoming.

But what is it that are transforming into? Where does the old merge with the new and what is it that we are evolving into or towards?

Humans are in a constant state of connection and separation and due to our brokenness, the space between connection and separation primes us for distortion. It is so easy to think that we’re alone in that gap. That we are not part of anything at all.

And yet there could be no greater fallacy for even the very ground rises up to meet us. And it is in this very awareness that we practice the presence of God.

On Forgiveness

15 Aug

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In forgiveness we are forced to live in a place of tension where our knowledge of pain parallels our efforts towards forgiveness. And this tension can make our souls feel like a taut rubber band. Like trying to remove a tumor with radiation, it can take many tries until we are in remission and sometimes the tumor slowly grows back and then we need more treatments. If we haven’t allowed ourselves to feel intense feelings associated with betrayal, this can be like pulling a weed from the top instead of getting down to its roots. Because we never removed the source, subtle resentment can creep back in, which does not reflect true forgiveness.

In order for forgiveness to transpire, there has to be an opening of sorts in the places where our hearts are most defended. What allows this to happen can be deeply mysterious. The paths towards forgiveness vary like streams finding their way to a river or ocean. Often, a catalyst occurs that begins to shift our stance of emotional immobility. Sometimes the trigger results from a sudden catharsis that frees our hearts from hatred, as if a blast of dynamite exploded within the muscle, making more space for forgiveness. Or, sometimes the love of someone who sees us deeply redeems our faith in humanity, giving us hope. In other circumstances, we may forgive over time like when the sun begins to melt the winter snow, or when after holding onto something super tight, we suddenly let go and relax a little. All of these examples bear an aspect of grace, in which a Divine force is slowly helping us to love again despite it all. We may be deeply weathered by what other people have done to us the same way that wood can be beaten up by nature. But driftwood does not resist; it allows itself to be smoothed out in the process, ever more refined.

On Grief…

10 Aug

“I’m tired of all this – so tired. My bed has been floating forty days and nights on the flood of my tears. My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears. The sockets of my eyes are black holes; nearly blind, I squint and grope” (Psalm 6:6-7- In the Message).

“A tear is an intellectual thing.” William Blake

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When we’ve experienced profound loss what follows in its wake is a grief so profound it defies vocabulary as we try to talk about our loss in a psychotherapist’s office or hope that some pharmaceutical prescribed by a doctor will miraculously wipe away our pain. Instead we’re left with a well of emotions most of us have no knowledge of how to navigate, particularly in our ever fast-paced society that allows little room for the reflective, messy process that grief ultimately demands.

When I was a little girl I loved watching old movies and remember being enamored by the beautiful hoop dresses women would wear in period pieces. Even more striking was the fact that sometimes heroines would wear black dresses if they were in mourning. I didn’t understand this custom. It seemed odd to me that someone would be required to wear black for an entire year after the death of a family member. Years later however, after my mother passed away, there were many moments when I longed to wear black to signify that I was still grieving. While others not related to my mom quickly moved on with their lives after attending the memorial service, my feelings were as raw as an open wound. I was being indoctrinated into the grieving process and wanted relief from people yakking at me in the grocery store or asking me to work extra hours at the office. I simply didn’t have the bandwidth but without black to signify my mourning state to others, my grief went incognito.

When someone has a physical illness, we see its manifestation in the form of physical symptoms. When we break our leg, we wear a cast; if we cut our fingers, we see blood. But what of the human heart and spirit’s suffering when no one sees the pain? Often our grief is unrecognized making it all the more difficult to contend with. Given this, we need to learn how to mourn in a culture that often fails to see emotional pain and when it does, too often backs away in fear. Even when acknowledging our pain, we rarely know how to cope with it for there is no simple formula for transforming it. Instead grief presents as a vast ocean threatening to sweep us away in its current. Yet as a friend of mine once wrote, “I sometimes wonder how we all go on, when I think of all we go through and endure, but we do, and grief becomes, strangely its own cure, and we find ourselves laughing and in joy, which at first feels like a betrayal and becomes eventually an act of remembrance and celebration.”

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On Having a Little Faith

6 Aug

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This morning, my cat Hafiz crawled up on my stomach as I was lying in bed reading and paid homage to me. Despite the fact that I was out of town over the weekend and then upon returning had to fast him for fourteen hours so he could have an ultra-sound at the specialist’s, he still worships the ground I walk on. It’s mind boggling.

I was talking with someone the other day who said that when he travels sometimes his cat punishes him for his absence by pooping on his expensive Persian rug. This narrative is not unusual and yet my cats have never done this. Instead of torturing me for being gone, they seem to appreciate me even more because of my absence. Again, mind boggling.

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As Hafiz nestled his head into my belly and stared at me with the trusting eyes of an infant, I wondered, “Why don’t I have this kind of trust and devotion to my Caretaker? Why can’t I surrender in faith that the One watching over me really is, even when it feels like abandonment, or being asked to fast for fourteen hours when having a thyroid condition?”

The poet after whom Hafiz is named once wrote:

A Cushion for Your Head

Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
from love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World.

Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.

You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.

What would it be like to let God’s soft words be a cushion for my head in the same way that Hafiz rests his upon my belly?

Hafiz’s ultra sound revealed that his plumbing parts are getting a little rusty which is why he is getting chronic UTIs. Now we have permission to use antibiotics prophylactically. But the specialist recognized something going on with his stomach, which would hint at why he has gone from 12 lbs to 7 lbs in the last year. Sigh. That test will be $1,500 to reveal what? Cancer in a 14 year old cat? So we’re going to wait and see if he can maintain at 7 lbs for the next few weeks as both he and I are tired.

And so the sweet little guy rests and trusts in me, his mother. May I learn to do the same.

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