Growing Old: The Fine Art of Learning to Lose

29 Jun

Growing Old: The Fine Art of Learning to Lose

Have you come across this character type—the nasty old woman who barks at you when you try to help her as she is struggling to get the wheels of the shopping cart over the curb again and again?  Or the reclusive miser next door who barely speaks to anyone, not even his posse of twenty mangy cats?  I often cringe at images like this of old age because I fear that I more than anyone else will wind up a crotchety, stingy, miserable old hag.  I cannot but think about the process of aging as I see so many of those around me enter into the final season of their lives.  In my experience I have seen two types—either the sweet, loving, patient sage who has come to terms with the visictitudes of life (sort of like Yoda or the wise old medicine woman)  or the miserable grouch like Scrooge or some of the demanding senior women who complain about everything on the early-bird menu and leave no tip.  Is the path to becoming a grumpy old relic inevitable?  Is there a way to think about the process of growing old in a way that does not bring with it bitterness, resentment, cynicism, and despair?

From the little I have understood about life, it seems that it does not travel in a linear path of progress and happiness.  It is a fallacy that life gets better as you get older.  In fact, for some us it becomes an unlivable hell; the final chapter is the worst to read.  In contrast to the many televised  cases of young people falling to their doom by jumping off the Verrazano Bridge or overdosing on sleeping pills, depression  and its consequence are purviews of old age.  Depression and suicide  are highest among the elderly in this country.  As an indication of the general souring of the soul in later life, skim through Ecclesiastes.  The last book the Wise Solomon composed at the very end of his life is perhaps the most pessimistic and hopeless of all (in fact, I believe some parts were altered or glossed over to lift its somber color).  The main theme running through it is “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.   In the end, nothing matters.  What you thought was so necessary, what kept you up at night, what you stressed and twisted over was not so important.  With the graze of the great sickle, nothing is that important. And all is in vain.

It reminds me of a colleague who during his farewell speech at his retirement part, raised his glass and said, “Friends, after 35 years of teaching, I have accomplished nothing. It was all in vain. It was all a waste of time.” After this , he took a seat and proceeded to get drunk.  At the end of your life, I believe the greatest spiritual struggle will be not to lose faith, not to fall into the spirit of despondency, and that fall into the trap of misery.

 

Several reasons might account for this.  I think optimism and trust in the best intentions of humankind are hard to sustain with each successive year of disappointments, betrayal, heart breaks, repeated news about the heart of darkness and the brutality in the world.  It is hard to hold onto youthful enthusiasm when the trials of daily toil reduce you to a slaving, grinding automaton.  By the time you are 40, you will have witnessed your fair share of horrifying acts of crime, perhaps even murders, wallowed through two or three devastating heart breaks  and break ups, a few betrayals at the hands of an overly ambitious colleague, and maybe you might have experience the worst milestone yet, the death of a beloved one.  The older you get, the harder it is to keep smiling.  You get tired of the whole damn thing.

The path of least resistance is to retreat into yourself, become bitter and lash out at everyone. Compound this tendency with the general irritability that accompanies the breakdown of the body, the aches and pains, the strains in the back and the knees, the general increasing fatigue, and it is an hourly struggle to stay hopeful.  With the changing of the seasons, the warning signs just like the turn in the oak leaf, that you too will die.  You might have experienced the first scare of the “c” word and maybe you sighed with a “phew” when it was pronounced benign.  The joints begin to groan with the constant to and fro.  And the places you used to show off in your youth are now the ones you try to cover up.

But there is one reason that I believe can be both the cause and cure that leads to the “bitterness” in growing older.  It is the realization very few things are and have been in your control.  It is the bottomless sadness that comes with the resignation that all you could have done is a kernel in the palm of what had to be.  It is the wisdom gained at the hand of sweaty experience that understands that this thing called life is precious and fleeting.  And it is a paradox, the grandest and greatest paradox of all– a sewer of maggots on the one side and a thimble of angels on the other.  It comes with the strain in the thighs of straddling this wide paradox that this life is on one bank a tragedy and the other a farce, on one side a folly that pisses on itself and on the other a symphony of seraphim.

In order to brave this wide gap without going insane, you must I think relinquish control.  Just allow things and people to be so that you do not grow bitter.  Acceptance—this is key.  Accept that human nature extends a bloody fang along with a helping arm.  That you did all that you could have done.  That this was the course of your life and look back and be content with it.  There is a fine line perhaps between acceptance and resignation, resignation implying surrender a certain sense of giving up while acceptance brings with it a profound peace, the peace that comes with the understanding that all is as it ever and could have been.  That there are really forces outside our control, forces that we mistakenly give ourselves credit for, that govern our destinies more than we may care to think.  Whoever has managed at the twilight of his life to still keep a positive stance on life is worthy of sainthood.

The net underneath this greater acceptance has to do with submission to God’s will.  Only when one submits his/her will to God’s greater plan (or “the Universe” as others call the power) can he be released from the bitterness, the regret, and resentment and rage at the universe for things that did not unfold according to your plan.  This leads to the serenity that accompanies old age.  It is also the isotone that predicates wisdom.  Once you have let go and acquired that inner stillness that transcends the throes of the subway car of life’s tracks, you have already arrived at your final destination in that deep place in your soul.  I think this is what life may be about—learning to ride the rails and enjoy the ride as it swishes by you and not worry so much about your last stop.  You cease from raging against the universe, from cursing at yourself and the should haves, could haves, would haves and just accept yourself and those around you as they are.  The older one gets, the more one realizes that the things in our control are miniscule in relation to the forces much larger than ourselves.  To spend mental and emotional energy going against the raging current of the universe is often malproductive as it leads to stress, disappointment, exhaustion and an early death.

The elderly character in the Mexican film “Maria, Maria,” summed it up best.  He plays the role of a widowed retired communist organizer with ties to the underworld of illegal arms smuggling. In a motley match up of personalities on the quest to rescue the title character’s husband from a vicious band of kidnappers, he pronounces his view about growing old in one of the end scenes as they are gathered around the dinner table drinking wine:

“When we are young, life is all about acquiring things.  We work hard to gain more experiences, get more friends, make more money, more material things.  But when you grow older, you realize life is about what you give up and learning how to give things up, lose, and give up all that you have acquired.  I’ve lost my friends, I’ve lost my career, and most of all I’ve lost the love of my life, my wife.  Growing old is the fine art of learning to lose.”

“God” is “dog” spelled backwards

4 Jun

Many people I know who profess to be pious and who try to follow the ways of God have expressed a universal feeling that we are living through the beginning of the end. No one knows exactly when the end is, no not even the Son knows, only the Father knows.  But the Holy Scriptures have given us a hint to understand that when we see the signs, just like we can see that a fig tree is blooming with fruit, that we can assume that we are living through the end of times.  Now the Good Book tells us of many signs of the end of times, but I will share with you just one that perhaps is not mentioned directly but I believe is one that forebodes the end.  This sign is that the hearts of men will grow cold toward the end.  One of the ways it has grown cold is that instead of administering love to their fellow man in acts of philanthropy they have channeled it to their love of dogs.

During many an outing in my home city of Manhattan, I see women pushing baby carriages but instead of babies, they are strolling along with their pet dogs, little Chihuahuas, or terriers, shitzus and the like.  They push their pooch buggies through Central Park tugging a doggie diaper bag.  These strollers are specifically made for dogs, not children. In Petco and other pet stores they are displayed in the windows– in all kinds of models and colors, all for the benefit of taking their little dogs for a stroll, to spare their little paws and hearts the strain and effort of actually walking the pavement.  Just yesterday, in the village, I saw a “pet retreat” where they offer a spa experience to your pet, including massage, gourmet meals, including vegan ones if the owner is so inclined.  Its slogan was “the most fun your pet can have without you.”  New York City is bursting with many dog-oriented businesses–puppy and me yoga salons, take-out restaurants that you can call in for a specially-made meal to take home for your dog, not to mention the plethora of pet grooming, pet sitting services.  There are even in the far frontiers of luxury pet care dog psychics and dog psychologists. High-end services include pet hotels with heated floors, fluffy pillows and VCRs. Other services include liposuction for dogs, animal massages, and aromatherapy treatments.

Luxury pet care products are popular as well. You can buy a plastic tray containing real sod. You toss it in the truck for your dog to use on long trips, or take it with you to the hotel room.
Other products include a treadmill for dogs, automatic timing feeders and automatic cleanup for cat litter pans. A Japanese company is selling a gadget that hangs around a dog’s neck. It tells you what the dog’s bark means. This item is so popular that they are making a similar product for cats.  Some other products include personalized food bowls for about $22, jewelry – known as “doggy bling” – for less than $10,and $5 dog socks. I have seen plush dog beds go for close to $100, as well as seasonal pet attire that includes $27 goggles, $60 life jackets and $15 sunglasses.  I believe there are also pet beauty contests, pet wedding parlors, and pet modeling agencies where the little pups parade their coutre designer doggie apparel down pooch pasarellas to the “oohs” and “ahhs” of their admiring owners.

While other industries are suffering during the Great Recession, the pet care industry in the US is turning a high profit.  Americans spent $45.4 billion on pets in 2009, according to the APPA (American Pet Products Association.)  That’s a 5.1% increase from 2008, and nearly double pet spending a decade ago.  When close to 60% of all households in American own a pet, it’s a highly profitable business.   According to an article I read dated from 2009, “PetSmart, the largest U.S. pet-products retailer . . .  announced net profit of $46.3 million, or 37 cents a share, for the quarter ended May 3, topping analysts’ expectations and easily trumping last year’s results of $41.2 million, or 32 cents a share over the same period. Revenue for the quarter was up 9% to $1.33 billion on a year-over-year basis, while same-store sales rose by 3.9%. The company said it now expects its full-year profit to reach a range of $1.42 to $1.52 a share, compared to its earlier forecast of $1.40 to $1.50 per share.”( http://moneymorning.com/2009/05/29/pet-care-industry/)

Now, I have a wonderful faithful dog too; he’s a 135-lb lovable Golden lab.  I love Titus to death. He is so patient; he instinctively knows when someone in the family is sick or depressed and so comes and sits at the edge of their bed.  When my mother was recovering from surgery, he was faithfully glued to her bedside for weeks.  He never talks back to me like my unruly teen; he greets me no matter how many times I leave and come back into the house with unconditional love and whimpers when he cannot find an object of affection, whether it be a stray slipper, a random stuffed animal, or an empty  water bottle to give me as a gift.  He is a beloved part of our family.  He never complains, except to get an extra dose of love in the form of a scratch on the belly or a dog biscuit.  Many times I have said, “If the world were more like Titus, it would be a better place.” Everyone knows that animals reduce stress, unify families, and bring health benefits to their owners.

However, the bark stops here.  A dog is still a dog; it is not a human being.  There is something wrong with a society that elevates animals to the level of human beings, that grants them the same rights, perceives them as having the same needs as people.  While bonding with a domestic animal is generally a beneficial thing, there is a real ethical, psychological and logical danger in substituting an animal relationship in the place of a human, person-to-person one.    I would define the obsession the West has for animals, especially dogs, as skilolatreia, or dog idolatry.  I would venture to say it is a sin.

The wake-up call for this dog idolatry came when my next-door neighbors gave me an invitation to the funeral for their 17-year-old German shepherd.  It was expected that the two sisters, one childless and the other never married, would be distraught when their “son” died.  The older one was especially intense in her grief, wailing and wearing black as they do to mourn the passing of relatives in their village in the south of Sicily.   They kept vigil, did not venture out of the house, until the day of the funeral.  Although very frugal throughout their life, they splurged on the funeral expenses; they found a “permanent” pet cemetary in a posh northern suburb outside the city, with a dedicated plot, and marble-engraved headstone.  I was expecting a quick simple ceremony, but I was shocked to find that the ritual was identical to one  you would expect for an actual human being.  First, the dead animal was put on view in a “wake room” so that everyone could pay their last respects.  His miniature plastic coffin lay open so that all could view the serene body of Orfeus, his head lovingly resting on a satin white pillow.  He had been delicately embalmed and was wearing makeup.  A family member, before the cover of the coffin was closed, lay a wooden cross on its body in solemn gravity.  Four pall bearers then carried the coffin on their shoulders to its final resting place.   After the ceremony, the friends and family gathered in Orfeus’ memory for a full-course lunch at a favorite Italian restaurant. Needless to say, the whole ceremony cost as much as a regular funeral, and then some as this particular pet cemetary charges a monthly maintenance fee for the upkeep of the plots.

Although I can very well empathize with the loss of a family’s best friend, to go to these lengths for an animal, that technically does not have a soul, is at best ridiculous and at worst sacrilegious.

The excessive love people show their animals is indicative of the troubled times we live in.  In many ways having a relationship with an animal, and one as faithful and self-sacrificing as a dog, is easier than having one with a human.  It takes less work to get along with Pete than his master Peter.  Animals are not mean, are not as moody, they will never abandon you unless you mistreat them.   They will never run away with your best friend; they don’t nag you to death (except if you have a cat maybe).  They provide you with stress relief in contrast to most of our significant relationships which only pile on stress.  And pets provide as much tenderness and affection as humans (if not more.)  But, the buck stops at some juncture on the tracks of this line of reasoning.  Animals, however warm and wonderful, are not human.  They cannot serve as a substitute for genuine human interaction.  They might ward off loneliness but when they actually substitute for the potential in a person-to-person relationship, they become a crutch or a scapegoat for loving other human beings.  To replace human companionship for animal can be a sign of emotional unhealthiness.  We have all heard of stories of the eccentric cat lady who keeps 150 cats in her two-bedroom apartment or the dog lover who bequeaths his entire multi-million dollar estate to Fido.

In the 60s, dog worship entered new heights.  There was an actual sect, the Dog Commune, an offshoot of the Universal Life Church, outside of Los Angeles that started by no doubt an LSD-hallucination/revelation that proclaimed that the reason for all the evil in the world could be directly attributed to the abuse and mistreatment of dogs.  The reason behind the dogma?  Because in English the word for GOD is DOG spelled backwards.   Members of the Dog Commune herded dogs, raided animal shelters to liberate their canine deities, and were among the first animal rights groups in the United States to try to stop exploitation of dogs in scientific experiments. (http://www.maps.org/news-letters/v12n1/12117stu.html)

Although American society has come off the high of the 60s, it is still a pathetic state of affairs when people revert to channeling their needs for love, care, and acceptance onto animals.  Because this signals that they have either given up or become so disillusioned with their fellow men that they would rather kiss their dog on the lips than actually venture into the dicey waters of genuine human love. (Yes, there are the stories of those perverted few who actually look for sexual fulfillment from their pets too.  Wasn’t Catherine the Great part of this statistic?)  No cat can be the soul mate a woman yearns for; no cute Maltese puppy complete with manicured paws, smelling of baby powder can ever take the place of a bonafide baby.

This is why I see women pushing their pooch prams on the sidewalks of Park Avenue and wag my head in pity.  For all the doggie bling bling and their luxurious penthouse suites, they are so very lonely.  Frame this next to the drunk, scraggly homeless man who is lying on a piece of cardboard they are walking past in their doggie strollers and the image becomes ironic.  In this country dogs have more of their daily necessities taken care of and lead a more glamorous lifestyle than human beings.  How many lap dogs get more love and affection than the thousands of orphaned and abused youngsters in this city?  How many canines have a direct, no-waiting line into the emergency room at the Bobst Animal Hospital on York Avenue than the hundreds of thousands of uninsured unemployed people who give up their spirit waiting for urgent medical care or are denied it because they lack insurance?  For all the billions of dollars that Americans spend on doggie chew toys and all-natural organic dog food, if only a small sliver went to feeding the homeless and donating to children’s charities or better yet forging a viable relationship with a needy youngster, there would not be such an obsession with animals.  If as a society we garnered our energies and our resources for genuine acts of love toward other human beings, I believe we wouldn’t be so miserable and unfulfilled emotionally that we would run home to tuck our baby Chihuahua to bed.  The one true way to genuine happiness is through the development of real human fellowship and philanthropy.  Because our love for our fellow human beings has gone to the dogs, we are living in the extremes of pathetic perversity making idols out of our pets.   Lord have mercy.

 

Psalm of the Dawn

1 Jun

Yeah, the night pregnant with dreaming fuels the fires of the day

Yeah, the winter warm with the promise of springs sleeps dreaming of flowers

Yeah, how the pregnant soul yearns to see the Word made flesh and rejoice at its birth

Yeah, how the body in the tomb rests patiently for the Sun to pull it out of the silent earth into an explosion of a million daffodils

Oh how my soul yearns to escape on dove’s wings over the parapets

How my spirit is longing for leaving when I look to the West at the sun’s golden setting

Lord give me Life so I may live it, Give me dreams so I may fulfill them, Give me wings so that I may fly, and give me strength so I can lift the weight of glory that stands marked upon my back

 

 

 

Let me not be frightened of the light that lies within me

 because with time it stands to be a bonfire that will scorch my loins

set my fingers on fire and consume me with the heat of a thousand suns

Which tears are bitterer, those of the mother for the child born and lost

or those of the mother for the child never born ?

The shipwrecks in my head — are they worse than the cries of the tempest-tossed galleons lost in the sea?

Which pen makes a mightier sword–the one that severs words and butchers the idealism of their creator lying like bloody body parts upon the pristine page or the one that gnaws the fingers of its bearer?

Which lily of the valley smells sweeter–one who burgeons in the folds of the desert sands whose fragrance no one will know or the one strangled within the vines of the morning glories that steal its presence and its scent?

 

 

The Descent of the Holy Spirit

1 Jun

The coming of the Holy Spirit is so comforting.  The great Comforter as He/She is called.  Like a great rushing wind, like a fire that is not fire.  Who can describe what it is like? The Holy Spirit can only be experienced.  Words are inadequate to wind a rope around it.  The great and Holy Spirit.  When I look back to the times I have done the greatest good, when I have accomplished the most, it was always with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I think this is what is so difficult to understand, both for the ancient apostles and first Christians as for us moderns today—that nothing good can be accomplished without the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The apostles before the day of the Holy Spirit were mere trembling mortals afraid of what their lives might be.  They cowered away from public view, even with the consolation that they had witnessed the Resurrected Lord.  By themselves they could not become apostles, nor holy men and women.  They had to wait for the coming down of the Holy Spirit to make them true vessels of Grace.  Only after the advent of the Holy Spirit did they receive the gift of courage, inspiration, speech.  Then, with the power of God flowing in them, they were able to become heroes.

In my pride I have yet to comprehend this.  That if I want to do good, if I truly want to create a legacy that will not be forgotten, if I want to engage in acts of mercy and ultimately make anything of truly lasting meaning in this world, I can only accomplish it with the gift of the Holy Spirit.  I have yet to attain this gift, this Comforter, because I have made no room for Him/Her.  That is the paradox of our existence: that to be most authentically us, we must make room for God.  To become full and fulfilled we must empty ourselves of ourselves and sacrifice what we think is most dear.

I pray that this year when we are about to call down the Holy Spirit that I will be able to receive of Him.  Lord, make me worthy to receive Your Holy Spirit.  This has to be the full goal of our earthly existence to empty ourselves so that we might be worthy to attain the Holy Spirit.  On bended knee I cry, Lord, make us worthy of Your Holy Spirit.

Atheist Convention

28 Mar

While on the way to Brooklyn on the infamous BQE this week, I saw this billboard:

It is sponsored by the National Atheist Organization. This weekend is supposed to be the first meeting of the National Atheist Organization in Washington, DC.  Thousands of atheists have descended on the nation’s capital to make a statement: that God is dead.  According to a news segment I heard about the movement on NPR, it is meant to be a political statement, as a way for atheists to come together and show by their mass in sheer numbers theirs is a force and a power to be reckoned with.  Today’s convention is supposed to be a historical event in the movement, an event much like Woodstock that any atheist would not want to miss out on.  It was organized with the intent to give courage and empowerment for other “closet atheists” who are afraid to come out.  The movement aims to increase the voice of reason in society.  Its advocates include vociferous, angry atheists such as Oxford University evolutionary biologist and famous “selfish gene” theorist, Richard Dawkins, to the more diplomatic and guy-next-door Salim Ahmet.  Launching a Reason campaign in the most religious nation in the West, the movement hopes that the US will become increasingly secular much like more progressive European nations such as France or Germany.

I have several thoughts on these events.

First, as a pious Christian, I am disturbed by this posturing. I confess that somewhere in the annals of my enlightened brain their argument rings a chord.  Their head-wagging at the Crucified Lord reminds me of  the basement of disbelief.  Reading that billboard brought me into doubt mode once again.  “Lord I believe, help my unbelief,” I uttered.  The voice of reason that doubts everything beyond what it can comprehend through empirical reality butts heads with that fluffy fuzzy feeling of faith that cannot be defended except through a few anecdotal, very personal testimonials of truth.  No matter how smart and cogent the argument, Christian apologetics cannot fight the atheist argument on its own ground because our ground is elevated from the earth.  Ours is an argument based largely on faith, and faith is not something you can argue logically (to a certain extent you can, if you accept the premise that God exists, an argument can follow logically from it to several conclusions; if you do not, there is no way to convince those who do not accept the same premise that your conclusions are valid.)  The best each proponent  can do is tip his hat to the other and go on his merry way.  Except for that class in Harvard between Darwin and CS Lewis where many students come out convinced of the reality of God’s existence, I have not heard of a believer convincing an atheist.  Doubt just like faith is contagious.  And the fact that a new wave of atheists has broken just leaves me with more question marks in my head.  Asking questions is not a bad thing; I believe we must all question ourselves and our faith so as not to fall into delusion or blind faith or even worse, unscrupulous religious leaders, the wolves in sheep’s clothes.

Second, the movement highlights just how secular the world is becoming.  While the slogan “God is dead” is nothing new, it has echoed in Western societies since the dawn of the “modern age” with the advent of existentialism.  I can’t help but feel that Christianity is getting eroded, that “true believers” are a handful of yeast.  The idea that someone can be an academic, a scientist, a post-modern enlightened thinker AND a devout Christian (or any other believer of the one true God seems) like an oxymoron.  Is it getting to the point where I have to apologize for my faith?  Never in the history of the West has there been a time when so many people espoused such certainty for the absence of a divine presence in the world.  In the past you would have been on the vanguard to question established religion or to utter doubt, but society as a whole collectively believed in the existence of a divine power.  The foundation of that society’s laws and institutions functioned with that assumption.  Now however, God as the invisible foundation cannot be taken for granted.  We cannot assume that any society is driven by a collective understanding of God.  What does that do to a society’s character?  I do not doubt that so many visions of  dysfunctional dystopias in the collective unconscious forebode well. (Hunger Games was released this weekend too and grossed $400 million, the third most successful film to make a debut).  It definitely feels like it is the dawn of a new age.  Get rid of those foolish ideas like God and the world will be liberated from its “mind-forged manacles.”  It has strange echoes of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason that terminated in the most cruelest, most violent, most irrational conflicts history has ever seen.  History is repeating itself.  Where are we heading? Armageddon? Do I really want to be a political part of a society that has rejected God?  (Thank God America is still the most religious nation in the West).

Third, this movement reveals how intertwined religious or unreligious ideology is with politics.  Which is more important: adhering to a belief structure or amassing political clout?  It would seem like the latter is more important.  Just like” might makes right” more numbers ring truer.  Whoever has the loudest voice, whosever camp can shout the loudest, he is the winner of the debate.  I don’t believe you can garner the truth by winning a popularity contest.  But this is what it seems.  More marketing makes your message, whatever it is “God is dead” or “Jesus is the Savior”, more believable and more true.  One of the movement’s tactics to gain acceptance by mainstream the “guy and gals next door” is to make personal contacts with them as they are likely to understand and befriend an atheist once they get to know them on a personal level. (This is a tactic they admit they took from the gay-rights movement.)

The mystery of what we don’t know is far more powerful than the mysteries of the things we do.  Maybe we can find common ground with atheists on this point.  Beyond that, I tip my hat with deepest respect for their opinion and sorrow that others cannot see the living truth that has manifested itself in my life.  I’ll wait to meet them on the other side when we will know the outcome of this debate.  I do not know that they will be so adamant to be so right then.

 

 

Order from Disorder

11 Mar

I stand here in a melee of boxes—random outfits, sleeves of dress shirts wrestle around denim pant legs, knee highs crumple and cry for their lost pair, clutches of chatchkis huddle in the corners of walls, hedged between wall units and folding chairs, between stereo sets and cork poster boards.  In this melange of porcelain panda bears overturned by baskets of pink hair curlers and head bands, sketches of reclining nudes propped up against pastel spice racks, jumbles of last years’ dirty bedding surfacing from under macramé area rugs, a hodge-podge of dinnerware and shoe repair of cellophane and keys made While-U-Wait.  I stand here in the midst of chaos—domestic fury—the contents of my nest, my sanctuary, vomited up into the million and one threads that held together my daily sanity.  I’m moving again for the thirtieth time of my life.

It’s on moving day that you fully realize that order, like time, is a human construct.  It doesn’t really exist except in our mind, or at least in a closed system like my once cute, comfortable two-bedroom apartment in the middle of where everyone wanted to be on a Saturday night.  It’s as if a bomb exploded.  It’s time like these when an image of my physics teacher in high school floats into my consciousness (what a horrible teacher he was!)  and starts talking to me in a bubble over my head—“The Second Law of Thermodynamics is, in an open system, energy tends to expand from  dense to less dense; in other words, entropy increases.”  In other words, the way of the world is to go from order to chaos and not the other way around.  This is, especially to a Greek, horrifying!

My once ordered humane and all too human life has burst into the disjointed fragments of what it’s comprised.  My apartment had died, decomposed, disintegrated.  My memories, my sense of style, my entire person have been stuffed into haphazard cardboard boxes that still reek of the tomatoes, cucumbers, and apples that lay in them.  I am lost in this vortex of disarray, in a whorl of cotton, spandex, polyester, chrome, wood, and china.  On the walls, once so lovingly displayed with works of art, are ghostly outlines that glow with the spectral whiteness of something that was once there.  And now me, little me, is left to pick these things one by one and bring them back together again, like some Isis.  The task is daunting, almost super-human.  In fact, the task is divine.

How easy can the human soul be conquered once you take away its need for order?  The first time I moved I had my two-year-old with me.  She cried and cried and cried incessantly when I placed her down in the room that held her bed.  To be among the ruins is crippling, devastating emotionally.  Moving is so emotionally and physically exhausting because of the well-known fact (the truth of which does not require a gray-haired physics teacher to elucidate), it’s easier to pull down, to break apart, to dismantle than to create, to synthesize, to organize.  To create, to organize, to bring light out of dark, order out of disorder is a godly thing to do.  In the beginning God had to take the primordial soup, the mixed up mess of universal gunk, pick it up strand by strand, pebble by pebble, drop by drop, sort it, pack it, organize it, and order it.  By actively coaxing order from the lump of disorder, He brought forth light, He brought forth the heavens and the earth, the mountains and the rivers, and all the common effects we take for granted on our Earth.  He tamed the hostile jarring elements and created the once-uninhabitable planet into Earth, the home we know, a nest.  And, as I stand here among the rubble or rather the home-in-the-making, I remind myself of the divinity inherent in this very process.  As I take each newspaper-rumpled handful, peel back its layers, fix it in place, take another and place it snugly next to the first; as I maneuver night tables from one axis of the room to another; as I lay out one picture frame, regret it, take out another and set it on the wall; as I shake out the dust from old comforters, wipe up trains of lint; as I orchestrate blue coffee cups with blue saucers, put knives together with knives, pair a fork with a fork, seek out and find the knee-high’s missing pair—I take stock of the enormity, the nobleness of my task.  I am bringing order to my confused universe.  I am creating a brave, new, and beautiful world.  But the difference is, God only had to say a WORD and that word became real. But I have to actually perform the WORD–carry, lift, haul, dust, organize–and it is WORK!

Yet somehow, God’s hand is in the creation.  Design, grand schemes of order, like the many-folded membrane layers inside the mitochondria or the twisted and tied chords of DNA to secured proportions, He is there.  The devil exists in disorder.

 

Awe

7 Feb

When I was a young elementary school girl, my parents would take us to the local park to while away the long summer nights.  There were mounds of green grass planted with rows of crabapple trees facing the grey flow of the East River with the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.  My brother and sister and I would lounge on the grass (careful not to step on any dog turds) and talk about this and that.  Sometimes we’d roll race down the mound stopping just before the pavement.  Or we’d climb the low trees with trunks that split into wide platforms almost like wide arms interlocking to create natural thrones we’d scramble to sit in as kings and queens.  Other times we’d pluck the  round small apples that looked so sweet to the eye but so sour to the taste and hurl them as missiles to those rolling below.

We’d look at the barges passing up and down the river especially the tug boats with the NYC Coast Guard logo that would pull what seemed miles and miles of containers of garbage and the old tires they would have hanging around their sides as bumper guards.  To our right overhead we’d have the colossal bridge—so massive and so towering we would always wonder “what if it wasn’t strong enough and a giant monster truck ripped through a crack the structure and come toppling down on us?” We’d be crushed. “ And how come all those cars rushing by like a mad river so high in the sky didn’t ever take a bad swerve and fly off the bridge.” I would be filled with a sense of wonder lying down underneath the belly of that huge bridge on the grassy mound.  The bolts the engineers had used on it were bigger than three men standing head to toe.  The steel beams that straggled the diamond necklace of highway lights– they seemed to float with nothing but air and a long long distance under them.  The bridge had one construction man boot on our side of the river and then way, way, way across the river in a place called Randalls Island it had its other boot.  It was like an iron colossus straddling two continents.

Lying with my arms crossed under my neck  smelling the sweet-souriness of the crabapple trees and the moist grass mixed with dessicating dog doo, I’d ponder about the massive wonder above me.  I’d hear the incessant rumble of traffic overhead from the Triborough Bridge.  That non-stop whishing of wheels and wind.  I kept waiting for a lull in the flow—very rare.  That flow that was constant punctuated by the rhythmic bu-bump-bu-bump of a heavy axle going over a steel strut bandaging the left lane. Wow! I thought people can accomplish a lot if they wanted to.  The massive overpowering structure made me feel like the little ant crawling through the blades of grass that I’d spy making its way through the jungle of grass when I turned over on my right side.

But nothing could compare with the wonder we’d witness later on at night when we would play a game of dare each one lying side by side in decreasing order from oldest (me) to middle (my sister) to youngest (my brother).  My father would leave us for hours to our own imaginings while he was heavy into his game of soccer in the playing fields in the middle of the park.  He would be so involved in his game that the river would turn dark grey to brown and even black while the skyline faded into swirls of rose-gold pink and purple like the insides of the swirl pop we’d bite into  from the Mr. Softee truck parked on the other side of the strip. When the Mr. Softee jingo would roundel in its carousel-like joyousness we would circle round our mother’s big breasts.  She’d stash the roll of loose dollar bills in the crevice of her double-D bra cups as well as a pocket tissue packet and the car keys.   By then it was dark.  By the time we had devoured our soft vanilla cone with sprinkles and sandwich bars, the night had settled and the air had changed, a bit more cooler and damp like a mildly scented towelette.  And then lying back on the same grassy mound, with the clank of the cars overhead and the bejeweled lights of the bridge, we would dare each other to look at the wide open night sky.  With nothing to shield it from our view, it was just me and the limitless expanse of sky and the thousands and thousands of stars pricking through it.  This vision of the night sky so immense and awesome it was terrifying.  We’d stare and take it all in as much of it as we could before we’d shield our eyes with our arms.  “Eeeeehhh!” I’d cry, “I can’t stand it. It’s too big and scary.”  I’d peek again through my fingers and take in a bit more of the awesomeness until I could stand it no longer.   It was like a game of who could hold his breath the longest without giving in.  Who could stand to take in such awesomeness such grandness such majesty before he would be overwhelmed by the sense of dread and awe that he’d cower behind his puny little arms and look away?

There was something in the night sky in all its splendor and hugeness that would frighten a small child.  Even now as an adult, I have a hard time taking in the beauty of the night sky without faltering from its hugeness.  I think it is a combination of the realization of my own puniness next to the grandness of God’s immense universe.  And to think, the night sky is there before us day after day after day and we go about our business,very content and sure of ourselves, lost in the underbrush of self-importance like the little ants at my elbow.  To this day, nothing takes my breath away as the universe in all its glory.  And from what I read about astrophysics and quantum theory what we can detect with our naked eyes is just a drop in the bucket of a greater ever-unfolding universe and worlds within that universe.

Awe—it’s like a vanilla-chocolate swirl of fear, wonder, and mind-bonglement all at once.  The open night sky is just a garment, a small square napkin in God’s lap.  How much more wondrous God must be!  We won’t ever be able to understand; we, like ants, hardly aware of the massive bridge overhead with the marvel of man’s hands and his channeling of the laws of nature to do his work.  How more ignorant are we of the world that lies far beyond what we see on an everyday basis.  It makes your knees quake and your head spin.  We are not made to grasp the fullness of God’s glory.  How if I cannot bear to look up into the night sky for more than twenty seconds will I be ready to meet my Maker when I die?

Oh mystery of mysteries! How wondrous are thy works oh Lord!

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