Thursday, November 10, 2016
Is there art left? Don’t know, there is NASCAR, There is peach marble columns, and gold elevators. There are bad racist jokes that I made as a teen before I was a man and knew their shame. There will be WWE matches, football games and beauty pageants. Certainly these things have ascetic value of a sort, but are they art? There will be burnt effigies. There will be protest songs. Installations meant to remind us of the suffering of others. There will be choreographed political actions, die-ins, mock trials and the like. These will represent issues in creative ways, they will have an attractive and repulsive aspect to them by design. They will be intentional and thoughtful and point at things bigger then themselves, but are these art? There may be more sinister things as well. There may be the ruins of burn down buildings, standing silently reminding us of a world that was. There may be new uniforms, dark and clean, for a soldiers not yet minted. There may be empty fields and shuttered libraries. The skeletons of will have their own grotesque beauty. But are these art? There will be photography. Pictures of crying faces, of laughing fools. Pictures of raised fists and riot gear. Pictures of fires burning or rage made manifest and hatred given flesh. There will pictures of babies wailing and old folks looking away regretfully. Hell, most of these have already been taken. They will haunt us, they will pull at are humanity, awaken out empathy and inflame our indignation. They will affect us, but are they art? Since my oldest child first appeared on the sonogram screen I have written every day. I have chosen to participate in being by adding what I could to its collective beauty. Today I didn’t write. Not as protest, not because I had nothing to say, not because of my broken heart. Today I didn’t write cause the day simply passed by and beauty never raised her face to greet me. These words are born only from beauty’s new, and terrifying silence. Are they art? I look forward to the day beauty smiles upon us again, hopefully we will meet her as an old and sourly missed friend, and hopefully that day will be soon.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
I’m not sure that it is true but I have heard that in some cultures there is a traditional belief that babies know all things. That at birth we are privy to a total awareness of the universe, and that it is only in our development of language that we give away our omniscience. In learning to talk, and as such learning to talk to another person and develop relationships we relinquish this great power. Whether this is actually a held belief by anybody or not it is a beautiful idea. No matter what, the power of speech is something hard fought for. My daughter who is learning a new word or so every day has gone from a sweet little child to a monster, in her frustrating struggle to master the English tongue. But in that gaining of speech she has gained the ability to talk with those around her and to allow those bonds between her and others to grow. Relationships are often weak and flimsy things and yet we risk so much, and give up so much, and push ourselves so hard to form that connection to the other. When we meet our patients often the battle for speech is already lost, the words turned to ash in the mouth before they can be spoke. Yet the bonds formed are still alive. We see it in the child knowing their mother’s needs before she asks. In the husband responding to his wives slightest gesture of pain, in the wife knowing what her husband’s goals without him saying a word. We see the bonds of relationships strained to their furthest and yet strengthened by this test. May we always be aware of the blessing in seeing another’s care, and may we always do all we can to hold the dying up, even if we do so without a word.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
The other day I’m leaving my buddies house and his neighbor comes running up. She says that a man is laying out on the train tracks that run behind the house and it looks like he needs help. So thinking I’m some kind of hero I dart through the yard, scrabble over a fence and trudge through some brambles to the rocks where the man is indeed lying, bleeding, unable to get up and drunk as a skunk.
I walk up, hand the guy his shoes which have inexplicably fallen off. He holds his hand out to me and mumbles and slurred request for me to help him up. I step back and look the guy over, hesitating to offer a hand. 50’s, skinny, lots of tattoos, maybe homeless and definitely a mess. He’s bleeding from his arm but his hand looks clean so I grab it and help him up. As he is still trying to steady himself on his wobbly legs I notice a drop of red clinging to end of his middle finger. I look down at my own hands and sure enough, right down the middle of my pawn is a streak of this man’s muddy red blood.
Immediately my mind jumps to Hepatitis C, HIV, Ebola, the flesh eating bacterial, SARs, and every other illness I can conjure up on the spot. This man’s blood, the very source and sustainer of his own life, had tainted mine. In my mind his blood had made me dirty, impure and possibly contagious. Reaching out a hand to help another can be a dangerous thing.
Perhaps, so often, when we don’t help another we do so to protect ourselves, to keep ourselves safe, pure, clean, to keep the other’s blood off our hands. Today you will reach out. You will do that dangerous thing of extending our hands to the other, to the one in need, the one who might be dirty, might be contagious, might be impure. You will expose ourselves fully aware the risk, because beyond the illness, beyond the dirt and the blood, beyond the things we wish to turn away from in the other we find a person whose life is worth the risk, a person who’s humanity begs us to extend out a hand, to reach out and take a hold of the other, and to allow them to take ahold of us.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
They say a parent can only be as happy as their most miserable child. I doubt this is true all the time, but I can see what they mean. In this time of hay fever, colds, and flu, with Christmas approaching, we find not just our children but all of those who we build our lives around no longer distant. Our parents and friends, our siblings and spouses, each makes their way through work and life, through distance and distraction to find their places again in the center of our lives. How they are doing, how their lives are going affects us deeply and vice versa.
Though it is a hassle to have so much of who we are bound up in so much of who the other is, there is beauty in that as well. A rough honesty that reminds us of that most basic truth that our borders remain largely imaginary, that what separates us and them, you from me, is thin and porous and easily broken through. Our child’s misery may make us miserable, and their joy may make us joyous because on final inspection, where us and them begins and ends is foggy. Their misery is our misery their joy is our joy.
Imagine this connection extended to the world: the bonded emotions not just to those closest to us but to everyone. Imagine a world in which all of us realized the truth that we are bound to everyone across time and space, near and far. Imagine a world in which we were all as miserable as the most miserable person alive and all as joyous as the most joyous person alive. How would we treat one another? I have seen you treat your patients as if this were true, as if their happiness, their comfort, their peace, was your own peace. I have seen it, and it has been an inspiration, and it has been beautiful, and it is the great gift you offer to the other, to each of us, and to yourself because in reaching out a healing hand to one, we reach out to all.
Friday, October 30, 2015
My dog ate a blanket this week, which was abnormal. Not that abnormal as the mutt will take a bite out of anything he can find when he has a stomach ache; some ancient animal instinct, built in by millions of years of evolution, designed to help him get up whatever it is that is making him sick. The problem is: evolution is a blunt instrument which lives and dies by mistakes. Eating a crocheted blanket was a mistake that nearly cost my dog his life.
The poor creature woke me up at midnight, hacking and vomiting. When I got in the living room, I found a house full of vile substances pulled from the dog’s guts. The rest of the night was spent with the pooch, trying to ease his pain, to provide some relief for the poor creature. At one point, I looked into his big dark eyes. There I saw the sweetness he had as a puppy, the loyalty he has shown as the dog. In those eyes, I saw a value and a meaning that dwells in the old pooch and is the old pooch, and I felt a profound sense of regret.
I felt regret that for years until that moment in which our eyes caught, the dog had largely slipped out of my consciousness. Not that he was forgotten, he had been fed and walked, watered and generally cared for, but since the birth of my son, the dog has largely become furniture in my life. Something I move from point a to point b, something that is in my life but always in the periphery of my vision, only brought to the center when something goes wrong with it.
The sick and the dying often find themselves on the periphery of our vision. We see them out of the corner of our eyes, but they too are furniture. Items that appear and disappear from our lives. Only during episodes of pain, or relapses, declines or infections do they come to the center of our vision, only when they are broken, and that is a shame.
The dog’s okay. I have a second chance to give him and the life he owns its proper attention, but it took pain to give him this chance again. With the people we encounter, each time we are pilgrims in their homes, we are given this chance. This is a chance to allow them to move to the center of our attention for a while, to find a moment in which they are not on the outside but inside. And in allowing them to drift to the center, perhaps we will be blessed to see the beauty that lives in them, the meaning and the value they are and contain, and in that way see the wonders that so many of us have for so long been missing out on.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
I cut my middle finger on my left hand last week making dinner. I cut it deep, and it was made worse because on the tip of my middle finger is a skin graft, placed after an accident years ago. The foreign tissue doesn’t have the same nerves as normal finger tips, and as such I didn’t feel any pain until the blade had bitten deep. Once I felt the cut, I immediately dropped the knife and walked to the sink, waiting for the blood to come. And it did, but it took a long time getting there. So long that I wondered if it would bleed at all, that perhaps the patch itself was some dead thing attached to the living me, desperately trying to hang on to the life which had long since left it.
Many things occupy this liminal space between life and death, pain and numbness. As we enter the fall, nature itself seems to find a transitional home in this thin space. Trees are some place between alive and dead, animals settle in for slumber, the vibrant verdant world begins to dull.
And I suppose all of us have inhabited this space as well. This space where you wonder: if you cut yourself, will you bleed? This space where we are numb and dull, clinging to anything alive.
These times, often around pain or loss, times of confusion or worry, are usually brief and can have a beauty and a meaning all their own, like the fall. Those we serve on the other hand, may find themselves forced into this numb, thin space by illness and the world around them. A world that holds their value at null and that often sees them as only a burden, a dead thing clinging to our lives.
The world may see them this way, but we know better. We know that if they are cut, they bleed. We know they are not numbed by the callousness of the world, but feel as we do. We can see them for the life they have, we can know their value and with that their pain. In this new season of death, may we look for the life that has always been there.