Fallen World

March 29th, 2020

Every morning I wake and I wonder if a certain young woman is still alive.

I go to her bedroom and peek in the door. I try to be silent. I look to see if she moves. I feel bad about invading her privacy, and don’t want to wake her, but I want to know that she is breathing. Once I see any motion, I leave her to continue her sleep. I relax just a little bit.

The young woman had a drug relapse on Friday, and I’m not quite over it. Neither is she. She’s had relapses before, and they are always traumatic. The episode itself is intense and loaded with adrenalin. The days afterward are like emotional hangovers. This latest event has long term consequences, including physical injury. This hangover will not go away any time soon.

For years and years, Karin and I belonged to a Bible study group. Almost everyone else in the group was some flavor of Baptist. They were all wonderful, loving people who espoused a truly wretched type of theology. Everything good that happened in life was a gift from God. Anything bad was entirely due to human sin. Really?

Carl Jung wrote a book, “Answer to Job”, where he tried to tackle the issue of human suffering. He noted that we often pray to God to save us from God. Some Christians blame all the evil in the world on Satan. Okay, why not? But who created the devil? If a person follows the trail of suffering far enough they will find that it always leads back to God. Then the question becomes: why is He doing this? Maybe the question should be: why is He allowing this? No faith tradition has a good enough answer to that question. The catechism of the Catholic Church has a long essay regarding suffering in the world, and eventually, after much verbiage, concludes that it is all a mystery. The Church could have said that in one sentence. It’s not hard to say, “We don’t know.”

We are now in the season of Lent. For Catholics and many other Christians this time period is all about suffering, sin, and repentence. It is a time to meditate on paradox. It is a time to accept things that are perhaps unacceptable. It really is a time of mystery.

Our Evangelical friends would default to shaking their heads sadly and sighing, “It’s a fallen world.” That means absolutely nothing, but somehow it explained everything to their satisfaction. “Fallen world” basically implies that our entire universe is screwed up due to the first sin of our primordial ancestors. That idea is unjust. It is also irrational. Every time I consider that notion, my mind screams, “WTF?”

I fall back on Zen at times like this. Buddhism is at least honest enough to shrug its collective shoulders and say, “Don’t know.” Zen encourages people to see the world as it is, and then just deal with it. I find that to be difficult path, but still acceptable.

Is the young woman going to die in our house some day? Maybe. Don’t know. The idea terrifies me, but it could easily happen.

All we can do accapt the possibility and love her as best we can, while we can.

 

 

 

 

 

Broken

March 28th, 2020

Karin and I came home this morning after making a trip to the grocery store. We had also stopped at Walmart to pick up an expresso maker. The young woman and Karin were excited about being able to make expesso and cappuccino at home. When we got into the house, I called to the girl to let her know that we were back.

No answer.

I went into her bedroom. She was lying on the floor, drooling and moaning. She had a can a keyboard cleaner in her right hand. I pulled the can out of her hand. It was frosted over. That happens when a person sprays it for too long.

I walked into the kitchen. Karin was putting groceries away. She looked at me. I showed her the can. I told Karin,

“She was huffing again.”

Karin asked, “Is she okay?”

I started to say, “I think so…”

Then I heard a strangled cry from the girl’s bedroom. When she huffs, her voice comes out in a distorted and uncanny way. The sound is very disturbing, and easily recognizable.

I rushed back into the bedroom. The girl was on the floor again, unconsious. She had a another can. I took that one away.

I got the phone. I told Karin,

“I’m calling 911.”

The dispatcher answered my call.

“Where is your emergency?”

I gave the dispatcher our address.

“What is the problem?”

“A young woman is unconscious in her bedroom.”

“Is she breathing?”

“Yes.”

“What happened?”

“The girl was huffing keyboard cleaner. I think she is starting to come around.”

“Do you want us to send somebody over?”

“Yes.”

“Is anyone there coughing or having difficulty breathing?”

“No.”

“We’ll get somebody there.”

The paramedics arrived shortly. They were all wearing face masks.

They went back to the girl’s bedroom. They checked her vital signs.

I heard them talking to her, but I couldn’t hear all of her responses.

One of them told her, “You were huffing this cleaner. You know that’s an asphixiant? Your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen when you do that. You understand that, right? Do you want to come with us to the hospital for help?

She said no.

They asked her questions to find out how coherent she was. They asked her again if she wanted to go to the hospital.

She declined to do so.

They left. She went to take a shower. I called her parole officer.

I told the PO what was happening. I explained that things were out of control, and I had no idea what to do. He said that he would call the young woman.

After a while, the young woman went into the basement to wash some clothes. Karin and I were sitting at the kitchen table. Then we heard that awful wail.

We both went into the basement. The girl was curled up in a corner, clutching a can and moaning. I took that one away from her too. Then I called 911 again. I needed those guys back here.

The girl staggered upstairs to change clothes. Then she went back into the basement looking for her phone. She couldn’t find it. She freaked out. Karin and I went upstairs to see if the phone was in her room. We couldn’t find it, so I went back in the basement to check on the girl.

She was standing next to the water heater, a fourth can of keyboard cleaner in her hand. Her eyes were closed and she was swaying. Then she toppled over like a dead tree in a windstorm. She hit the concrete floor face first.

I turned her over to see if she was still breathing. She was. The young woman was bleeding from her mouth. The was blood on the cement.

I yelled up to Karin for her to watch for the paramedics, and send them downstairs. I tried to keep the girl from moving around. She pushed me away.

The paramedics showed up. One of them looked at her and asked,

“You want to come with us to the hospital this time?”

She nodded. Then she put her hand to her mouth and screamed.

“MY TOOTH! MY TOOTH!”

She had completely broken off one of her upper teeth. There was an ugly gap.

The paramedics took her upstairs while she was howling about her tooth.

One of them took the can from me. He said,

“Maybe I’ll take a picture of this, or I’ll just take it along. Then they know what chemicals are in this.”

I nodded to him. He left.

I followed the paramedic upstairs. The cops had arrived. I called the PO again. He wanted to talk with the policeman. I hooked them up. The ambulance took the girl to the ER.

I went down into the basement and washed up the blood.

I found her tooth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Falling Off a Cliff

March 26th, 2020

Yesterday was a beautiful day. It certainly one was in a meteorological sense. Wisconsin is much like Siberia, ot at least a bit like eastern Europe. We don’t really have a spring. We have a brief gap between the horrors of an endless winter and the intensity of a brutal summer. There is no easing into it. It is like falling off a cliff.

A young woman lives with us. The “us” refers to Karin and myself. In normal times (whatever “normal” means), this young woman is busy with therapy sessions, 12-step meetings, and part time work as a barista. In normal times, this young woman would be slinging coffee, and giving some philistines a necessary class about painting and art. But these are not normal times, and this young woman is stuck in our house, watching Netflix, staring at her phone, and possibly losing her mind.

This young woman is not alone in losing her mind. I am actively doing the same thing. What is happening is that the current activities of our society are destructive, not just disruptive. Keeping people physcially apart makes sense in a way. I understand that. However, it makes people a bit crazy. It makes me a bit crazy.

This young woman decided to walk a couple miles from our home to Bender Park. There she could view the movements of the waters of  Lake Michigan. Her actions freaked me out. She was gone for a couple hours. The young woman did not answer her phone. She did not ask for any help.

I walked Shocky, the young woman’s pet. I walked the dog, over and over again.

I came home. The girl was lying in bed. She was wounded. Her head was bruised and bleeding.

She had fallen off the edge of the bluffs near the lake. She fell off a cliff.

The girl is still alive.

So am I.

 

 

 

Night Terrors

March 24th, 2020

I had been awake for a couple hours before Karin got up. I tend to rise early. Karin likes to sleep in, especially now, when there really is no hurry to get out of bed. I knew she was up when I heard the toilet flush. That’s an unofficial announcement that she is starting her day.

I walked into the bedroom and said, “Hi.”

Karin looked up from her phone and eyed me warily. Then she asked,

“How are you this morning?”

I mumbled, “Okay.”

She kept looking at me, and she remarked,

“Last night was pretty bad, huh? That was probably the worst one ever.”

I replied, “Yeah.”

Karin turned and looked our bed. In particular, she was looking at my side of the bed.

Without turning back toward me, she said,

“Usually, I can wake you up by only calling to you once. Last night I had to shout your name over and over.”

“Yeah.”

She faced me and went on, “You were yelling so loud, and you were punching into the air, and kicking like crazy. You were really fighting something.

“Yeah.”

“What was it?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

I really don’t know.

I get night terrors. They are described thus:

“Night terrors are a form of sleep disorder in which a person partially awakens from sleep in a state of terror. A sufferer of night terrors experiences an activation of his or her fight-or-flight system.”

That is a very understated definition. Night terrors are incredibly intense. Karin generally wakes me up before I do any damage. I remember very little after I am conscious. All I know is that my heart is pounding and my throat hurts from screaming so loud.

Karin often ask me about the dreams. I find them difficult to explain. There is a pattern to them. I am always in a dark place, and I am threatened by someone or something that is even darker than my surroundings. I never know if this thing is human. All I know is that it is malevolent, and that it wants to hurt me. I don’t feel scared as much as I feel angry. The thing flits around and attacks me from all sides, and I strike back at it. Karin sometimes first becomes aware that I am dreaming when she hears me shriek,

“C’MON MOTHERFUCKER!”

That is a clear indication that I am deep into it.

I don’t know what triggers the dreams. I don’t think that they necessarily have much to do with events in the outside world. I have had them for years, at least since I was in the Army. My demons come whenever they feel like it.

But it makes me wonder. I dream about a threat that I can’t see or understand. In the dream I don’t know what I am fighting. All I know is that something is out to get me.

That sounds a bit like the situation in the waking world.

 

 

 

How Can I Help?

March 23rd, 2020

Peter is the abbot of the Great Lake Zen Center. After meditation practice, he sometimes gives a brief dharma talk. When discussing why we spend time silently sitting on cushions, he often says that we do it in order to answer the following question: “How can I help?”

A person needs a clear mind to know how best to help somebody else. In theory, meditation clears the mind. Then the individual can see what really is, and act accordingly. There are times when it is difficult to see through the chaos.

Now is one of those times.

The whole world is scared and suffering at this moment. Maybe it is always scared and suffering, and it is just more obvious now. At present, the problems surrounding us seem overwhelming. What should we do? Where should we start?

The Catholic Church has something called “The Corporal Acts of Mercy”. It is a list of seven ways to help others. The list seems simple and straight forward. Maybe it is. However, right now, I find it hard to put some of these actions into practice. I need to think about it.

This list is as follows:

  1. To feed the hungry.
  2. To give drink to the thirsty.
  3. To clothe the naked.
  4. To shelter the homeless.
  5. To visit the imprisoned.
  6. To visit the sick.
  7. To bury the dead.

 

Since the guidance of our government is for citizens to avoid being in groups larger than ten people, some of the actions on the list are difficult, if not impossible, to do in traditional ways. For instance, “feeding the hungry” has often meant me helping at a meal program (soup kitchen). A meal program that is run by a church or other charitable organization requires the efforts of dozens of participants. People need to get together to cook and to serve meals to potentially hundreds of poor and homeless persons. It is obvious to me that a typical soup kitchen cannot function like that now. So, how does it operate? The poor and outcast are still hungry. Where do thesse people go now? How are they fed?

I don’t know, and I’m not sure who to even ask. The organizations that typically run these operations can’t get together, at least not physically. The new rules are only a week old. Has anybody even had time to brainstorm ideas? Can food pantries hand out free bag lunches? What happens now?

The coronavirus crisis has forced us to exist as isolated pockets of humanity. Okay, let’s work with that. In our case, Karin and I are providing food, drink, shelter, and transportation/health support to a young woman who we love dearly. This person was in prison just two months ago. By assisting her, we are covering some of the items on list, and doing it up close and personal. Maybe that is our calling for the present time. Maybe we are most needed here, as opposed to some place else. We have to do what we can, where and when we can.

Paradoxically, it is often more difficult to help somebody close than it is to help somebody at a distance. I mean this both in geographical terms and in an emotional sense. It is sometimes easier to serve a meal to a stranger far from home than it is to help somebody who lives in the same house. I can ladle out spaghetti for a couple hours at a St. Vincent de Paul meal site, and then walk away from it. Love is tested in close proximity, where a person can’t just run away from problems. Helping sometimes involves open-ended commitment.

A friend of mine, years ago, defined love as being sacrifice. I think that is an accurate description. Love means giving up the things I want in order to provide the things that someone else needs. That’s a bitch.

Maybe this current crisis will teach me how to love.

 

 

 

 

Faith in Humanity

March 22nd, 2020

Hans called.

Right away he said, “I saw something today that I thought I would never see.”

I mentally braced myself and asked, “So, what did you see?”

Hans seldom gets directly to the point. He always has to set the stage before he tells me a story. Maybe it’s a southern thing. A friend of ours from Texas, Delphia (God rest her soul), once told me, “Down here, we tell you what we are going to say, then we say it, and then we tell you what we just said.”

That’s pretty accurate.

In any case, Hans had my attention. He told me,

“Dad, you know how in some of the grocery stores they let the old people shop first?”

“Old people?”

“Yeah, you know, your age.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Well, anyway, we were at Walmart, and these old folks had been looking for toilet paper and such. The shelves were almost empty, so they couldn’t find any of what they needed, and they were walking out the door empty-handed.”

“Okay.”

Hans drawled, “Well, I’m watching these people, and this young black guy stops his car near them. He talks with them a bit, and then he hands the old folks a plastic bag filled with some rolls of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. He doesn’t charge them anything. He just gives it to them.”

“Okay.”

I could hear Hans lighting up a Pall Mall. He continued,

“Well, this black guy, he’s doing the same thing with all the old people coming out of the store. If they ain’t got any toilet paper, he just gives them some. His car is packed with the stuff, and he’s just giving it all away.”

“That’s pretty cool.”

Hans took a drag, and said lazily,

“Yeah. I talked to the guy for a while. He told me that some people in his family had bought up a bunch of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. They were hoarding it. The guy told me that he got into a big ole fight with his family about it. They finally got tired of listening to him yell and carry on, and they told him to take half of the stuff and do whatever he wanted with it.”

“So, he’s just giving it to whoever needs it.”

“Yep.”

“Good.”

Hans said, “It restores my faith in humanity…a little bit.”

“Yeah. I can see that. Good.”

“Hey Dad, you know, down here, the liquor stores are still open.”

“I guess that’s good too.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Quickly it all Unravels

March 20th, 2020

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is lost. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity.” – W.B. Yeats

 

Hans called me from Texas today to wish me a happy birthday.

We talked for a while. Hans was calling from his car. He was bored. It was raining outside. His wife, Gabby, was in the clinic for her physical therapy session. Hans was hanging out with their fifteen month old son, Weston.

I asked Hans, “Did you get your shotgun?”

He replied, “No, they didn’t have the one that I wanted. Instead I bought a short-barrelled model that holds five shells. It’s really easy to use. You just have to point it.”

“How many shells did the other shotgun hold?”

“Fifteen.”

“How long does it take to reload the gun you bought?”

“Hmmm, maybe two seconds.”

“That’s not bad.”

“No.”

Then Hans went on, “I got the house set up.”

“How so?”

“Well, the shotgun is by the washer, so it’s close to both the front and back doors. But it’s not out in the open, where somebody breaking in might find it.”

“Okay.”

“The .40 is in a cabinet in the kitchen.”

“Yeah.”

“I got my Glock in my nightstand. The .45 is in Gabby’s nightstand.”

“Are any of these guns accessible to Weston?”

“No.”

“Good answer.”

Hans said, “Even if they were, none of them have a loaded magazine in them. I got the magazines separate.”

“Okay. So, you’re ready for the zombie apocalypse.”

“Yep. Dad, you ever watch any of those zombie movies?”

“Uh, no.”

“You know what usually starts all that trouble?”

“No.”

“In the movies they run out of toilet paper.”

“I guess a lot of people have been watching those movies.”

“Yeah. You know what else is strange?”

“No. Tell me.”

Hans told me, “Well, some of my liberal friends are calling me up to ask me what kind of guns to buy.”

“You have liberal friends?”

“Well, they’re not exactly friends. They’re, you know, acquaintances; people that I talk to to maybe once a year.”

“I guess they know your area of expertise.”

Hans said, “Yeah. It’s a little late for them to be shopping for guns. There aren’t many left out there.”

“True.”

Hans went on, “I got the .357 in my truck. Whenever I drive our car, I bring along the Glock.”

“Why?”

“Well, you never know. People might get crazy.”

Hans, “They already are crazy.”

“You know what I mean. I mean like the crazy in New Orleans after the hurricane (Katrina).”

“Well, you’re ready.”

“Yep.”