Monday, February 23, 2009

On Being a Pain

Let me apologize ahead of time but I am going to whine for a few minutes. It is not my normal character to whine but I have a point at the end so please put up with it for a paragraph or two.

I cannot walk without pain. In fact, I don’t remember a time since I got out of a cast after my first knee surgery in High School where I have walked without pain. So for over 30 years and six knee surgeries I have dealt with knee pain. The problem is, when your body is out of balance with knee issues I walk funny and after 30 years of walking funny it has affected my back and for the last 15 years I have had back problems. Almost two years ago now I broke the foot on my “good” leg and had to have surgery to put things back together again. So now I have pain on the “good” leg. Instead of just hurting every other step I now hurt with each step I take. I won’t even bother you with all the fingers I have broken and jammed to make each grip painful and rings almost impossible. Nor will I tell you about all the teeth I have missing from growing up with a masochistic dentist and all the oral surgeries. I just won’t tell you about those things. I fall asleep thinking about how to minimize pain, I get out of bed because of pain, each step I take during the day is filled with pain, and I have to sit in certain chairs to minimize back pain.

I am constantly told to try this doctor, or to try this medicine, or this exercise and am given countless home remedies to help with pain. It’s not incapacitating, it is just there; constantly there.

I’m used to pain. I’ve seen enough war movies now that “pain lets you know you are alive” has become a cliché. I have come to accept pain and, in fact: come to use pain for good. The easiest example of this is my proclivity to getting up at 5:00 am to start my day. I would not have the self-discipline to get up that early if my back would not be screaming at me to get up. Pain keeps me humble. I used to run, jump and play with unusual talent and it all went to my head; now I watch from the sidelines constantly fighting the urge to get in the game, invited into the game, yet realizing I cannot. My wife had to threaten me with not taking me to the hospital for my last knee surgery because I could not admit I couldn’t do it anymore, I couldn’t admit that I couldn’t.
We have to look at pain as motivation and not as an excuse. Too many of us claim pain to exclude ourselves from having to work or being fruitful. We become users instead of producers, takers instead of givers, and whiners instead of winners. Take a long hard look at your life and ask yourself “am I using pain as an excuse or motivation?” You get hurt – okay – take a minute to look yourself over, brush yourself off and then GET UP! I know, I know, now I’m just being a pain.

The Present

What a difference a century makes. Geologists and scientists talk about billions of years, biologists and evolutionists talk about millions of years, historians, preachers and philosophers talk about thousands of years, I just want you to look back at the last one hundred.

Most of you weren’t around one hundred years ago but your parents and grandparents were. Picture them and their lifestyle one hundred years ago. Especially when they talk about “the good old days” and the converse “when I was young, I had to ...” you finish the sentence.

One hundred years ago the average life expectancy was 47.
One hundred years ago only 14 percent of homes had a bathtub.
One hundred years ago only 8 percent had a phone
One hundred years ago there were only 144 miles of paved roads with a speed limit of an outrageous 10 mph.
One hundred years ago the tallest structure was the Eiffel Tower.
One hundred years ago the average wage was 22 cents an hour.
One hundred years ago 95 percent of all births took place AT HOME.
One hundred years ago 90 percent of doctors had no college education.
One hundred years ago most women would wash their hair once a month and used Borax and egg yolks to do it.
One hundred years ago the top causes of death were Pneumonia, the flu, TB, and diarrhea would kill you.
One hundred years ago marijuana, heroin, and morphine were available over the counter at local drug stores.
One hundred years ago there were only 230 reported murders in the whole USA.

You reveal the present when you describe the past. When Grandpa looked back saying how hard it was when he was a kid and how kids “have it so easy today.” He isn’t really talking about the past. When Grandma fondly remembers life on the farm when she was a kid in the middle of her confusing, hectic, internet-filled life she really isn’t talking so much about the past but making a comment on today.

We define the present when we reveal our past. Part of that is the teacher in all of us wanting our friends and family not to fall into the same mistakes that were made in the past. But part of it is our mind making an attempt to grasp the un-grasp-able. Our mind is trying to wrap gift paper around a cat and place it under a tree with a pretty ribbon, but it just won’t sit still. Even the smartest man who ever lived was conflicted with this attempt to wrap a cat when he said both:”there is nothing new under the sun” and “no one knows the future and what is to come”.
The best we can do is unwrap our particular part of knowledge for others and share. It doesn’t matter if they listen or not, we have done our part to define this crazy world just a little and that is why we have added 40 years to our life expectancy and ALSO why most of us die from abusing our body. I’ll just praise God for my shower and shampoo.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Cloud Cover

The old wood smell overtook me as I slid between the pews. My feet still couldn’t touch the ground as I climbed up next to my father in the uncomfortable silence. As I yanked on the tight collar of my brothers out-grown shirt my clip-on tie was exposed for the fake it was. Fifteen minutes before the organ music signaled the start of the service we were sitting in our mentally assigned pews along with most of the members who had theirs staked out as well. Ten minutes early was late and got you the front rows or maybe even the Fellowship Hall where the folding chairs signified a lower status of worshipper. The lights seemed to work but as the organ began playing I looked up at the expensive chandelier-like fixtures and it was as if the dark wood of the room sucked the light out of them. It was a cloudy Sunday morning.

There’s a certain slant of light,
On winter afternoons,
That oppresses, like the weight
Of cathedral tunes

(Emily Dickinson: There’s a Certain Slant of Light)

I sit in my office unable to get any work done. It feels like a blanket has been laid over the world as the clouds came. The world isn’t dark it’s just – wrong. I don’t mean the light, white, airy clouds of summer days where you fashion them into animals and funny faces; I mean the dark, purplish clouds that lay low like fog with substance. They don’t bring a good cleansing rain but they tease you with a little spit and dust circles on your car: winter clouds bringing a chill and with a depression chaser.

Heavenly hurt it gives us;
We can find no scar,
But internal difference
Where all the meanings are.

We’ve all felt the clouds laying on our life like heavenly hurt and too often the place where light should shine is the place that absorbs and takes more light from us. All we want to do is find a comforter and huddle in a corner chair and wait for it to pass but that is the exact opposite of a health.

After the first song where I stood trying to hold an amazingly heavy hymnal when all the professionals sang in four part harmonies a child, not much younger than me at the time, rang out with a “LA LA LA LA LA LA” after all other music had stopped. It was as if a ray of sun burst through the clouds and the stained glass windows to blind me with joy. Even my father smiled; pass the pink peppermints, I can make it through this!

With deference to Emily let me add a verse:

There’s a sky full of light,
That’s always, always here,
So push cloud cover away

And see the Light that’s near.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Good Wife’s Guide

Housekeeping Monthly, 13 May, 1955

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they get home and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.
Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.
Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.
Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives. Run a dust cloth over the tables.
During the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering to his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.
Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Encourage the children to be quiet.
Be happy to see him.
Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.
Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, his topics of conversation are more important than yours.
Don't greet him with complaints and problems.
Don't complain if he's late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through at work.
Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or lie him down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.
Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice.
Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.
A good wife always knows her place.

You must excuse me a minute, before I comment on this I have to go throw-up for a bit.