Mom & Alzheimer’s, One Day at a Time

“How many years have I worn this hearing aid, and this is the first time I’ve lost it?”

In truth, it is the hundredth time this year. It is one of my pitiful hobbies now- finding Mom’s hearing aid almost every time I go to her little 3 room apartment. I rarely am able to find it, either, despite turning over pillows, stripping down her bed, going through every pocket in the place, and even checking wastebaskets and Kleenex boxes. The next day, though, for awhile- maybe a day or two, it will somehow, somewhere reappear and be in her ear again. On those days, I must listen to her pleas to go the eye doctor, where we’ve been twice in the last 8 months, because her glasses (she thinks) need to be changed (they don’t).

Some days, I can sit and accept and agree and respond to her with a semblance of measured civility and concern. I do so by lying, by telling her the doctor’s appointment is next week, that I’ll be back a little later today, or that her sisters are coming for a visit. She’ll forget everything I say within an hour of my leaving anyway. She can’t turn the TV on or change channels, for diversion’s sake. I’ve tried to read to her, but even when she can hear me she is only able to comprehend 30-35% of the words. She’ll listen for a minute and then be off onto the usual, almost daily list of questions:

Is my Mom still alive? (She died 18 years ago)

How did Ike (her husband, my dad) die?

Are they going to close this place? (An assisted living home- a nice place which she enjoys, and about a three minute drive from my own home)

The same questions are asked during every visit and, usually, several more times within each visit. I write the answers down sometimes, because she can’t hear them, remember them, or understand them. Today when she started on “the list” I told her I was going to look for her hearing aid in my car, and I instead just drove away. And I feel no guilt, no shame, no regret whatsoever for doing so. I am nice to the woman in that room, and biologically- yes- she is my mother. But Mom is gone, gone.

I’m writing this all down (again) because it is, for me, like having to vomit in the middle of the night. Once it’s done, it’s usually possible to go back to sleep. I do it because a support group (which someone always recommends) provides even worse stories than these, that I can then be anticipating. And I do so because there is no greater open sore in my psyche upon which the temporary brown bliss of Jim Beam begs to be poured, than this one.

So, I’m dumping on you, whoever might read this. Thanks for listening, glad to be here, yada yada yada…

Kitty, Kitty, Kitty

Have you ever looked at any of the many Poetry sites on the Worldwide Web (aka The Information Superhighway)- the ones which promise you the chance to Win Prizes! Get Published! Be Famous! Meet Other Poets! ??

I look at them from time to time and, yes, I do so for all the wrong reasons. While I love really good poetry, and even play in that dangerous abyss myself from time to time, I also am fascinated by really bad poetry, too. Call me a rhyme and rhythm masochist, if you will.. I’ll love thee still, on yonder hill, ‘tween rock and rill, it matters nil.

So, I will occasionally, for the sheer joy of seeing myself digitally published, yet again, submit purposefully ludicrous, profoundly awful poems to these sites just to see if there is anything too foul for them to accept. Answer: there isn’t.

I am always soon invited to share my “inspired vision” and my “touching, heartfelt thoughts” with others by ordering a special volume put together by the editors of the particular site, in which they’re “excited to include” my most recent drivel. It will only cost me $59.95 (plus s&h) to own a personal copy of my own. And additional copies for friends and family may be ordered for $49.95 ! (“You’ll want to share your accomplishment with others!”)

Here’s my most recent submission. I was inspired to name it “Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.” I was offered the opportunity (for $39.95) to have this piece put on a specially-crafted plaque, with the the font of my choice! They even included a picture of said plaque, so here it is. You have my permission, if you are so inspired, to copy, cut, paste, and glue a facsimile of your very own. You might want, after all, to share my accomplishments with others.

poem kitty

I’ll let you know when the anthology is published; I have a feeling they’re going to choose this one for inclusion. If you want to send me the $49.95 now, we could be right at the front of the line. I’ll even autograph those copies which are pre-ordered.

The word "God"

This is for a column I occasionally write for our local newspaper:

We use the word “God” so easily and, sometimes, so carelessly. At least I do. In fact, I will often think of God as nothing more than a big projection of myself- full of the same yearnings, desires, wants, needs, disappointments, and prejudices that I have. I think about God in those terms when I am not really thinking about God at all, but about myself.

I can even justify that goofy view of God by cherry-picking in the orchard of the Old Testament. I can always find a verse or two that seems to affirm what I already believe- and want to believe- about proper or improper behaviors- especially of others! I can shout those verses, if I choose to, and shake my finger of shame at all the transgressors. I could even slather a healthy layer of fear on top of my words, so others will be afraid of God, and come to me for safety.

But Jesus didn’t use the word “God” that way, did he? In fact, he most often called God “Abba”- a Middle-Eastern word which means “Daddy.” Jesus didn’t spend near the time I do in making God a projection of himself, as he did in allowing himself to be a reflection of his Abba. He always seemed to be going toward the very people I could find reasons in a book like Leviticus, to stay away from. He didn’t let a word like “God,” covered as it is (and was then, too) in layers of human doctrine, to get between him and his Dad.

When Moses asked God for a real name, God responded, “I am that I am.” The Hebrew word used in that name is also translated as Being : “I am being.” I like that name a lot, because it gives me the opportunity to experience God’s Image- God’s Being- in many more ways than I get to experience it when I’m looking in a mirror. I get to see God (our Abba, too) in the Continuing Creation around me, as God continues being. It even allows me to see God’s Being in you!

Can We Survive this Century?

Well, I know I won’t. I’m 58, it’s 2008, you do the math. But this is a larger, vital, and very (very!) important question which concerns us humans, and untold other species of plants and animals that have arisen through time from the starstuff of earth:

Can we survive this century? Will the year 2100 be noted, observed, or recorded by anyone?

The question will be the subject of an ABC special this coming September- Earth 2100. Scientists from various disciplines will gather together to discuss what might happen, and when, if current population growth and resource consumption continues unabated.

Last summer, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman was published. Weisman interviewed biologists, engineers, geologists, and meteorologists about changes that would occur if, for whatever reason, humans were no longer part of the planetary equation. The result is both fascinating and disturbing- if you’re a human, of course. For most other species*, the possibility of our sudden absence would (if any of them noticed) be the greatest day in the last 1.7 million years!

The deterioration of buildings and infrastructure would begin within days. A Scientific American video- The Earth Without Us, based on Weisman’s book- is an interesting introduction to the phenomena of urbanscapes turning into landscapes. Intriguingly, one of the last recognizable humanly concocted “structures” to exist would be Mount Rushmore.** Four million years from now, barring any direct asteroid hits, George, Abe, Tom, and Teddy will still be staring out through granite eyes, into the Black Hills surrounding them. (Where there once lived a young boy named Rocky Raccoon, somewhere there.)

The immediate disappearance of all humans is almost impossible, outside of a cataclysmic planetary event, like a massive asteroid, or a physics experiment gone terribly wrong. But there are numerous possibilities for the gradual but total absence of humans. Chief among them would be a virus, or a new strain of bacteria. Other possibilities- very real ones- would be nuclear fallout after a large scale war, meteorological changes, a series of smaller asteroid hits, or a depletion of resources a la Easter Island, on a global scale. And if anyone thinks that humans are not stupid enough to let the latter happen, keep driving your SUV, or allowing agri-businesses to patent the world’s food supplies, or burning anything we can put a match to.

What will be lost, if humans are? The ability to record what is happening in the world and the universe, great art (paintings will turn to mold), and the inability to warn other species that may evolve into beings that “need” styrofoam about our short-sighted and continuous mistakes.

What would be gained? Consider the lilies of the field, and the birds of the air..

*Animals that are dependent on humans, of course, would not find such an event very fortunate.Most pets would soon die of starvation, as would all zoo animals which were unable to escape. Cattle, most breeds of which have had all speed and most wildness bred out of them, would be the victims of canines- wolves, coyotes, dingoes, and dogs- which would flourish, and some felines, which would make a gradual comeback as well. Pigs, if they could escape their confines, do fairly well, fairly quickly in the wild. Interestingly, roaches living outside of their native tropical environs, would disappear after a year or two of no heated buildings. Mice and rats in former urban areas would also disappear as food supplies dwindled and as raptors- hawks, eagles, and others- began making high rise buildings into dream aviaries.

**Also interestingly, the last artificially lighted city on earth, because of the nearness and automated systems of Hoover Dam’s electrical production, would be..ta-da!..Las Vegas!

The Earth Without Us

Consider the lilies..

A mind-rattling, consciousness-caressing gift was handed to me today. It is so good that I want to share it right away because it could- I think- make a difference in your world, too, beginning right now.

It is one of those insights born within our language; it is a way of thinking that moves me from two-dimensional thinking (the easy, flat kind of thinking) to three, four, even five dimensional thinking- the kind of thinking that causes green and lively shoots of new questions to suddenly and profusely appear. Here it is:

See vs. Consider..

Do I see a person? Or do I consider that person?

When I see a person, I normally make a rush to judgement. I take the visual data before me, run it quickly through the sieve of my own preconceptions, develop a cursory evaluation and move on. I’m in a hurry, after all: there are more people, more things, more places to see. Why take time to linger when I’ve got all the information necessary to momentarily sate my well-defined and hungry ego? Now I have more to see!

But, when I consider the stranger standing in the line at the grocery store, or the friend who is in front of me speaking- when I consider that person, and not merely see him or her, then their multi-dimensionality begins to be revealed.  Their faces, the tilting of their heads, and the movements of their hands became the introductory sentences of a whole narrative that is begging to be read. The strand of curly hair hanging over the young girl’s left eye, or the blurred tattoo over the old man’s right hand knuckles are not mere visual data anymore. Considered, they become colors that give depth to the feelings behind words; they make more resonant the music of a person’s being.

To consider someone is to stop and to experience them. It is to stop the timer in my mind that is always clanging, “Move on!” It is to search (albeit, most of the time, in an unobtrusive manner) for the pain and the joy, the happiness and the suffering that all humans experience in a multitude of ways. It is to seek, because now I must, the tangible and outward evidence of that which is most often hidden and quiet.

To consider a person also involves something else- and in fairness I must warn you about this.  It is also draws me toward that person’s life. It causes me to want to know more, reflect on what I learn, and to begin to make the innumerable connections between myself and that person which are possible between all of us and everyone else.  It makes love very real, and always possible. And sometimes my heart- I can’t speak for yours- but sometimes my heart just doesn’t feel like it can stretch anymore than it already has.

It’s worth the risk, anyway.

Consider, after all, the alternative.

Advice from a Local Preacher..

Here’s the handout for a talk I’m giving today to the Senior High School graduates..

5 Pieces of Advice You Didn’t Ask Me For, Didn’t Know You Needed, and Can Dump the Moment You Leave Here, or..

you can kind of listen to them, stick them in a drawer somewhere, run across them someday, and then say, “hmmm..who was the guy that said these really good things?”

Our Town, TX, June 6, 2008

 1.  Never stop asking questions. Be curious, be amazed, daydream, get lost on purpose, and wonder “Why?” every chance you get.

2.  Live in love, not fear. Those are your only two choices. Hold onto someone’s hand during the scary parts, and respect rattlesnakes, angry people, and tornados. But don’t let anyone or anything make you so frightened that you live a half life.

3.  Look around right now. Now is where we live. Now is where we are breathing, sitting, and experiencing. You can throw Now away by regretting yesterday, or feeling anxious about tomorrow. Or you can be alive- right now. Now is the Main Thing. In a little while, it will be something else.

4.  Make your circles bigger. Discover that those people at the edges are really interesting!  Go out of your way to meet someone who is a different race, speaks a different language, who is lost, or afraid, is younger/older, richer/poorer, attractive/repulsive.  Then listen. Ask those questions! See the world in colors you haven’t seen yet!

5.  Realize- know, believe, understand, and accept- that YOU are a vital part of God’s Continuing Creation. We’re not here to take, we are here to give. Takers rarely experience happiness. Givers are swimming in it. Give God a kiss every day- our human survival depends on it!

President Obama

It could happen. I don’t know whether it actually will, but the important thing right now- today- is that the real possibility to have an African-American president of the United States does exist.

We’ve come part of the way, baby.

The candidacy of Barack Obama has already affected some very important changes in our American collective consciousness (it seems to me). And changes in consciousness always grow. Once doors open in our individual and communal awareness, they never close- they only open wider over time. That is true in both our evolution as a human species and within our national consciousness.

To be sure, changes in consciousness are always accompanied by cultural, religious, and political reactions to those changes. Just as fundamentalism within Islam is growing in reaction to the larger international movements for democracy and equal rights, so are we seeing evidence of some fundamentalist reactions against the idea of a black person being president here in the United States. We’ve all overheard comments the like of which have not been heard openly in many years: “I don’t believe we’re ready for a black man to be president” and “If he gets in, the n—–s will be lined up in front of the White House with their hands out.” (I heard both of those at our local Democratic precinct caucus in March.)

But we’ve also seen those sentiments expressed in voting demographics and heard them through various disguised comments from the other Democratic candidate and that candidate’s family. And as ugly as those realities are, that they are being expressed- that Obama’s candidacy is causing them to be expressed- is a good thing. Here’s why:

When Light shines on darkness, Light always wins. A good way to get rid of mold, is to expose it to sunshine.

Overt racism has lain dormant in America for several decades. Actually, “dormant” is a misleading word- lethally hidden would be a better description of it’s state of being.  That Obama has been a catalyst for its being expressed more openly has been a good thing. Racism is being acknowledged and talked about honestly today in ways that will eventually spread to local morning gatherings for coffee  and to corporate boards of directors.

And, also eventually, that consciousness-raising kind of talk will move from heads to hearts. That’s how awareness works: it always makes things better than they were. To be sure, there will be reactive and ugly bumps along the way. But the twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings among us are driving road graders that are leveling out the ditchy and pot-holey messes us older folks have been benignly and denyingly walking around for far too long.

No matter what else is happening, in other words, hope is happening.

Tao Te Ching #9

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

The Tao is bigger than you. And much, much bigger than me.

So I have two choices; no, three:

I can seek to identify with the enormity of the Tao, edgeless though it may be. My ego chatters all day, however, telling me that I can be bigger better brighter or (perhaps even) the best.

I can also hear that same yin chatter in yang, too (and with equal clarity): stupid failure, inept fool, tiresome lout. Give up, give in, the Tao has no need for me.

Or, I can open my eyes to everything which is already mine. I can see the moonflowers unfolding in the darkness, and I can hear cicadas singing summer songs. I can taste the breeze. I can fill my hands with dog kisses and smell the photosynthetic smoke of green-burning pines.

And the Tao is in me now, and I am in the Tao. And words are only getting in the way.

The Way.