Friday, October 30, 2015

Furniture

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

Bleeding

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.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Baptism

My daughter was baptized last week. As always, the faithful gathered around the ancient font with her to witness and participate in the ritual. Should you take seriously the words and the rites, the practice of the faith, then something very interesting happened there at that little bird bath when the water was poured over her head. There in that dingy old church with the chipped plaster and worn carpets, God claimed her little life for the greater life of the faith. Not only that, but the people gathered with my daughter claimed her as their own, as part of their family, as their responsibility and she too responsible for them. Among the odd and usually disheveled ranks of our church membership is a young woman who struggles with many demons and them severe delusions. After the baptism, when it was time for prayers, this young woman prayed that her daughter be blessed and cared for, her daughter who had just been baptized that day. The daughter she was talking about was my sweet girl twisted and changed into her child through the sick alchemy of mental illness. It was sad, and a little scary, but there is no doubt that this young woman, confused as she was, had love in her voice as she prayed. Setting aside the fear and the strangeness of the situation, there may be something deep and even beautiful in this woman claiming my child as her own, and it begs a question: whose are we? Is my daughter really “mine?” Is my wife “mine?” Am I hers? Yes and no. While we must not claim ownership of each other, we are bound to one another. We are tied with cords visible and invisible, we affect the lives spiritually, emotionally, materially of all those we encounter in our time on this world and our existence ripples forward and backwards, affecting things past and thing to come. In that way, when we go about our tasks, when we stagger out onto the world to meet our clients, even for the first time, we do not meet them as strangers. In that bed is a brother or sister, a cousin, a friend, an enemy, a mother, and father. We meet one we are responsible for and one responsible for us. So as we go about our tasks, may we care for those who come into our lives, as though we are caring for our own children, because in many hidden, strange and beautiful ways, we already are.