Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lots of Little Things

I haven't made any final decision on the blog and, since I have a few stories, I'll post them.

Yesterday, at the drive-thru, the woman on the intercom greeted me in Spanish.  She apologized and switched to English.  When I pulled up to the window, she apologized again, profusely.  I asked, "Are you apologizing to me for greeting me in Spanish?"  Yes, she said; sometimes she gets confused switching back and forth.  I asked if she were bilingual and, when she said yes, I told her that was wonderful and she never needed to apologize.  I said I would have answered in Spanish if mine were any good.  But as I left, I said "gracias."

Last night, our Cadette troop helped out at the local food pantry.  When we arrived, more than an hour before it opened, there was already a line of 20+ people.  Inside, there were six rows of shelves, with a a few selections per aisle, and unlimited produce while it lasted.  A family of four could get some dried fruit, some canned fruit, 2 boxes of pasta, one box of cereal, two cans of tomato sauce, a jar of cocktail sauce, peanut butter, some meat or cheese or eggs, and a bag of day-old bread.  For a week.  Not much food, not much choice, no real brands.  And some of the clients were homeless, which means they only really could take food that didn't need to be cooked--apples, raisins, cereal, peanut butter, bread.  Others, were confused--I had to explain cocktail sauce to numerous clients--what were they going to do, run out and buy shrimp??  These weren't exactly foods that you could make a lot of different meals with--a family of four could perhaps make cereal breakfast, two spaghetti dinners, and perhaps chicken drumsticks with cocktail sauce.  We ran low on pretty much everything as the evening progressed, so that the only fresh vegetable was onions--and some took 20 or more, I'm guessing for soup.  Meat and eggs ran out, too.  The people at the end of the session had almost no choice.

I know that many of the clients work (and maybe that's why they came at the end of the evening); food insecurity hits more than just people who are unemployed or homeless.  Many brought small children.  Most were minorities (African American or Latinx), most were women, young and older.  There were a few white people, who had clear signs of mental health issues and learning disabilities.  As Sis noted, several clients smelled like cigarettes; I smelled urine, too.

It was very eye-opening for the troop and for the adults.  The girls were mostly sad--sad that people were hungry, sad that people were poor, sad that there was so little.   I was surprised at how little food they got, especially given that they only came once a week. And the quality was very low.  I know my family is privileged--I think I didn't realize how much.  I'm sure we waste more food than these 115 or so clients and their families get.  And, in the current political climate, there will probably be less rather than more.  I mentioned to one of the moms that I would have loved if some of the dads--many of the dads are Republicans, though married to Democrats--had been there, though I can just hear the racism and classism ("I work to take care of my family," etc.)  And then if the GOP takes away healthcare too . . . . The girls were very mature, very hardworking (they carried bags and helped  clients figure out what they could take)--the volunteer coordinator couldn't believe they were seventh graders.  They were pretty quiet as they left after two hours of work, but dedicated to coming back to help at the pantry and later cook dinner at the soup kitchen.  And I think I'll be making more deliveries to the food pantry (though, they said cash is best so they can buy in bulk.)

Otherwise, I've been taking it slowly this week, mainly because I twisted my knee last Friday at hospice.  I thought it would stop hurting with some rest and wearing the little brace I have--I do this about every five years or so--but it's gotten harder to walk and I've even canceled going to hospice tomorrow.    I have an appointment to see my ortho next week and am still taking it easy.  Blah.  I'm pretty sure it's just a muscle thing but better to check.

It might as well be this week because I'm spending a lot of time online doing my Chaplaincy Care Volunteer training class, through Healthcare Chaplaincy and the Spiritual Care Network.  It's an online, introductory course for some continuing education credits; though I've been a hospice volunteer for five years, I'm taking the class to learn more of the theoretical underpinings of hospice and to explore the organization before I apply to do their Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) unit
(which is much more involved--about 400 CPE hours vs. 18 ce credit hours) in the spring.  So, I've spent every morning this week doing the readings, watching the videos, and doing the assignments.  Not surprisingly, many of the assignments are reflective not the regurgitation of information.  And I've found it fascinating.

For instance, the discussion of spiritual distress clarified for me that I experienced such distress after my emergency abdominal surgery, which was a reminder of mortality. And my secular humanist, Buddhist-inspired Unitarian Universalism is not all that comforting about the afterlife.  I don't believe in heaven (or hell); I do not believe in an omnipotent, omnipresence authoritarian godhead.  Pretty much, when I die, I'm dead. And that's not all that comforting.  So for awhile after surgery, I wondered if I could change my beliefs to something with more of an afterlife, and, in the end, I just can't.  I go back and forth about the divine light inside of each of us, which rejoins the universe after death (because energy cannot be destroyed, accoring to our current understanding of physics), but it's not me.  And it's not my life.  As a parent with relatively young children, I find it very difficult to think of leaving them permanently now (even just thinking about it, much less being faced with it really), hence the distress.  How did I overcome it?  Hospice work helps and distance from the precipitating event allows me to go back to ignoring it on such a visceral level.  I'm hoping as the kids get older, as I get older, or if something forces my hand, that I will become better at thinking of leaving this life.  It's a practice.

About that little divine light within each of us; I'm thinking of it metaphorically.  It's been called our spirit, our soul, "this little light of mine." That which enlivens us, differentiates us.  Namaste. "The light in me recognizes the light in you." In me, it flares up at the smiles of my family, a beautiful sunset or view, the national anthem or other pageantry (like the Olympics), when I sing a touching song, when my cats purr.  It draws me to community, to service, to compassion, to love.  When I'm angry or sad or regretful or guilty, it darkens.  Yep, all those tried and true light vs dark metaphors (though as a white woman, I reognize the trouble in associating light with goodness, hope, etc., and darkness with the opposite.)  When my UU RE class visited the local synagogue this Sunday and spoke with the rabbi, he spoke of the divine light that Jews believe is present in them, first breathed into us by God with Adam.  There is no hell; when someone dies, the spark rejoins the divine.  The rabbi mentioned that this interest in a divine spark, an internal, eternal light, comes from the East and in that way is similar to Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.  (BTW, I personally got teary on that field trip when a young woman from the synagogue practiced her bat mitzvah portion on the synagogue's 450-year-old scroll that survived the Holocaust.  This Torah now helps initiate a new generation of young Jews.)

I'm also reading a book by John Pavolitz, the progressive Christian preacher who is active on social media in excorciating #45, the GOP, and religious extremists who hate on LGBTQ, feminists, and others.  I grew up in a family that was, at best, disinterested in Christianity (and all religions), if not somewhat hostile.  Even at a young age, I saw a lot of hypocrisy in the Southern Baptists I knew.  As I grew older, I saw more--people were religious but didn't seem to live out the values of mercy, charity, faith, love, etc exemplified by Christ.  Certainly, now that I'm an out lesbian, I see even more hypocrisy and quite often wonder then, why do people bother to be Christians then?  Except reading Pavolitz's new book, Building a Bigger Table, I'm starting to understand the appeal of Christianity, at least as Pavolitz describes it--a table with legs of radical hospitality, divesity, beloved community, and  . .. oh, I'm forgetting the last leg.  Still, those are all wonderful things.  Now I don't know much about Jesus--and I don't believe in a supreme being, much less his holy incarnation on earth and so I won't become a Christian--but I can appreicate the core values as Pavolitz sees it.  He also talks about the light inside of us, which reaches out to others.

And today is Diwali, the Indian festival of lights . . . and the chalice is the symbol of Unitarian Universalism . . . so I have light on my mind.

What else?  I learned about reminiscence therapy, where you guide older people, especially those with memory loss, through significant life events, like school or marriage, using objects (e.g. a wedding veil), music (wedding song), scent (fresh flowers), etc.  I actually had the opportunity to try it with one of my hospice patients that afternoon, as she had a letter about a family member's recent wedding.  So, we talked about her wedding, back in the 1940s, after the war.  A chuppah, breaking the glass, a white dress, and how it all started the family that loves and surrounds her today.  Also, one of the videos, this time on prejudice and professional, featured a therapist who said there are no first impressions--every time we meet someone new we are reminded of people we've met before or lessons we learned from our family and/or culture (such as racism) and so we have prejudices that are very hardwired and hard to overcome; as professionals, it would be our job to see these thoughts and then just set them aside. (As we say in Buddhism, don't believe everything you think.)  My first thoughts weren't about my own prejudices with regards to other people but how such prejudices affect how I see myself--how much I berate myself for being overweight, for instance.  I have a very strong, very negative inner voice that rarely quits (especially this week with my knee hurting), even when I can examine the thoughts and try to let them go.  I am much nicer and more understanding, for instance, about everyone else's body issues; just not mine.  As for prejudices I might carry with me to hospice, ironically, I used to be anxious about talking to elderly people because I couldn't understand them (on, say, Girl Scout visits to nursing homes) and would avoid it; I would rather have spent time with children with special needs, say (like when I worked at various camps.)  Well, now I spend a lot of time with sometimes very hard to understand elderly people!  Of course, the most obvious prejudice is racial.  I carry that baggage, too, but consider myself, to use the parlance, newly "woke." Or, perhaps, awakening.  I try to stay aware of my privilege and the challenges of non-white or non-privileged people, based on race, ability, income, gender etc.  I hope it doesn't affect my hospice work.  For instance, I do become very aware of racial issues (and am a bit uncomfortable) when I'm singing Harry Belafonte songs with Carribean patois lyrics to my white patient who loves those songs, in front of her Jamaican personal health aide, who sometimes sings and dances along!  But I will enter any room where I'm welcomed and treat the person in the bed and the friends and family around with all respect and dignity.

Whew! I think that's probably enough for today.

Monday, October 9, 2017

This Blog

I don't write as often as I used to, almost ten years after starting this blog.  Only a few people read it and, as they're friends, they can probably best be served by individual emails.  I haven't quite given up on it; I'm still considering shutting it all down, not sure if I'll keep it public or take it down.  It certainly served its purpose--to give me an outlet to express myself and to communicate with others far and near.  I will always keep it--so many memories, so many recipes!  What do you think?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Las Vegas

Really, are there any words left that we can say after a mass murder?  Nothing explains it.  Nothing can ever make it better.

And yet Bud asked me about it last night.  I used the Mr. Rogers line "look for the good," pointing out the heroes and first responders.  But that can't ameliorate 58 dead and 529 injured.  I tried to tell him about the book I'm reading--Karen Armstrong's The Case for God--I'm just beginning it, in the chapters that trace ancient beliefs in both logos and mythos, how God was not a "being" really, more of a divinity, a spark of life that is in everything.  I said everyone has a spark like that--him, me, the heroes and responders, only in some, like the shooter, it is shrouded in darkness, for any number of reasons (not inherent evil, though.  I don't believe in that.)  Then I try to tell him that Connecticut has one of the lowest gun murder rates in the country (I think we're third lowest), that we try to keep him safe.  Without making it scary, I hope, I also said it's why we try to treasure each day, try not to go to bed angry, kiss goodbye, and say "I love you," because you never do quite know.  We cuddled on the couch for awhile.  And I tried not to think if my body could completely shield his from a rain of bullets.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Back in the Saddle

I'll start this post by saying Sis is just fine.

Last Thursday, she had horseback riding as usual, on her beloved pony Murphy ("her" is relative; we partially lease him.)  She was out in the back paddock cantering (faster than a trot) and Murphy spied a wild turkey in the woods.  I guess Murphy doesn't like turkeys because he spooked and jumped sideways, but Sis continued her forward trajectory right over his neck.  She landed on her right side on the ground.  She says she didn't hit her head but did bend back a finger.  

When I showed up after the lesson, knowing none of this, the first thing she said was, "I fell off, but it's not Murphy's fault!"

In fact, she had the presence of mind to immediately grab his reins so he didn't spook again or try to eat grass (horses can choke if they eat with their bridles in place), something that is drilled into them. People came immediately to check on her and she got right back up on him.  So brave!

Of course, we don't blame Murphy.  These things happen--and she wears an expensive helmet because of it.  I teased her, "Did you think I was going to go out and shoot the pony like in Gone with the Wind?"  She was horrified and now doesn't want to see one of my favorite movies of all times.  (And that's not even a big part of the film, but I digress.)

Anyway, she started having headaches that evening and so we consulted with Goo, my brother-in-law who is now a doctor at a hospital nearby, and he said to watch her; nobody wanted us to go to the ER at night if we didn't have to.

But it did happen the day that it was announced that NFL player Aaron Hernandez had advanced brain damage (CTE) at the time of his suicide.  From multiple concussions.  So we were pretty vigilant.

We let her go to school the next day, but by Friday evening we were at the pediatrician's office because her head hurt when she moved too much.  No obvious concussion, but the doctor put her on limited activity for a week--no horses, no skating, no PE in school; we'll go back if it gets worse or doesn't go away (it hasn't completely gone away yet.)  By the way, did you know that cocoon treatments for concussions--no activity, dark rooms, not even much mental stimulation (like music or audiobooks)--is on the way out?  I didn't either.  Apparently it doesn't actually help children. The doctor was even more concerned about the aching middle finger on her right (not writing) hand and sent us for x-rays on Saturday morning.

Not broken!  Just sprained.


I know missing all of her activities is a hardship, but, considering how awful it could have been, well,  I'd say we are lucky.   And my dad always says that it's better to be lucky than good!

As a horse-loving friend said to her, "Silly Murphy!"

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Talking Faith

Today at Hospice, a Jehovah's Witness proselytized to myself and my fellow spiritual care volunteer about her faith.  I'm not sure how often I've been on the receiving end of such a strong impulse to convert me (even my Mormon friend doesn't try that!)  But she was so dedicated to her faith, supporting her through the death of her spouse.  I couldn't agree with her about her Savior and his Resurrection, but we all agreed on the importance of hope and community, which permeate most faiths.  We just give the light that sustains us in the darkness different names. Christ, God, Jehovah, Allah, Buddha, Spirit, Love, Mother Nature, Beloved Community . . . even science and humanity.  Afterwards, I spoke with my colleague, who is Jewish (and so was equally unmoved by the conversion attempt), and we continued our discussion of faith, hope, and community and how we functioned in a predominantly Roman Catholic environment. She likes Psalm 23 but rarely recites the Lord's Prayer, since it isn't about honest or true connection for her.  I've done the Lord's Prayer and "Amazing Grace" but not the Catholic blessing with the cross on the forehead.  For both of us, listening to patients and their families, truly connecting with them, serving our communities is a main tenet of our faiths, above and beyond communion, salvation, and witness.  Beyond this deep conversation, we talked kids and Connecticut.  I'm going to enjoy working with her.

The conversation reminded me of church, where I'm teaching RE this year--the kiddos' class, even.   "Neighboring Faiths" is the curriculum, which introduces kids to other religions--Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Catholicism, Protestantism--through visitors and field trips.  I'm really looking forward to it, which is why I volunteered to teach (it'll help with my hospice work, too, even if most patients are RC.)  I think it's really important for the kids, too.  I learned through going to church with childhood friends--whoever I spent the night with on Saturday, I'd go to church with on Sunday (mostly on the Protestant spectrum, though--Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Southern Baptist, some Catholic, and my Hindu neighbors, though they didn't go to temple much.)    The kids groan a bit about going, but they know it's important to me.  And maybe, years from now, it will help them in their own discussions of faith and interactions with people of other faiths.  Or, they might even change faith communities.  Okay, sure, I'd be shocked if they became Catholic--like my cousin did, becoming a monk even--but I think as long as they kept to the spirit of UU principles--the worth of all beings, the importance of community, the responsible search for truth and justice, the respect for different sources of wisdom--well, it'd make for some good conversations.

Besides, having a better understanding of Catholicism will come in handy for our trip to Italy in the spring!