I have not been feeling well since the great swelling of face incident (see blog entry 2-10-2018) so the doctor is running tests of all kinds to find the ailment to address. So first up was allergy tests in four basic allergy groups. Of these groups they would test for 39 items in these groups. So first they prick with a needle with elements from each of the four groups to see which groups you are impacted by. I had the pleasure of being impacted with all four groups. Thus I had 39 needle pricks to endure. During this time the first nurse I had contact with comes in the room and looks at the thirty nine pricks on my arm and goes oh my with big eyes. Yes as usual I tested near perfect with 38 of the 39 being positive.
The message to me is I am allergic to the world. The nurse tells me I can be impacted by these allergens if I am within twenty miles of them. I am allergic to dogs, cats, and horses. And the one I would never have guessed oak trees. I scrunched up my nose and said, ‘How am I going to find twenty degrees of separation from an oak tree in Savannah? Am I never to see the outside again?’. She shrugged and did not answer.
They have declared the world a threat to me. Which I knew. The world is dangerous; Donald Trump is president after all. But no that is not what they mean. I am to believe Trump is not a threat but oak trees are. I beg to differ.
Next up is sleep apnea tests. Let me describe how they set up the sleeping tests. First they apply electrodes to your head, chest, arms, legs, and all over your face. You have dozens of wires connected to you. Basically the test is how many electrodes can you place on one human being. They also have chest and waist belts to hold the wires together of the connected electrodes. But of course they start with telling you to walk down long abandoned halls. Until you come to a place you have never been before in a room moved far away from anyone and sleep. And yes there will be a stranger there watching you as you sleep. And yes he is in control of all the electrodes connected to your body. This procedure could not have been better designed than a Wes Craven horror movie. Sleep tight and the bed bugs biting will be the least of your problems
I have not been assigned treatment for the apneas yet. I hear it may involve slicing my throat and placing a mask on my face. This is not a joke, it is a real possibility they have suggested. They have also suggested I have a deviated septum. I will have them know my septum is not the only deviated part of me. My mind is full of all sorts of deviant thoughts especially after my apnea and allergy tests. Maybe like cancer my deviated septum has spread to my mind.
So what does this all mean to me. I am determined to stay in this world but only as a hermit in a hermetically sealed room with rubber walls. So if in the future you wonder ‘Where has Michael gotten himself off to?’ Just know I have gone away that I may prepare a room for you.
I sometimes revert to my Seminary self and write stories of John the Baptist and Jesus growing up together. Afterall they were cousins and we have little of their stories before they are grown men.
The summer had been a long hot one. John and Jesus had played, worked, prayed, argued, and stayed in each other’s company for most of it. Elizabeth and Zechariah had felt John would do well to spend time in the country. He was becoming a leader already and he was too young for that. Besides Jesus could use some help running his father’s carpentry shop. It was Sabbath and they were returning from a most uneventful synagogue service. They were grateful to be out in the open air sitting in a shade tree next to a small creek. Occasionally they would skip rocks but mostly they lounged in the shade.
“John, I am no good at being religious. I am too poor to buy myself into spiritual respectability. My heart is not in the ceremonial laws of washing and cleansing. The only reason I do them is the hassle I would receive if I did not. I appreciate the laws that are about interactions with others and the world but the rest of it does not mean much.” John laughed,” Now you know Jesus my father is a Levite. I have been trained all my life to be a priest and here you go making light of it”
‘No John. I would never make fun of our religion.’ Jesus said with shocked dismay.’ You are such a devotee to our faith. You never roll your eyes at the rabbis or say they are full of camel dung. Not you John you take it hook, line, and sinker. Why they even call you John the Devout” They laugh.
Jesus in a more solemn voice announced, ” The most religious person I ever met was a prostitute.” John gasped,” Now I know people who claim they have glory hallelujah moments when they visit prostitutes but I have never heard anyone say they are the righteous of Israel. You need to explain yourself brother.”
Jesus paused and began with a serious tone, ” You remember when I was sixteen and my father died? It really hurt inside. there wasn’t a better man than him. You know people are always calling me the bastard of Nazareth, that didn’t matter because Joseph was always there and such a good father to me. The day I found him in the carpenter’s shop about where you are he was slumped over his work table. I held him in my arms for at least an hour crying before I told anyone I had found him dead. When word got out that my father died, the professional mourners came but when they realized we could not pay they soon left. A priest came but when he realized I had touched a dead body and had not made myself ceremoniously clean he refused to talk to me. I needed a word from that priest but he was more concerned about ceremony than the hurting child I was. I could not take it anymore.
Mary was sad but her friends had gathered around her to support her. I was now the man of the house; I needed to act it. Yet I felt like a child. I wanted air to breathe to be away from all of this death. I left the house and I wandered aimlessly through Nazareth. I searched for something or someone to console me until I was exhausted. Tired I flopped on the ground and cried in the middle of Nazareth. People passed me and stared but did not stop. Finally, a good neighbor woman sat down beside me and asked if she could help. When I looked up I saw someone whom everyone proclaimed a prostitute.
We sat there for maybe ten minutes before I started talking. I told her of my father, the mourners, the priest, the bastard of Nazareth (which she told me was mild to what she had been called). We laughed. A part of me said I should not be speaking to this woman because of her reputation but she was being kind when no one else was. She did not care I had no money or was unclean. She saw a hurting boy and she held him in her arms. She held me by the face and said, ”Tell the priest to go to hell. I tell you he has spent many an unclean night with me. He cannot counsel you about life because from what I know he is pretty lifeless in the netherworld. Honey I know how it is to be dead and how it is to be alive. I know when you feel dead inside you need someone to wrap their arms around you and whisper sweet nothings in your ear. But I have also found if you go home, lock yourself in a room with God sometimes God speaks. God will hold your deadness and your good father will hold you tight in his arms for good people always are there in the shadows holding us in our time of need. Your relationship will be different with your father but not lost.’
So that is what I did, John. I locked myself in my room and cried all night until I passed out. When I woke up I do not know how to explain it but I realized I had a new father and he would never be taken away from me. That was the day I realized all our ceremonies, our right words, our right theology, our rightness did not matter. If our rightness prevents us from holding people in need in our arms our religion is dead.”
A silence followed. John finally broke the silence,’ I agree but I still am not going to hug you,” he said as he slapped Jesus hard on the back. ‘Now come along Mr. Morose and see if you can beat my ten skips across the pond.’ “It was eight,” Jesus replied. “What a shame you seem to have so much soul and yet you cannot count.” They ran to the lake and skipped stones across the lake but they knew their faith was changing them in ways that left them fearful and hopeful.
The Card Cheat
I love to play cards. But I also love to cheat at cards. This can be a problem sometimes with the other players. I love to talk smack when I play cards. If I try hard I can even count the cards. All of this can make for a hilarious game or frustrated players. While I do not like to lose I can usually take it with a smile because it happens so seldom.
My cheating is so obvious that I cannot believe people do not catch me. They may suspect but they seldom unless I want them to catch me in the act. It is also because people tend to trust me and think I am fair. Which of course I am except occasionally in card games. I also bluff cheat. This is when I say I am cheating but really am not. I do this usually when I know I am due a good hand. So the odds play in my favor and I have a good hand and even though the other players have been watching me like a shark I win the hand easily. Which then makes my opponents think I have some supernatural powers of cheating. The only problem is every good hand you are dealt they think you have cheated.
My cheating style is simple if you do not cut the deck and even the edges I know where the cards I placed on the bottom are. Of course I can also guesstimate with surprising results where they are by how many cards you pick up to cut the deck. So if I am playing Rook a card game with a widow. I place all the cards in the widow and know I can bet the widow.
Now I often tell my opponents that the cards are marked when they are not and they become upset when they cannot see the marked cards and I can. Of course the cards are not marked. I just place the “marked” card fifth or so from the top of the deck when they are not paying attention and say its marked. I then proceed to say see the markings on the card. They look fervently and find nothing but before turning it over I name the card. They take the card in their hand and continue to look sometimes finding unique markings that are not there.
My family are convinced I have powers way beyond my capabilities in cheating. When returning my cards to the dealer I will palm a high card. I will then hold my palms up revealing the card but often they will not see it. Or they will see it and proceed to make me stand up and roll up my sleeves in case I have hidden other cards. But this convinces them I am a card shark and a half.
My father was the worst card player ever. He enjoyed the conversation of cards more than paying any attention to what was played. Therefore he ended up making the worst plays possible. My wife plays to help the esteem of the girls. She seems to think our girls have very fragile egos because her plays always help them win.
When they get frustrated at my shenanigans they all gang (even my partner) up on me to ensure I lose. Then I play my repentant sad sack card and eventually they relent and stop. Of course after they relent that is when I cheat. They need to know it is a cruel world out there and do not trust anyone.
Why do I cheat? It started with my Mom. Who was a very good card player but not very observant. I had two friends who I played cards with all the time. After our Saturday night shenanigans we always met at my house to play cards into the wee hours of the morning. But being only three we needed a fourth player sometimes we would have another friend come but most of the time we woke up my Mom and she played with us. After a game or two of playing normal we then proceeded to cheat boldly. It was the three of us against the unwise mother. Even her partner cheated with us. But the object would be to cheat obviously and see how far we could go before she got a clue.
This would lead to some hilarious coughing spells where someone would practically fall out of their chairs and pick up the cards they laid on the floor. We were a generous bunch always getting each other a drink. We would then before we went into the kitchen over my Mom’s head show our hands in Vanna White style while we engaged my Mom in conversation. She never became suspicious even when we never came back with what we went for. In fact we would send another player to retrieve the forgotten snack or drink and they would repeat the pattern. Our conversations would run like this. Terry you are the ace of spades when it comes to dancing your moves are so fine. Mike, Sally your queen stole your heart didn’t she? Another method we would use was to have two decks of the same kind. We would often play the ace of spades twice (one from the other deck). When she would say I thought the ace of spades had already been played we all with our most innocent expressions would say no it has not. This usually sufficed but occasionally she would challenge and we would turn over the cards that had already been played and two ace of spades would not be found because we had returned one to the second deck.
You see my Mom provided me with positive feedback on my cheating. She made it fun. Not once did I ever face the consequences of my cheating. Her laxity was my downfall. So today with abandonment I cheat. My friends and I have long since lost contact with each other. Some say that is just the nature of life sometimes friends come and go. But my guess is how could we continue the friendships when there is no way I could trust those cheaters. Why they would even cheat my saintly mother.
When the Cards Are Stacked
I could hear the thud of its footsteps in my head and even feel the blast of warm breath but I did not know its power. I was in my office on a Friday afternoon when the phone rang. On the other side of the phone was a desperate social worker needing my help. She relayed a story that was all too familiar to me. The hospital was doing their routine Friday purge of patients especially for those who did not have insurance. Her client was about to be released even though he was in the last stages of AIDS and could not take care of himself. She wanted to know if we would take him in. At that time we did not have a clinic or medical staff available on the weekends to take care of someone with major presenting medical issues. If we took him in it would be the other residents who would have to take care of him. Residents usually did take care of each other but that was after a connection had been made by living together for a few weeks. They and I felt it was unfair for them to have to look after someone they did not know. They too were sick. Plus I was not sure how much assistance this particular man would need.
I declined and told her that the hospital should keep him for the weekend. I then could have some medical staff and residents at the ready to help him with his problems if he was well enough to do such things as to go to the bathroom and feed himself. A heavy sigh came over the phone. “The hospital will not keep him,” she said. I said of course they will if he is not well enough or has nowhere to go. She almost laughed at me on the other end, “The eight hundred pound gorilla does what it wants and if you get in its way it will crush you. And I am not going to be crushed.” I was nonplussed. It was Friday I had a date that night and now I could see I was going to be challenged to make it. I returned her laugh, “Well let me go to the hospital and see if I can avoid being crushed by the eight hundred gorilla.”
When I arrived at his room the nurses were glad to see me. They explained he refused to get out of bed and get ready to leave. I looked at his wasted body laying in the bed. ‘He does not look very healthy to me. Can he dress himself?’, I asked. He can but he will not. I nodded. “If you do not mind let me talk to him in private.” The nurses left us alone. He looked up at me from the bed and said, “If you help me get dressed I will go; they are not going to keep me,” he said with resignation in his voice. I said well let me get some basic information from you and then we will see what needs to be done.
As I interviewed him he winced whenever he moved. But to be honest he hardly moved. At the end of the interview I asked if I could help him sit up. He said yes. After I struggled to have him sit up on the side of the bed within ten seconds he had collapsed back in the bed. He was in no condition to be released. When the nurses came back they had looks of delightful anticipation which collapsed in almost horror when I told him I could not take him today but if they would hold him for the weekend I would gladly take him on Monday. I was hoping a weekend more in the hospital and he would be stronger but also Monday I would have all of our staff and we could between the six of us make it work. The nurse looked at me in disbelief and said, “You do not understand, the doctor has already signed his release.” I looked at her not amused, “But he is not capable of taking care of himself and he has nowhere to go.” That statement caused a stir I did not want or expect. They dashed out of the room in a panic. I was challenging the system. Now the law, ethics, and money stream were in my favor but not the bureaucracy.
So for the next two hours I merely sat and when asked said I could not take him. Nurses literally cried at my unreasonableness. They knew they could not take him to the curb and simply dump him now. They would have to have a solution I felt comfortable with. So they brought up physical therapists who literally picked up the poor man one on each side and showed me how he could “walk”. I sat down and said we did not have two people strong enough to help him walk. The physical therapist said they already signed paperwork that said he could be released. I said much to my later chagrin that he could not feed himself. They lifted the poor man up in the bed. One held him in place and one placed a cup in his hand and helped him direct it to his mouth. They looked at me as if to say see we told you he could feed himself. I sat down. Next they placed me on the phone with the attending doctor. Now as you may know doctors are the gods of the hospital (well maybe demigods, the board members are the real gods). The doctor asked me what the problem was? I explained why I could not take him. The doctor scoffed at me and said I signed him out believe me he can go. I incredulously asked, “Have you seen him?” It is here the doctor mad an error without thinking he told the truth, “No I have not. I have read his charts and he is able to be released.” You could tell after he said that he had not seen him he was through with me. “Look here.” he declared. “I have signed his release forms and I cannot take that back. He has to be released.” I said ‘why not’. He declared me unreasonable and hung up. I sat back down. Fifteen minutes later I found myself being directed to the office of the head of the hospital’s social work department and also the co-chair of the AIDS coalition.
When I knocked on her door she without looking up told me to sit down. Even though we knew each other she was very formal. ‘Look Michael you have everyone upset. You need to solve this problem.’ I told her I did not have the resources to solve the problem. But I was noticing I was tired of the pounding of the eight hundred pound gorilla and the breath was coming down strongly on my neck. “ You cannot simply say no. You have to offer a solution.’ I said the simplest was to let him stay and I will be here first thing Monday morning. She replied, “We cannot do that, we have already released him.” I sighed in frustration, ‘I have nothing I can offer today.’ She reminded me that my non-profit was dependent on the various organizations in town and I was not building good relationships with this attitude of mine. I sat.
After another fifteen minutes of cajoling me. She sighed in disgust, “I will tell you what I can do.” She presented this plan to me. He would be released but they would rent a hotel room for him, provide transportation to the hotel, for the next three days, and would have a nurse come by twice a day and would provide him with three meals a day. I looked at her bewildered; they would do all of that just so they could release him. Even though I felt a little dirty about the whole situation I agreed.
I called my boss who I had already alerted I thought I was about to cause a shit storm and let him know I had indeed caused a shit storm. I missed my date and because I had forgot in all the ordeal to call and warn her until later that night our non-existent relationship was over. I went by the hotel room every day to see him. He missed his ride to Phoenix Place, our group home for Persons Living With AIDS, to see me on Monday and showed up drunk on Tuesday.
Even though a review of the case with the senior staff found I had done the right thing, the ‘shit storm’ I had caused threatened a major breach with the hospital. We were in the formal stages of signing an agreement to open a clinic with several respite beds for the homeless and needed the hospital’s buy-in. So I had to make a formal apology or supposedly the whole deal would fall through. The clinic came into being.
A few weeks later I saw the original referring social worker and she with a smile on her face asked me, “How did the eight hundred pound gorilla work out for you?” I was sure she knew by now everything that had happened. I grimaced. That was the only comeback I had.
On the Road Again
Things were not going as I like them on the vacation. My two daughters were always running ahead and leaving me behind. They were unknowingly, in small ways, being rude to me. I had to consider, how do I change their attitudes without preaching to them or being otherwise punitive? Then it came to me: I would rename and reconstruct our relationship. I would no longer be the Father but become the traveling companion. This simple emphasis over the next two days changed everything. You can leave your father to fend for themself but not your travel companion. Who Knew?
It is a new phase: I am no longer the adventure king but one of three adventurers. My children view the father as indestructible and always in control. The fellow traveler may need help or you want to stay closer to them to keep the group together. You even enjoy your fellow traveling companions more. Fathers are such bores; you have heard all their stories before. The traveling companion has interesting insights.
Of course I miss the father even if the daughters do not. He was able to demand and command things. He had ultimate say. He was the master. But he probably needs to be shelved; the children are their own adventure planners. It was pleasing to hear the oldest talk about how she had led a group of eight of her friends on an adventure to Amicalola Falls. Or to watch the other plan an outing for her and her friends to a coffee shop. And even in China they are mapping out the next day’s activities and how to get there and where to eat. The father is not needed as much.
It used to be I could keep up with their every move. Now by five my feet and the rest of my body are ready to stop. They, with the freshness of youth, have a few more things they have yet to do. So I leave them to their own devices so I can go back to the hotel and collapse until dinner time. I will never have their energy again, which is alright. The more frequent resting has made me even more aware of my surroundings. They see more and do more but my seeing is more pronounced and expansive than when I had endless energy and did not stop.
Having less energy makes me more selective on my activities. I spend more time on things I view as important and less on things I could care less about. Of course I have to be careful I do not miss stretching myself because of my selectivity. So I must have activities that make me think differently and act differently.
All of this transition comes as I celebrate yet another birthday. Birthdays do not mean much to me; new aches and pains come and go. Less flexibility is here. I am a step slower, ten percent less energy. But I am more comfortable in my skin and usually only fall prey to passions that I want. This makes life so much easier. When we returned from our trip overseas, my birthday came the next day after the plane trip. My two daughters feted me very well as their mother was still in China for another week. I was their father and they showed me their appreciation. In their handmade birthday card they made me were these words you are the best father and also the best traveling companion we could ask for. Times are changing. They will always need a little fathering but they are preferring a traveling companion on the rest of the journey of life.
Learning to Swing
Swinging bridges are not my thing but on this vacation they kept occurring. It seems if you want to get to anywhere in Vancouver or Chengdu you have to cross a swinging bridge. A total of five swinging bridges. And yes they were the kind where your feet feel as though they are going to be swept out from under you. But bridges are always hard to cross when there is something valuable on the other side.
If I am not crossing a bridge I am climbing a mountain. They do not understand that in Savannah the highest mound we have has a cluster of red ants underneath it. So we avoid mounds here. But if you want to see the head of a Buddha built into the side of a cliff then climb you must. If you want to see a Buddhist temple then climb you must. Hell if you want to pick tea they have a ‘hill’ you must climb. Then you can see rolling hills of a tea orchard. Picturesque they say. Of course all of this is ultimately good for you. My soul is better and my health is a little more robust.
So the metaphor is no pain no gain. But I have never liked that metaphor. Pain of course comes from exerting yourself in ways to which your body and soul are not accustomed. But I find the pauses from activity are when I feel the most gain. In Chinese painting there is no one perspective with which to look at the painting. There are many ways to look at a Chinese painting. Likewise in their landscaping it is not on the typical western grid but includes few straight paths. Much of traditional Chinese music is atonal meaning it has no central tone to which the music must adhere. The Chinese in their arts do not necessarily have one way in which to hear and see it.
The pain I often feel in China is the many ways to experience one thing. Of course not every famous Buddhist temple is found at the top of a mountain. Not every river is crossed by a swinging bridge. Not every path is the traditional zig zag. Having said that the Chinese pride themselves on their traditions and their traditional ways. This contradiction probably comes from the formal Confucius teachings of customs and ceremonies and the Taoist teachings is about living in harmony with the universe and bending and stretching with the way things come to you. These two great ways of being are evidenced in the Chinese people.
Much of modern American religion is one sided. It is based on the following of traditions and laws. It does not have the flexibility of Taoism to bend with the wind but stands as an oak against the wind. The ability of religion to look from different perspectives is lost. Thus we are quite comfortable with the Joel Osteen and others gospel of wealth. Their teachings do not include pain only gain. Different perspectives leave us for the most part in pain. But the pain leads to a deep gain. We learn to love those who do not think like us. And with this love comes a desire to change, to be not so judgmental and be more open to the other.
Of course all of this is in the teachings of Jesus. But our cultural eyes interpret them differently. We view ourselves as a land of individuals and they as a land of a people. Both perspectives have good and bad to offer. America is being pushed into developing a new perspective with the changing of the guard from white, heterosexual, Christian to something new. The minorities are gaining a bigger voice. And they insist that their perspectives be heard. Our country is going through a lot of pain adjusting to the new reality we find ourselves in. One can only hope that we garner gain from this.
We are not so different. We tend to look at life through the eyes of the individual. They through the eyes of community. These emphases have their good and bad. In the end it is not the traditions that matters but the love of which the tradition is reminding us. In the end it is not the holding onto that matter what but letting the way guide us to wherever that may be that does.
Lost In Chengdu
It was raining. What else does it do in Chengdu in July? There was a western restaurant I wanted to try. So I hopped on the Chengdu Metro and got off at the station closest to the restaurant. My hamstring suddenly screamed at me. I was finding it hard to walk. Lately, I have had to stretch my hamstring to be able to walk very far. But today it had crept up on me. Here I was in a deluge and two blocks to walk to my destination. But I could not walk; I was stuck in the rain. I found a bench to stretch my leg while trying to stay dry. I was not staying dry. But I did get my hamstring back in tolerable shape. So I pressed on. I knew the restaurant was on the other side of the street but decided to find the restaurant before crossing.