Thursday, March 17, 2005
Today I said goodbye to an old friend who by now is making that short step to another form. Oona was a gentle lady who wanted only to be stroked and listened to. She would follow me about waiting for the chance to stick her head under my hand, even if I was napping on the couch or working on something in the house. Lately Oona has been sharing her form with a growth, a kind of cancer, and that cancer was slowly taking away her ability to enjoy life. She was able to eat a few teaspoons of milk and then sometimes would throw it up. Not a very lady-like way to go about the day. She also was getting confused and would forget which food dish was hers, or even what room she was in, and she would call out for someone to come and help her out.
So today I helped her Out.
It's a funny thing that people can read about all kinds of things like tsunamis and torture chambers in Syria run by the CIA but when a little furry friend seems to be stumbling in the Way of Things, we cry.
I was a little nervous this morning about my choice to let some technician stick a needle in Oona and pump her full of drugs. I always think of Janis when the subject comes up. She probably had a moment or two when she realized that this particular high was not going to end.
Years ago I was swimming in a canal in Yuma while my babysitter was away in the bushes making out with her boyfriend. She had given me a floatation vest but didn't take the time to tie it on me before she trotted off with her little friend. So as I paddled around the canal I somehow paddled out of the vest. Contrary to what some people may think it does not require only a relaxed mind to float in water; it requires a certain ratio of fat to muscle and I had the wrong numbers for floating. I sank like a rock to the bottom of the canal. At five years of age or so I knew enough to kick when I hit, to try for the surface. Maybe that's an instinct. I also had seen in cartoons that, like baseball, in drowning it's three strikes and you're out. I hit the surface lightly, not even enough to get out a yelp and then dropped again to the sandy floor of the canal. That was two. I had one more chance for life. I had my eyes open by then and could see the rocks on the surface and the sparkling ripples on the surface of the water as I once more kicked to the sunlight, but once again my body had other ideas, and I found myself going down for the third time, just like in the cartoons, with my arms outstretched upwards. I recall thinking that I was supposed to see my life flashing before me but maybe at that age there wasn't a lot to see and I just relaxed and figured, "Well, this is it." Then my fingers touched the vest floating on the surface and I kicked up in a frantic last ditch effort. I caught the vest and hugged it to me, coughing and gasping for air. I managed to paddle slowly to the edge of the canal, a muddy little canal used for irrigating the cantalope fields. As I struggled to pull myself up onto the mud my hand slapped down on a little insect known as a mud dauber because they pick up bits of mud and sculp nests for their eggs on the sides of things, like garages and bridges. They also have the ability to sting several times without dying, unlike a honeybee. So I got hit several times on the palm and would have let go of the beast, but that would have meant slipping back into the water and another round of drowning. I think I either crushed it or it slipped away, saving it's own life. I don't really know for sure, but I lay there coughing up dirty water and wheezing and crying in pain. My babysitter heard me and came and got me. She knew things had gone badly awry and took me home, leaving me there alone while she took off with her boyfriend. When mom got home she found me with a swollen hand, a bad cough and a blackened, burnt back from the hot Arizona noonday sun, the same sun that sparkled so pretty on those dirty waters. My back bled and peeled for some time and they couldn't even smear Noxema on it for a few days until some skin grew back. The babysitter was never re-hired and I doubt she got paid, although I don't recall being able to tell anyone about the boyfriend. I figured that out years later when I thought about the event. Dad was upset with my version of the story because he was one of those folks who thought that all you had to do was relax and you floated. "Everybody floats in water!" he would say when he tossed me into the public pool to teach me how to swim. Eventually I learned how to swim underwater and got good at it, so that worked out. I still float about twelve inches under the surface, in spite of a much greater proportion of fat on my frame, thanks to years of beers.
My early experiences with death very many and all included this feeling that "Well, this is it..." My bouts of pneumonia, complete with feverish hallucinations of monsters sitting on the bedside watching me; my falls off rocky mountains, tall trees and the occasional light pole. I came to accept that death was just around the corner and so far it wasn't so bad, certainly not "the Enemy". It was almost an old friend who always seemed to have to leave the party early. but always with a promise of a return. I couldn't quite understand my father crying when he got the telegram about Grandma Shirley passing away with a heart failure. I got a better taste of it when Teddy took the turn and my wife of the time told me to "get over it." When I had decided to take a turn off a cliff on my motorcycle and join Tedddy one morning he stopped by to give me a heads-up about timing. "You have things to do. It's not your time." Granddad Shirley passed away in the Vets Hospital about two weeks after he asked mom and dad not to put him there because it's where old soldiers go to die. When I saw him years later on the other side he was sitting on a tall hillside watching the storms over the mountains across the valley. I asked him how he was doing and he smiled that slow Tennessee smile and told me, "Well, Billy, it's not too bad. See those clouds over there? Real pretty." Teddy said much the same thing. "It's interesting."
When old Fred Brighton lost all her teeth and was wasted away to a bag of fur and bones and infections were eating up her jaw I knew I had to help her make that last step. To say I cried like a baby was not quite true. A baby cries because something is all wrong and it's the worse pain they have ever felt. I cried because it was all right and it was a familiar pain, one you get to feel too many times. I buried her in the garden in the sun, along with a tee shirt for a pillow and some catnip to make the journey colorful.
I told Oona on my word of honor that I would make her a crypt inside my altar under the apple and cherry group that shades my Goddesses. Like an Egyptian princess she would become some part of a great holy thing and would listen to my prayers and receive my offerings. I told her I will make a nice statues of a Cat in Glory, with her feet all close together like she could sit on a quarter. Like angels on the head of a pin she will sit on my altar to my Lady of Life and Death and in the sun the goldfinches will come and fight over thistle seed. If a canary should break loose from it's cage I hope it will find it's way to Oona's statue and sing it's little heart out for my old friend to hear.
As I handed Oona to the girl at the vet's I started to cry like I had hoped I wouldn't, but wished I would. If I hadn't cried it would have meant I was not being compassionate, just dumping off an old cat who had outlived her time. But like a man I cried, like a baby I cried, like a friend who is saying goodbye I cried and when the poor girl offered me some tissues I said, "It doesn't make it better..." but I knew it was right. It was time.
I know Teddy will show her around, Fred will find her some nice catnip and Granddad will be happy to sit by her and stroke her soft fur while they watch the storm clouds that create the rainbows on the other side of the valley. See ya later, Oona.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
For years I have said that if any man were to exhibit the traits of the God in the Bible they would be considered psychotic. It seems to me that the description of the life of Moses is a prime example of a psychotic in control of a group of people, not unlike Charlie Manson, except Charlie only killed one man and sent his followers to kill for him. Like Yahew, Charlie is a jealous god and punishment for worshipping others is death.
So there in Exodus are all these nit-picking rules for everthing from cutting your hair to what food you can eat and how to prepare it. It's as detailed as a government manual and as vague in a way so a psychotic manager can turn it to justify anything they want to do. Go and read Exodus and Deuteronomy and see if all the rules and regulations don't seem a tad over zealous. The origins of Jealous, the name of the God of the Hebrews, is in fact zealous.
Here's a description of the BTK killer, recently captured and currently being held by the Kansas City police:
"What little power he had, he abused. He was a very petty man," Reno, another neighbor, said. "It's kind of curious that dogs that were in back yards suddenly came loose when he was around, and then there he was to write the ticket."
Saturday, March 05, 2005
My thought was that some person reading my application and those of my doctors, came away with this tiny fraction of information, missing the doctor's reporting that there was no chance I could work again because it's a degenerative condition and that's what degenerative conditions do: they get worse. I was wondering why they didn't "get it" and I had this flash of a chimpanzee I saw in a PBS show. She had been caring for her child and the child died. She carried that dead piece of flesh around for a couple of days and then took it out into the jungle and came back sometime later a changed and angry chimp. I felt for that chimp as I don't feel for our President, who cheerfully orders the deaths of thousands of babies a day. That's called empathy, because I have held my son inmy arms, knowing that he is very slowly dying. The average life span of a person in his state is about 4-7 years, so he's on the downhill slide to death. The nurses with children, who have nursed them to health, relate to me and my pain better than one of my doctors who admittedly is concerned over the fact that he is leaving his practice to move to a northern lake town to "shoot snowmobilers". ha ha.
This doctor wrote in his last report on me that I was "an enigma" to him. He couldn't figure it out why, when the MRIs on me didn't really show that much pressure on the nerves, why I told him I hurt that much. He didn't understand, apparently, that everybody is different. Everybody has a different chemical mix inside them. I seem to have more of a substance that pain doctors call "substance P" (no kidding) which allows for the transmission of pain to the brain. He didn't test for this, nor has any doctor. It may be an expensive test that the insurance companies won't pay for, but anyway it would just tell them that I hurt all the time. Bottom line, he couldn't relate to my pain. He interrupted me when I tried to tell him how I felt. He started up his dictaphone in the middle of my saying goodbye to him, dismissing me without even a hand wave. He did not have an ounce of empathy with me.
I have a friend, really a friend of my sweety-pie's, who studies gnosis and such things and is trying very hard, as all good gnostics do, to eliminate all empathy and other human bindings from her psyche. I doubt she would see it this way, but I know a bit about gnostics and gnosism, and they want to leave this frame of mind and achieve enlightenment. So they say things like "Why do you think you have chosen to be sick?" Now this, on one level, is a very good question, because on one level we have chosen to be sick. We created this universe and sat down in it, specifically to feel sickness and pain and all those parts of an infinite existence. But on this level, the level below the clouds, we didn't choose a blown disc, a life of pain meds and limping. We just hurt and want it to stop. This very fine and hard working lady has never had a child and will never be likely to have one. So when we talk about my feelings about my son she tries very hard to understand what I am going through, but like that distracted doctor she just can't bring in empathy. She can't understand and so we don't connect. We agree silently to disagree.
In gestaltism a person tries the opposite of gnosism.INstead of trying to leave this body and these human frames and concerns, a gestaltic (?) tries to connect with others. They try to blend with others to form a new mind formed of all those people around them. The idea is that a body thus formed is greater than the sum of the parts. You quantum-up to a higher level, working your way towards the All. It's not a better technique than any other, just a different technique. you might say it's using empathy to achieve enlightenment.
My primary care doctor listens intently to what you say. He holds your hands and looks at your face and only when you are done speaking does he speak. He chooses to have empathy for his patients, whom I am sure he thinks of as friends. So he is pretty good at diagnosing my problems. He understands that I sometimes hurt where my son hurts before I even hear that my son has a new injury. He says he sees no reason why a parent would not be that close to a child. he says that doctors know very little of the "why" of the body, only a bit of "what". He gestalts rather than gnows.
There is an experiment wherein they attach electrodes to a chimp and let it do things, like picking up a peanut. They record the brain patterns of this effort. Then they have the chimp look at a peanut without being able to reach it and the same patterns occur in the brain, even though the arm is not moving. Then one day a doctor reached over and picked up the peanut and the chimp showed the same brain patterns as when the chimp was reaching out to take the peanut. He empathized with the doctor. He related to that white clothed arm with the pale hairless hands. He gestalted.
Maybe when we try to see if chimps and apes can speak or otherwise communicate, we are actually forming a gestalt with the beast, causing them (and us) to achieve more than we could before. Maybe both the researcher and the ape achieve a higher consciousness by empathizing with one another.
When we send out boys and girls to kill other boys and girls we try to turn them into killing machines. Lean, mean, killing machines is what the TI says and he means it. if they were boys and girls it would be harder to kill. We send out robotic planes to drop bombs, piloted by video game experts. They see the dots on the screen and zap them, getting higher marks and going to the next level, when their planes can carry nuclear bombs and zap entire cities. But the science of war has advanced to a point whereby we no longer try to push our boys and girls out into the killing fields armed with a stick or a sword to thrust that thing into the guts of another frightened boy or girl. It doesn't work as well as it used to. I think maybe it doesn't because we know more about those other boys and girls. We know about where on the globe they live. We know a bit about their religion, thier lifestyle. We might even have heard their prayers on a PBS special on religion. So we empathize with them. You can't kill a person with whom you fel connected, any more than you can cut off your own arm unless you somehow first disconnect with it, like that man trapped under the boulder who knew that his arm would be the death of him if he did not sever the link at the elbow.
I am told that eventually I will be in front of a judge armed with a lawyer and then I will likely get my disability. I wil look that man or woman in the eyes and explain about my pain and my son and his pain, and they will empathize. They will be asked how can I work, how can I continue to connect with the other workers when I feel so disconnected from them? My life is one of pain and joy. Pain when I awaken, joy when I no longer feel my body. The life of a worker is one of disconnect. They become grades. "I'm a 27, you're a 12. I know more than you and make more money. I am somehow slightly better than you." You probably see their children as diferent from your own, if you have children. This disconnect works for certain kinds of jobs. It does not work for seed planters. Rice farmers sing in the mud, thrusting rice plants into the earth like a cock into a vagina, creating new life. They become a single entity creating life. Office workers shuffle paper, move spots on a screen. Until their office is hit by a suicide bomber they relate to their grades and their desks. Then, screaming in unison, they run to the exits, freed of their grades and running towards life. They empathize with those left behind and struggle to run back and save them, even those whose grade levels are so much higher than their own. A manager comforts a mail clerk and they are one in pain.
Empathy allows us to achieve a higher consciousness. I have a name. If I name my chicken it becomes that much harder to kill them and if I am not a chicken killer, then I am forced by my connection to that hen to apologize for taking their egg. I explain to them why the egg won't hatch, why it becomes a health problem if allowed to rot. People think it's funny and strange that I talk to my hens, talk to my garden and the trees in my yard, but I try to empathize with my world, to achieve a higher consciousness through empathy with the life around me. It's a Way, maybe not your Way, but I have had a break of light through the clouds from time to time and miraculously the pain in my back was lessened.