Saturday, November 30, 2013

Being Kind to Each Other

I have just finished Anne Lamott's new book, "Stitches", which is perhaps her most spiritual treatise. She tells stories about hard things and sad things like cancer and illness and loss and death. Some of the book is re-telling stories you have read before if you are, like me, a big fan of Anne's. But they support this new book and the idea that we are stitching our selves and our world together with kindness, presence and breath.

The quote I loved most and have pasted over my desk at work is this sentence from Ram Das:

"Ultimately we are all just walking each other home."

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Poem for Thanksgiving Day


No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.

Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and

being loved by a good woman. Eleven years

ago he was told he had six months to live

at the rate he was going. And he was going

nowhere but down. So he changed his ways

somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute

of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”

he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.

I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone

expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”

                                    --Raymond Carver

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

At The Still Point

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

(from TS Eliot, Burnt Norton II)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Stand Up Cancer --Tig Notaro

No, I don't mean standing up for cancer or even against cancer but comedian Tig Notaro does stand up comedy about her cancer. Specifically breast cancer and a double mastectomy.

Not laughing yet? I know. But you will be when you hear this wickedly funny actor telling the audience about her cancer just hours after her diagnosis. The thing is not that cancer is or isn't funny but that comedy is always deadly serious. That's why we laugh. Think about your favorite comedians --the ones that make you cry--Robin Williams and Sarah Silverman are two of mine--they are always talking about the stuff that hurts.

That's why we say of a good performance, "He really killed."

If you don't know Tig Notaro Google her to get her website and some YouTube clips or listen to this introduction with her interview on NPR:

Laugh till you cry.

Here's the link:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Learning from Doctors About Making Decisions

Do you ever wonder what your doctor is really thinking when you talk to them about your diagnosis and what to do next? Have you ever said, "What would you do if this was your wife? your life?" Have you wondered if there is a secret code or understanding among doctors?

In yesterday's New York Times--In the section called "Your Money" (Interesting placement) is a powerful article about how doctors make decisions about their own end of life care and how and why some choose not to have all of the treatments that they may be suggesting for others. This is an important article as it allows us to listen behind the scenes as doctors facie their own serious illness or that of a partner.

Another reason this  article is important is that it shows us how hard it can be to get our families on board when we do refuse care or choose to not use every available medical measure. Even doctor's families can be upset or fight back. So how much harder for us?

This is an article to share with your family. Yes, Thanksgiving is coming and weirdly it is a perfect time to have the "What do you want?" conversation along with "Do you want more turkey?" We will be talking to our family and likely remembering those who have died (and how they got there) so there are many places in the conversation to say, "What do you want and not want?" and  "How will we support each other when we are making those decisions?"

Here is the link to the article called, "How Doctors Die--Coming to Grips with Their Own Mortality, They are Showing the Way for Others"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Death Hovers Near Me and Teaches Me to Love

Maybe it is because I have lived through so  many family deaths and maybe its because John's cancer is always present in our lives, but I know that death hovers just above my left shoulder most days. I laugh at this because it reminds me of the 1960's hippy hero Carlos Castenada--he was required reading along with "Siddhartha" and "Be Here Now" in the yippie canon.

Castenada advised that we let death live on our left shoulder as a friend and to consult with death daily. He meantt this in the most positive way: live as if life is short; make decisions based on that and be slow to anger, quick to forgive and really fast to seek joy. Yeah his joy included hallucinogens--but only in the most spiritual pursuit:)

But death hovers near me and this morning, waking in John's arms, I felt it nearby. One of us will die. Will die first. Then what? How bad will the pain be? For whom will it be hardest? What will the survivor do? Just in that barely awakened state it was all there. And I carried it today.

But tonight I go back to those arms and to that warmth, and yes, to that reality.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Self Care is Also Compassion

I can’t say I always understand her but I do love and admire and seek after the mystic, poet, theologian, teacher, Simone Weil. A quote of hers that always helps me—when I remember it --is this:

“Compassion directed to oneself is humility.”

Isn’t that a surprise? But then when you pause, of course. Compassion directed to oneself is humility. A prescription for caregivers. Too saintly caring for others? That’s not humility. Compassion directed to oneself.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Bambi Debate

Deer season begins and so does the annual debate about hunting. I listen carefully to this argument because my own feelings have changed over the years. When I lived in Washington, DC it was very easy to have disdain for hunting and hunters. But when I moved to upstate New York I got a crash course in rural living. There were wild animals in my back yard. My neighbors had dead deer hanging from porches. I was horrified. But when I learned that my neighbors depended on hunting for food, I had to examine my facile city-girl opinions.

Because I’ve lived on both sides of this game I have my own totally subjective rules for who gets to play. First, if you eat meat, you don’t get to debate. I mean, how arrogant can you get? If you eat steak or hamburger and you object to hunting, you are arguing about style not substance. What you are preserving is your right to act fussy and squeamish about seeing an animal carcass. Believe me, steaks and hamburgers have carcasses too.

Hunters don’t get off easy in my book either though: they need to clean up their language. Let’s lose the word “harvest”. This bizarre euphemism isn’t fooling anyone. Deer are mammals, not carrots.  Playing word games to obscure killing is not necessary. After all, we kill human beings all the time: in war, in our criminal justice system and with our cars.  Linguistic obfuscation always heralds a lie. Remember “advisors” in Viet Nam?

One factor that confuses our debate is that we roll all hunters together when we talk about the problems. There are 750,000 registered hunters in New York this year, but there is no prototypical hunter. There are some, like my former neighbors, who hunt for the food their families depend on. Then there are the sportsmen who love the equipment and the ritual. There’s another group for whom hunting is about having an all-guy get away with porn and beer and shooting guns. Then there are the city guys up for the weekend, who, in their Hemingway-esque fantasies, may be the most dangerous people in the woods.

Some hunters are responsible and sane, and others are rude, drunk and dangerous. We need to be specific about which hunter we are talking about when we complain, and we also need the responsible hunters to police their comrades a whole lot better.

Because I know how emotionally charged hunting talk can get I decided to look at the essential document in this debate: I downloaded Bambi. There, in Disney’s anti-hunting polemic, are the images that underlie our emotional conflict. I’ve seen this movie several times, but watching it again I gasped when Bambi’s mother is shot, and I cried at Bambi’s, “Mama, where are you?”  Most of us were babies when we saw this baby animal’s parents get killed. You don’t need Freud to analyze this.

The real issue is hard to put into words. You can hear just how inarticulate both sides become when we talk about the hunting mentality. And those who don’t hunt are quick to add,  “Ah, hunting is so primitive and barbaric.”  Well, it is, but we’ve got tons of leftover “barbarism” in our culture. Gardeners may be the most common “throw-back”. Few of us need to grow flowers but we say, “ I need to get my hands in dirt”.
It’s very easy to think of hunting as evil, but it’s part of our nature. Wasps hunt and owls hunt, lions hunt and so do humans. When children play hide-and-seek they are hunting, and the bargain hunter is, in fact, that.

Perhaps what troubles us most in this debate is not whether we shoot animals, but that, whether we like it or not, hunting reveals the animal in the man and the long ago past that is still at the heart of our human condition.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Your God is Too Small (Or Too Big)

Years ago I read a wonderful book called, “Your God is Too Small” by J.B. Phillips. In it he wrote about how most of us struggle with God or faith because we keep making God too small—we make or imagine him like us or maybe like a human with super powers—but even with the powers of the whole Justice League of America—it’s still a human construct and hence, according to Phillips, too small.

I thought about that this week when I was meeting with some theology students and we were discussing some new ideas in Christian theology and how there are some new ideas about God and evolution and how God may intersect physics and God and Love may be he main construct of evolutionary direction…yeah, that kind of talk.

At one point I said, “But what about a personal God?” and I got the look, and someone said, “Well, I used to believe in a personal God but then I studied…”The message was basically that believing in a personal God was kind of juvenile or “early” in spiritual formation.

I do pick up that slight judgment in other places as well. That look or word that suggests that those who (still) believe in a personal God have not matured in their spiritual development. There’s a kind of spiritual condescension, “Oh, I’m past the personal God thing. Now God is a cosmic force or a New Physics God…blah, blah.

 So me, doing my daily—very personal—prayer starts to feel small—or worse—I feel unsophisticated in my faith.

But then after confessing to my very personal God that I feel small cause I’m not making Him/Her big enough, start to think, “Whoa, isn’t making (perceiving) God as a distant, cosmic, force of the universe just another way to make God too small?” (Yes, irony: in making God so big we make him small again.)

Can’t God be galaxies-wide, loving, an impersonal cosmic force and a personal shepherd at the same time? Why can’t God (we are talking GOD after all) be BIG and small at once?

I think that Hillary Clinton can be the president of the United States and Chelsea’s mother at the same time. So why can’t God be both (and more) simultaneously?

Think about this: If we really grasp the Trinity and if we swear that we believe in this three-in-one business then why not a God who is all: all forms, all types, all sizes, all styles, all dimensions simultaneously?