Broken heart

When patrons hear that Jeff died of a heart attack just 7 weeks after his wife died, they often comment that “He died of a broken heart.”

No, he died because he didn’t take care of himself. He died because he spent his time taking care of everybody else and not himself.

He ate meat-laden breakfast sandwiches every morning. He got fast food for lunch. Sometimes he didn’t eat supper at all. He ate cookies and drank tea all day long. Everything had sugar or caffeine or both, and lots of it.

He knew his blood pressure was high, but he didn’t do anything about it. He had unusual pains and didn’t feel well, but didn’t go to the doctor.

I suspect he thought that if he took time off to go to the doctor, then he would be taking time away from us, his coworkers. He didn’t want to inconvenience us and make us even more short-handed.

You can’t make us more short-handed than being dead.

He had OCD. Constantly trying to fix things, to control things. The one thing he could control, his health, he didn’t.

Maybe if he had taken the time to take care of what he could take care of, he’d still be here.

He had a lot of stress, what with having two kids to deal with – children that weren’t even his legally. His wife had two children from a previous marriage, and they’d never gotten around to having him adopt them. They were worried about dealing with the kids’ deadbeat dad.

He drove an hour one way every day to go to work. His wife liked where they lived, but he couldn’t find work there. He put his needs aside. That was a long drive, and a lot of stress.

It was always about other people. He just liked to make people happy, he said. His dad was the same way, and he died young too.

What would make us happy would be for him to still be here, and well, and balanced, and happy.

Widow’s weeds

There is an old custom of wearing black while you are in mourning. Some people would wear all black clothes, while others would just wear black armbands. People still wear black clothes, but it isn’t just for grief. They will wear black just because they like wearing black.

So the meaning is lost. People don’t know if you are grieving, or just fashionable.

The purpose of wearing black to indicate grief was to warn others to be a little more gentle with you. You had your leave time that you were allowed from work, and now you are back. Whether it was three days or a week, it isn’t ever enough, especially if it was someone close to you.

Wearing black while you are grieving is a bit like wearing a “trainee” tag. It tells other people that you aren’t quite all here yet, and to go a little more slowly. It is a kindness to them and to you, to not expect much out of you for a while.

But perhaps we should all do that, all the time. Perhaps we should all treat each other with a little more kindness and cut each other a little more slack.

Everybody we see is struggling with something. Everybody has suffered a loss or has a problem. “Dysfunctional” is the new normal for families, don’t you know? We all are faking it, and we all aren’t making it. We are just getting by as best we can.

Now, problems can also come in when we think we are the only ones who are suffering, or that our pain is worse than anybody else’s.

I remember a time where a patron said that she wanted to get on disability because she had migraines all the time. She went on and on about it. Every time she came in she told her tale of how hard life was. She was really wrapped up in her own problems. So I decided to share. I told her that I’m on medication for the rest of my life for three different chronic conditions.
I wanted her to understand that we all have our burdens to carry. She got it, and softened.

Buddha told a story about a lady whose young son had died. She went to every person in the village, carrying her dead child with her. She refused to admit that he was dead and begged each person for medicine. One kind person directed her to the teacher, Buddha, who lived in the village.

When he saw her, he understood exactly what the real problem was, and how to address it. He told her to ask for a mustard seed from every person in the village who had not ever grieved. She was to then come back to him with the mustard seeds and he would make a medicine for her from them.

She went from hut to hut, and every person she talked to had experienced grief. Every person had lost someone they loved.

She had no mustard seeds, but she had the medicine she needed. She understood that she was not alone in her suffering. Her life was not harder than anyone else’s. At that moment, she finally was able to accept that her child had died, and bury him. At that moment, she was able to rejoin the community.

May we all be kinder with each other.
May we all understand we are equal in our suffering.

On adoption.

I’ve met some people with some pretty unhealthy ideas about adoption.

I know a lady who became a grandmother accidentally. Her son and his girlfriend learned that they were expecting. I had written that “he got her pregnant” but that makes her a passive agent. It takes two to get pregnant. They had sex before they were able to handle the possible repercussions. They might or might not have been using birth control – it doesn’t matter now. She got pregnant. It happens.

It happens a lot more than it should. It is stunning that America, a nation that has free education, that we are so ignorant about how to not get pregnant. It isn’t rocket science.

Having sex is like playing Russian roulette with your life. It can be fun, or you could die from a sexually transmitted disease. Or you could end up pregnant, which will end life as you know it. The risks are too high to play the game if you aren’t ready to deal with the consequences.

According to the CDC, the amount of unintended pregnancies in the United States is nearly 50%. Also according to the CDC, women who get unintentionally pregnant are more likely to be very young, unhealthy, and undereducated. They are already at a disadvantage and getting pregnant puts them even further into the hole.

Let’s go back to the couple from the beginning. They are both in their early 20s and they fight constantly. They don’t make enough money to support themselves, so they live with the boy’s parents. The girl’s parents do not provide any money or support at all. The son works in fast food and the girl works as a part-time bartender. They share a car. This has gone on for over a year. The tension in the house is to the point that the grandmother goes for counseling now.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I suggested adoption and the grandmother recoiled at it. No – this was her grandson. Strangers won’t be raising him.

This can’t be better. I’ve never seen this child smile. Just because he is with his birth parents doesn’t mean they are the best for him. It doesn’t mean they are qualified to be parents. They still need parents themselves. They are too young, too immature, and too selfish to be good parents.

I knew another lady who said that if she ever got unintentionally pregnant, she would have an abortion rather than put the child up for adoption. She admitted that she didn’t like the idea of a stranger raising her child. So she would rather kill it. This makes no sense at all.

I think for some people, putting their child up for adoption is like admitting they made a mistake. Their pride gets in the way of making a good decision for the well-being of their child.

Adoption provides a loving home for a child. Adoption means that the child is welcomed and wanted and provided for. Adoption means that the child has the best possible chance of a happy life.

Putting a child up for adoption isn’t a mark of failure. It is putting your child first. It is pride to keep a child in poverty and misery just because you are too stubborn to admit that you can’t do it all.

The weird part about the grandmother in the first example is that she adopted her son, the one who is a father now. She understands what adoption is like from the other side. She understands how long adoptive parents wait, and how relieved they are when they finally get that call that tells them they have a child. She understands all about the background checks and the tests that prospective adoptive parents go through.

Adoptive parents aren’t strangers. Sure, they are strangers to you, but they have proven their merit. It isn’t like the adoption agency pulls some random person off the street and hands them your child. There are a lot of tests involved.

The tests that prospective adoptive parents go through should be mandatory for anybody who thinks they want to have children. There are physical exams. Psychological exams. Financial exams. They are tested and probed in every way possible to determine if they would make fit parents. They are tested to see if they have what it takes in every way possible.

Love isn’t enough to raise a child. It takes a lot of money and a lot of maturity. Sometimes the best thing you can do is admit that you don’t have enough of either. Why compound a problem by making it worse?

Ideally, there would be no unintended pregnancies. Ideally, everyone would get pregnant only when they are ready to. Until that time comes, adoption is a loving response.

Selfishness and self-less-ness

Originally posted on FB 4-11-2012

I’m wary and weary of the new trends in spirituality that I’m seeing. I’m concerned and saddened that the current trend seems to be self-centered. Yes – you are important. Yes, you need to have a good sense of yourself. Yes – you are valued and loved by your Creator.

But so is everybody else. Every other person on this Earth was created by the same Creator. Every other person on this Earth deserves love and honor. I’m concerned that this current trend of self-centered spirituality will result in self-service only. It is fine if it is a start. It is fine if it is a seed that then grows into love and service of others.

I find that the “name it and claim it” trend is part of this. Wishful thinking. Magical thinking. Whether it is cloaked as New Age or spun into Christianity by Joel Osteen, it still feels like object-worship. It is materialism gussied up into religion. Don’t have time to be spiritual? Don’t think it is for you? But you want stuff – right? Well, here’s a religion for you! This way you can want stuff and feel good about it.

But stuff only leads you away. Things, material possessions, are a quick fix. Get what you want by praying for it, wishing for it, and you have more stuff. But then I feel you will still be empty. And then you’ll need to pray for a bigger house to hold all your stuff.

I think our Creator made us to be bigger than that. We are not born alone. When we are born, we are born into a community. At a minimum our Mom is there. In some cases it seems like the entire family is there – Dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings – where there is barely room for nurses and a doctor (if necessary). Our religions have prayers for welcoming new children among us. Why should our lives be any different?

I remember telling a lady about how Jesus stripped things down for us, because the Ten Commandments were just too hard for us to figure out. Love God, and love your neighbor. Easy. Everything else falls from that – you can’t steal, covet, or murder if you are showing love. How simple is that? Yet we’ve twisted it. It is becoming solely “love yourself” – and that love isn’t spreading outward.

I believe that God created every single one of us exactly the way we are because that is exactly the way we are needed. Variety is good. Eccentricity is good. We all have different talents and gifts. A garden doesn’t look nearly as interesting if it has only roses blooming in it. Add some zinnias and hyacinth and phlox and we’ve got something really cool. The same is true with a symphony. The trumpet may be a really important instrument, but it needs a tuba to round out the bottom notes, and there needs to be a drum section to keep the pace.

I believe that the best way to know God is to seek Him in his creation – and for some, that is in the wilderness. Some find insight and growth by working with plants and animals. I find however, that the most challenge comes in seeking God in people. Mother Teresa said that it was her privilege to serve other people. She felt that each person she served was Jesus in disguise. That the leper’s wounds were Christ’s wounds. That the baby dying in her arms was Christ himself. I think this is a powerful meditation.

About two years ago I started trying this at the library. I’m not doing earth-changing things. I’m creating library cards. I’m solving problems. But I decided to try this. To try to see each person as if they are Jesus, as if they are God made Flesh, in front of me. To my happiness, it resulted in profound experiences. Almost every person caught that vibe. They responded differently to me – more smiles, more open. Each transaction was easier. This doesn’t mean that everybody was happy. Sometimes you can’t make that happen in a five minute encounter. But the old, crotchety, smelly, snaggle-toothed characters that populate the library became my favorites. I now look forward to meeting with them and helping them. The weirder they are, the more I have to look for God hiding within them. The more I look – the more they see my interest in them. The more they soften up and reveal themselves to me. It is beautiful.

I invite you to look outside yourself.

I invite you to know that you are loved, and to then know that everyone else is loved in exactly that same way.

I invite you, that if you are a seeker of God – if you desire to know your Creator better, you can do no better than to serve your fellow humans. Each one is a facet into the beauty and mystery of the Eternal, the Divine, the Truth.