Friday, August 19, 2011

And Your Old Men Will Dream Dreams

I found myself standing barefoot on the terrazzo floor, cold and shivering from the frozen March slush that I’d just stomped through out in the parking lot.  A young woman came over to me and asked if I needed help and as I thought about my reply, the characteristic “no, not really – I’m just thinking”, she reached up and caringly put her hand on my back.  I’m not sure if it was a reassuring gesture from a compassionate soul or a skilled maneuver from a healthcare professional, using the allure of a woman’s touch to better assesses my medical condition.  As she touched my spine, a raw nerve came to life and I squirmed to get away.

 The pain, a grotesque combination of fright, dull tingle and paranoia must have been the exact tell that she was looking for because the next thing I knew I was on the ground.  Her touch caused me to twist and fall away, helpless and exposed.  She lay beside me and asked me more questions and having been finally discovered, I began to answer honestly.  “Have you been drinking much water lately, hun”?    She asked with a mixed tone of probe and genuine concern and I, with much release began to answer to the best of my ability.  “Not really”, I answered.  She had called for additional help and I could hear feet shuffling around me, dry feet, not wet feet like mine; socks and slacks that were beginning to pool water around me like a moat around a aged and besieged castle.

It seemed odd, I could see my house from through the large lobby windows and my intention was to simply take a short-cut though the place and get home.  My wife would be wondering why I’d gone outside in such weather and I could already see my daughter’s bus waiting in the driveway turn-around.  Smoke from the exhaust lazily wafting its warm mixture of steam and carbon monoxide into the chilly March morning air.  Now, calm on the floor, I relaxed and found relief in having been discovered.  I no longer had to bear the weight of confusion on my own and my condition was soon to be cared for.

I awoke after this dream and began to cry.  The mixed emotions of starting some simple task but then having it become increasingly confusing, the sorrow of a man in whom a woman takes interest in, not of desire but of medical concern.  The desperate month of March in Michigan which only serves to magnify the pressing feeling of being late for work, late for life, late for everything; too much to bear I fear – too much to bear.

This week has been one like this dream; my mentally impaired daughter – sick and unable to communicate her malady, resulting in a devastating level of self-abuse.  Her arms, face and torso a blacked mass of bruises and cuts.  Her eyes and face, a swollen and pathetic bag, not the beautiful Korean face we’d come to love.  My wife; so tired. Her work in a home for mentally and physically impaired adults weighs on her, care for my daughter weighs on her, the cruel advancing disease of Alzheimer’s that her mother bears – weighs on her.  I weigh on her.  During all this, this week – I was mostly gone, taking vacation from work so I could work a side job that was a mix of passion, delight and exhaustion.  Every step of it was visualized in my mind and clearly executed, my work phone, blissfully blocked.  Even trips to the hardware store rewarded my ego with customers asking me for help:  “you look like a fella who deals with these sorts of things on a regular basis, if I plumb this like this”….  

Unfortunately though, there’s a price for everything.  The price for the competence and confidence of this week seems to have been a part of my soul.  This week indeed took a massive toll on us, physically, mentally and spiritually.  Dreams exist for a reason; they wonderfully outline how futile it is to try to make sense of life.  Like the king in the book of Daniel, I had a troubling dream.  Unlike the king, I need not look for interpretation.  When Joel prophesied that “your old men will dream dreams”, he failed to mention that those dreams would be both blessing and curse, both delightful and horrifying, offering clarity and confusion simultaneously.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Human Forest Fire

The fire’s been burning for the better part of five days now and I find it hard to believe that anything of value could possibly remain.  Those who were smart either moved far away or buried their treasure deep in the soul.  I foolishly thought I could keep everything intact by occasionally hosing it down with a garden hose.  I now seem to have lost everything.  How foolish of me, to think a simple hose would be sufficient against hell’s fury.  Things that once seemed beautiful are now distorted and cracked.   Music has melted, the sun – obscured from the smoke.  The sweet smell of summer is now an acrid stench and the odor seems to color even the food we eat.

Were it physical things lost, I’d not be in such arrears; the loss however is emotional.  I’ve lost a bit of my wife; I lost my daughter, my sons have moved further away – not for the reason of flame but for my reaction to losing control of it.  I pushed them out.

Even now, I can hear the crackle from the embers…banked for the evening with down comforter and darkness surrounding.  She’s laid out, salted heavily with drugs like a Yule log - she’ll burn for hours in that state.  Most would welcome her warmth in the morning but I, I loathe the coming of sunshine.  Far better to be chilled in the morning than warmed by the flames of uncontrolled fire.

My forest fire; she’s actually human.  It’s not her fault that she consumes us.  Not her fault that we weren’t prepared for the ravages.  Were I a Jack Pine I should welcome her flame, as only through fire is there new growth.  But a Jack Pine, I’m not. 

Bethany is sick and we can’t figure out what it is.  Doctors can only guess, medication does nothing, specialists make special guesses and simple commands like “take her temperature” result in black eyes and bruised ribs.

Five days we’ve endured the flame of destruction.  Five days’ we’ve watched her destroy herself and the world around her.  Five days we’ve tried to intervene – five days, that’s three more than Jesus suffered - but who’s counting?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Prophet or Prostitute - Kindly, Remind Me Again?

Hosea was an Old Testament prophet whose entire life was devoted to simply becoming a metaphor for future generations.  His life was a difficult and confusing series of ups and downs in which his only constant was a seemingly unwavering allegiance to Yahweh, the God of his fathers.

Hosea was instructed by that very God to marry a specific woman with some clearly defined (by God, no less) sexual issues.  As an upstanding man-of-God, this must have seemed an obtuse request.  Imagine you’re a nice, bachelor who’s spent his entire adolescent life waiting for that special woman - and you finally get the chance to marry.  Of all the girls you could choose from, you end up with none-other than a hot-ticket, prostitute.  Your mother, faints, your father shakes his head, your sister laughs.  Your brother is torn between being ashamed and being slightly envious.  The neighbors chalk it up to inexperience and indiscretion and wait for the tragedy to unfold.  You, on the other hand are following God’s request, assuming that reward for doing so is in your future.

As the years go on however, you find yourself still waiting for that reward.  You did as instructed and are rewarded with a wandering wife; a “tart” as it were, sneaking off with every willing guy that looks into her eye.  The neighbors have affirmed what a poor sap you are because you had not only the ability but the privilege, the right and the responsibility to dump her when she first betrayed you; yet you go find her, lovingly forgive her and bring her home.  You’re angry, defeated, cheated and confused but you do it anyway.  Then it happens again, and again, and yet again.  Each time, you lovingly go find her, forgive her and bring her home.  “Hosea, you’re a fool”.

Bear in mind, Hosea had no idea that this was his destiny.  I’m certain that he had no way of knowing how his life would become a metaphor, a living example of what unconditional love looks like.  I’m sure he went to his death wondering what it was all for.   Was I wrong?  Did God really tell me to do this?  Were the neighbors right?  What of her joy in the time of courtship where she must have felt redeemed?  She, at his request of marriage must have felt the joy of a young girl who dreams of the perfect man, one who will treat her with love, respect and afford her the protection she needs.  Did that joy of redemption simply fade with the daily grind of a predictable and uneventful life?  Was Hosea’s inexperience simply one more dull event that allowed her mind to wander?

I wonder how many silently saw him and his devotion to this woman - with envy and hope in their eyes.  How many men had been with her and saw how his respect for her in spite of her appetite, made her into a person rather than an object?  How many others, guilty of the same crime saw that redemption and hope was actually possible?  Hosea’s burden became someone else’s release, his enslavement – someone’s freedom; his sorrow, their joy.

Sometimes, I feel like Hosea.  I did what God moved me to do.  Of all the children on earth, we took the least-likely one and the strain of it on our marriage, the pressure of it on our health, the constant give-with-little-or-no-get… unconditional love?   The tedium of hour-to-hour living, the lack of an exciting life, the inability to become what “I” want “me” to become, causes my eye to wander and I forget whether I’m the prostitute or the prophet:  “David, you’re a fool”.