Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE PATHOS OF OBJECTS, SMALL AND LARGE

"When the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?"
--Luke 18:8

Increasingly, everywhere I go I'm imposed on by  a talking screen. As I put gas in my car, a used car salesman blares at me from a screen above the pump. As I'm seated in the back of a cab. what looks to be a streetwalker-cum-newscaster brays from a screen about Ebola.

And air travel--no sooner have I braved traffic, the baggage line, the Starbucks line, and the line to get on the plane than I reach my place, heave my purse beneath the seat, and look up to find a screen: on, flashing, moving, screaming for me to buy, watch a movie, root for a team, anesthetize the kids with mindless "entertainment," book another flight.

Frantically, I locate the Off button and start jabbing. Jab, jab, jab. Off! Off, for the love of God!

We have the "right" to own an assault weapon, but have we no right to silence? Must our minds, senses, and person endure this relentless, incessant assault of motion and noise?

Apparently, yes. For until well after takeoff, I can't turn off the screen. I can only close my eyes. I can resort to a litany of Hail Marys. I can pray for the pilot, the flight attendants, the other passengers. I can admit the fact is I have never lost my child-like wonder at flying through the air, high above the world. I don't begrudge anyone his or her entertainment. I just feel by rights we should all fall silent, the whole flight through, out of simple astonishment.

Anyway, last Sunday morning I flew out of Omaha at 6:25 a.m. Great little airport. TSA-Pre, thank you. Seating Group 2, easy. All was well. I had a window seat for the hour and a half flight to Denver. I was tired. I said Morning Prayer from my travel breviary. I read the liturgy for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time in Magnificat. I turned off the screen as soon as I possibly could and dozed for a bit.

I got up to use the aft restroom. It was still pitch black outside. The cabin was dark

Walking back down the aisle, I saw that on the back of every single seat, row after row after row--three on the left, three on the right, all the way down to the front of the plane--was an identically lit and moving screen. Before each sat a fixated, or possibly sleeping, passenger. It was as if the entire cabin were sucking at the breast of a mother whose milk was laced with morphine.

Then I glanced to my left to the east and saw a heart-stopping sight: a stupendous sunrise that the above photo doesn't begin to capture. A long, narrow trapezoid with lines so straight they could have been drawn by a ruler: blood-red below, a layer of dark dove-gray above, and above that a sky the saturated, celestial blue of the cloak of the Madonna.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day pours out the word to day,and night to night imparts knowledge.

Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.

--Psalm 91

Back in my seat, I twisted around and observed, transfixed. I thought of God the Suitor who, as Meister Eckhart said is "like the man who, while hiding, coughs in order to give himself away." I thought about the marriage of heaven and earth. I thought of the longed-for reconciliation between men and women.

I'd been reading G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man. I thought of this:

"And we can never reach the end even of our own ideas about the child who was a father and the mother who was a child."

And this:

"The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of [the Christmas] story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. It does not exactly in the ordinary sense turn our minds to greatness; to those extensions and exaggerations of humanity which are turned into gods and heroes, even by the healthiest sort of hero-worship. It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being; like that which can sometimes take us off our guard in the pathos of small objects or the blind pieties of the poor."


armrest, united airlines flight 1266, october 26, 2014


Monday, October 27, 2014

THE HEARTLAND


Welp I had me a wonderful weekend in Omaha, Nebraska, the Cornhusker state.

The flight there, the Heartland Women's Conference at which I was honored to speak, the hotel, the two long walks I got to take around Old Market, and the trip home (no direct flights) all went super-smoothly. That's not always the case so I am grateful.

The first stark contrast was between crawling to LAX in rush-hour Friday morning traffic thinking (though I'd set out two and a half hours early) that I might miss my flight; and de-planing in Omaha, in Friday evening "rush hour" to literally no traffic and a beautiful body of water ringed with flaming gold and orange trees.

It was all uphill from there. The second I checked into my hotel and nailed down a coffee plan for the morning, I took off on foot to catch the sunset and wander around the section of town known as Old Market in the dark.

The top photo I took on I think Farnam and the rest are shots of a little deserted park-like area between Dodge and Douglas.









I loved looking at the old brick factories that have now been converted into artists' lofts, galleries, and restaurants. They manufactured solid, sensible, sturdy, utilitarian things of beauty in those days: rubber stamps. boots, bottles of beer (The Anheuser-Busch Beer Depot), iron, steel and heavy hardware (The Baum Iron Company), paper bags (The Bemis Bag Company).

I found the dreamy Jackson Street Booksellers, La Buvette, and the Urban Abbey Coffee Shop.

But it goes without saying that by far the best part of the trip were the women I met Saturday and with whom I was graced to share my experiences, strength and hope.

Bill Beckman who plays a VERY IMPORTANT PART in the Archdiocese of Omaha got me there.

Jen Moser picked me up at 7:30 a.m. and ferried me back to the hotel.

The crackerjack trio of Marie, Michelle and Lucy womanned the book table. Marie even got my Square app to work so we could take credit cards and thus wins the Virgin of Guadalupe iphone5 Cornhusker crown for the weekend of October 25.

Thank you to all who helped, all who listened, all who shared, all who bought books, all who opened their hearts and came.








I went to 5:15 Vigil Mass at Mary Magdalene where the priest ran through a standing-room-only Sunday liturgy in a half-hour flat, clearly some kind of self-appointed feat the purpose of which I didn't quite get. I sat quietly for several minutes after everyone had left. And afterwards, I thought of how often I rush through my day, am distracted at Mass, etc. and realized--oh. That's what rushing looks like to God.

Thanks for dinner, Marieanne!



Friday, October 24, 2014

A BLUEBIRD DAY

THE CAPTAIN AND ME IN GLOUCESTER LAST SUMMER
Do I have a dream job or what?

For this week's arts and culture column, I did a story on my own brother. That's right. You've seen him before: commercial fishing Captain Geordie H. King of Eliot, Maine.

Geordie gave me a great interview, which you can READ HERE.

Afterwards, I thought of how every single person in my family, if you meet him or her, is cheerful, friendly, interested, courteous, and kind. They'll ask about you rather than talk about themselves. They'll be funny. They'll laugh at your jokes (up to a point), even if they're not funny.

And to a person, my family knows, recognizes, and loves a bluebird day.

We have always. always known that the ability to notice and remark upon a bluebird day is worth more than any amount of money.


I am off to Omaha, Nebraska this (Friday) morning!
Bizarrely excited to meet the women of the Heartland.


SO HE WHO STRONGLY FEELS, BEHAVES




WHAT ARE YEARS?

by Marianne Moore

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, -
dumbly calling, deafly listening-that
in misfortune, even death,
encourage others
and in it's defeat, stirs
the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.
So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

EAST-FACING WINDOW
HOLY FAMILY CHURCH, GLENDALE, CA
AFTER CONFESSION AND MASS THURS.
REST IN PEACE, MSGR. ALBACETE

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

ME AND MY CAMERA




What with my rich, full life of knitting scarves and looking out the window at the birds (Cooper's hawk in the fountain yesterday morning!), I've been a bit pressed for time.

So rather than writing an actual post, I think I will just continue this week with another recent response to a reader, this one remarking upon my photos and asking if I have any favorite photographers. As I did Monday, I've augmented a bit.

"Thanks so much! Just so you know, I had never owned a camera before four years ago when I started my blog. I bought a used Canon point and shoot from amazon and just started taking pictures...I still use the same camera and still know absolutely zero about the technical aspects of photography. I'm not bragging about it. I just haven't had the time or wherewithal to learn more. And I have not come close to exhausting the possibilities of the unassuming camera I own now.

I'm also far from an expert on photographers, though I do love to look at and ponder photographs. I like Garry Winogrand a lot. Saul Leiter, who apparently spent his entire career taking pictures within a two-block radius of his apt. in NY. Brassai, Henry Horenstein. Weegee. Lillian Bassman did some beautiful fashion photography. Edward Weston. I enjoyed the recent documentary on Vivian Maier and even more the documentary Bill Cunningham: New York.

People whose work and approach I can't stand are Cindy Sherman, Mary Ellen Mark, Robert Mapplethorpe. There's no real love in them and/or they glamorize degradation. Anyone who fetishizes people makes me crazy, who tries to wilfully portray people as vapid and ugly and grotesque and degraded and false on the one hand, or who sexually fetishizes bodies, or who poses people in fake ways to either make them look worse than they are or to make their suffering glamorous in some way, to prey on them, like Mary Ellen Marks and her series on the prostitutes in India.

Look at those rich beautiful colors on the walls and doors of the brothels! 

Look at that lustrous peacock green silk sari! Why that would look good on....ME!...

Then she purports to empathize with the plight of the prostitutes. If you're so empathetic, why don't YOU have sex with 26 men in one night? For seven rupees. Then there are the "nature" photographers who fetishize animals, who backlight and pose, say, elephants to sell sex or clothing or perfume. I'm against capital punishment on principle but I do feel such people should be shot.

I can't say how much my little amateur photo-taking has enriched my life. The camera is like a person or I should say the thing you're trying to photograph is like a person. Sometimes the leaf or flower or whatever is willing to yield itself up, and sometimes it isn't. If not, you have to move on. You never "capture" anything. The world gives itself to you and you just happen to be there to receive it. But to receive, you have to be willing to live in a lot of silence You have to be willing to stand still.

I wonder if things do not call to us, literally. I think it's one of the reasons I have always loved silence. I always have one ear out for the call from another world. You can't look at flowers and leaves and telephone wires and branches against the sky and fail to believe that trees, for example, have an inner life. Rocks have an inner life.

St. Paul observed that miracles are for unbelievers, not believers. I couldn't agree more. If you don't have the eyes to see the staggering, inexhaustible beauty with which we're surrounded, you're going to read the wrong thing into a "miracle," as in, say a vision of the Virgin Mary, when it does appear.

The operative point is never the miracle. It's how you bring the gratitude you feel at the ongoing miracle of creation out to the world. It's how you start seeing people with more love and compassion. It's how you change your life."





THESE ARE SOME SHOTS I TOOK AT
RANCHO LOST ALIMITOS HISTORIC RANCH AND GARDENS
LAST WEEKEND.
I ACTUALLY HAVEN'T TAKEN MANY REALLY GOOD PICTURES LATELY
AS MY SILENCE AND SOLITUDE HAVE BEEN AIMED ELSEWHERE.
BUT THAT WILL COME BACK...




Monday, October 20, 2014

LET YOUR YES MEAN YES AND YOUR NO MEAN NO


CORNER OF GLENDALE BLVD. AND GLENFELIZ, ATWATER VILLAGE, L.A.
A LONG LEFT-HAND TURN LANE MAKES THIS
A PRIME PLACE TO PANHANDLE.
JEFF, A HOMELESS MAN, HAS PRETTIFIED HIS PATCH
WITH PLANTS, ROCK BORDERS, AN OUTDOOR DIORAMA,
AND A PLASTIC COIN TOSS BUCKET.
AS YOU'RE SITTING THERE GIVING HIM A COUPLE OF BUCKS AND IDLING, JEFF
WILL ALSO TALK TO YOU. AND TALK. AND TALK...
THANK GOD THE COPS ARE APPARENTLY LETTING HIM BE.

A month ago I wrote a post called "The Law of the Land Versus the Law of Our Hearts":

Shortly afterwards, I received an email from a woman who, like me, advocates against abortion. As she pointed out “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no" [a reference to Matthew 5:37, to which I'd alluded in the piece] is difficult. Some of the questions she asked herself were whether the use of the “morning after pill” should be illegal; whether a woman who has an abortion in her 1st trimester should be tried for murder and executed for murder in a state that has the death penalty for murder; and if not, what civil penalty should she have to pay for her "crime against society." This woman herself couldn't bring herself to say abortion should be outlawed entirely. And she was troubled because she felt that most Catholics would say that her belief is not Catholic.

To craft an adequate reply would have taken days, which I didn't have. But I did feel called to respond, so I dashed off, and have now augmented a bit, the following:

"Thank you. Yes, let your yes mean yes and your no mean no can be difficult! Still, we can always say yes to mercy...

The thought of executing for murder a woman who's had an abortion horrifies me almost beyond belief. As a human being and a Catholic, part of being FOR life in all its forms means being absolutely opposed to capital punishment for any reason. To be against abortion but for capital punishment, especially for a woman who's had an abortion, is such a bizarre cognitive-dissonance inconsistency that it borders on the insane......and would be based on a real hatred of women...if that were the case, we should track down the father who acquiesced in or urged the abortion and kill him, too.

I remember many years ago writing a long, impassioned letter in response to a piece I saw in a legal journal about the subject of criminalizing abortion. I don't have the letter, and I can't even remember which side the guy came down in. But I do remember pondering long and hard the issue of whether abortion should be criminalized and thinking No...The woman should be offered treatment and counseling if she wants it, not be put in prison, for the violence she's done is against herself. I know we could say that of all crimes but I do think abortion is in a class by itself. The malicious intent required for murder would be utterly missing. Only a psychopath would get pregnant on purpose so she could kill her baby, and the conditions under which a baby is conceived, unless rape or incest, are so far from malicious, no matter how hurried or casual. I think what partly appalls us about abortion is the terrible gulf between the way any child is conceived and the way it's destroyed: in a clinic, by a stranger...I think that's why if we're going to prosecute anyone, we rightly prosecute abortionists--what they do is done in the cool light of day, and for profit.

Women who've had abortions don't turn into murderers or go on killing sprees. In other words, the factors that figure into an abortion are entirely different than the factors that would generally motivate a murder: e.g., revenge, greed, profit--and that would be part of a criminal profile and a criminal pattern. The mind and heart of a woman who's had an abortion, in my case at least, and I suspect in many, many cases, are governed by shame, fear, and guilt, and of course there's absolutely nothing to be "gained" in the sense of profit or a wrong revenged...

I don't think of abortion as murder, from a legal standpoint, unless possibly done in the last trimester. It's the destruction of a human life but to say it's the same as killing a fully-formed live human being is another inconsistency. It's not the same to crush a robin's egg and to shoot a robin. It's not the same to destroy a flat of seedlings as to wantonly mow down and uproot a garden that someone has put work and labor and love into for thirty years. Crushing an egg and destroying a flat of seedlings are still failures of love because they're on the spectrum of interfering with the process of creation, of destroying what would otherwise come to be, of living by our will instead of God's will. And a human life is worth more than many sparrows so abortion, at any stage, is of course on an entirely different order than a flower seed or a robin's egg, no matter how precious those things are, too.

That's why artificial birth control and the morning-after pill are wrong and against love as well. From a theological/spiritual standpoint, in a way abortion is worse than murder, if such a thing is possible. The Church says If you're willing to enter through the narrow gate and truly follow Christ, this is what authentic love looks like. Just in case you were wondering,

To that end, our prison system is already so overloaded, and I have so little faith that punishment for punishment's sake changes anything, no, I can't in any way see the prosecution of a woman who's had an abortion. Let our yes mean yes and our no mean no apply not to punishment, but to mercy, to love. That's the distinction between Fascism and Catholicism.

Our whole culture of violence, including the maintenance of a military that is larger than all the other militaries of the world combined, helps create an atmosphere in which destroying another human life, especially one you can't "see," seems logical, supportable, and sane. Mother Teresa said something like Stop abortion and you'd stop war and I think the reverse is also true. But try to get the men to lay down THEIR weapons. In a way, abortion is the one "weapon" women have in a world that favors men, nowhere more than in the creation of a child that ALWAYS falls to the woman to deal with. In which a man can conveniently disappear with no responsibility, no accountability, no repercussions. I'm not interested in tracking down the man. I'm interested in supporting the woman in as you say an economic and social climate in which as always she is left holding the bag.

If we're so appalled at the loss of human life, why do we so seldom give a second thought's to, say, the Iraqi soldier? Why is it wrong to destroy a fetus and okay to murder "the enemy?" Especially when it's a clear, egregious violation of Christ's most basic teaching: LOVE thine enemies?  Why do we not prosecute and execute soldiers and generals who have been responsible for the wanton destruction of human life on a scale that's almost unimaginable? Do you see the utter insanity of trying to solve violence with more violence? Do you see the hideous scapegoating and hatred of women inherent in the notion of prosecuting them while so many other perpetrators of violence not only go free, but have our whole-hearted support and encouragement? If we actually truly supported life in all its forms, if we actually said it's wrong to kill in any instance, if we were as vocally opposed to the violence of war and the violence of an economic system which ever more crushes the poor as we are to the violence of abortion, if we actually followed the teachings of Christ--maybe that's when things would begin to change. The goal of the follower of Christ is not to force other people to change; the goal of the follower of Christ is to change himself. But the Cross has never had a lot of followers. The Cross is not susceptible to being spread by viral youtubes. The Cross takes place invisibly, silently, in the minute-by-minute workings of the human conscience. And in today's marketing atmosphere, in and out of the Church, the Cross is less "popular" than ever. Christ is ever more silent, ever more unseen, ever more off camera.

That's not a "feminist" stance--one place I part way with feminism, or one branch of it, is the totally erroneous insistence that abortion is empowering, that abortion has no more repercussions than brushing one's teeth. That's the stance of Christ. And I guess really your question is one about separation of church and state. I'm not enough of a philosopher to know the finer points there but I'm enough of a lover of Christ to focus on the conversion of my heart, not politics. To vote for a politician who's for the NRA and against abortion makes no sense to me. It makes the anti-abortion stance utterly suspect. When the field is full of folks exhibiting such inconsistencies, when it's impossible to let my yes mean yes and my no mean no, I would rather not vote at all. Politics shifts the balance of power, perhaps, ever so slightly, and ever so temporarily, but as Dorothy Day said, we live in a dirty, rotten system.

So how do I love the people around me, regardless of the political climate, is my question. How do I support the pregnant woman who's contemplating an abortion, the young man who's thinking of joining the Army, the President of the U.S.? How do I live a life of the fullest possible integrity? How can I make my yes mean yes and my no mean no in MY life? The Mystical Body tells me that is what will change the world, one atom at a time.I can't force that on a system that is itself a kind of cognitive dissonance, that purports to be for freedom but that spies on its citizens, whose army is increasingly made up of paid mercenaries, in which violence has become a commodity. In the midst of that (especially, though under any circumstances), to prosecute a woman for having an abortion? Can't quite see it. Rather, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

If we're really pro-life, we will be speaking out loudly and clearly not only agasint abortion, but against war, against our prison system, against our economic system. Otherwise, we're like whited sepulchres. Otherwise, we're laying down heavy burdens and not lifting a finger to help.

How to punish the woman who's had an abortion is a question that would not take up one iota of my brain or heart, which brings me back to my piece. The questions we ask as followers of Christ are very different than the questions asked by 'citizens.' The citizen wants to preserve his life; the follower of Christ is prepared to lose it...

The other night I was driving home and just as I was about to turn the corner to go up my street, a city bus pulled up and I had to stop in back of it. As I turned the corner, I got a glimpse of a woman who had just gotten off.  She was short, she was carrying a heavy pack, she was walking very slowly, as if she were exhausted. She had a slight limp. I have no idea who that woman was but I couldn't help thinking, What if that were me, and I were making nine bucks an hour, and had kids at home, and a husband who beat me, and I just found I was pregnant again? Nine bucks an hour, or even twenty bucks an hour in a city where a studio costs $1300 a month. Food, clothes, school, health care, dental.

And suddenly I saw myself in my nice little green Fiat, going up to my beautiful room to sleep in a comfortable bed. And I saw very, very clearly that at the end of the age, Christ is not going to ask, "Did you vote for the 'pro-life' candidate (who was also a billionaire warmonger)?" "Did you see to it that women who've had abortions were arrested, put on trial, imprisoned, or God forbid, executed?"

He's going to appear in the form of the pregnant woman earning minimum wage begging for a glass of water. He's going to appear in the form of the "enemy" soldier begging for a blanket. To me, he's going to appear in the form of my three unborn children, and I can only pray to let the rest of my life be worthy of them.

Because those people are Christ and that is who we will be judged by. That is who is going to decide whether we''ve earned a place with the sheep or with the goats. That is how and where we demonstrate that our yes means yes and our no means no--by how we think about, treat, and order our lives to "the least of these."

A friend recently sent me this piece, which articulates what I'm trying to say way more eloquently than I have.:

DISCUSSING ABORTION, FOR LOVE OF LIFE

Leonardo Boff

Theologian-Philosopher
Earthcharter Commission

It is hard to believe that some people defend abortion for abortion's sake. Abortion involves eliminating life or interfering in a vital process that culminates in human life. Personally I am against abortion because I love life in each of its phases and in all its forms.

But this does not blind me to a macabre reality that must not be ignored and which defies good sense and public authority. Each year nearly 800,000 clandestine abortions are performed in Brazil. Every two days a woman dies, victim of an improperly performed clandestine abortion.

This reality must be confronted, not by the police but with a responsible public health policy and a realistic sensibility. I consider the attitude of those who intransigently defend life in the embryo and do not adopt the same attitude facing the thousands of children abandoned in misery, without food or love, wandering in the streets of our cities, to be hypocritical, (Pharisaic). Life must be loved in all its forms and ages, and not only in its first awakening in the mother's womb. It behooves the State and all of society to create the conditions so that women generally will not need abortions.

On the steps of the Cathedral of Fortaleza, I myself assisted a famished mother, begging and nursing her child with the blood of her breast. She had the figure of a pelican. Perplexed and filled with compassion, I took her to the house of Cardinal Dom Aloisio Lorscheider, where we gave her all the assistance possible. For such reasons abortions occur, always painful, that profoundly affect the psyche of the mother. I will narrate what Leon Bonaventure, the eminent psychoanalyst of the Jungian school wrote, and which was mentioned in his introduction to a book by another Jungian psychoanalyst, Italian Eva Pattis, titled, Abortion, lost and renewal: paradox in the search of feminine identity, (Aborto, pérdida y renovación: paradoja en la búsqueda de la identidad femenina, Paulus, 2001).

Leon Bonaventure relates, with the subtlety of a fine psychoanalyst for whom spirituality constitutes a source of integration and curing of the wounds of the soul:

A priest was confessing a woman who had aborted in the past. After listening to the confession, the priest asked her: “What name did you give to your child?” The woman, surprised, remained silent for a long time, because she had not given her child a name.
“So” –said the priest--, “we will give your child a name, and if you agree we will baptize him”. The woman nodded her head in agreement and they symbolically did it.

Afterwards, the priest made some reflections on the mystery of life: “life exists” –he said–, “that comes to the light of day to be lived in the Earth, for 10, 50, or 100 years. Other lives will never see the light of the Sun. In the Catholic Liturgical Calendar, December 28th is the feast of the Holy Innocents, the newly born who gratuitously died when the Divine Child was born in Bethlehem. May that day also be the feast day of your child".

And he continued, saying: “in the Christian tradition the birth of a child is always a gift from God, a blessing. It was a custom in the past to go to the temple to offer the child to God. It is never too late to offer your child to God”.

The priest ended by saying: “as a human being I cannot judge you. If you sinned against life, the very God of life can reconcile you with life. Go in peace. And live”» (p. 9).

Pope Francis always recommends mercy, understanding and tenderness in the relations between priests and the faithful. That priest lived avant la lettre those profoundly human values that also belong to the witness of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. May those values inspire other priests to have the same humanity.

DETAIL, THE ALTAR IN MY ROOM
THE TINY WOODEN LAMB WAS HAND-CARVED BY BR. PAUL
WHO USED IT TO HELP CATECHIZE CHILDREN IN HONDURAS



Saturday, October 18, 2014

THE RANCH SANTA ANA BOTANIC GARDEN

BUCKWHEAT, SALVIA, OAKS
at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden
photo: Carrie Rosema

For this week's arts and culture piece in The Tidings, I took a field trip to a gem of a spot that should be better known: the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont.

"The garden comprises 86 acres of California native plants. I’ve seen the place in lush springs and full-bloom falls, but in Southern California’s current full-on drought, the garden is gorgeous in another way.

Fay’s Wildflower Meadow, for example, normally features a “spectacular wealth of wildflower species native to California.” Though the species at the moment are limited, the very sparseness makes the soft yellow of the evening primrose, the lambent orange of a few scattered California poppies, and the crisp gold of a desert marigold that much more striking"....

READ THE WHOLE PIECE HERE.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

BRITTANY MAYNARD, VIKTOR FRANKL, AND FATU KEKULA



Brittany Maynard is a 29-year-old Californian who has an inoperable brain tumor, has moved to Oregon in order to take advantage of its assisted-suicide laws, and has created and invited a media frenzy by setting the date of November 1st (or thereabouts, it now appears) to kill herself.

She (very understandably) wants to avoid more suffering and pain. She wants to choose the day and the hour, go upstairs to her bedroom, put on some music she likes, and surrounded by family and friends, "die with dignity."

The neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl survived the Nazi death camps to write the spiritual/existential classic Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl was hardly a believer in quack healing, facile answers, or miracle cures. He endured and survived the most grotesque, most evil, most carefully plotted and planned atrocity of the modern age.

In The Doctor and the Soul, another of his books, Frankl considered the subject of euthanasia.

"In life the opportunities to address oneself to this or that group of values vary from hour to hour. Sometimes life demands of us the realization of creative values; at other times we feel it necessary to turn to the category of experiential values. At one time we are called upon as it were, to enrich the world by our actions, another time to enrich ourselves by our experiences. Sometimes the demands of the hour may be fulfilled by an act, at another time by our surrendering to the glory of an experience. Man can be "obligated" to experience joy. In this sense a person sitting in a streetcar who has the opportunity to watch a wonderful sunset, or to breathe in the rich scent of flowering acacias, and who instead goes on reading his newspaper, could at such a moment be accused of being negligent toward his obligations.

The possibility of realizing in a consistent series and in an almost dramatic manner all three categories of values was open to a patient the last phase of whose life took the following form. A young man lay in the hospital, suffering from an inoperable spinal tumor. He had long since had to abandon his profession; paralysis had handicapped his ability to work. There was for hi therefore no longer any chance to realize creative values. But even in this state the realm of experiential values remained open to him. He passed the time in stimulating conversations with other patients--entertaining them also, encouraging and consoling them. He devoted himself to reading good books, and especially to listening to good music on the radio. One day, however, he could no longer bear the pressure of the earphones, and his hands had become so paralyzed that he could no longer hold a book. Now his life took another turn; while before he had been compelled to withdraw from creative values to experiential values, he was forced now to make the further retreat to attitudinal values. How else shall we interpret his behavior--for he now set himself the role of adviser to his fellow sufferers, and in every way strove to be an exemplar to them. He bore his own suffering bravely. The day before his death--which he foresaw--he knew that the doctor on duty had been ordered to give him an injection of morphine at night. What did the sick man do? When the doctor came to see him on his afternoon round, the patient asked him to give him the injection in the evening--so that the doctor would not have to interrupt his night's rest just on his account.

Must we not ask ourselves now whether we are ever entitled to deprive an incurably ill patient of the chance to "die his death," the chance to fill his existence with meaning down to its last moment, even though the only realm of action open to him is the realizing of attitudinal values--the only variable the question of what attitude the patient, the "sufferer," takes toward his suffering when it reaches its climax and conclusion? The way he dies, insofar as it is really his death, is an integral part of his life; it rounds that life out to a meaningful totality. The problem we are touching on here is that of euthanasia, or "mercy killing." Euthanasia in the narrower and original sense of the word--providing an easy death--has never been a problem for doctors. That the doctor assuages the agonies of death by medication is taken for granted; determining the point at which such medication is indicated is merely a matter of tact and insight and needs no discussion of a basic and theoretical nature. But in addition to this, the attempt has repeatedly been made in various quarters to legalize the ending of lives supposedly no longer worth living.

In answer to such proposals we must first of all reply that it is not the doctor's province to sit in judgment on the value or lack of value of a human life. The task assigned to him by society is solely that of helping wherever he can, and alleviating pain where he must; of healing to the extent that he can, and nursing illness which is beyond cure. If patients and their near and dear were not convinced that the doctor takes this mandate seriously and literally, they would never trust him again A patient would never know whether the doctor was still coming to him as a helper--or as an executioner.

This position rests on principle and admits of no exceptions whatsoever. It applies to incurable diseases of the mind just as well as to incurable diseases of the body.


--Victor E. Frankl, M.D,, The Doctor and the Soul

At the middle of all this is a beautiful 29-year-old woman with an inoperable brain tumor. My first reaction is to say, "Oh my God, that is so awful, that is so hard. I'm so so sorry. That sucks." Personally I would not bear that bravely. I would bear it messily, with unspeakable fear. Still, as my friend Rita (whose husband has suffered for years with Stage 4 liver cancer) said, "Setting a date to kill yourself? There's no...vibration in that."

Another story broke last week: the story of Liberian student nurse Fatu Kekula whose family of five fell sick from Ebola, who pled in vain for medical help, who went out and bought boxes of plastic trash bags, plastic rain boots and dime-store medications and, against every voice around her that told her to save her own life, who told her she was crazy, cared for them herself. Only one--Alfred Wennie, 14, a cousin who the family had taken in--died.

After surviving this dreadful siege, the response of Fatu's mother was to mourn: “I cried. I said ‘It’s a shame on me, because I took somebody’s child, a relative’s child, and he died in my hands.’”

From an October 6, 2014, LA Times piece by Robyn Dixon:

[Kekula said]: “Doctors called and told me to leave them right alone and not go anywhere near them,” the 22-year-old nursing student said. “I couldn’t. They’re my only family.

“When your family get ill, you know that the virus is deadly. But your family is your family”...

“No one came near me. No one! I were all alone, all alone,” she said...

Around the clock, one or the other of them would be weakly calling Fatu for help. She dozed 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there.

“It was a bit difficult for me to sleep because all the time they would call me, maybe two of them would call me at the same time. Every time I would go into a dangerous room, I would dress up,” she said.

“The whole virus thing, it’s like carrying a baby in your hands, because it turns them into a child. You have to be sorry for them. You have to put yourself into the shoes of that person and ask yourself, ‘What if it were me?’”


You don't have to "believe" to see there is a world of difference between the attitudinal values-the approach to life and to death--of Brittany Maynard and Fatu Kekula.

But you'd have to be a liar to claim there is no difference.

And you'd long ago have to have killed your own soul to claim that the difference doesn't matter.






Monday, October 13, 2014

CURVES AND CLOSE FOLDING: THE GLORY OF A SIX-BUCK BUNCH OF TULIPS











From an article entitled 'The Four Great Loves of Gerard Manley Hopkins" in Recours au Poème, by Joseph J. Feeney.

"Hopkins loved nature’s beauty, and described it with rare skill and vivid images.  At 19, he wrote in his Oxford diary of “moonlight hanging or dropping on treetops like blue cobweb.”  At 21, he noted how “over the green water of the river...swallows [were] shooting, blue and purple above and shewing their amber-tinged breasts..., their flight unsteady with wagging wings.”  Lying awake one night, he saw lightning “coloured violet...but afterwards sometimes yellow, sometimes red and blue.”  He watched young lambs in springtime “toss and toss...as if it were the earth that flung them, not themselves.”  Whether describing moonlight, birds, lightning, or cavorting lambs, Hopkins always sought the exact detail and the accurate, fresh word: “blue cobweb,” “wagging wings,” “toss and toss.”  Loving nature, he wanted to make nature’s beauty permanent—at least in the words and images of his notebook.

He also loved the shapes of nature.  Clouds were “repeatedly formed in horizontal ribs.  At a distance their straightness of line was wonderful.  In passing overhead...the splits [were] fretted with lacy curves and honeycomb work.”  He noted the “curves and close folding” of tulip petals, and at his grandparents' home in Croydon the lawn had “half-circle curves of the scythe in parallel ranks.”  Even hailstones intrigued him, being “shaped like the cut of diamonds called brilliants.”  Loving nature, Hopkins loved its very shapes--its uniqueness of form.  This fascination with uniqueness, spurred by the philosophy of the medieval Duns Scotus, brought Hopkins to his famous concept of “inscape”—a word he created to express both an object's external shape and its “inner core of individuality.”