Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dear Sugar

In my last post I was wrestling with what I believe.  I'm a "Why?" kind of person so when awful things happen, my pattern is to try and figure them out as if there's some "right" answer that could possibly explain tragic circumstances.  I know it's just that I'm afraid and trying to feel some small bit of control over situations in which I'm powerless. I know I'm just trying to avoid the reality that sometimes life sucks.

A friend recently experienced an unimaginable  loss.  She's handling it with grace.  Me, not so much.  I'm angry and when I'm angry I push away.  Hard.  (my apologies to Sunshine and Happiness.)  When painful things happen I intellectualize to not have to feel.  I retreat into my head and I start thinking. As always, this is a bad, BAD, very bad thing.  

Here's what Sunshine and Happiness says when bad things happen and I get angry and all up in my head,  " Hello, honey?  It's not about you."

Despite S&H's wisdom, for the past few days I've not only been up in my head but also all over Google and Facebook.  That's because I find that playing on the Internet is a nifty way to not  have to feel stuff.   While avoiding my feelings I found a link to a FB page called Grief Beyond Belief, a brand new site that provides faith-free support for non-religious people grieving the death of a loved one.  It was there that I found a link to the following advice column:

Dear Sugar

 I’m writing this from my little couch/bed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Egelston Children’s Hospital in Atlanta. My husband and I just found out that our 6-month old daughter, Emma, has a tumor and she is having brain surgery tomorrow. I am scared that I will lose her. I’m scared she could be paralyzed or her development will be messed up and she will have a hard life. I’m scared they will find out the tumor is cancerous and she will need chemo. She’s only a little baby.People have poured all their thoughts and prayers into us right now but to be honest, God is farthest from my mind. I’ve never been super religious but now I find myself doubting His existence more than ever. If there were a God why would he let my little girl have to have possibly life threatening surgery, Sugar? I never in a million years thought that my husband and I would be in this situation.

I want to ask you to pray and all your reader’s to pray, to a God maybe I’m not sure I even believe in anymore. Pray that my baby will be okay. And that we can walk away from this and forget it even happened. I have written you before about different things, which now seem so stupid and silly. I just want to get through this with my husband and daughter and look back and thank God that everything is okay. I want to believe in Him and I want to believe all the prayers being said for us are working.


Dear Abbie,

I know everyone reading these words shares my relief that Emma came through her surgery so well. I’m sorry you’ve had to endure such a frightful experience. I hope that the worst of it is over and that you will be able to “walk away from this,” as you put it, and to keep walking—far and fast—into a future that does not contain the words tumorand surgery and cancer. I agonized about whether to publish your letter. Not because it isn’t worthy of a reply—your situation is as serious as it gets and your doubts about your faith in God are profound and shared by many. But I couldn’t help but wonder who the hell I thought I was in daring to address your question. I wonder that often while writing this column, but I wondered it harder when it came to your letter. I’m not a chaplain. I don’t know squat about God. I don’t even believe in God. And I believe less in speaking of God in a public forum where I’m very likely to be hammered for my beliefs.  Yet here I am because there I was, finding it impossible to get your letter out of my head.

Nearly two years ago I took my children to the Christmas pageant at the big Unitarian Church in our city. The pageant was to be a reenactment of the birth of Jesus. I took my kids as a way to begin to educate them about the non-Santa history of the holiday. Not as religious indoctrination, but as a history lesson.  
Who is Jesus? they asked from the back seat of the car as we drove to the show, after I’d explained to them what we were about to see. They were four and nearly six at the time. They’d heard about Jesus in glimmers before, but now they wanted to know everything. I wasn’t terribly literate in Jesus—my mother was an ex-Catholic who spurned organized religion in her adult life, so I had no religious schooling as a child—but I knew enough that I was able to cover the basics, from his birth in a manger, to his young adulthood as a proselytizer for compassion, forgiveness, and love, to his crucifixion and beyond, to the religion that was founded on the belief that Jesus, after suffering for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.

After I finished with my narration, it was like someone had served my kids two triple shot Americanos. Tell me about Jesus! became a ten-times-a-day demand. They weren’t interested in his birth in the barn or his philosophies about how to live or even what he might be up to in heaven. They wanted only to know about his death. In excruciating  detail. Over and over again. Until every ugly fact sank into their precious bones. For months I was compelled to repeatedly describe precisely how Jesus was flagellated, humiliated, crowned with thorns, and nailed at the hands and feet to a wooden cross to die an agonizing death. Sometimes I would do this while making my way in a harried fashion up and down the aisles of the hoity-toity organic grocery store where we shop and people would turn and stare at me.

My children were both horrified and enthralled by Jesus’ crucifixion. It was the most appalling thing they’d ever heard. They didn’t understand the story within its religious context. They perceived only its brutal truth. They did not contemplate Jesus’ divinity, but rather his humanity. They had little interest in this business about him rising from the dead. He was not to them a Messiah. He was only a man. One who’d been nailed to a cross alive and endured it a good while.

Did it hurt his feelings when they were so mean to him? my son repeatedly asked. Where was his mommy? my daughter wanted to know.

After I told them about Jesus’ death, I wondered whether I should have.  Mr. Sugar and I had managed to shield them from almost all of the world’s cruelty by then, so why, for the love of God (ahem), was I exposing them to this? Yet I also realized they had to know—their fascination with Jesus’ agony was proof of that. I’d hit a nerve. I’d revealed a truth they were ready to know. Not about Christianity, but about the human condition: that suffering is part of life.

I know that. You know that. I don’t know why we forget it when something truly awful happens to us, but we do. We wonder why me? and how can this be? and what terrible God would do this? and the very fact that this has been done to me is proof that there is no God! We act as if we don’t know that awful things happen to all sorts of people every second of every day and the only thing that’s changed about the world or the existence or nonexistence of God or the color of the sky is that the awful thing is happening to us.

It’s no surprise you have such doubt in this moment of crisis, sweet pea. It’s perfectly natural that you feel angry and scared and betrayed by a God you want to believe will take mercy on you by protecting those dearest to you. When I learned my mom was going to die of cancer at the age of 45, I felt the same way. I didn’t even believe in God, but I still felt that he owed me something. I had the gall to think how dare he? I couldn’t help myself. I’m a selfish brute. I wanted what I wanted and I expected it to be given to me by a God in whom I had no faith. Because mercy had always more or less been granted me, I assumed it always would be.

But it wasn’t.

It wasn’t granted to my friend whose 18-year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver either. Nor was it granted to my other friend who learned her baby is going to die of a genetic disorder in the not-distant future. Nor was it granted to my former student whose mother was murdered by her father before he killed himself. It was not granted to all those people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they came up against the wrong virus or military operation or famine or carcinogenic or genetic mutation or natural disaster or maniac.

Countless people have been devastated for reasons that cannot be explained or justified in spiritual terms. To do as you are doing in asking if there were a God why would he let my little girl have to have possibly life threatening surgery?—understandable as that question is—creates a false hierarchy of the blessed and the damned. To use our individual good or bad luck as a litmus test to determine whether or not God exists constructs an illogical dichotomy that reduces our capacity for true compassion. It implies a pious quid pro quo that defies history, reality, ethics, and reason. It fails to acknowledge that the other half of rising—the very half that makes rising necessary—is having first been nailed to the cross.

That’s where you were the other night when you wrote to me, dear woman. Pinned in place by your suffering. I woke up at 3am because I could feel you pinned there so acutely that I—a stranger—felt pinned too. So I got up and wrote to you. My email was a paltry little email probably not too different from the zillions of other paltry little emails you received from others, but I know without knowing you that those emails from people who had nothing to give you but their kind words, along with all the prayers people were praying for you, together formed a tiny raft that could just barely hold your weight as you floated through those terrible hours while you awaited your daughter’s fate.

If I believed in God, I’d see evidence of his existence in that. In your darkest hour you were held afloat by the human love that was given to you when you most needed it. That would have been true regardless of the outcome of Emma’s surgery. It would have been the grace that carried you through even if things had not gone as well as they did, much as we hate to ponder that.

Your question to me is about God, but boiled down to its essentials, it’s not so different than most of the questions people ask me to answer. It says: this failed me and I want to do better next time. My answer will not be so different either: to do better you’re going to have to reach. Perhaps the good that can come from this terrifying experience is a more complex understanding of what God means to you so the next time you need spiritual solace you’ll have something sturdier to lean on than the rickety I’ll-believe-he-exists-only-if-he-gives-me-what-I-want fence. What you learned as you sat bedside with Emma in the intensive care unit is that your idea of God as a possibly non-existent spirit man who may or may not hear your prayers and may or may not swoop in to save your ass when the going gets rough is a losing prospect.

So it’s up to you to create a better one. A bigger one.  Which is really, almost always, something smaller.

What if you allowed your God to exist in the simple words of compassion others offer to you? What if faith is the way it feels to lay your hand on your daughter’s sacred body? What if the greatest beauty of the day is the shaft of sunlight through your window? What if the worst thing happened and you rose anyway? What if you trusted in the human scale? What if you listened harder to the story of the man on the cross who found a way to endure his suffering than to the one about the impossible magic of the Messiah?  Would you see the miracle in that?


And by the grace of Sugar, I found the answer I was looking for.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Dark and Twisty Fool

Any time I use my intellect to pursue God I start down a bad, BAD, very bad path. When I try to figure God out I end up confused, sad, angry and sick. You know why?  I am not equipped to figure God out.  Who knew? 

As a child I was raised Catholic.  At home, at school, in church,  I accepted everything I was taught.   One of those things was not to question because all is mystery.  As a child I was exceptionally good at this. I did my best to be obedient, I trusted and I believed in all that is good and right in this world.    I kept it simple.   And I was happy.  But somewhere in there I grew up.   And I started to think too much.

Now I believe that I have a good heart.   And I know the difference between right and wrong when it comes to my own actions.  I may not be able to judge your heart or your actions but my insides always tell me what the right action is for me.  I trust that.   Unfortunately I have lots of practice ignoring my insides.

My head though is a different story altogether.   My head is wired for dark and twisty, complicated, catastrophic, negative, destructive thinking.   My thoughts often don't start out on the dark side but this is what happens. I start trying to figure things out in my head.  Right there a red flag should go up because without fail I am about to snowball down the aforementioned bad, BAD, very bad path.   Self knowledge leads me nowhere. And it's worse when I think I have knowledge about you and that I  have you figured out.   When I am absolutely sure I'm right it is a given that I am wrong.  This is why I have good people around me.  To set me on the straight and narrow. 

And this is what happens every time I try to figure out God.   Seems my God chooses to remain a mystery and no matter how hard I spin my wheels all that happens is that I tire myself out and make myself unhappy. I judge myself because I don't understand God.   Because how am I supposed to believe in Something I don't understand? All of this is to say that faith and belief are extremely personal and not something that can be proven. (or figured out)  One thing I know though is that I can't ever trust my screwed up mind.   I have to go with my insides.

And here are the things my insides tell me.
  • God exists
  • Evil exists
  • I don't understand why evil exists and I've not been able to find an acceptable answer or one that can comfort me. However, I believe that God cries with me when I am in pain.
  • I believe I receive guidance when I allow myself to be open to it.
  • I believe that though I need God's strength to accomplish anything, He won't do for me what I am capable of doing for myself.   Case in point, I asked God for years to help me trust Him.  And then I went about my business and when something challenging happened I became frightened and refused to trust.  Finally, one day, after I'd cried to her yet again about this, Sunshine and Happiness said to me,  "Look you just have to say, God, I trust you and then act as if you do. That's the only way to learn trust.  God can't do it for you."   Damned if she wasn't right.
  • I believe I have a choice every time I am faced with a situation about whether I am going to turn toward the light or go the dark and twisty route.
  • Going the dark and twisty route never leads me to my Higher Power. It never brings me serenity.
  • I am of 2 natures, both saint and sinner, capable of both good and evil.
  • My God wants me to choose to go toward the light.  It's just that sometimes I don't want to.
  • I have a purpose in this world.
  • Altering my mind with alcohol, drugs, food, co-dependency, etc. moves me away from God and my purpose in this world.
  • Gratitude, doing the next right thing, engaging in relationship, prayer, meditation and being of service to others bring me closer to my Higher Power and peace.
I started thinking about all of this because I haven't played guitar in years but for some reason today I dug it out.  I plucked and plunked along but the only song I could remember was God's Own Fool by Michael Card.   Now I've known this song since my college days and since college have had a mixed reaction to it  When I read the lyrics I'm put off because I don't like proselytizing.  I don't believe that there's only one way, one path to God and I cringe at those who push this idea onto others.  Christianity as an organized religion at best leaves me cold and mostly just makes me angry.  Intellectually this song embarrasses me.  And yet ....

My heart says otherwise.

God's Own Fool
Seems I've imagined Him all of my life
As the wisest of all of mankind
But if God's Holy wisdom is foolish to man
He must have seemed out of His mind

For even His family said He was mad
And the priests said a demon's to blame
But God in the form of this angry young man
Could not have seemed perfectly sane

And we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
We in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God's own fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable
And come be a fool as well

So come lose your life for a carpenter's son
For a madman who died for a dream
And you'll have the faith His first followers had
And you'll feel the weight of the beam

So surrender the hunger to say you must know
and the courage to say I believe
Let the power of paradox open your eyes
And blind those who say they can see

And we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
We in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong

And so we follow God's own Fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable,
And come be a fool as well

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Life After

 For Donna.....

Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in awhile one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

"Look!" said one of the water bugs to another. "One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she is going?"   Up, up, up it slowly went....Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn't return...

"That's funny!" said one water bug to another. "Wasn't she happy here?" asked a second... "Where do you suppose she went?" wondered a third.  No one had an answer.

They were greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered its friends together. "I have an idea". The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why."

"We promise", they said solemnly.

One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found herself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up, she went. Before she knew what was happening, she had broke through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad, green lily pad above.

When she awoke, she looked about with surprise. She couldn't believe what she saw. A startling change had come to her old body. Her movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail. Even as she struggled, she felt an impulse to move her wings...The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. She moved her wings again and suddenly found herself up above the water. She had become a dragonfly!!

Swooping and dipping in great curves, she flew through the air. She felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. By and by the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that she chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, she was right above her old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as she had been doing some time before.

The dragonfly remembered the promise: "The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why." Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly she hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that she was a dragonfly, she could no longer go into the water...

"I can't return!" she said in dismay. "At least, I tried. But I can't keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I'll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they'll understand what has happened to me, and where I went."

And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air.......

From: "Waterbugs and Dragonflies" by Doris Stickney

Friday, October 21, 2011

All That is Dark and Twisty

I could tell you I was drawn to FX's new cable series American Horror Story because I loved Connie Britton as Mrs. Coach Taylor in Friday Night Lights but it would be a lie.  Although the marriage of Coach Eric and Tami Taylor (Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton) was a thing of beauty, the unfortunate truth is that I am drawn to anything remotely dark and twisty.  This is a surprise, I know.

Sunshine and Happiness and I don't have cable so I had to intentionally seek the show out on Hulu.  This is a bad, bad, VERY bad thing.  I'm sensitive, an empath, obsessive and an addict.  NOT a good combination.  The question of the existence of evil has caused me distress since my childhood because I always wanted to know "why?"  As there is no acceptable answer to this question, it then begins a nasty cycle of anger, fear, despair, depression, more fear, and onward and downward until I am curled up in a fetal position on the couch afraid of my own shadow.  When I start upon this particular path Sunshine and Happiness will try to stop me by shouting "Honey, go towards the light!"  However, she does have to work at least sometimes, which leaves me alone to my own devices.  

Given where this particular line of thinking leads  you'd think I 'd avoid  dark and twisty like the plague.  Au contraire mon ami.  I am a good alcoholic.  If you advise left, I turn right.  When you caution "I wouldn't drink that if I were you."  I chug it right down.  If you, say, recommend that it might behoove me to avoid, oh, anything I will run right for it.  My therapist calls this a "reverse phobia."  She thinks I'm drawn to the dark and twisty in an attempt to exert some wee bit of control over it because I'm so afraid.  I wonder sometimes where she got her degree.

So today, for example,while reading the paper, I came across this story of a woman who kidnapped disabled folks, chained them to a boiler in a basement, made them live in their own waste and only sometimes fed them, all so she could steal their Social Security checks.  This same woman served four years (four freakin years!)  in prison for the murder of her sister's ex-boyfriend.  She confined him in a coat closet with no food or water until he starved, again so she could collect his Social Security check.  Oh, and her sister heard the guy screaming and banging against the closet door but did nothing to save him.  Yikes!  Sociopaths and our justice system frighten the hell out of me.  And yet I will turn on the TV and watch those horrid police procedurals, surf the Internet for autopsy and accident photos, read true crime stories and movies like Henry:Portrait of a Serial Killer til the cows come home.

So although I should have folded up the newspaper and put it away right then, I did not.

Next up on the news agenda, the story of a woman who cut the freakin fetus from a stranger after clocking her on the head with a baseball bat and binding her with duct tape.  Have I mentioned that psychopaths terrify me?  After this story I did throw the paper away.

However, instead of going to do my morning meditation (like I should have)I logged on to Facebook, you know, just to check in to make sure I didn't miss anything important and someone had posted about the Chinese toddler who was run over twice but left to die in the street by 17 bystanders.   And it was captured on surveillance film.  This video is actually posted at the Gawker site for anyone sick enough to want to see it but even I Queen of all things Dark and Twisty, could not bring myself to watch.  Can you even imagine being present and standing by while doing absolutely nothing as a two year old dies in the street?  The human capacity for apathy scares me most of all.
So watching American Horror Story makes me feel guilty.  Gore, torture, murder, abuse, crime.  This is entertainment?  I read the paper.  I watch the news. I live in the world.  And I know that for some unlucky individuals this horror is real life!  And yet I choose to indulge and end up feeling like crap.  I do know though that I have a choice.  I can choose to fill myself up with the dark and twisty or I can move toward the light, although I'm never really sure on a given day which I'll choose.

Once while at a spiritual retreat struggling with my alcoholism, anxiety, depression and despair I became desperate. Nothing seemed to matter and  I just couldn't pull myself up from the pit.  As I was meditating I asked God for help and I came upon this passage: 

 "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure  whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think on these." 
             Philippians 4:8

There it is.  There is the answer.  Ask for help and choose to focus on the light.

And I will.  Right after I watch the second episode of American Horror Story.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Super Bass

Sophia, age 8 and Rosie, age 5 from Essex, England LOVE Niki Minaj.  They visited the Ellen show on Wednesday and performed their version of Super Bass.  I haven't been able to get the "boom, badoom, boom boom, badoom, boom he got that super bass.." out of my head yet.

Here's the original version that landed them on the Ellen show

Eventually there will be a Sophia backlash (HATERS!) but for now I'm just wondering where I can  get a tiara, ballet shoes and pink frilly princess dress for myself???

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Short post today.  Chaz Bono has the best smile EVER.and I love that he made Carrie Ann Inaba cry over his performance on Monday night (in a good way) on Dancing with the Stars.  And yes, I do watch DWTS.  Get over it.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why Put Off for Tomorrow...

Maddy Grace:  Throw my ball NOW mama!
I know, I know.  I haven't posted in a month of Sundays.  Every day I think about it but have not.  Life's just been getting in the way I suppose.

My last post talked of an impending trip with Sunshine and Happiness to Canada for our first year wedding anniversary.    Hmmm... seems I put off for tomorrow what I should have done, umm, sooner.  To make a long story short  we did not get to Canada because I waited until the Friday prior to our trip to pull out the passport cards and it seems I had,  well......THROWN THEM OUT.


It was all good though because we celebrated in Seabrook, South Carolina.    I'll take eighty five and sunny over fifty degrees and rainy any day so it ended up being a happy accident.



That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

As I sit here typing it is eighty degrees outside with no chance of rain. 
In October.  In Pittsburgh.   I should be mowing and weed whacking our lawn. 

Also, I finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany while in Seabrook and have wanted to write about my very different reaction to it this time. 

Additionally I have been invited to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, an annual event wherein participants write approximately 50,000 words/179 pages (about the size of Catcher in the Rye) in 1 MONTH.  Sounds torturous to me but I'm still mulling it over wondering if I could be disciplined enough to complete it.  As if.  I need to register though if I'm going to try and delude myself that I might be able to finish.   

Finally, all morning I've been going back and forth about re-joining Facebook.  I have opened then closed an account three times over the past 2 years.  The first time I lasted several months, the second days and the third it was only a  matter of hours.  I do lurk on Sunshine and Happiness' page but have some kind of weird aversion to having my own.  S&H is tired though of me commenting on other folks' wall posts and them thinking it is her.  Go figure.

But none of this is what's really going on with me.  My moniker may be DARK and TWISTY but it could just as well be QUEEN OF AVOIDANCE.   Right now my paternal grandfather is in the hospital for the third time this year with pneumonia and things are not looking good.   He's 96.  On the maternal side, my Gram who is 88 is on Oxycontin and in constant pain.   My parents are aging.(broken leg, hip surgery, prostate cancer)   

On Wednesday, I visited the community center I used to work at because I miss the seniors.  About half  of my favorite folks are gone or in nursing homes and I wasn't there.   I miss Mrs. K.from next door more than I could have imagined.  And some friends of ours are facing enormous sadness and grief and I am powerless to fix/change a situation that I totally would if I could.  I don't do  powerlessness well and I struggle with being present to those experiencing the process of illness and death.

So I sit here and type.  And I play with the idea of NaNoWriMo. And  I get lost on the computer and analyze the themes of God, predestination, fate, death and resurrection in Owen Meany.    I pick a fight with my wife so that I can get angry at her, blow up and cry when my tears have absolutely nothing to do with what we are arguing about.  Finally,  finally,  I  notice the ball at my feet and Maddy Grace's whining up at me.  I throw the ball and like a shot she's off.  I smile.  I laugh.  And  I get up to go mow the grass.