Cluster of wheat image Grapes and vines image Cluster of wheat image
June 21st, 2017

TIME OUT FOR LIFE

Anything that results in all input and no thought, be it radio, computer, romance novels, Facebook, or whatever, can be mind-numbing. TV may be more seductive than most, involving less effort and more seduction.  It has been seriously suggested that the best way to conquer a nation from the inside would be to have a TV in every room and gradually lower the moral caliber of what it offers. Clearly TV has been pushing the envelope with ever-increasing obscenity, violence, and immorality. A constant diet of junk food is not good for us, whether it be on the tube or on the table.

Perhaps you can tell.  I am going through TV withdrawal and it has come to this!  I am thinking, and analyzing, and writing about my experience.  i am getting in touch more often with friends and relatives. The books I read certainly have more substance than the average TV program.  I am cleaning out the nooks and crannies of my house and of my mind.  (Strange stuff in there!)

I came across a quote from Abraham Joshua Heschel:  “The Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor.  The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.”

Whatever you want to call it – Sabbath, Lent, retreat – consider some tome out for the sake of life.  As Aristotle said, “Man, by nature, desires to know.”  But we can’t know everything and needn’t know most things.  If we first know ourselves, we can better make our life choices.  Turn off the TV awhile.  Put away the smart phone.  See how funny it feels.  See how addicted you were.  And see what you’ve been MISSING!

 

May 23rd, 2017

WHY SUFFERING?

I came across this article going through “old stuff” to throw out, published in 1968 in Our Sunday Visitor.  (Is that still around?)  Thought I would have already put it on my blog but apparently not.  Back then you had to go to a place with a copying machine in order to make copies.  I’m glad I did.

AH, MUST THOU CHAR THE WOOD?

The fact of suffering is inescapable. We have but to look around and see the woman who can bear no children or the woman who cannot bear the children she has,  the man without a woman, the man with a woman, the victims of earthquakes or earaches, of indigestion on the one hand or starvation on the other.  Examples can be multiplied indefinitely.  If we have not personally had much to suffer we may well ponder the fact that we are not long for this world and that no one gets out of it alive.  I gives us food for thought.

But suffering does not present for the atheist the problem that it does for the Christian.  Oh, the atheist suffers all right, as intensely as anyone else.   He casts about for ways to avoid suffering, to alleviate suffering, or to endure it.  He can look for the silver lining if he wishes, opine that it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good, or philosophize that that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  But that;s about all the philosophizing he can do.  His lot is quiet desperation, quiet resignation, or not-so-quiet rebellion, depending on his mood.

It is only the person who believes there is a rational order in the universe who is entitled to ask the reason for suffering.  What purpose does it serve? It is only the person who believes that God is, and that God is good, who has to ponder why that good God permits the innocent to suffer and the evil to prosper.  The “why” of suffering has been a stumbling-block of Christians for ages.

The thalidomide baby . . . why?  The boy-soldier in Vietnam . . . why? Why do they suffer for someone else’s stupidity or cupidity?  Atheist and Christian alike can blame a drug for as the immediate cause of the thalidomide baby’s deformity.  But what about the final cause?  Where does this hapless creature fit into the Creator’s scheme of things?

“If God is good,” the cynics ask, “why does he permit suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent?  “Is that the way a loving father acts?” If we pause to think about it, we realize that, in fact, it often is.  The small child does not now understand why the attractive insect he is about to grasp is snatched away from him.  He cannot comprehend why the answer is “No!” when he pleads for something he is better off without. He does not know why he is made to do things he does not want to do and is punished for doing things he wants to do.  Someday, when he is more mature, he will understand why his parents treated him the way they did.  For the present he must accept his frustrations, pain, and denials because someone who loves him knows they are necessary for his growth and happiness.

The wisest of men is but a baby when it comes to fathoming the designs of a God who can “write straight with crooked lines”and has ordered all things to the good.  It is immediately apparent that there is no direct proportion between sin and suffering, at least in this life.  Rather, if there is any proportion at all, it seems to be inverse.

St.Teresa is reported to have chided God, telling Him it was no wonder He had so few friends, he treated those he did have so badly.  When the blind man in the Bible asked Christ who had sinned, the man or his parents, so that he was born blind, Christ gave the answer:  It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.  There, in a nutshell, we have it.  Suffering is permitted so that the works of God may be made manifest.

From all eternity God has foreseen that the operation of natural laws and man’s freedom of choice would result in suffering.  The laws of nature are going to result in disaster when two cars hit head-on or the climatic conditions are right for a tornado.  Man’s freedom of choice is going to result in his occasionally behaving in such a manner as to grieve his fellow man.

There is no evil, however, no matter how great, that does not fit into God’s overall plan and from which He cannot draw good.  The suffering of others presents an opportunity for us to love and to serve.  Our own suffering should be looked upon as a test, not a punishment.  It will help if we can  believe with St. Teresa that from the viewpoint of eternity out life on earth will seem as but one night in a bad inn.

Suffering can bring about an opening of the heart, an awareness of the trials of others and a compassion for them.  It can soften and mellow.  It can disclose hidden strengths as well as weaknesses, reveal depths of courage and wells of kindness.  In the wake of seeing how poorly we suffer, how petty and demanding we can be, we learn tolerance for the complaints and imperfections of others.

Suffering reveals us to others and others to us.  It can bring us to our knees –we who stood so straight and self-sufficient find that we need others and God.  When the trial has passed the person might say, “It was necessary that I should suffer in order that I might learn this.”  Though he would not want to go through his ordeal again, now that it is over he considers it a valuable experience.

Suffering strips us of illusions, revises our standards of value, and often results in the replacement of old values with an entirely new set.  To quote Veuillot, “Certain things cannot be seen except with eyes that have wept.”

I believe it was Bishop Fulton Sheen who said that on the way to sanctity suffering is first endured, then accepted, then embraced.  Christians are enjoined to take up their cross and follow Christ.

Is suffering, then, a good and even a necessary thing–an unavoidable means to our eternal happiness?  If so, perhaps we would be doing others a favor by being the occasion of their suffering.  Instinctively we know that is not so.  There is plenty of suffering to go around without our deliberately doling out unnecessary pain.  We not only shrink from suffering ourselves but feel an urge to alleviate suffering in others when we are confronted  by it.

We have not been told to make each other suffer,  rather love one another.  We recognize suffering for what it is, an evil.  We feel it is right that we are told to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, visit the sick, visit prisoners, and otherwise comfort the afflicted.

It was also Bishop Sheen who made the statement that the world is full of half-crucified souls.  These are the people who start out willing enough to accept God’s will but find the going rough and end up saying, “Thy will be done, O Lord, — but not now, and not like this.”  “My cross is not the right kind, it rubs in the wrong places; it makes me irritable and humiliates me.  I could bear another cross with much more dignity and courage.”  Or, “My cross is not the right size.  Really, it is much too small.  I could do with a good big, satisfying burden, but these multitudinous splinters!  They drive me to distraction. Their very pettiness makes me impossible.  Let me do the thing once and grandly–not, O Lord, a lifetime of niggardly trials upon trials, day after day.”  Or, my cross is too big, more than I can bear, it is a crushing soul-searing weight.  It overwhelms me, it is too much for anyone to accept.”

Then we remember that Christ voluntarily gave up His life on the cross, suffering intense spiritual anguish,  (“My God, my God, why has Thou forsaken me”)  as well as physical torture.  He has shown us the way.  “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me….”  Then, “Not my will but Thy will be done.”

We are invited to take up our crosses and follow Christ, to become other Christs, to share in His redemptive work.  Through Christ, united with Christ, the evil that is suffering has value.  This is what the saints recognized when  they desired to suffer.   To be Christ-like means to be willing to suffer for mankind.  “Greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friends.”  It is love that transforms the evil that is suffering into a redeeming force.  Accepted for love of God or fellow-man, suffering can become a thing of value.

It is human to shrink from suffering.  Even Christ did.  We need not go out of our way looking for a burden to bear.  It will come our way, sooner or later.  And when it does, if we look closely at our cross we will see that it is custom-made with our name on it.  It is designed to rub where it will hurt.  If it did not pain, if we could get used to it, it would cease to be across and it would not do the job.

The cross that is ours is master-minded exclusively for us to gradually wear away at our egocentricity, to abrade our pride, to make us not what we think we ought to be but what God thinks we ought to be.   We have but to submit to the process, to trust and “wait upon the Lord.”  With Mary we can say , “Be it done unto me….”  With Job, “Though He slay me, still will I trust in Him.”   And when we have surrendered  our will to God’s will, we find that God will not be outdone in generosity.  We receive more than we gave.  We have emptied ourselves only to be fulfilled.

Many years ago at retreat house near Chicago I chanced upon a few lines of poetry penned in the guest book by a previous visitor.  The lines were from Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven and were written above the signature of a man who made his retreat as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. They read:

“Ah must, Designer Infinite,

Ah must, Tho char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?”

With Thompson the writer seemed to lament the apparent truth that an instrument  that God could use for His work must first undergo fire.  In a similar metaphor another poet compared God to a sculptor and complains, “My God, Thy chisel hurts.”  The poet had put himself into God’s hands to be made into a thing of beauty but winces when His chisel chips away at the ugliness in which he is enmeshed.

For the atheist there can be no purpose in suffering.  It is simply an evil to be avoided if possible. For the Christian it is also an evil but when  this evil befalls us we can believe, and even sometimes see, that evil is only permitted by God because it cannot triumph.  God’s work WILL be done.

 

April 27th, 2017

THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK!

In 1979 I sent the following offering to Erma Bombeck, hoping she would publish it in her column.  She was kind enough to respond, telling me she was too insecure to use guest columnists.  Just found it (2017) so I guess I’ll publish it myself.

 

THE QUESTIONS THEY ASK!

There are times when I think of myself as a fairly intelligent individual–when I am talking to an adult, for example.  There are other times when I am convinced that I am a blithering idiot.  Like when I talk to my children.  This, I tell myself, is because adults generally discuss trivia whereas children concern themselves with eternal verities.

Katy, for example, is three years old and is having trouble with the concept of relativity.  One of her favorite questions is, “Mommy, is this tomorrow?”  “No, it’s today,” I used to answer automatically. “Oh,darn,”  she’d wail, stamping her foot.  “Why is it today?”

This is somewhat of a stumper, so I”d counter with, “Don’t you want it to be today?”

“No.”

“Why?”

“Other day you said tomorrow you’d take me to the dime store.”

By then I realize that truly today is yesterday’s tomorrow and that it is no longer tomorrow that we are going to the dime store but today. However I balk at putting it so lucidly to a three-year-old.   “You’re right,” I beam. “This is the day we go to the dime store.”

Now when Katy asks, “Is this tomorrow?”  I ask “Do you want it to be tomorrow?” and “Why?”  And if Katy wants it to be tomorrow, it usually is.  I have haunting doubts that I haven’t done much to put Katy wise to the metamorphosis of yesterday into today and tomorrow but I put them out of my mind, wondering if Einstein would have done better.

Terry, at 7, understands yesterday, today, and tomorrow perfectly and I have hopes that Katy will find out the same way (however that is).

Much to my dismay, Terry can read now, and there is no telling what she will ask next!  The other day she was boning up on her theology and came up with “Mommy, does God have only one eye?”  Well, right off I could tell this was going to be a doozy and tried to sidestep the issue with, “Why do you ask?”

“It says here that God has an all-seeing eye.”

“Oh,”I explain, “that just means that God can see everything that goes on all over the world.”

“Does he see with one eye or with two eyes?”

Apparently I hadn’t done a very good job of sidestepping.  I take the bull by the horns and reply, ‘As a matter of fact, God doesn’t have any eyes at all.  God is a spirit and you know a spirit has no body.”

“Can a spirit see without eyes?”   “Yes.”  “Why does it say God has an eye?”

Because people are so used to seeing with eyes that it is hard for them to understand that a spirit can see without eyes so they pretend that God sees with an eye but he really doesn’t” I lamely explain.

“Did Jesus have eyes:”

“Yes.”

“How many?”

“Two>”

“Well, Jesus is God.”

“Yes, “I sigh.  “Jesus is God the Son.  We were talking about God the Father.”  (She has learned in school that there are three persons in God, and if Sister says so, it’s so)

“Well, does God the Son have two eyes and God the Father only one?”

I had never heard the distinction between the Persons of the Trinity put quite like that and I am somewhat unnerved as my God the Father image is transformed into sort of an omniscient Cyclops.  Maybe they can do something for her at school, I hope, and comfort myself that the Trinity is, after all, a mystery.

The day came when I thought I could outsmart them.  Wendy, age 8, was musing on the nature of matter.

“Mommy,” she asked, “is air nothing?”

At last!  Here was my forte!  With complete confidence based upon a college degree in biochemistry I launched into an answer calculated to inform her, but good!

“No, air is not only something but it is a lot of things.  It is made up of gases such as nitrogen and oxygen (that’s what our bodies use when we breathe) and carbon dioxide (that’s what we breathe out) and water vapor and small amounts of other gases.   Gases are made up of invisible parts called molecules.  Molecules are composed of even smaller parts called atoms, and atoms are made up of even smaller parts called protons, electrons,neutrons, and so forth.. Think of it,”I said,” as I warmed to my subject and sought to impress upon her the wonderful tininess of these ultimate bits of matter.  “In a single thimbleful of air there are as many teeny-weeny particles as here are people in the whole world!”

“You mean,” she asked, oh, the wide-eyed innocence of her, “Do you mean that every time a baby is born, another little thing jumps into the thimble?”

Now, I ask you!

March 16th, 2017

A Day In Prison

It is almost thirty years since Operation Rescue, the largest civil rights movement in the history of our nation, was in full sway. People are alive today who were “rescued” back then when other people sat down and prayed in front of abortion mills. I remember some of the happenings in the following letter but I did not know the letter existed until now and I was going through some old papers. When Dolores and I went to King of Prussia, PA, and on to Paoli, PA, back in July of 1989 we were apparently helped by Pat and Jack. I’m glad I thought to thank them because I’m able to post at this late date what it was like for one day in West Chester County Prison way back in 1989,

October 18, 1989

Dear Pat and Jack,

Dolores and I want so much to thank both of you and Mrs. Toland for your kindness in putting us up overnight and shepherding us through the “going to jail” procedure. It is so true that when we follow the Lord he gives us many more brothers and sisters and we are blessed many times over. All told, it was a truly great experience and we would not have missed it. Actually, while we were glad to get out into the pouring rain we would have liked to have stayed longer to get to know better some of the other inmates. Because you did not know exactly what we would encounter in jail, I am going to try to get down some of it for the benefit of potential future inhabitants of that fine facility known as Chester County Prison (but I can only speak for the female side.)

First off, there were about 30 women and 800 men housed, of course, separately. When we entered we were patted down and then filled out intake papers, name, age, sex, pregnant?, on medication?, suicidal?, etc., etc. Then they loaded us down with two sheets, a scraggly but clean blanket, white T shirt, green overshirt and pants, and we went upstairs to our cell — about 7 x 9 feet with a barred door, toilet, sink, bunk beds, desk and seat, all quite firmly bolted in place, plus a window that looked out over a roof but also let in fresh air and we could see trees, fields, birds and sky. We then went down the hall where we stripped and were again searched (open your mouth, lift up your boobs, turn around, bend over and cough, show me the soles of your feet.) That done, our head hair and our pubic hair were sprayed with some smelly stuff and we were given a bar of soap to shower hair and body. (It seemed to me a rather perfunctory delousing — I doubt that procedure would have killed anything.) We were allowed to put on our own underwear, socks, and sneakers, and then the prison apparel. Then to lunch. We were late for lunch but they had saved us two hot dogs, bread, baked beans, chicken noodle soup, juice and milk. We could easily get fat on prison fare! I forgot to mention that we had not brought in combs and toothbrushes and they didn’t issue any so our hair looked pretty unkempt for the 24 hours we were in jail. We were told we could have brought these things in with us.

After a brief period locked in our cell we went to the day room (same as dining room) where the other girls were playing cards and watching TV. (Do I recall that you folks supplied the games? They had chess and checkers and cards and seemed to prefer playing cards to watching TV.) They also had MTV which Dolores thought was not a good idea as she terms it “provocative.” I plan to write a letter very soon to one of the girls I was able to talk with who won’t be getting out until next March. Some have been there two years or more. They were friendly and eventually invited us to join in a game of Rummy. One girl, Karen, came over and introduced herself, saying that she had robbed a bank last week.

Supper was chicken salad, bread, macaroni salad, iced tea, celery and carrot sticks, pickles, and a huge piece of chocolate cake. After supper were asked if we would like to go to the library, which we declined, having brought reading material in with us. Then came an interview with the nurse’s assistant with blood pressure, pulse, temperature, medical history, have you been in jail before? (they said lots of us answered “Atlanta”) and we were told they were going to take our blood to test for venereal disease. I asked if they did HIV and they said no. They never did get around to taking our blood!

Then back to the dayroom until 11 PM. (if you wish) and then lights out. You have no control over the light in your room, an overhead light that goes on at 5:30 A.M. whether you like it or not, out during the day, and then on again until 11 P,M. Some time on the first day, I forget exactly when, we went downstairs to have our pictures taken, with our prison number, and fingerprints (more than you could imagine they could possibly need). And so to sleep.

After breakfast the next day (pancakes and syrup, cereal, coffee, milk – you are allowed 20 minutes to eat a meal and only a spoon to eat it with. Then they brought the cleaning stuff around. I had thought the windows in our cell were mighty clean and now I knew why. Twice a week you wash down your door, dry mop the floor and then wet mop it, brush out and sanitize the toilet, scrub the sink and Windex the windows. Good clean place! No vermin! Next came the opportunity to go out in the yard for two hours (on bad days one goes to the gym) . Big yard, nice grass, basketball and baseball for those so inclined, or just walk or jog around. It started to rain so we came back to the dayroom where we were again patted down. A black girl cried out, “That greyhaired lady has a hacksaw! She asked me if I had found one. I told her I couldn’t but I had tried.

In between all of these things I had time to read a book. I plan to write to my fellow inmates very soon. Somehow, deep down, it was a very good experience and we are richer for it. They let us out promptly at 11 A.M. the second day. The trip home through New York traffic at rush hour was harder to take than jail.

God bless you all and your work. May you grow and multiply. What do you think of Hugo in Charleston, Jerry in Galveston, and the San Francisco earthquake while we were cussing out the New York traffic? What is this world coming to?

Love,

Dorothy Vining

P.S. They have a black chaplain whose last name is Christmas.

P.P.S. The C.O.s were decent and professional. None was obnoxious or unkind.

March 14th, 2017

I CAN’T REMEMBER

Just a sign to say I’m living, that I’m not among the dead,

Though I’m getting more forgetful, and more mixed up in my head,

For sometimes I can’t remember when I stand at the foot of the stairs

if I must go up for something, or I’ve just come down from there.

And before the “frig” so often my poor mind is filled with doubt –

Have I just put food away or have I cone to take it out?

And there are times when it is dark out, with my nightcap on my head,

i don’t know if I’m retiring, or just getting out of bed.

So if it’s my turn to write you, there’s no need of getting sore,

i may think that I have written, and don’t want to be a bore.

Please remember I do love you, and I wish that you were here,

But now it’s nearly mail time so I’ll just say “Goodbye dear.”

………

There I stood by the mailbox, with my face so very red!

Instead of mailing you my letter, I opened it up instead!

             Writer unknown found among my papers.

March 14th, 2017

OVERLOAD! TIME OUT!

(Note:  As you can tell from the first paragraph, this little piece has been hanging around for years, waiting for me to find it again!)

According to Aristotle, “Man by nature desires to know”  but some of us desire to know the oddest things!  We think we need to know what Kelly Ripa will name her third baby. whether Kelly Osbourne, really can sing, and whether Kelly Clarkson will become an American idol.

We can learn all about the habits of meerkats, the worst storms in the past century, and the biggest man-made edifices in the world.  Perhaps if we absorb enough facts we can someday win on Jeopardy or Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  So called “reality” shows have a hook to reel us in and keep us tuning to a particular channel until  the final choice is made and the last loser leaves rejected.  Then we want to find out how each of them feels about what they experienced and how their lives are changed.

There is just so much to KNOW!  As soon as we come home from work the TV goes on, not because there is anything in particular we want to see but because there is probably something of interest to watch–to amuse us, to distract us, even once in a while to educate us.  It sometimes seems we will watch almost anything rather than to be thrown back on our own resources.  We’d much rather watch a bad sit-com than read a good book.

TV lures us, seduces us, feeds us millions of unrelated bits of information that we would never have searched out on our own.  Titillating tid-bits… entrancing escape hatches…mind-numbing commercials.  I’m told that information has increased a thousand-fold in the past century.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t begin to process it all.  We’re on information overload.

Many things are competing for our attention, pulling us this way and that.  If we don’t decide which way we want to go, who will?

March 13th, 2017

GONE ARE THE DAYS

I recently read an article that said, “Television is fast becoming anti-life….it certainly is anti-relationship.”  That’s  something to think about.  TV is anti-relationship in several ways.  It does not foster communication.  It is easier to reach for the remote than o reach out and touch somebody.  TV doesn’t show us wholesome, satisfying relationships.  They are, after all, so hum-drum.

I am old enough to remember evenings at home before TV.  Whatever did we do with all that time?  We read books and shared them = with real people.  We discussed plans for the next day or next year.  We did puzzles together or played board games and sang around the piano.  We actually did things with our hands – we whittled, knitted, painted, made clothes and toys,  knickknacks and doo-dads.  There were gardens to tend, livestock to care for,  We cooked and canned and quilted TOGETHER, a far cry from ordering a pizza to eat in front of the TV, each person absorbed in watching whatever happened to be on.

Our kids got to know us pretty well.  They knew what we thought and what we valued.  They heard stories about our younger days and we heard about their daily exploits.  In a word, we were “available” in a way that a parent engrossed in a TV program is not.  And kids were present to their parents in a way that kids in their own rooms with their own TVs and smart phones are not.

There was time for reverie, a lovely word for the aimless free-flow of ideas.   Idly watching the flickering flames of the fireplace is much more restful than trying to make sense of rapidly changing images on a TV screen.  Reminiscing, something we cannot do when entranced by the boob-tube, helps to give us perspective.

We know in our hearts that we need time apart to reflect, reconsider, reorder our priorities.  People go to the mountains or the seashore, retreats and hermitages to get in touch with their inner selves  to sort the gold from the glitter and ponder eternal verities.  At this time of the year many religions advocate a time apart from the worldly hub-bub.

What are you doing this year with your Lent?

 

March 12th, 2017

ORDINARY PEOPLE

I recently read an account of John  Philips, Ph.D. , described as a typical hard-driving man, very successful in his field, who at the age of 57 suffered a massive stroke which almost took his life and left him unable to speak.  He describes in detail his struggle to regain control of his bodily functions, then the ability to walk, and ultimately his efforts to regain speech.  What most impressed me was his statement at the end: “I have learned respect for ‘ordinary’  people. I didn’t recognize it at the time and I fought it every inch of the way, but in one blinding instant when I was stricken by stroke, I suddenly joined their ranks.  All of my influence and power, and three-quarters of my earning power,  were instantly drained away. And you know what?  I certainly would not have chosen the route but I kind of like being an ordinary person.  There are more real people here.”

People who are blessed with great beauty, great talent, or great intellect often tend to forget that they are exactly that – blessed.  They are ordinary people who have been gifted, through no merit of their own, with something extraordinary.  (When you think about it, you might actually consider beauty and brains as handicaps rather then blessings in that they may cause temptations to pride and tend one to waste one’s time seeking approval from persons other than God.)  At the other end of the spectrum are ordinary people who have suffered a deficiency,  a woundedness, again through no fault of their own.  Of these we might say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

We are not responsible for our genetic predispositions or the environment that shapes us.  We all have to play the hand we are dealt.  Most people are a funny mix of strengths and weaknesses.  Some have very visible strengths, others very visible weaknesses.  But, as the saying goes, there is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us, that it little behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.

It is well nigh impossible to guess where anyone might rank on God’s scorecard.   Some saints have worked miracles, levitated, received the stigmata and have done great works.  Others have been notable only for their ordinariness.  The life of Therese of Lisieux was so unimpressive that another Sister in her convent wondered out loud what they could write about her when she died.  In 1997 she was elevated to the status of Doctor of the Church. Her “little way” of sanctity was enough.

One hears about”self-made” people.  Surely one can work and practice to hone one’s abilities, but the abilities themselves are gifts.  We are not self-made, we had nothing whatever to do with our existence or our aptitudes.  We say that people are “inspired” to write a sonata. sculpt a David, investigate outer space, and so on.  The very meaning of “inspiration” is something that is “breathed in” as from an outer source.  Life itself is a gift.  Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God.  THAT is what makes every human being worthy of love and respect, not the marvelous things he may be capable of doing.

It is a humbling thing to realize the underneath we are like all the rest,  pilgrims on a difficult journey.  “The Colonel’s lady and Molly O’Grady are sisters under the skin.”   All too soon beauty fades, powers wane, and we prepare to leave the world as naked and helpless as we entered it.  Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about “the unaccountable tenderness” he felt for strangers in the street, fellow travelers on spaceship earth, each with unknown and unsuspected trials and loneliness.

However ordinary or extraordinary our lives may seem, when we do what we are called by God to do we not only fulfill ourselves but fill others==with truth, with beauty, with healing, with love, with food, with comfort, with insight–with whatever gift we have been given to give.  Whether we are ordinary or extraordinary in the eyes of the world, what difference does it really make?  In the final analysis, after we have finished our earthly pilgrimage, there will be only one question of importance.  How much, how well, did you love?

January 5th, 2017

SCIATICA AND ME

Let me tell you about me and my sciatica! As you may know, the sciatic nerve is the biggest, longest nerve in your body.  It was three years ago that sciatic pain down my right leg first began,  At first I just walked through it but as it grew worse sought the advice of the neurologist I had previously worked ftor, Dr. Jan Mashman.  He ordered an MRI, physical therapy, gave me medication, and emphasized NO back surgery.  The MRI showed L5 spondylolisthesis, and the meds I stopped after two days, they made me feel so weird.  The physical therapy for several weeks was lackluster so not very helpful.

Eventually I saw an orthopedist to see about the possibility of steroid injections for pain relief. The facilities and treatment were top-notch but after the ten days wait there was no improvement.  A couple of months later Dr. Southern was willing to try it again, with a couple of extra injections thrown in, but once again, no improvement.

Over this time I had been prescribed Lidocaine patches and had tried every over-the-counter pain med (Aleve, Tylenol. Blu-Emu, Aspercreme with Lidocaine, SalonPas, etc.) which helped minimally.  Also hot pads and cold packs for nighttime pain.  Fortunately nights were for the most part without pain after a half- hour or so in bed.

i had begun to reach the point where I figured I’d have sciatica for the rest of my life.  It was painful – quite – if I stood upright for over five minutes but I worked around that and did pretty much, everything I really wanted to do.  No walks down the street, no wandering in stores, but with a shopping cart a brief visit to shop for essentials was possible. I could go out for lunch or for a short drive.  I told myself it could be a lot worse.  I didn’t have plaque psoriasis, or cystic fibrosis, or hemorrhoids!

My sister, Dolly, told me her son, Ken, had back pain which was treated with radio frequency ablation which quelled the offending nerve for quite a time and why didn’t I look into that?  She offered to go with me to see my doctor when she came to Connecticut for her class reunion and I made an appointment to do that.. Dr. Hermantin didn’t think much of the idea for the sciatic nerve, saying I wouldn’t be able to raise my foot.  But he did bring up the thought of minimally invasive spinal surgery, a one day procedure, to remove whatever it was that was annoying my sciatic nerve.  It would require general anesthesia and approval by my internist and by my medical coverage.  A date was given for October 31, but as his secretary said, it’s not “set in stone.” “Why spend the rest of your life in pain? Sis said. At 93, how much rest of life are we talking about?

After an EKG and blood work, I was cleared for surgery!  And ConnectiCare agreed on insurance coverage!  Surprise!  Sister Dolly was left with the worry that if I died or it made me somehow worse it would be on her.  I asked our priest for prayers for the seriously ill, just in case.  Daughters Mary, a nurse, and Terry, quite medically savvy, would take me to the hospital.  It all went as planned.  I do not recall the anesthesia taking effect.  I do not recall being in recovery. I later learned that Mary had dressed the top of me, and Terry the bottom,  Mary got on Facebook posting “Mom’s out of surgery and in recovery” , “Mom’s going home,” and then “Mom’s home.”

God bless Mary who planned to stay the night with me.  I had pain medication (Tramadol 50 mg) to take and instructions as to what I could and could not do.

My post-surgery instructions read:  Unlimited walking and stair climbing.  Limit sitting to 20-30 minute intervals, usually before and during meals.  Limit car-riding, short distances with brace or corset on. Have someone check your incision for signs of infection.  Wear support stockings until first post-op visit in two weeks.

DON’T – bend or twist at the waist.  DON’T  Lift any item more than 10-15 pounds over your head.   Don’t druve a car.      Call physician for pain, redness, drainage, temperature greater than 101.5 in one day.

Spent the first night coughing, with sore throat as the result of intubation.  And burping.  Apparently the anesthesia annoyed my GI tract and things were not digesting well.  I had to sit up each time I burped – which was often. I could get up to go to the bathroom and to get something to eat.  My incision, only about two inches long, had been glued together and covered with steristrips.  Mary told me the incision was healing and I was doing well.  I did not feel well.  After three days I was able to  stop the pain meds.  Took a shower on the third day which wiped me out.  Had a bowel movement the fourth day!  Mary wanted to go home to her bed.  I did not want to be left alone.  Terry came for two nights  and then I was home alone.  Thank God son Dan and his family live right next door and were a continuing source of comfort and support.  I am so blessed to have these people in my life!

I couldn’t put  on my own socks or pick up anything dropped on the floor.  I would sweep the floor and leave the pile of dirt for someone else to pick up.  I couldn’t bend to get things from the freezer.  Eventually I found I could put on my shoes if I lay on my back with my feet in the air!  Finally we went for my two week follow-up.  I told the PA that I was still old, I was still slow, but something was missing.  THE PAIN!  I was almost afraid to say it!  The pain was gone!  After three years!

Now I had to try to get back some strength and stamina.  These things don’t automatically reappear when pain disappears, especially after three years.  The first set-back was a tooth extraction for a lower tooth that had been loosening for months.   Who needs this kind of stress?  Unfortunately the rest of my lower teeth are progressively loosening and will have to be removed soon.  I had been thinking I might die before it came to this.  But here we are.

My two-month post-surgery check up with Dr, Hermantin, the doer of the deed, is scheduled for the end of December. In the meantime I have discovered that YouTube contains many videos on spine surgery, physical and occupational therapy after spine surgery, and first hand reports of those who have undergone spine surgery.  It would have been helpful to have seen some of these before I was operated on.  For instance, I would have purchased a “grabber” and made better plans for aftercare.

I finally saw my surgeon on January 4th.  He was happy to hear me report that since the operation I’ve had no hint of sciatica, not in the butt, not in the calf, not in the foot!  At its worst the pain went down the whole leg with little darts of fiery pain in the foot.  NO MORE,

Unfortunately, my minimally invasive spine surgery (partial removal of middle spine bone) cured the sciatica but did not make me younger.  Still I have much to be grateful for – a good surgeon and and family that could not have been more helpful!  It is time to give thanks!

 

 

 

November 7th, 2016

PRISONER FOR LIFE

Over 20 years ago the 19-year-old man who killed my daughter was sentenced to prison for life.  Ten years after the sentencing I began to wonder if he was still there and found that I was able on my computer not only to access his record but get an address and a inmate number.    I thought if I wrote to him,  if he would answer,  perhaps I could get some insight on how it all happened, what actually went down.  I had not attended the trial, had never seen him.  What sort of person was he?  The grieving had quieted and curiosity was on the rise.

We have been corresponding now for over ten years.  His letters, of course, are all in longhand, and somewhat difficult to read as his handwriting is rather angular.  His grammar is excellent as is his spelling.  I’m learning a little about him.  Over the years I sent him four books.  The first was Dave Wilkerson’s THE CROSS AND THE SWITCHBLADE, about Wilkerson’s  venture into the gang culture in New York, a truly amazing book about how God can work in young men on the wrong side of society.  It might resonate with him, I thought.

As I began to get hints that he had been raised Catholic I decided to send him THE SONG OF BERNADETTE by Jewish author  Franz Werfel which had so impressed me when I first read it in 1942.  Until this day people by the thousands continue to visit the grotto in Lourdes where the child Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary who spoke the remarkable words “I am the Immaculate Conception,”  words which Bernadette could not herself understand.  Miracles continue to be documented there.

My third book was by Ben Carson which I sent when the presidential election got underway.  Ben, a famous black neurosurgeon wrote his book GIFTED HANDS long before he had ever considered running for president.  It is his life journey as a Christian and a doctor, and I thought other prisoners, especially black ones, might enjoy it too.

The last book was a recent publication by Eric Metaxas called MIRACLES.  Do they still occur? Why does Eric believe in them?  If you are not familiar with Metaxas just google”Eric Metaxas Prayer Breakfast” to view his very humorous, very touching talk about his faith journey after which he has the audacity to lead the group in Amazing Grace–in the presence of the Obamas!

So, here we are now.  No one in my family is interested in this correspondence.  They think that everyone “finds God” in prison and it means nothing.  I have saved the many letters he wrote me and am going to leave them to the children whose mother’s life he took.

I close with a quote from his last letter;

I read a quote from Solzhenitsyn from the book you bought for me.  “Miracles, What They Are, Why Then Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life” by Eric Metaxas.  There’s a line from a famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl who was in the Nazi death camps. He wrote, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how.'”  I am reading Miracles again, my fourth time.  And Ive learned something more every time.  I got a highlighter and have marked all types of things. The first time I read it I liked the second part best, but now I’m leaning more to the first part.  I wanted to get “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life.  For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe but the maturity of the human soul.” tattooed on my shoulder blade with a prison wall in the background and have rays of light coming from up above BUT I promised my sister no more tattoos so I just carry a piece of paper with these words around with me. I have it on the back of my Prisoner Identification Card. I hope that your son gets the same feeling I do when you read that to him.  Ms. Dorothy, you are the main reason I’ve had all of the changes in my life and the way I look at things now.  Thank you.  Thank you for writing to me back in 2005 and letting me know how you prayed for me.  Even though I am in prison you helped me gain a freedom that people in society sometimes never experience.  I know God has plans for me.  He can make ANYTHING happen as long as we have Faith. Have you ever sat down and daydreamed about what it would have been like to walk with Jesus when he was here on Earth?  Years ago I would never have stepped out of the boat and into the water when He called.  Now I’d jump and run across the water.  Do you ever wonder why Jesus never had any children?  I know I’m God’s child but you know what I mean.  I’d like to be able to sit down with one of those Bible scholars and ask him or her all of the questions that float around my head.  Who knows, maybe some day I can use a computer and do all of that.

 

There is a possibility that this prisoner’s sentence may be somehow commuted in the near future, subsequent to a new law relating to sentencing of minors for life.  He has been appointed a lawyer and there has been some action relevant to reviewing his case.

I post all this because there is no sin so grievous that a repentant soul cannot be forgiven by God.  Jesus told us to pray “forgive us our trespasses as we have forgiven those who trespass against us.”

Please pray for us.