Saturday, October 31, 2009

Protect, border and salute

Whether you or I have suffered losses or authored moments or years of disconnect from the world or know someone who has, is there not something so organic to the human condition that seeks to ease the pain and suffering of another? In the darkest of hours, if there should be any light let through, don't we hope we could be the one to offer it?

In a book written by Parker Palmer, I found some advice that is helpful in understanding grief or depression from the sufferers perspective. Equally so, I was grateful for his insight for those on the "outside looking in".

Read along with me...

"It is odd that some of my most vivid memories of depression involve the people who came to looking in on me, since in the middle of the experience I was barely able to notice who was or was not there. Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection- it deprives one of the relatedness that is the lifeline of every living being.

I do not like to speak ungratefully of my visitors. They all meant well, and there were among the few who did not avoid me altogether. But despite their good intentions, most of them acted like Job's comforters- the friends who came to Job in his misery and offered "sympathy" that led him deeper into despair.

Some visitors, in an effort to cheer me up, would say, "It's a beautiful day. Why don't you go out and soak up some sunshine and look at the flowers? Surely that'll make you feel better."

But that advice only made me more depressed. Intellectually, I knew that the day was beautiful, but I was unable to experience that beauty through my senses, to feel it in my body. Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection, not just between people but between one's mind and one's feelings. To be reminded of that disconnection only deepened my despair.

Then there were the visitors who began by saying, "I know exactly how you feel...." Whatever comfort or counsel these people may have intended to speak, I heard nothing beyond their opening words, because I knew they were peddling a falsehood: no one can fully experience another person's mystery. "

He continues on...

"One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person's pain without trying to "fix" it, to simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person's mystery and misery. Standing there, we feel useless and powerless, which is exactly how a depressed person feels-and our unconscious need as Job's comforters is to reassure ourselves that we are not like the sad soul before us.

Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends,who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a friend named Bill who, having asked my permission to do so, stopped by my home every afternoon, sat me down in a chair, knelt in front of me, removed my socks and shoes, and for half an hour simply massaged my feet.

Bill rarely spoke a word. When he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, "I can sense your struggle today," or, "It feels like you are getting stronger." I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: they reassured me that I could still be seen by someone- life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, "love... consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other." That is the kind of love my friend Bill offered. He never tried to invade my awful inwardness with false comfort or advice; he simply stood on its boundaries, modeling the respect for me and my journey-and the courage to let it be-that I myself needed if I were to endure.

This kind of love does not reflect the "functional atheism" we sometimes practice- saying pious words about God's presence in our lives but believing, on the contrary, that nothing good is going to happen unless we make it happen. It is a love in which we represent God's love to a suffering person, a God who does not "fix" us but gives us strength by suffering with us. By standing respectfully and faithfully at the borders of another's solitude, we may mediate the love of God to a person who needs something deeper than any human being can give."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Honored guests

I was an honored guest last night, friend(s? *fingers crossed*). My older lady hostess has issues with mobility and requested that someone be there, her first night home from the hospital, in case she took another spill. I obliged and brought my fold 'em up cot, ready for a night of feline inspired conversations and maybe a rousing game of Uno. After eating 2 microwave dinners, I settled deep into my chair, my head rhythmically bobbing up and down as I listened to stories involving her Peacock named Fanfare and Jennifer, her pet Llama that she took on walks around the block on a leash.

That evening, a friend dropped by to check in. Along with having great sense of humor, Martha was also a very kind soul and a fabulous story teller. I could see how those characteristics would serve her well as a West Virginia public transport engineer for the past-- wait for it folks-- 30 years. 30 years transporting some of West Virginia's finest to their local [insert thought here].

Anyhow, Martha is going to write a book recalling her experiences on the bus and you can bet I will be pre-ordering that fine work of non-fiction when it's time. You should too come to think of it. Hopefully, she'll recount for you the story of an elderly lady who buys 36 gallons of water, 18 rolls of paper towels, and 12 bottles of Dawn dish soap, bi-monthly. This is due to issues involving OCD and basic old age.

My favorite tale was that of a fill-in bus driver by the name of Frank. Legend has it that when Frank drives, the neighboring cities of Lewisburg, Alderson and Ronceverte are hog-tied up for miles behind him. Martha says he pays no mind though. Hands firmly in place at 10 and 2, he is in no rush to please the rush hour masses. He is 84.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Go around

I know where my keys are at all times, I remember appointments and consider myself to be an upstanding citizen (a small tax error in 2004 notwithstanding). All this to say, I can get around in the world with minimal trouble. That is until I do something that makes me question, if ever, the hamster and the wheel had one go around.

Walmart functions as the epi-center in my small town USA, a gathering place, a sacred chapel of goods and services, always with a hint of snuff spittle in the air. One night, I decided to take Night Rider, my black '97 Nissan Altima, out to get some eggs and groceries. Dusk was closing in so I pulled her up as close to the front as possible. Hugging the steering column close to ensure proper parking alignment, I glanced up and just outside my field of vision to my left, I saw my office's "pet" pharm rep getting into his car. We'll call him "Jeremy" and he is a dish, people. A. Dish.

Before you git to judgin', you must know that I work with only God-fearing, lovely and honest ladies; all married, middle-aged and perverts in their own right. If you only knew the schemes they conjure up to zap our sample stock-piles dry, prompting frequent visits from Jeremy...

"You say you have the sniffles? Here, take 30 tablets of this here Magic Pill. You say your dog's lost? You ate chicken last night for dinner? Take as many to induce severe heart-burn and call me in the morning."

These women are bone-chilling in their indiscretions.

Now sitting in my sputtering car feeling a bit nervous and self conscious, like I was somehow back in the 8th grade and homely, I started to doubt if I had even looked at myself since 7:00 am that morning. Had I decomposed as badly throughout the day as I imagined? One check in the mirror and it was confirmed, yes and absolutely.

****Abort mission. Avert eye contact. Run full blast towards the Walmart facility, post haste****

So that's just what I did. Once inside, I was satisfied with my vain impulse to run like the wind. A casual walk past a dressing room mirror had me resembling a Jerry Springer guest, only I was clothed and not a midget. I can't recall what else I bought besides eggs, but I can remember thinking I had just dodged an ugly bullet.

After milling around awhile, I checked out at the register and began to walk back toward my ride. Scouring my bag for the keys, I stopped a few feet from my car. My brow furrowed as I looked at my tail pipe spewing grey fumes against the blacktop. There were only a handful of cars left in the parking lot so immediately it was clear that the wheezing was that of my engine running, in park with the cabin light on, FM radio singing, keys dancing in the ignition. Door unlocked, naturally.

My sister graciously reminded me that although I did everything in my power to get my car stolen that night, with the exception of taping $100 bills on the bumper, no one came calling. "That's the real tragedy" she said. I guess it would have been like holding up a bank for a quarter. Why risk it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A bloody circus in my socks

Bonesy is a name I came by honestly. It was bequeathed to me by my friend, Megan Montgomery (not her real name, at least not the Montgomery part) as she was thinking of a suitable gang name for me. Because everyone needs a proper gang name.

Assuming you've heard of gold-toe socks, is it a stretch to think that there could be such a thing as red-toe socks? Here's how you do it: Let your talon-like toe nails grow out from your mid summer pedicure, mix in a 4 mile run twice in 2 days, then add ill fitting shoes and then further secure your demise by inheriting your father's hammertoes. It'll look like a suicide bombing in your socks.