Monday, January 13, 2014

New Man

I feel like a new man.

This, from the mouth of a shelter-dwelling man who maybe hadn't showered in a week.  When I ran upstairs to get some gloves with which to remove some the old bandages from the arm of another man, his odor rose up the stairs with me, like unwanted company. 

He brought with him a giant cookie cake from the soup kitchen next store.  The friars had baked goods to give away.  One man came into the clinic with an ice cream cake.  Eat it quickly, we told him, laughing at the rich absurdity of it, even in the chilly weeks approaching the official start of winter.  I guess I'd better have a party, he said.  You want a piece?

I stashed the cookie cake in a back room though the official policy is to not be responsible for other people's property.  Too many people in and out, too many things to keep track of.    After he showered and put back on the same clothes, with a new old sweatshirt that came from the supply closet, I gave him back his cookie cake. 

I feel like a new man.

I like to talk about the clinic, and I don't.  I like to talk about some of the things I see, because they're so outrageously unbelievable and heartbreaking.  Even after all the reading that can be done about addiction and homelessness and the underserved.  It is still so unbelievable.  But I also don't like to give anyone any reason to tell me that I'm doing a good thing. 

No.  I slide into and out of that world with an ease that is almost unforgivable.  I drive in, in a safe car that locks and has heat, and I drive out in the same one, as clinic patrons head back to the streets or a shelter, with new prescriptions or instructions or with tokens or bus fare to head to the ER, because their blood sugar is so high that it doesn't register on the glucometer.  It only flashes, "HI," "HI", "HI," and they have ketones in their they're acidotic and probably need insulin hung. 

I feel like a spectator.  And I am.  Despite the blood pressure cuff I wraps around this man's arm, or the disposable thermometer I put in that woman's mouth, or the flu shot I administer to this man, and this woman. I try not to be a spectator, I pray to not be one, but I am. 

The real work, the nuts and bolts, is done by the nurse practitioners who run it.  They have formed relationships, know most clients by name, know their stories, which could keep keep the average person up at night.  They fill out the forms, follow up, encourage, chide, refer, prescribe.  I read their notes when I can, trying to memorize how they document, the way nurses do, their assessments. 

I feel like a new man.

I carry this home with me, into a world with the stress of looking for a full-time nursing job, my first one since graduating with a BSN.  I can get lost in my own world, some worries petty, some anxieties real.  I carry it around like a laptop bag: there are so many compartments into which I can slide this worry or that one.  Despite all my perspective, which I've been generally good at recognizing and embracing, I still struggle with it. 

I see his smiling face carrying his cookie cake out the door.  Adios, he calls. 

At home, it's warm inside and my dog jumps on me and my kids call out to me.  The kitchen is a mess and normally I'd roll my eyes and sigh.

I feel like a new man. 

His words hang over me, like an admonishment or a prayer, I'm not sure which.  Like something from the merciful mouth of Christ himself.  I can't begin to explain this to my family, so I just sit in the warmth and in the light and in the company of those I love. 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I recently had to attend a support group for people with depression and bipolar illness.  It was for school and my psychiatric rotation, and I chose it in part because it was an area I am intimately familiar with.  But as I looked around at all those drawn faces, I found I wanted to gather them all up to form our own running club.  "Listen," I'd say.  "Running cures everything.  We can run and cry and laugh and feel the adrenaline surge...and we can get better.  C'mon!  Lace up, let's go!"

When I run, I forget everything.  I am lost in this turbulent sea of breath and blood.  It is heaven.  When I can't run, like on a slippery, snowy day like today, I feel a little bit like screaming.  I have to do something else, something indoors, and it never feels quite sufficient.  And as it goes, I did some crazy strength-training workout and now I cannot turn my head to the right, and sigh...

My feet on the pavement are a metronome.  I run up to the nearby cemetery and loop around it.  Sometimes it is empty, and it's just me and the birds, squirrels and groundhogs...and several thousands souls.  Sometimes there are other walkers, runners, bikers.  Sometimes there are mourners.  During my run last week, I witnessed a group of people, heads down, circling a grave.  Further down the road, I saw an older man get out of his car and walk through the rows.  It was that hyperemotional time, when my hormones were dropping and disappearing, and I cried while I ran.  The body, though, has no additional room for any other act that makes breathing difficult.  So I stopped to walk and wipe my face and catch my breath.

I like to think that running in a cemetery makes me less scared of death.  My brother-in-law is buried in another cemetery, close to a statue of the Pieta.  In the aftermath of Newtown, I thought of all the mothers and fathers holding their children, like the bloodied Christ in Mary's arms.  There is no Pieta where I run, but there are crosses and Bible passages, and I feel a strange kind of love there.  Sometimes I say the names of the dead, people who've been gone for decades and decades, and I like to think they appreciate the nod and the heavy whisper.  I haven't forgotten them.  Some day, someone might say my name in the same way, or wonder about me.  What a weird and wonderful way to go on. 

Sometimes it is hard to see Christ in anything.  I know that he's always there, but still.  So much awfulness lately.  So much death and violence.  When I run, I am temporarily inoculated against it all.  There is just my heart working overtime and my feet going pound pound pound pound, and I know my running is like a prayer: faith and relief and joy and some sadness.  I believe in it.  I really believe in it. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

I'm Still Here

I was standing in the kitchen this morning, buttering an English muffin, when I had the powerful sensation that I simply had to attend Mass today.  I haven't been to church since July 22, when the Mass I had offered for my friend Tara was said.  And then before that, I hadn't been to church in quite some time.

So I did.  I got showered and dressed and brushed the slight hangover out of my mouth and drove through the rain to that beautiful building.

At Mass, I discovered the priest who had been removed during Lent 2011 was back.  I had read in the National Catholic Reporter that he had been found suitable for return to the ministry.  And I was thinking of him pretty much through the entire hour.  How it must have been to be removed and know what people are thinking of you, and then to return, and wonder what people think of you now?  But I'd hazard to guess that even that pain isn't but a fraction of what the abused child has to endure.


I didn't put anything in the offering basket.  I'll probably send a check to the LCWR.  Is it wrong that part of me hopes for a fracture?  For a schism?  Why can't I have my catholic cake and eat it, too? 

I feel wrapped up in the birth control mandate, and the fortnight for freedom, and what I interpret to be a power grab aimed at women religious. 

My Church continues to make me cry.  Really, not most of its people, but its bureaucracy.  Save for one now deceased Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who, in his final dying interview, implored the Church to change, or risk losing more and more parishioners. 

A few choice quotes from that interview: 

-"The Church is 200 years out of date.  Why don't we rouse ourselves?  Are we afraid?"

-"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous."

-"A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children."

-"The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation."

Sounds like a gracious man truly grappling with the role of the Church in the modern world.  I hope his voice continues to resonate.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

It's been over two months since Tara died.  Sometimes I think of that and I'm blown away. 

She was cremated.  Her remains stood in a box the the funeral home, surrounded by some pictures.  There were many, many people present, and her husband gave a wonderful eulogy.  As did her best friend.  All of this while her 3-year old daughter, a pixie of a thing, wound her way around everyone's calves as we stood listening.  Listening to words and to music.  And of course, everyone crying. 

Her final decline was rapid.  It's hard to think of someone's three-year fight against cancer and frame it in any way that it seems merciful.  But if there was one thing about it that was merciful, it was that she was transported to hospice on a Thursday evening, and had passed peacefully by 7:30 on Friday morning.


I did well for about half of Lent trying not to yell at my kids.  That was my 'sacrifice,' and believe me, if you have kids, it IS a sacrifice.  There is a lot of pleasure in yelling, "What in the name of God are you thinking?"  Or, "If I have to come up there..."  Or, "early bedtimes for all!" 

But, you know, sometimes it becomes too easy, and too natural, and one thing I try (very imperfectly) to keep in my mind is that Tara would want me to try to be gentle with my kids.  And everyone else.  I mean, sure, she'd probably agree that I need to give them holy hell every now and then, but really, why waste too much time with vinegar when honey can work too? 

Still, I started failing about three weeks in.  I should tell you that my kids gave up nothing for Lent.  They did chores for money, and sent the money in to a relief organization in Haiti called Hands Together.  You should have seen their faces when they got back a thank-you letter addressed to them. 


My kids and a friend of theirs had their own memorial service for Tara, which was disorganized and involved prayers I'd never heard of.  They dressed in black and held her funeral card and I had to stop myself from stopping them.  It seemed too morbid, but I knew they'd seen me upset and heard me talk about her, to David and to my friends, and they knew when she was still alive that she wouldn't be for long. 

Kids can have the most beautiful and tender hearts.  That's what they wanted to do, in a world that suddenly seemed to contain a diminished level of control.  So I let them. 


My eldest has been having a hard time at school, with one child in particular.  It has been stressing her out, and she's been displaying signs of anxiety at home.  Right around the time Tara died, I remember talking with Hannah about her classmate.  I told her, "I need you to stand up for yourself, but I will intervene if I have to.  I'll always be here for you." 

And she said to me, "Not if you die." 

And everything I had been trying to hold in came out like water from the Johnstown flood. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I Can't Possibily Title This

Do you believe in miracles?

Generally, I do, when I'm not feeling punchy or bitter or faithless. That is, sometimes I believe the hand of God, which is always present, directly intervenes. Stopping the persistent procession of cancer cells, or reversing brain damage; restoring hearing or bringing the clinically dead back to the land of breath and warmth.

This story seems to be one such miracle. When people begin to discuss organ donation, the outlook is pretty bleak. And when a neurosurgeon has no answer as to why a recovery as drastic as this took place, and actually uses the word 'miraculous,' well, I just have to go with it.

What I don't get is the why. Why are some people granted this affirmative answer to their fervent prayers? And why are some left to try to find the hand of God elsewhere, residing somewhere, though perhaps obscured, in the haze and mad swirl of grief?

I am praying for a friend. A lot of people are praying along with me. When I've visited her, we've had discussions that would normally make me crawl on the floor towards a corner, only to fall and wrap myself tightly into a fetal ball. I hold it together until I get into my car. I suspect a lot of the other people in her wide circle do the same.

Thus far, the answer to the biggest prayer has been no. And it is a no that I chase out of my brain, or drown out with another prayer. I entreat everyone I can -- St. Jude, St. Peregrine, the Mother of God herself -- to intervene. I call the saints, soft and ethereal in their watercolor robes, to petition Christ to reverse the irreversible. I call on Mary, sitting and mourning with Christ's body on her lap.

I am trying to turn that no into a yes. A lot of people are trying to turn that no into a yes.

I try to remember the biggest thing. That the soul survives death. Sometimes when I run, Alanis Morrisette reminds me to remember it: "How 'bout not equating death with stopping?"

But we're talking a young person. With a family. I don't know. The stakes are really high.

I also don't know how to conclude this. Except to say that the litany continues. And today, Thursday, the Luminous Mysteries. In reading about meditations on the Wedding at Cana, we can think about how "no situation of human need is outside the scope of God's healing interest and care."

So in the direst of situations, the human need to be present as a flesh and blood mortal, I continue to speak and ask and plead.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Kind and Present

You might think that because I've been lax in updating that I've fallen victim to the subtitle of this blog. You might think that I've forgotten about God, and understandably so.

This, however, is not the case. I had grandiose ideas that I would attend weekday Mass a few times a week, but weekday Mass is at 8am, and I'm often just dropping my girls off at 7:55am, which would make me about 15 minutes late getting there. Either that, or I'm in stained sweats with coffee/morning breath, having yet to make myself presentable. I'd show up late, thinking the priest would rather have me tardy than not at all, but it's Father Don't Call Me By My First Name Because It's Too Familiar, and so I feel a bit awkward clicking the heels of my slip-ons down the tiled aisle. Click, Click, Click, Yes Father Surname, I'm late.

I have been there once on a Friday, and managed to be only 7 minutes late, but still, I like to be on time. This is almost fully within my control, so barring any meltdowns with my youngest, I should be able to remedy this. I believe it would be to my benefit. And my kids'.

I spent the summer seeing God in my children, primarily when they were asleep. I still see God in them when I peek in on them before bed. But it's hard to see God in my children first thing in the morning. It becomes slightly easier after a cup of coffee, but then becomes difficult again when they begin arguing at the breakfast table.

They're so beautiful, it cracks open my heart just a little bit, making a mess. Children can be achingly lovely one moment, and near demonic the next. It is the nature and challenge of parenting.

One of my most frequent prayers is to be kind and present for my children. Sometimes I'm cross with them. Short. Abrupt. And I catch myself, hopefully then, but sometimes not until later, and I say a prayer for help and guidance.

I am guilty of being that person that cannot wait to be doing something outside of this home. And it's not that I think there is anything wrong with wanting to contribute something to the world outside of the domestic realm. But I think I give short shrift to what I do here, and that includes my children, who I will one day let loose upon this world. Sometimes when I realize the enormity of that, it can quickly overwhelm me. We have so much to teach them, and if I want them to be loving, kind, compassionate women, I have to model that for them. In how I treat others, yes, but also how I treat them.

So it's my mantra. Kind and present. Kind and present. Kind and present.

Have I written before that I'm a better parent when attending Mass regularly? I probably have. I'm probably repeating myself. But it's true. Going to Mass makes me a better parent. I could write a series of blog posts on the reasoning behind this. To be the most concise about it all, the most succinct, I guess I would just explain it as a clean slate. There's no other place where I feel I can sufficiently rid myself of the week's detritus: failures and mistakes and sins.

Sometimes when I take Communion, I feel awash in love. If you know me, you know how hard it is for me to type something like that. I am sarcastic, cynical, negative, jokey. I am uneasy stating that. It is a soft feather to my rough edges.

I hope one day the girls feel the same thing. It may take them 30 years, and it may happen in another church or faith. That's completely cool with me. As long as they realize there is always a new chance and beginning. Always a place to try again. And always a massive love that exists as a guiding force.

It's so lovely outside today that I think I'll take them to the park after I pick them up from school. Because I also see God in them when they laugh. Sleeping and laughing. I'm still working on the rest in between.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Danieal Kelly

She was stuck to the bed of the room she died in. Bed sores infested with maggots. She was 14, with cerebral palsy, and 40-something pounds, having been starved to death by her mother, abandoned by her father, and forsaken by social workers.

Her mother is in jail. Her father is on trial.

And I want to know. Where was God in that room? Was he there? Did he talk to her, as her body metabolized itself, as her organs shut down?

Did he whisper that he loved her? That all would soon be love, and peace and light? That suffering was transient? That mourning would be replaced by laughter? That the kingdom of heaven would be hers?

I find myself struck that the universe can know one child, and another can be forgotten, discarded like trash. Did she at least know one Father, after having been left by the other?

I want to know this. I need to have this answered.

And I feel horrible for even asking it. Because I don't know where God is, and can't say for sure that even in the most deplorable conditions, He is absent. Who am I to say?

I am just someone who hopes that child was held and loved, that she sat in the arms of the Father or Mother, as she slipped from a life she didn't ask for into the eternal one that she deserved.