Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Midnight Mass (A Morality Tale In Several Paragraphs)

My wife had to work on Christmas Eve until 11:00 pm so she would not have time to come and get after work and get me to the Cathedral in time for me to find a seat.  I need a seat because my poor, disabled bones cannot even stand for the parts of Mass that you are normally supposed to stand for let alone the entire thing.  Under those circumstances my sister was generous enough to haul my crippled butt and the rest of me up to the Cathedral in time for me to find a seat.

Warning details of the limitations of the sick man traveling from his sick room to the Cathedral:

My body has been not as cooperative as I would like as of late.  I wake up four or five hours after going to bed.  It is the pain that rouses me from my sleep and sometimes after a little writhing about I can get back to a couple hours of sleep and sometimes I cannot.  I keep what I call my morning MEDs by the bedside so once it has been established that sleep is actively evading me, I can wolf those MEDs down and wait to begin my day.

My morning MEDs consist of about fourteen different pills and capsules, this does not include inhalers, eye drops, and that like.  The important drugs for getting my morning started and hence getting me the ability to move are some steroids, nuerotrophins, and pain pills.  The steroids reduce inflammation, the nuerotrophic to get the old brain firing and hopefully keep me awake and the pain pills I take for pain.  Usually within one to two hours everything has kicked in and I can start moving towards the bathroom.

There are days that I do not leave the bed, sometime my morning cocktail is not enough to lift the weight of the illness (the weight of my illness is 97% Pb and Au) and the bed is where I stay on those days.  Thoughts spin and refuse to take solid form, the fever of pain (not a real fever, but a fever like state brought on by pain) spins the old merry go round in my head.  There is some time spent gnashing my teeth and although I usually don't tear my clothes and when I do tear my clothes it is usually by accident and not from passion.

I have a small holy water font on the wall right outside my bedroom and above that there is a prayer of morning offering.  The font has a small plaque showing Saint Bernadette witnessing the appearance of our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto in France.  I have an affinity for Saint Bernadette that I will endeavor to explain in a later post, this one already feels as though it is long and heavy with words piling up on each other.  I stop there and offer up my suffering and begin my day with God.

Some days the offering up of the pain goes better than others.

That was a lot of exposition, but now to Christmas Eve!  If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know I am converting to Roman Catholicism.  On Christmas Eve or more accurately 12:01 am on Christmas Day there is a Mass to celebrate the incarnation of the word (it is Christ-Mass or Christmas) or otherwise known as the birth of Jesus!

I can no longer legally drive and my wife was working until right before the Mass was to begin so she could get herself there, but did not have time to retrieve me and get me to the Cathedral.  I put out the call on social media for a ride and my sister stepped up to give me a ride.  She arrived at my house in the early evening and we watched a movie, tried to order some Chinese food (they never answered, either too busy or closed), we did order some pizza and had some lovely conversation and as the time approached, I rounded up some oxygen tanks had my sister help me with my shoes (a little awkward for both of us) and away we went.

My walker would not fit in my sister's car, but I was not worried I figured for a once a year event I could gut it out.  We arrived early and were able to park quite close.  The air was cold and full of pollution and I traveled only across a street and before I was huffing and puffing and it became apparent that my supplemental oxygen was not supplemental enough.  By the time I had traversed the half block to the Cathedral (I did have to rest twice and probably would have rested more had there been other spots to rest) my joints and nerves had begun their dance of pain.

A rector (one who likes me, the others do not know me, but there is no telling whether they would like me or not) seeing that I was in great distress whisked me in a side door so that I would not have to stand in line.  We then made our way to my pew (not really my pew, but the pew I was always like to sit at, it is in the back so I do not have to go that far) and I sat down and began to gather my wits back around me.

My wits did return to me, but resting in my favorite pew did not bring any relief to the nerves and joints felt a little better, but when I am not being Pollyanna the joints did not really recover much.  As time went on my lovely wife joined us my nerves had moved from the slow waltz of pain to more of the Mike Flatly Lord of the Dance dance kind of pain.  In true Dude fashion I told my nerves that this aggression would not stand, especially on Christmas (it really ties the year together, not like Easter but it does tie the year together).

About twenty minutes into the Mass it felt as though my feet were being boiled like cheap hot dogs and that was punctuated with the feeling of hat pins being run through my legs at various points, maybe more accurately hat pins attached to jack hammers because I would feel the stab and then before I could catch my breath from gasping at the first stab I would be stabbed again.  There were invisible knives inserted into my ankles and my knees and my hips.  Which does not feel good, but then it felt like some invisible being was beating my joints with an invisible ball peen hammer.  At this point I was moving around a lot, my wife has informed me that most people would call it "writhing in pain", my wife is fancy.

I leaned over and told my wife that I was not going to make it through the service and we gathered my oxygen tank and a purse and such and embarked towards the exit.  I did not realize that this was to require a Herculean effort on par with the travels of Marco Polo down the silk road.  First, let me say that walking with a cane or walker and with oxygen has spoiled me.  In a crowd of people they will part like the Red Sea when Moses is coming to let the disabled folk through, but that was not the case at the Cathedral (I am not sure if it is ironic or not that people would not part like the Red Sea at a Cathedral but I think it is).

The Cathedral was packed, but there was room to part, but nobody would at least until I physically touched them on the shoulder and said excuse me.  Now that sounds normal until I mention one detail, everyone was facing me, they could see me coming but would not move.  I am not sure what I think about that, but it is not the thrust of this post so I will let that sleeping dog lie or I will not beat that dead horse or something else like that.

I came to the Roman Catholic faith for many reasons, chief among those reasons was their understanding of suffering.  I knew it would not be easy and I knew there would be moments of doubt, but I guess I did not know "know" it.  I was disappointed that I was not able to become free through embracing the pain, that is me paraphrasing a quote from the Blessed Chiara Luce Badano, but on further contemplation I am disappointed that I was disappointed.  Looking back over the time I have been ill, I was disappointed the disease did not go away on its own, I was disappointed that none of the drugs worked to treat the symptoms of the disease, I was disappointed I could no longer work, I was really disappointed when I could no longer drive.

The new year is soon upon us and this year my resolution is to accept with joy everything that each day brings.  Expectations of things "should" be has been the cause of disappoint and unhappiness for me.  On Christmas Eve, I had a sister that was willing to come give me a ride to the Cathedral and I have a wife that has stuck with me in spite of my illness and shows me kindness greater than I deserve.  I have a rector that likes me a beautiful cathedral to attend and many in the congregation that know and care about me and make me feel the community of the Church.  I am a rich man and everyday I will do what I can and let God take the rest.

Loves to all and a happy new year!

PS

I have been trying to learn this lesson for a long time so....but I have faith....







Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Early Merry Christmas (Catholicism, Conversion, and Death: not necessarily in that order)

Peace on earth and goodwill to men.

I grew up during the cold war, that is the global backdrop of my childhood.  I have also eluded that the local backdrop of my childhood (i.e. family, friends, strangers, & church folk) was not...well it is the Christmas season and I am feeling charitable so I will just say it was not what you would see in Norman Rockwell painting.  I never felt safe as a child.

Full Disclosure: I have not felt safe until I started my conversion to Catholicism.

The world today is full of shooting wars as opposed to a cold war.  There is a lot of overt hate and intolerance, I say overt because I am sure people hated each other when I was a kid but you certainly did not see it manifest in such public and violent ways  People are vocal about their intolerance of "others" cultural, religious, and racial differences in a way that is alarming.

I look at today and I look back at yesterday of my childhood and put them side by side for comparison.  I put my objective eyes on and I believe there was less to fear when I was a child than there is to fear now, I mean overall...not like specific threats...that is like a whole another book, not even a blog post, like a book. so not specific just overall things are scarier now.

That being said I am coming back around and yes it is happening: this is a religious post, not a post with religious content, I have had those before, this is an outright, show it in the sunshine religious post. 

Nobody knows when their ticket ticket to ride is going to get punched, when the last train to Clarksville is, when we are going to get lifted up where we belong (miss you Joe Cocker), when we all out of love, when we need to walk that way, when we will become a dancing queen, when we are headed to the dirt, when the rain comes again, when the static from channel z ends, when we will get eaten by the werewolves of London, when Diana Ross leaves us to not hang on anymore, when U2 finds what they are looking for, when Luka from the second floor moves out completely, when Semisonic tells us that it is closing time, when you find where your mind went, when PJ Harvey sings that she is rid of you and knows it is for good, when the cowboys from hell kick your ass one last time, when all Patsy Cline has left is sweet dreams of you, when it is time to put down the pretty machine for the last time, when Sister Christian has to go motoring by herself, when you find out what the lead singer of Morphine found out (the only cure for pain is death), take that final crazy train and find out where it leads, you head like bat out of hell for your final reward, and finally you are no longer a subterranean homesick alien.

Just to be clear nobody knows when they are going to die.

Few people in the world live like they are dying and we are all dying just at different speeds and definitely some deaths are more easily predicted than others.  I am certainly no exception to this rule and even after my diagnosis of sarcoidosis I did not live any differently but after a couple of years of being sick....it was oh shit I am going to die and possibly sooner than even the little dark man in the back of my head had thought.

When that realization finally sunk in I started to live like every day was precious and I wanted to be the person I had always wanted to be and I wanted to do the things I always wanted to do.  The irony (and not in that Alanis Morissette bullshit kind of way) is that by the time I realized the gift and beauty that is a day of life I was no longer able to do all the things I had wanted to do but wait it gets even more ironic.

Not to be deterred I set off on the list of things I always wanted to and I did my best to do the things I could.  The first thing I wanted to do was not be an asshole to everyone and if you are someone in my day to day life you know that some days I am better at this than others.  Second (this should have been first but I am only human) I wanted to be Catholic.

Generally speaking the program you go through to convert to Catholicism as an adult takes a year and usually all the adults converting complete the program and are baptized at Easter and Easter is coming soon.

Before I get into the religious finale I just wanted to say you should live each day like you are dying, kiss your wife, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, your friends (maybe only kiss your friends that are Europeans) and tell them you love them (if applicable) and if you do love them act like it and spend those days with them enjoying their company, life is shorter than you think and it is much too short not enjoy each precious day as much as you are able and don't be petty (I am still working on this one) but really whether you are religious or not there are only a few days spent on this earth and everyone should live like it (in a good way).

In the past nine months that I have been actively converting to the Catholicism, I have been reading books, going to a weekly class and of course weekly Mass and what has got me you may ask?  Peace, in a word peace.  I am not Pollyanna and everyday is not filled with joy and I have trouble embracing pain like the saints but instead of dark little man in the back of my mind there is light and that is light from God and is something I lean on.  I know that does not make sense and I will not try and explain it.  It is transcendent and I feel like a kid on Christmas eve waiting to open presents and the anticipation is building until Easter and my baptism.

PS

I am also less of an asshole, not completely not an asshole I am still working on it but much less of an asshole.

PPS

The non-spiritual support I get from the clergy and members of my parish is indispensable and now I am part of a community, it is a community of believers and it may be the first time I have ever been part of a community (in a good way).  We also laugh and joke about non-Catholic things and I have made friends and trust me when you are sick having friends that are not freaked out by your potential death (at least freaked out less because they all know where I am headed (knock on wood)) and being in a social group again is really awesome (sorry I could not come up with anything better than awesome).

PPPS

I know I have had a lot of run on sentences and I have abused conjunctions and I ask for your forgiveness.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Did Conan Really Know What is Best In Life? (There Will Be No Discussions Of Cats)

Picture if you will in the theater of your mind Arnold Schwarzenegger in his seminal movie role as Conan The Barbarian, that is if you are too lazy to use Google and YouTube because the scene I am describing is on the Interwebs, but again if you are too lazy picture it in the theater of your mind...
Conan has been training to be a warrior for a while and he is sitting in the lotus position on a table where his teachers or trainers or masters or whatever they are eating and don't ask me why he is sitting in lotus position on a table where people are eating and a little side note Conan is not eating.  Recap real quick Conan is sitting in the Lotus position while his "masters" are eating around of him, some by his bum and some by his feet.  Another side note here that I did not direct this film or adapt the book into a screenplay and side note to a side note the books are good and I know it is a cliche but the books are much better than the movies.

Now that I have set the creepy Tableau one of the teachers asks the students in attendance and of course Conan is one of these, side note, none of the other students are sitting on the table in any position. The teacher or trainer or Sensei  or whoever the Hell this guy is asks the students 'What is best in life?" and the first guy is like it is my hunting hawk and the wind and snow and the next guy is like hot meal and a cold woman, at this point I have to admit I don't really remember exactly what the other students say but it is crap like that and then we get to Conan.

Conan says "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."  When you are right, you are right and it is hard to argue against Conan's sound logic and the logic Conan uses here is sound.  It is a little Old Testament and I am more of a New Testament kind of guy, but I do not see any flaws in the logic.  I lived by this philosophy for part of my life but then I found Jesus and then I got sick and well... 

Well, today I am not really in a position to crush my enemies, see them driven before me or to hear the lamentation of their women because if I have any enemies left they do not have any women to lament them, on second thought if there are any enemies left they probably still live in their mother's basement and I am sure she would lament them being crushed but that does not change the fact I am not in a position to crush any enemies.  Since I am unable to follow the way of Conan and thereby follow the way of Crom, I must find a new philosophy for day to day living.

Side note:  I see that I did not use the correct tense at certain points above and I also switched tenses for no apparent reason at times.  For the record it is all past tense and by Crom, I am not spending the time to fix it

All sarcasm and exaggeration aside (at least for the most part) I do not miss the days of my youth, but I do miss Conan and building computers out of boxes (they did not work) and reading sci-fi books from the 50's recommended by my youngest uncle.  My uncle also taught me to play chess and backgammon and I appreciate that he never let me win.  People say youth is wasted on the young, I am sure it has been attributed to Mark Twain, but quotes can never be verified anymore without work, I would say that healthy is wasted on the healthy.

Computers made of boxes do not make me happy anymore and my deficit in problem solving and vanity make it much less likely that I will play games that require strategy like chess or backgammon.  Now before you get too far down the well and find that girl from The Ring I have found other things that bring me joy, maybe not that joy of a child but I find joy where I can.  I like blogging and I am even getting better at is as time goes on and  there is the company of my wife, which I do not truly appreciate until I became sick and there is Mass.

Once a week (twice if there is a Holy Day Of Obligation) I go to Mass at a beautiful cathedral and there are friendly parishioners who are glad to see me when I am there and miss me when I am not.  I was an atheist, a deist, an evangelical Christian and now I am on my way to being Roman Catholic and all I can say is I wish I had not required my own struck blind moment to make that leap of faith and I wish I could tell you it is all rainbows and unicorns as one of my friends is fond of saying but it isn't.

Everyone morning I say the following prayer:

O Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works, joys
and sufferings of this day,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the
Mass throughout the world,
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart,
in reparation for my sins
and for the intentions our Holy Father.

Some days the offering up of suffering goes better than others.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

My Cat Keeps "Accidentally" Turning Off My Oxygen (Is It Personal?) (Life has value, God, Natural Selection?)

I have a cat.  I think the cat likes me, I think.  We have only known each other for a few months but I think we are developing a relationship.  My cat likes to crawl and climb.  She climbs on furniture as you would expect but on two different occasions she has turned off my oxygen while I was sleeping.  I am not sure how long it takes but I wake up gasping for air and I look over and she is standing on top of the machine with a look that says "Did I do that?" just like Steve Urkel.

When I watched Family Matters I always wondered whether Steve Urkel was a buffoon or was he chaos hiding in plain sight?  I have never been able to answer question then or now, but now I am living my own sitcom, I am Karl and my cat is Steve Urkel.  As I live this sitcom I wonder was the fictional world of Family Matters just a sitcom or was it based on the long lost comedic tragedy rumored to have been written by Sophocles?

I have a lot of thoughts concerning Alf in relation to the cat but I am not sure how it ties in but I do love the eighties classic TV vibe that I have wandered into.  There is the obvious tie in that Alf always wanted to eat cats but even if my cat is turning off my oxygen intentionally I do not think I would want to eat her, well probably not.


You will notice that there were two spaces between the last paragraph and this one, you know what that means?  This is going to be a little less funny and more related to being ill, you know that whole sarcoidosis thing.

It is terrifying to wake up breathless.  Full disclosure I almost drowned when I was a child and when I wake up breathless...it brings me back.  Mortality has been on my mind since the sarcoidosis diagnosis and I have probably not thought about death this much since I was really into The Cure back in the 80's.  Over the past year I have been in the process of converting to Roman Catholicism and while that has not moved mortality from the front of my psyche it has turned off the flashing neon sign that was flashing the end is near.

That being said there is something primal about breathing and when you awake from slumber (did that sound like Poe?) from the lack of breathing your body screams and claws and scratches for life.  In our genetic design there is an imperative to stay alive and whether you are Roman Catholic and believe that God values all life and gave us this imperative or that it has evolved on it's own through natural selection without the aid of God they both say the same thing: life is valuable and God has a plan for you and your suffering or you should try and pass on your genetic code, people give short shrift to natural selection, it took a lot of evolution to get to you or me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Thanksgiving, I was only haunted by my dad for a minute

My wife and I have returned from our Thanksgiving at the Zermatt resort.  My wife was a little uncomfortable with people serving her as she had never stayed at a "fancier" hotel before but by the second day she was good, had the whole handshake money in the hand tip.  It was fun having room service and food from Frisch (local vegan restaurant, my wife is vegan) for Thanksgiving dinner.

The room was huge and had a fireplace, a balcony, a dinner table, a king size bed and a huge tub.  They have a spa in the Hotel and I had scheduled a day of spa activities for my wife for the Friday following Thanksgiving.  She reported back that it was good, not as good as some dedicated spas but good.  My wife and I are short on immediate family that are alive and local and it was nice to have a getaway.

My parents were divorced when I was six and somewhere along the way Thanksgiving became my dads holiday.  There were some dry turkeys for the first several years but along the way dad became quite the cooker of turkeys.  My sisters and I fought on most holidays and Thanksgiving was not an exception and my dad was not a peacemaker, I think he would best be described as a silence maker.  There were at least as many holidays that were filled with laughter and my father could fill a room with his laughter and illuminate any environment with his smile.

On this Thanksgiving after my wife had gone to sleep there was melancholy brought on by the absence of my father.  No tears were shed but my eyes did water.  It is better this year than the first year he was gone, well I am not sure better is the word, easier.  Easier is not the word either, I am thinking that is some combination between distant and less piercing, like I was stabbed with a spear but it has been withdrawn and it only stabs me again on Thanksgiving or when I reach for the phone to call him but most of the time the spear is withdrawn, most of the time.

PS (Health Note)

The resort was 1200 feet above our casa and I will tell you what, it was rough the first day.  I didn't really put it together that the altitude was responsible for my discomfort until the next day when I had begun to acclimate to the altitude.  I swelled up like that guy from Big Trouble In Little China who explodes at the end of the movie and once the swelling had gone down the next day it was pretty apparent that it was probably a little bit of the old congestive heart failure.

Now what is the sarcoidosis take away health tip from this little jaunt up the mountain?  Do not ignore your body, if you feel like you can't get comfortable and which ever way you lay you feel like your chest is being compressed and you can't breathe, well you might be dying and in more of an immediate kind of way than the existentialist we all are dying kind of way.  Loves to all and sarcoidosis hopefully just for me!