Tolerance and Caring

Perhaps I ask for tolerance in an unusual post. No poetry here, no movie review with lessons on life. No pretty photographs. They’ll come again next time.

I started writing this post the day before yesterday, and then I read about the tragic shooting in Colorado Springs this week. If I did not comment on the shooting it would be like pretending it didn’t happen and that is just wrong. It makes this post longer than usual.

A 22 year old male entered an LGBTQ bar at midnight November 19th, and opened fire, killing 5 people and injuring at least 17 others. It is shocking that someone would do such a thing. Frustratingly, I find that had this male been properly dealt with on three prior occasions, he would not be walking the streets. I can’t help but wonder about his mental health diagnoses. His mother reported to the media that he had threatened her in the past with a self-made bomb, and he was previously arrested twice, one of those times for kidnapping. How could this person be free to roam?

Back in the late 1980s, many state psychiatric hospitals were closed. I’ve mentioned before that as a nursing student I spent a clinical rotation at such a hospital in Maryland. I encountered caring and skilled professionals, and patients who were well cared for, treated and housed. As the patients worked through therapy they had increased privileges. Patients with certain diagnoses who clearly could not live independently, lived in group homes on the campus. They had goals, they had jobs, they had a nurse managing medications, they attended therapy and saw a psychiatrist regularly to check their treatment and medications.

Then so much changed and where are these types of folks now? Living in government subsidized housing and having to manage their own care, or living with family not skilled to take care of them. Many of these folks that would have been well cared for in the hospitals–are now in our penal system. So, we reduced one population (state hospital patients) to “save money” and look like we were supporting their rights better, but effectively put them in unreasonable positions for self-care, reducing the possibility of the most positive health outcome, burdening families with those who were clearly not manageable by non-medical professionals, thereby reducing the safety of the public and shifting that “saved” public cost to the penal system.

That’s about as specifically politically opinionated as I’ve ever written, but you see, I have helped to try to care for this population in my years as a home health nurse. It was at times heartbreaking. I cared deeply for these clients. Many such persons now have a decreased quality of life, diminished health outcomes and roam the streets. Though no system is perfect and all should be reviewed regularly for needed reforms, in my opinion these same people were, largely, better cared for in the 1980s. In addition, the public was safer from those who were seriously mentally ill.

Before the knowledge of this mass shooting, I was writing about intolerance and what I thought was at the root of it: Fear. What I started to write is included below.

If you are like most people, you probably think you are on the tolerant side, but we need to regularly challenge ourselves. Perhaps you are proudly intolerant. I have seen such people on every side of an argument whether Republican vs. Democrat, whether supportive of certain challenged human rights today, or whether one religion or another. What is tolerance if not tolerating that someone believes differently from your core beliefs? What about caring to understand the reasons they believe differently?

I think the mistake is to think that tolerance is giving up on what you believe to be true. One can be a Democrat but their best friend is a Republican who disagrees on issues around abortion. One can be LGBTQ but dearly love their sibling who does not understand them. One can be Baptist yet attend their friend’s infant baptism. I believe the key is to work backwards in dialoguing with “why” questions to find where common ground exists and the difference of opinion occurs. The Democrat and Republican friends in the example above agree that it is important to support citizens’ rights. The siblings agree that they grew up close, love each other and want the best for each other. The Baptist and the infant baptism friends agree that Jesus was God incarnate and gave up his life to save all people.

We can be nice and exhibit understanding. None of us is perfect. I caught myself saying something that I didn’t really mean the other day. It was a disparaging remark that I immediately retracted, apologized, and corrected. It is important to watch our speech and hold ourselves accountable to a respectful standard. I thought to myself, “Why did that come out?” Now, I won’t say what it was, but don’t worry, it was nothing that would get me fired from a job or blacklisted; it was enough that shamed me. So, why?

Many of us are used to growing up a certain way and thinking that it was all good then. We might forget that while it may have been good for us, there were populations of folks for whom it was awful. I do believe that fear plays a great part. Fear that the world will “get worse,” or change, or be uncomfortable. Fear that our children and grandchildren will suffer from the changes. Fear of our own rights being limited. Fear of judgement from God. Perhaps according to the latter, one feels that it is okay to be rude and confrontational because, well, they are saving that person’s soul.

Again, questions are a good way to broach these topics and seek understanding of the other person’s opinions. In the latter example, without asking the person if they even believe in God then no matter how much you quote chapter and verse it may make no difference in the argument. In fact, the person may be further alienated. Instead, try to exhibit caring and interest in that person’s story and beliefs and journey, then that relationship may be strengthened, leading to a better understanding of each other, and reasonable discussions.

When I made the comment I took back, I realized that it was from a level of discomfort with the world as it is. Fear. Often, fear leads to anger. Now we’re back to the awful shooting, and tying these posts together, today and the one I started two days ago. The shooter was probably angry and feeling hateful about the people or certain persons in the LGBTQ bar. I feel strongly that based on his reported history, if he didn’t have guns he’d have used pipe bombs, a truck, knives, whatever he could.

There is absolutely no excuse for his behavior. I am horrified, and watching the news I saw an anchorperson about to cry and the reporter on the scene with a face almost shaking in stoic reserve as she said that the crime will be investigated as a hate crime and the perpetrator will be tried and dealt with as he should be. I can only imagine the reactions of the parents, families and friends of the victims.

While we are challenged to trust our judicial system, are we challenged not to hate in response? It is certainly understandable to feel great anger. I’m shocked and angry with this shooter. Do I hate him? No. He’s a product of a flawed system, one that has not protected its citizens. He will be dealt with now, but he should have been far earlier. The system failed those victims in so many ways. What happened was wrong to the point of diabolical. Tolerance must include waiting for things to get better. Working constructively toward that in whatever ways we can will help. Praying for change will help.

Tolerance is coexisting with difference. It is also emotional continence. Incontinence in the medical world is the inability to hold the bladder or sometimes the bowels. I think the parallel is actually profound. Too often in public and on social media there is a literal spew of emotional incontinence. I think we are called to be better than that.

Tolerance is, referring again to a medical definition, the ability to withstand increasing levels of a medication in one’s system. Increasing levels? I wonder if there is a parallel to what people feel about the world changing. Once upon a time the older generation couldn’t tolerate Elvis Presley’s hips and dancing, and there was once a Hays production code in films. Now we have unbelievable displays in media such that our great grandparents would be incredibly shocked if they witnessed it.

Tolerance is the example of Jesus hanging out with sinners. He heard their stories, he showed compassion. He was from a lower-class town but he tolerated the snobs and the elite, as well. He spoke the truth. Yes, he did chase away the corrupted people out of the temple who were looking for profits and self-gain, who extorted others in a holy place. He said “Woe…” to those who took advantage of and injured others. But he loved them all. Can we challenge ourselves to love the souls of those we have differences with?

We need to tolerate these changing times, the unrest. A day at a time hope for and work toward a better world. Seek understanding. Seek to be a nice person who cares about others. We can challenge ourselves to love souls despite differences. We may not have the perfect world we want now, but there sure is a better chance of it if we can talk through disagreements, seek common ground, explore each others’ beliefs and concerns–and exhibit true tolerance and caring.

Tears, Held

I recently came across a poem I wrote years ago. I cannot remember if I included it in my "younger Mom" blog, theabbeyfarm@blogspot.com.

Many of us are caretakers of others. Edith Stein was the German Jewish philosopher who became Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a nun who died in the Holocaust, who wrote beautifully about spiritual motherhood. Caretaking and nurturing is a spiritual vocation regardless of gender. I’ve said before that caretaking for one who is suffering from medical issues is extremely stressful. We choose to care because we love. It is a form of self-sacrifice, which is the greatest of all gifts. The incongruity of pain and joy existing at the same time is worthy to ponder. There is truth in it.

Tears, held.
The reservoir is tremendous,
Her banks home to many,
Her waters life-giving
And re-creational.

Resolve reinforced,
Cracks patched in the dam.
Laboring unheard,
She moans as trickles of water break through
And belie her humanity.

The force intensifies,
Floodgates open-
She wails!
But no one hears her amidst the rushing waters,
Amidst their outcries of changing tides.

Yet without such release
She would shatter irreparably,
Causing devastation to all.
She knows that responsibility-
It has become her.

The floodgates close once again,
The weight of the water returns on the dam.
And the work resumes, ever silent.
All Cheer!
The waters are contained.

She is her work;
Love, with the greatest purpose-
Life!
There is deep joy in this, even in labor.
Tears, held.

When to Stop

In my last post I wrote about a field hockey-like attitude to getting things done. In reality, continuing on like that ensures that exhaustion will set in eventually. For those of us who pride ourselves on productivity, it is so very hard to sit still. I’ll go up to rest in my room and after 25 minutes I am reorganizing my closet. But sometimes I do hit the proverbial brick wall.

It happened a couple days ago, and I realized that to a certain extent, I probably developed auto-immune conditions and cancer because I never slowed down. One good and very young friend asked me about a decade ago, “What are you chasing?” I shirked it off, as I was chasing nothing but dreams and a good family life. But over time I saw that he was right–in doing too much I was avoiding something. And not only that, I was not living in the moment. Life was rushing by.

When our identity is so wrapped up in a specific concept, it is worth pondering. Earlier in my life it was important to be very nice. In my twenties I realized that I had co-dependent tendencies. I had to learn that while a default smile is fine, it is not my duty to ensure others’ happiness. I became so sensitive to it that I sacrificed my own peace for that imagined responsibility. It wasn’t an either/or issue. I enjoyed being a nice person; but I went too far.

A friend of mine was a driven runner. When he sustained an injury, depression set in. He later told me that the depression had always been under the surface. While exercise was a very good thing for it, he overcompensated and became compulsive. His body got hooked on the “runner’s high.” He avoided working on the issues around his depression until that injury stopped him.

There is a balance to be sought in most aspects of life. A balance in work and recreation, a balance in exercise and food. The Bible advocates for moderation (Philippians 4: 4-8).

Is there any area in your life in which you need to ponder moderation? Are you running from anything? Don’t wait until you are injured or ill to work on important issues and to develop your inner strength.

Field Hockey Days

Back at Hereford High School in Maryland, back in the day, I played softball and field hockey. I played other sports with friends, but these were my two “letter” sports.

Though softball was the sport I played best from a young age, in field hockey I recall the incredible, heart pounding, pulmonary exploding sprints. I played both defense and offence but mainly defense. I was pretty good, and I was aggressive without being mean…yet with a last name of Greene, I was nicknamed the Mean Greene Machine by my coach; Mean Greene for short.

In one game, I was hit hard in the forehead by an opponent’s stick and, starstruck for a second, I waved everyone off to return to play. That is, until I saw the horrified looks of the players watching the blood suddenly pour profusely into my eyes and down my face. I had to be pulled and bandaged. I was out for the game.

Most games went smoothly. We had a good record. The memories coming back to me most in these days of my cancer journey are the ones where I was sprinting up and down the field, to the point I knew I’d drop. I couldn’t keep going, I thought many times to myself. And then — the ball rushed right up to me in a pass, or alongside me by chance, and I felt the afterburners kick on, connecting with the ball, dribbling or flicking or driving it, following it until it was in play elsewhere. Where the energy, the oxygen came from, I do not know. But it was an incredible feeling.

I’m not feeling incredible at all these days, but when called on to do just one more thing, when my body is crying in pain, when nauseated, when chemo-brained…if it is truly important, I follow it like those hockey balls of old. It simply must be done.

Perhaps I should ignore some balls. I feel I am passing so many to my husband and kids. Sometimes the ball has only my name on it and there is no choice. I think God gives me strength in these instances and I rest later.

In fact, we had a nice weekend at a lake and I’ll close with a photo. Restoration is important for each and every one of us. It looks different to each person, but we must find the code to what works best for us. Prayer helps. I had much down time for prayer and relaxation and I was indeed restored to fight the third round of chemo this week.

Patience Revisited

My first children’s book, Wendel the Wind Turbine should be available soon. I am awaiting final proofs. I can imagine that like so many things since the pandemic, the process is running slower and with fewer hands. Once again, it is time to reinforce the process of patience in my life.

I became aware of my impatience as a young adult. I was excited about the future, my career as a Registered Nurse, all of the interests I pursued, traveling, getting married and starting a family. I would hear often that one should ideally live in the moment, but the future held so much in store that in the moment I needed to think and plan! I realize now that while thinking ahead and planning are very important, they are not what is meant by “living in the moment.”

Social media memes abound which emphasize that while people are snapping away selfies and photos and recording events on smartphones, they are missing out on actually participating in the moment itself. Decades and centuries ago, people would have marveled at such technology, but could it be that without it all, they participated more fully in the moments of their lives?

Yesterday before dusk my son and I had a nice drive together to accomplish an errand. He drove and we chatted. I instructed him in that loving, motherly-way of how to reduce speed more gradually when approaching red lights and cars braking ahead. Oh, he was patient with me!

Upon arriving home, we witnessed the most incredible evening sky. Oranges and pinks and lavender bounced down from a vast, low ceiling of clouds hovering just over our home. I did say it was too bad we couldn’t take a photo, and he fumbled with groceries and managed to get out his smartphone. I went inside immediately because that is what I do with groceries. But by the time I walked to the kitchen at the back of the house the carnival lights had dimmed to a dull purple. I thought it would last. I wish I’d stayed on the porch a bit longer, basking in the colors as long as they shone. The photo hastily taken did not match the spectacle. The light just could not be captured.

What has this to do with patience? I did nothing wrong in my auto-pilot of putting bags down in the kitchen, and yet a second or two more of enjoying the light would have been lovely. I will ponder this along with my efforts to live better in the moment. There is too much unrest in the world. By resting in the moment, experiencing what is good and beautiful as fully as we can, we become better versions of ourselves, with profound effects on those around us.

It takes patience to seek the beauty of the moment, it takes slowing down. When effective, the spirit, mind and body are calmed, and we experience peace and gratitude. Patience is indeed a fruit of the spirit.

Developing it in ourselves bears much needed fruit in the world.

Memento Mori, Memento Vivere

I grew up in a rural town where everyone knew my name.

I was the-go-to babysitter, Suzy Greene.

Not long before I began babysitting; cool trench coat, eh?

A most-favorite Mom became a good friend through my twenties and early-thirties. Joanne was 41 when diagnosed with colon cancer, her boys by then in their early teens. I took my new baby girl, all pink and white in her carrying car-seat the last time I visited Joanne. There are no other words— Joanne was radiant. She was 42 and, being nearly 30 years ago, it was before regular screenings were routine, treatments were not as advanced, and it was caught late.

Glowing Joanne told me she had never been happier. She had found joy in the moment, in living.

I miss her to this day, but she was right. The moment is “where it’s at,” and there is beauty in it!

One of my sons turned 19 last week and my husband made an incredible dinner. It was the first time I did not bake my son’s cake, but oh, that Pepperidge Farm Coconut cake tasted heavenly. His best friend was visiting and his girlfriend was on Facetime through the dinner and singing of “Happy Birthday.”

It was the happiest moment I can think of in years. Our priest Fr. Arek visited earlier and my son took communion with me. It was a great day!

I’ll share the brilliant writing of a newfound friend of mine. Hers is not my journey, but it hints closely. It’s about as much self-disclosure as I’m up for, and indirect, at that. It is full of raw feeling, yet embedded with wisdom.

Enjoy today! In order to experience joy, to fully live in the moment, we must first contemplate that at some point in future, we all die. Memento Mori, Memento Vivere!

Carpe Diem!

Patience

As a parent of ten children, the teen years have gone on in our home for a few decades now. There are wonderful things about these years, but there are challenges, as well. We’ve had some self-motivated, straight-A children, some who fall terribly behind and then a few in between. When the oldest are the high achievers, it is hard not to expect that the younger children will follow suit.

But they are each unique. And each deserves to be their own individual person, including what kind of student they are. They all need one-on-one time with their parents. This is more challenging in big families, but it must happen, even if it must be planned ahead. In a former blog I told stories of the many adventures on and off our Abbey Farm. Now we live on an Army Post and up until a couple months ago, had 6 (!) teens under one roof. The oldest recently turned twenty and is in the Army Reserves deciding on what college degree to pursue.

The fourteen-year-old has been making up school-work and was just in my room complaining about monotony. Oh, the many things I could have depressed him about in terms of monotony ahead in his future. I told him that he really was developing character, and that little jobs went a long way. Tidying up an area, taking a walk or bike ride. The twenty-year-old was home and I asked him to take his brother out for a drive, maybe get a milkshake. A change of scenery is always a good idea when we are in rumination mode.

For myself, I am in a bit of self-isolation, undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. It’s all been a shock of a summer, totally unexpected and I will neither elaborate, nor make light of it. A new normal begins once again. Much patience is required. I realize the importance of each of my children, and how I still want to be present in their lives while fighting a disease. They have all been supportive and reacted with such love and care and help. My husband has been my lifeline.

Friends have been so helpful, and some from long past have reconnected; it has been truly a gift. None of us looks forward to adversity, but in truth, it often sheds light on the very best things in life. It requires resilience through faith, a strong network of family and friends, and a lot of patience.

Structure and Duty

Children learn early, if they are blessed with a loving upbringing, that life holds rules and structure. We all remember chafing at not being able to do as we would have liked when we liked, but there were bedtimes, chores, responsibilities and expectations for behavior that were more important than we ever could have imagined.

Some say that the younger generations are softer now; some say that the generation of their parents are to blame. But the world changes so quickly, and so seriously, that I disagree with the finger-pointers. There are too many factors which have resulted in the shape of humanity today. None of my contemporaries, some who were on the cutting edge of computer technology in the 80s admit to having been able to see the dangers ahead. Many wish we could have seen better the potential downsides and dangers of what is essentially instantaneous news and knowledge in the hands of those too young to comprehend and deal with it. In reality, even grown adults have great difficulty with this.

Life is continuous change. Structure lends sanity, if not a method for dealing with the changes. Lack of structure, lack of duty, leads more swiftly to a chaotic result. In the scientific method, there is a procedure to theorize, test, analyze, and to make conclusions. Within philosophies there are methods to discern and weigh decisions, choices and actions.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth II, with the many tributes and documentaries of her life, one sees clearly a life of structure and duty. These do not have to preclude a sense of self and a life of joy. She beamed happily in so many photographs. At times, though, it is inevitable to feel very alone. Images of the Queen dressed in mourning, seated alone during the funeral of Prince Phillip, her husband of 70 years, drive home the reality that even though surrounded by literally hundreds of thousands of caring people around the world, she was indeed alone.

There are times when we will be forced to navigate unknown territories of life alone. What will keep us going? Support of loved ones, deeply held philosophies, religious beliefs, duty to carry on for our children or those we are physically caring for are some that I can think of, but there are more. Some individuals have the ability to reach deeply into a well of sheer will. I have witnessed many examples of each of these in my life.

I do believe in the power of the human body to heal, and of the spirit to soar, but there is sometimes a time lag, or a bumpy, touch-and-go takeoff before we feel any lift under our wings. Grief needs to run its individual course. My thoughts and prayers go out not only to the family and friends of Queen Elizabeth, but to everyone who is suffering a life-challenge, illness, or loss. The example of her life has fueled my own determination to find what is true and sure and honorable. She was not infallible; none of us are. Intent and faithfulness are arguably more important than what could be deemed “success.” Perhaps true courage is in reaffirming our own life structures and duties, taking the next breath, the next step, the next moment, and believing that wisdom and strength will come, even when we cannot see what is ahead.

Corny

I’ve been asked, “Why Suzy Cornflakes?”

While I do live in a household full of Dad-jokes and corny jokes (thanks to my witty hubby and sons), the reference is actually to a cereal box from the early 1970s. I’ve searched online to find images of it, but with no luck.

Before even that box, in the 1960s the cereal called “Wheaties” became very popular. Full of whole wheat goodness, it was dubbed “The Breakfast of Champions.” Many may still remember the great sports heroes featured on the front of the boxes over the years. Prior to the famous folk, the boxes held images of cute little children because the cereal was marketed to parents who wanted a healthy breakfast for their kids. One of the children pictured was a cute little strawberry blond girl with freckles. The resemblance to me was not missed by my brothers, and one of my very first nicknames in life was: Wheatie.

Wheatie, 1966
Wheatie, 1968

A few years later we moved to Northern Baltimore County in Maryland, a very rural area with thousands of acres of farmland. One of our neighbors (I have mentioned him before) was Mr. Ballard. We went to the same church as his family, and worked together on the local, church-organized horseshows. His children were excellent riders and older than me. When I was a teen, and they were grown or in college, I helped clean Mr. and Mrs. Ballard’s house each week. At 16 I had sold my own pony, and by 18 I began to exercise his hunters. That subject is book-worthy, for I will never, ever forget the many experiences riding horses for and with “Mr. B.” He was more than an icon; in many ways he was my hero.

In the 1980s with Spindrift, Rathkeale and Justin

Back to cornflakes. Generic products became prolific with inflation of the 1970s, and big-name brands became too expensive for many household budgets. The market flourished with identical products, but in plainer packaging and cheaper pricing. Sometimes the manufacturer was one-in-the-same with the name brand, as is common today with store-brands. Popular “Kellogg’s Cornflakes” was rivaled by a generic box that I only remember as light-blue on the front, with the face of yet another adorable, strawberry-blonde, freckled little girl. Mr. B immediately nicknamed me: “Suzy Cornflakes.”

Halcion days, walking to and from the bus with my brother.

My brothers still call me Wheatie from time to time, but no one calls me Suzy Cornflakes anymore, since Mr. Ballard passed away several years ago. He was close to the age of 90 and I smile to think that he was probably on horseback not long before his passing. I will always remember him, grateful for the rides and the advice and support that only a very special and sage human being can gift to another…to a talkative, freckle-faced, strawberry-blonde adolescent.

Suzy Cornflakes will forever remember Mr. B.

A Special Chain Reaction

When Mary Pat was born with Pierre Robin Sequence we didn’t know if her physical deformities were the extent of her problems, or if she had other potentially associated disabilities as well.

In truth, we didn’t know if she would ever walk, or talk, or eat on her own, or even survive. It was harrowing for a few weeks, scary for a few months, and then for years we fell into a routine of care that was full of unknowns. She had multiple appointments each month, and therapists who came to the house two to three times per week.

A good friend of mine has six wonderful children. Her youngest was born with Down Syndrome about a year before Mary Pat. Quite a few times at a moment’s notice, she drove half an hour to help me replace Mary Pat’s tiny nasogastric tube. In tears, I felt as though I’d entered a new world — a new “club” — of parents with special needs children. Early on, though, my friend pointed out that the way she saw it, each one of her children had “special” needs. Each had needs quite unique to them. I was blessed by her wisdom.

I have referred to Mary Pat as our “special needs child” but perhaps I should rephrase this to “our child with special needs.” Why is it that I need to distinguish her at all from the others? Sometimes it is to emphasize her extra-ordinary needs, but I suppose it is often for ease of description. We have six daughters and four sons. The oldest four girls are sometimes referred to as our “oldest, second-oldest, third-oldest and fourth-oldest.”

Our sons are described similarly, and then Mary Pat as our daughter with “special needs” and Margaret as our “youngest.” Again, they each have their special, unique needs, and we love them dearly. Energy and time can be spread thin in large families, but the love multiplies exponentially.

If it is true that every child has their unique and special needs, then that oft-heard sentiment that only “certain types of parents” do well with such children is unfounded. We grow into what we are given or challenged with. I understand fear and even panic when learning that a child in the womb has a certain diagnosis which will significantly impact the course or length of their life, and which will significantly impact the family. But the truth remains that every single person I have known who raised such children, even those who lost them early, professes immense blessings, and gratitude for the effects of their children on their lives.

Just as profound are the effects of these children on others. Mary Pat wheeled herself around her elementary school when she became ambulatory with a walking device. She would visit the other classrooms and became known to all the other children. They learned about her, and her differences were demystified. She was welcomed and loved.

Mary Pat received handwritten cards from schoolmates throughout the years. One third grader told her that she wanted to be like her–happy all the time. Another said over the loudspeaker during morning announcements, that he was inspired by Mary Pat to go to college so that one day he could work with children like her.

Each of her caretakers have been touched by her life, and love her dearly.

Yes, it is true that more time, energy and resources are often needed for children like Mary Pat. But the world is a better place because of her, and those like her. They are endowed with grace that holds the potential to bring out the very best in us. They teach us about what is important in life. They evoke compassion, and spark an unstoppable chain reaction of love.