Archive for January, 2013

More hawks

January 30, 2013

I’m thinking there may be (Red-tailed) hawks living at the junction of Rte 16 with Rte I-95, because I think I’ve seen some there before.  Today, as I was stopped at a traffic light there, I saw one fly down to the ground and, a little later, fly back up across the road and into a tree.

I had just been doing financial paperwork on my parents’ behalf, and I was taking the back roads route home instead of the highways I had driven to get there.  I’ll have to make the trip again, with the death certificate, which I don’t yet have.

I wonder if there’s a language in which “girls” (or women) and “birds” are referred to with the same word or a similar word (in English, an example would be “chick.)”  Because I think there’s a spiritual story in which a man is told to hunt for a “bird” with a plump white breast and red plumage, and he ends married to a buxom redhead instead of attracting in a hawk as a totem animal by developing his understanding of the Earth and her story.


Pathologizing different takes on reality

January 30, 2013

I wrote a draft of a letter for this week’s “Invitation to Dialogue” feature in the NYTimes, but decided it wasn’t really on point, so I am putting it here instead:

There’s a line in a Tom Lehrer song that goes, “When correctly viewed, Everything is lewd,” and I submit that when viewed from some perspectives, our consensus reality doesn’t make a whole lot more sense than other realities we might agree on.  So to me, it’s the level of distress, coupled with a detachment from most people’s sense of reality, that raises my concern about an individual’s mental health.  I would hate to see a psychopharmacological equivalent to religious persecution develop in the name of public health and safety concerns.

My first reaction was actually just to send the citation to John Nelson’s Healing the Split, which treats the subject better than I can.


January 28, 2013

Brief reaction to today’s Daily Meditation:  yes, but to my understanding, that’s only one of a number of phases of spiritual development.  Making that phase into a more permanently desired state is keeping us stuck, is what I see.  It’s always only about willingness.

Two reactions

January 27, 2013

I’ve kept two Richard Rohr Daily Meditations open in my browser since I got back from New Jersey, with a view to processing them by writing a post in reaction to them.

One is about power and whether it can have a “good meaning.”

I am wary of power.  I have had the experience of getting enough of myself out of the way so that another person’s power goes through me or boomerangs back elsewhere, but that’s not my power.  I do occasionally gather myself up internally and assert myself pretty firmly, and with results, but again, it never feels as if the power originates with me — most of the time it seems to me to be a reflection back of somebody else’s willfulness.  So I think for me power with a “good meaning” would be power directed appropriately.

The second is about the Eucharist, including its dynamic of feeding.

I kind of hold with something Gita once told me, about how ultimately we recognize that we are the sugar, implying (my gloss) that when we have located the divinity within ourselves, we in a sense become capable of feeding ourselves with that infinite part of ourselves.

I actually take the cannibalism aspect that Father Rohr notes as a reflection of a difficulty in our local spiritual world that Jesus may have been trying to express:  that some of us allow ourselves to be cannibalized spiritually.  I think this especially happens when we are vulnerable while going through a process of spiritual rebirth.  How we repair this part of our world I think involves teaching people self-awareness, relegating enmeshment with others to others who don’t have consuming needs, and teaching people about the spiritual world and healthful practices in a way similar to how the medical profession has taught us about germs and hand-washing.  This last aspect I want to note is not about avoiding “evil” stuff or people but about healthful and helpful spiritual hygiene.

Okay, I can close those web pages now.  I may be heading back to NJ soon.  My dad has died.  Today would have been his birthday.


January 27, 2013

I remember, after hearing about Todd Akin’s claims about “legitimate” rape, being surprised that the issues I explored in an article on Roman law and culture were actually not quite as obsolete as I had thought when I wrote the piece about twenty years ago.  The article is about the validity of coerced consent in Roman law, how the Augustan moral legislation made a distinction between forced sex that was degrading and consensual sex that was degrading, relevant.  Then even more recently I found yet another modern analog to a consent issue I had touched on — constructive consent, as opposed to freely given consent.  This was raised in a case that has been in the news, a case involving paternal consent to an adoption.  Surprises me that we don’t gain a better take on consent, that we seem to reinvent the same conceptual wheels and ride them into the same pitfalls.

Me and my dad (and his nose)

January 26, 2013



Shutting down

January 26, 2013

I’m a little familiar with how a person approaching death may stop eating and drinking as the body goes through a process of shutting down.  My dad is going through that now, and home hospice nursing is supposed to begin for him this weekend, now that he’s agreed to it.

For him I saw the shutting down process begin earlier.  I had sent him a couple of books for his (88th) birthday, including one about Senator Mitch McConnell.  (He’s a fan, he thinks the senator is smart and clever and he agrees with at least some of his positions.)  He didn’t have time to read it between hospitalizations.  I had thought I was saving him a trip to his local library, because he’s been a regular there to check out books, but he had too many things to do to read the book.  And by the time I got there last week and he came home again from the hospital, he wasn’t up to it.

But he did read the newspapers on Saturday and Sunday.  By Monday or Tuesday he wasn’t even able to do that, and I knew he was reaching a point of fairly rapid decline.

He didn’t want me to leave and I wished I had some other way of handling all my responsibilities.  I had lobbied my parents to move closer after Willy’s death, but we were no competition for the New York Metropolitan Opera.

To be fair, I think my father gets out of opera performances what others get out of religious services.  So he would have been leaving his source of sustenance.

But I couldn’t, and can’t, pick up that slack, eliminate that 210 mile distance.

I’ll go back soon, I don’t know whether he will still be alive.  He wanted to know when I’d be back and I told him I wasn’t sure, that I would play it by ear.

For now I’m trying to listen, and to do what I need to do here before I can leave again.

In some ways I found listening while I was down there easier.  Things fell into place more easily than they had any right to.  Except for the day we spent obtaining a pain medication prescription for my dad.  But another day I knew somehow to bring with me the papers that needed a notarized signature when I took my mom to register with a pharmacy that makes home deliveries, even though it was the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and so many places (like banks) were closed.  And there on the pharmacy door it said “notary public.”  Stuff like that.

So now I’m here, he’s shutting down there.

Right before I left, I asked him if I could kiss him on the head, and he said, “No,”  with his usual dismissiveness.  So I stroked his nose, which was something I did as a child when I sat in his lap.  (He had thought it was because I thought he had a big nose, but it wasn’t — I just liked his nose.)  So he put up with the intimacy of my stroking his nose this time, too — I think he knew there was an element of teasing but also love in the gesture.

I ended up sleeping on the floor the last night I was there.  (The live-in help I had helped arrange for was in the guest room I had been using previously.)  It felt like what I call “old karma.”  I just play it out, like reading a music score and singing it at sight.  This not being there now feels like old karma, too.  At least there’s nursing and household help at this point.

For me there is clearly a challenge in figuring out what to do, what I can do, what I can’t do even though I would like to.  It’s a lesson to learn that I can’t always mitigate the consequences of other people’s decisions.



Red-tailed hawk in NJ

January 24, 2013

I was sitting in my parents’ dining room the other day, staring out a picture window at the woods behind their house while answering questions for a social worker helping with their care, and I see a large, robust, cream color breasted bird sitting in a nearby tree, and it was indeed a Red-tailed hawk.  I never saw one before in my parents’ neighborhood, and my mother said neither had she (and they’ve lived there since before I was born).  The hawk swooped down out of the tree, but I didn’t see what it did, because my view was blocked and I didn’t want to alarm the social worker by craning my neck.  I found its presence reassuring, though.  Not so much the bloody and disemboweled deer carcass on Rte. 84 on my trip back today, if we’re going to get into signs and omens and reading entrails.

The lady with the alligator purse

January 16, 2013

“In walked the doctor, in walked the nurse, in walked the lady with the alligator purse.”

I’m heading out to NJ in a couple of days, both as a daughter and as the lady with the alligator purse.

I’ve been working the phone assiduously on behalf of my elderly and ill parents, who don’t like to plan for needing help and are resistant to accepting it, but it struck me that, despite the fact that I have no one to cover for me here, I need to go down now.  While I’m there, I don’t think I will have access to a computer, so this blog, and my commenting online, will be on hiatus.

Given that I can’t stay all that long, I am mulling over why I am winding up doing this over a holiday weekend, and I think my answer is, so that I spend a lot of the time focused on my parents themselves and not on running around doing tasks and having meetings and trying to help arrange their care.

It’s interesting that each of them has expressed their compliments to me over my level of expertise with doing this kind of stuff (arranging the care, that is, not making the trip), and I point out to them that this is the kind of thing (different needs, different services, but same basic skill set used) I’ve been doing for years now, since Willy got sick, so that it’s the result of a lot of practice.  And, of course, whatever I do, it doesn’t mean there’s smooth sailing, it’s more a matter of that it would have been worse without my contribution.  And their surprise, because there is an element of that in their compliments, suggests to me that they really have no idea what my life has been like for the past decade.

Performing tasks

January 16, 2013

I think I learned this from Gita, she to whom I go to hear what I don’t wish to hear.  It’s the idea that whatever it is we’re doing, we are doing it for God (or, if you prefer, we can do with the attitude that we are doing it for God).  I associate that idea with tasks that are tedious, difficult, too many in number for the amount of time, etc., but I mostly associate it with tasks deemed lowly in some way.

But today I was caught up in activities that involved technology, finances, and other things that suggest status and significance.  What I actually spent hours doing on the phone and online with these people in the financial sector was really unproductive and unsatisfying, and why it has any better reputation than cleaning bathrooms or shoveling snow, I don’t know — I certainly didn’t find it more satisfying than tasks lower on the totem pole according to our system of values, and it struck me that the people on the other end of my communications, while very nice and trying to be helpful, were being paid more than I think maids and plowers are paid.

It struck me that what we assign value to is pretty arbitrary, and that some of the current claims to an activity’s value are a little like the emperor’s new clothes.

But if the orientation is that whatever task is being done is being done for God, it doesn’t really matter.  That concept is a great leveler.