Archive for the 'religious services' Category

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.




Words, especially written ones

January 26, 2012

Sometimes when I’m participating in religious services, I find myself closing the prayer book and following the sound.  I don’t read Hebrew really, so there’s not too much incentive to follow the print, even the transliterations into English, but there’s also something in me that gets to come to the surface and take some exercise when I follow the sounds.  Sometimes it’s just letting the words wash over me, sometimes it’s joining in in singing or chanting them.  Leaving aside the written words and following the sound allows [this is one act so I’m going to use a singular verb even though I’ve used a compound subject] me more brain space, I think, to meditate at the same time.

This experience give me a point of entry into exploring more of the strengths and weaknesses of relying on words more generally, in other contexts, both written and spoken.

I think I’ve already mentioned in other posts that when I pray and meditate it’s not in words — I can usually translate it into words, but that’s not its primary language.  Maybe an analogy would be a hug — not words, but conveys meaning.

There are advantages to non-verbal language, especially since it can’t be used as easily by mistake as a substitute for action.  I don’t think we feel we’ve done the job of helping someone pick out a wedding dress if we enthuse with them about it, but if we talk them through the process, we may feel we don’t really need to accompany them on the actual search.

So, I sometimes think our capacity for putting things into words both allows us to be more helpful and to be less helpful.  It allows us to share ideas and information and some amount of understanding with each other (and to use judicial processes instead of violence to settle disputes), but it also can allow us to put up walls and to substitute words for deeds.  (My favorite occurs with social service providers who are all meetings and plans, and when it comes to implementation, it’s more referrals to more providers, who then do the same thing, until eventually (true story) the client is referred back to the first provider, with whom they started.)

I am not against words, I just think there is a time and a place for them, and that sometimes it’s the time to put them aside and do something.  They are a politician’s best friend, they are one of Cupid’s arrows, but as Jackson Browne points out in his song “Late for the Sky,” they are sometimes inadequate.

I get frustrated when they are used to paper over real need for action.  On the one hand, they allow the re-framing of a situation into something more manageable, on the other, they can allow a person who wants to avoid action to have a framework, however illusory, in which none by them is required.  Their use can also become an energy sinkhole if the person using them insists on an argument.  But perhaps situations such as these are really merely a more complicated arrangement for learning the lesson of accepting that people just don’t always perceive things the same way, that some points of view just can’t be reconciled.  Maybe my quarrel with the role of words in this is how they are sometimes used to try to deny the other person’s point of view — with other forms of communication, the differences in realities may remain clearer.

But as I indicated, words give us a medium for working things out in situations in which other media might fail more spectacularly.  So, I’m not “against,” words, just a little cautious about how they are used.


January 7, 2012

I went to Friday night services last night, and the rabbi had us work with a partner to exchange blessings.  Each partner was to ask for a particular blessing, and then the other would give that blessing.

I worked with a young woman, probably young enough to be my daughter, but who knows, I used to be mistaken for someone much younger myself.  It was neat to put that kind of consideration aside and just interact with the person on the same level, as an equal.  And we asked for not dissimilar things — to feel from within that one is okay, to have peace of mind through an integration of mind and body.

Afterwards, I thought about practices like Reiki and about being a conduit for energy, healing energy, blessing energy, God’s love, the forces of the universe beyond us, whatever, because I really got that sense that she and I had accomplished that together.  Both the feeling of being blessed and of blessing were wonderful.

I should probably add that I had squelched my initial discomfort with the rabbi’s giving us such an assignment.  My discomfort had something to do with my prior experience with “group work” and with being told what to do (and probably with working on something requiring some amount of intimacy with someone I didn’t know), but I really like the idea of blessings and I was curious to experience what would happen and I know that we find our spiritual experiences where we might not expect them, so I pushed my misgivings aside.  I’m glad I did.

I am also interested that the person who initially invited me to the services, and has sat next to me when I’ve gone so far, wasn’t there last night, although, of course, we might have had different partners for the exercise.  I take it as a help to me to focus on the blessings themselves, because in a way, not knowing the other person from before makes that easier, once any initial awkwardness is gotten over.