More Than “an Animal”

My boyfriend, now ex, broke up with me the day before I closed on my first house. This particular house was a steal because it was a foreclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, a full basement and a 2 car garage which sat on a quarter acre lot. Located in a nice neighborhood with playgrounds, basketball courts, a Frisbee golf course and a dog park all within walking distance, I had thought it would be perfect for the two of us and his two children. We had been together for years, looked at houses together and then suddenly I was in this alone. In spite of all my doubt, I went ahead and closed on my house because of the sunk cost and the deal that I was getting. It didn’t make it any easier though; what had once looked like a home that would be filled with a family was now a big empty tomb where my hopes for our future together were laid to rest. Moving in was bittersweet; I was a homeowner with a place all my own but it seemed so EMPTY. It had been a while since I had a dog and I realized in this moment that finally my opportunity arrived. I saw a litter of puppies listed online through a rescue and figured I’d go get one the next day. A dog could be my companion and let me know if I had intruders. It was the answer my broken-heart needed. A puppy was a solution to all my problems (or so I thought).

When I arrived at the shelter the next day to see the litter, I was told all the yellow ones were claimed. I was also told that nobody had been interested in the brown one, and I remember thinking I understood how it felt. I asked to see it and I was soon holding a wiggly, affectionate pile of fur. I was sold, told them I would take him and not long thereafter I left with a puppy that stopped being an “it” and soon became my beloved Moose. This same puppy licked brown paint while it was wet and then licked my pale yellow walls, leaving tiny tongue marks all down the wall. He broke two cages and tried to dig his way through the bathroom to get to me when I would leave for work. He would also have accidents anytime I was out of his sight (out of panic and fear). This lead to me showering our first few months together with him stationed right next to the tub, his head occasionally appearing through the curtains to confirm I hadn’t somehow evaporated into thin air. He caught toads that made him sick over and over again and ate nine cups of food a day as he topped out at 120 pounds (well beyond the estimated 45-55 pounds I was told). At one point my vet advised me to consider getting rid of him due to his extreme behavioral issues but I couldn’t; how could I abandon this neurotic dog when he seemed just as broken as I felt?

And so I love him, deeply. He always sleeps with himself between me and the entrance and keeps himself between me and any new men we meet. He is fiercely protective of any children and always gentle. His greatest joy is being wherever I am, touching me, and it gives me joy too. He is the one I look forward to seeing at the end of the day. He quickly went from being a difficult puppy nobody wanted to my heart walking around on four paws. He has been my constant and steadfast companion, and I have been his. When he’s sick, I’m up with him. When he can’t get up the stairs, I sleep on the couch with my arm hanging off so we’re still touching. When he can’t get into bed and refuses to use the steps, I lift him up. In his old age we have arrived back at where we started in the very beginning. Some might see the amount of work and money I put into caring for an elderly dog and question it. Yet I know that there is no way I could repay him for the love, comfort, protection and healing he has brought to me over the years. I consider it a blessing to be able to care for him well in his old age.

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We’re all Blind

“A Conversion,” by Martin Buber, was a difficult read. Within his writing, I struggle to discern exactly what his intention is with providing such a vague description of a moment in which he is having a rare experience with Mystery. He says at the start that “In the early years the ‘religious’ was for me the exception.” (Buber 84) However, what I believe we ultimately hear described is a conversion: Buber changes from one perspective to another. Where before Mystery was the exception, at the end of his work he says that, “I possess nothing but the everyday out of which I am never taken. The mystery is no longer disclosed, it has escaped or it has made its dwelling here where everything happens as it happens.” (Buber 84)

It is much easier to understand the difference between an “I-It” relationship (relating to another as an object, like viewing the world through the “arrogant eye” discussed previously) and an “I-Thou” relationship (relating to the other as a thou, like viewing the world through the “loving eye) when we examine it through the Raymond Carver’s “The Cathedral.” In the story, a man writes about his wife who has been friends with a blind man for around ten years. The man, this woman’s husband, doesn’t really want the blind man to come. To her husband, the blind man is summed up in his disability. At one point, while reflecting on the death of the blind man’s wife, he says, “And then to slip off into death, the blind man’s hand on her hand, his blind eyes streaming tears—I’m imagining now—her last thought maybe this: that he never even knew what she looked like, and she on an express to the grave.” (Carver 4) His understanding of the blind man is entirely constrained by the “It” of his blindness. He imagines how miserable the man’s wife must have been at not being seen by her husband, never considering all the ways we see each other without our eyes.

It isn’t until he sees the blind man as a thou that he begins to understand that this truly and fully a man, a person with depth and capacity similar to his own. After his wife fell asleep on the couch, they began watching a show together on cathedrals. At times where it wasn’t narrated, the man attempted to describe what he was seeing to the blind man. He says, “Something has occurred to me. Do you have any idea what a cathedral is? What they look like, that is? Do you follow me? If somebody says cathedral to you, do you have any notion what they’re talking about? Do you the difference between that and a Baptist church, say?” (Carver 10) The blind man answers in contexts that likely did not occur to the man: he speaks of the number of workers it took, the amount of years, the generations of investment. He shared that he understood that men would start a project knowing that they wouldn’t see it completed. Eventually, the blind man asks the man to draw a cathedral for him, and places his hand on the mans so that he might “see” what the man is drawing though the movements. This is really the point where the man truly begins to see the blind man as a thou. He put all his energy into trying to describe through these movements what a cathedral was.

At the very end, the blind man asked the man who was drawing to close his eyes, but to keep drawing. Finally, at the end, the blind man asks him to look at his drawing and tell him what he thinks. The man, now, is not quite ready to open his eyes. I think this is an expression of solidarity with the blind man, of really seeing the man in his wholeness. We witness the woman’s husband shift from viewing the blind man as an “it” to a “thou,” and the weird and beautiful things that can come out of that transition.

 

Works Cited

Buber, Martin. “A Conversion.” Meetings. London: Routledge, 2002. Excerpt.

Carver, Raymond. “Cathedral.” Carver, Raymond. Collected Stories. New York: Library of America, 2009. Short Story.

 

Empathy and Being a Voice for the Marginalized

“When are we going to have the moral courage to speak in terms other than economy…” I struggle to understand people that have lacked empathy in the face of the fear and concern of minorities and marginalized people which rose out of the recent election; people who think it’s about who won/lost. I’ve often heard it said, “Those who voted for Trump but insist they aren’t racist/sexist/etc. are really only saying that I don’t matter at all; their wealth matters more than the wellbeing of others.” If we don’t stand for something, we stand for nothing. Let us make sure we strive to maintain the innate human dignity of every person.

“If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

 

The Silent Victim of Imprisonment: Children

According to alternet.org (link below) in 2013, around 2.7 million children under the age of 18 had a parent in prison or jail. In this video they quote 3 million which shouldn’t be a surprise since the prison population has been rising for decades. The tragedy that strikes here is twofold: first, that children suffer the pain of growing up parentless. Second, with our system and society the way it is, those children will then be six times more likely to enter the system themselves.

Some people might say that these men don’t deserve to see their children; perhaps those people are against rehabilitating prisoners so they can be productive members of society when released.  But what about the kids? Do you think that the “sins” of the parents should be the “sins” of the child?  And thus the “sin” of society?  Or do you think we can do better? This program that allows dads and their kids to spend time together seems like an amazing step in the right direction.

 

(AlterNet Article) http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/27-million-children-under-age-18-have-parent-prison-or-jail

(Article Video was from) http://tosavealife.com/inspiration/dads-behind-bars-hold-kids-1st-time-look-faces/

Reflections on “Final Gifts”: Permission to Die, Birth and Death, and the Value of Reconciliation

I found Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley to be a powerful insight into the lives of three different groups of people: nurses for the dying, the family and friends of the dying and the dying themselves. It looks at “Nearing Death Awareness,” or the increasing awareness one has when one is dying over a long period of time, the actual experience of it and what they need in order to die peacefully. Three concepts I felt really stood out to me and that I feel I can apply immediately in the future were the idea that the dying often need permission to die, the relationship between birth and death and the value of reconciliation and the role we can play in it.

It was helpful for me to acknowledge the truth that dying people often need permission to die; receiving it can provide a great amount of relief and the withholding of it can make the process of death longer and more challenging. This is likely due to what they are trying to communicate and why: “The dying often use the metaphor of travel to alert those around them that it is time for them to die. They also have a deep concern about the welfare of those they love, asking themselves, ‘Do they understand? Are they going to be alright?’[1] In the example of Ellen, her family struggled at first to understand that she was trying to communicate that she was dying to them. This increased the level of stress and anxiety for both Ellen and her family.  Once they realized that she was likely referring to heaven, they went in and comforted and affirmed her. “Ellen’s family provided what she needed by letting her know they understood the messages she was so desperately trying to give them-‘I am dying, it is time for my journey from this life, I need to know you understand and are ready; I need your permission to go.’”[2] While I have never witnessed this, I have heard stories from people about someone they love “constantly agitated towards the end.” I’ve also encountered people in homes who didn’t seem to make any sense and they were generally dismissed. This idea encourages me to approach people not only with a heart of compassion but with a belief that there is, perhaps, an understanding that can be reached.

Another idea I found helpful was the analogy between birth and death. As one nurse described, “I also feel strongly that, like birthing, dying can be an opportunity for the whole family to share positive experiences, rather than only sadness, pain and loss. That is the challenge of the work…”[3] In fact, both birth and death used to happen in the home until industrialization and the twentieth century hit; then birth became a procedure and death a failure at successful treatment.  Recently there has been some headway made in both these areas, and both birth and death are now often possible in the comfort of one’s home rather than in the often isolating and unfamiliar hospital. Consider the difference that this has made for births: “Family members present at delivery share a special bond with mother and child-a closeness born of sharing that powerful moment. The deeper their involvement and understanding, the likelier they are to come away with a sense of learning and growth.”[4] This same thing could be said for those who experience death alongside loved ones. Their deeper involvement leaves them with a sense that there were fully participatory in the end and the person dying is less lonely and fearful because they are surrounded by those who care for them. When I consider the growth and community that comes from birth I have to believe that the same is true for death and I see the value of community in times where people are facing a terminal illness.

I also learned that many times the most important thing for a person as they are nearing death is reconciliation.  “As death nears, people often realize some things feel unfinished or incomplete-perhaps issues that once seemed insignificant or that happened long ago. Now the dying person realizes their importance and wants to settle them.”[5] If this is request is understood people will often do what they can to assist the person but there are also times when the request is unclear, leaving the person upset or appearing in pain when they aren’t physically pained; rather they are suffering psychologically or emotionally. They desire peace, and to die peacefully they need either healing or reconciliation to occur in the relationship (often in the form of an apology or expression of gratitude). “Most dying people begin by listing their accomplishments, but they also will consider their disappointments-tasks not completed, opportunities missed, relationships broken or left to wither. As caregivers or friends, if we can help dying people conduct such reviews and heal damaged relationships, we can help them find peace.”[6] I saw this with my Father’s mother as she was nearing her own end. It was clear she wanted reconciliation with my mother and I tried to provide the best reassurances I could. That seemed to be a great comfort to her in those moments, as she was very fearful of death.

[1]Callanan, Maggie & Kelley, Patricia. (2012) Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. United States of America: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks. Pg. 74

[2] Callanan & Kelley. Pg. 75

[3] Callanan & Kelley. Pg. 130

[4] Callanan & Kelley, Pg. 30

[5] Callanan & Kelley, Pg. 137

[6] Callanan & Kelley, Pg. 153

God is Countercultural

These topics are hotly debated, but perhaps it is because they should be. I’m a millenial who grew up with mass shootings, I’ve lived as a Christian and non-Christian, and I do own a gun. But as a Christian, I have to consider what I am defending and protecting with my words online and in conversations. First, because God asks things of us as a follower and second, because we have the ability to bring people closer or further to God through our actions.

Sandy Hook. Orlando. Are we more apt to defend the rights of our guns or to demand some change? To say the status quo is no longer good enough? God, Jesus, calls us to the widow, the immigrant and the orphan, to mourn with those who mourn. Yet I see many who claim they are Christians first jumping to protect our rights instead of our people, and in the mean time we are creating more people who are mourning.

I love our rights. As a history major, I understand the danger of giving up rights out of fear or the desire for protection or security. I’m not saying the answer is simple or easy but we must look at our choices and as Christians, we should be caring for the victims more than our weapons. That doesn’t mean I’m saying hand them all over and melt them down; but we believe in improvement in our personal, spiritual and business life. It would be startling to think that some improvements can’t be made.

This, surprisingly or not, ties in to things like the death penalty. I don’t support the death penalty in cases where someone can be safely kept. This wasn’t always the case but my time with some Catholic nuns has shown me that everyone should be afforded every opportunity to repent and change their path; are we not all guilty in some way and worthy of being prisoners (if not of worldly law then certainly of God’s)?

I think if we examine other controversial issues like immigration, abortion, etc. we can start to see that leading with love and empathy might be the better foundation to build upon.

Seeds of Change

     The fifth chapter of Brian Seaward’s book Stand Like Mountain, Flow like Water, is looking at seeds of change, was very insightful. First examined was the seed of faith, the mustard seed. Faith is something that must be cared for and cultivated. Like the tiny mustard seed, if cared for, it will become durable and rooted but it requires nurturing. “Nelson Mandela… said, ‘Faith is not belief without proof, it’s trust without reservation.’ Many people claim to have faith, but their faith can best be described as hope; wishing rather than knowing.” (pg. 177) I have found that as my faith deepens, it is not that God answers my prayers more or that I have a better idea of what the future holds; it is that more and more I trust where I am being lead and whatever situations I face, I know God is with me and so I am filled with courage.

     For the daffodil (personally my favorite flower), the seed of mirth, I took great comfort in this. I find I often balance serious conversation with laughter and it is how I attempt to bring comfort to people at opportune times. I particularly agree with where the cancer victor pointed out that it diffuses anger, dissolves fear, and lightens the heart. (pg. 186) The thing to be sensitive of here is that the humor is not at a cost to someone else; this is completely unnecessary and doesn’t bring healing to people as we see within the story of the people who are fighting for survival. It is best to not joke about people’s health, physical or mental, because you really have no idea what battles they are fighting. Let your words always lift people up. As someone who comes from a household where sarcasm was standard and wit was biting, I have found this habit to be a challenging habit to break at times but I never want make people laugh at another’s expense.

     The seed of compassion (the columbine seed) hit close to home as I was a freshman in high school during the shooting at Columbine; the ripple effect it sent through my high school was less compassion and an increase in threats for shootings and bombs. Fear of death, as this book covers, was not uncommon in school. The perspective of the state’s approach reflected on the license plates, “Respect Life, not only in remembrance, but as an expression of compassion,” (pg. 188) is very reassuring. Compassion isn’t about being thanked, or pity or shame, it is about unconditionally loving others.

     Lastly, the acorn, the seed of willpower, a seed that is soft and only half an inch in diameter and yet if planted produces oak, an tall and exemplary hardwood. Willpower is a muscle that requires consistent exercise. For each of these seeds, they start out tiny and, if properly planted and nurtured, produce something far beyond what one might expect when looking at a tiny seed. As we tie these seeds back to the traits we associate them with, we need to consider the conditions we “plant” these traits within ourselves. Do we feed them with positive or negative thoughts? Are they suffocated by ego or fear-based weeds? Based on our care, how can we expect these traits to grow?