Monday, June 18, 2012

A Serving Spoon in the Linen Drawer

Standing on the corner of Wells and Kinzie streets in Chicago, overwhelmed by the sounds of crashing elevated trains, honking cars, fire trucks, clicking heels, chatting people, engines and screaming traffic cops.  Combine all those sounds with the smells of perfume, exhaust, acrid electrical stench from the trains and the occasional whiff of sewage.  Add to this the blowing wind, the bump of an occasional shoulder, and a moment in a crowded elevator - all of these overloaded sensory “pings” are part of the delightful experience of the big city.  Delightfully exhilarating for me that would likely prove an absolute horror for Bethany.

 The frightful, echoing scream of a fire truck – a sound so strong you can smell it as well as hear and feel it, would drive her already hyper-sensitive tolerances to madness.  Each single sensory experience would represent a different, sharp, kitchen utensil searing through her soul.

I could never bring her here.  Could never get her to Navy Pier, likely won’t walk down the Magnificent Mile with her.  The risk to me combined with the cost and pain to her is simply not merited.  The sounds alone would crash through her skull like a hammer through a window, resulting in a violent outburst of anger and fear that’s impossible to contain.  She’d find delight in the uneven sidewalks, tripping over the curbs, laughing along the way.  I’d find horror in the uneven sidewalks not for the physical tripping hazard but for the emotional tripping hazard, the low tolerance for her social status that others trip over and stare at.  Walking with a special needs person, you quickly notice the biases of the “open minded, big city dwellers” as they rush and brush by us on the sidewalks.  Suddenly, the “narrow minds” of West Michigan seem quite sophisticated.

The food, she’d love.  The elevators – she’d be the only one to defy convention by laughing, giggling; by looking strangers right square in the face.  No peering into the farthest corner of the lift for that girl.  Take the moment and connect with someone, even if it entails laying your head on their shoulder or pinching their hand and squealing in delight.  The elevated train – No way.  She’d walk right off the platform, that’s if she managed to get through the turnstiles on either end of the ride.

I see all these things and I realize that there’s a reason that Sherry and I live where we do.  Live how we do.  I can see why all things center on West Michigan and our crazy group of wonderful people who support us.  I see why I work where I do and how my life with the Crazy Korean with the enigmatic smile has shaped me into a useful package more than I’ve ever influenced her.

I can clearly see that there’s a place for everything, and everything’s in its place.  Its nice once-in-awhile for me as a serving spoon to be placed in the wrong drawer; the one that has the fine linens, cork-screws, wine stoppers and little lobster forks.  I’m not there long, largely because I don’t belong in that drawer.  For little while though, rubbing shoulders with that class of utensil prooves a delightful change for me.  For my little corncob skewer of a Korean, the shift would likely be both unwelcomed and unappreciated.  That’s okay though, all those fine class utensils can’t hold a candle to the joy of fresh, hot corn in the summer and will never be appreciated as much in their function as will my little skewer.  She has a narrow function but a broad impact.  That’s my Bethany.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Endless Personal Pronouns

She came up to me and explained how desperately she needed a vacation.  Been working for weeks straight, late into the night and early in the morning.  She explained how stressed she was and how it was affecting their relationship; they never had time to talk anymore.  She sent me brochures to the hotel they were planning on visiting in the next couple of weeks.

He texted me and asked how to keep someone away from his family.  Explained how stressful the harassment was and how it’s affecting his work, his home life and his ability to live without the thought of authorities rapping on the door.

She emailed me with the confession that she’s been destroying her life.  Just needs to feel the pain and wonders if God could ever forgive her doing this to herself.  I assured her that he’d love her no matter what she did.

He explained how she ended up in the hospital; the car she was using to try to run him over with eventually hit a tree in the front yard, totaling the car while deploying the airbag and breaking her arm. This married couple, stood there together explaining the logistics of this and I wonder what parts were left out.

She needed help in understanding why her boss was targeting her for dismissal.  She explained that she’d only done as he suggested.  Could I help her find the words to defend herself?  I helped her find the words, but she’s gone now.  I’m told she chose to leave on her own for a new job.  The facts don’t align on this one either and I’m left to figure it out.

He was explaining about the wonderful church service he’d attended; I was confused by the following discussion about the “hottie” in the praise band and how he’d like a piece of that action.

She explained that she just doesn’t understand him even though they’ve lived together for so long and have a commitment to each other.  I think she fears he may leave her so I asked if he’d finally divorced his current wife.  She explained that the topic of his current marriage was really none of her business.

I explained that she beats herself into a disheveled mess and that we hold her down for hours on end to minimize the damage.  I talk of the late nights of screaming and the difficult mornings in which we need to prep her for her day.  Try as I might, there’s no way I can convey the horror of a seizure, the disappointment of broken dreams or the beauty in drool found on my shirt sleeve.  We’ve been doing this day after day, night after night for better than 15 years with little hope in sight of an ending.  We do nothing together.  School functions, church functions, family gatherings typically take great coordination and have a time clock attached to them.

They share the relative pain of their lives and I continue to listen to them and I honestly feel for them.  Often times, I appear to be a compassionate listener but the cold reality of it is; in my mind I’m trying for all I’m worth, to make a connection.  Can their endless challenges be greater than mine?  When they say, “there’s no end in sight” do they really mean “no end”, like my “no end”?  My “no end” comes only by death, somebody’s gotta’ fall; it’s the only sure release. 

Their stories seem to be a condition in a period of time; mine seems to be a period of time in a condition.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve learned to laugh in the middle of it all.  I’ve had more time to see the absurdity in my own wants and needs!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Theraputic Gravel

The clouds to the east are piling up like so many layers of uncooked cauliflower and as I glance in the rear view mirror of the truck, I see a mirrored image; dust clouds billowing behind me to the west.  It’s a beautiful evening and the gravel road beneath me is a godsend.  Bethany sits next to me on the bench seat and grumbles every time I need to shift into third gear.  She hates third gear.  Not uncommon for her to give the big stick shift a good kick when it’s in third.  She loves fourth gear; this is when she rests her teeth on the shift knob and lets the vibration of the old transmission rattle her brain into serenity.

Tonight, on this rural road I have not only Bethany with me but also my wife and a poor in-dash-radio, one of them is aimlessly chattering at me, the other aimlessly chattering, the last one, screaming with delight at God-knows-what.  Add to this the delight of the crunching gravel; the rattles of an old truck and the open windows and you’re left with a blissful deafness to anything in particular.  Perhaps that’s why the sky ahead and the mirror behind look so majestic, my hearing is incapacitated making my vision acute.  It surprises me little that when Jesus healed the blind man on the Sabbath, he used common road gravel and spit.  Two of the most demeaning components were used to restore sight to the blind. I am this evening, no less that blind man and once again Jesus is using gravel to restore sight.  Bethany however, supplies the spit.

The gravel roads are lined with corn and bean fields, woods and rolling meadows.  Occasionally the washboard rhythm of the road makes Bethany giggle as both she and the back end of the truck temporarily lift off the road and skirt to the right.  My wife finds the sensation to be troubling, I find it interesting, and Bethany finds it hilarious.  I guess there’s something to be said for being autistic and cognitively impaired; even something as simple as an evening drive can hold the joy and exhilaration of a theme park experience.

We ride along, waving at people as we pass them.  People who live on gravel roads always wave.  They wave from the front porch, they wave from the driveway, and they wave from the lawn tractor.  They wave from the barn, from the car, the clothes line, even from the top of the slurry tank.  It’s an amazing sociologic event and I’ve grown to love it.  In some ways I guess those gravel roads are like Bethany’s disabilities; being freed from ridiculous notions of self-importance, you’re free to live a rich life. No need to waste time on a new, clean car as the passing truck with the three folks that just waved will likely coat the thing in a lovely shade of beige-grey dust.

Our evening rides in a rusty, old truck down gravel roads is one of God’s little blessing in my life.  It pains me to watch the county slowly work to pave them over; it’s a progress that takes more than it gives.  A progress that does much more than change a dotted line on a county map into a solid line, it’s a change that will remove the joy of fellowship among strangers, reduce the beauty of an evening cloudscape and remove the billowing mirror-image to the west of me.  For these three travelers, that change will alter forever the blissful sound of silence which allows me to hear how two people and one lousy radio, struggle to communicate their love for me.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Emotional Body-Armor; Kevlar for the Soul

Her hands are cold and sweaty, a surprising revelation given the tension in her muscles.  Her feet are taught and drawn upwards, her hands are held in an exaggerated fin, her face is lifeless and upsetting to me, visually.  Her eyes are rolled so far back into her head that she looks more like a demonic mannequin than a 16-year-old girl.

We try to calm her anger with a weighted blanket, a 30-pound item that in some ways serves as an emotional body-armor, Kevlar for the soul.  It makes no difference as she continues to beat the side of her head.  We hold her at bay for the better part of 3 hours, trying to assuage the blows, occasionally letting go of one appendage so we could mop up the drool from her chin.  “Where’s God in all this”? I can only wonder.  Well meaning friends offer us the consolation that “yes indeed, God is in your very hands at this moment”; an answer that makes me want to cut loose with the most wicked, venomous, sarcasm that I can muster.  I’m ready to linguistically send them to the guillotine.  I know they mean well but please, don’t try to make Theological sense of this.  I’m way beyond what you can offer at this juncture.

Even more painful is watching my wife.  She’s been through so much, she’s so tired and she just gets more heaped on her emotional platter.  The death of her mother, the strain of her profession, the challenge that Bethany presents in day-to-day living, backfilling for adult children who belong to a generation of experiential idiots; rich in their understanding of all things, situationally cognizant and well functioning in few things.  She holds the wrists, sits on legs, affirms with soft and consoling words one moment and on the verge of angry tears the next.  I’m the lucky one – I’m holding the left hand.  Being right hand dominant, Sherry gets that “action” side of the mess we’re holding down.  After an hour, I reluctantly offer to switch sides.  I’m tired as well – after a long day at work, coming home to “relax” doing this is not a good match.  Knowing that this can go on for hours is no comfort either.  Know that his goes on for days, for weeks, for the rest of my life.  I reluctantly make the offer.

Somehow the hours pass and Bethany is stable enough that we can urge her to go to bed.  Our hope is that she’s not playing us, using this brief calm session as a way to get out of sight so she can beat herself more.  The last of her vision depends largely on our intervention; her cunning sometimes outwits our tired minds.  Sherry manages to get her into bed.  I go and hide under my pillows on the bed sleeping yet another night on the bed, fully dressed.

I awake in the morning, still dressed but now sleeping on the sofa.  Computer battery dead, cell phone dead, nothing put away from the night before, nothing completed, no emails attended to.  Plants unwatered and wilting, everything in my life crying for attention; little “giving”, all “taking”.  Sherry awakes Bethany for the school day only to find that the anger and muddled physical state is still there.  The hitting begins.

It’s with this context that I start my workday.  I’m cynical, critical, and impatient.  My career is based on the notion that I identify and exploit weakness and mediocrity, turning those attributes out into the full view of daylight, and today I’m sharp.  It wouldn’t be beneath me to ask a bride and groom the obvious question: why are you marrying in a church and making a vow before God, when you don’t believe in God anyway?  Few would even notice the disconnect, for me it screams like the voices in Bethany’s head.  

I think back on the night, remember the sweaty hands and the contorted feet.  I think of the neurologists, the psychologist, the host of specialists who in common hold the diagnosis of “I dunno, whadda u think”?  I recalled the "body armor" of a blanket that we covered her in and I recall the body armor I used while in Baghdad - the false sense of security it afforded me - I think of all that and once again try to muster the energy to get up, dust myself off, put on my face of compassion and prepare for another day.