Thursday Thoughts From the Throne

Clock feature in a small park in NYC

Is the day over? No?

Phew!

Made it. 

My colon has been awfully out of whack this week. So has my running schedule, come to think of it…

So, most of the time I try to avoid talking politics and religion with my patients and my friends. There are only a few trusted people I feel I can have a rational conversation with. Today, though, I ran across one of those people who was trying to convince me that my theology was misguided and that abortion was wrong in all circumstances. Even in the case of an 11 year old girl who was molested by her uncle.

Don’t get me wrong, I like this guy. He is a good man, even if we fundamentally disagree. However, he made a comment about prayer in school that got my dander up. Specifically he said that Christian prayers only should open every school day and that more of it probably would have prevented the Las Vegas shooter from killing all of those people.

Um. No.

I am going to skip the theology question and the abortion issue and hit on that school prayer statement.

Being prayed at is not the thing that prevents hurting people from lashing out. Love does. Good parents who try to do right by their kids and their spouses, fellow human beings who show kindness…. these are the things that prevent damaged people. 

Loving people who need it is awfully darn hard. 

I am not saying don’t pray. Go ahead and pray. I pray. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can help you love, help you find kindness when you don’t think there is any left inside of you. Here’s the thing, though: Don’t you ever think for one minute that your prayer means you have done your duty and your responsibility to other people stops there. No. You have to physically reach outside of yourself and help those around you or you are just saying empty words. 

I used to be that person, the one for whom the world was black and white. No amount of arguing or reasoning could change my mind. I was so full of anger back then. Why doesn’t everyone see the logic that I see? Life had to show me the all of the other shades of gray and the myriad of vibrant colors that make up this world. It had to show me that I am not as smart as I thought I was. 

Life is still teaching me.

Kind of makes me wonder what I will think of this post in ten years…

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Flight

Birds in flight inside the American Museum of Natural History in NYC

“I asked her, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ She touched my face and smiled. ‘No. Not at all.’

‘How can you not have fear?’

‘Because I have you. You are the strongest man I know.’”

He stopped for a moment, emotion stealing his words.

“The tumor doubled in size in 7 days. I don’t know what to do, how to help her… how to let her go.”

I have had so many conversations like this, two just this week. I always marvel at how the afflicted can be so strong, so full of peace and resolve even as those around them are falling to pieces. 

What sets them apart? 

There have been times in my life where I have been so depressed I have prayed to die. 

Please, God, take me in any way that you see fit…

But I was never peaceful about it.

I have fear. So much fear.

Fear of suffering. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the loss of control. Fear of being known for who I really am.

Who am I?

What sets them apart?

How do you come to terms with dying? 

“She says she will see me later, that it isn’t really goodbye.”

Faith.

Is it possible that it is simply faith in love… love which takes many forms… that gives us peace?

Deflowering

Close up of a rose
“Who hogs the sheets at night?”

The bride and groom hesitated. A room full of reception guests held their breath waiting for the answer.

Awkward silence dragged on.

“Uh, we don’t know?” The bride offered, finally.

Mercifully the MC seemed to sense the faux pas and appeared set to quickly move on to the next question. The relief in the room was palpable until he got the next question completely out. 

“So who snores the most?”

Another awkward silence. The bride and groom turned to look at each other in disbelief.

Granted, it was a second wedding but there were four (yes FOUR) pastors present at the reception plus two sets of parents in their 70’s and 80’s, deeply religious people. Three fourths of the room sat frowning disapprovingly, their arms crossed. The rest leaned forward grinning in amusement, not wanting to miss a single word. 

Always know your audience….

With a Prayer

St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City

I have prayed out loud with a few patients over the years at their request. I will admit, however, that I am personally very uncomfortable with public displays of my faith. I am not sure my prayers carry the weight and power that some people believe that they should. I feel somewhat hypocritical for that reason, as if I am selling a faulty product. 

That being said, I do pray privately for patients on a regular basis:

Please, God, protect my patients from my mistakes. Help your love for them to show through me…

When I pray for others, do I believe I am swaying God in any way? Not really. Prayer is not so much about others as it is about me, a sort of mindfulness. I need a reminder that I am a fallible human being and that I must demonstrate compassion to those who are vulnerable. I struggle with that from time to time, just like the next person. 

I could write a book on the various things people do to bargain with their God when they are desperate and in that respect I am just like them. I have my own rituals and my superstitions, my own pleading bargains that I have made. Some may mock me for that. 

Faith, though, keeps me sane. 

And that is good.

Jesteś całym moim światem…

  

She last visited him at the Vatican the day before he died.

What did she say to him after all of those years? 

What else could she say?

Jesteś całym moim światem.

Thirty years of friendship, longing, love, bittersweet joy, and sadness. 

With a pope. 

Now a saint.

It doesn’t matter if there was a physical component to their relationship. Sometimes love transcends the physical. It transcends time and distance.

Love.

Love is immortality. 

Love is sainthood.

GOD is love.

Upwards

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“Mommy, I don’t want to die!” I could taste the fear in my son’s voice.

“Sweetie, you aren’t going to die.”

“But mommy, little kids die. I’m a little kid.”

Where did this come from, anyway?

I deal with death a lot. I have always been at peace with it in the clinical setting. I grieve, but there is peace.

I attended my first funeral at age four when my little friend from church nursery died from a degenerative neuromuscular disorder of some sort. I had seen her waste away over the months and I remember being terribly sad for her that she could not run or walk or even feed herself anymore. Even then I imagined that she was probably pretty happy about not being in a wheelchair even if she did miss her mommy and daddy. I didn’t cry when she died.

Now, as an adult, with my own mortality creeping up on me, deaths of friends and social acquaintances can hit me pretty hard.

So what to do about my son right now? How honest am I supposed to be with a four year old about death and dying?

I decided on being open about it. “Yes, hon, babies die and little kids die.”

“But mommy, I don’t want to die…” The sob was starting to edge into his voice.

So we talked about dying, how mommy has been with many people, even kids, as they were dying, what happens and why and that one way or another mommy would be with him if that ever happened.

Then, we talked about heaven. Streets paved with gold, pearly gates, mansions…he wasn’t digging it. I thought he might, given the fact he was in the midst of his pirate obsession, but nope. So I told him there would be corn dogs…all of the corn dogs he could eat (with ketchup) if he wanted. That was the ticket. Within two minutes he had relaxed and drifted off to sleep.

So there you have it, folks. Corn dogs. Corn dogs in heaven? I think heaven HAS to be different things for different people. For my son it will have corn dogs.

Do you believe in heaven? What will heaven look like for you? 

If this looks familiar, you are not crazy. It is a rewrite of an old post from last year…

Malpractice

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“There is something else going on, isn’t there?” She was not taking her medication again. She always stopped when something else was going on at home. A breakup. Money trouble. Unemployment. It was a good bet.

“Doc, I can’t do it.” There was a quiet sob.

I looked up from the computer. She had tears streaming down her face again. “Do what?” I had seen the tears before. I felt annoyance rising up inside me. I put the computer down on the counter and handed her a box of tissues. 

Then, the whole bloody mess came spilling out.

Her father had molested her repeatedly for years. In fact, she had been impregnated by him when she was twelve and the baby was put up for adoption. Now, as a young adult with two small children, her father was trying to reinsert himself into her life. Seeking counsel from her pastor she was told she had to forgive him, to allow him back, allow him access to herself and her children. 

If she did not, she would be damned forever.

“I just cannot do it.” She moaned through clinched teeth, “If he touches my kids I will kill him.”

I will help you.

“That is not what forgiveness is.”

“What do you mean?” Her eyes bored into me. 

“That is not Biblical forgiveness, being told you have to allow him back into your life in order to curry favor with God.”

“How…”

“How do I know? How can I question what a pastor says?”

“Yes.”

“I have a personal interest in forgiveness, particularly Biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness is for you, not him or anyone else. It is something that happens inside of you and cannot be mandated by anyone. It does not demand that you maintain any sort of contact with that man and it certainly does not demand that you endanger your kids.”

Her whole life, all of my experiences with her over the years, fell into place. The burden this woman was carrying around, weighing her down… Now some prick involved in spiritual malpractice?

“You ever get counseling?”

“I had to see one that wasn’t worth crap back when it all happened.”

“You need to find a new church.” She nodded as she wiped snot from her nose. “And you need a real counselor.” 

Except that she was at the free county clinic seeing me. She floated from one part time job to the next, no high school diploma. There was no counseling available to her. I still worry about her and where she is now…

Oopherectomy

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Every month, like clockwork, my body returns to the memory of you. Logically I know it is hormonal. Even though my child bearing days are over, my body is not yet ready to let you go. I cannot argue with it. I cannot rationalize it away. I have to ride it out, wait for the surge to pass.

During these times you seem saintly. Gone are your flaws. The way you would look at me as if I were stupid? Erased. How you would speak to me with that tone, slow and deliberate, that implied I was insane? The fact is it was you who drove me mad. Your stubborn, bullheadedness? It seems so endearing when I recall it through the hormone laden haze of ovulation.

I still long to feel you growing inside of me. The shame of that wanton desire weighs heavily across my pelvis. Tomorrow, maybe, I will be free of your memory again. Until then, every thought I have is laced with you.

I Am Love

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A group of nuns stood off to the side, worn out from whatever trials their pilgrimage here had entailed, eyes wide with wonder and awe. Clearly overcome with emotion, one started to sing and then several others followed. Soon, the entire interior space of Saint Peter’s Basilica was swallowed up by the sound of angelic voices lifted in hopeful praise, an offering of sorts…

My heart ached from the beauty and sadness of it all.

God, where are you?

Notre Dame in Paris. Rainy day. Almost no one was there. I was emotional anyway. It was my last day in France and here I was standing in the middle of one of the world’s greatest icons, a place I never thought I would ever visit. As I was putting my camera away to leave, the pipe organ started to play. The richest, most beautiful sounds poured forth and seemed to shake the very foundation my soul…

My heart ached from the beauty and sadness of it all as I sat down and closed my eyes, letting it all wash over and through me.

God, where are you?

I was the only person left in the room in the ICU. The nurses were busy tending to other patients. The ventilator had been removed. The IV medications were all turned off. There was no family. I held her cold, wrinkled hand for the next two hours until she finally passed away silently into the night. I cracked open the window to let her spirit leave, feeling the cool breeze wash over my face…

My heart ached with the beauty and sadness of her.

God, where are you?

I watched his face as he made love to me in the floor. There was pain there in his eyes. Pain and love and longing and grief and lust. Gripping hands so tightly, afraid the other might slip away and expose our nakedness. A whispered name. Sweat dropped off of his bare chest and onto mine just before ecstasy took over…

My heart ached with the beauty and sadness of that moment, lying there in his arms, feeling loved, knowing that he would not be here tomorrow or ever again.

God, where are you?!?!?

And so I have found that God lives in music. God lives in life and death and in love itself.

My heart aches.

Time Travel

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I was curious. How many of you had time travel fantasies as kids? 

Once upon a time, I stood in the center of old Fort Parker and closed my eyes tight, both hands balled up into tight fists. My life was miserable and I wanted an escape route. If faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains, well I could surely believe hard enough to travel back to the mid 1850’s.

To be honest, I was too young and naive to have thought it through. The civil war was coming. Texas without air conditioning? Shoot me. I would also need an everlasting supply of red hair dye, deoderant, razors, tampons, and birth control. Toothpaste. Can’t forget the toothpaste. 

“What are you doing?!?!! Keep up!”

Fortunately, wishing (even if you wish very hard with every fiber of your being) is not the same as faith and so I never had to regret my decision…

So….. Am I the only one who ever did this? If you did, too, why? What time would you travel back to?