Sunday, January 21, 2007

On Reading C. S. Lewis

I'm currently reading C. S. Lewis' essay, THE PROBLEM OF PAIN (1940) in which he explores the depths of his faith in light of the suffering he sees around him. In the essay Lewis asks: "If God is good and all-powerful, why does he allow his creatures to suffer pain?"

In the end, his spiritual quest led him to believe that much of the suffering in God's world can be traced to the evil/sinful choices people make, for which they must atone and amend for in this lifetime before achieving inner peace and a true connection to God. It's a very thought provoking essay. 

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Conversation with Michele

A post written by Colin :

I was sitting there reading the NY Times while visiting/caring for Michele after physical therapy for her knee injury. She was stretched out on the couch with her right leg propped up on a pillow with a huge ice pack on her knee. We had been sitting quietly, me reading - she thinking, for upwards of an hour without saying a word to each other.

She was staring out the window and looking up at the night sky, when she noticed me staring and turned to look at me for a moment.

"What have you been thinking about all this time?”" I finally asked her as I glanced back at the newspaper and turned the page.

"“Nothing really"” she replied and turned to look back out the window. After a long pause, in which I read an entire article, she asked, “"Have you ever read Ayn Rand or Robert Heinlein?”"

“"No, but I have heard of them."” I stared at her thoughtfully for awhile. “"Michele, I was just wondering… something... is this what married life is like?"” She looked at me intently for a moment, almost as if to read me.

“"Well, that depends on what you’re feeling at this moment."

After considering a bit, I shared: “"Comfortable, serene, relaxed."”

After a deep reflective sigh, and with a tone of real honesty, almost wistfully, she said: "“Imagine those feelings, along with contentedness and an abiding love and you have the feelings of someone who is happily married.”"

After making sure I understood, she settled back into her quiet reverie of years gone past and didn'’t speak again until I left.

Though she is still mourning, she is now in a place of acceptance and simply learning to live with the loss. Sometimes I am blown away by her resilience, conviction and strength. It almost makes me feel self-conscious and somewhat ashamed that I tried to play her once.

Last month, during lunch she said to me that I needed to learn more about women in order to respect them as people so that I could eventually have a successful relationship with one. As I check in on her I can’t help but think how right she was and how this is all part of learning that life lesson. 

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Anatomy of a Meltdown

I am genuinely touched and taken aback by the number of messages I have received through Colin and Jon. I am sorry I haven't responded to the messages I received directly and hope that this post will serve both as a response and allay concerns and fears. I’m sorry that I just checked out of life... everyone's life, for awhile. There's so much stuff going on in my life right now that I just needed to take some time for me, turn my focus inward to strengthen my inner-self, in order to refocus/ re-group and then move on. Much like pulling back during a fierce military battle that has been waged for far too long.

Right now I'm just at stage 1 of loss: experiencing the feelings of overwhelming grief, from simultaneous losses (one was an old friend and neighbor of 20 yrs), which overwhelmed me all at once. I have been here once before... after 9/11.

This time as things began accumulating recently: enduring my skin cancer treatment this past year, the beach rescue that turned badly in early fall, the leg injury after thanksgiving which then brought back my carpel tunnel…; well, they were compounded by the news that my mom’s cancer treatment is not going well and she’s going blind, and 2 very recent losses of good friends who will be dearly missed. It was multiple straws that broke my emotional back.

There's always stuff going on in my life that I never talk about because: a) I'm not a whiner... I know that most situations are simply temporary life hurdles to get through. I am a very reserved individual who processes things by thinking thoroughly, feeling deeply and working through things by writing stories, letters, posts and in my journals; b) I’m accepting of many things because I know, in the end, my faith will carry me through everything; c) Oftentimes, I just need to process my feelings quietly first, so I can then be level-headed in planning out my actions and executing solutions. That always entails quiet reflection, definitely some prayer time and writing, and on occasion tears, when loss is involved. Since my hands were hurting I couldn't write. My spirit was too low to speak to anyone on the phone, my body was in great pain from physical therapy and my injury, so I reached a breaking point by the time I received the news of my mom and the losses of good friends.

Colin is a caring, funny and sometimes an exasperating work colleague (if you remember some of his posts you know what I mean), who doesn't know the personal side of me yet, because we've only recently begun to hang out, so he didn't know what was going on. Thanks to those who emailed him and enlightened him on Michele. He shared those emails with me and they touched me deeply. It seems some people who have been reading since the beginning do understand me. They knew I was too over-whelmed to clue him in when he showed up at my door on Sunday. My grieving process is always handled in private and within the confines of my home.

In this instance, I was just tired of enduring so much pain and loss in my life in this past year, especially as I approached the 1st anniversary of my best friend's death. So yes, I took the opportunity, while my son was at a sleepover during that weekend (a true blessing) to allow myself a mini-meltdown. Normally, some people overwhelmed with grief drink, they yell at people, or take it out on others. Me, I just wait for the best moment I can deal with my feelings and then let myself feel all of the pain of my losses, because I have no time and no strength to carry excess baggage around with me. So I deal by feeling everything all at once when I'm able to. It allows me to bounce back and be there for my responsibilities and my son sooner than trying to suppress the hurt while living my daily life. Lying on the grave was a fetal position moment that just couldn't wait any longer. I just wanted and needed to be close to my friends and feel their loving embrace and re-assurance. By lying on the grave it was as close to them as I could come in a moment in which I greatly missed them, needed to talk to them and wanted desperately to get one of their awesome loving hugs. See, if Colin had known me, as my friends did, he would have known that I was wearing my waterproof hiking gear. They would have known that I just needed to cry my heart out dry and would have let me do so.

After 9/11, Hook instictively understood that on some level and published my letters in which I finally shared how a survivor of an attack felt and how one finds their way back to the light after loss. In doing so, he helped my healing process by giving my pain and thoughts a forum. By giving voice to my words in print he guided me to the wonderful power of healing through writing. Through his kind act I learned that I would eventually be okay. Now I know that with time, God and through my writing l will once again heal my wounds.

I don't know if any of this is making any sense, but that's what was going on. When I visit their graves in the summer I sometimes sit down and have a picnic or just lay down and talk to or pray with them. As C. S. Lewis once said, when he was seen doing the same at his wife's grave: "Their spirits may not be there, it many not do a thing for their souls, but it certainly makes me feel a heck of a whole lot better."

As time passes, and grief is processed I'll move on to stage 2: acceptance. In the meantime, I'll live in appreciation for the wonderful gifts of friendship and love I received while they were in my life, and though I will miss their presence terribly, I’ll have wonderful moments of bliss that I can recall.

I have not yet told my son of my neighbor/his surrogate grandfather's passing, he's currently dealing with the flu so I decided to wait, like the coward that I am. That's the only thing I'm not good at, is telling him about death. When his fishes died several years ago, some of you may recall how I told him they went on vacation to Florida to visit family. When we were planning for our Disney vacation this past August he insisted on visiting his fish to try and talk them into coming home. Sweet I know, but do you think I told the truth. I started to, but caved in at the sight of quivering lips. But this time I have no choice but to share the sad news and help him through his own grief. My neighbor was a wonderful caring grand-father figure that was teaching my son different languages, music and art. He was a sculptor and an artist. Recently I had been enjoying tea time with him in the afternoons. What I will miss the most is being able to share the little simple things that I used to come across and read and our discussions about art, literature and politics. I was so looking forward to our discussion on Heinlein and Rand this coming week and on Tocqueville the week after.

So there you have it. All of it. I have not yet lost my mind, though I'm sure a few people thought I did. Thanks to those of you who sent messages of support. Just know that you helped to ease my grieving process by being with me in spirit. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I don’t know when I’ll write again. Just know during my quiet moments that I’m doing my best to heal. In the meantime, what’s come of all this is local bloggers extending themselves to me and inviting me to “meet-up” in the Summer. There’s a Renaissance Festival in Troy, NY and Celtic Festival in CT where a few bloggers will get together. Which is nice, I have something fun to work towards and look forward to for when this dark cloud lifts and my leg heals. I did need something to gear my healing towards in the near future and an invitation to a dinner/dance in April helped enormously. Again, thank you all for your support, your kind thoughts and words have really helped during this time!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Out of my Depth

Colin here… writing a post for rhe injured Michele. 

As some of you may remember, I was a guest blogger awhile back until I was banished to Siberia by the beautiful Michele for violating her blogging guidelines. This time I return having been forgiven but with much consternation over Michele.

Michele and I have worked together in one professional capacity or another since late 2004 and as a result I’'ve had the opportunity to get to know her a bit on a personal level. Having redeemed myself, I’'ve been on my best behaviour and have been supportive during her recent physical challenges. However, in the last 2 days she’s undergone a radical change and I truly don’t know what to attribute it to or what to do to help her. When it comes to dealing with emotions, either mine or someone else’s, I'’m truly out of my depth. Perhaps if I explain what happened recently someone out there might understand and be able to guide me as to what to do to help her.

A few days ago, we agreed that I would pick her up on Sunday for lunch and afterwards drop her off at church. When I didn'’t receive a call-back Sunday morning I went to her apt. to make sure she was okay. What I found was someone who was the total opposite of the cheerful, vibrant woman I know. She was altered in both mind and spirit. After a great deal of coaxing she finally allowed me to drop her off to visit a friend she said she needed to talk to. To my surprise she guided me to a cemetery about an hour from her home. Over her objections I told her I would stay and wait as it threatened rain at any moment. Before leaving the car she asked me to promise that no matter what I would not get out of the car. I did and gave her an hour before I interrupted.

Ever so slowly, limping and hobbling along, she made her way through the graves and stopped before one with a large gray headstone about 30 feet away. She stood there for a moment and while holding onto the headstone knelt down on her good knee and leaned forward letting her forehead touch the headstone in a gentle and loving way. From where I sat I could see her lips moving as if in prayer. At one point she lifted her head slightly, just enough to kiss the stone. and then pressed her cheek against it and extended her arms like a christ-like figure, almost as if trying to hug and hold the headstone.

A steady drizzle began falling and just when I thought she would finally return, she instead carefully laid her body down on the wet grass. Not knowing what to do, and constrained by my promise, I lowered the car window and called out asking: "Are you okay?" After a minute, in which I was on the verge of running to her, I received a text message saying simply “yes”. There she lay immobile on that wet grass under a cold rain for almost half hour in which I knew she would be soaked to the bone. A long while later, when a torrential downpour began to fall, I felt I had to do something. Getting out of the car I ran to her side and asked her if I could help her get up. While I waited for a response I saw that her eyes were tightly shut. In looking at the headstone I recognized the picture as one of her deceased friends. Without asking again I picked her up and carried her back to the car, placing her gently in the seat. As I closed the door I saw her eyes were still closed and tears were steadily streaming down her cheeks.

When I turned on the ignition to engage the heating system my cd player turned on automatically and played “Far Away” by Nickelback, one of her favorite bands. As I reached to turn the music off she stopped my hand and said, "Please"” in a haunting pained voice that was just above a whisper. Her level of desolation is something I have never experienced in anyone. She began to sob silently while I sat there not knowing what to do nor knowing what to say and feeling pretty damned angry for it too. As a man, there has never been a time in my life that I can recall feeling so utterly helpless. Men are programmed to spring into action and fix things in order to save the day, not to sit quietly by, watching helplessly as women cry.

I eventually leaned over and put my hand on her shoulder, squeezing it to let her know I was there for her. I asked if there was anything I could do? Anyone I could call? But she just shook her head. Just as I was growing wild with desperation over her sobbing I asked if I could just give her a hug. When she didn'’t respond I simply pulled her towards me and embraced her as tightly as I could. Her body shuddered from the deepest sob I'’ve ever heard. It truly broke my heart seeing her this way and knowing there was nothing I could do to lessen her pain.

I held her for a very long time until her sobs subsided. She eventually pulled away to lean back in the car seat and through small heaves of tearful gasps said “thank you”. I pleaded with her to please give me something to do, no matter how small or insignificant, that might help in some way to make her feel better, for I felt totally impotent. That’s an awful feeling to have while facing someone in pain. When she was finally calm enough to speak, she turned to me and said “pray” which was followed by a huge mournful sigh.

“"Pray?”" I asked, not recalling having ever prayed in my life. 

"“Pray."” she said earnestly. 

After a long pause I confessed to her that “I don’t know how to pray.” Then I asked her, "Does “God listens to the prayers of unbelievers?"” 

“"God listens to all,… especially sinners."” And silent tears began to fall once again.
“"That’s it? Just pray?”" I asked again to make sure that’s what she really wanted from me and to get her to focus on our conversation rather than her thoughts and pain.

“"Pray,"” she said looking at me with the saddest face I’ve ever seen on her.
After a long pause, I asked, "“How?"” She reached over and with great effort turned off the music. She then clasped her hands, bowed her head and taking a deep breath said, "“Dear God,”" pausing for a moment to steady her emotions that were once again welling up inside, "“please help Michele heal & become whole once again. Amen.”" 

She looked up at me encouragingly, so I followed her lead and repeated the same words.” After another long pause I asked, "“Is that all I can do?”" 
"That’s all anyone can do for me right now"” she said trying to breathe through her unsettled emotions.   
We drove back the entire way in total silence, which to be honest I welcomed over the crying. I made her promise to call if she needed anything but all she said was “just pray”. I still can’t see how this prayer business works and how it can actually help her, so I’m turning to you, her readers (especially the women), to guide me and tell me what I can really do to help. She doesn’t want to talk about it, so I’m not going to press, but I welcome any advice or suggestions on how I might help because I have no clue as to what to do. If you think of anything, please email me. In the meantime, I’'ll keep updating everyone as to how she’s doing. 

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