Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Water Walking into the Darkness

Well, my SAD friends, it is that time of the year, when the sun goes down early and comes up late, and there are fewer minutes of daylight every day. For people who have SAD, it is the least favorite time of the year. SAD is the acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder. People who have SAD tend to become sad when the long nights and short days move in. It stinks. Of course I am still processing personal grief along with the seasonal changes. Last winter when I entered a hermit-like state and didn’t leave the house much for four and a half months, I asked myself, is this grief, or is it plain old depression? I decided it was probably a little of each, and I also decided that it didn’t matter. The important thing at that point was to sit home by myself in an emotional fog and not have to go out to face the world. Yeah. Looking back now I think that was mostly grief. For years I noticed that October was a time when depression would overtake me. My life could be fine, with nothing to gripe about, but the darkness would descend and I’d be motionless and sad, lacking the will to do much anything. Many people here in the northern latitudes experience this autumn downturn. We trade remedies: vitamin D3 and light boxes are mentioned often. I keep meaning to get a light box, but in its absence, I find that exercise helps. Following my recent angiogram, I felt motivated for the first time in my life to exercise, and signed up for water walking at the Vashon Athletic Club. I go three days a week. The class attendees are an eclectic collection of islanders, some whom I’ve known for years and others whom I’m meeting for the first time. The classes are real workouts, but we also find time to chat, and that is pleasant. Everyone is friendly. It is overall a positive experience. I am grateful to have this opportunity, especially because for the last few years I thought I had too many cranky arthritic joints to be able to do any exercise. In the water I can move. The things that have helped me with depression and grief have been writing, singing, and now water walking. It’s good to have few things to do that I know will help, especially this year. The problem with depression, or grief, is that even if you know what would help, you usually do not feel up to doing it. That’s the bear trap of depression, holding you motionless and in pain. I told myself the other day that I need to make myself sing even if I don’t feel like it, because in a few minutes I’d feel better. That thought started a song lyric unreeling in my mind. If there’s anything more cheering than singing, writing, or exercise, it’s getting a check in the mail. Oh. Yes, that cheers me up, too, but I meant to say it’s writing a song. If you are creative in any way, you know what I mean. The feeling you get when you’re in the zone of doing your art or craft, creating something that did not exist before, is the best feeling in the world. However good or bad a song turns out to be – and I’ve written plenty that didn’t make the cut of public performance – at the time of creating that song, I’m in love with it. So I wrote this lyric, and now I’m working on getting the tune together. Where shall I sing it? I don’t know yet. In my office, for the moment. Here’s a verse, so you get the drift: “Today I’m feeling very low Sing anyway The winter sun has lost its glow Sing anyway There is no reason more or less For sadness or for happiness I lift my guitar, my guitar lifts me And I sing Anyway” The title of the song is (surprise!), “Sing Anyway.” That’s what I mean to do. Between singing and water walking, I’ll get through another dark season. Although I have considered going to visit friends in Australia until next March or so. Failing that, it’s the guitar and the swimming pool.

Living Out God’s Plan

How do you reconcile a belief that God has a plan with the apparent random cruelty of life in this world? An old question, and you need to think it over and find your own answer. Lately I have been trying to be more conscious of, and grateful for, the gifts and graces that have come to me. From that perspective, I am blessed. I have loving friends and family, and I recently learned that I have a heart that is healthier than I thought, so I can expect a few more years before shuffling off this mortal coil. Of course that expectation is tempered with the awareness that you never know, but I remember the wisdom of Nikos Kazantzakis, as spoken by his character Zorba the Greek. I can’t remember the exact words, but the meaning was, “Live each day as if you are going to live forever, or you are going to die tomorrow.” Either way you choose to look at it, you can find yourself living with an expansiveness, awareness, and generosity that can get lost in the everyday lives we live. So, a little bit more life stretches before me, a little more time to bring my gifts to the world. Thinking about that had me asking questions about God’s plan. Am I spared to live a while longer because God has some purpose for me, or am I simply going to spend the time I have left doing, as nearly as I can discern, God’s will? How you answer that sort of question depends on how you perceive God – is God an intelligent being, a God created in our image, who thinks and acts for reasons that are dictated by an overall scheme? Or is God an intelligence that animates us and leaves us to work out our own destinies? Or, as in some belief systems, are we here to work out some ongoing karma, making up for the mistakes of past lives, learning new lessons for the next life? Long ago I had to get used to the shocking idea that God is not an old guy in the sky with a beard. Mind you, if I die and am confronted by an old guy in the sky with a beard, will my face be red. That old guy image is how we tend to envision God in our Christian –based culture. I realized I had to get over that idea, but then, what does God look like? I don’t know. I tend to believe that when we look at each other, we are looking at God. When we marvel at the beauty of creation, we are looking at God. When an orca leaps in Dalco Passage – yup, God. But then, what about the other things? Anyone who has been paying attention to what is going on in the world can grasp the difficulty of seeing God in beheadings, random shootings in public places, car wrecks, and of course, Ebola. When I see those things, I try to perceive God not as the perpetrator of atrocities, disasters, and horrible diseases (AIDS, anyone?), but as the source of grace to those who suffer. Are all victims aware of God’s grace? I am certain they are not. A lot of people claim they don’t believe in God because of all the pain and truly horrible things he allows to happen. This is tricky, blaming the God you don’t believe in for the world’s troubles, but still a popular stance. Allow me to introduce the concept of Satan, who is no more a red guy with horns, a pointy tail, and a van dyke beard than God is the old guy in the sky. These words, these characters, God and Satan, are shorthand symbols for the good and the evil they represent. There is evil in the world. We see it and hear of it every day, in wars and racism, hunger and disease (trying to remember the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, another shorthand symbol). If you take these symbolic beings literally, and expect them to think and feel and act like you, which is, again, creating God (and Satan) in your own image, you can go wrong. You can make heartless mistakes like telling people with cancer that it is their own fault because they didn’t pray enough, for example. You might think you know exactly what and who God is, and what he (usually) is doing, and what the heavenly consequences of earthly behavior are. You might think like that. With all due respect, that is not what I believe. I believe that God is with us when we do chemotherapy, when our heads are being cut off, when our wasted bodies are too weak to move. I believe that God speaks to us through friends who give us rides and bring us meals when we’re too sick and tired to cook. I believe that God works through the workers who try to make the dying more comfortable. I believe that God’s plan, whatever it is, is too big, too far reaching, for me to see. Either that or there’s no plan. And I don’t know the answer to that, so I have to have faith. My faith is in what is true, what is kind, what is real. My faith is in the living God, who lives in us. I believe that when God gives us gifts, we are obliged to bring our gifts to the world, if we can, so I write, and I sing, and I listen to people, and I pray. That is how I reconcile myself with the cruelty of this world, that is how I try to live out God’s plan, whatever it is. That’s my answer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to tune my guitar and sing a little. Blessings, love, grace and peace, be with you all.

Dog business and Depth Perception

Took the dog for a run at a park on the island. She loves being off-leash, and if there are no other dogs present, I let her go to frisk and frolic, and do what we euphemistically call her “business.” Being the responsible, good, guilt-laden citizen that I am, I always take a plastic bag and go pick up her business, tie a knot in the bag and throw it in a trash can. Almost always. Sometimes the dog is in such a wiggling hurry that she runs out ahead of me, and from a distance of forty or fifty feet away I see her going into the characteristic hunch of the business dog. I groan, because now I’m going to have to look in the grass for the business. I look for a place marker close to her to guide me. Today it was a bright orange autumn leaf sticking up above the grass. I figured the dog was about six feet north-northwest of the leaf. I got my bag and set off for the spot. Which brings me to a True High School Story. At my school all sophomores were required to take a course called Life Science. This class covered health and driver’s ed. Health was a quick once over of body parts. Driver’s ed was the book-learning part of learning to drive. My class was taught by Mr. Haney, who was a coach and teacher. He was not a warm and cuddly guy and his main claim to fame was being able to walk across the gym floor on his hands. One day we walked into class and Mr. Haney had set up two unfamiliar objects. The first was a box with a pedal that measured your reaction time. It flashed a light and then recorded how long it took you to stomp on the pedal. My reaction time was the worst in the class. The other object was a narrow table about eight feet long and eighteen inches wide with two plastic cars sitting on top. The cars were both attached to a single loop of string that ran through two holes in one of the narrow ends of the table. The idea was to stand at the other narrow end and pull on the loop of string. When you did that, one car moved forward and the other moved backward. We were supposed to line the two cars up next to each other. This measured our depth perception. Everyone had a go at it, and most of the kids got the cars pretty close together. Then it was my turn. I tugged the string back and forth until I thought the cars were next to each other. Mr. Haney looked at the cars, and then looked at me. “You’re done?” “Yes.” “You think the cars are next to each other?” I was getting a bad feeling, but I said, “Yes.” Mr. Haney shook his head, and said, “Litchfield, I want you to do me a favor. Whenever you are going to drive a car on the public roads, call me first so I can stay home.” Huge laugh. I walked around the table and saw that the cars were about three feet apart. So, lousy reaction time and lousy depth perception. It’s my inability to discern distance and where one object is in relation to another that pertains to today’s story. Today I walked out toward the orange leaf and got to the exact spot I had decided was six feet north-northwest of the leaf, and … there was nothing there. I stared intently at the ground, starting with what I thought was ground zero and moving in widening circles. After a few minutes of this intense inspection, the process yielded exactly bupkiss. I usually give the search a few minutes, and find nothing. It’s frustrating. I’m telling you all this as a public service. If you decide to take a walk and you see me out in the grass carrying a plastic bag, walking in circles and staring at the ground, you might want to stay clear of where I am that day. As for driving, I’ve been doing that for fifty years now. I try to drive carefully, and most of the time I don’t hit anything. Most of the time. You might want to stay clear of me on the road, too, come to think of it. Just saying.