Archive for the 'help' Category

Need (not) to know

January 29, 2015

We got a lot of snow from the storm a couple of days ago.

The day of the storm, around midday, I shoveled the front steps and path, and when I got to the sidewalk, the snow was, I think, higher than my waist.  I shoveled a small path to the street and then went back in, to regroup.

Jordan went out next, and when I looked out a little while later to see how he was doing, I saw other people clearing our snow too.  Some I did not even recognize.  One had a snow blower and did much of the driveway.  Then the plow came and refilled our apertures.  Jordan and I worked on that and widened the opening at the mouth of the driveway, which is more necessary than people might realize, due to the misalignment of the garage with the driveway.

I got a call during this stint, during the late afternoon, from a nurse at the nursing center where my mother was, and she made me think she thought I needed to come.  I didn’t really think I could come.  On Monday, prior to the storm, I had spoken to my mother, during my visit, about the coming storm,  and I tried to say what I wanted to say to her and to let her know that whatever she needed to do was okay with me.  She was already in an unresponsive state.  The hospice social worker had discussed with me how I shouldn’t feel I needed to be present at my mother’s passing.  And, of course, there was the travel ban til midnight.

I set out in my car the next morning (Wednesday morning), took a different route to the nursing center, favoring major roads, like Mass. Ave., even though the route was longer.  I fishtailed significantly once, in Belmont, on Pleasant Street.

But I got there, to the nursing center, there was even a parking space I could pull into, and I did.  And I went in to see my mother and she had indeed declined further.  And I sat with her, read her a poem, sang to her a couple of songs she used to sing to me when I was sick as a child.  The aide who brought her the breakfast she could not eat brought me a cup of tea.  I read the newspapers I had brought and I prayed and meditated — or, the way I tend to think of it, I plugged in more actively.  The nursing center nurse came in with some liquid meds for my mom.

I mentioned to the nurse that I wished the hospice folks were available, to help me put into context what I was seeing with my mom.  When I had called them the night before, all they could say was that she was stable — no change, from their point of view.

The nursing center nurse came back to check my mother’s oxygen level.  She was already getting oxygen support.  My mother’s fingers were too cold for the machine to get a reading.

So I am thinking “Where is hospice?  Why am I doing this alone?” and then I turn that into, “I, apparently, am hospice.”  So I check in with my guidance to find out how I can help and I do, including letting my mother know that my spirit will stay with hers until there is a hand-off to what comes next, that I will be, as the line in TV dramas has it (she and I used to remark over this line), “with her every step of the way.”  I can remain anchored in the material world and connect to my spirit, and my spirit can be with hers, even after hers is leaving her body.  And something happens, not instantaneously, but it happens, and at some point my mother has grown noticeably quiet and I get the nursing center nurse and she looks for a heart beat and there is none and my mother has passed.

It was peaceful.

Had I known this was in the offing, I would have had a very difficult time getting through the storm and driving over to the nursing center the next day.  But I think I have an understanding with the forces greater than myself not to let me know when my knowing would impede.  Self-consciousness, anxiety, like anger and other things, can be a drag on sliding through those seams life seems to present us with sometimes.  If I follow my guidance, instead of figuring it out myself, including looking ahead, I do much better in such situations.

The other major theme I communicated to my mother as she was, as they say, “actively dying,” was my trust in the universe that we would get adequate help for my mother to have a safe transition.  She would be okay, I would be okay, it would be okay, it was okay.  I truly and deeply felt that, and I feel that about much of this journey I accompanied my mother on — there was help.

That being said, I did feel a huge responsibility myself, about doing my part in a way that helped.  The primary part of that responsibility — making sure my mother received the care she needed — has ended.  Now there are just secondary matters, like paperwork.

Fishing out feathers

October 31, 2014

There were about a dozen swans on the Res yesterday, a heron, two cormorants, a bunch of geese and ducks.

Not surprisingly, there are feathers along the shoreline in places.  I sometimes clamber down to the water’s edge and fish a couple out.  If the shore is too muddy close to the water or the feather is too far off in the water, I look for a long branch.  And then I try to snag the feather using the branch.

It’s kind of like a sport or hobby.  I get a kick out of figuring out how to get down to the shore, what stick to use, how to employ it as a tool.

I am not always very good at the snagging part.  Sometimes I end up pushing the feather further away or sinking it or getting it further stained or covered with muck.

So I ask the universe for help.  I admit this is a pretty silly context in which to ask for the help of the universe, but on the other hand it is very good practice for “turning things over.”  I know I can’t get that feather back without help, and I throw myself on the mercy of those forces beyond me, my motions become more effective, and I lift the feather from the water with my stick.

The other piece is how refreshed I feel afterwards.  I have succeeded in completely distracting myself from all the cares and tasks seemingly on my plate, and for a few minutes, I am just in the moment of fishing out a feather, and in the arms of the universe if I’ve asked for help.  The physical activity I think also contributes to the catharsis.


August 24, 2014

While I was visiting my mother, I had to decide what day to leave.  I had come down a day later than planned, an idea that originated with my mother, due mostly to the weather, and I needed to decide whether to go back home on my originally planned day of departure or to extend the trip one day.

We had accomplished much of what we had planned — banking business; open house; sorting, shredding or keeping files that had been in the basement, sorting, folding, donating or keeping the contents of the linen closet …

I couldn’t tell whether we were done for this trip.  So I took a walk late one afternoon.  And what percolated up for me was to call my son to see how he was faring at home and to pack my car, to the extent possible at that point, with what I thought I needed to bring back with me, to see if it would fit (I drive a Ford Focus sedan).

And once I did those two things, it became clear to me to stay the extra day.  And when I did that, I found myself doing some work that hadn’t before occurred to me, including getting things off closet shelves, sorting them for donation, trash, or keeping — because I wasn’t sure who else would be able to get them down, given the limitations of the help my mother engages.  This project had not been apparent to me, but by clearing away the clutter in my mind about my decision (about when to leave), I was able to make that decision, and, subsequently, to see the next right thing I was being called to do.  Again, as in my previous post, this occurred in a mundane context, but I am here to say that my process works, at least for me.

I will add as a note here that my mother received three wonderful letters from the university that collected and received her donation of CDs, records, and books.  My mother read them to me over the phone last night.  Not only were we amazed by the number of CDs (over 4,000) and records and books (over 600 and 800, respectively), but we found it heartwarming that the writers were so appreciative of the collections.  I was also especially happy to hear that the writers mentioned that the CDs would be quite helpful in the teaching and preparation of music students.  That’s the sort of thing I had been hoping for — that the collections would go where they were appreciated for what they were and would be used in a way that allows them to reach their potential to help others.


August 22, 2014

I came back from visiting my mother, with a lot of family belongings.  My mother is downsizing in preparation for her move to Massachusetts, to a one-bedroom apartment.  My sister apparently had a negative response to taking any of the belongings, except for a napkin ring I helped my mother mail her.

So I was not sure where in my house to put the items I brought back.  I threw the problem out there to the universe, turned it over and asked for help.  And I got help, found I could remove without difficulty a few objects from my china cabinet in my front room, for example, rearrange a few more, and have a beautiful space for the family items.

What I removed is basically a collection I can pack up into a box as a set, maybe to give to someone else.

And for the other group of family belongings I brought back, I opened the trunk in my dining room and realized there were also items there I was fine with packing up and possibly de-accessioning, and that doing so would produce adequate room for these things I had brought back with me from New Jersey.

It may be a trivial problem, finding a suitable place to put family belongings, but that feeling of going from “I have no idea what to do” to “Oh, this works” is priceless nonetheless.


It turned up in the morning

May 6, 2014

I was looking for something last night, an oval polished stone disc on which is lightly carved someone or other.  I had put it in my pocket yesterday before I went out walking to pick up my car at the service station and go food shopping. The disc wasn’t in my pocket when I started emptying them out before I got ready to go to bed.

My jeans have shallow pockets, I also fidget with things while I am on the phone, and I know myself to put things down somewhere without focusing on what I am doing.  So it could have fallen out of my pocket, especially in my car, I could have put it down somewhere in my house, I could have left it on a counter somewhere (less likely — out of the house, I tend to leave such things in my pocket) — many possibilities.

I looked around the house to find it, using my best thinking and recollection.  For example, where do I stand when I am on the phone with my mother?  I looked on the horizontal surfaces in that area.  Where was I in Jordan’s room when we were talking, and did I put the object down on his bureau when I handed him an object from his bureau?  When I came back from an errand last night, did I put it down on my bed along with some other items?  I even patted the patterned coverlet on the bed, in addition to looking at the fabric from an angle in case that would make the object more visible to me.

It was late, I went around the house turning on lights and looking in different rooms.  I thought about how it would feel if I had actually lost the disc outside the house.  I thought about what I would make of it if I had, how I would interpret it.  (I thought about the rules I’ve come up with for myself about putting down my glasses — I limit myself to a couple of particular places to leave them when I take them off.)  I didn’t feel moved to go out to the car and look.  I figured that if it was in the house, eventually I would come across it.

I did think about why I wasn’t asking for help in finding the thing, and eventually I did pray on it, let it go, and go to bed.

In the morning, there it was, on the other side of the bed, on the coverlet.  My eye was drawn directly to it.

I’ve put the disc back where I had had it, on my night table, before I put it in my pocket yesterday.

I haven’t decided whether to carry it around with me again.

I also don’t have a clear idea of how to interpret the experience.  I figure it will eventually come to me, what to make of it — random middle-aged distraction or a reflection of something else perhaps.  My inclination at this point is to see it as saying something about risk aversion.


April 24, 2014

I very much appreciated Richard Rohr’s reminder this morning that “Without all the inner voices of resistance and control, it is amazing how much you can get done and not get tired.”  That’s in today’s Daily Meditation.

Gita and I have talked about this, too — couldn’t do it without “letting go” and “turning it over.”

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that I could do this better.  I put up resistance (like a kid pushing the spinach to the side of their plate), I fret, I get ahead of myself, I try to get other people to act in a way to prevent a future problem (like trying to get them to correct, before it is filed, a tax return that has mistakes in it).

I think I see two additional issues, in addition to “letting go” and “turning it over,” but, as I said, I am prepared to discover the issue lies with me.

One is volume.

I just end up with too many things on my plate as a result of being open to and able to do caretaking.  The inflow can feel as if it exceeds my processor’s capacity.

The second is society’s (unreasonable) demands.

The two kind of intertwine.

I once heard someone say that she thought of the nursing home in which her mother lived as being like “one big alcoholic.”  She meant that the institution could be as difficult to deal with as a human alcoholic, and with similar patterns of behavior.  I’ve felt similarly about other institutions, including schools, hospitals, social services, the justice system.  Whether it’s damaging behavior by the institution to a loved one or demands from the institution on me (as a caretaker), it can feel as if what I am called upon to do exceeds the amount of energy I can give it without too much damage to myself.

It’s no secret that patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have caretakers of their own weighing in as case managers do better, get better care, etc.

So where to draw the line between detachment and involvement?

It’s not just the wisdom of knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t, it’s also putting a boundary on how much of ourselves we can deploy without too much depletion.  Inflow from prayer and meditation certainly helps, but I think outflow can exceed inflow if care is not taken.  On the other hand, there is an instinct or desire to try to prevent or ameliorate suffering of others.  Part of that is wrapped up in trying to avoid pain — something we are encouraged to do by our norms and our survival instinct.  I think there is also a part of helping others in some situations that is from pressure from social norms more directly, regardless of where we think we should be drawing lines and regardless of inner guidance about where to observe boundaries, of what’s ours to do and what’s not.

My sense is that we have with our current social organization shifted around responsibility like a hot potato or like a shell in a game in which something is being hidden beneath one of a number of inverted cups.  Some techniques we seem to me to use to do this include, for example, narrowly defining our piece of the project and expecting others to do more;  littering, on the justification that one little piece won’t hurt;  setting systems up in such a way that requires a person without authority or control to have responsibility.

I don’t know if human free will can “clog up the plumbing” of the system of human interaction and society, or whether it’s the case that any system we devise can work, so long as those who have to use it interface adequately with divine help.  But I admit that sometimes I think we have developed a system that doesn’t work, especially for the long run.

For me, the questions are relevant to the issue of how much better a situation can be expected to go — because I am often hearing from others that things could be better if I just _______.  I have run through a fair number of _______, and I am here to say they do not necessarily work as advertized.  Maybe this is why 12-step programs refrain from advice and why the most general helpful source I found after Willy died was actually Al-Anon, the program for family and friends of alcoholics, although Willy was not a qualifier of mine.

At any rate, I conclude for now that working on my part of the equation, so long as I do it gently, can’t hurt, but that I should also be wary of assuming that optimizing my own part will result in things going better in other ways.

Rock salt

March 22, 2014

This winter the local hardware store ran out of it, and I noticed they had it in again yesterday when I passed by and saw a stack of bags in front of the store.

So I went in just now to buy a bag (for next winter, I hope), and after paying inside, went outside to pick up my bag and lug it home.

It turned out to be a 50 lb. bag, not a 20 or 25 lb. one as I had expected.

I got about half a block, set it down, and realized I would have to get a wheelbarrow from home (or my car) to transport it the three and half blocks or so (including up hill) to my house.

I started back to the store, to leave it there until I could return with wheels, and when I was almost there, a young man asked me if I needed help.  I explained to him what I was trying to do and why, thinking he might help me get the bag back the last 20 feet or so to the store, and instead he offered to give it and me a ride to my house.

I accepted, despite the fact I didn’t know him from Adam.

(Jordan is on vacation on the Cape with a friend this weekend, or I would have involved him.)

The fellow even carried it up my front steps.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere, not sure yet what it is.

“But I have my reasons”

March 3, 2014

This is what I heard from someone in my life with whom I was trying to negotiate a change in their behavior.

I was pointing out the problems that arise from choices they are currently making and how they cannot handle those themselves and are leaving them for me to, regardless of the impact on me.  They have reasonable alternatives to these current choices, choices many other people make, but they don’t like those other choices as much.

So they said to me, “But I have my reasons [for making the choices I am making].”  And I said, “The consequences of those choices are having a negative impact on me, regardless of what reasons you have for making them.”  And there was silence.  Their cost/benefit analysis took into account their costs and their benefits, not mine, too, regardless of how much I was being impacted.  They simply leave off the table this part of the situation.

The bind I am in is that things will get worse for them if nobody handles this person’s needs, and when that happens, eventually it will end up on my plate in a worse form.  (This is beyond the immediate problem that this person complains and puts emotional pressure on me if I don’t help.)  I suspect some people in my role end up with that development, either intentionally or because they just can’t provide the help needed to keep things from getting worse.  I feel a greater sense of obligation than to willfully refuse, and I can provide at least some of the help, even though it is at a really high cost to me.  I think this person could open themselves up to the reality of the impact of their choices on me and take that into account, but they don’t want to.  I don’t know why that is.

I suspect that the cosmic explanation for this situation is that somebody else in my life is calibrated in such a way as to perceive a request from from me for a different kind of help as being like this person’s demand of me.  I am aware that part of my portfolio is to try to get narcissists to dance with each other by having each of them dance with me.  This role means I get the difficulties coming and going, from both directions:  the unreasonable demands and the unreasonable refusals to help.  Sometimes I just want to haul off and dress them all down, but I know that would only make things worse.

Where I stand in all this is that I think the help (or the “not help”) should relate to the “I can” or “I can’t” part of the equation:  can the person actually make a different choice?  can the potential helper actually provide the help?  However, the narcissism factor means we are including in the equation emotional issues that complicate this.  Vanity is a big one.  It would be nice if both of the people I am dancing with could lose the vanity and get over themselves.  But if they could do that, they would be dancing with each other, instead of with an intermediary.

My challenge is to work on how to be the intermediary regardless of how my charges behave.  And how to be a mirror when I am mirroring back to people who have real trouble tolerating viewing their own behaviors and attitudes.  Reminding myself that while I am a participant in these relationships, there is also a part of me that is witnessing and detached from them, helps.  I think that is actually what puts me in my role:  the ability to keep engaged with that part of the self that can do that.  I think in point of fact that is what these other people are currently lacking.

I don’t want to know

January 15, 2014

I think there are some social situations in which I don’t let someone know that what they are doing bothers me because I don’t want to find out that they will continue to do it anyway.

There’s a risk involved in bringing up a disagreement, and while I accept that I don’t control other people, I apparently still like to harbor illusions about them.  I think it’s like the concept of a parent telling young children in a poor family that there’s always the bank account that can be tapped if necessary — I want to believe people are other than as they are as a kind of a safety net, I have a need to feel that if I should ever really need to work something out with them, they are the sort of person who will be there for me.  I will go to some lengths to keep myself ignorant that they are not actually like that.

It’s a letting-go process — to let go of the need to keep the illusion in place, to keep that sense that there is this bank account I can draw on in an emergency, in the form of a person who will help.  To let go of the need to have any human play that role for me.

When I am ready to let that go, I see the person as they are.  I focus my reliance on the universe instead.

As I write this, the sunlight from the dining room illuminates the left side of my Buddha’s face, the right side is in shadow.

The definite article

December 23, 2013

I really do mean the word “the” in English.

I used it in a comment about the deficiencies, in my experience, of a secular approach to life and its issues.  This was in response to the Ross Douthat column “Ideas From a Manger” in Sunday’s Times.

I referred to “the horizontal relationships” because I was distinguishing them from “the vertical ones.”  But by using the definite article and not just referring to “horizontal relationships,” I may have made possible the interpretation that I was referring to my own relationships happening to be inadequate to the task of helping me deal with a situation adequately, not to the more general phenomenon of human relations being inapt for some issues, period.  (I wrote, in part, “In my experience, the secular approach has nothing to offer when the horizontal relationships are inadequate. And there really are some situations in which the horizontal relationships are inadequate to the task — again, in my experience.”)

Sometimes a little misprision can have a big impact, for better or for worse.  In my context, it probably doesn’t much matter, given how limited the reach of my comment, but I was interested in it as a opportunity to understand how misunderstandings can get started, including in religious texts.  Just a little change in emphasis in translating from the concept into language at all, or the translation of the idea and words from one human language to another, can get it started.  Some languages have demonstrative adjectives but no definite articles.  That’ll make a difference in emphasis and thinking.  And to give another example of how emphasis can get transformed, as I recall it, Latin does something very different from what English does when it expresses the report of something negative — the negative goes with the reporting verb, not the thing reported.  It looks like “I deny that X happened,” where in English we would say that “I say that X didn’t happen.”  That can make a difference in emphasis, too.

The content of the interpretation I did not intend in my Douthat comment is also not wrong in itself, I think, anyway — vertical relationships are available to people whose human ones happen to be inadequate, even if others have human (horizontal) relationships that would be adequate to the situation, I think.  But that wasn’t really what I intended to say, in part because secularists tend to take that to mean we should all only focus on our human relationships and improving them.  Telling that to child born into a family of narcissists is like telling the child to get water from a stone, although many children will eventually, when they can choose their own relationships, find substitute ones that will fill in for deficits in family relationships, at least to some extent.

So I actually think there are two dynamics:  one in which one finds oneself in a situation in which one’s needs exceed what other human beings can help with, and the other in which one happens to find oneself short of what one needs, like being short of change when buying a pack of gum, because of weaknesses in one’s own human relationships (for whatever reason or reasons).  In both cases there is, I believe, help available through vertical relationships.  I don’t think God or the universe invokes the lawyer’s concept of needing to exhaust administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit, I think grace is available on a much more generous basis.  I don’t think God is like a clever lawyer any more than I think God is like a cranky parent (and I don’t think God is like a cranky parent).