Archive for the 'explanation' Category

Don’t know what to say

September 16, 2015

My copy of last week’s New Yorker magazine did not arrive in the mail until Saturday.  And I didn’t get to page 61 until last night.  Which I would usually not bother to write a blog post to report, except that page 61 includes a quotation from Pope Francis about Communion being “‘not a reward for the perfect but a medicine for the sick.'”  Which I probably also would not have written a blog post about, except that I wrote in a news comment (to a Ross Douthat column) on Saturday, “Maybe receiving communion has nothing to do with those things, but I am hoping it is a means towards spiritual growth and not in the nature of a some kind of prize for already having accomplished that growth.”

When I got to the quote in the New Yorker article (called “Holy Orders,” by Alexander Stille) last night, my mind went, “Bingo!” in a sense of recognition, and dismay, that that’s where I got the idea — but I hadn’t read it yet at the time I wrote the comment, so I didn’t — couldn’t — cite the article.  (And no, I hadn’t read the article online earlier in the week.)  I had the strong sense when I read the quotation that the idea had not been an idea original to me.  Which I can’t say was a huge surprise to me —  when I wrote what I wrote in my comment, I thought it was an interesting idea and a good point, but I was a little surprised that I had come to it and wondered what a Catholic person might think of it (I worry about inadvertently offending).

So I just thought I would put these facts out there.  People can interpret them as they will.  For me it’s less about how to interpret them and more about what I do going forward as a consequence of experiencing this kind of thing.



February 9, 2014

I’m thinking of the mechanics of knowing.  How do I know what I know?

Yesterday I was in a conversation that included how the internal combustion of fire figures in my contemplation.  So last night, I decided to light a candle so I could have a flame to refer to during contemplation.

I chose a yahrzeit candle because I wanted a flame in a container.  I would have preferred a stone container, but I don’t have one, so glass was what I went with.

It was not easy to light.  The wick was low.  It had been lit before.  (I don’t let them burn if I’m leaving the house or overnight, whatever the religious rules might require.)  I am not the first to attempt many of the things I do.  I like being (only) one of many.

After I got the wick lit, and not just a match burning on its own in the wax next to it, it occurred to me to wonder if I was lighting a yahrzeit candle because it was somebody’s yahrzeit.  My dad’s had passed.  So I looked up the date on which I had given birth, and on which the baby also died, in late February many years ago, and sure enough, Friday, February 7, 2014 was the yahrzeit according to the Jewish calendar for that date.

I was a day late, but the coincidence seemed too strong to me to be just a coincidence.  My Friday had included upheaval on a number of fronts in my life, too.

So I started wondering about the engineering of what happened, the mechanics of knowing.

I don’t follow the Jewish calendar in general, I tend to celebrate yahrzeits (which I think of as Jahrzeits) around the date of death on the secular calendar and when the spirit moves me (usually a few weeks before the date on the secular calendar).

The only person I know, I think, who calculates yahrzeits properly according to Jewish rules and the Jewish calendar is a cousin who is sporadically in touch.  I am not sure whether he is aware of the birth and death, and it would not, in any case, be eligible for being marked by a yahrzeit observance according to orthodox Jewish rules, because she didn’t live long enough (she didn’t live 28 days, she lived less than one day).  So I am not picking up on somebody else’s observation of a yahrzeit, I don’t think, but, on the other hand, I wouldn’t have done this myself on my own, without any input from elsewhere.

I don’t have a sure explanation.

But the experience fits into my sense of what I need to do to transition into another phase in my life.  I need to be less interactive, at least for a while.  The image that came to me is that of a generic grandparent sitting in the corner of a library in an elementary school, and just reading.  To themselves, silently.   Not interacting with the children or the staff.

This may mean not blogging, this may mean not posting comments elsewhere.  I don’t know, but I think it means paying more attention to discerning between what other people are calling for me to do and what I actually feel called to do, and only participating in the latter, even if in the past I have heeded the calls of other people as part of what I felt called from a deeper place to do.  I don’t feel that way right now.

I feel a need to make change in my life unilaterally, having tried for some years now to do this through a process of negotiation — I need to get off a merry-go-round I feel I have been on.  While it is clear to me that there are contributing factors to this situation from other people’s misperceptions, it is equally clear that there’s nothing I can do about that, especially when it would involve their recognizing that their process is flawed and producing errors.

It’s hard for me, though, and I did post a comment on Nick Kristof’s blog (in connection with his column about our prisons having become de facto mental health hospitals) earlier this morning, because, as I wrote in it, I was disappointed there were none posted yet when I had looked.   I try not to be doctrinaire.  It’s always a work in progress.


September 11, 2013

I’m getting a message that since I haven’t purchased a “No Ads upgrade,” WordPress is going to run ads (at least, in some circumstances) on this blog, “to cover the costs of operating the site for the user.”  My apologies.

The world must be a certain way for there to be “God”

August 7, 2013

I was reading opinion pieces and comments on prayer on the NYTimes website the other day, and there was the usual dismissal with certainty of what many people with faith believe and do.  It occurred to me some time after that that it’s not just about rejecting the straw man or red herring of God conceptualized as a cranky parent, it’s got something, I think, to do with reacting to a notion that God’s existence should mean that the world is perfect or on balance pleasant.

But I don’t think that thinking about the “existence of God” as an all or nothing proposition is all that helpful.  Lots of believers experience God as a force who strengthens and comforts and imparts flexibility and resilience for life’s difficulties.  God doesn’t even have to be a “who,” God can be much more impersonal than that and still be the source of the kind of energy that guides us and gets us through.  It’s a matter of accessing that guidance and help, the strength, flexibility, and resiliency — it is such a matter for believers, and I don’t see why “non-believers” wouldn’t be able to seek things like strength, flexibility, and resilience through a process of their own.  I don’t think it’s necessary to “go through” “God” to access those things, in the sense of believing in a particular concept of a divinity.  I think the idea of asking God helps some people focus and open themselves up to accessing these resources (strength, flexibility —  which I mean in the sense of not being brittle and breaking —  etc.) — but I think they are accessible without traditional belief in a traditional God.

I think theism vs. atheism is one of our dualistic pieces of human nonsense.  There’s no reason for us to form up into two such teams.  Once the world is allowed to be as it is, and a more perfect world is not the objective of belief in God — the controversy stops being about whether there is a happily-ever-after — and then maybe more people can entertain that there is more to the world than what is visible and material.

This is a version of what I had written this afternoon, and I’m too tired now to do much more with it tonight, but I wanted to try to post something on it before I head south to New Jersey tomorrow and probably become even further removed from my original thoughts on the topic.

[God is part of creation, we are in a sense inside the belly of God — God is not outside of creation. — This is a note leftover from before, I’ll leave it here as an afterthought.]


May 12, 2013

Since my father died, I have had more to do as executrix to his estate and POA to my mother, in addition to everything else on my plate.  One casualty is keeping up with the news.  Quite simply, I can’t the way I used to.  So I’m going to stop commenting online and blogging until I can again.

Who’s that talking?

May 3, 2013

What do people mean when they say hear God talking to them?  It’s an interesting question, from many angles.  The NYTimes series by T.M. Luhrmann raises it, the piece addressing it receiving the title “Is That God Talking?”

The column seems to assume that what people are hearing either is “God” as God is commonly conceptualized or it is an artifact of human brain activity.

The spiritual realm is not just God in God’s original form, I don’t think.  There are lots of conduits, in fact that’s really what creation is, I think, a beautiful conglomeration of conduits.  This includes material creation.

The spiritual realm is as multifaceted as the material, I think.  There’s lots of stuff to pick up if one turns on one’s CB radio, so to speak.  Discerning the difference between spam and something helpful is a talent.  I think Paul talks about it in the New Testament.  There are helpful voices who are not God but who are pretty good sources for help and guidance nonetheless.  I think the ultimate source for their help is God’s energy, but I think they are able to provide it in a form more accessible to us and without distorting it with too much of their own dross.

So I think it raises a false dilemma to assume that what people are hearing is somehow either self-generated or God.  I think the real questions are whether it comes from a trustworthy source, whether it is helpful.  That’s part of the process of asking for and receiving help — the challenge, if you will, of not getting a “wrong number.”

Who’s out there?  My experience with people who focus on spiritual pursuits is that while there’s an overlap in a lot of conceptualizations, there’s also a lot of variety.  Many people I know talk about spirit guides or a particular spirit guide who helps them, kind of like a sponsor from a 12 Step program.  Some conceptualize angels.  There are also adolescent spirits who make mischief and there are confused ghosts, some of whom can be quite free and pushy with their advice.

I think we can also tap into great reservoirs of helpful perception through connecting with


I got interrupted as I was writing this this morning.  I came back to it this evening, about twelve hours later.  I don’t want to try to recreate what my idea was or to paste some other ending on what I wrote, but I thought I’d at least explain the abruptness of the cut off.

What to post

March 22, 2013

I was writing a post yesterday about what happens when life’s excessive difficulties result in a person’s implosion or explosion instead of a “faith experience.”  I called it “Foxholes,” in reference to the old saw, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”  (I think there are.)  After reading David Brooks’s column about foxes and hedgehogs, I didn’t want to post something called “Foxholes,” even if I had written most of it before I read his column.

So I’m going to add a little here about my adventures Wednesday night with our medical system, which I mentioned in a reply to a comment to Timothy Egan’s column on The Five Guys restaurant and its relationship to health insurance.

I had been taking an antibiotic, and after taking a dose, a short time later I felt awful.  Waves of chest pain, nausea, retching, a red itchy rash on the back of my neck and shoulders, including a couple of hives.  The antibiotic was minocycline.  I think what I had was probably a side effect reaction, not what we call an allergic reaction.

I’ve had allergic reactions to other medications, as well as side effect reactions to both meds and vaccines (or their bases, or both).  I was once told by a Dr. Melchinger, who was an internist in New Haven Willy and I both used, that I apparently have a body that will eventually if not sooner react negatively to medicine, and that I should not take any unless absolutely necessary — to save my window of tolerating them for when it’s especially critical.  So I’m a veteran of medication reactions.

I would have called the pharmacy, but they were closed.  I called the prescribing doctor, tried to page her, didn’t hear back, made some other calls, one of which told me try a local hospital and that they should have a nurses line to advise me.  They didn’t.  I tried the nurses line on my health insurance card.  They told me to go to the ER as I might be having a heart attack.  I didn’t think I was, and I thought an ER visit was “overkill” and a waste of resources (including my time and energy).  I tried paging my doctor again, then eventually I went to bed.

At 6:34 a.m. the next morning my doctor called me in response to the pages.  (The second page had been at about 11 p.m.)  To make a longer story shorter, she told me to come in at 11:30 that same morning, at which time we agreed (for slightly different reasons) that I shouldn’t continue taking the minocycline.  She made a new diagnosis and gave me a topical medication.  When I went to fill it, the pharmacist chatted me up, and when he heard its relationship to the minocycline Rx he had filled for me before, he seemed to recognize the reaction as one associated with minocycline and said immediately that I should avoid the med in the future.  It helped to hear that from him.   (Of course, he and I are old chums after discovering our mutual affinity for the Stop & Shop Friday special on rotisserie chicken.)

I am underwhelmed by a health care system in which even when I have good insurance, I can’t get helpful advice in the situation I was in.

When I told my mother about my adventure the next evening, she said she thought the hospital ER would have gotten excited over the heart attack idea and run lots of tests and even insisted on keeping me overnight.  I hope they could have done a differential diagnosis better than that, but who knows.

I’ve had the opposite experience, though, which was even worse: knowing I was seriously ill and being refused an examination, despite multiple requests.  It turned out to be a post-partum infection and the consequences were terrible, both short term and long term.

So the other night’s adventure was, to be sure, unpleasant, but not horrible.  I write about it mainly to point out that we use the ER in inappropriate ways not just when someone is uninsured — it’s as if it has given us an “out” in all sorts of situations, kind of like that Life cereal commercial in which the older kids have Mikey taste it:  “I know, we’ll just send the person to the ER,” as if there were no downsides to that approach.  And I also wanted to point out that having good insurance may be necessary but insufficient to gain access to appropriate care when necessary.  The system does not work as advertized.  Some of it is less-than-stellar implementation, some of it is structural.  Paging systems break down, 24-hour “urgent care” is not available, a patient’s history does not produce adequate planning for pretty predictable negative outcomes, etc.

Instead of patient satisfaction surveys, the system needs a feedback mechanism to transmit more complex information from people with actual experience of the system.  Actual care providers may have this complex information, too, but I suspect both experts within the private system and policy experts in the public sector don’t.  I sometimes think they want to solve the problems they want to solve, not the real problems that actually exist.

Restricted communication

February 8, 2013

While I am riding out the nor’easter with my mother in NJ, I thought I would try to engage in some of my regular news commenting routines.  My dad’s computer and browser, I am discovering, won’t support what I usually do.  I got a message so saying when I tried to comment on Gwen Ifill’s blog post on Rosa Parks.  On the NYTimes website, the typing is on delay, and eventually the computer freezes up. 

Apparently I am on hiatus from commenting, as well as from snow shoveling duty.

I am grateful we got my dad’s ashes buried before the snow, and we got a lot done earlier in the week.  Being stuck here and forced to chill maybe are what I need now.


February 2, 2013

My father’s cousins have a peculiar way of expressing condolences.

When I lost a baby years ago, one of them wrote to me while on vacation saying something to the effect of, “So sorry, having a wonderful time, wish you were here.”

This time, with my dad’s death, I got a letter from her sister demanding I call to explain why she couldn’t talk my father on his birthday.  I knew my mother had already spoken to her about my dad’s death, so I called to try to clarify.  What I got was an earful about how I hadn’t done enough and how I should be doing for her sister, too.  She also thinks I’m currently teaching, which I haven’t been for years, and she addresses the envelope using an honorific that isn’t mine and a hyphenated last name that I’ve never used.  So there are other indications that she doesn’t have an accurate understanding of my life, one of the chief challenges of which is needing to be in two places hundreds of miles apart at the same time.

Which brings me to the explanatory portion of this post:  I’m off to NJ again this morning (having rearranged my schedule in light of the forecast), to bring my mom to get the will out of the safe deposit box, to start the probate process, to go through my father’s desk, etc., etc., etc.  And to spend some time with my mom (and her help).

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.