Jan 17 2013

Two Sides

The two faces of theater.

At some point or other, we all experience change. But change wears many masks. Like the two faces of the theatre.

Comedy and tragedy.

There’s the category we call good. Falling in love. Winning the lottery. And then there’s the bad. Sickness. Losing money in the stock market. We grow up believing that the two are juxtaposed to each other. One can cause spontaneous fits of laughter and good cheer. But seldom does the side we call “bad” cause bursts of the giggles.

Comedy and tragedy.

Two sides to the coin we call life. There are good days and there are bad days. And I for one, have learned not to cheat tragedy out of it’s just rewards. When I’m down, I feel it only right to be very much down.

I can remember the stereotype super hero who laughs in the face of danger. So what does it look like to laugh in the face of tragedy? It sounds a bit sacrilegious.

But I have experienced such irreverence. Only a few days ago, my mother-in-law had a stroke. And in the midst of a high-stress, potentially tragic moment, laughter could be heard emanating through the thin veil of her ICU cubicle. And on more than one occasion.

Comedy meets tragedy.

At first I thought it just a coping mechanism. And perhaps that’s part of it. But as I watched and listened, I realized it was deeper than that. A room full of people, who love each other, did what came naturally. The conversation did not change because of the surroundings.

And as the days unfolded, the jokes kept coming. The doctor came in to check and asked my mother-in-law to open her eyes. She had been very groggy and dizzy and didn’t want to. The first time she ignored the request. The second time he asked she responded, “I’m paying a lot of money for this.” And the room broke out in chuckles.

Laugher didn’t change the circumstance. She still had a stroke. But in the last few days I have learned a valuable lesson. The greatest tragedy is the loss of levity. Having a stroke isn’t funny. But the ability to find some small piece of humor in the midst of calamity makes the darkness feel not so oppressive. It’s like taking the reins of a run-away horse.

We cannot control our circumstances but we can control how we respond.

And maybe it comes down to Mary Poppins.

A little bit of sugar  helps the medicine go down. 

 

 

 


Nov 1 2012

The Weight of the World

The annual Halloween party has come and gone. This year, it was held the night of our epic moving sale. Epic in the sense that all living room furniture is gone and all bedroom furniture from our bedroom is gone save our bed. I watched it all drive off to new homes. Saying good-bye to bearers of memories and probably a few lost coins.

With last vestiges of energy, I was tasked with transforming our eight year old daughter into a rock star and our nine year old daughter into an ice fairy. After makeup and clouds of colored hairspray, I had a few minutes left to figure out how to transform myself. This is not the first year I have tried to convince myself that haggard mom of three is actually a costume.

I thought I carried the weight of the world. 

And then my husband came to my rescue. “Here,” he smiled, “wear this.”

Moments later, clad in combat boots, bloused pants, a old tattered bullet proof vest and a cap, I was ready to go. From haggard mother of three to tattered security guard. All evening, I clod around in the twenty pound boots and pulled on the twenty pound vest, threatening to strangle me.

I thought I carried the weight of the world.

“Is it normal to suddenly feel like you can’t breathe?” I asked my husband.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s normal.”

As we said our good-byes, I fantasized about getting home and taking off the heavy vest and the weights on my feet. And then it struck me.

I thought I carried the weight of the world.

But I don’t. I carry the weight of my own little world. Dishes, laundry, carpools. And it gets heavy. But my law enforcement husband, the one who puts on these weights everyday actually does carry the weight of the world.

The kidnapper, the car thief. The hostile woman late for work. The guy with the felony warrant who has a tail light out but pulls a gun because he has far more to lose than a fix-it-ticket. The accident scene where a mother realizes her baby didn’t make it. The notification to the parents of the teenager who was going to fast and struck a tree and wouldn’t be graduating after all.

I discovered a valuable thing. Yes, the boots and vest are heavy. Not to mention the duty belt laden with tools of the trade. But they symbolize something that weighs even more. The commitment to do the hard thing. To serve the public and keep them safe whether they like it or not.

A heavy burden.

I thought I was tired before the party. I thought carting around those boots and that vest was difficult. But in a room full of fairies and rock stars, my boots and vest were just a costume. I could set down the weights at the end of the party and simply hold on to the pictures. Fun reminders of a another year.

But for those who really do carry the weight of the world, they need no help to remember. Sights and smells are imbedded in their memories. And all those faces and all those incidents are difficult to forget.

It must feel like the weight of the world.

 

photo credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/infinitejeff/69254223/

 



Sep 27 2012

Insight from Pirates

“Life is pain highness. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.”

Can you name the movie? It’s a brilliant movie but not exactly the most uplifting quote.

Life is pain? Really? We don’t want this to be so but can we disagree? Even the most staunch optimist must admit that life is full of pain. So, if life is pain, what now?

There seem to be two sides to this coin. On the one hand, we avoid. Run. Pretend it doesn’t exist or that it’s not that bad. And on the other, we wallow. Crawl back into bed, curl up in the fetal position, and pray to be left alone until it’s over.

Life is pain.

And pain hurts. It’s uncomfortable. Can you blame me for running or wallowing? But running and avoiding pain means I’m convinced it has no value. And, if I cringe and hold my breath until it’s over, in essence, I declare the same. Pain has no value. We only embrace things that we declare beneficial or profitable.

But if I act as though pain has no value and I know that life is full of pain then I have sealed my fate. My life will have pain, the pain has no value, therefore, life has no value. The only days to be celebrated are those lived on the pinnacle of health or happiness. All other days should be endured until we crest the mountain once again.

But let’s live radically. What if we could believe something else. What if every day counted? What if we could believe that…

Pain has value.

Don’t worry. I didn’t make this up.

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  ― C.S. Lewis

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”  ― Dalai Lama XIV

“Let me explain. Wait, there is no time. Let me sum up.” Life is pain. Pain is God shouting at me. But His message is hope. And if I’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s this–

The beauty of hope is seen best against the darkened back drop of pain.

We are planning to move away. My heart grieves at the inevitable good-bye that is coming. I want to hide. I want to withdrawal. I want it not to be so.

Life is pain.

May the pain of goodbye deepen my resolve to live in relationship. May the hurt of separation open my heart like the seed that waits for spring. May the breaking of our hearts, create a capacity in us to love even deeper. May we have ears to hear God’s message of hope. He is shouting after all.

But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. – Job 36:15

 


Sep 20 2012

Stress is like Gangrene

Gangrene may be prevented if it is treated before the tissue damage is irreversible. Wounds should be treated properly and watched carefully for signs of infection.

Stress is like gangrene.

As I have mentioned, our family is familiar with PTSD. An intense stress disorder. But we are also familiar, along with probably everyone else alive, with good old fashioned, every day stress. You know. The nausea, insomnia, increased appetite, head ache, and neck ache inducing variety. Often caused by, but not limited to moving, having children, working, family members, deadlines, buying houses.

Even getting this blog out today has been a point of stress. And that is irony, my friends. But, in the course of having to climb out of the stinky pile of dung I’ve been buried under this week, I discovered something.

A quote. The philosophy of a man well acquainted with stress and suffering. He endured four different concentration camps during World War II. If anyone has the credentials of experience to talk about living in the midst of trial it would be him. And this is what he says.

“…the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.” (Viktor Fankle.) His idea is that regardless of what happens to a person, we all retain the right, and even the responsibility, to choose how we respond. One does not require suffering to find meaning, but meaning can be found in spite of suffering. Or maybe even in spite of stress.

Stress is like gangrene.

It isn’t going anywhere. It’s like a bacteria. We will be bombarded until we breath our last breath. No amount of pretending or wishing can change that. But we must learn to treat it properly. Why do I give it so much power to rule over me like an evil tyrant? Instead of making it my master, I have to learn how to make it my teacher. It is an opportunity to learn to chose differently. But left unchecked, it can cause irreversible damage.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Stress is like gangrene. 

It’s time to start addressing the stress in my life.

So tomorrow, I’m getting out of bed and going for a bit of fresh air and exercise. And, I’m going to scream at my stress. I’m going to confront the tyrant and treat it like a drill instructor. “Bring it on! Teach me something!”

May the stress in my life point to areas that need correction and may it strengthen my resolve to make the world a better place.

At least, I’m going to try. How about you? Stressed lately?


Jul 25 2012

P is for partially blind

An outing to the zoo the other day warranted the taking of many pictures. My girls quickly took control of all picture taking devices and began to document our adventure. The above photo is one from that day. Can you tell what it is?

Yeah, me neither. After close inspection, I have made out some concrete and a shadow. Hardly a kodak picture spot. And maybe not a great representation of a day at the zoo but an apt representation of the beginning part of my journey into the world of PTSD.

P is for partially blind.

They say love is blind but I beg to differ. I think love is only partially blind. I was drawn to a man who is compassionate, courageous, and loyal. A man of honor. A man who takes his oath seriously. “I subscribe in word and deed to…fulfill my oath as a soldier of the law…” I was not blind to those things.

I was partially blind.

I knew my husband to have those traits. But I was blind to the fact that they came at a price. His loyalty and compassion are not bound only to the situations that he can control. He can not turn them on or off at will. So, to the little girl that died in his arms, he remains compassionate and loyal, even years later regardless of forced good-byes.

I was partially blind.

I can’t see her. I have heard about her and the tragedy of that day, but I have no vivid pictures, or smells or tastes associated with her. But my husband does. And the burden of those memories, of the hopelessness of the outcome, exact a heavy price.

The caring man I married grew more and more impatient and aloof. His sympathies began to turn sour like spoiled milk. One of our children would get injured and he would be rendered incapacitated. Nightmares, anxiety, and unending mantras regarding safety. Locks on doors, emergency drills and angst. The beautiful family I thought we had was changing. Or better said, the rules that governed our home were changing and I didn’t see it.

I was partially blind.

There was a new sheriff in our home. The past. Those moments in time when beliefs in justice demanded a different outcome. The little blond seven year old girl should have lived. But she didn’t. And that is only one image among dozens. Each tragic loss of life has a face, a name and a memory. The man of compassion and loyalty was being stretched to the breaking point. The past began to invade and it would take no prisoners.

I have since realized that although my husband has been diagnosed with PTSD he is not the only one who sees the past command unwarranted authority over the present. We stand in our situations. Our trials. Our issues. And we don’t want to let go. There is an obscure security in defining ourselves by our scars. Our battle wounds.

I saw my husband changing and I thought it was just his issue.

 I was partially blind.

And not fully seeing causes one to react. But my response to the unfamiliar and undetermined changes happening in our home is for next week. When T is for ticked off.


Jul 18 2012

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Panic. Temper. Strain. Depression.

Several years ago, I had no idea how four letters could turn someone’s life upside down.

Today is my wedding anniversary. Thirteen years ago I married an amazing man. I envisioned having beautiful children and a beautiful life. For many years that is exactly what we had worked to create. And then something changed. Suddenly a monster was living in my home threatening to destroy all that we had worked so hard to establish.

For years, the monster remained nameless. But its presence was no less intrusive. This monster laid open a path for fear, anxiety, even depression. And I felt helpless. It was terrifying and overwhelming.

I have alluded to this issue in past blog posts but there has been a hesitancy in me to discuss it in detail. Maybe it’s one of those things that is so painful it’s just difficult to talk about. But, it’s my anniversary. And I have much to celebrate. I think it’s time.

It feels impossible to transcribe our journey in a single blog post so I intend to make this a series. As I pondered how to cohesively write a short group of blogs I thought of doing an acronym. I seem to like those. So this will be the first post of five. Each post after this will highlight a specific part of our journey. And what better acronym to use than P.T.S.D.

Please understand that I am not a doctor or psychologist. Writing about this widespread and debilitating issue is strictly based on my own experience. And even that being limited. I am not the sufferer directly. I am not the one haunted and tortured and controlled by horrific images and memories. I am the bystander. One who has had to learn to love in the midst of the paralyzing unknown. However, I am intimately acquainted with the condition. I had a first row seat as I watched my husband wrestle and fight a foe that was unseen. I watched as the father of my children was nearly taken from me.

I am the spouse of a highly decorated law enforcement officer. He is courageous and honorable and broken.

Happy anniversary to us and I hope you check out the next blog, “P is for partially blind” and take this journey with us.

 


May 30 2012

Pizza and mashed potatoes

 

I have never been one to get excited about a smorgasbord. My children, on the other hand, get ecstatic. Macaroni and cheese with a side of pizza and another side of jello. A second trip for a plate full of fried chicken and more jello. And finally, a third trip for the mashed potatoes and sliced peaches.

Not a meal they would typically get at home. But the beauty of it is the choice. They get to walk around isles of food and pick only what looks good. ‘Cause that’s such a great representation of life, right?

Several years ago I had a checkup with my doctor. The subject of hormones was broached and I was asked how I was doing. As any self respecting woman would respond, I said, “OK.”

Undeterred, and obviously not buying my feeble reply, the doctor paused and rephrased the question. “Ever so often, say once a month, does your husband, or anyone else in your family, notice a big ‘ol pot of crazy and choose not to stir it?”

I laughed and cried at the same time. How could such a creative question not earn a completely honest response? And so I then said, “Uh, yeah, probably.”

The antidote for me against the big ‘ol pot of crazy is to run. Consistently. Not once a week or every other month. But consistently. I have at times practiced this and it seems to keep the crazy to a low simmer. The way I see it, I have two choices. I can run and be a functioning, rational woman. Or I can not run and be, well, the opposite.

Life is not a smorgasbord. We want it to be a trip down the yogurt isle where any flavor one can possibly imagine can be picked out. But, being the bearer of bad news, I must say, it is not natural to eat pizza and mashed potatoes at the same meal. And neither do I get to post-pone my runs for months at a time and not keep the crazy at bay.

I can bemoan the fact that I must run to function emotionally. I can scream from the top of the mountain (which I did not run up) that life is not fair. I can whine and complain how I wish life were more like a smorgasbord.

But I really only have one choice.

To run, or not to run? That is the question. And the answer? I’m thinking I need to start running again.

Is there something you know you really should do but you don’t like to do it? Please commiserate. I’d love to know it’s not just me.

 

 


May 23 2012

Tiny Bubbles

 

Have you ever seen a toddler play with bubbles for the first time? Their fascination is captivating. They follow and chase the free-floating orbs with euphoria. A small round ball, a tiny bubble drops and every ounce of attention focuses. With arm outstretched, they waddle hurriedly to capture and claim the treasure. The bubble continues to fall and explodes, sending small droplets of soapy goo to the adjacent blades of grass.

The toddler stops suddenly. Frozen. Staring at what was. And then, the lower lip juts out and their brows furrow. Liquid disappointment falls down their cheeks.

Shattered bubbles are painful regardless of age. Dallas Willard says, “Reality is what we learn when we find out we are wrong.” When the bubble pops, reality is there to stare us in the face. The world is brimming with tragedy and pain. Suffering and destruction. Our rainbow like, soapy clean bubbles cannot shelter us. Our illusions of safety are fleeting. But security, that is an altogether different matter.

Death’s shadow passed by again last night. My husband missed the first two innings of another baseball game tending to a “clean up” effort of another demonstration of man and car vs. tree. Tree won. A few days prior, he was called away from an award dinner to an officer involved shooting. All officers are fine. Suspect died in the gun battle he started.

The world is a dangerous place. Death and pain run rampant and try as we might, our small, gossamer, self-constructed bubbles are no match. Fragile and translucent. They don’t stand a chance against the razor-sharp shrapnel of everyday life.

Not everyone lives with such demonstrative examples of this. But no one is exempt. No one can walk through this life unscathed. And yet, we put forth great effort to try. For many years, especially with small children under foot, our motto had been, “Safety first.” Often spoken tongue-in-cheek, none-the-less it was applied with vigor and vigilance.

But what is left when the bubbles burst?

We are not safe from pain and trouble. We are not immune to suffering or tragedy. Our hope cannot reside in the residue of tiny bubbles. But who needs bubbles anyway? Our eternity is secure and sheltered in the capable hands of the Almighty God.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

 

 

 


May 19 2012

Badges? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

I am so jealous of the Girl Scouts. And not for the reasons you might think. Sure they have the “Thin Mints” and the “Samoas” and the “Lemonades.” All pure genius. But those aren’t covet inducing.

I see the Girl Scouts and the thing I want most is the vest. Think about it. Haven’t you done some stuff that is badge worthy? Reached a mileage goal in running, or a weight goal or an anniversary?

My vest would be a color other than kelly green (this is my daydream so I get to pick) and I would wear my badges proudly. It sounds ridiculous but we do it everyday. At the end of the day, my to-do list is examined. How many badges did I earn today? Laundry, grocery shopping, bills, chauffeuring, and on and on. The number of badges earned is compared to the number of badges missed and an opinion is formed. Good day? Not so good day? Horrible day?

On those days where the accomplishment column is on the empty side, my self-worth swirls around the porcelain bowl that still needs cleaning. And always on those days, I seem to come face to face with the vests of those around me. Their vests are laden with badges! How in the world can I keep up? They have badges I’ve never even thought of!

But the rebel in me, that part that wants to rage against the machine longs to be free. I wish to walk into my yard and burn the vest. And then shout from the hill behind my house…

“Badges? Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!!”

Imagine a day where the only goal is to live. Live every moment until you fall into bed without thought of to-do lists and badges. (Cue orchestra.) To fall asleep simply remembering the moments that made you laugh or cry. (Music builds to crescendo.)

Who’s with me? (Applause and screaming.)

Say it with me…

We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!