Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A prophetic dream

Boy, I miss coming here. I think about it during the day, and then I'm tired in the evening. This Disciple Bible study I am taking has a lot of durn reading, which I knew it would. Out of the Bible, no less.

Good thing I wrote down this dream or it would be long gone, not that I'm in the mood NOW to write about it. But I did promise, and a promise is a promise, right? Writers can't always just dash off the things they feel like writing about at any particular moment. There is, heavy sigh, discipline involved in actually being a decent writer. No fun, once again! (Actually, it's still a lot of fun.)

Cyndi, don't read this while on your lovely Disney World vacation! I wish I were there!!

Oh yes, the dream. People were sitting around tables at a festivity or party, in a conference room sort of place probably in a hotel, since these were visitors. These people had just finished committing atrocities out in the wilds of Africa someplace. They were all white and spoke with British accents (ha, ha). They had gone through the native villages and systematically slaughtered people out there, and they were not even aware of the enormous suffering and waste of human life they had caused. Here they were, belly up to the bar, ready to have a great big party, so proud of themselves for "cleaning out the garbage" or something of that sort.

I was there as the big party pooper, and I went up to one table and started explaining to these people what they had done. You have killed all these people. They are gone forever. Their villages are marred by your violence. Their children are orphans and will forever have nightmares of seeing their parents die. I saw these smiling, laughing faces of these totally unaware people going serious as I spoke. I was talking to two ladies about it, who at first were laughing and giggling, but then had a slight dawning of comprehension that something was wrong. Very wrong.

This place where the killing happened was a tropical jungle with lots of wild animals, wild trees, a river, those jungly vines that Mowgli used to swing through (now who wrote that story?). That story was set somewhere in Asia (had to Google to check for sure, but the presence of Shere Khan the tiger really nails that location as not Africa) -- but this dream was in Africa, so just stay with me on that. It was totally the "Heart of Darkness" come alive. The horror! The horror!

So this dream has many obvious parallels to today's world that do not need to be belabored, much. The really sad thing is that atrocities are happening, somewhere in the world, right now. And now. And now. ... The fashionable thing in the Congo and elsewhere these days is to rape all the women and girls. And we Americans are like those party-goers, if not directly responsible, for sure directly irresponsible and unaware.

So just be a little bit more aware in your daily life of how fortunate, very fortunate, are those of us who will never live in a war zone, never know daily hunger, never be without a home, never see a child raped or dead of a preventable disease or malnutrition. This is heavy handed, but it needs to be. Because if every one on earth were truly tuned in to all this suffering, how could it possibly continue and escalate? I don't think it could.

The dream was somewhat unlike reality because it is more common for people from the same geographic region, but with political or ethnic or religious differences, to slaughter one another. Inotherwords, neighbors murdering neighbors is more common than people coming from far away, which is more typical of a declared war between/among countries -- when it's nothing personal. Jesus really meant it when he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." How much better off the world would be if everyone did, or even tried to.

So, 29+12 school supply kits on their way to Iraq! I do feel good about that. This was an effort made possible by the generous donations of people at my church and by the Wilson County News.

A postscript on a lighter note (desperately needed): When I am away from home, I can never locate my own blog. I just can't remember exactly what the URL is, and of course it does not pop up under any searches I've been able to conjure. It's almost like it is not really there at all, except on my home computer. Hmmm. I need to write down the URL in my portable events schedule. So this leads to the enormous philosophical quandary: if I can't even find myself, how will anybody else? Lost: blog. Posted by a supremely generic name on a huge number of topics. If you find it, please e-mail or FB or text or something!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Blaaaaaaahs

That's what I have got. Not the flu, not even a bad cold, so I should be grateful! But the blaaaaahs make it hard to do much. I don't even feel like writing here. And there's no medicine that really effectively knocks out the blaaaaaaahs; even caffeine has its limits.

Here's what I need to do today: calculate how many more school supply packs I can buy with the $200 donated (including postage) to ship to Iraq next week, and go out and buy them. Call that pencil pack place and see if it plans to ship those zipper pouches so they will arrive before Sunday. Finish the laundry, clean the house, see the dermatologist, pick up the kids, etc.

What I want to do? Sitting here is OK. Lying in bed would be better.

Yesterday, it was decidedly worse. My sinus passages had a major attack of the drips and the blechy yellowish boogers, the ones that TV commercials love to make into giant, oozing monsters. (Would that be boogers or buggers?) And yesterday was a Monday in every sense of the word: rough day at work, long meeting in the evening, no rest for the weary.

Today, I hardly feel congested, just tired with an aching throat. I am grateful I have dodged the flu and any major colds for now, I really am. But it would have been so lovely, this coolish morning, to go run and feel the wind of that "norther" that took the temperature just below 70 for a bit. Instead, here I sit on the brink of being sick, again.

The meditation practice has created enough space in my life to allow me to take on the project of buying school supply packs to ship to Iraq. I hardly have the space, but I realize I really do. And so there will be about 4 dozen school supply kits, maybe more (gotta run the numbers and find the pencil pouches). A dozen donated by the WCN, a few from me, the rest from the Floresville UMC. I did the running around to buy everything, and I will need to finish it early next week and mail it all off.

When I sit in meditation (not every day), I smile when I realize that I need to do everything I possibly can to encourage children to get educated, here and the world over. This is my special project, and I believe it is key to solving every problem we have, from the environment to war and poverty. I thank God for this revelation. It is precious to me. I thank God for putting so many people around the world to work on this issue, people far more dedicated and worthy than me, people like Greg Mortenson, the man who wrote "Three Cups of Tea."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How health insurance is disturbing my inner peace

So I have to make this relate to spirituality, this hours-long fight I had today with my insurance companies (at least 3 of them) to cover the cost of my mammogram.

This is how it feels to fight with your insurance company, I mean companies, to cover a basic preventive procedure: tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and achiness in the back. (So my back always feels that way? Today, it's THEIR fault.)

I discovered our new PRIVATE health insurance has a smorgasbord of companies and phone numbers on the back of the card. About seven numbers, to be exact. So I can't really explain who my insurance is with. Guardian? HealthLink? PHCS? I'm terribly confused. One company pays the claims. Another decides what is in-network. Yet another, what is in-network for the extended PPO plan. Another does lab procedures. They don't talk back and forth. You can only ask one sort of question at each number, and then decide on your own what number you need to call to actually get assistance. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the convoluted way my insurance plan works, or doesn't, today.

We also have four insurance cards: one each for medical, dental, labwork, and pharmacy.

So I finally figured out the correct phone number to call, and the magic words to use, to have them re-evaluate the claim. The magic words, for me, were "PHCS Extended PPO." All of a sudden, they agreed to re-process the claim, just like that. It was as miraculous as clicking my heels three times and chanting, "There's no place like home ..." and being back in Kansas again. Next time, I'll start by saying those three little words and see what happens.

So forgive me if I don't exactly understand why a government health plan is the new bogeyman. How could it possibly be any worse or more convoluted than the private coverage my family has?

And death panels? Oh, that woman, the damage she did with her wicked tongue before she resigned as Alaska governor. Don't get me started!

I watched my mother die in the ICU in a hospital, and my mother-in-law die here in our home. For myself, I would greatly prefer the latter option if it were possible, even if my life were shortened by a few days or weeks. It's about quality as much as anything else when the end is inevitable. The cost difference is at least tens of thousands of dollars, for one person.

For everyone who is terrified of consulting anybody, much less a professional, about end-of-life care: You're still not getting out of here alive, whether you want to make a will and a medical directive or not. You will probably live longer than generations before you did, and you may not want expensive, heroic measures to prolong your life. You may wish to die at home, without tubes sticking out of every orifice, being force-fed with a stomach tube, or with a machine breathing for you.

Or, you may wish to be hospitalized and have every possible procedure performed. But do you really want medical professionals to make this decision, instead of you and your loved ones? The medical professionals will always choose the heroic, expensive measures. They will work to keep you alive, even if you have dementia or your body is riddled with cancer, if your family does not stop them.

But people are so terrified of the mere thought of dying that they don't want to confront any of those issues.

End-of-life care can be extremely expensive and not at all helpful for the patient. Do you really think CPR is appropriate on a 90-something person with heart failure? Maybe you do, but shouldn't you have the right to decide for yourself and/or your immediate family?

Attitude toward the end of life is a spiritual issue. If you know that you have an eternal spirit; if your religious tradition tells you that life hereafter is a precious treasure that is too beautiful to even conceive of; if you have made peace with your loved ones, you should not be terrified of death. Some fear of the unknown is only human, but this complete avoidance of the issue of human mortality is just silly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nothing terribly profound

Thanks to Steven Curtis Chapman for the title. Just the artist making a quick, rough sketch of something. What form will it take? What is waiting in this unshaped rock to be exposed by a well-placed chisel?

Meditation invites emptiness, silence. When there is this increasing space within, many things become possible. God, most of all. God is subtle. He does not typically bang down the door but stands and waits. This description is probably not Buddhist, by the way. Buddhism does not quite embrace God as a separate, supernatural being. But as I am a relative stranger to Buddhism, I hedge my bets here.

I probably fail to comprehend Buddhism's insistence on being apart from all emotions, positive or negative. I think life is difficult enough that joy deserves to be entered into completely, without reservations, when it surfaces.

My dog brought me joy today when she came and gave a gentle tap on my elbow with her wet nose, just checking in while I sat in meditative pose. Dogs are wonderful at bringing that quick, delightful energy of joy. I delight in hearing the signs of life around me while I meditate. Not mosquitos buzzing, mind you, which Gil mentions as a potential meditative object for monks who sit outdoors in Eastern countries. I refer to my indoor pets, Scout and Mimi, and the birdsong from outside that I generally can hear.

Meditation takes us back to a more childlike state where we are completely in the present moment. That is why children are so close to God and so precious. They live naturally, exuberantly here and now. As Andrew says, growing up does not look like a lot of fun compared to that!

Most grownups take on so many cares and worries. Once people become aware of all the problems in the world, it is hard to let them go. Although, lots of people I see create so many problems of their own making that they just don't have time for all the real issues out there. It seems like everyone ought to be carrying the real problems around. Jesus did say, "bear my cross," didn't he? He also said that he came that we might live life to the fullest measure. So which one is it, anyhow? Can I put that heavy thing down for a minute so I can live life fully?

I feel heavy in my own body after meditation. Grounded, in gravity. I feel as though I am attached to the entire Earth and nothing could move me from this place where I sit. I physically slow down. I couldn't possibly do anything quickly, within a few minutes of meditating. I am grooving on Andrew time, for a little while. I am like the surfer turtle in Nemo, riding a current, Duuuude! Duuuude! (Sorry, can't think of his name. It's a quick one-syllable bite of a name.)

The thoughts are harder to tame. They are like the hummingbirds I often hear. They flit around for a while, before perhaps settling down or fading to the background. That part is hard for me, the great thinker.

I have a dream to relate, in another post. Oh, goody! Something to look forward to!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two children, two worlds

P.S. to last post: Austin got his learner's permit about a week later! By the way, I should have explained that teenagers speak a language that is mostly incomprehensible to adults, particularly parents. You may not have been around a teenager recently and so may have forgotten that handy fact. That explains why I had trouble understanding Austin on the phone, and why I didn't try harder to get him to clarify. That is an exercise in futility. Mumble-grum-mum-mm-bub-Mom! is the usual reply, growled in a deep voice.

A little about my other son, Andrew. What an interesting child. Andrew is in the unfortunate position, I believe, of living in a giant shadow cast by his over-achieving big brother, Austin, who seems to excel at everything he does. Andrew idolizes Austin, which doesn't help, because he wants to do everything that Austin does. He hasn't found his own niche, yet.

Andrew just crossed the threshold to teenagerdom, too, but for long before that, he has lived in a world of his own creation. (Now who does that sound like?) He can be doing what looks like absolute "nothing" to the untrained eye, but lots is going on inside his head. Unfortunately, it's mostly incomprehensible and none of it seems to be of a practical nature. He's our little part-Einstein and part-Buddha, except perhaps without the genius/enlightened aspects. He is, however, inscrutible. I keep calling him "little" by habit although he's quickly approaching eye-to-eye level with me.

Andrew has been diagnosed with ADD, not that it really helps. It gives him this handy crutch, but I keep trying to tell him he still will have to learn to function in the real world, someday.

The mundane realities of daily life bore him, those things that Earthbound humans must contend with ... getting up and dressed, feeding the pets, eating breakfast, going to bed, or brushing his teeth, ever. Taking a shower is an opportunity for countless science experiments, or else just feeling the lovely warm water rush over his body. Actually, I have no idea what in God's name he does in there. We usually start noticing billowing steam clouds emanating from the back bathroom, and realize that Andrew must be still in the shower.

Then we begin shouting, "Get out now!" Me, Dwaine, Austin -- separately, or in unison. This is a Smith family ritual that is repeated whenever Andrew's in the bathroom, too. It's become a time-honored tradition. Somehow, we idealistically keep on believing that this time, it finally will work. We are starry-eyed in that belief. And I tremble to think what Andrew would do, or NOT do, if he didn't hear "Get out now!!" That is his cue to get started. Without it, days could pass.

One moment, please. It dawned on me that I've been hearing water running for quite some time now, and I recall telling Andrew it was time to take a shower an hour or so back. (He always says something like, "Is it time? Do I have to?")

We are Andrew's facilitators, though we are finally catching on to that fact and withdrawing from that role a little bit. We have been his timekeepers for a long, long time, since the whole concept of time seemed either totally beneath him or beyond his grasp. (I'm really not sure which.)

Andrew, it's time to get up! Time to eat! Time to feed the pets! And on, and on. Even when I would tell him it was "time to" over the summer, he would often go till midafternoon without eating, finishing chores, or getting dressed, on a regular basis. He just forgot. These things are not important aspects of his life.

Andrew is a master at placing blame elsewhere. He recently told me that he could never become a (something) when he grew up, because I wouldn't let him! Sorry, we both promptly forgot what exact profession it was. I tried explaining the whole concept of that growing-up business and how his life would be fully, completely HIS responsibility at that point. That didn't set too well with him. He is milking this youngest-child, baby of the family thing for all it's worth.

He recently said he didn't try out for football because I did not let Austin play football. I asked if he ever considered that things might have changed, and maybe he should have checked with me and Dad before making an assumption? No, he never considered that. Frankly, I would love for him to be excited about something besides playing with the dog.

I have learned to outsmart Andrew by physically not being present when he has certain obligations to meet. Can't blame Mom if she wasn't there! For example, Austin goes in for tennis before school. No one is home after we leave, and Andrew has to get himself up, dressed, and out to the bus. He's done amazingly well, considering he spends about 25 minutes lying in bed and about 10 rushing around the house getting ready. (I have seen him in action.)

I am submitting my pink slip. This is it, really. I resign as Andrew's manager, effective immediately. He will have to manage his own life. He and I have written a contract -- no, tell the truth, Mom! I wrote it out for him. He signed it. It is everything he is responsible for on a daily basis. Now, I didn't put all the obvious things like get dressed (shirt, underwear, shorts, socks, shoes) because that would have been information overload. I don't know if I even listed taking a shower, which I still prompt him to do every evening. But eating breakfast, homework, chores (spelled out), bedtime, brushing teeth, doing what Mom & Dad say, promptly -- they're all there. And amazingly, he has discovered granola bars, healthy ones even ("Mom's" granola bars, Kashi), and has been eating one faithfully every morning before running off to catch the bus! Go, Andrew!

Andrew missed his bedtime by 15-30 minutes for the first couple of weeks, because, ya know, it involves that really insignificant concept of TIME. But, he finally got it last night, after I started making his bedtime earlier as a consequence. He was in bed on the dot at 9:45, which was last night's absolute deadline. There is hope!

I love Andrew so, so much. He's the sweetest, most loving person. He can be a little devil, too, but then he smiles that dimply smile and melts your heart. I hope this entry does him justice!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Meditation, Part 2

Actually, I don't know what part it is, but doesn't Part 2 sound impressive?

This is the story about how helpful meditation can be. I'm not doing it every day but several times a week.

It was a recent Friday. Probably the first Friday after school started. I felt more exhausted than all the students and teachers put together. It was probably all the driving, combined with the first-week paperwork, and I had been working all day, four days that week. I was waiting, getting overheated, at the rendezvous point Austin & I had picked out for him to meet me after school so we could go get -- ta da!! -- his learner's permit to drive.

Having your firstborn be on the verge of getting a learner's permit is a momentous occasion. Huge. It's like watching them take their first steps all over again. A lifetime of memories is kaleidoscoped into this moment. Darn, now I need to figure out how to spell two words in one posting. (Got one right, one wrong & fixed.)

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh, yes, the most important times in the life of a parent. A learner's permit has to be in the top five for when your child is still a child. (Birth, hs/college graduation, walking being others) So I see Austin at a distance, strolling with his friends, who look over at me. I get the feeling he's sneaking off. He calls me and says something quite garbled, the gyst (jist?) of which is he wants to get a drink (soda) with his friends, and does not want to go to the driver license office today. So, OK. Wow, I thought this was really important to him, too, but apparently not.

I go do a workout, but I'm not feeling good. I'm feeling pushed out of my own child's life by his friends. Frankly, I'm fuming. And how could he pass up the chance to drive, or wait another day?? I pick up Andrew, do some shopping, and I haven't heard another peep from Austin. I do something I have threatened to do before: I drive home without him. While I drive, Andrew figures out the score and calls his brother, who is (of course) hanging out at Joseph's house.

Austin says that this is unfair, my leaving him, because in the past I was the one who called him to pick him up when I was ready. But so what? Rules change. Get over it, boy. But now he's on the verge of going to the movies with his friends, and that was not the punishment I had envisioned. So I drive back into Floresville to pick him up.

Driving, I am low on energy, low on fuel (not having eaten), and really tired. I start to meditate while driving, which can be tricky. The way my body feels about it all starts to dawn on me as I relax into it and hear all its complaints. I remember that the hardest thing about parenting -- and the most important -- is acting like a parent, especially when you're feeling all emotional and strung out.

I can't be the one throwing a tantrum, much as I would love to. I have to act like an adult to my teenage child, who sometimes has some anger-management issues himself. UUUGH. The 15-minute drive is just enough time for me to compose myself, wipe away some tears that found their way into my eyes, and become a rational parent once again. Or pretend to be a rational parent, which (guess what?) is just as effective. I still don't know what the score is, but being mad about it will not help.

It turns out it's all been a misunderstanding. Austin swears he told me over the phone that he couldn't get one of the forms required by the driver license office, the verification of attendance in school. We did get this form over the summer, but we were informed that was no longer sufficient the first week of school, when we made the first attempt to get his permit. They also said a mere passport was not sufficient ID. They needed his SS card too, although that is one of the required documents to obtain a passport, which is usually the trump card of all IDs. Only in Texas, folks.

So it was not that he didn't feel like going to get his permit, but could not.

I wish I could say I always catch myself before I fall, but quite recently, I yelled at Andrew so forcefully that his hair was gusting away from his head. He went and buried himself in the covers in bed and refused to come out for a while. Both my kids hate hate hate for me to yell at them, and that word (yell) encompasses lots of things, just speaking angrily too. But of course they hate it. I hate to be yelled at, too.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Trotting -- a post about running

I went trotting this morning for about 24 minutes, over 2 miles. That's just how it feels, like I'm a little two-footed horse trotting around the track. Obviously, at a very relaxed pace. I am really glad I posted about what a painful, difficult run I endured four or five months ago, so I am reminded how (relatively) easy I have it now. It was not hot this morning, around 8 am start, but very humid, so not exactly comfortable.

Nothing is more difficult than being a beginner anything, and once you bypass that stage, it gets much easier. That is why I am so intent on running at least twice a week, even with knee problems. I don't want to slip back to being a beginner all over again.

Runners become addicted, and most of them run much more than I do. But I, too, have fallen in love with my wonderful lungs, that can breathe so much deeper and more fully. I love being able to climb stairs without getting winded. And I love that feeling that Kenneth L. describes as "blankness," the complete presence in the body without much thinking that happens while running. (He did the half-marathon in San Antonio last October. He was going for the full one but had a baseball injury along the way.) And the glowing aftermath. I don't usually press myself hard enough nowadays to have the "trots" to the bathroom the way I did as a beginner. There are plenty of unpleasant side effects that distance runners have to learn to live with, but I'm on the healthy fringe by doing short runs. I think marathon runners have a different goal in mind than health. More like survival at the edge of existence, sort of like explorers who do deep scuba dives or go to one of the poles.

I have come to realize that athletes have such discipline over their bodies and specifically, over aches and pains. I was never, never an athlete growing up! I have joined the club late. I remember being the last one picked for any team, tripping over my feet, and twisting my ankles regularly. Amazingly, my ankles are much stronger now. I can jog on a dirt track without twisting an ankle, which is wonderful. I'm sure my hand-eye coordination is just as terrible as it ever was, though. Some things never change!

Athletes learn to manage all kinds of bodily complaints and take them in stride. This is a good quality to develop. I was listening to meditation week 2 (Zencast podcast) while trotting -- which incidentally talks of focusing on the body and its sensations -- and thinking about how the mental discipline of meditating is similar to the physical discipline of athletic training. Both require daily commitment and practice.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Reader

I watched this alone while Dwaine and the boys went out to get flu shots and shop. Though it started out very erotic, it was not a good warm, fuzzy movie to cuddle up with! It wound up being so very sad and personal. It was like a detailed study of the devastation of a man's life because of the Holocaust. He wasn't involved in it, but its rippling effects overtook his life. Those ripples continue for so long after an event of such proportion, caused by humans. I understand why Buddhism speaks of karma, good or bad. Nothing is lost. We live in a closed system. The violence done to so many shakes the very fabric of the Earth and it takes generations to overcome, like slavery.

I heard on NPR about the children of raped women of the Rwanda genocide who are now growing up. Their lives are scarred, and they and their families are treated as outcasts. How can Rwanda overcome its recent violent past, which happened the year Austin was born?

The unanswerable question in these cases is, how? There is a capacity in human nature for incredible violence and evil, and it lies in every single person. It Lies, indeed it does. No one is exempt; we must each stand guard over ourselves and others.

This movie, the Reader, was about an SS guard who happened to be played by the incredibly beautiful Kate Winslet, and the violence she did to others, including a boy my son's age. Just a touch unbelievable that someone so gorgeous could do these things? But why do people who commit atrocities have to be ugly? The character actually took a bit of time to try to explain how she interpreted doing her duty. It might involve the wholesale slaughter of prisoners, as happened in an accidental fire in a church that the guards kept locked so none of the prisoners escaped, but burned alive. But none died by her own hand and nobody escaped.

I appreciated the moral complexity of the story. No one is purely good or evil, and motives are always suspect.

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