Archive for April, 2013

Today’s fashion statement

April 29, 2013

I didn’t intend to make one, and I’m not really sure what I said, but here it is.

Friday night I left a comment on the PBS NewsHour’s “Doubleheader” blog post.  The post included commentary on the gathering of the many presidents at the opening of the Bush Library.  I mentioned in my comment Nixon in his presidential windbreaker and Pope Benedict in his red shoes after their respective resignations.

Today I went to help out at the hospice office.  I was to greet people showing up for a grief group.  I had been wearing a pair of somewhat fashionable jeans (which I had bought used) and a white button-down shirt with vertical blue stripes.  I figured I needed to be a little more presentable, so I decided to add a blue blazer and less casual shoes than I usually wear.

What I ended up with, without realizing it, was a Yale jacket and red Mary Janes (the striped white and blue lining of the blazer was a nice match for my shirt and the Mary Janes showed off my multi-hued striped socks).  The blazer I got through some kind of offer to Yale alumns I had responded to a couple of years ago, the shoes reminded me of how my mother put me in red shoes when I was a pre-schooler.

So in a way, I echoed the behavior I was gently chiding in my Doubleheader comment: holding onto the past with jacket and shoe choices.  But I wasn’t aware of the echo until this evening, long after the event was over and I was back home and in my usual duds.


Liver levels

April 28, 2013

I had a physical recently because my doctor’s office basically told me it was the only way I could be assured of having a doctor there.  (I needed to be assigned to another doctor when my previous PCP left the practice.)  The blood work disclosed an elevated level in the liver panel, so I was told to get another test done in two to three weeks.  Which I did, and the level is now normal.

What made this a little more interesting was the fact that this was the symptom that Willy had ten years ago this spring that led to his diagnosis of bile duct cancer.  He had had blood work done in January of 2003, and the doctor never mentioned an elevated liver test result when he discussed the results with him.  But he called Willy in in May of that year for a physical, which puzzled both of us, and that’s when the cascade of events began.

Years later I wondered whether the January tests would have shown an elevated level in the liver panel since the May test was as high as it was.  (Willy was dead before the end of August.)  Eventually I asked a doctor relative about it.  They thought it probably had been elevated but expressed confidence that the doctor had used an appropriate interval between tests.  I had wondered whether the doctor had not noticed the result initially and whether that might account for what seemed to me a lengthy interval and a lack of communication.

I don’t think I’m going to try to find out whether the retesting protocol has changed during the past ten years.  I suspect I’m better off letting the whole thing go, again.

Pearls before swine

April 27, 2013

Sometimes in frustration a teacher, let’s say, feels hurt and indignant that their students aren’t paying attention or open to the lesson.  Maybe the teacher is even fearful that without the learning, something painful will occur.  Maybe the teacher feels inadequate or disappointed that they will not be the one to witness that break-through moment of understanding by the students.

Some teachers become frustrated, even if it’s only in the teachers’ lounge or to their family at home.  “Pearls before swine” I think is a phrase that might reflect one, fairly bitter, version of this.

But the error is in thinking of the teaching as pearls or the audience as swine.  The teachings are insights we have from our own perspective; our real mission is to help the audience get to the point where they have them, too, on their own, for real — not merely agree with them on faith — really take them in as a part of their reality.

And, more obviously, perhaps, the people in the audience are not swine.  If they have difficulty learning, then perhaps we are being invited to learn to become more effective teachers.

Otherwise we’re all going to get stuck in some kind of interaction that doesn’t go anywhere and devolves into teacher and audience disconnecting completely.

Raccoon in the afternoon

April 26, 2013

I was out running an errand on foot when I see a raccoon on the sidewalk about a house-length away from me coming towards me.  He (she?) turns around and I cross the street.

I run my errand (about a block away), and on the way back a few minutes later, make a small detour and stop at the middle school nearby.  I let the secretary in the central office know about the raccoon, because it’s my understanding that a raccoon out in the middle of the day is apt to be ill, and there it is, close by to the school and on the route home many of the students walk along, especially during good weather like today’s.  The secretary thanks me and says she’ll call the animal control officer to look into the matter.

I walk back home, and as I pass where I saw the raccoon, I see a young child playing on his lawn.  So I ask, “Can I tell you something?  I just saw a raccoon nearby … ” and then he kind of interrupts and happily tells me that “We just saw it” and that it lives in “that tree” and points to a very storm-damaged tree nearby.  I still suggested that he be careful, but at least I knew that he and others at his house were aware of the raccoon.

Well, I don’t know whether I should have gone to the school or discussed it with the boy, I felt kind of officious, but I think after things like the Newtown shooting, I feel somehow we’re all supposed to go an extra mile to try to protect children and school children.  I figured I’d feel better in retrospect if I told people than if I saw it in the local paper next week that something happened.  But figuring out where that line is between what is my business and what isn’t I think has become even more difficult not just to discern but to see as others in the community see it.


April 26, 2013

I was mildly curious to hear about the claim that the Boston Marathon bombers had planned to bomb Times Square subsequently.  I had seen some headlines, hadn’t read much, and thought I’d catch it on the evening news.

I turned on the PBS NewsHour at six p.m., and just as it was getting started, Gita telephoned.  By the time we were done, it was almost 6:30, so I figured I’d try the network evening news casts, I tune into one, and then my furnace decides to kick on (it heats the hot water, as well as providing room heat).  This is a process that can take a long time as we near the time for the furnace’s annual tune-up.  While the furnace is in that ignition process, it apparently draws enough electricity to interfere with something in the process through which I get my television signal.   (I have a funky electrical system, which I don’t think is unusual for an old house, and the lights dim a bit too during the furnace ignition process.)   So again, no news for me on this lead story.

Maybe I don’t need to hear this news?

“Monkey mind”

April 21, 2013

I’ve never really liked the term myself, but I think it’s the one people generally use in connection with identifying the part of the mind which is not involved in spiritual experiences and understanding of the divine.  Why people who write about religion write as if they’ve never heard of the distinction between the monkey mind and other parts of our mental apparatus beats me.  Of course if we confine ourselves to discussion of apprehending God through this part of the mind (the monkey mind) we wind up with talk about “imagining” God.  But that’s like discussing rendering a song with the human voice on the assumption that human beings can only speak and not sing.

Of course, I’m reacting to something I just read:  “The Benefits of Church,” by T.M. Luhrmann, in the NYTimes.

“No holding back”

April 21, 2013

There’s a lyric in a song by Jackson Browne that says “If you ever need holding with no holding back” that caught my attention long ago.  (It’s in “Sky Blue and Black” — there’s a live version from a concert in Milan that I like.)

Here’s why I was thinking about it this morning.

It occurred to me that there’s a difference between receiving the same thing from others when there’s no holding back and when there is — same thing, different sources, one holding something back (because there’s more they could do) and one not (they are doing everything they can).  There is something in the act of giving one’s all that makes a qualitative difference, I think; as a recipient I can perceive the difference.

This idea has application in regular social relationships on the physical plane, but it also has significance on other planes.  People who perceive ghosts don’t expect them to show up in a body on their doorstep, but people who perceive others who are in bodies and who communicate through their subconscious too expect that those people, if they are giving their all, will interact on the physical plane.  They are not ghosts, they are not God, what they can give includes a physical aspect, and if they don’t offer that, then they are holding back.  And that is a difference that makes a difference.


April 21, 2013

I understood the relief when the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was taken into custody last night, but I was taken aback at the celebrating I saw pictures of afterwards.  To me the whole thing is sad, if not grim, and I think celebrating the apprehension of the suspect is a step towards dehumanizing people who commit such acts.  Down that path I think we ultimately lose our own humanity.  I’d rather keep mine than lose it over a brief jump into a puddle of misplaced emotional self-indulgence.  I think it’s a good idea to try to have compassion for people regardless of whether they have compassion for me — doesn’t necessarily mean I’m up to being in the same room with them in the moment, but it’s a long-term goal.

Who’s raising the child

April 17, 2013

With the current Supreme Court case about who should raise a child of an Indian father in the news, I was thinking of other cases (some legal cases, some only social worker cases) I’ve known about that seem to fit a similar pattern.  I don’t know all the facts to all the cases, including this one, but I am curious about whether people are taking into account that as an emotional matter, there is a difference for some people between having the biological mother of their child raise the child, or even their extended family, and placing the child with “strangers.” I would say that if and when a mother decides to place a child for adoption, the parental rights of the biological father are revisited and he either consents to the adoption and relinquishes his rights anew, or he takes responsibility for the child’s care in some way.

And there is a difference between asking a father about terminating his parental rights in the context of asking for financial support from him and asking him as a general matter whether he wishes to sever his ties to the child.  We can have laws that predicate parental rights on certain kinds of behavior, but this will not change emotional structures — a man may flee from financial responsibility without changing his sense of connection with his offspring.  We can disapprove of this til the cows come home, but not dealing with it realistically apparently produces fathers reappearing and inserting themselves into proceedings at inconvenient times.  Fathers know of cases in which by continuing their parental rights they end up with lots of (financial) burden and not the benefit of actual involvement in the child’s life — a new boyfriend of the mother, her mother, some other relative of hers may help her push him out of the picture, to use the system to curtail his rights, especially if she has more social resources to do this than he.  And I know of cases in which it seemed pretty clear that the biological mother had been a part of orchestrating a situation in which the father could disrupt an adoptive placement she had had second thoughts about.

I guess my thought is that to resolve these situations, we need changes in social working more than we need fine legal distinctions and interpretations by sophisticated jurists.

The dangers of teaching

April 14, 2013

I come from a family in which most people taught, either throughout their lives or for a time, myself included.  My maternal grandmother would interrupt my grandfather leading the family seder at Passover, to explain, in English, to my sister and me, what it was all about.  I enjoyed it.  I loved listening to her explanations — and to her stories, to her explanations of all the things, including from their travels, in their apartment in Brooklyn.  (If you seemed to really like something, it went home with you, unless it was already connected to someone else, like the “goody-goody gumdrop” candy dish, which, I think, was somehow connected to my uncle.)  I loved her pot roast, too.

So I feel as if I grew up in an environment in which teaching was a positive experience.  It was for me in school, too.

But in regard to some kinds of subject matter, I think there are dangers.  With regard to some kinds of knowledge, a little of it can be a dangerous thing.  The biggest danger, I believe, lies in explaining something that has to be experienced first or otherwise the experience will be influenced and distorted by the explanation, or in allowing students to substitute intellectual understanding of the concept for experience of the thing explained, and, as a further consequence of this, to make the direct experience more difficult to have.  Sometimes I think teachers can only really preach safely to the choir.

The choir may well need the teaching once it has experienced what it has experienced.  But I sometimes think that rather than have been surprised, or dismayed, by how his book Life of the Beloved found its audience with those already with faith, Henri Nouwen could have seen it as confirmation of a principle of the universe.

Do some people have faith experiences as the result of reading books or listening to lectures?  I don’t know.  I think the spark could be transmitted through such media to an already receptive student.  But I would guess it would be something attached to the teaching that would be the source of ignition — some passion born of the teacher’s own faith — not the intellectual content.

But maybe I’m just generalizing from my own spot in the universe.  What I do know, is that just as advising others on their romances is a dangerous business, so, too, is teaching spirituality.  It’s not that the teachings are wrong, though sometimes they are or are slightly off, it’s more about how they will be understood or used by the audience — that, too, has to be taken into account.  To my mind, the name of the game is to get everybody to participate, to see for themselves, not to get everybody to see our own souvenirs from our experience and be able to describe them back.

How do I think we get others to participate?  “Attraction rather than promotion.”  (I’m quoting from Al-Anon’s 11th Tradition.)  And then, I think, we share as equals, regardless of how many merit badges we may have.  That’s the humility that keeps us open and receptive to hearing clearly, I think.

I get a lot out of hearing what spiritual teachers teach.  But it is confirmation and/or clarification of what I already know through some other means.  How I came to know was by following the bread crumbs in my life.