Comfort in a Time of Pain?

On another note on this sad Morning After, how about some Kurt Vonnegut, who always spoke truth to power and who was present, a P.O.W., when the Allies firebombed the beautiful city of Dresden. 135,00 civilians died in this Medieval city was once called The Florence of the Elbe, making its fire-bombing the single most destructive act of the war, outranking even Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

In this passage from his extended cry-for-peace novel Slaughterhouse Five, there is this vision witnessed by protagonist Billy Pilgrim who, having become ‘unstuck in time,’ is granted a sort of vision. This is what he ‘saw’:

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and every thing and every body was as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals.

Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work.

The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

Let’s do it: let’s re-bury it all, every accelerant to every weapon. And let’s also look inside our own hearts as well – for the accelerants not only of anger but also of our indifference to the suffering of others.

 

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Forgetting It All

umI keep hearing ads for these brain training programs that are designed to ‘increase mental acuity by calculating baseline scores’ as they put it, but in my world a baseline score is what your doctor uses to measure the relative swiftness of your decline.

And yet, and yet:  If I don’t do these mental calisthenics, will I start losing it? Forget how to flush, or make change? Inadvertently turn into the funniest person standing in line… at the wake? 

I look at what’s out there and then I look at my life. I don’t do Lumosity. Or Sudoku. Or Words With Friends, which is basically just Scrabble over the Internet.  But the way I look at it, people old enough to worry about getting sharper are already less sharp. Just look up the statistics on how fast your synapses are firing now compared to how they fired when you were 12. You’re slower than you were and that’s a fact, so now you want to start measuring how much slower? You might as well make little marks on your kitchen wall the way people do with their growing children – only you’d be doing it so you could watch yourself shrink.

But back to mental acuity: When I was young, I could memorize anything, historical dates from the 1500s, the license plate numbers on my friends’ parents’ cars, the poems our teachers used to make us stand beside our desks to stammer out. Now all I have stored here in this head is a single credit card number, and even then I have to get a running start with, the way you do with the 23rd Psalm, say.

As for poetry, every time I try to recite those bits of verse from my schooldays sonnets, they all mysteriously become, three lines, in, “Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know,” but seriously: What are you gonna do?  Mark Twain famously wrote that when he was younger, he could remember anything, whether it happened or not.’ But as his faculties began decaying, as he put its, he got so he could only remember the latter. 

He could only remember what didn’t happen in other words.  If I get like this, I won’t be any kind of authority on the facts but hey, stick around anyway: It’s a good bet my stories will become a lot more entertaining. 

And now, this great clip from Men in Black, where the memory-erasing Neuralyzer is put to use… which leads me wonder: Have Agents J and K been around HERE lately?

Bon Appetit!

cow tongueSee what you think of these dishes, the recipes for which I found in a cookbook that has rested on my kitchen shelf for decades. A fat volume of brown and food-stained pages, it was passed down to my mother from her mother, who received it from her mother, born in the long-ago 1830s.

Here’s a recipe  that caught my eye right away:

“Wash a fresh tongue” it begins, and yes, I too thought “Gack! Whose tongue are we washing and for what purpose?”

But the recipe doesn’t say whose tongue. It just goes briskly on:

“Barely cover the tongue with water in a pot and until morning when you will put it in a kettle full of cold water, stand it over a very slow fire, and simmer it gently for four hours, until you can pierce it with a fork. Then, when it’s done, stand it to cool in the liquid in which it was boiled, peel off the skin starting at the tip,” and -boom! – “the tongue is ready to use.”

Ready to use HOW?” you might faintly wonder, as I did, the little hairs on the back of my neck stirring uneasily.

But back then people knew what a critters’ tongue was for: It was for dinner.

And you’ll admit it would make for some hearty eating, especially if it were a cow’s tongue which Google shows to be a good 18 inches in length.

Now a second recipe, for the delicacy known as Ox Cheek:

“Soak half an ox head – (yes, the whole head) for three hours and clean it well with plenty of water. After eight hours of cooking and four hours of chilling, remove the cake-fat and warm the head and the pieces in the soup, adding truffles and vegetables as desired.”

As a 21st century person I don’t know what cake-fat even is, unless it’s what shows up around your middle after pigging out on birthday dessert.

Finally why not try tripe, which Wikipedia defines in it its no-nonsense way as “a type of edible offal from the stomachs of various animals” and which the old cookbook says is “both delicious and easily digested.”

 For those of you who have never seen it, tripe resembles a white, rubbery open-celled sponge.

To prepare it, “scald the stomach in boiling water sufficient to loosen the inside coating. Wash and scrape it well through several boiling waters, then soak it in cold water overnight and in the morning, scrape it again until white and clean. “

Which leads you to queasily wonder what it looked like BEFORE you scraped it clean.

Yet who are we to pass judgment on foods with which most of us are unfamiliar? Who are we to shrink and quake at these details? For the farmer of the 1800s or any folks prosperous enough to buy their food at a market, meat was at the heart of every good meal. 

People enjoyed their meat dishes and would have seen no reason to practice denial about where it came from. We moderns are the ones practicing denial.

 Styrofoam trays and plastic wrap help us do this but make no mistake: a living creature died so we could sit down to this roast, this burger, this chop. Let’s at least always stop and offer up that pre-meal prayer of thanks.

They Laughed

IMG_4661They laughed at my i-Phone 6 Plus. Or rather at the case; the case is what kicked me over to the realm of the laughable. 

I have been trained by the teenagers in my life to use the Otter Box for a case since with an Otter Box you can drop your phone onto a floor made of prison-yard concrete with impunity.

And pink was the only color Otter Box they had at the Verizon store that day besides black, and I knew I couldn’t have a black case? In the depths of a purse or backpack I’d never spot it. But as you can see, this wasn’t just pink, it was HOT PINK. Barbie Doll pink. As I carried it over the last two months I’ll admit I was beginning to feel like a person walking around in clown shoes.

And boy did people made fun, my family members especially. One of them said the case made it look like I was carrying around a hot water bottle. “My phone does look like a hot water bottle!” I thought.

Or an enema bag.  I remember the days when an enema bag was a real rubber bag, and the 90-year old woman who was the sage in my family held one high in the air, letting gravity do the work as a pink hose conducted its contents of warm soapy water down into the wee small opening in my wee small bottom.

I was five so I don’t remember more of this episode, except that my big sister danced past the bathroom door and called exultantly, “Her face is PLAID! Like all checkered, red and white!” Then I fainted, less than a second after the two ends of the tubing were ‘connected’ and the flood of water began,

So, you know: Bad associations with pink.

Lucky for me I have just come from seeing my friend Bobbie, who has just bought a phone case that doubles as a slim wallet. With her phone nested inside this palmful of sleek black leather she looks power-dressed even at the gym in workout clothes. Maybe she saw the look on my face as I regarded it. Maybe it was all she could do not to laugh when she first spied my clown phone. As we were finishing up at the gym anyway, she asked me if I wanted to go with her to Best Buy and look at cases.

We did go there and look at cases and I found this little beauty. It’s a soft moleskin brown. It has only two little slits inside the front cover so it doesn’t hold as much credit-card-wise as Bobbie’s does but that works for me too.

And so… I bought it, and for less money than I had spent on the original pink monstrosity. None of these cases are cheap but it’s money well spent, because, as we all learn pretty quickly on this titled and wobbling planet, we do need protection!  

adopted phone case

Thou Shalt Not Shame, Blame or Attack

finger pointingWe are all harmed when we blame, or shame, or attack each other – or even ourselves. I learned this truth at a VISIONS® workshop I attended some eight years ago. And yet dear as I hold this teaching, there are moments when I slide back into a state of forgetting, as I did twice, just in the last week.

The first time occurred when I messed up at work and then got called on it. Immediately I curled up like a badger and withdrew to my badger-cave, the one with the sign over it reading, “You’re hopeless, you’ll never learn, you might as well quit.”

I had made a mistake, yes. But I dragged it around like an ant with a dead ant on its back. I lost two whole days of my life during this cave-retreat and nothing was made better for my having stayed there, chanting over my little witch’s brew of self-contempt.

So that was my first ‘forgetting.’

The second forgetting occurred when I began blaming and shaming someone other than myself the silent and sneaky way: in my mind. 

This happened as I was entering the women’s restroom in a tourist hotel and heard a commotion from within.

“It’s STAINED Mother, have you heard of the concept ‘stained?’“ a young female voice was shouting. “And no, the stain WON’T come out!” she added.

“I actually think it will,” a second female voice said. “It’s only make-up after all and–”

I rounded the corner then and saw a mother by the sinks standing beside her child of about 15, who was wildly scraping at the corner of her gauzy top with a wad of wet paper towel.

“We’ll go up to the room. I have some liquid Tide-” began the mother. But the girl was having none of it.

“It cost friggin’ $200!” she bellowed, only she didn’t say ‘friggin.’’

“Let’s go to the room and see what we can do,” continued her mother in the same quiet voice. “Come on now,” she urged again, and exited the restroom as if to lead the way.

“I! Am! Not! COMING!” bellowed the girl, even more loudly and stayed where she was, so that she and I were the only people in the rest room.

I approached the sink to wash my hands and glanced briefly at her in the mirror. She wouldn’t look at me. I wanted to say “Wait and bring it to a good dry cleaners and you’ll be fine.” 

But there she still stood with that furious scowl on her face and her harsh words echoing in the tiled space, so that then I wanted to say a few more things:

Like, “Hey, calm down!” 

Also, “What’s wrong with you, talking to your mother like that?”

Also, “How much of a sap does a person have to be to spend $200 on a half-yard of fabric that looks like it’s made of Kleenex?”

And then I caught myself. Maybe she couldn’t meet my eye because she was ashamed. I thought about how quickly her mother had left, and with no apparent anger. Maybe the girl has a condition, some turbulence that has beset her since birth, something she has no control over.

In short, who was I to judge?

Now if I could just learn to REMEMBER this valuable teaching I hold so dear, I just know I would do a lot less damage, both to myself and to others.

 

The Cave Thrown Open?

easter lilyNoontime on Mondays I would go to the nursing home to help feed my husband’s aunt. She couldn’t move her arms – or wouldn’t. Couldn’t speak – or wouldn’t. She had not taken a single step since she had first come to this place after breaking her hip some six years before. Her caregivers said she uttered a chance phrase from time to time, “pretty good,” or “yes indeed,” emerging clear as clear from the depths of her silence. Mostly though, she regarded us all with a dull and lifeless gaze.

In the beginning she had talked a little.  “The years are passing so quickly!” she said once out of the blue. And “Eddie is so good to me.” And, one day, “You look exhausted!” 

Back then, a look of animation would flash over her face when I first arrived. She would smile and color would mount to her cheeks and I would begin talking and talking, hoping to keep her there. It never worked. Within moments she was gone again, far away and alone. Our communication remained focused on the simple ceremony of feeding.

“What should I do after she eats?” I asked Uncle Ed once. “Where she won’t talk, I mean?” 

“Just sit with her,” he said. “Just hold her hand.”

So I did that, and watched what went on around us.

Mostly I watched Edna, tall and big-boned, with wispy hair.

“Girl! What time is it, Girl?” she asked me once. “That poor soul,” she added, indicating another with a nod of her head. “She’s touched, you know!”

I liked Edna. “I’m goin’ out for a smoke! Where’s my bag?” she would say, just as if she could walk on out whenever she liked. She carried that small black purse with her everywhere. Once I saw her bring it to the dining room and put it in the trash. Later in the meal she became agitated. “Where’s my tea?“ she kept saying.

“Right here,” said her helper.

“No! My TEA! ” she exclaimed, looking now under the table.

“Is this it?” I asked, going to the trash and fetching forth her purse.

“Yes!”

 Later, she spilled her actual tea and saw the erratic shape the spill made on the tiles. “Girl!” She hailed me. “There’s a chicken on the floor here!”

 In time, Edna fell permanently quiet, as sooner or later they all fall quiet on this ward. When she died, I cut out her obituary. I have it still.

It took almost ten years before Auntie Fran died. By then she had long stopped wrinkling her nose as she once did when I would bend to kiss her and my hair would tickle her face and she had gotten so she would hardly eat.

I stopped worrying what to say to her when I came on Mondays.

 And I got to wondering if she were in there at all, until two things happened in a one-month period.

 Once, when I did not briskly pull up and away at embrace’s end but stayed there, my cheek against her cheek, she made that little sound people make when you kiss them and they like it. And another time – it was in this same month of new beginnings that we are now in – I brought her an Easter lily when she was already in bed, blue eyes on the ceiling. I tipped the plant until it was nearly horizontal, and the soft chalice of its blossom dipped toward her face. 

She shut her eyes and inhaled deeply.

She was in there all right, and to this day I am still so glad I was able to reach her there just that one time, deep in her cave and waiting for the great Transformation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“What’s That Again?” 

"Your eyes are fine.  I'ts just that on some eye charts they type is too small."  The nearly blind leading the nearly blind.I just read that when people are approaching 60 they can literally see only half of what they could see at 30. 

Now while I mind this, I’ll also admit that there are lots of things I’d just as soon NOT see – like the little white bunny-tail of toothpaste you sometimes find on your cheek or,  God forbid, in your hair, even hours after you brushed the old chompers.

This second thing has been known to happen to me. Before I bring out the bristling arsenal of smoothing tools every morning, my hair is so wild with waves and tendrils that all kinds of things get stuck in it. “The net,” my guy David calls it. 

Of course HIS eyesight isn’t that great anymore either you should see the two of us squinting at the remote in our effort to watch TV of an evening – but this is why God gives us children, so that, when they get older, they can come by the house and clean us up a little.

Just recently I met up with one of my grown children after not having seen her for some weeks. She leaned in toward me for the hug, or so I thought – until she spoke:  

“Hi Mum, you look great – and you only have this ONE little whisker!” she cried cheerily and began applying a sharp pincer-like movement to the underside of my jaw.

HairChin

But a thing equally bad is the inability to see with the old acuity is the inability to hear the way you could once hear: When you get older, you hear so much less. It’s a shock really. I mean here you’ve been, going on for years easily following two or even three conversations besides the one you are in. 

This ability to hear all around you is what’s behind that thing you see when people stick one foot out to the side and then sort of surreptitiously s-l-i-i-i-de from one conversational group to another.  What has happened is that they have detected greener conversational pastures beside or behind them and are basically voting with their feet.

Once your hearing starts to go there’s no more pulling off this strategic side-step into better conversations. By then you’re glad if you can hear what the one person directly opposite you is saying.

Of course actual deaf and hard of hearing people do just fine. On its website, renowned Gallaudet University describes itself as “a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English.”

American Sign Language: a language that allows the deaf and hard of hearing to function every bit as well as, and perhaps possibly better than, the rest of us. American Sign Language: yet another language most of us Americans do not study and do not know.

I certainly don’t know American Sign Language so what I find myself doing is telling people to take their hands away from their mouths so I can read their lips, or asking them to  SAY THAT AGAIN PLEASE.

deaf

I hate having to do this. I’m afraid I come off sounding grouchy and that’s the last thing I want to be doing as I get older.

Still, I know it’s just pride that makes me feel this way and what do I need with pride at this stage of my life? “Just go with it T,” I tell myself. “Just accept it”

But anyway, tell ya what: it turns out toothpaste in the hair makes a pretty good styling gel.