Sunday, July 10, 2016

Where Is The Blog?

Where is the blog? Did Life Opening Up shut down?

Well, not exactly. I think about writing but nowadays have little time for it and even less time for the reflection out of which the writing arises.

Why? Because my older sister has been in hospital since the 27 June. She is seriously ill and I am her primary caretaker. I am her voice at the nurses’ station.

The time I spend with her each day has taught me much: how to be a strong advocate for what she needs, how to quietly accompany her as she struggles to breathe. I know now the names of the various nurses who tend her, where the fridge is for the salad that I brought her from Garelick and Herbs that she doesn’t finish eating, and how to monitor her exercises on her walker, which are designed to prevent blood clots from forming.

A strange situation: one I never thought would happen; at the same time one that I have always known would happen. She has had emphysema for years. This is the second infection/pneumonia in three months. Her last hospital stay was five days; this is a different, a more serious story.

And so, discounting this note, I have ceased for the time being to write. I don’t know how long this hiatus will last; perhaps I can manage a blip now and then. There are many hospital stories to tell—like when the A/C was freezing her and the weekend tech couldn’t fix it, or the special kindness of the nurse who taught her how to watch movies on her I pad: our shared laughter over childhood remembrances and our intimate conversations about our relationship over the years—but they must all wait until my day to day involvement ceases and some peaceful digestion of this experience occurs within me.

 Thanks for reading this. I’ll be seeing you. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

The To-Do List Is Outrageously Familiar

One mass murder after another. I don’t have to name them; you know every one of them.

The Mass Murder Response List:

The President speaks, deploring the violence, sympathizing with the families. (Assistants check out speech from the last mass murder in order to avoid excessive repetition.)

Presidential visit is planned ASAP.

FBI goes to work: Is the shooter on any lists? What did his mother/girlfriend know? Was he an isolate? What kind of toothpaste does he use? Was he bullied in the seventh grade? Drug user? Connected to terrorists on the ground? On the Internet? Sexual identity issues?

We are familiar with the FBI moves by now. In all likelihood they arise from a file: “Mass Shooting Investigation Protocol.”

Community groups:
    Organize sympathy parade.  Make “LOVE NOT HATE “placards
    Organize fund raising for families: Create bank account and local team for equitable distribution.
.   Organize a group to supervise flowers and memorials.
.   Organize food for those who need it.
    Organize transportation for incoming family members.
    Plan community –wide memorial services with local clergy

The Mayor of Orlando calls the Mayor of San Bernadino to ask for support and assistance? “How did you handle . . .?”

OK. So all of the above is good and thoughtful response stuff. Right?

According to The Dallas Morning News, June 19, 2016, there have been 353 mass shootings in the United States this year. A mass shooting is defined by the deaths of four or more persons. 1,312 persons have been injured.

 All America now knows the drill for mass shootings. Protocol lists and files exist everywhere; no doubt including files at-the-ready in major cities where a mass shooting has not yet occurred.

We know how to mourn. We’ve become good at that, too. We wring our hands, say our prayers, send our cards and our money and kneel at candlelight memorial services. We do it all.

What we do not do? WE DO NOT CHANGE OUR GUN LAWS!  

We do not demand background checks or waiting periods. In this country it is much more difficult to get a driver’s license than a gun. It is laughable; it is disgusting.

The United States? A country adept at mourning: a country heartbroken by these frightening killings: a country nearly IMMOBILIZED by mass shootings. Does that explain the inability of Congress to ignore the power/money of the NRA? Does that explain our government’s failure to collaborate across the aisle to create legislation that could ameliorate this appalling situation?

 I doubt it. 

We should be ashamed.

 PS: Maybe, just maybe, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy’s recent heroic filibuster will spark some movement within our seemingly indifferent Congress. I pray so.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Forget Despair: It's a God-Orchestrated Time Of Life

My first three phone calls this morning were—all three--with women of a certain age who have various forms of active cancer.

How could this have happened, I wonder? And yet it’s not as if I haven’t felt this stage of my life coming. Certainly I have. Time passes. We get sick and/or our parts start to fall off like so many parts of an old car speeding down the highway. “Where did the side mirror go? It was just here yesterday!”

I know this territory.

Still, this morning, after the last call, I put the phone down and slumped into a chair. OK, God. This is the deal now, right? Here we are: biopsies, surgeries, complications, memory loss, cancer, scoliosis, and macular degeneration—just to name a few. Walkers, canes, heart monitors and oxygen are common among us.

There is no getting away from it or escaping it. As my brother used to say, “It’s better than being on the wrong side of the grass!” But it isn’t easy either.

Various forms of frailty assail us: from niggling nuisance—contact allergy dermatitis—to frightening, gut wrenching serious—a tumor on the spine which may not be operable. And what do we do? We deal with each problem, one step at a time, in hopes that we can get ahead or at least stay even with whatever ails us. We engage; we learn doctor/ medical talk; we line ourselves up to be treated in good faith and pray like crazy that the outcome will be the best possible.

We are a brave lot.

Slumped into the chair this morning, I pondered: what can possibly be good about any of this? What is the God-orchestration of old age? It’s not so fun! No one could say that it is, but, still, I thought, there is something about this period of time in my life . . . something . . .

For example, never before in our lives have we needed each other more: to drive the car, to bring food, to make us laugh, to join us in consultation rooms with notebooks, to pray together, to celebrate success with us, to mourn with us, to struggle with us to remember the name of that movie Tom Hanks was in when he played that guy who was, well, you know, what is the word we are supposed to use nowadays for someone who is disadvantaged in that way? We laugh hysterically and wonder of wonders, someone comes up with Forrest Gump and we all cheer.

We understand each other. We are connected.

And that is the good stuff: the connection. That, and the forgiveness that can arise: forgiveness of whatever in the past may have caused us to judge one another. Forgiveness grows, nourished by our profound understanding of our mutual frailty and the humor we are able to share over our limitations.

  To my way of thinking, this is our chance to free ourselves from the weight of whatever axe we have been grinding: to drop our story lines about how life and people should be and, instead, become available to love others and ourselves in the most all-encompassing, compassionate manner we may have ever experienced.

As physically and emotionally challenging as this part of our lives can be, how can we say that it is useless or wasted? It is not. If one is willing, it can be similar to the heart blasting- open experience of when that first baby was born and, looking into her/his eyes, you realized that you had, to this point, no concept of how profoundly  you were capable of loving.

 It occurs to me that, if we choose and if we dare to seize the opportunity offered by this period of our lives, we can be in that heart-open state again. We can complete our time here on this earth in a landslide of compassion for one another.

It cannot get any better than this: A chance to become who we were meant to be.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Prayer: So Often The Perfect Thing

Trinity Church, Southport, offers everything that one would expect a solid, energetic Episcopal church to offer. But what we don’t usually find in our churches is a separate day for Healing Liturgy.

At Trinity, this takes place in the pretty chapel on Wednesdays at 11:00 AM. There are never more than about eight of us there. We pray together, The Celebrant reads the Gospel and offers a brief homily after which, often, we parishioners are invited to comment. This is a high participation service. A lay person does the readings of the day and a lay person leads the Litany of Healing.

After Communion those who wish to are invited to come forward to pray together for each other. For me this is the best part of this informal, cozy and friendly service. We form a circle with our hands on each other’s shoulders or backs.

 Sometimes the priest offers all the prayers in response to requests; sometimes we share that opportunity with one another. One of us in our circle always prays aloud for the priest.

For me, there is nothing more moving, more spiritually rewarding than, with our arms around each other, praying together for each other’s needs and concerns of the moment.

Last Wednesday I was not in great shape: family bad health news. The priest wasn’t there, so no Communion, but we put the service together ourselves. Four of us stayed at the end and my situation was wonderfully prayed for by three women, with whom I have prayed for years.  I was deeply touched and utterly relieved. I felt their arms; I felt their support, their caring and their faith surrounding me. Doubt and fear slipped away and I became more confident that I would be able to meet the challenge that was ahead of me.

I am sharing the experience of the Trinity Church Wednesday Healing Service, because it occurs to me that some of you might wish that there were a safe, confidential and supportive place you could go, where the focus could be essentially on healing prayer, including time for very personal prayer for the ones you love and for yourself. You do not have to be a member of Trinity Church. Everyone is welcome.

We all need to pray: for peace, for greater understanding of our differences, for releasing fear and hatred. Everything! Even if you don’t quite believe in the power of prayer, somehow the habit of doing it with a small, trusted group each week is both inspiring and healing. Faith grows.

If you would rather not go to a church, my suggestion would be that you form a group of your own and meet once a week to pray for whatever comes up in the group. So often we think we are not “good at praying” and I am here to say that that is nonsense! We can all pray. God, Universal Wisdom, Allah, Yahweh, Atman—whatever your words might be through which you acknowledge a power greater than yourself—does not give a hoot about perfect  sentences.

Only about our hearts.
On this Memorial Day we honor all those who over many years have given their lives for freedom. Too many wars. Too many promising young lives ended abruptly. We pray for peace and an end to to the world wide concept that war is a sensible solution.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Metro North Tells No one and Goes Nowhere.

A friend and I took Metro North to New York on Wednesday. We had lunch reservations and tickets to see The Humans.

My Train Time app informed me of ALERTS in great red letters, but also declared our 10:24AM train to Grand Central to be on time.

They were right. The New York bound train was exactly on time. On the dot.

 But somewhere in Westchester we came to a halt.  Stopped dead. And we sat there: for perhaps an hour. No announcements were made. Passengers cast puzzled looks around the car. Every now and then the train moved forward slightly, raising our hopes, only to dash them as we came to a stop once more.

Finally the conductor spoke quite unintelligibly on the loud speaker, something about our being “in line” for a track.

 It turned out that the fire the night before had imperiled tracks and that both outgoing and incoming New York trains were alternately sharing a single functioning track.

My friend, Alice, gathered the above information not from Metro North, but instead, from texting her son who commutes daily.

Any further information given on board was also inaudibly spoken and boiled down inconclusively to “waiting for an up date.”

We were two and a half hours on that train. People, frantic on their phones, were cancelling lunch meetings and doctor appointments and God knows what else. We cancelled our lunch reservations.

But what about our theater tickets? Could we possibly get to West 44th street by 2:00?

We decided to bail at 125th Street-- if we ever got there. And we did, finally.  We, and dozens of others could not get off that train fast enough. A kind man in the mob told us where to find the Lexington subway for downtown and we bolted. Soon we were speeding to Grand Central. We charged to the Shuttle for the West Side, jumped out at 42nd and raced up to 44th street.

 Having stopped at a tiny shop to grab a banana, we arrived at the theater  at 1:45, panting, exhilarated, and congratulating ourselves.

Two points here. Shame on Metro North! No warning, no explanation. They took the money of all those thousands of passengers—we were by no means the only train delayed, as you can imagine—and never warned us? Trapped in the train, I found myself wishing that I were the CEO of UBS or such like so that I could seriously and effectively rattle the rails of the CEO of Metro North.

Point two: When the conductor was mumbling his useless information, we, strangers, began to catch each other’s eyes. We began to connect. “Could you hear him?” I asked the grey haired man across the aisle from me.

He smiled. “I only got something about an update.”

A line formed in front of the bathroom and we chatted, ”Did you know? ”No one had known, except that there “might be delays.”

The man who instructed us about the Lexington line also assisted two women who were headed for the ballet at Lincoln Center. We poured gratitude all over him for his get- about- the- city know-how. Stuck and powerless, strangers became friendly and helpful. We became comrades.

The man from across the aisle stood beside me waiting to get off at 125th St. He asked what play we were going to see. We chatted about The Humans, which he had seen the week before. I asked him where he was headed and he told me, pointing back toward Connecticut. "Home.”

“You are getting off here and then . . .?”

“I’ll just wait for a train to come the other way. I’ve missed my lunch meeting anyway.” he confided, as he smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

“Good luck!” I shouted as the train screeched to a halt at 125th.

 No question about it, on Metro North that Wednesday, thousands of passengers’ plans went topsy-turvy.

Still, when you think about it, considering all that can go wrong on mass transit in today’s world, although it was certainly annoying and inconvenient, the man from across the aisle had it right. It was a shrug- your- shoulders event.
Thank you those in Spain, Canada, Germany, France, UK, Philippines, Portugal and Ukraine for reading this blog. How I would love to hear from you. Thanks to those in the USA of course!