Many years ago, I ran into inclusive language and wanted to have it become a part of my daily habitual discourse. Now that may sound easy but as I grew to accept new ways of being my language had to constantly change. But my first public endeavor began in a nursing home.
I was interning in a church’s nursing home program. They had over twenty seminary students interning with them at nursing homes across Louisville. I had been doing it for over a year when they asked me to mentor one of the newbies. He was a lot more conservative than I was. He was much more strait laced and handle himself as a very serious and intense minister. Despite our obvious differences we got along well.
Part of the job was to hold a worship service once a week. I would choose music and a liturgical form for the service. We would sing the ole time gospel songs and I would deliver a ten to fifteen minutes sermon. I loved the music time. Even residents who were not of sound mind, could sing the words of the hymns they had sang throughout their lives. Of course, they could not understand the sermon. I had two women who would often raise their hands and say Praise Jesus or Amen. There were a few others who were from less call and reply traditions who sat quietly but did understand. Out of the twenty plus residents who came seven or eight were aware.
I had recently had a discussion with some fellow wanna-be theologians about the use of inclusive language. The women theologians insisted on the need for justice in language. They were in the habit of counting others non-inclusive language. The discussion was heated and they were convincing me of the necessity of inclusive language. Suddenly one of the older seminarians said in the most prophetic voice, “That he always used the feminine pronoun for God. He would do this because he knew that it would take years of the use of the feminine pronoun for God to balance the scales of justice against the misogynist language that was used in the church for centuries.” Upon hearing this I watched the women theologians and maybe a male theologian swoon and thought one seminarian was getting laid tonight. I was convinced I was using inclusive language from that day forward.
I had a problem. I did not know how to incorporate inclusive language in the nursing home. Finally, Mother’s Day rolled around and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive language to the nursing home. I thought to myself that half of them never knew what I was saying, my two ladies amen anything I said, and the others would probably not notice. The day rolled around to preach the sermon. I had alerted my mentee of what I was doing. He did not look like he was very supportive of the idea. But he had not seen the women theologians swoon.
The day of the sermon finally arrived. I had carefully chosen the hymns and scripture readings to be as inclusive as possible. At long last it was sermon time. I started off slowly talking about mothers and how special they were. And slowly made the transition to God as mother to all of us. I quickly realized that old habits died hard. God was a nurturer also. His breast gave us the milk of love. And several other times I said he only to quickly repeat myself using the pronoun she. God he/she or whatever I felt myself wanting to say in my frustration. It was by no ways a sermon to break ground on how to use inclusive language
I knew things were bad when my silent but there congregants would give me for the first time quizzical looks. You could tell they could not follow me. Hell, I could not follow me. My Praise Jesus women kept hoping I would say something they could praise but only looked on not sure how to praise such a disaster. I could tell my mentee was quietly laughing inside.
I finally came to a stop and thanked the Mother God for his many blessings he continues to give us. I was glad to be finished. Afterwards I went around the room and shook hands and hugged the people. Usually I would receive good words such as a ‘you preach as good as Billy Graham’. Today that praise did not come. I was only given ‘we still love you looks’ and hugs.
Finally, I left with my mentee. On the way to the car we usually talked about the service and how the people seemed to be getting along. But today he appeared to be following that great maxim ‘If you do not have anything good to say than say nothing. As we shook hands goodbye, I peered deeply into my mentee’s eyes said with a wry grin on my face but in the most sincere voice I could muster,” I need to warn you only professionals should attempt this and do not try this at home”
While I was a student at Samford University I volunteered to visit two shut-ins once a week. In some ways this would prove to be a challenge for my religious development even though I would form a relationship with each of my shut-ins. They lived in two senior high rises in downtown Birmingham.
I can remember knocking on the door of the apartment of each feeling much like I was on my first date. On my first visit it took a substantial amount of time before the door was answered. Finally, Mrs. Warner came to the door. I introduced myself and she directed me to her table where we would have many talks and I would pray with her each before I left. She would always have off brand cookies waiting for me and the television playing the Christian Broadcasting Network in the background.
We would talk about her physical pain caused by arthritis especially in her hands and because I was a fledging minister: religion. She was always quoting and referencing a television evangelist and healer who she was dedicated to. She gave monthly from her social security check a nice tithe to this evangelist and healer. If I was unfortunate and scheduled our time together at the same time her evangelist’s television show I would be ‘obliged’ to watch him with her. She often shared the mailings his ministry sent her. Usually letters asking for money. On a couple of occasions, she apologized for the lack of cookies. She would explain she had answered her evangelist’s call for more money.
She once asked me if I could heal her arthritic hands. I told her I did not have the gift of healing. She seemed a bit confused as to why I was entering the ministry if I could not heal. I had to remind her on several occasions that as a rule Southern Baptists did not believe in her evangelist’s kind of healing.
Usually after I visited Mrs. Warner I would drive to visit (Stella as she told me to call her): my other shut-in. When she opened the door the first words out of her mouth was ‘I love my Jesus’. She asked me if I did and would praise Jesus offering up prayers and scripture verses to the universe. She was more evangelical than I would ever be. Her voice was so sweet and melodious you would have thought you were at the Pearly Gates hearing the angels inside praising God.
I usually would stay for an hour with each shut-in at the first. But I stayed too long with Stella. After thirty minutes with her, Stella’s demeanor would have a transformation. Gone was the angel voice. Now her voice was lower and if I must be honest, scarier. She would start using nigger in her sentences and complain how they were taking over the city of Birmingham. I would steadily correct her and say I did not like the use of that word and try to challenge her complaints. She looked confused when I did not join in her habitual race damning. And on occasion when I would challenge her she would momentarily stop. But she could not help herself and would eventually backslide into her racist monologues. I can remember being very uncomfortable when her black caretaker was in the room and she would start carrying on with her racist talk. It was very challenging to visit her. Always the first few minutes would start about her love of Jesus and a few minutes later she would degenerate into her racist diatribe.
I knew or at least I hoped her mind was not working right. But in all other things she appeared to have her senses. I never knew if it was the disease of the mind or the disease of the heart. My visits with her became shorter and shorter. I was only staying for ten to fifteen minutes by the end of my visits. I hoped by cutting the time with her I would miss the racist talk and only hear the ‘godly’ talk.
One day when I visited Mrs. Warner she was excited. Her television evangelist was coming to the Birmingham Civic Center. Her aide was going to transport her and she was going to position herself on the front row. She was going to at last be cured of the crippling arthritis in her hands. I had never seen her in such a good mood. I was concerned that she would be disappointed but did not want to dampen her mood. When I left I told her I would be praying for her and she could tell me all about it at our next meeting.
When I returned the next week she was slow getting to the door. As I greeted her I could see she was depressed. Slowly she divulged the story to me. She did it in a hushed funeral home voice. She had wheeled herself (with the help of a nurse to a meeting of his) to the stage. Listened to his revival spirited sermon. As was his custom he began the part of the service where he picked ailing members to the stage. She waited for him to call her on stage to be healed. He stopped and looked at her as he went down the row choosing people. But to her dismay he did not direct her to line up on stage. She desperately asked one of his assistants why she was not chosen. The assistant explained she did not have a gold pin signifying a certain amount of money she had given. In other word give more money if you want to be healed.
After telling me her story, she dropped her head and I could see tears flow down her cheeks. She whispered to me I should have been giving more. She of limited income stated to me I must give more. I was angry this was not right. He was nothing but a huckster and knew nothing about Jesus. But I managed to kill my first instinct and told her that I did not believe that it is how God operates. She said he was a godly man and if that is what he said it was the gospel. I could see there was no arguing with her. I suddenly felt a huge black cloud come over me. There was nothing this man could do that would have her leave his ‘flock’. He would buy two jets, he would be accused of an affair, he would be questioned how he spent his money but she and others would still support him. They held to their faith dearly no matter how challenging it might come. Though she walked through the valley of the shadow of death without comfort she would remain loyal.
After two years of weekly visits with these two saints it was time for me to head to seminary in another city. I slowly had prepared them for this moment. The program in which I first volunteered to visit had been closed for months now. There would be nobody to come and replace me. I had mixed feelings about this. I partly felt guilty but also was a little relieved to not have the responsibility of visiting them once a week.
When I visited Stella one last next time she served me one last dose of her vitriolic racist diatribe. And before I left she prayed for me and my new home. Mrs. Warner was excited to present me with a gift. She had passed from her valley to a new mountain top in the last six months. Her evangelist was even more of a godly man than before. She brought me her gift. I opened it. It was a book entitled Six Steps to Excellence in MInistry by her evangelist. I smiled and thanked her for the book. Later as I was walking out the door for the final time I saw on her television her evangelist.
At first, I thought she must be an advanced droid. She was always flawless. Then I decided an angel fit better. Yet in the end she was human. This was evident as we decided if we would be huggers. We waited for signals from each other as to whether we should hug. In the end we hugged once or twice, shook hands a few times and other times we raised arms to hug but realized the other was not showing hug and we dropped hands as if we had had a seizure. Droids would do one way which ever they had been programmed and an angel would go for the hug every time. Yes, she was human no one could program such human indecision.
But Kasey was a good human. She was the social worker/nurse you can only dream. I was seated in a chair waiting in line and suddenly there her face appeared in the rectangular window of the fire escape motioning for me to open it. And that was how she was. You needed help and intuitively she would appear even via a stairway no one used. Signing in for my next radiation treatment after I finished there she was. How she arrived there without me hearing her is puzzling. Did she beam herself there. She was the first social worker who never wasn’t. She always did what she promised when she promised.
I was there before the place was open and was waiting in the hall. Suddenly rushing thru the never used exit door at the back of the center she came crashing. She saw me smiled and said she would see me after my radiation treatment. I told Dr. Pablo I needed to discuss something with her and he said let me get her for you. In less than ten seconds Pablo came in with the smile of the cat who swallowed the canary. Behind him was Kasey. “Pretty impressive service hunh.” This uncanny way of being every where gave her a certain mystique.
She is probably the best listener to whines. I know she broke the limits of whine listening with me. Not once did she make it look like she could bear no more. She must have had a Big Ben methodology of listening to whines. But not only did she listen to the whines she offered solutions and suggestions. I feel your pain Mr. Freeman. Her follow through would make Stephon Curry jealous.
She once told me I wish I could take a magic wand and make it all disappear, but I can’t. I looked at her and said really you can do everything else. I told her she is the wand because you make it easier.
I have finished chemo and radiation and now will wait three months before the final verdict is declared. I have confidence it will be okay. And if it isn’t I have a magic wand to make it easier.
I have been to many retreat centers. Probably the most significant one was the Abbey of Gethsemani. This is the one where Thomas Merton chose to live out his monastic life. His social justice writings as well as his books on meditation have enlightened me more than once. My first trip to Gethsemani was by myself. Having never been to a monastery before I was more than a little apprehensive. But living in community with homeless, mentally ill, seminary students and other staff in the poorest section of Louisville, KY, I was ready for a spiritual alone time.
I pulled up to the wall that surrounded the cloistered community and pulled into a visitors parking space. I saw no door. I was arriving around 8pm which is late for a monastery, so all was quiet. I had driven down a dirt road to reach the seemingly out of place monastery in Kentucky. The place with the wall and no electrical lights outside was formidable. As I look up and down the wall there was no door that I could see. So, I started walking beside the wall hoping to find an entrance. Just as I was beginning to lose faith that I would find the door. I heard someone clapping behind me. It was a monk with a smile waving me this way. He took me to the gate and once inside to a small office. I had known the Trappists took vows of silence but I had never experienced it before.
The monk led me through registration and showed me my room without a single word. I was left in my room alone. I observed the single bed, chair and desk, night stand with lamp, and wood cylinder to hang a couple of garments. Then I listen; it was total silence. I was living in the inner city of Louisville. I woke up to homeless gathering by the door directly under my window. If they felt I was late opening the door they banged. I almost cried at the silence. The constant pressure of trying to meet everyone’s needs was gone for the next five days.
I slept soundly; upon awakening I went to breakfast. The monks eat facing one way so as to prevent conversation. I looked around at the different visitors and monks. The food was good eggs, toast and their famous cheese. They were also famous for their wine, which must have been kept for themselves because it would not be served with any of the meals.
So, I spent the week listening to Gregorian Chants and Mass. I prayed. I walked the grounds which were hundreds of acres. It was my last day and I had one more thing I wanted to do. Thomas Merton, when he was alive, had a small cabin in the woods where he would write, have visitors and so on. It was his hermitage and I wanted to see it. I had travelled the trails and had been to every section of the monastery’s ground but a section that was off limits to retreatants.
That was where I was going to explore today. Being sure that no one saw me I passed the sign that said monks only. I took an old foot path and within fifteen minutes of walking I saw it. The famous cabin of Thomas Merton. Stealthily I made my way up to the porch. I caught my breath and looked through the window. Just as I did this a monk jumped up from a desk looking out the window. He was laughing. I was in full peeing in pants mode.
After I recovered I smiled at him. He gave me that shame on you look. And I knew it was time for me to return to the retreatant part of the grounds. As I walked back I thought of the homeless whom I felt were constantly invading my personal space and laughed. I was just like them.
I only broke my silence once while I was the monastery. It was when I shrieked “Shit!” at the monk who had jumped out at me. I had thought my first word would be profound. And maybe it was. I leave that up to you to decide.
Her name was Jennifer Cobb. She was the original woman. Thus the initials JC. My first love. We met in eighth grade. I had begun to notice girls. But she was more than a girl she was smart, funny, and cute. Even though I did not know it I had a crush. We sat beside each other and recessed together most of the time.
In ninth grade I went from noticing girls to want them to notice me. We once on one of those modern dates where there are ten other people involved. I was convinced I had found the love of my life. My only problem was I was too shy to ask her out. Then Mike Williams appeared. He was my competition on the football field. I was the only starting freshman and he was the up and coming sophomore superstar. And he was a natural player with the ladies. Everyone liked Mike. Even I liked Mike. He was the most winsome person you have ever known. He was slowly becoming master of the school.
Of course this was no problem for me I did not want to be the master of the school. But one day he saw her and was captured by her beauty. Now it was obvious he was on the hunt for my Jennifer. Our competitiveness rose to heights unrecorded. The only problem was he had all the advantages. He had stubble. I had peach fuzz. He drove his own car. My parents transported me. He was confident around girls. I was a mess of hormones and silly around girls. Everyone wanted to date him. Few even knew me. The one-sided competition was on.
He kept on showing up between class breaks. God he was a master of the flirt. I would interrupt him and challenge him in that adolescent way. He ignored me as the young man he was. It was obvious Jennifer was attracted to him. But I could also see she had eyes for me too. I knew I had to ask her out soon or Mike would sweep in and I would be choking on the exhaust fumes of his move. But where and how do we get there. Finally, the solution came in the form of the year end school dance. I knew the clock was ticking. Yesterday Mike had worn his letterman jacket, one I had not received yet.
I was desperate; but I was shy. I picked up the phone several times for two days and would never make the call. But today I had to or my cause would be lost forever. I let the phone ring and then hung up. Thank God there was no caller ID in those days. And then with my heart in my throat I stayed on the line. She answered. I thought I heard a lilt in her voice when she realized it was me. After an overly few moments of awkward conversation I pounced. I asked her. There was a sigh on the other end of the line. Oh mike I am so sorry. I waited but the dance is tomorrow. I thought you were not going to ask and I finally said yes to Mike. My heart was crushed and if there was a God in heaven I would crush Mike Williams. But I knew it was my fault.
We talked for a while. She asked me if I was going to the dance and if I was she would save a dance for me. I said I did not know and to have a good time. We ended the conversation amicably. All of my dreams of a-year end dance romance followed by a summer of love were gone.
The vicissitudes of life robbed me of any hope with my first love. My family moved away that summer. In those days there ware no cell phones or social media to remain in touch. You could write a letter but I was never much of a writer. These many years later I wonder about the fate of Mike Williams. And sometimes I smile and sigh when I think of a little girl from Boaz, Al. who I will never know what might have been.
There is a big lobby. In the lobby is a distinguished woman or at least a woman looking much like Michelle Bachman. A man who is obviously a toadie rushes up to her. ‘Hey Ms. Hari, we would like to welcome you as a new member to the Death Panel in Heaven Committee.’ Ms. Hari replying, “Well this building is certainly heavenly enough. I mean with all the angelic gargoyles and the minimalism of the Shakers. It is perfect.’ “ Yes ma’am we here believe although we have one of the most devilish jobs that should not prevent us from bringing the best aesthetic to Vahalla. This committee amazes me. The US GOP should have egg on its face. When Obamacare was being approved the GOP in opposition vehemently said it created Death Panels. And yet all along we were creating death panels in heaven.’ Ms. Hari, looking curious ask, “And what is your particular position.” Toadie said,’ I am an officer of the Deep State. Boy that would flip out the GOP. I am the motor that makes the Death Panel go.”
Toadie takes Ms. Hari to a big conference room where other similar looking distinguished are gathered. There is a buzz and conversations about parties and real estate deals. Toadie, ‘Mr. Chairman all members are here so the show must begin.’ The Chairman says,” Yes let us all be seated and begin. We are pleased to welcome Ms. Hari today. Well let us get right to it. Toadie give us the first case.”
Toadie replies, “Okay case # 50000000000. One Bob Hayes He has many things to offer as far as retaining his life on earth. But there are a few things we should note which contradict the first look. His ex-wife has offered up to us a letter of referral for his removal from Earth.”
Ms. Hari,” How do we obtain such letters from an earthling? Her prayers?”
Toadie, “Heavens no. We do not listen to prayers. But once a person is assured a future residence here we allow them to write letters of recommendation. Anyway, in the letter she says he is a mouth breather and on occasions pontificates too much, and his sense of humor leaves a little to be desired.’
A committee member, “Well that does it for me let us have his death right away.”
Hari exasperated “on the advice of his ex who offers annoyances and not bad deeds.”
A committee member, “Well exes are usually our best referrals. They have lived with the person. And as far as annoyances she also states objectively she hates him. Doesn’t that carry weight at all with you or would you from aloft your pie in the sky question her judgement.”
Hari, ’No, I am only trying to learn the system that is all.’
The Chairman interrupts, “Do we have further evidence?”
Toadie, “Why yes. His son is distant from him. His wife is occasionally frustrated and even at times furious with him. Plus there is the matter of his books. They are pretty obscure and none have hit the New York Times Bestseller list.”
Another committee member chimes in, “Obscure books, nothing could be worse. And I feel we must relieve this poor woman who is married to the mouth breather. I concur death should be implemented.”
Hari again incredulous, “But the good report states he tries to do good for others. He helped start a non-profit with no overhead and raises money and gives to other non-profits that are doing good things in the community. Previously he spent over 25 years working with the poor. What is bad about this?”
The Chairman interrupts, “The poor wa wa. Did not Jesus say the poor will always be with you? So forget about them they are an albatross around the necks of our greedy entrepreneurs. And can you believe this in the good report it says he is a vegetarian. Vegetarianism only allows animals to live not him. Such holier than thou claptrap.’
The heads of all the committee members are nodding in agreement. Except one, Ms. Hari’s. Toadie looks at her with total displeasure and states,” Ms Hari who recommended you for this committee.” She hands Toadie a written referral. Toadie’s face turns green and he hands the paper to the Chairman.
The Chairman looks at her puzzled, “This says god is your referral. Do you mean the God. Or one of the many others.” Hari replies, “I mean the God”. Toadie,” this is most unfortunate. We have functioned well here in our outpost in heaven for generations striking down everyone we thought deserved death. I mean we have been responsible for some pretty big deaths MLK Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Emmitt Till, and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few. And now God wants to interject into our committee.”
The Chairman disturbed, “What is this about? Wait a minute your name is not Mata Hari.”
Mata Hari, “Why yes it is and yes God sent me down here to spy on you. We have noticed some strange choices for death and were confused by some of your decisions so God sent me to check it out. And I have noticed the heavenly architecture but no heavenly attitudes. You seem to have the dressings of heaven but the attitudes of hell.”
‘Well we have been watching Fox News and the GOP for years that is the way they do it and they claim they are God’s people,” the chairman responded.” But I am confused did you not work for the Germans?”
“Yes I did and that is why I was chosen. It was believed that I may be able to see the devil in the details and sure enough I did see Mr. Toadie. You see when Mr. Toadie says he works for the Deep State he means very Deep as in Hell. And I do believe I see a few other faces from that general direction’.
Suddenly, the walls came tumbling down and the death panel building was found to be in the midst of hell. Mata Hari,’ and the other reason I was chosen I was already here. But now thanks to my exposure of you and the author’s fascination of me I now am allowed to enter Heaven.’
Toadie looks after, ‘but are we not to make anymore decisions.’ “No you had your time and now we will offer healthcare for all,” replied Hari. “You had to know that eventually the richest country the world has ever seen would have to offer universal healthcare and not offer the death panels of insurance companies, hospitals, and the inability to pay. If they did not they would not be trusting in God.’
It was the eve of Thanksgiving was still in the hospital. I was drugged still to stop the pain of the operation. In my bed I suddenly see my doctor in jeans and no lab coat. He looks at no charts which I thought was peculiar. He spoke to no staff but headed straight to my bedside. After the preliminaries he stopped and looked me straight in the eye he said the biopsy for the tonsils had come back negative but, he stopped something was stirring inside him, but I found a mass behind the adenoids and its biopsy was malignant.
He had struggled but the words had come. I sat up in my bed in my drugged stage and slowly let the awareness of what he said wash over me. He fretted out loud I do not think I could have caught it sooner. I have been over and over it in my mind. I started asking questions. At the moment his questioning of himself was not necessary. I needed understanding. But he had given me the information that was known more tests would reveal more. We sat there in brief silence he not knowing much else to say. Me I did not know what question to ask. Finally, he said he wanted to tell me before he left town for Thanksgiving. I thanked him for coming by. He left. His responsibility being completed. I sat up in the bed slowly pondering his words . I thought of my family and how I did not want to ruin their Thanksgiving.
When one hears information like this or bodies and minds do not know what to do next. What do you do when time may have been stolen from you. Every conversation and deed would now have to have an asterisk beside it. Yes, we will have to do that if I am here. If I am not here where will I be. I wanted to grow old with my family. I want and almost need to see who my children became, to hold my wife’s hand as we watched the final sunset pass over our lives, to have crochety old man lunches with my friends, to learn and live a little more on this planet.
Of course, all of this was a bit premature. After all we knew I had cancer but not the seriousness of it. This news would come later T-3 0 is what he said. The cancer was larger than four centimeters making it a stage 3 but it had not spread to other parts of the body making it a 0. The survival rate is well above fifty percent for five years.
Now how do you tell the various groups of people the news. You are reminded of how your life is interweaved through so many others. Book club friends, work friends, places you volunteer, family, personal friends, your wife’s friends, old friends you have not seen in a while, church friends, facebook friends, blog readers, making up your life. Who needs to know and who can find out through the grape vine. It seems immense and constant yet also small and fleeting. The thoughts will I be missed are interwoven with will my life have made a difference in the big scale of things.
You remember the teachings that life is impermanent. You have intellectually always accepted this but now that it is in your face you struggle with this. I do mind dying if that is the course I am to take but I am not necessarily afraid to die. Oh hell who am I kidding I am a little afraid to die. I mean not the peeing in your pants fear but that nagging what the hell comes after this. And hopefully not hell.
I have read hundreds of historical biographies and I have said they all start with a spoiler alert they all die in the end. No matter how great or good the person in the end they have died. And in a sense reading these biographies have impacted the way I view the flow of of life. I do not think it is my time but others who have died have thought this too. I still have projects, goals, dreams and hopes. I have plenty of living yet to do. But as everyone else who has drawn a breath on this sphere I am at the whim of the gods and always have been.
But I now more than ever need to live in each moment. The clock that is always running in the attic of our lives is now obvious to me. A Stoic once said ‘Life is Long if you Know How to use it.’ So my readers let us take a glass of wine and make a toast to living our lives usefully, passionately, and exuberantly.
Okay entrepreneurs, there is a fortune to be made in the medical field. Recently I had an MRI. The machine is much like a coffin only it is shaped in a cylindric style. They give you ear plugs and in my case a face mask to hold my head in place. You lie flat on your back and given a panic button to press and they will come running. At least they say they will come running. I did not know them so how reliable and truthful they are I do not know. Because once the machine slides you into the cylinder you have lost contact with the outside world. In my fertile imagination for the over thirty minutes I was in the machine they were having a toga party. The technician an older woman with a mask on was reassuring me all along the way how everything was going to be all right. It was like the masked bandit robbing the bank who assures you if you are good everything will be fine. Once in the machine you are to stay still and even if you wanted to roam there is no room to. And then the earplugs are found to be necessary. As the machine begins to make noises straight from Star Wars or some other science fiction B movie reality. But what would you expect from a machine called the Tesla MRI. I ask you to think Tesla with his electrical show only this one is with magnets. Maybe to make the machine less threatening they could add a laser show coordinated with the sounds.
I have recently been reading a book on Benjamin Rush, America’s first great physician. Rush was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, reformer for good of mental health hospitals, abolitionist society leader, the promoter of healthy sewage and baths, and many other things. Yet, Rush, to the horror of the modern mind, used a primitive treatment called bloodletting. He swore by it and taught it at the University of Pennsylvania. It was believed that to cure disease you must replace the old blood. The process was to cut the patient so they would bleed to release the infected blood. Eventually when you had bled the patient enough the new good blood would overwhelm the leftover old bad blood. It is said during one of the yellow fever epidemics of Philadelphia Rush would exit the house covered with blood much as you might imagine the Demon Barber of Fleet Street would look after giving a close shave. We would think this tactic very primitive and in fact harmful to the patient. We of course would be right.
It was in this context I started laughing aloud at me in this machine making loud noises from another world. I also began to pick up a rhythm from one of the magnetic noises. It was a definite sound of a zip. So quite naturally I would sing to the zips: zip dee do dah zip dee day. I can only imagine this disturbed the MRI technician. The reason I can only imagine this is the older woman was not there when I exited the machine. Instead a strong young strapping man helped me out of the machine. The older woman was nowhere to be seen.
I am quite sure there is money in them thar hills for someone to make the machine a bit less claustrophobic and a little more appealing to the modern human. Of course someone has tried, there is what they call the open MRI machine. Which you still lie on your back but there is no cylinder to enter. The problem is the images are not as good because the machine is open and the magnetic resonance is not as strong. For now we are stuck with a Tesla MRI and Tesla electrical cars.
The radiation and chemotherapy used to treat cancer will one day seem as primitive as bloodletting. The whole concept is to poison the cancer with radiation and select chemicals. This is a slow poisoning of your body to kill the enemy cancer in your body. The idea is if you can withstand the poisoning of your body longer than the cancer cells you are declared the winner. The person who can find a way to kill cancer cells without poisoning the body will of course be lining their pockets with millions.
I could of course go on but my doctors may accidently read this and be left with a bad taste in their mouths. But the truth is we have come a long way from the Dr. Rush era but we are not quite as far away as we might think.
I was told all systems were go. My sleep apnea surgery was a go. The Monday before Thanksgiving I would be operated on. My favorite minister and good friend in town told me when he heard “Oh wow that is one of the most horrible surgeries to have.’ I now knew why he was such a respected minister; his bedside manner.
I awoke from surgery in a daze. My wife was present and I was told I was in a different wing from the one I was told I would be in. That night I began to choke or so I thought. I politely push the nurse button. No one came. I could see the nurses’ station from my room; I began to scream but I could not. I decided to bang on the mobile tray. I terrified the nurses. Finally, my nurse came. But I knew the nurses at the station would be of no help the rest of the night. Thank god my nurse was there after that incident.
The next day I was feeling a little better but as I laid in my bed I suddenly could hear over the intercom system the hospital staff having a party. You could hear about their dating lives and occasionally talk about patients. I hit the nurses’ button to inform them they were on the intercom. I could hear the nurses talking about me and the call button. It’s probably nothing more than a mistake, do not worry about it. I pushed the call button again. Finally, a nun came. Is there something you need she asked me? I explained that you could hear the staff’s conversations on the intercom. She said if you do not have anything wrong do not hit the call button. The staff were making fun of another patient on the intercom. I waited for the nun to respond but she would not abandon the thin white line. I thought is she the chaplain? My nurse came into the room. I told her what was happening. The nun said he will not quit hitting the call button. My nurse who realized suddenly they were on the intercom looking chagrined started trying to turn off the intercom. After a few minutes she succeeded. I was ready to be at home.
When I arrived home, I asked the girls if they could prepare the bedroom for my needs. Maya (who loves these kind of chores) and Dorothy went at the chore full force. They vacuumed, washed linens, dusted, set up humidifiers, bought Kleenex, scrubbed walls, rearranged furniture, and anything and everything else that could possibly be done. Including two glasses of ice water one by the bed and one by the chair. It was the most love I had felt in a while.
On Thanksgiving Day for the first time in the history of our family my two daughters decided they would do all the cooking. Setting aside their mother in another room and turning the music up they began. And before I knew it they had finished. They had dragged my pain ridden body to the dinner table for the Thanksgiving feast. The spread was glorious sweet potato casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted Brussel sprouts, broccoli casserole, rolls, and stuffed tempeh. It was all there for the taking except I was on a non-solid diet and my throat was in excruciating pain.
As I watched them load their plates with large helpings of a panoply of food I placed two spoonful’s of mashed potatoes, three spoonfuls of sweet potato (not casserole) they had set aside for me, and two microscopic broccoli spears which I mashed up with my fork. I ate slowly and with a baby spoon. Their mmms and how delicious were heard. They taunted me with their huge bites of food and the foods I could not eat. Thirty minutes later when we all had given our thanks for the gifts of last year and they had finished their food, I still ate slowly with my baby spoon.
I added another chapter to my legend as a card player. Drugged out and falling asleep mid-deal I played. They would have to wake me every hand saying Dad your turn to play. I became aware that I was even snoring and the occasionally drool was falling down my chin. About half way through the game in my sleep I became aware of a growing frustration among my fellow card players. They began to make faces and call me names. I was too sleepy to make them stop. I was only aware of my oldest and most competitive daughter throwing her cards down in disgust after each hand.
The problem for them was that although I was a drooling, snoring, mess I was wiping the floor with them, I was inexplicably winning. When this news reached into my semi-conscious state. I awoke enough between snores to ridicule them for letting someone asleep beat them. The tension grew in the room. They tried harder. My lead grew. Until at last I had won. I looked at them with a huge smile on my face rose up form the table and said, ”Pitiful!’. And with the youngest saying that is not nice, I crawled into bed and with a victor’s smile on my face fell asleep.
This Thanksgiving is now in the books. It is probably not the best I have ever had but it may be one of the most memorable.
It was a dry time in my life. I had recently left or was laid off from my workplace of over a decade. All I ever wanted to do in life was to lift up the disenfranchised in our world. This was being taken away from me if I was going to stay in Savannah. There were few agencies that worked with the poor in a way that I could tolerate and I was growing long in the tooth in Savannah. Everyone thought they knew me and saw me as a wide-eyed impractical social worker and advocate. In other words I had pushed a few too many buttons.
So my dream of working with the poor was disappearing. I could not believe fate was begrudging me this one thing I wanted to do. I had led by anyone’s measure successful programs that could measure up to anyone else’s. I did not need a lot of money to make it happen either. Yet there I was left standing with hat in hand and no one interested in my unique calling.
Or course there were reasons for this. Social work was becoming more and more a profession and therefore social work degrees became more and more necessary. I also had chosen not to be ordained because churches were and many still are not ordaining women and gays. So my Master of Divinity was confusing to many without the minister’s club stamp of approval. I was too far outside the box. Even though my box was not too outside. I probably was not the best applicant because up to this point I had always been recruited for my jobs. And the jobs I was recruited for were always exactly what I wanted at that time. Four times I had been recruited. Another issue was I had never wanted to be top dog. I never wanted to be too removed from the poor. It was the only way to keep myself honest and actually in touch with their needs. So I enjoyed the middle management jobs. I was fine managing staff or boards but not at the expense of serving the poor directly. So on one level I became too qualified for the jobs I wanted and the other hand I had done the lateral move too much.
I also was recently divorced and had watched the church I had been president, chairs of committees, and spoke on Sundays crash and burn over control and power. I was not burned out but nothing was on fire for me at the time. So I did what everyone does in their existential crises I went to Boston. Yes that Boston. I spent ten days alone walking the streets, going to museums, and pondering the ways of the world.
One of the reasons I chose Boston was it was the home of the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalists Church. The denomination I had been in since I left the Southern Baptists. I had recently found them to have too much Baptist in them. They were in no way theologically alike. But they both lacked love when dealing with each other sometimes. But they did ordain women and gays. Maybe I should join the club and some new doors would be open to me. But one day of emailing and talking made me realize I was not a minister’s club person. I had the qualifications educationally and experientially, but I balked at language that sounded too much like the good old boys club I had resisted my whole life. This was not the way for me.
So who was I, where was I, how was I, and when would I come back. These questions all came rushing forward to me. I had never lacked self-confidence, but I wondered what was the purpose of self-confidence or did it matter I had self confidence in who I was? No one else seemed to care. My values were at once too old fashioned and too radical. I was a conundrum to the world. Maybe I should be to myself.
I went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I love arts which for some reason confuses people when I tell them that. But my life has been filled with spending time to myself lost in an art museum looking for answers or new insight. There was an exhibit on Claude Monet’s Haystacks. Now this particular exhibit did not seem to offer much. But I took my zen mode into it and was determined to find the mind of Monet and suddenly I found my own. Monet painted haystacks why? Why not? He could communicate even with haystacks. He did not let the world determine what he painted or ever painted to please the world alone. His haystacks were painted at different times of the day and different seasons of the year. He was showing in plain sight that in each moment there are small often overlooked changes. But even though the haystacks changed they never lost the essence of a haystack. People might not see the differences or even appreciate the nature of haystacks but they still were there for anyone to notice if they were only willing to stop and appreciate them. Haystacks are beautiful and no haystack is exactly like another or the same the next day. Monet was saying there is such beauty we miss because we look in the familiar places which may be all the wrong places. Change your perspectives and you discover something new. Haystacks come and go and yet some stay on walls not only changing from painting to painting but offering change to the person who stands before them.
Even though I had three more days in Boston the spiritual quest I searched for was over. I breathed deeply. I was ready for re-entry to the world even if it did not care. It took awhile to find my footing and I am still never far from the abyss but I am what I am. Even when I am not eating spinach currently.