With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Monday, May 21, 2012

Next, Great Adventure


“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – Albus Dumbledore to Harry, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Chapter 17, JK Rowling
“Oh, you know nothing, Jon Snow.”  - Ygritte to Jon, A Storm of Swords, multiple references,George R.R. Martin

Our Benet Hill family gathered yesterday evening at Sr. Marilyn’s home in support of a cherished classmate who recently lost her husband. Her loss was sudden, described as a ‘trip over the rapids’ as opposed to a ‘leisurely inner-tube-ride down the river,’ which the doctors had suggested was an option. It was lovely to be with my classmates again and beautiful to participate in their love and support.  But (there’s always a ‘but’ with this topic) it’s so painful to see someone suffer and not be able to help. I felt painfully inadequate, too na├»ve and unprepared to assist anyone with their grief. As I drove home Ygritte’s words played on an infinite and unwelcome loop in my head, “You know nothing, you know nothing.”

No one really knows anything about death, except perhaps those who have had a near-death experience, but some folks have more experience with loss and standing alongside those who grieve. Sister Marilyn is one of those people, and I find it helpful to watch her and see how she handles situations of loss and sorrow and grief. As a hospital chaplain she has stood by many bedsides and comforted many families. She makes me feel death’s normalcy, its part in the rhythm of life, despite the pain that it brings.

Just last week our Engaging Spirituality / Just Faith class explored the topic of death. The atmosphere was dark at first, but after talking about our fears (or lack thereof) for an hour or more, the tension eased and we laughed together, particularly when someone said her husband was only allowed to remarry if he places a huge portrait of her in the bedroom! The subject of death cannot be avoided indefinitely, so it can help to raise it to the light. To my surprise, many folks in the class do not fear death. I do, because I want to raise my children and cannot bear to think of missing them. I’m also quite fond of being here. My classmates with grown children, however, have “well-organized minds,” and are willing to go on to the next great adventure, though hoping for a speedy and comfortable ride. Many referred to stories of near-death experiences of folks they knew personally or from stories they had read. All found comforting the fact that these stories are always positive, loving, light-filled.

This morning I spoke to another friend whose parent received a dark diagnosis over the weekend. The news is very painful for her and her family and for those who love her.  I swam laps with tears and chlorine in my eyes, my breath catching more than usual. Ygritte’s words returned to bounce around in my head: “you know nothing, you know nothing.” The words are true, but I am willing to learn, to be there, to stand alongside, and to share any piece of the burden that can be mine.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Miss Representation

I saw the documentary "Miss Representation" (www.missrepresentation.org) on Saturday. It's fortunate that I went with a group of fifteen strong, well-educated women, and came home to an emotionally intelligent and receptive husband or I might well have drifted into media-induced depression. Consider the following:

- "In a climate of a 24-hour media cycle and the proliferation of infotainment and reality TV, media has become the predominant communicator of cultural values and gender norms"
- "An individual's brain does not fully develop until the age of 24, which means our children and our young adults are our most vulnerable class of citizens"
- "Reality TV portrays women as catty, manipulative, vindictive and on display for male judgment and objectification"
- "Through media and advertising, boys get the message that they should be violent, in control, unemotional, and that women should be treated like objects and second class citizens." (All statistics from Miss Representation talking points, on the website)

The film highlighted many disturbing clips from reality TV shows and commercials that are readily available day and night on any mainstream channel. My friends and I cringed away from half-naked women in catfights and digitally enhanced (or reduced) images of young people; if we had a choice we would have changed the channel. Yet our brains developed under the influence of vastly different media. When I was young we had three channels, no TV remote, and a sacred "family hour" of viewing when the networks agreed to show only child-friendly material and commercials. These are long gone. If our children develop under the exposure of reality TV and digitally-altered everything, will their brains even know to cringe?

According to the folks at Miss Representation, kids and young adults watch more than 10 hours of media each day. Their world is defined by what they see, hear, and discuss with their peer group. How can young men and women find healthy role models and avenues to growth and development among the images that exist today? They can't.

My impulse is to turn off or get rid of the television - for good. But that solution won't fly in my family, and ultimately would not prepare our children for integration with their culture. Instead, I watch certain (carefully selected) shows with my older children and pause the DVR to discuss the characters of young men and women portrayed.  Thank goodness I can also use my DVR to fast-forward the commercials. We talk to the kids about how the goal of every advertiser and TV show is to influence them, primarily to buy certain commodities (clothes, makeup, shoes, music, etc.) - and make a lot of money.

We can also tell stories about strong women and emotionally - savvy men, both genders in three dimensions rather than stereotypes. We can focus on social justice rather than sexuality and wise choices rather than weight. We can work together with friends and neighbors to support good media with our words and our buying choices and to boycott bad movies, video games and TV shows. We have the power to fight back and create a better world for our boys and our girls, we just need to chuck the remote and represent the way life truly is.


Friday, May 11, 2012

"When we stand before reality preoccupied with ourselves we will see precious little of what is actually there to be seen."
 - Ronald Rolheiser, The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering a Felt Presence of God, p 34.

My Benet Hill course paused two weeks ago for summer break and I am just now catching up on my reading. I tackled Rolheiser's book first, and have found it about as comfortable as a paper cut. A growing sense of discomfort bothered me this spring, and I think Rolheiser sliced right to the heart of the issue; with a year of introspection and self-healing behind me, I have grown in knowledge and compassion but a healthy chunk of reality passed me by.

Point A: I realized over the weekend that I have not seen my amazing sister since last August. We have plans to be together in July, but that is a full year of absence. Despite (or because of) a good catch-up phone conversation, I feel a sense of loss that twelve months escaped us without time together. We have both been extremely busy, but how could I have let this happen?  Along the same lines, I haven't seen my parents since Thanksgiving, and will have to wait until July to be with them, as well. That is far too long; despite all of the good reasons for our absence (finances, surgeries, work schedules, etc), life is too short and loved ones too precious to spend so much time apart.

Point B: Our daughter and oldest child is headed to middle school next year. She 'graduates' from elementary school in less than a month. Have I been fully present to her unbelievable growth and development? Have I cherished every moment of the childhood that is rapidly receding? Emotionally, I struggle to let her go into the maelstrom of hormones and havoc that is junior high school. To move from the mother of a helpless, colicky infant to the mother of a "tween" is rough work in the short span of a decade.

Point C: What service have I done for those in the margins: the poor, sick, orphaned, widowed, alone? I have worked hard on serving my family, friends, and community groups but I have side-stepped the gospel imperative for a time. I feel this absence not only as a sense of guilt but as a sense of loss.

It's time to sharpen my focus on reality. Contemplation is always good but a preoccupation with myself - even if it centers on spiritual development - threatens to drown my sense of the world and my connections with others. I want to see all that can be seen.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Grow 

Awake! precious life
Blooms now and now and now
In succession of finite time pricks,
Dandelion spores on the wind.

Possibilities revealed moment by moment
In a green and fertile time.
Nature dictates growth or decay,
A verdict or a choice?

Pollinate your dreams,
Imagine the path of a butterfly,
Labor as a nesting robin,
Flash of reddest rouge amidst the brown.