Monthly Archives: September 2013

Reflections ~ On the Last Word

This piece came together over the last few days due, in part, to several unrelated events and random chance readings.  These events and readings triggered a line of thought that wandered a bit through many years of yet other unrelated events, all of which brought a peaceful end to a very exasperating day.  The details of the exasperation are not really important. The lessons, however, are.  Consequently, I shall take you on a bit of the journey and show you some of my own thought process in the bargain.  It’s all part of getting to know the writer behind my published works.

Let’s start with the triggers.  I spend quite a bit of time on that social media soup known as Facebook.  For one thing it is an inexpensive way to keep in touch with people I have come to know and care about.  It is also a bit of a window on the world beyond my door.  Given the obligations of a 24/7 caregiver, I rarely find myself in social contact with other people, nor do I add to my husband’s confusion by trying to explain news programs or incessant pleas to buy stuff.  And, besides, I do find rather quirky bits of inspiration from time to time.  Like this:

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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” Carl Jung

As it happens I am painfully aware of this little quirk of human nature.  Consequently when I get really irritated at someone or something I do try to step back and understand why.  Why is this situation so infuriating?  “They aren’t listening to me!”  I see.  Are you listening to them?  Are you hearing the words, or the emotions?  Is there some point of communication that you can find; or are you talking from two different planets in languages completely foreign to each other?

I don’t know how many of my readers have ever played poker, but there is a high probability that if you have you have run into a player that had no clue of how the game is played.  They would place wild and ridiculous bets chasing everyone out of the hand: and have nothing.  Now it has always been my policy to play chess first, both in life and in business and poker only if need be, but I do know when to “fold them.”  There comes a time when “winning” is no longer the higher goal.  Because there is no winning.    Hence the second “random quote” of my day:

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“The strength of a civilization is not measured by its ability to fight wars, but rather by its ability to prevent them.” Gene Roddenberry

These events were tumbling around in my head as I was reaching the point in my day when I had to take care of some chores before the weekend was gone.  Now the interesting thing about the task of cleaning house in my home is that it always generates a series of questions. My husband (who suffers from vascular dementia) gets somewhat disoriented.  “Is someone coming?” “Is someone moving in?”  “Why do we have to clean the house?”  Ordinarily I attempt to answer these questions as best (and repeatedly) as I can.  But when I’m in a hurry that complicates things a great deal.

Suddenly the act of communicating became a very real “in your face” issue.  His perspective on the whole thing was totally alien to the basic function of having a reasonably clean home.  There is no way between now and the day the sun begins to engulf our planet that I will be able to explain it to him in a way he can understand.  There is no “winning.”

Fast forward to supper time and the whole mishmash of events and conversations is still brewing in my head.  I am reminded of a day some 30 years ago when I hopped a plane from Dallas to Houston to sort some things out with my father.  Due to an action on his part I had reached that moment when you break the sound barrier.  No, haven’t been there, but I’ve read a very detailed description.  At least in a jet fighter things can be a pretty rough ride until that moment you breach Mach 1.  Then things become quite stable, quite calm.  Everything going on in my life at that point suddenly rattled free and I “knew” it was time.  It was not important what his response was, I didn’t care what he chose to say or not say, I simply said my piece, hopped back on the plane and went about trying to get the rest of my life in order.  I didn’t have to “win;” I did need to move on.

Then comes the little voice, “but.”  “I’m right.  Any ‘objective’ observer would know that my position is right.”  “Shouldn’t I make sure that the whole world knows what the “real” story is?”  Well, there is one more random piece to my day.  I am currently reading a book entitled The Philosopher’s Toolkit. No plot here, just a group of short essays to introduce the inquiring mind to the art of debating (arguing), building, composing philosophy and how modern philosophers look at terms and basic tools.  My brief moment of reading today was on a section entitled: “Objective/Subjective.”

There seems to be a bit of a problem when we define these terms.  We like to think that subjective opinions are based on emotions and objective opinions are formed based on research and logical, reasonable thought.  In ancient times the two were thought of as two sides of the same coin.  It was never particularly complementary to be thought of as “subjective.”  More modern thoughts, from a philosophical point of view, see the question a bit differently.  The reason is that, as humans it is impossible to view any event, conversation, piece of information, thought, whatever, without the influence of your own past experience.  As humans we learn based on experience, it is a fundamental part of what we are.  Now the whole question of objective/subjective is looked at as more of a continuum; a line along which the amount of objective or subjective interpretation varies based on the circumstance, the subject, and the individual.  We never can reach a “pure” state of the objective because we will always be influenced, by something.

Am I a relativist then?  Believing that there is some sliding scale of right and wrong?  That nothing is certain and only circumstances can determine a valid solution; a winner?  No, I’m not.  I still believe that the ethics, morals, and standards by which I try to conduct my life are a meaningful goal.  A goal worthy of my efforts.  I still believe that others are not permitted to dodge responsibilities or look for ways to change the color of a situation.  I also believe that there are times when people cannot see another point of view because of the tunnel they have wrapped around their mind.  They are incapable of “hearing” what you are saying.  And their responses will always be that off-the-wall, unsupported bet.  When that happens, that person will appreciate your point of view about the time my husband understands why I want to clean the house.

This, then, is the lesson that I carry with me.  Life is not about “winning” the argument.  It is not about beating people down until they agree just to shut you up.  It is not about having the loudest voice.  It is about knowing your own self well enough to know when you have done what you think is right and to step away with confidence and peace.  Sometimes the last word is no word at all.

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Book Review ~ Finding the Lost and Learning to Choose

Book Review – Remnant in the Stars by Cindy Koepp.  Available for under $10.00

remnant

Rarely, any more, do I find myself reading straight through a book stopping only for necessary transactions with the outer world.  My lifestyle has changed in such ways that the “all nighter” is no longer an option.  I do, occasionally, find something that is more than just “interesting.”  Remnant is one of those finds.

As it happens I know the author of Remnant in the Stars.  She has become a good friend and her sense of humor and her intriguing outlook on life has often brought a smile to my face and mind.  That upbeat attitude is evident in her writing.  She does not employ stoic, cardboard-faced characters.  The story is peopled with interesting characters, each with their own unique qualities.  Not only is each character fully developed and in full possession of who he/she is; the journey each one travels shows a clear character arc.  Even if you don’t always know what is coming up, you can see the struggle each lead character experiences in the process of getting from where he or she is to where he or she must go.

The basic story line is based on an uneasy alliance between humans and a race of beings that fled the destruction of their home star in search of a new permanent home.  The refugees are not a violent race; in fact they have very strict moral codes that state that murder is murder even if it is caused by a lack of action rather than direct action.  This makes for interesting plot curves.  Not all humans are willing hosts and the story begins with a point-on-point battle between the factions.  One of our lady leads is severely injured.

In the meantime, something has gone terribly wrong with one of the scouting expeditions looking for a new home.  This requires a search and rescue operation and things get a bit interesting.  Booked onto a small merchant ship, a team of humans and an Aolanian, (a short, reptilian type of alien with a delightful way of using English) are off on a mission to play decoy while the main fleet does the looking.  Well, we wouldn’t have main characters if they weren’t involved in the main action, now would we?

Cindy develops the quirks of her aliens well.  Aolanians speak in present tense – always.  In their own language they use telepathy for the nuances so there is no need to describe then, now, when or such mundane sorts of speech.  There is also a supporting cast of aliens that are some form of pure energy.  Some of them are rather nice; some are quite nasty.  And then there is a worried chieftain of a people that look more like moving rocks than anything living.  Each clearly defined, each with a racial “personality,” each holding a very special place in the story.

The story follows three major characters, our lady fighter pilot, the Aulanian father trying to make a good choice between signing on to find his lost daughter or staying home and teaching his youngest how to use her emerging mental powers, and the lost daughter herself.  All things converge in the end, but along the way each of the characters must make hard choices that many of us face in one form or other as we find our way through life.

That, in my mind, is one of the best parts.  Cindy writes a beautiful story of how people make choices and what guidance, or lack thereof, they rely on to make those decisions.  Cindy is a Christian and her story is clearly a statement of her reliance on a guiding hand.  That statement is written beautifully.  Even when her alien friend does not understand her belief, he still understands that it sustains her in moments that would otherwise destroy her.  It is he that lectures a human that friends do not drive hope from friends; they support and encourage even if they don’t understand.

Yes, this is a delightful read full of humor, serious choices and great space-battle scenes.  It;s a rollicking good read and I sincerely hope these characters find their way into some future publication.

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Filed under My Bookshelf ~ Fiction

My Journey with Job ~ Who then, is my Friend?

Courtesy Commons.  Some rights reserved by pingnews.com

Courtesy Commons. Some rights reserved by pingnews.com

My growing network is quite aware that I am working on a second book.  One that is far closer to the writings my husband encouraged for so many years.  The years, that is, before dementia took him away from me.  He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and a Masters or two in math and science.  He devoted much of his life learning how we think so that he could teach machines how to think.  He is also a half-breed of sorts having been raised by a devout Catholic mother and a committed Jewish father.  Honed by both the Jesuits and the rabbis, his quite brilliant mind led him to a life of wonder at the workings of the universe, both great and small, and in an ongoing debate with a God he loved but constantly challenged.  He was, in many ways, my own private Job.

I don’t say this because he experienced anything like what happens in this passage of scripture.  I say this because he sought answers from the source.  He would look at available information.  He would compare the current wisdom.  When it was all said and done he refused to solidify his own opinion until he had pushed his knowledge as close to the source of the query as he could.  He never stopped looking until the disease robbed him of the ability to think logically.

My own journey with Job started many years ago.  Many of the things that I had become convinced of were discussed way into the night as I came to know my husband and as we shared our mutual wonder.  Debating with such a mind was refreshing, intriguing and challenging.  It meant that simple answers, stock answers, were not going to stand up.  It meant that I had to really explore the whys of my thoughts and construct reasonable arguments to support them.  As time went on he insisted I should write.  Now that he no longer knows I am, I do.

I have begun to introduce some of the thoughts contained in my new book on this blog. There is a glimpse into my thoughts in a blog discussing Dr. Erhman’s book, God’s Problem.  In order to write the book, Why Me? Come Let us Reason with Job, I have returned to research mode.  Do my ideas still stand?  Has life changed my mind, given me different perspectives?  Are the quotes and sources I knew from so many years ago accurate in my memory?  So, I am driven back to basic research.  I am finding that my core beliefs have not changed.  I am spending the time necessary to collect historical, religious and philosophical interpretations.  To learn what I can of the writing of the piece, of what supporting evidence there is for the when or who of the passage.  However, those things that speak to me have not changed.  As I develop the manuscript I will invite my readers to see what those treasured thoughts are and why I think they are so very important.  For the full debate, however, you’ll have to buy the book.  For this week’s contribution I thought I would explore who, then, is my friend?

I believe that this is one of the pillars of the lessons from Job.  We, as the audience, are informed at the very beginning that Job is a blameless man.  He is an upright man that avoids evil and watches over his family faithfully.  It is made clear to us, the observers, that the events that are about to take place are not due to any failure on his part to meet the requirements of a demanding or loving God.  Why then, have we spent millennium trying to sort out the arguments of his friends seeking some answer to his questions?  They want to blame him.  The more he questions his situation, the more adamant they become.  They are certain he is filled with unclean thoughts and intentions because there is no other way for them to find a “cause” for the “effect” they see before them.  This debate takes up a great deal of the poem.  God’s response to this tirade?  “Who is this who darkens counsel, Speaking without knowledge?”  (Job 38:2 from Tanakh, a translation by the Jewish Publication Society).  Job’s friends actually get in a lot of hot water and are commanded to go to him in order to have a sacrifice performed for their forgiveness.

Even after millennium of debate over “the purposes of suffering” the answer still rings in my ears:  “Who darkens my council?”  Obviously, my new book would be rather shallow if it didn’t offer some of the substance of this debate, and it does.  I use writings from Jewish and Christian writers who formed the foundation of our modern thought on the matter as well as more modern interpretations.  I also explore the response to human suffering from other cultures and religious practices.  In what I hope is a conversational tone I lead my reader through the history of what we have thought about the book so that I can better show how I arrived at my conclusions.  Occasionally, I find a glimmer of those thoughts.  Or, something I strongly believe hiding in the midst of things that make me shake my head.  Here is a bit of what I take away from “Job’s friends.”

It doesn’t really matter what Job has done or not done to “deserve” his current circumstances.  That is made abundantly clear in the very first scenes.  But Job’s friends, much like our own, out of fear or even arrogance are certain sure they know the cause.  We live in a world where the vagaries of nature, violence, and general human sorrow keep us asking “Why?”  And, just like Job’s friends, there is always someone (or many) who is absolutely certain that the problem at hand is due to some infraction of some universal law.  While such an individual is so terribly busy coming up with reasons why, they are missing a fundamental point.

Deep in my heart I believe that the lesson of Job’s friends is that the question is not just “Why?”  The questions should also be “what” and “where.”  What is happening and where can I help? In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus is asked “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”  His answer?  Love God and love one another, on these two commandments hang the whole law and the prophets. This is not a new covenant law.  It is a quote of the law found in Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18.   Job’s friends never got beyond the debate.  They never looked at Job as a friend in need.  That was their gravest error and, to me, one of the most important lessons of the whole book.

It is not a thought to take lightly.  In Matthew 25:31-46 a scene is described in a somewhat familiar passage that discusses the separation of the sheep from the goats.  Take note that the test of who is which is not who prayed more, sinned less, or preached more.  It says nothing about how many souls you tried to save from abortion, misguided life styles or the evils of sin, sex and money (or lack thereof).  The defining qualification is this: “For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me. …in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” (New Jerusalem translation)  It’s not about blame.  It’s about doing what is needed when it is needed.

Some years ago in a previous marriage, my husband, our business partner and I were preparing for a number of guests at our home for the 4th of July weekend.  The three of us were developing a place situated on acreage where people could come away for awhile and rest; a place of reflection.  Our partner was an integral part of our little family, living in his own trailer but spending much of his time with us.  Due to a lifetime of alcohol abuse, his too-young body finally gave out and in the middle of the pre-celebration night he died of a massive coronary arrest.  There was no way to change our plans, in fact they grew more complex because now we had a memorial to plan as well.

The following morning, as I was preparing for the guests that were about to arrive, a very dear friend of mine called.  She communicated her condolences and added the usual, “If there’s anything I can do to help.”   With a sigh I said I felt like we had most things under control, I just had to figure out how to get our house cleaned and his trailer prepared for his daughter’s arrival.  Her response?  “When do you want me there?”

What kind of story would we have if Job’s friends had arrived, stayed with him during the seven days of grieving, and then stood up and said, “Where do we start?”  “Job, can we help your wife bury your children?” “Would you like us to find who is left of your household and secure your property?” “Is there something left in the fields we can have harvested in support of your wife?”  Scripture being what it is we often find a record of what we do, rather than what we should do.  But in the telling of those things we are prone to do, there is a point when we can see what we should do.  Who then is your friend, your neighbor, your brother or sister?  Sometimes it is important how an individual gets into a predicament.  More often than not it really doesn’t matter.  What matters is what we do about it.

I would like to add a few links to organizations that have impressed me.  Reaching out and touching a life can be as simple as a donation online, or a smile on the street.  It doesn’t have to involve money, sometimes it is just a bit of time that’s needed.  Learn to become sensitive to those who are around you and you just might catch that incredible moment when what you have to offer is exactly what a fellow being needs.

WHD2013What is Habitat for Humanity International?

  • A nonprofit, Christian housing ministry that believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live.
  • We build and repair houses all over the world using volunteer labor and donations.
  • Our partner families purchase these houses through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or innovative financing methods.

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Heifer International

Heifer currently provides over 30 types of animals to families in need in more than 40 countries, including the U.S.

footer_logoThe Rose International Fund for Children

The primary mission of The Rose International Fund for Children (TRIFC.org) is to improve the lives of children in Nepal, particularly those who have a disability.

streetchildren_homeThe Bart D. Ehrman Foundation is a not-for-profit organization whose overarching purpose is to raise money for charities devoted to poverty, hunger, and homelessness. All money collected from membership fees is given over to charities devoted to helping those in need.

And one of my personal favorites:  The Songs of Kiguli project.  This is an effort to publish the works of primary school children in Uganda so that they can fund improvements to the school and build the character necessary to lead their nation into the future.

Vigorous debate is always appreciated; however I will not post flame or outright attacks.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

How to Storm a Castle and Bring Your Lady Home

Well, this week we are back on a personal note exploring the interesting paths and passages of life with dementia. It has been a week of could-have-beens and what ifs and yet, well, I’ll tell you the story.

Castle SmallI’m not accustomed to sharing the intimate details of my medical history. I am not comfortable going into various details about parts I do or don’t have or how I happened to get to that point. My close friends do know of some of the challenges I face, but that is usually as far as it goes. This story, however, has that ever present caregiver component of “what do you do when.” Since there are now a number of people that look to me for tidbits of wandering wisdom, this appeared to be one of those opportunities where sharing the personal might help others in their own journey.

I was diagnosed with gallbladder disease somewhere around five years ago. At the time, we were living in Canada, and, although I could have had the operation at no cost to me, well, you have to be in acute stage to get there. Since I’m not overly comfortable when people want my body parts – however damaged they may be – I worked pretty hard at avoiding things that would stir up the dragon living deep within my stomach. As the situation with my husband became more defined, I began to wonder what I would do if there was an emergency. There is no way that, “bring me the cell phone,” or “call 911,” or various other possibilities were going to get anywhere. So I determined that I would try to learn something about what “acute” meant and do something about it before I was left writhing on the floor attempting to communicate with a disoriented spouse.

But, then, life gets in the way and you figure that, “it’s not really that bad.” That brings us to last weekend. It seemed like I couldn’t eat anything without starting that dull, achy, half-sick feeling. And it took hours for it to go away. Tuesday we headed off to the store to pick up needed groceries, and I looked for things I had learned help, at least sometimes, lower the impact of a gallbladder attack. Arriving home, he was sure I was mad at him, and I had to convince him that wasn’t the case. I think he was concerned that he wasn’t helping enough, which was far from the truth. An hour later, none of my tricks were working; it was time to have it checked.

Now, as my friends know, routine reigns in our home. It is the way we work though each day with relative calm and there has to be a really good reason to disrupt it. After an hour of listening to that naggy little voice in my head, I finally told him we were going to have to go “to hospital.” I wasn’t feeling well, and we needed to check things out. I doubt he could get there on his own, but he does recognize the route. He was terribly concerned about who was going to drive us (that would be me, dear) and he was worried about me and how I was feeling (understandable, this sort of thing doesn’t happen all that often). We managed to arrive at Urgent Care and take our place in the queue.

As you know, these sorts of visits are not quick. Which is why I prefer making appointments for him – he gets terribly impatient with it all. For me, however, he was willing to sit and wait. And wait. While I got a bit better. In fact the PA, not seeing immediate symptoms, was not sure what the benefit of an exam would be. He decided a poke or two would not be wasted.

Ouch!

Hmm. Maybe a sonogram would be a good idea. Well, evidently it was.

Now the whole game plan changed. I wasn’t going anywhere. Period. They were discussing options that would help me with my spouse. Like check him in and give him his evening meds and bunk him with me. Might have worked, except that hooked up to IVs, blood pressure monitors and other paraphernalia it’s a bit difficult sprinting down the hall to see what has become of your spouse.

Plan B. I called his companion fellow and arranged to have him picked up and taken home. Preview of what might have been. Hopping up and down a number of times, hubby kept looking for someone to take us home. He knew his “friend” was coming, but why couldn’t he be there already?  It was slowly dawning on me that he was certain he needed to take me home. We were waiting for our get-away ride. Well, dear, they want to keep me.

Things are a bit blurred after that. Other than the obligatory phone calls to various folks with a “need to know,” instructions to companion person about what should or should not happen in the next 24 hours, scurrying medical people finding a place to stick me overnight. Sigh. At least it wasn’t some massive emergency with ambulances, lost husbands and clueless medical personnel.  Object lesson here: Know what your backup plan is and make sure there is at least one individual in the world that your loved one is willing to trust.

It is the next day that I was again reminded that my dear spouse was, at heart, a knight. I had called home in the morning to check on things and make sure that the night had gone smoothly. Things were a bit out of order, but all in all not bad. During the day, I made contact once or twice. Evidently the only way my dear knight could be distracted from my whereabouts was to take him for a drive. A long drive.

When they returned home I’m told that he was certain I had gone across the street. Off they went on a walk to try to identify which house I might have disappeared into. This is not a surprising development. There are many times when my alter ego has gone off somewhere and left us with no news of where she is going or when she might return. He is certain she goes to a house somewhere near (after all, the car is still here), but evidently he wasn’t sure enough to press the issue.

Back in the house again. This time he is adamant. I do not need surgery; he is going to the hospital and he is bringing me home if he has to walk. Well, short of strapping him down in a chair, what is the poor caregiver supposed to do? Off to the hospital they went.

I am forever discovering the most interesting twists and turns in my husband’s mind. Even battling dementia, he still manages to find solutions to problems he considers critical. Finding me was one of those problems. It’s my understanding that when they arrived at the day-surgery unit at our clinic they were, at first, denied entry. I’m not sure of the details, but evidently the moment the gatekeeper had his attention elsewhere, hubby was through the door and trying his best to ask for me. Close on his heels, his companion was, of course, far more articulate. With the countdown to surgery already started, my husband and his “buddy” suddenly appear at the foot of my bed.

He was so happy to see me. So concerned about how I felt (I probably looked rather pathetic) and needing, desperately, to help. The staff was wonderful and agreed that the two of them could sit in my little cubical and await my return.

When the world came back in focus, he was again the helpful gent.  Holding things, handing me juice, holding my hand, and helping me dress.  How far back into his mind did he need to reach to show the support he had in so many other circumstances to be the protector, my knight?

The rest of the story is pretty much your normal victorious return home from quick and dirty surgery. Hubby’s companion stayed with us over night then went on to other things with the assurance he was available if I needed help. Through a friend, I located a couple not far from us that could retrieve my car.  That, of course, was another relief for my husband.  Abstracts are not his forte, and I couldn’t explain where it was or why.

Credit NASA Hubble Star Collection

Credit NASA Hubble Star Collection

My beloved husband has been attentive, concerned, and caring. He has been helpful when we run into “bending” or “lifting” activities. No, he still can’t keep track of who I am for a whole day and I have to remind him several times a day it isn’t a good idea for me to drink wine just now. But I do know that even when he can’t keep track of who I am, I am still somehow his northern star.

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Filed under Caregiving Backstage, Personal Journeys