GIVING CARE

Ari left us yesterday at 2 pm, some 7 months after he came to help give care to Bernie. Give care, as in just giving freely from one’s heart, not take care. Taking care implies greater dependence by the other person; also included there is caution.

Ari gave Bernie care all this time, primarily exercising with him, learning all about Feldenkreis and Taub’s constraint-induced therapy. He made Bernie’s therapy his own, took our books home to read. He read Moshe Feldenkreis’s book aloud to Bernie, together they looked at Dan Siegel’s Mindsight and discussed possible meeting points with Zen, especially the Three Tenets.

Giving care has something to do with companionship, listening deeply to what the other person loves and needs, entering and inhabiting that landscape rather than the usual one—my own.

Ari has been instrumental in helping Bernie go from stumbling along on his legs to walking upright with a cane and without. He has watched Bernie begin to cut his own food on the plate using his right hand, a very recent development. He has told Bernie I can’t listen to you, you’re talking with your left hand, as we all have, which is what happens when Bernie forgets to use his right hand and begins to gesture and gesticulate with his left.

And Ari has been part of our home. Fill the birdfeeders, take Stanley to his romps with Leeann and other dogs, make a terrific Mediterranean salad. People come and go through the front door; Stanley opens one eye, says Oh, it’s you, and goes back to sleep. Unless they start cooking in the kitchen.

In the weekends there’s no Ari, no Rami, no Jessie (who now works for Rami), just the two of us with the dog. There’s more privacy, and also narrower landscapes, a kind of social poverty. Comes Monday morning, the front door opens downstairs even as I’m already at work in my office upstairs, someone says softly Good morning!, and the week begins.

As it will begin next week, too, but without Ari, who’s also pursuing other lines of education and work. A lovely woman will be with us instead, but I won’t identify her in this blog without her permission.

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COMING BACK HOME

I came to sit on Tuesday night and saw the saffron robes of a monk at the other end of the small room. It was Tan, our American Thai Buddhist monk, hunched up on a cushion. I heard he’d gone away for a few months, but here he was, back again to walk our roads with his bowls in hand, knock on the door, hope he’s not interrupting anything, and come in to say hello. His gentle spirit and simple manner point to something fundamental and unembellished about the essence of human. And that essence is all our birthright, only we have to access it.

I set my eyes on the deathless, the Buddha said, not the things that depend on life conditions and will therefore pass as those conditions pass, but that which isn’t born and doesn’t die. Once you have that in view, your actions will slowly conform to that view. As long as you don’t lose sight of it, then it’s just a matter of (life)time.

Here’s a story I heard of Tan:

He was walking on the road in a town not far from here (in this rural area we don’t have sidewalks). A pick-up truck passed him by, slowed down a ways ahead of him and came to a stop. He kept on walking, gradually closing the gap between himself and the truck, till finally he was alongside. The driver rolled down the passenger side window, Tan approached, and the driver said this to him:

I don’t know who you are or anything about you. Just wanted to tell you that yesterday my wife and I had one hell of a fight. By the end she was so mad she left the house, went into her car and drove away. I wasn’t sure I’d ever see her again. Twenty minutes later she’s back, a whole other person. I asked her what happened, and she said she passed you on the road, saw you in her rearview mirror as you kept on walking, saw your face and how you were just walking on that road. And she said something happened to her. All that anger was suddenly gone. She turned around and came back home.

 

I just wanted to say thanks.

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WHEN IN DOUBT, JUST STANLEY

Photo by Leeann Warner

“Stanley, what makes me human?”

“Fool me.”

“I was at a meeting the other day and we were asked to introduce ourselves, and add our pronouns.”

“What’s that?”

“Whether you want to be referred to as a him, a her, or a they. Do you identify as a man, a woman, both, or undecided.”

“Is it a test?”

“No, Stanley, it’s all about exploring your gender. Once biology was everything. If you had a penis and testicles, you were male, and if you had a vagina you were female. But things are not so clear-cut anymore.”

“What if you have a penis and no testicles? What about if you were a sweet, innocent, trusting puppy and one day you were taken to the House of Horrors and woke up without testicles?”

“Stanley, that had a whole other purpose. And I don’t think you should refer to Dr. Brown as a House of Horrors.”

“Since then I’ve been confused.”

“About whether you’re male or female?”

“No, about our relationship. CAN I TRUST YOU!”

“The point I’m making, Stanley, is that biology doesn’t cut it anymore.”

“Please don’t put it like that.”

“People are now asking themselves whether they feel male or female, whether they feel comfortable in the bodies they were born in. And that raises all kinds of questions about what it means to be a male or a female. Things are now more fluid, less entrenched, more variable.”

“In other words, confused.”.

“At least we know what your pronoun is.”

“What is it?”

“You’re an it. That’s how we refer to all nonhumans.”

It? We’ve been together for 12-1/2 years and you’ve always thought of me as an it I ? I don’t feel like an it.”

“That’s the law of the land, Stan.”

“Does my body look like an it? Is it because I don’t have testicles?”

 

“No, no, Stanley, it’s not that at all.”

“Maybe I’m a him. I talk a lot, don’t I, like all the males you know?”

“That’s true, only nobody knows you talk except for me.”

“I’m different from one day to the next, right? You always say everything changes.”

“That’s true.”

“So my identity is just as fluid as yours. Whatever that means.”

“Okay Stanley, tell me this: What’s your name and what pronoun do you use?”

“Stanley.”

“And what pronoun do you use?”

“Just Stanley.”

“How about if I combine she, he and it?”

“Don’t do that. When in doubt, just Stanley.”

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THIS IS NOT CHARITY

Remember that you are a community volunteer just providing transportation to a person who needs a ride. This is not charity. It is the necessary solidarity work required when some community members enjoy rights and privileges that others are denied.

I went to a meeting on providing rides to illegal immigrants living in our community. Discretion is needed here, otherwise I could say more, describe the place, the spirit of the people who attended and of those who brought us together.

But what held me most was the above guideline, the first in a set of guidelines we were given for this work. This is not charity. In every community there are those who have more material possessions and those that have less; every community—if it’s alive and vibrant—has different members with different customs and traditions, with life arcs that have brought prosperity to some and poverty to others. But if everyone works together to provide some minimum level of wellbeing for all members, the community flourishes. This is not charity, it’s living in community.

Bernie always said that you should try to do something, even if it’s small, for your community and the world. Saying that all your time is occupied with taking care of yourself and your family is like saying that I won’t take care of my lower leg if it’s badly gashed because it’s far from my heart and brain, and therefore not that important, or the ankles on my feet that have twisted terribly, because though that makes it hard for me to walk it’s not life threatening.

What is it saying about us that we have to whisper about such beautiful work, while the headlines are all about less health care for the unrich under the new Ryan plan, the you-owe-us/no-we-don’t seesaw between our government and NATO, and gutting Meals on Wheels? Those who care have to walk softly so as not to attract too much attention; they can’t take photos.

During the meeting someone asked why these services haven’t been offered to all indigent people in our county, we certainly have our share. We live in the country, with almost no public transportation available, so if you don’t own a car you’re in trouble. Or you may have a car but lack the means to keep it up so that it passes inspection, or lack the dollars to buy gas.

Lots of people find themselves in this situation, recent immigrants and families whose ancestors came here on the Mayflower. We have single women with children trying to make it to daycare so that the mother can go to work. We have farms nestled in the woods with houses that look like they’re caving in and wood-burning stoves that run out of wood by March, blizzard or not.

But the illegal immigrant community is now in serious trouble, with parents afraid to take their children to school, to drive to work, to go to food pantries or free meals, to do the most basic things they depend on. They’re afraid of deportations and families split up.

So even as we talked about what needs to be done, we were aware there were no more than 50-60 of us in the room. We need everyone to take care of everyone. So choose something and do it. And don’t forget, it’s not charity, it’s just taking care of the Beloved Community.

I plan to learn some Spanish.

And speaking of generosity, look at all the fruits and vegetables that Stone Soup Café gave away on Saturday, along with breads and cookies and their usual scrumptious prepared lunch.

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HUMMUS IS NO LONGER HUMMUS!

“This is great hummus,” I tell Stanley.

Stanley is hovering over the pan excitedly. “Can I have some?”

“And it’s the real thing, full of tahini, olive oil and garlic, just like I like it.”

“What about me?”

“It’s not the organically correct kind, Stanley. It’s not made of artichokes, red lentils, carrots, or spinach. It’s not bright red, orange, or green. It’s done the way they’ve done it forever in the Middle East: chickpeas, tahini and lots and lots of garlic. It’s that nice beige-yellow color, like it’s been for centuries.”

“It’s okay, I’m color blind.”

“You know what the problem with this country is, Stanley? We’re food imperialists. We take a perfectly wonderful food that has nourished millions of people for millennia, and we make it ORGANIC! We add all kinds of veggies, seeds and tofu, and we ruin it.”

“Know just what you mean. Not keen on vegetables myself.”

“I think it’s part of the political correctness in this country. Nothing is simple anymore. Men are no longer men, women are no longer women.”

“And hummus is no longer hummus.”

“Exactly. We make things complicated, all kinds of variations that are so confusing. The trouble all started with Darwin. He said that we evolve through variations.”

“You mean my pal Darwin who lives down in the farmhouse?”

“That’s Darwin the Yorkie. I mean Darwin who started evolution and all our other problems. Till Darwin everybody was who they were. Amoebas were amoebas, fungi were fungi, crows were crows.”

“Maybe we’re becoming more sensitive,” Stanley opines.

“Even Muslims are becoming politically correct. You know how we got this great hummus? Rami brought it from a Purim party given by a Muslim couple he knows.”

“A Muslim couple gave a Jewish Purim party?”

“Crazy, right? Like the Obamas did Passover Seder every year. And it gets crazier. This couple gave a Purim party for a rabbi who was arrested demonstrating in front of Trump Tower against the ban on Muslims coming into this country. How’s that for political correctness?”

“Terrible.”.

“And of course, they made so much food that they sent an entire pan of hummus, hamentaschen—”

“They sent raspberry hamentaschen, that’s how you know they weren’t Jewish-”

“– and a 5-lb. mousse cake to us here, the Zen Buddhists of Montague.”

“And to me, too. Don’t forget me.”

I look down at him “You? You can’t eat hummus, you’re a dog.”

“Whaddya mean, I’m a dog? That’s your imperialistic specieism talking. Dog is what you homo sapien colonialists call us.”

“If you’re not a dog, what are you?”

“I am biologically diverse, a primate cousin, your evolutionary equal, with superior traits like four legs.”

“That’s the silliest thing I ever heard.”

“And a better communicator than you any day, because I have a tail.”

“Of course you have a tail, you’re a dog. That doesn’t reflect any negative judgment on my part, I love dogs!”

“To call someone a dog in your homo sapien vernacular is no compliment. It’s pathologizing! It’s insulting! It’s a function of how you homo sapiens see us. It doesn’t capture the rich biodiversity that I, Stanley Marko Glassman, represent.”

“So if I can’t call you a dog, what should I call you?”

“A biological triumph. Pass the hummus.”

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A DAY WITH NO WALK IS A DAY WITH NO FUN!

SO WHAT IF IT’S FIVE DEGREES OUT THERE?

 

I’m indebted to Mikko Ijjas, a member of Zen Peacemakers, who posted the item below:

Imagine you’re on a tiny deserted island with a huge lion on it and crocodiles and sharks swimming around it. What do you do? 

You stop imagining.

I laughed, and at the same time felt something stuck in my throat. Stop imagining? I can’t imagine stopping to imagine.

But there’s no doubt that with a huge lion and crocodiles and sharks all around, it’s a real temptation to withdraw, shut off the senses, stay in bed and never get up. After Bernie had his stroke there were lots of days when I’d wake up in the morning, contemplate what was ahead, and just want to go back to sleep.

But the snow is deep outside and somebody has to go out with thick pants and tall boots to fill the birdfeeders because those birds are hungry! And somebody has to go out with the dog who’s been house-ridden for two snowy days, and the cold doesn’t mean much to him even at the age of 13-1/2. Or maybe it does only he knows his days are numbered so he doesn’t care, just wants to go out there and feel the iciness course through his veins, feel something.

Feel something: the icy shock to the body when you go out, the huffing and puffing to make it up the snowy path. Even the toughest apprehensions, deep inside, whisper to me that I’m alive. Maybe I feel like a quivering, newborn chick, but something else is quickening there, and if I can distill it to its essence—as I did last night when I prepared a shallots sauce for chicken—it’ll give me new life.

How to transform fear and anxiety into things that give me life? Listen deeply, not to the monsters in the attic but to what’s behind them. The world, like my home, is always welcoming me in its subtle way, even reminding me that I am loved. The birds swoop in circles outside, checking out the birdfeeders, as if telling me: We, made up of tiny bones and feathers, survived the blizzard, and so can you. COME ON, LET’S EAT!

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