Category Archives: Peace

The Spiritual Lessons of Politics

I seldom talk about politics publicly.  I’m uncomfortable with how antagonistic and “us vs. them” we tend to get.  Political sparring, which can get quite vile, doesn’t fit in with my vision of the peaceful world I want us to co-create.  And while I very much want “good” people in public office who will be kind, smart, and wise (oh how idealistic I am!), I don’t enjoy fueling the fires of hatred and fear as the subject of politics is wont to do.

A week or so ago a friend voiced an opinion on Facebook about a candidate whom she favored. One of her friends commented on her opinion in a way that I didn’t perceive as particularly nasty, and my friend (for whom I had previously had a lot of respect), rapidly spiraled down into some incredibly nasty name-calling.  And they were both in the same political party!  If there is going to be such odious behavior even within parties, then how can we ever hope to achieve a modicum of civility between parties?!

How can we learn to be more respectful to those with differing opinions?  I wish we could remember that we are all human beings who basically want the same things; we just have very, very different ideas of how to get there.  I think people react with such extreme emotions because they are, beneath it all, quite simply, afraid.  They are afraid that such and such a candidate will ruin their chances of stability or financial comfort or peace or whatever.

I confess that my default setting is not political, but spiritual.  And so I tend to think in terms of spiritual growth and evolution.  In that vein, my fellow citizens, here is our growing edge.  Can we learn to be more civil with one another?  Can we learn that the venom with which we treat one another ripples out into the world in ways we cannot begin to imagine?  If we all want, deep down, to live in a more peaceful world (and I believe we all do — except possibly the arms dealers), then we need to learn to model more peaceful behavior.  We cannot hope to ever see a more harmonious world if we cannot learn to control our hostility within our own interpersonal interactions. And that includes our posts on Facebook and other social media.

Among my peers, there is one candidate whose words and actions many of us find abhorrent.  Truth to tell, it is very tempting at times to ridicule him; and many, many of my friends fall prey to that temptation.   Well, here is another HUGE spiritual lesson.  It’s a really, really, really hard one, but once achieved, it is absolutely transformational.  Can we learn to (bear with me) … hate the sin and love the sinner?

I know, I know.  The very thought of loving someone who is so unlovable is hard to swallow.  It’s like asking you to love Hitler or Stalin.  And yet, even the most vile and evil among us were once children.  Something happened to them somewhere along the way and they… swerved.  My guess is these villains act in such extreme ways because, deep down, they are afraid.  They cover up that fear with megalomania and narcissism and acts of inhumanity and horror.  But that doesn’t mean we should be as vile as they.  It does, of COURSE, mean we shouldn’t vote for them.  And we can do whatever is necessary to prevent them from getting into political office.  I’m just saying, can we do it in a more civilized manner without sinking to their own abhorrent behavior?

There is one candidate who tries really hard to not resort to name-calling and mud-slinging.  I respect him enormously for that.  What a role model.  Can we learn to espouse our views passionately without being vicious and obnoxious?

I, for one, would like us to try.

 

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“Deathiversaries” and Post-Death Birthdays

Mom n Dad laughing

What do you call a birthday when that person is no longer on this earth?  I guess it’s still the anniversary of his birth, although we are no longer counting the years he has lived.

Dad’s birthday is April 30th.  I wrote the first draft of this piece back in February on the first anniversary of his death.  But then I set it aside to read it and revise it later.  And “later” turned into another month.  And now I’m dusting it off one more time.

It’s not easy to remember death.

There are so many wonderful, wonderful things to remember about Dad: his teasing and horsing around; his affection for his wife, kids, and especially his grandchildren; all his years of hard work supporting his family and never complaining; his love of naps; the way he always had time for his family; his dedication to the churches he attended and served; all the little vacations we took together; his love of food; his gregarious personality; his gratitude; his love of nature.  I could go on and on.  But sadly, I seem to be stuck in an endless review of his last few months.

If he had started to drastically decline and then simply continued that decline, I think I could have accepted that.  After all, death comes to each one of us, and after several years suffering the indignities of Alzheimer’s, I’m sure, at some level, he was more than ready to let go of this life.  As a matter of fact, for several months, while he was still living in his home, he would repeatedly tell us, “I’m ready to go home.  Please take me home. Please take me home.”

We had thought he was confused and couldn’t remember that this was his own home.  We tried in vain to convince him that this was the home he’d built with his own two hands when the rancher had become too small for his burgeoning family.  We pointed to all the pictures of the family on the mantle.  We said, “See?  There we all are!  This is your home.”  But it made no difference.  He was caught in a sad loop, not realizing he was in his own home.

At least that’s what we thought at the time.

It was heartbreaking for us as well as frustrating.  We had worked really hard to make sure he stayed home as long as possible.  So over and over we tried to convince him that he was home.  Only a week ago did I realize we were absolutely doing the wrong thing.

I had been a spiritual counselor for two different hospices, so I should have known better.  Unfortunately, I had never read the book Final Gifts during my time at those hospices.  If I had read it then, I would have understood that often dying people speak in metaphors.  Instead of dismissing Dad’s comments as the mark of a very confused man, instead of trying to re-orient him to this earthly consensual reality, we could have been brave enough to say, “Dad, are you talking about your heavenly home?”

I cry to think how much peace we could have given him if we had opened the door to this conversation.

When he was admitted to the nursing home in November of 2013, he had definitely declined further, but he was still walking, talking, and eating.  Then he fell and suddenly he couldn’t walk or eat on his own any more.  Suddenly he also began to exhibit very bad tremoring, shaking and sudden jerking which the doctor believed was an indication of more advanced Parkinson’s.

The jerking was heartbreaking to see because it had come on so suddenly and it completely interrupted his ability to rest.  Rest had always been very important to Dad, but even more so as his Alzheimer’s escalated.  It was as if he just needed to escape from the world for a while because it had become way too confusing for him.  For a while, he was sleeping, off and on, about fifteen hours a day.

Because of those horrible jerks, we started Dad on this medication that relaxed his body so the jerks would cease.  But unfortunately it also meant he was rather “out of it” a large portion of the day.  The nurses hated giving him that medication because just as he was coming back to himself, talking and joking around, it was time for the next dose.  We didn’t know what to do.  But it seemed he was safer and calmer, as well as more rested, so we opted to keep him on it.

Then something happened that took the matter out of our hands.  He fell into a bad fever.  He got so weak he could no longer safely eat anything.  Even drinking became hazardous.  And so they had to discontinue the med.  There was no way to safely give him anything.

And then, miracle of miracles, he got better!  His eyes were open, he was talking again!  We were so relieved.  And the Parkinson’s symptoms never came back!

By this time, we had put Dad on hospice care.  And because of the lingering effects from the fall, his prolonged fever and his lack of food, he had become very, very weak.  Once in a while they tried to walk him down the hall, an aide on each side and one behind him with the wheelchair in case he needed it.  But generally he was in a geri-chair (a kind of cushioned chair/lounge chair, like a recliner on wheels) or in bed.  And he began to get a bedsore, which often happens when people are lying down most of the time and not getting enough nutrition or circulation.

During this time I continued to agonize.  Should we take him off hospice so he could get some physical therapy?  Did he have a chance at recovering if we pushed him a bit?  Would he be able to walk again?  Should we try to take him out to breakfast? (This was one of his favorite things in the world, although it was increasingly less pleasant for the rest of us because he would become agitated when the food didn’t arrive right away or if the waitress wasn’t prompt enough bringing refills on his coffee.)

Dad kept going up and down, up and down.  I could never figure out exactly if he was dying or just going through a momentary dip in his health.  I kept on second-guessing our choices.

Then one day he came down with another fever.  This time he didn’t recover;  he was gone by the next morning.

Ironically, only two days earlier, I had called the hospice social worker so I could talk over whether or not we should take him off hospice so we could get him into physical therapy again.

I had assumed this fever would be similar to the last one – unpleasant, but temporary.  Instead it was one of several signs of his approaching death.  I wish the hospice staff or one of the nurses would have recognized the signs and given us a heads-up so we could have been around him while he was still conscious that last day.  I wish I had recognized the signs.

I had been with Dad until about 2:00 pm.  I left when he appeared to be more at ease.  I wish I had stayed.

I’m sure a lot of us do this when our loved ones pass.  We wonder what we could have done differently.  We wish we had been there more, shared our love, withheld our anger.  Fortunately, I know Dad knew how much I loved him.  And I’m also grateful we only had one episode of anger toward one another in my whole life.  I realize that this is a tremendous gift.  But I have been having trouble letting go of those last three months of his life.  I can’t seem to let myself be at peace about it all.

Perhaps writing this right now will help to shift that.

Sending you love, Dad.  Maybe we can start counting the anniversaries of when you went Home.  Congratulations on so successfully completing your life here on Earth.  And congratulations on completing your journey Home.

You are not forgotten.  We love you still.  And always will.

 

http://www.cynthiagreb.com

Making Peace with Her Dying

Today I received word that a friend has entered that brave lonely path that leads toward death.  She has had several false starts on this road before, but this time her daughter-in-law told me it feels different.  She is now refusing food and drink.  So yes, it seems my friend has chosen her time and it is fast approaching.

When I heard the news I felt heartsick, not necessarily because she would be leaving this earthly plane, for I understand our time here is limited.  I was sad because I am 2000 miles away and the earliest I could possibly get to her would be at minimum, eight days away.  I am sad because in five short months she and I have become dear friends and because there is love between us and because I want to be there to offer comfort if I can and because I want to say goodbye.

Vera is one of two women I have helped care for over the course of this past year.  Most of the time she didn’t need a lot of support—some assistance bathing, some simple meal preparation, some support walking, or when she was especially weak, transferring her to and from a wheelchair.  In between these tasks and some simple cleaning, we would chat.  We enjoyed one another.  It didn’t matter that we were 35 years apart in age.

One of Vera’s favorite things was when I massaged her feet.  She had never experienced that particular luxury before I came into her life, and without fail, it would make her purr with delight.  I also massaged her hands and eventually even her head.  She was surprised how delicious a good head rub could be.  Of course I had to be especially careful not to ruin her lovely white-curled coiffure.

My favorite memory of Vera is the time I drove her to a diner forty minutes away.  She and I are residents in a little town of approximately 1500 people.  There are three restaurants in town, only one of which I knew was to her particular liking.  So I decided it would be a grand adventure for us to travel to this particular diner instead.

This particular eating establishment was run by a woman probably in her early 60’s who knew how to make some decent food, and even better, bake some incredibly delicious breads and desserts.  So Vera and I that day had the pleasure of chatting amiably while driving through the great San Luis Valley of Colorado and then continuing to enjoy one another’s company while sampling some truly tasty soup, toast, French fries, and delicious homemade pie.  She loved it; I loved it.

When I heard the news about Vera’s recent downturn this afternoon, I sat for a while in the car in the driveway and allowed the sadness to fill me up.  While sitting there, I gazed at the branches of the trees against a blue sky and the colorful collection of birds and squirrels munching on birdseed, and I then allowed myself to feel a spark of gladness.  There can be both sadness and gladness all in the course of a few breaths.  Sometimes it’s a choice we make.

When I was ready to come inside, I was greeted by the cacophonous joy of the two dogs in my care who wildly adore me.  It’s hard to be sad amidst all that lovestruck jumping and wagging.  I let the dogs outside and then I sat in a chair in the welcome patch of sun shining through the front door.  I practiced breathing in and out, like a gentle wave rolling up on the beach and then pausing for a moment before sliding back into the sea.  I sat in that lovely sun, which had been hiding for many wintry days, and I knew that whether I was able to be there or not, all would be well.  It was clearly out of my hands.  Vera would leave when she and God decided the time was right.  And Vera would know I loved her whether I was physically present or not.

All is well.  All is well.

 

A Simpler Life

Right now I am blessed to live in a lovely, though unfinished, home in the Colorado mountains.  I have walls, ceiling, and an unfinished floor.  I have comfortable and attractive furniture.  I have a fabulous woodstove with which to keep warm, a bit of electricity, a toilet, and cold water at the sink.  For all other amenities, I must take a very short walk to a finished apartment down below.  This place I live in feels rather like a large and very comfortable cabin.

I am blessed with views of the mountains, with rabbits sweetly hopping about right outside my windows (the windows are at ground level so the rabbits and I are pretty much at eye level as I type,) and with birds and deer feeding a few yards away.  But what I am especially appreciating this morning is the silence.

Because the kitchen is not yet finished, there is no hum of a refrigerator.  Nor do I hear a hot water heater heating water.  Nor a ticking clock.  Certainly no TV.  Blessedly, there are no cars, horns, sirens.  Occasionally I might hear the wind or a coyote.  I do often notice the crackling of the fire, but somehow that adds to the feeling of silence rather than detracting from it.

This morning as I sat in a rocking chair in front of the fire, I found myself thinking of what life must have been like for our ancestors.  The only light they’d have had at night would have been fire or candlelight or, later on, lanterns.  Because many of our ancestors were farmers, they would have been acutely aware of the seasons and the nuances of weather.  They would have been much more attuned to the sun, the moon, and the stars.

In the winter, they would have slept more.  In the summer they would have worked more.  They would have cooked over fires and told stories around them.  They would have spent lots of time with their families or fellow villagers.  They would have helped one another with chores.  The harvest would have been a big community affair.

As I turn on my computer and click on Firefox (yes, I realize that must have felt rather jarring to read,) there is a big Black Friday banner across the desktop.  And I find myself repulsed.  Why do we have to focus on buying things?  How did we go, in just a few short generations, from a people attuned to the seasons of the natural world, to a people obsessed with shopping, driving cars, watching television, and  staring at computer screens?

Most of us live such unnatural lives.  So much of modern day culture revolves around spending money.  And rushing about.  Often alone.  The simple pleasures of interacting with our neighbors, of raising our own food, of sitting around fires, of telling stories, of gazing at sunsets or the moon or the stars – most of these things have fallen by the wayside.

But they don’t have to.  We are free to choose a simpler life.  No one is forcing us to obsess about buying things.  (Although the media and the corporations behind them certainly do their very best to sway us to that way of thinking.)  No one is forcing us to spend hours and hours a day in front of our computers, our Game Boys, or the TV.  No one is forcing us to drive to and from a hundred different social “obligations,” children’s activities, and shopping errands in a month’s time.  No one is forcing us into long unpleasant commutes in order to have the jobs that enable us to buy the things needed to sustain this kind of consumer-based life.

The point of this essay is not to shame anyone.  This is, after all, the culture we find ourselves immersed in.  I’m just raising questions.  And I’m hoping to bring a level of awareness to the choices we are making.   What kind of life do we choose?  Are we truly enjoying the life we are living?  Or might we make  difference choices if we realized we could?

Some of us may get to a point where we realize we want a radically different life.  And we might move to the mountains or to an island or even to a different country.  But this doesn’t necessarily have to be an all or nothing proposition.   Perhaps we can simply start to choose a book instead of TV.  Or light candles occasionally instead of turning on all the lights.  Or decide that some days we are simply not going to drive anywhere.  Maybe we can choose to not buy into the buying of a multitude of gifts at Christmas.  Maybe we can choose a job that pays less money but also involves less of a commute.

Maybe these little choices are not so little.  Maybe these choices would help to create a greater sense of peace.

As for me, I find that peace priceless.