Missing Our Parents, Helping the Hurting

Fifty years prior, his WWII daily K-Rations had included just enough unfiltered Camel cigarettes to start a life-ending habit that would eventually rob us of our newly sober father.

None of his children were with my father when he died.  Earlier that same day, Mom had assured me that, although he was in an oxygen tent and probably wouldn’t come home from the hospital, death wasn’t imminent.  .  I should start looking at plane tickets and adjust my schedule accordingly for probably the next week.

I was in surgery just a few hours later when the call came; my back slid along the wall and I wilted to the floor as the news was relayed to me.

I vowed to drop what I was doing if I ever received such foreboding news about Mom.  And I was with her, but only because I took seriously the news that she had stomach pains and was in the hospital for observation.

I tried not to let her see my gasp of horror when I entered the room and saw her in that hospital bed.  Who was this old person, with her hair flattened and unkempt, looking so feeble and weak?  This face glowed and smiled as she looked up to see who was clenching her hand and leaning down to kiss her.

Only then did it really hit me, and I was absolutely terrified.  My beautiful mother was, for the first time, very mortal.  Until that moment, when I thought of her, she was 48.  I have no idea why that age, but I remember her being that age, and regardless of how many decades passed; that was the image I conjured up in my mind when I thought of her, spoke with her on the phone, or saw her handwriting.

Maureen Blanton Klein

At about age 48, this is the way Mom will forever live in my memory. Maureen Blanton Klein

That day is mainly a blur.  A surreal experience where nothing made sense.  A Chagall or Dali painting where something, or everything, was out of place.  I had spoken to my mother the day before.  She was 83, but the picture of health: vivacious, bubbly, energetic, the quintessential do-gooder volunteer.

She was supposed to live for another 20 years; in fact had I built an extra ground-floor bedroom with a walk-in shower for her to finally retire to, when she decided to join us in Florida!

Mom had hosted a dinner party that night in her home, cooking and serving to 10 of her close friends.  When everyone was leaving, she remarked that she had a bit of a stomach ache and so didn’t want anyone to stay to help clean up, she’d just do it in the morning, because she felt like she wanted to go to bed.  She had not been sick a day before this.

Who was this person in this hospital bed, writhing in abdominal pain?  As the sole medical professional in the family, I would take upon myself responsibility for her proper treatment, “Where is her medical record? What have you found, and what tests have you performed?”  The staff smiled at me sympathetically, and condescendingly assured me that everything possible was being done.  I would certainly be allowed to look at the medical chart, if the doctor approved it.

The problem was that there was no doctor.  Her primary care physician sent her here in the middle of the night.  The admitting doctor then turned over her care to the “hospitalist,” what-ever the hell kind of doctor that is.  I certainly wasn’t impressed with him, or the system at St Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, where Mom had been taken.  I’d now been there for over 6 hours and no doctor had even walked in the room to examine her.  I was “assured” that he had been by once and “saw” her, and was well aware of what was going on, because he had been on the phone with the nursing staff several times over the course of the day.  Finally, after my constant harassment, the nurse winked and told me he had consented to my looking at the chart, and that she’d be glad to “explain things to me.”

As we walked to the head nurse’s station she asked me a question that will forever haunt me, “You must take comfort that your mother is at least resting comfortably now, has this been an extended illness?”  When I told her, “NO! She hosted a dinner party just 9 hours ago, and hasn’t been sick at all,” she turned quickly towards me, and almost shouted, “REALLY?”

The medical record was astonishing.  The complete and total lack of any semblance of a medical workup was puzzling.  I remarked outloud, “She presented for stomach cramps and nausea, where are the blood profile results?  Why have a CT, or even a simple radiograph (X-Ray) not been taken?  The incredulous look from the nurse also haunts me. “Because, Mr. Klein,” the nurse now speaking matter-of-factly, she has a DNR request on her chart and on her wrist band.”

“Nurse, actually, I’m Doctor Klein, and I demand that you call the physician immediately.  DNR means (or so I naively thought) ‘Do Not Resuscitate,’ NOTDO NOT TRY!

“How can you possibly make a decision regarding whether or not to treat something, if you don’t even make a minimal attempt to diagnose?” I pleaded on the phone with “the hospitalist” (again, whatever the hell that is).  His condescending words also continue to haunt me, “Well what would you like me to do, doctor?”

I’ll leave this alone for now.  DNR is a blog posting all by itself.

Although Mom didn’t hang on for all of her children to kiss her goodbye, she did get to hear their voices on the phone.  She was fading in and out of our presence, and so we called two others, who were rushing to be with her.  Tears dripped from our eyes and off of our cheeks as this seemingly unconscious vessel opened her eyes and smiled when she heard their voices.  Her limp hand clenched mine firmly as my siblings told her how much they love her, and – goodbye.

I never got the time to grieve into closure.  I had lots of “moments,” holding my wife and children, as we wept together.  But mainly there was rage at this poor excuse for a hospital, and my own guilt.  Lots of guilt (probably more of that Catholic thing that seems to be a theme in my life), because I was the only one there with the medical knowledge to understand what was happening, and what was not happening.  And yet I did not stomp my feet, make a scene, and scream at the top of my lungs until a real doctor showed up.  (Clearly I realize a hospitalist is a licensed physician, my point being the system in this hospital, perhaps the entire state, is dysfunctional and absurd).

And then the unthinkable happened.  Much like a woman who later gets cancer in a second breast, a man who survives chemo only to die in an accident, or an amputee to later discover metastases.

The Christian band Casting Crowns seemed to feel our pain in Praise You in this Storm,

I was sure by now
God, You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
Stepped in and saved the day
But once again, I say “Amen”, and it’s still raining

and Natalie Grant also knows a continued hurt with Our Hope Endures

You would think only so much can go wrong
Calamity only strikes once
And you assume this one has suffered her share
Life will be kinder from here
Oh, but sometimes the sun stays hidden for years
Sometimes the sky rains night after night
When will it clear?

Just a few months later, in the middle of the night, we received the second call. Our beautiful, wonderful Cullen had been in an accident.

Clearly, there are some things we just aren’t supposed to understand.  I don’t understand.

As unfair as it seems at the time, life does go on, and others are allowed to continue on “as if nothing happened.”  We live our own lives, we walk our own Camino, even when we travel with others.

Maureen Blanton Klein with William Cullen Klein

Mom and Cullen

Maureen Blanton Klein with William Cullen Klein

Mom with Cullen

William Cullen Klein and Sharon Tidd Klein

Cullen and Sharon

Maureen Blanton Klein with William Lewis Klein

Our beautiful mother in 2007, on my wedding day

I wrote this post last year, but could never bring myself to hit the “publish” button.  It just didn’t feel right yet.  Things were too raw.  Those of you who have lost parents, siblings, or the unthinkable loss of a child know all too well these emotions.

Recently, I participated in training seminars focusing on end of life, grief and bereavement, and some concepts regarding how best to support those “left behind.”  The only thing that seems to consistently help is our “being present” when others are suffering from loss.  There are no correct words that always apply; in fact most of the cliche’s that are said are absurd and (however well-meaning) actually deepen the hurt.  But at least these people tried.  So many people pull back from those they care about, because they don’t have something profound or healing to say.  And so they say nothing.  They disappear.  They do nothing.  And that is the most hurtful of all.

Some of who I considered my closest friends haven’t spoken to me since my son’s accident.  And yet two acquaintances, whom I hadn’t spoken to in decades, reached out to me after Cullen’s accident, because they too had lost a child.  Their kindness will never be forgotten.

Being present means you know they are hurting.  Since they are loved and special to us, we hurt with them.  Just sitting together, hugging, and crying.  You are let in not because of who you are, but because who you are is formed by your history with the hurting, and your personal knowledge of loss.  Empathy.  It’s not something you read about, or something you do.  It’s who you are.

Its the age old question.  Its that which shakes our faith to its very core.  Why must we hurt?  Why does tragedy happen to good people?  Hurt is the price we pay for our love.  We truly wouldn’t know light without darkness for comparison.  Warmth without the chill of loneliness.  Compassion without our own hurt.

Rather, embrace your pain.  For this pain exists precisely because you feel.  You have not loved and lost, you have gained so much because you have loved, and have been loved.  To feel is a chance to live, and a chance to love.

Reach out to those whom you love, especially when they are hurting. And not just when they’re hurting, and not just to those you love.

“You don’t choose a life, you live one.”

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Camino to Morocco, Chapter 27

May 17th, My Darkest Day

Last night I lay in bed, unable to sleep, blaming the heat and loud Arabic chatting from the adjacent room. But the real reason was clear. My plan to go to Chefchaouen tomorrow was absurd, and only an excuse. So many people had told me how beautiful and quaint this little village was, almost like in Switzerland, and I just “had to go there.”  But this wasn’t why I was here. I wasn’t a tourist, on holiday. I was, like Dr. Tom in “The Way,” here, on “family business.” I hope to someday return for those reasons, but it will be with my wife, and certainly not on May 17th.

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What I needed to do was to back to ALIF (the Arabic Language Institute in Fes) again to talk to Cullen’s Professor. We had met, earlier in the week, but not really talked.

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I needed to sit in Cullen’s chair in room 100 again and see “his” classroom.

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I needed to sit in the courtyard and drink coffee and eat almond cake. I needed to wander around the university library and gaze in amazement.

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I needed to eat a camel-burger and drink a chocolate shake at the Clock Cafe. I needed to drink mint tea at the corner table in the cafe with pool tables. I came here to see the world through Cullen’s eyes. One last time, for him, with him.

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But I didn’t want to. It would mean saying goodbye, it would mean that I was checking these things off, and throwing my clump of dirt onto the casket. I didn’t want to, but I needed to.

I jumped out of bed, and swung open the door to again tell Allal that there had again been a change in itinerary. We are NOT going to Chefchaouen tomorrow.

And so we did all those things, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.

On the last stop of the day, Allal had run across the street to digitally capture the moment. I sat at the cafe sipping mint tea, and he shouted to make the peace sign, because he knew our Cullen always did this in pictures.
And now, the end of the day, for some reason, and it was always unpredictable, I melted.

Allal pleaded with me not to cry. Today was the first time this year’s journey had immersed me here. I’d been in Morocco over a week, but this was the first time I would visit that place inside where I had such little control. After almost three years, I was, for the most part, in a really good place. But sometimes, and it was hard to predict the catalyst, the emotions would let loose. I had spent the day vicariously as my son, seeing these things with the same blue eyes we had gotten from my father. We tasted the same mint in every cup of tea, and overwhelming cumin and other spices in the food that was so different from what we had both eaten at the same table. We were drenched with same sweat, and burned with the same sand. We were feeling the same cultural amazement, and now had heard the same professor in the same room.

“Please, Mr. William, please don’t be so sad. Please don’t be always crying and sad!” This actually caught me a little off guard, because I wasn’t “always” crying, and certainly didn’t think I had been acting sadly. These moments were now few and far between. And even now, I wasn’t blubbering and wailing like I used to do. It was just a few tears running down my cheek, and probably wouldn’t even have been noticed under my sunglasses if I hadn’t started wiping them away.

“Cullen is with Allah, and it’s a beautiful thing, a wonderful place!” I’d had quite a few conversations about religion in the El Harrami household, and it was touching that he now felt comfortable saying such things in an attempt to console me.  “He is at salam, (peace).”

One of those conversations with Allal included his sister-in-law Nisrine, who knew well the observance of Islamic law. And not just the ritual observance, this family seemed to have dug pretty deeply, and knew in their heart that their’s was the true religion. So, I’m not so sure they were thrilled with the place I was willing to exit our hour’s-long conversation. If I was such a truth seeker, why would I be content with my “false religion?”

I suppose “turnabout is fair play.” Being reasonably well versed in Catholic apologetics, I was used to responding to concerns from Protestants dispelling misconceptions about the RC tradition. At the end of the day, we Christians really do agree on much more than we disagree on, and certainly the most important tenants.

In fact, my then evangelical wife Sharon and I had had this very conversation on our first date. She was incredulous that I thought my faith tradition was right and others’ were wrong. Not that it’s a perfect church, precisely because I (and other humans like me) are part of it; rather I hold that She’s been guided by the Holy Spirit through apostolic succession for 2000 years. If I didn’t believe my faith was the “true” one, I’d most certainly be somewhere else.

Anyway, so here I am, a guest in a home who thinks any reasonable person who takes the time to learn about the prophet and his writings, couldn’t possibly come to any other conclusion. In their minds, they were as “right” as I am. The fact that I have all sorts of rebuttals for Christianity, and “gotcha” questions for my Muslim family was irrelevant. Perhaps we were both, in our hearts, as good, as faithful, and as loving, as we were called to be. Perhaps our very same God had revealed Himself differently to different cultures, in a way most appropriate to them, and their customs, and traditions.

I sat silently there with Allal for a few moments, for a few reasons.

I did need to recompose, but I also rather enjoyed hearing my new friend, who had never even met my son, be so confident that he was in paradise with Allah.  The phrase Muslims almost always use to greet includes, “Salam,” which means “Peace,” or “God’s Peace.”  This struck me a bit, since Cullen often lifted his hand with the peace sign in photos.

Allal looked directly into my eyes as I lifted my sunglasses to wipe them again, “I know this, my brother, because he is your son. He must be so much like you. You are so loving and such a good person, my brother.” This was a bit much for me also, so I lowered my glasses again, took a final sip of mint tea, and said, “OK, let’s go.”

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And so I had done what I had intended to do. Cullen had had quite a “reversion,” a return to his baptized faith tradition when he had been here in Morocco. He had returned with a faith I was am in awe of.

And now I felt it too. He’d told me that every movement of every day he had felt proselytized, even assaulted in faith by so many here. I certainly hadn’t felt that way, but it was easy to see how a 18 year old could feel this way. And you had to be awe-struck, and even admire, their faith. Five times each day we would hear the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. For some reason (I’ll address later), I wasn’t allowed to (visibly) be present to view worship in a mosque, but I found this most interesting, even compelling.

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It’s been called the most beautiful sound in the world, when the muezzin calls to prayer. I would differ in my preference, but I kind of get it. To be so focused on God, and doing what you feel is your reason for being here is a beautiful thing. it’s not all about me, it’s about why I’m here.

I saw so many things during “this year’s Camino.” This has been a culture shock x 10. On any of several occasions I saw things that would have made my son return from this place so changed, so deep, so much better than me.

I am thankful for so many things, and so many people – and you all know who you are. This has been quite a ride, and I am definitely better for it. Much love.

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I realize this is kind of a sad post, and i apologize for that. Lots of good, happy, and funny posts still to come. May 17 will likely always be like this. Sorry.

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“As-salamu alaykum”

Leaving Peter

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Waymarker on the Camino de Santiago

 

It was early morning on the 8th day of my hiking the Camino de Santiago, and, as I approached a group of three ladies, I could tell they were speaking English.  This wasn’t entirely unusual, as about a third of the pilgrims I encountered spoke my language, but I hadn’t understood anyone since dinner the night before.

As I closed the distance behind them, I realized they were Irish, speaking with quite a brogue.  We introduced ourselves, with the typical small-talk, and they inquired as to whether or not I´d been to Ireland.  Well of course these stories of  Camille, my oldest daughter being a many time American Irish dance champion, with the resultant trips overseas, including Ireland came out.  Soon we were discussing our friends Donica and Sheena (I never can get the Gaelic spelling of their names right, so I won´t even try), who own a B & B in Roosky, in Rosscommon.

As we chatted about such stuff, we walked through a typical small town in rural Spain, with the one beautiful village Church crumbling.  Of course this then became a topic of discussion including the magnificent cathedrals throughout the place in much need of repair, and the consolation it brought to see at least a few of them being restored.

I made the passing remark that the churches in ruins were perhaps but a commentary of what has happened to Christianity throughout Europe and beyond.  The Irish ladies, from a wonderful island that had provided perhaps more priests than any other part of the world, then commented that the church scandals had really damaged people´s faith, as well as any support of religion whatsoever, especially in Ireland.

The light-bulb, of course, then went on.  I pointed out that throughout life, our leaders – our parents, elected officials, scout leaders, friends, mentors, and yes even our priests and ministers are in fact “waymarkers.” They serve to guide us, to point the proper direction, to guide the way.  The problem is that all of these “waymarkers” are simply human beings, with all the weaknesses, frailties, and sinful tendencies that all of society, all of us have as humans – it is the “human condition.”  Not to belittle the scandals, or any sin for that matter.

***

The Camino de Santiago is an assortment of routes that lead to the Cathedral of San-tiago (Spanish for St. James), where St. James the Greater, one of Jesus three closest companions was buried.  Along these routings are markers to let the pilgrims (perigrinos) know that they, indeed, are on the right road.  Most of the times the markers consist of a small, simple yellow arrow, painted on the street, curb or side of a building.  This instills much confidence after hours of hiking that the weary traveler is traveling in the right direction.  Outside the cities, towns, and villages the waymarkers are constructed of concrete, small pillars about three feet tall, with the symbol of the Camino attached as a ceramic tile to its side.  These are strategically placed to greatly aid the perigrino by confraternity volunteers, and are greatly appreciated for the same reason.  You come to expect these at regular intervals, every few miles, and start to feel lost and question your path when you haven’t seen one recently.  Its rather easy to daydream, or get lost in thought, contemplation and prayer and miss an indicator which may have indicated a turn, for instance.

Most of the waymarkers along the road were in excellent condition, well maintained with fresh “clam-shell” icons, and a coat of paint.  A few had a few cracks, but were generally in acceptable shape, and served the purpose of guiding us in the correct direction.  However more than a few were in dis-repair, crumbling, and a couple in a sad pile of rubble on the ground.

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Crumbled Waymarker on the Camino de Santiago

 

And so the metaphor seemed obvious.  Because our way-markers are also human, they can crumble, like we can, and often do.  “Still,” Irish Eileen exclaimed, she’d “not be going back into a church anytime soon.”

“Fair enough, I replied, “but perhaps this gives us some thoughts to ponder.  The fact that our way-markers crumble doesn´t stop our journey, only to throw our hands up and quit.  Furthermore, we leave the paths ourselves, even when they’re well marked, by not paying close attention, or thinking we know a better way.  “Eileen laughed and muttered under her breath, “Something tells me you’re no longer talking about Spain.”

“Of course I am, but not ONLY the Camino de Santiago, also the Camino de Life!”  Just a few days ago, I left the marked path because someone from Germany told me there was a more direct way.  I left what I had known and trusted because I had heard there was a better path.  Soon I was on a cow path that lead to a stream, and I had to turnaround and look for a way back to ‘the way.’  That was an honest mistake, probably my misunderstanding.  But some people even lead us astray intentionally, because they don’t even think there even exists a final destination, and to them, it’s all about today, having fun, screwing everyone along the way.”

“And sometimes those we trust the most, just let us down.  Our parents fail in their marriages, or have addictions; our friends really aren’t; and those who we look up to just fail.  Because they’re all humans, they’re screw ups like us.”

“Although I doubt he coined it, a famous Jesuit retreat-master named John Powell SJ, shared this advice:

You don’t leave Peter because of Judas!

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“So you’re right, it’s not just about being here in Spain.  It’s about being fully alive.  Everywhere we turn, we’re told to enjoy the moment, you only live once – ‘It’s all about me!’  Well, it’s not ‘All about me!’

“An ‘All about me’ attitude creates a selfish, entitled mentality.  This draws us away from the path, and gives those in power license to use people, and destroy lives.  The President that cheats, the priest or teacher pedophile, the addicted spouse.  Then the victims and observers, ironically, take their own ‘All about me’ attitude that they get to make their own rules, because someone they once trusted was frail, and human, and made mistakes, even horrible ones.”

“Of course we expect our leaders to have a higher standard.  And when they look at themselves in the mirror, I´m sure many are disappointed in themselves.  As I am many times.  As we all are, if we´re being honest.”

“Anyway, I’ve gotten off the path lots of times, and now I really feel like I’m back on it.  Look down, this road still leads to Santiago, there will be twists and turns along the road, with the need to have guidance when there is an obstacle.  The Church and all she offers, the Word of God, the Sacrifice of the Mass, the social gathering strengthening and supporting each other.  The fact that the markers sometimes crumble is irrelevant to the goal, the desired endpoint.  It’s not just about “me,” it’s about “God and me,” and because of that, its about, “You and me.”

They smiled politely, and said they’d be stopping for some lunch now, realizing I wasn’t going to join in the bashing of the monster they had encountered.  Not that we shouldn’t fight the monster, and we certainly must protect our children, but it’s important to have perspective, and realize that monster is everywhere, in some form.  Judas isn’t always the dark sinister figure in the shadows, often he looks back in the mirror.

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Those words were easy to say.  When the rubber meets the road, it’s often a bit more difficult.  My children have never been abused, or raped, or even taken advantage of.

But we’ve all been disappointed, and let down.  Just a few days ago, someone that I’ve grown to love and trust, and help me discern lots of important decisions acted in a way that, at the time, felt hurtful.  My human side reeled, and I felt indignant.  Then I did my best to stand back and learn those lessons that life has been trying to teach me.  These are still my friends, and have made decisions they thought were correct.

We all make decisions based on the information we have in front of us.  Seldom do we intend to hurt our friends, and so, in turn, we should give that benefit of the doubt to those we’ve invested our trust in. Sometimes a course of events appears to turn in a direction that we hadn’t expected or wanted.  With deeper consideration, we’ll likely find that we, in fact, are still on the path, or with simple adjustments can get back with an improved tool-set from this experience.

The direction of our Camino leads to ¨Santiago”  Let’s not give up the journey because we sometimes get lost or are confused as to whether or not we´re on the right road.  There is a right road, a correct path. It does exist, and we all do our best to stay on it.  Buen Camino

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The Evil Eye

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I don’t know if Helene Friedman is alive anymore, but I do have fond memories.  About half of what she said was incomprehensibly Yiddish, but I found her antics generally entertaining.  She was quite old and feeble, and an infamous “cat-lady,” who always seemed to just “appear out of thin air” holding two cat carriers.  The few dollar bills she could produce were damp from inside her brassiere, and her glasses were literally taped together.  One thing that sticks with me, after 25 years, is her saying something about “Kinna Hurra,” which she said was so I would not get the evil eye.  It was all a bit of nonsense to me, reminiscent of the “stink eye” mentioned in the movie Juno, or that unpleasant leer Michelle Obama whips out sometimes.  But apparently that’s not at all what she was referring to.

My Rabbi client was in the other day and I mentioned this, and he smiled amusingly at me like my Spanish clients do when I make an attempt at saying something coherent in their language.

“You must mean, ‘Kein Ayin Hora,’ which is the Yiddish version of the Hebrew, ‘Bli Ayin Hara.'”

“Yes, of course that’s surely what I meant,” I smiled back, equally entertained at myself.

“What the heck does it mean?”

The good Rabbi gave me two explanations.

  1. The more traditional describes the “curse” placed on someone who succeeds or attains goals or wealth.  A less fortunate person would look with great jealousy (ayin hara) at his brother and pray to Almighty Gd, complaining of the inequity.  The “evil eye” has effectively placed a “hex.”  The would result in someone acting or showing less evidence of success to avoid such a curse.  Likewise, if complimented, he might say “Kinna Hurra,” or actually spit afterwards, to avoid the curse (apparently evil spirits don’t like spit).  And so when one observes something good happening, he then quickly follows up with this expression, so as not to “jinx” the apparent good outcome.  (I laughed out loud because I remembered Helene actually spitting after uttering her kinnahurra, and how taken back I was that she would do so in my exam room!)
  2. The explanation he said he liked better was deeper, and probably more meaningful to me, as a Christian.  “One of your ‘Catholic Books’ is called Tobit  (I nodded, because  I had recently read these 7 books tossed during the reformation, and remembered it pretty well).  Well Tobit, as well as Proverbs, refers to the concept of the ‘eye’ as a window, letting in light.”

But the ancients also thought of the eye another way, as lights shining interior light of the body.  Psalm 38 talks about ‘eyes as having lost their luster.’  Of course you are thinking in medical terms, Dr. Bill, but this isn’t scientific, or medical.  It’s the observation that someone’s eyes show their inner character.

I shared that Matthew and Luke both talk about the eyes showing light or darkness within.  The Rabbi smiled approvingly, and continued,

So, Matthew and Luke make more sense now – if the eye is generous, it is bright and the body is filled with interior light or goodness. But if the eye is set on cursing others, the body is full of darkness.

And so, my friend, the little old woman in your memory was not only wishing you well, but paying you the highest compliment.  She felt you were generous and had treated her kindly.

I thought of Helene recently, which is probably why this story was in my mind when the Rabbi came in.  I was on a bus at the North American Veterinary Conference, shuttling between the two meeting venues when I looked over to the other side of the road to see an elderly woman running with a hand-written cardboard sign.  In her other hand she held a pet carrier that she was swinging wildly.  This strange sight caught the attention of the bus-load full of veterinarians, until the cage door sprung open and her few clothes and possessions fell to the ground.  Many people in nearby cars seemed amused, smiling as they looked away, but my stomach fell to the floor, as I continued to watch.  She dropped the broken cage and started wiping her face, over and over again, as her tears continued to stream down her cheeks.  As she placed her glasses back on her face, I saw the tape holding them together.

As the light changed to green, my bus rolled away, and I smiled to see brake-lights of someone stopping to help her.

And so, the eyes are the window to the inner character, and perhaps the soul itself.

Do we look away with Ayin Hara, an evil eye of inner darkness, or do we look compassionately with Ken Ayin Hara, a generous eye shining with an inner light?

I’ll continue to fail miserably, I’m sure.  However, I am beginning to recognize Him along my own journey to Emmaus.  I’m reminded of a prayer shared with me by a Jesuit at Whitehouse Retreat in St. Louis:

Lord, keep me ever mindful, that we are always in your presence.

 

Image result for homeless woman with cat  Beautiful Eye

 

Sand Hill Crane

Sudden brake lights are unexpected halfway through an on-ramp, and my dogs slammed into the back of my seat as I smashed down on my own petal.  A saw the flashing yellow lights as I leaned out the window to discover the cause of the delay.  Animals are an important part of my life, and so I took particular interest when I saw the green truck turned sideways on the ramp was that of a game-warden.

My smile revealed my inner-dork as I watched him urge from the road to safety the beautiful family of Sand Hill Cranes.  The two parents frantically pranced about, doing their best to “protect” the two juveniles (called colts) from the silly looking uniformed man, dancing in the road and waving a towel to shoo them across to safety.

 

Sand Hill Cranes (Grus canadensis) display a behavior we humans would consider most unusual, even odd.  They are monogamous, they mate for life, and never choose another – even after death.  This was a primary reason why they are considered a threatened species – these magnificent creatures live for over 20 years, and if one of the pair is killed, they other will raise the kids by himself (herself), and then be alone for the rest of its life.

I remember the empty, nearly teary feeling I felt one day last year as I drove on a Narcoossee Road, in Lake Nona.  Ahead I could see a crane dancing so elegantly, rising and swooping and spreading his huge wings, as he pranced back and forth in the road.  As I neared I could see that his was not a courtship ritual, nor one of proud celebration.  Whether for protection from further oncoming traffic, or out of grief, this was a very different display, as he frantically leapt, back and forth over his mate lying lifelessly in the road.

(Not surprisingly), I pondered these two scenes for the next hour, as I drove to work.  Clearly, the mate for life thing merits mention, and I’d assume most of us would agree its a good idea, perhaps a lofty ideal.  But not exactly practical in the real world.  I mean there’s job stress, money struggles, midlife crises, and cheating spouses to consider.  It’s just not very practical in this day and age, living in the “real world.”  What do a couple of stupid birds know?  We’re so lucky we don’t have to be bound by ridiculous outdated rules.

But a second notion comes to mind.

If the cranes are us and our relationships, the oncoming traffic is the real world and societal pressures, then I suppose the wildlife officers are… the few (unfortunately) people in our lives that care enough about us to stand in harm’s way to protect us, and (in this case) our commitments and relationships. They hold us to a high standard. They push us, and even shake some sense into us as we wander. He doesn’t share porn, pay for a lap dance, or “high-five” his buddy as he leaves after drinks with his non-wife on a fishing trip.  And she doesn’t look the other way at work as her co-worker comes back disheveled from a 3 hour lunch, let her drunk friend leave the pub with a hook-up, or laugh vicariously as she listens gleefully to her cheating friend.  What would a real friend do?

Mind your own business, and watch your friend’s life swirl down the drain?  Remember that the next time you see the real victims, their children.  Perhaps we shouldn’t mind our own business, perhaps we are “our brother’s keeper.”

Sandhill crane at Paynes Prairie Preserve. Photo by Stephen L. Tabone.

SHC photo by Stephen Tabone

 

grieve

Why do you want to marry my daughter? (My outline of notes) – What I tried to say when he asked for my blessing

Camille and Nick

Dear Future Son-in-Law,

I’ve considered this conversation for months now;  no, actually since the day I watched the woman you want to marry walk down the aisle in her first communion dress.  Any you’d think I’d have the words by now.  But they’re fleeting, and I only get to have this talk with you once.  Oh, I’m sure we’ll have lots of talks, some of them even important ones, as the months and years roll along, but this is the one I think you’ll remember.

Perhaps I should begin with the most basic of questions.  You want to marry my daughter, but Why?  

Let’s back up and start with this.  Why do you love my daughter?  Because she makes you happy?  Because she “completes” you?  Because she has so many things in common with you?  You have so much fun when you’re with her?  Because you get that really cool, funny feeling deep down in your inner being anytime you’re with her, or even think about her?  Because you think she’s so beautiful?  I would certainly hope all of these are true.  But they simply can not be the reason to marry my princess.

First of all, they’re all about you, not her.  And they describe a “feeling.”  Of course being “in love” implies that happy feeling that you certainly (hopefully) have together – that feeling that “nothing else matters.”  Because of course, everything else does matter.  And that feeling will pass, probably on the way home from your honeymoon, or that first morning when you wake up muttering, “Forever, really?” and wonder what the hell you were thinking.

By now, I’m pretty sure you two have disagreed over things, and know just where the other’s jugular vein is, their Achilles’s heel, that weak spot you know would be really hurtful.  That “feeling” is in serious jeopardy during your first big fight over something “really important.”  Or after the hundredth of them, when you’re still angry and maybe out with the boys, and see an old girlfriend, or someone in some foreign town, or someone who suddenly starts thinking you’re pretty incredible looks at you the way my daughter “used to.”  This is not something that might happen, or a prediction.  It’s something that will happen.  Maybe once, maybe 10 times.  Maybe a week after you get married, or even seven years.  Why am I so confident?  Every male I’ve shared my adult life with has only nodded their head in agreement when we look back over our years.  Some crossed the line, some didn’t.  But any of us could have.  I could have.  Your guard drops at a weak moment, especially after a few drinks, and nothing will ever be the same.

That’s why its not about a feeling.  Love is not a feeling.  Because there will be times, lots of times, weeks of them, when she will not make you happy.  She will not complete you, you’ll grow up and realize that in fact, you are incomplete, but my daughter can not and should not and must not fill that void.  You’ll be sure that you have many more things not in common than you ever agree on.  And that really cool feeling that nothing else matters will be long gone.  Because everything else does matter.  One of you will be immature.  And irresponsible.  Make stupid mistakes.  Make financial mistakes.  Has a selfish side.  One of you?  Both of you have all of these traits.  We all have all of these traits.  And you both have dirty closets – both physically and metaphorically.

Again, this is why love can not be a feeling.  Because all of these things will change.  One of you will get cancer and lose a breast, or the ability to make love.  Or be in an accident and become disabled, or disfigured.  Or just get fat.  And you will no longer be so attractive – to each other, or even more likely to yourself.  And you’ll stop loving yourself, and feel unloved, and feel unlovable.  And so you’ll make yourself unlovable.  And one of you will lose a job through no fault of your own, or through every fault of your own.  Or you’ll be unable to get another job, or keep another job.  You’ll also feel pretty worthless, and make yourself also unlovable.  And you’ll be very hard to love.  In fact, unlovable.  Rather, you’ll be unlovable if your relationship, your marriage, your “love” is a feeling.

But it’s not.  And this is not rocket-science.  But here’s the tricky part – if in fact you suspected I was going to say that instead of a feeling, love is “an agreement,” you’d be right.  But only partially right.

I worked for a guy one time who had separate bank accounts for himself and his wife.  It had nothing to do with his pre-nup, or family wealth, or anything at all about protecting their precious material things, or inheritance, or whatever.  No, it was simply “an agreement.”  They had separate jobs, and they each paid for half of all the bills out of their own accounts.  He argued eloquently that it kept the romance in their marriage, because they would “treat” each other to a dinner, or the theater, or a gift.  And it was truly a gift from them individually, because if it had been paid for out of a joint account, then no gift was involved, they just bought something together.  And he added a bow to the package, when he proudly explained, with a wink and a nod, besides, some things were just “none of her business!”  Then he clicked his mouse to open the computer screen displaying this “hilarious” video I’d surely enjoy, and he resumed the porn session he had been halfway through when I had walked into his office.  This went a long way to describe how much respect he had for her.  She surely reciprocated.

No, so love is not just an “agreement.”  I’ve heard ministers officiating the ceremony describe it as a “contract.”  Surely, this is just as dangerous, maybe more so, because a contract is a trade of one thing for another.  A “quid-pro-quo.”  It’s more dangerous because, again, there will be times, perhaps even years when one of you isn’t holding up “your end of the bargain.”  Trust me, this is inevitable.  We human beings are screw-ups, and we are wired to fall, and fail.  Such a breech of contract then allows the other party license to violate the contract because, in fact, no contract exists anymore.  If she’s not doing such and such any more, neither will you!

Yes, love is an agreement, but not a contract.  It’s a “covenant.”  The difference is in the magic words we use when referring to the ceremony that almost no-one really takes seriously – our “vows.”  We “vow” to do these things, with a swear to almighty God, until death do us part.  The fact that we’re vowing to do them in front of all the “witnesses” is, in fact, pretty meaningless.  Most of them are simply there for the really expensive party afterwards anyway.  Close your eyes and imagine looking out over those you’ve invited, and consider whether or not they’ll hold you accountable to your vows, this promise, this covenant. Or will they “high five” over cheating, because he’s such an asshole, or she’s turned into such a bitch?

You’re not “exchanging” rings as part of this contract.  It’s a sign of a covenant.  You know what observant Jews did (and do) as a sign of their covenant with God!  Would you do such a thing as a sign of this covenant?  They didn’t cut off skin so God would do “something.”  They did it as a sign of their fidelity, a physical statement, an affirmation that they were “all in.”  Are you?  Are you all in?  Will you be true to this covenant if she’s fat and ugly, frigid and hateful, clinically depressed?  Or what if she’s addicted to something to numb some pain?  What if she’s an alcoholic?

I realize I should be having this conversation with her as well, but that’s a conversation your parents should have with her.  And I’ve had 29 years to do my best with her; this conversation is with you.  About you.

And how do you see your role in her life?  Let’s assume you really do understand, and agree with marriage as a covenant, or at least that you’ll think about it long and deep.  What will you be to her?  And to your children?  A provider?  What exactly does that mean?  Will you have a job that requires such long hours that your wife is lonesome, and lonely?  You’ve told me that you want children – is that a pet child? or several children?  Have you seriously made plans together? Will you be there for birthday parties, recitals, and parent-teacher meetings?  What is important to you?  What makes life worth living?  Will you live every day as if it’s your last one, and be happy with the importance you gave people and things?

Do you love people and use things?  Or do you love things and use people?

Don’t answer “correctly,” answer honestly.  

And what does make life worth living?  Why are we here?  Why are you here?  Nobody really has any of this figured out, but do you try?  Do you think about these things?  Are they important to you?  What could be more important to you?

I know you both were “raised” Christian, but what does that mean?  How important is your faith to you?  Will it have a role in your marriage?  Does it now?  Surely you know “a three-ply cord is not easily broken.”  Honestly, if your Christian faith is not an active part of your life right now, what will ever change?  Why do people pray?  Do you?  What does that look like?  Is it so private that you can’t really talk about it?  If you believe in “life after this,” I mean really, then isn’t it the most important thing in life?  Then why is God, and faith, and prayer private, and hard to talk about?  Wouldn’t it be important to help the woman you love get to heaven also?

So, anyway, that’s the “love” thing.  You say you want my blessings?  Tell me again, “Why do you want to marry her?

Scott Burrows Paralyzed Kickboxer Walks at FVMA

Scott Burrows on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott Burrows on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

What if the measure of your success is determined by how you react and change from catastrophe in your life? What belief system must you possess to conquer those challenges? Only rare events force people to change. Even more rare are those individuals who can inspire people to the core and move them to action.

The Florida Department of Professional Regulation mandates that veterinarians participate in 30 hours of continuing education every two years in order to maintain an active license.  This is a good thing.  But honestly, sitting in a lecture hall with hundreds of other veterinarians hasn’t been at the top of my bucket-list these last two years.  Frankly, I’ve been working on me.

But May 30 is the deadline, and I do love what I do, so I “enthusiastically” attended the 85th Annual Florida Veterinary Medical Association Convention this last weekend, just a month before the deadline for my remaining required CE hours.  If the likes of:  Immune-mediated Thrombocytopenia: Pathophysiology & Diagnosis, Icteric Cats – More Than Just Hepatic Lipidosis, Cyclosporine/Apoquel Versus Glucocorticoids, and Resection and Reconstruction Techniques for Soft Tissue Sarcoma in Dogs sound like three riveting days, you would have been captivated.  And, believe it or not, I thoroughly enjoyed all of these.  But, me being me, what made me want to get up at 5:30 to drive two hours was a keynote speaker named Scott Burrows.

Scott played college football at Florida State University under legendary coach Bobby Bowden and was a top-ranked kick boxing champion, having his Last fight broadcast by ESPN. Later that year, his life took a dramatic turn when the car he was a passenger in lost control in a serious accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down and diagnosed a quadriplegic.

After years of frustrating and painful therapy, and a phenomenal will to succeed, Scott is now a best-selling author and in-demand speaker.  He employed his paralysis as a visual metaphor, as he rolls himself out on stage in a wheelchair, obviously able to pretty effectively use his upper body now.  With dramatic  arm gestures, he explained how he personally utilized his three principles: Vision, Mindset, and Grit, that are now the focus of his motivational/inspirational addresses.  He encouraged us to “stand up” when we are “paralyzed” by life’s challenges—regardless of circumstances—and achieve our best.

Clearly aimed at a secular audience, Scott used a Tony Robbins” style “You can do it,” positive motivation that we can accomplish anything we set our minds on.

Scott Burrows 2 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott Burrows 2 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com

Scott has keynote addressed hundreds of multinational corporations all over the world.  That’s how I had heard of him.  In doing so, he is ambiguous as to the source of his immense inner strength.  But I did a bit of digging on his website and some of his other addresses, and discovered his faith in Christ, and the use of his suffering as part of an offering up from which to be lifted out of his tragedy.

So, why not tell the whole story?  Why not “give Him all the glory?”  No doubt a “You can do it yourself style Motivational Speaker,” has an easier time paying the bills and is in less demand at PepsiCo, GE, and Polaris than a Christian inspirational speaker.

Far be it from me to know someone’s heart, but I tend to give folks a pass.  Scott let us fill in the blanks with our own hearts and minds.  If we look inside and don’t really have such a source, it’s likely we’ll dig deeper until we find Him.  I thinks this is an example of “God meets us where we are.”

Scott held a gold club (9 iron?) and raised it, and waved it and twirled it for dramatic effect several times during the talk.  He shared a story of golfing with someone and showed how he swung the club from the chair.

Towards the end of his keynote presentation, to demonstrate that his are not just words, that we really can do whatever we really are determined to do, he scooted himself to the edge of his seat, and with his hands, lifted one foot out of the chair, then the other.  He flipped the golf club around and, pressing it to the ground as support, lifted his body weight and walked across the stage.

Of course, this was met with applause and a standing ovation.  Indeed, with a true faith, we can certainly move mountains.

Much Love.

 

Scott Burrows 3 on dogtorbill.wordpress.comScott Burrows 4 on dogtorbill.wordpress.com