Monday, December 26, 2005

third floor window

i was on my way home tonight in a snowstorm, coming home from a day out with friends. when you come up route 62 out of barre you look right up at the east end of central vermont hospital and you don't notice it so much since the construction but there used to be one window at the end of that third floor hall, looking out over the worcester range.

sometimes you can see someone sitting looking out the window, sometimes not. i used to sit there and look out a lot; it's quiet at the end of the hall, and if you go there with a book, nobody bothers you, even on nights when they should bother you because despite your placid appearance, you're so knotted up inside that you don't think you'll ever be all right again.

it is the window at the end of 3 east, part of the psychiatric unit. i've been up there more than one christmas, more than one new year's eve. thre are few places as desolate as a psychiatric unit on christmas; everyone who can be discharged is, and of those that may not be discharged, every effort is made to send the rest out on pass.

families come to pick up even a lot of the dubious ones.

not me, not then. my family loves me. i was not seen to be a good enough risk to be released, not even for christmas.

i was out today with friends of mine. not out on pass. i haven't been on the inside for a very long time, but it's always possible that my illness will catch me by surprise and i will break apart.

after i had to stop taking that one medication last wednesday, i felt even by thursday that i was losing ability to modulate my moods. it was subtle, but i know the signs. by friday i was significantly more labile, and by saturday i was having full-blown cycles every forty minutes or so.

i am moving freely through the house, happily doing laundry, sliding in my socks on the kitchen floor, on my way to the dishwasher. i am singing and i am getting done what needs to be done.

i am crushed and collapsed, with nothing to do but howl and sob, cry and curse. pray to God for abatement of pain, just get me through until i can stand on my own.

and then in the next hour i am both of these things again.

i have degenerated quickly and if i continue in this fashion, there will be no choice for me.

but it's christmas eve and i have to get showered and dressed and down to the church. i have to remain on my feet long enough to be at that service. it's important.

late in the afternoon i wrote this letter but did not send it:



maybe i can tell you this myself, and maybe i can’t; if i try to tell it to you there’s a chance i’ll cry and not be able to stop.

what you need to know is that this is my first christmas since i recognized the presence of God in the universe last July. it means more to me than anything.

i’m going to need your prayers, though. i have suddenly and unexpectedly been put into a time of great difficulty.

i have a very severe form of manic depression; through good mangement and good medication i’m able to live a mostly regular life. wednesday night i had to suddenly stop taking a very powerful and effective drug because i have developed a potentially deadly allergy to it.

it’s a drug that i’ve needed, and it’s the kind of drug you’re supposed to taper off of slowly.

i don’t think i need to tell you that this is bad.

already i know i’m degenerating seriously and i don’t know what’s in store for me. what i do know is that ths time around i’m armed with the sure knowledge that the Love of God will lift me up and give me a solid place to stand.

this time i know i am not alone.

but as surely as i know anything, i know i could use your prayers. i am counting on Faith and God’s Steady Hand to hold me at the center while i face the full fury of the illness.

it’s going to be an interesting position from which to contemplate the Grace of that one small Child, and of Promise and Peace.

promise me that if things go poorly for me that you’ll come and spring me out for church on sunday and for choir practice.


cycling like that takes a lot out of me; it's physically very draining. but i'm also still cycling: i move quickly, nervously. i shift my weight from foot to foot. i talk too fast. and when i'm under great stress, i have a bad stutter.

people who know me but have never seen me under very great stress often laugh the first time they see it; they think it's a joke.

but i know when we begin to sing that i will be able to stand. i will not stutter. somewhere in the song i am still at the center of myself. so i know that where i really belong is in that choir.

the pastor comes to pray with the choir before services; tonight because the house is filling, we are downstairs. she knows immediately what has happened to me, what is happening to me.

she is speaking to the choir, but her hand is on my back. i very much feel that while she is praying with us as a group about our song and this service and this night and its Promise she is also asking for healing for me, to ease my pain, to make me whole.

later on i will have this to say to her:

"at around seven o'clock i was headed very firmly down. i get a good feel for what's coming; living with it all these years has taught me much. it was not going to be an easy, gentle downswing. it was going to be soul-ripping, but i was going to withstand it, maybe even to transcend it because the one conclusion i have come to in these past several months is not that God's healing is the last best hope, the thing on which to fall back; it is the ONLY thing."

but for the moment i have no words; i am barely able to stand. and she looks at me and says almost casually that i should come with her to her office before we go out for the service.

almost casually. when she says it she has almost the look of someone saying "stop by my office and we'll go to lunch", but there is a quiet gravity to it. i would not think to question it; i have felt her hand on me during that prayer with the choir.

i can't tell you exactly what happened there; i don't know. maybe what happened there simply does not fall under the domain of That Which Can Be Explained With Words and therefore is not in any part of my memory that relies on them.

it's possible that i just can't remember. and it's also possible that if i could remember it clearly enough to tell you that maybe i wouldn't, because there are some things that are held so close to the center of me that i won't tell you, not even when i have promised to tell the truth.

i will tell you that i remember looking into her eyes. i remember seeing light. i felt her hand on my head; i can feel the trace of that pattern even now. my whole body felt warm and light and it was alomst as if my pain was lifted while my body settled down, to be closer to Earth.

and i went out to where the choir was waiting. did she bring me out and put me in their hands? maybe.

i wanted to tell them the truth: yes, i am very ill. yes, i'm going to be fine for the service. no, not the kind of illness for which i should stay home; the kind of illness that will be helped and healed through my presence among you, in this place, in this night. no, i don't know what will happen to me.

but i can ask for your prayers. and i can hope.

it's hard for people to understand that most of the time. most people who do understand are unusually gifted with empathy and compassion or unusually burdened with sure knowledge.

i was wiped out after the service. i'd have been fine, but someone gave me a hug when i wasn't expecting it and i lost my balance. i didn't have the equilibrium to recover and i went right down to the floor. and for a moment i didn't have the strength to get up.

how do you explain a thing like that? and i felt fine, too. but then i noticed that if i tried to stand i was awful shaky. i have something of an intentional tremor in my hands; my hands don't shake when they're at rest. but just let me try to eat soup...

and it was kind of like that, only on a larger scale. my body gets weird on me sometimes. i think it just gets tired from all the having to exert control when my mood disorder tries to take over the proceedings.

so i let them get my things and take me home. they were very kind to do it.

i'm still very tired. i still cry easily. but the really astounding thing is that the crash that was coming when Barbara took me to her office never came. i'm fragile and a little depressed, but whole. and holding stable.

i can't quite explain to people what happened. i haven't found a way to tell even those who might understand.

so today i went out with friends. i didn't really want to go. i was unprepared. my gear wasn't organized and packed the way it usually is. i tried to come up with every excuse not to go, but i knew that truthfully the only right thing to do was to go be with friends doing what i love.

i didn't have any of the coordinates entered. i hadn't read any of the descriptions. i was slow on the trail, and fell over more than usual. i was ineffective searching and worse navigating.

my friends did not care. they love me.

all day long my one refrain was "i don't care, as long as i get my eggnog." i love the stratford dairy eggnog, which can only be gotten, as far as i know, and the dairy and at the co-ops in hanover and lebanon.

so everybody had to go with me to the lebanon co-op. lebanon, not hanover, because at lebanon they have the chocolate bar the kind of which i bought one for crashco as a present but then ate it before i had a chance to give it to him, and i wanted to make it up to him.

but they were OUT OF EGGNOG! we asked at the front desk if they could maybe call over to hanover and ask if there was any there. one of the guys opined that since they'd run out at the dairy there was little chance of there being any in hanover.


great! we're coming right over! and i run back to tell everybody we have to leave NOW so we can change venue and get the eggnog.

we come screaming up to the service desk where i announce that we are the eggnog fruitcakes and the nice lady calls for the dairy department to brign out all but the last bottle.

i am happy. everyone tells me the eggnog had better be as good as i say it is.

i can't guarantee anything, but it is eggnog i will drive down from my house to get. i do not live nearby. eighty miles is a long way to go for a bottle of eggnog.

tharagleb and i stop at the Flyingfisher's on our way home; we need a place to change into dry socks and such. i am so very happy to see them and i run right over to Mr. Flyingfisher and throw my arms around him and i think for a moment i'm never going to let go.

and in the car i had a long talk with tharagleb about why i originally didn't want to join choir, and about some other things i don't want to do. i don't think i'm ready to tell you, though. maybe someday. not now.

i slept some on the way, even though the weather was bad and maybe tharagleb could have used the company, but i had more of a drive after we got to his house, and maybe he wanted to let me sleep, hoping i'd be awake for my drive.

and i came up route 62 and there was someone sitting very still in the window on the third floor.

i see you; you are not alone. may your sorrows be lifted. sleep well. i hope you get a respite from your pain. i am thinking of you and i will remember you in my prayers, hold you up in God's light, hope that you will leave there soon and never return. be whole, be well. may God's blessing be upon you. goodnight.

Friday, December 23, 2005

going up?

well, that's it.

the day before yesterday i had to quit taking a very lovely anti-psychotic drug that i was on because i have this huge and very severe manic-depression and mood stabilizers just aren't cutting it.

so here's my story: i have just gone on vacation. i'm at home, but i'm on vacation. tomorrow is christmas eve and it's only been since july that i noticed the presence of God in the universe, and i'm pretty sure i've heard God speak to me.

it's hard to tell, because i'm a fruitcake already, but it's been three times so far that i'm certain it was the voice of God.

every time i go to church i end up crying and i'm so happy to be there i can't even form words. this morning i went to meet with the pastor about actually joining the church and while i was waiting for her i had a seat in the sanctuary.

"how did that feel?" she asked me.

well, there aren't words. it's like getting struck in the chest by a two-by-four, only somehow i feel i'm better for it.

but i just cry. not the kind of howling that i do when the mood swings come, but gentle crying. the kind you get when you realize you have by some small miracle ended up in exactly the right place.

i wandered from church to church for a while; i wasn't church shopping, not by any means. i had a hunch where i was going to end up, and why.

but i'm afraid of the unknown. and i spent a lot of my autumn on the road. and i'd been thoroughly unchurched my whole life. so i wanted to practice, to work out some of the jitters. and i wanted to come home with a whole block of sundays to settle in, not to come and go.

i intend to stay.

so for a while i went to church wherever i happened to be on sunday morning. people of God are everywhere if you know where to look. and i was welcomed everywhere i went: i was among presbyterians in the adirondacks and in central new york, methodists in southern vermont, baptists in central vermont. i went a couple of sundays to a conservative bible church in new hampshire; not a congregation to which i could belong, but the singing is pretty good and all i really wanted was to be among people who had gathered for worship.

there's also one congregation i am not mentioning, not even vaguely, for reasons that i'm not going to discuss, but i loved them. i will go back and back and back when i get the chance. i wouldn't be at home there, but to visit among them is pleasing and good.

but anyway, it gets to be the first sunday of advent and i really want to be at home, but instead i'm in central new york. i think maybe, just maybe i should go home for sunday and come out again on monday, but no.

and it turns out i'm exactly where i ought to be. come to think of it, the number is four. God has spoken to me four times. i'm pretty sure of it.

and God is weird that way, too, because apparently he's very good at giving only half the directions.

so by the time i get home, to what i consider my own church even though i have not yet been to a service there, i am practically starved for it.

it's hard to explain.

i think the pastor gets it, which demonstrates a fairly good ability to grasp some of the weirder concepts.

you want to know the first thing i noticed about her? her hands. i loved her the moment i met her, which was a long time ago for just the time it took for them to transport me from the end of my road to the ER.

talk about a string of lucky conincidences.

coincidences? i'm beginning to think there aren't any.

but anyway, i came home from a routine procedure out at the hospital - ironically i had told my mom in the morning that i would rather die than vomit- and i felt kind of jittery when my mom left me at home.

then i felt really bad, but tired. so i thought i'd take a little nap. but then i was having trouble breathing. i wasn't particularly alarmed; i have asthma.

but i couldn't get comfortable. and i thought i'd just toss on my shoes and go for a walk, maybe get some fresh air.

i have kind of a muscle spasm in my jaw. it feels like it's pulling a little to one side.

but i'm out in the driveway and my neighbor just happens to walk by and he asks me how i'm doing. it's just chitchat, but in the time it has taken me to put on shoes and walk outside, my tongue is swelling up pretty impressively and i tell him to call my mom because i don't know what's wrong, but i'm sick.

and he stays with me and he has becky make the call and she gets a busy signal which is lucky because by this time it's all i can do to choke out the words "too late. 911."

it's the last thing i'm able to say for hours.

and i hear becky arguing with the dispatcher about where to meet; oddly enough, the rescue squad prefers to pick you up where you are.

becky understood that there was no time. she put me in the car and raced me out to the end of the road to wait for the ambulance.

i am in the middle of a very severe and classic drug reaction.

by this time my jaw is pulling so far and so hard to the left that i have to hold it in place manually. i rmember hearing that the muscles of your jaw are powerful enough to break the bone, and it's not a little factoid that i'm enjoying.

i have this tiny little space i can feel at the back of my nose where my tongue hasn't yet swelled to fill the space and i'm trying to concentrate on that and the EMT is telling me not to close my eyes.

and she has these beautiful hands. there is a warmth to her voice, a depth to her eyes. it's a gentleness and calm that i very much need and do not ever forget.

i also do not forget the fear and the pain when considering introducing any new medication into my system. unfortunately, i need a lot of medication to keep me a viable member of the workforce.

with good management and good medication most of the time i look like anyone else out there, if just a little odd. without it i am held prisoner in huge swooping mood swings of almost incomprehensible frequency and amplitude. and at some point the waves come so rapidly that there's no tracking the frequency; it's more like a flutter.

it is painful and it is deadly and i howl like a beast and curse every last person who tells me that i'd be missed if i was gone.

i have a lot of drug allergies; you know, sulfa and a bunch of the usuals, but i also get lithium poisoned at very low dosages. the kind of lithium poisoning where they test you for narcolepsy.

and i went through the whole canon of mood stabilizers. either they didn't work or i couldn't tolerate them. depakote worked pretty well, but after i was on it for a couple of years i became very suddenly and severely allergic.

it's change of shift on a friday afternoon and my tongue is swelling and i have hives on the soles of my feet. not just the soles of my feet, but you get the idea. it's a roll-the-crashcart kind of reaction.

and the social worker (who just happens to be there) is wearing a pair of earrings that she made, and she takes one out of her ear and dismantles it, removing the coin from the bottom and pressing it into my hand.

she holds my hand closed around it and she says: "there. that's for survival". i do not let go of the coin for hours, maybe days. for a couple of years after that i carried it in my pocket until i had too many close calls with losing it.

i don't know what i would do if i lost it. i have lost a lot of things in this life, important things. but losing that coin would take a wide stripe out of me.

so they had to flush my system. no drugs. none. do you know what happens when you have a very severe manic-depression and all of a sudden you are removed from every medication you're on?

if you do, please don't tell me, because i'm pretty sure i don't want to know. sometimes by grace or good fortune you are allowed to forget a few things.

afterward, they started trying off-label drugs known for psychiatric side effects. one was so bad i went through weeks of full-blown room-spinning withdrawal.

apparently it's not uncommon for doctors to prescribe drugs for off-label purposes, and sometimes with very good result. a lot of the anti-seizure drugs are also good for manic-depression.

i was on neurontin for a while before the justice department went after pfizer. while it is legal and common for doctors to prescribe off-label, it is not legal for drug companies to suggest it.

and this is how i came to be on it:

my doctor says to me "well, you've exhausted the canon of mood stabilizers. there's an anti-seizure drug they're starting to use for manic-depression and there's not much in the literature about it, but i think desperation makes you a good candidate. i've only prescribed it once before, and that was this morning. you can try it if you want."

i did. and it worked really well for a couple of years. and then it didn't.

and they keep inventing new meds, ones that maybe will work and i started one (after a full-day allergy challenge test) and it worked better than anything else but sometimes the sheer strength of the beast overcomes the drug and it takes me over.

i stop sleeping. i go off the deep end.

and my doctor thinks an anti-psychotic is in order.

what? for me? aren't anti-psychotics for other people?

well, it has mood stabilizing properties. and sedative properties.

it's a powerful drug. and i refuse an allergy test. i feel like playing russian roulette. and i say so.

but the drug must be phased in slowly, which makes it less of a risk, and it also means you have to taper off of it when you quit.

but it works. it works really well.

and here's where the story kind of winds in on itself. it has been postulated that time does not function the way we perceive it, and if my life is any indication, i'm inclined to believe it.

because all of a sudden it's much, much later and due to another long string of "coincidences" i'm lying in a tent in new hampshire and i have just recognized the presence of God in the universe.

and i start writing to people and calling them and asking what they can tell me about faith and prayer, and for some reason i call that EMT whose hands and voice i had so loved.

she is one of the very few people who answer my call. she invites me to come talk to her. she is very patient and gentle and helps a lot.

if you're clever you already know that she is the pastor of that church in which i was sitting this morning.

it was kind of an interesting entrance to attendance there. i showed up one sunday, and you may or may not know that choir people are notorious for recruitment; they can smell new blood miles away. and they come and talk to me, not realizing what i am.

they joke about not recruiting me on my first day.

i do not intend to join the choir. it's complicated why not, and it will not help your understanding to know that i'm a musician by training and trade.

but after that first sunday, God speaks to me. the by-now famous "you will bring your gifts to that church" conversation. and i just show up at choir practice without warning. they take me in as if i am a gift to them and maybe i am, but i can't help but think that the gratitude, properly placed, is mine.

God did not say to me "join the choir", or "bring your gifts to church"; God said "you will bring your gifts to that church"

THAT church. gifts. plural.

so i kind of just take a place as if i belong there, and i do. it's kind of hard trying to explain to people in the congregation exactly how i came to show up. mostly i just deflect the question by telling them that it's a long story, which it is.

to PROPERLY tell it, i think i have to go back to at least 1963, a year before i was born, maybe even 1934. and to PROPERLY tell it, you have to assume that time is not linear.

so i mostly don't explain my presence, and in a very short while i've come to enjoy some interesting versions of the story of how i got there, all of which are made of whole cloth. it seems that when people don't have a comprehensible story, they make up something that fits their general world view.

i used to go visit a woman in the advanced stages of alzheimer's. i didn't know her before she had deteriorated so severely, but for a little while we were roommates.

because she had no short-term memory, if she was alone for even a minute it seemed to her that she had been alone forever. so i spent a lot of time holding her hand, and she liked it when i sang to her.

they released her to a nursing home. she wasn't long for the world, and i made them tell me where she'd gone. it was a clear violation of the rules, but they told me anyway. i kept going to see her, to hold her hand and to sing to her. in her mind, i was her friend from high school, her cousin, her neighbor. any idea she could understand. the staff somehow was of the opinion i was a devoted grand-niece.

no, just a friend.

but anyway, i walk into that church as if it is my home and it is advent. i get the general concept; i've heard the story. but i do not understand it writ large. i just don't. its magnitude, its transformative properties are too much for me to grasp and i'm doing my best not to package it up into a smaller unit i can wrap my brain around.

meantime, i have just put two and two together to realize that the reason i have been growing progressively more uncomfortable over the last few weeks is that i am developing what likely will be a deadly allergy to this new and effective drug. the one that needs to be tapered on and off. i have gotten to the point where i have hives and raw patches on my skin and i'm wheezing a lot.

and the realization dawns on me just after i've taken the night's dose. so i toss down a buch of benadryl and hunker down until morning.

of course, i have to discontinue the drug immediately. i am now left very suddenly at the mercy of howling, yowling, yammering mood swings and tomorrow is christmas eve and i can't begin to imagine what would have been working in me, even with drugs that work.

how do you face that moment, completely unprepared? i suppose if you are taught bit by bit from your childhood how to grasp the enormous expanse of God's entrance into our small flailing world, you might just move into it as you might move from winter into spring, or even as you might move from tuesday to wednesday.

me, i've never seen it before. not with any understanding of its importance, and i feel like i'm standing on the edge of something huge and deep, incomprehensible and completely central to my soul.

in short, i am coming home, only i've been gone so long that i don't remember what home is like.

i keep being reminded of that last part of james agee's knoxville, summer of 1915:

May God bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.

After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

put one down, pass him around

so last sunday i had to have one of my boys put down. he was young. the problem with rats is that they're tough little buggers and by the time you know for sure they're sick, they're already very sick.

and because they're so small, they go south pretty fast.

so i'm at the vet, holding him in my arms or at least cradling him in an arm while holding him against my chest, i know he's dying. he knows he's dying and now we all know it.

i have to see the pictures to know for sure, though, because i hate having to make the decision to put them down. i prefer it when they die at home, next to me on the pillow, or snuggled in with the other rats.

left to right: annika, mukhtar, masud. the little one in my hand is zoe. she's about a quarter of the size of the boys, who are big hogs.

this little guy saw the demise of both of the two older females; he was the kind of guy that stayed with them and kept them warm. where they went, he went.

which was a great testament to his capacity for forgiveness, because when he was brand new and just put in with the girls zoe ignored him and annika tried to kill him. she put a slash across his belly that we thought might need stitches.

but it's time for him to die and we have him in the oxygen cone, thinking maybe we don't have to give him the blue shot but he hangs on long enough that we know we have to help him along out of this life.

left to right: mukhtar, his one working lung and a lung either collapsed or full of fluid or tumor; we did not try to find out. his heart should be visible; instead it's under the bad lung. that's not a good sign.

so first the vet gives him a sedative.

i take a lot of sedatives; it's part of keeping me alive. but i know that moment when it just kicks in and i know in a few minutes i'm going to be alseep; deep in the arms of morpheus, nameless, faceless, insensate.

and he relaxes. yes, that's good. he feels better. but now it's time for the blue shot.

you know, they make you sign a form that states you understand this is irreversible, which i think it silly. is there anyone who does not understand that death is permanent?

so he gets the shot and i hold him in my hands, watching the light go from him. i feel his breathing stop, and his heart. but still his nervous system hasn't given up; he twitches a lot. his feet and ears get that blue oxygen-deprived look and he twitches for a while more.

"come on buddy, " i say. "you can do this. don't fight."

and for a moment i'm thown into a panic. make them take it back. give him another chance. since when is anything irreversible?

if you've ever looked into their eyes when they're dying you know that even after they're all done they're not quite gone. there's something still in there; his soul, maybe? does a rat have a soul?

and there's a tiny, nearly imperceptible moment when the last of his light goes out. i can't bear to put him down while he's still warm, sitting at the stainless steel table, and i'm holding him and talking to him, saying goodbye, kissing his little soft ears.

his name was mukhtar, an arabic name that means "chosen". he came to me with his brother, his littermate, when the two of them had been abandoned. masud and mukhtar. lucky and chosen.

and now there's only masud, who has never been alone in his entire life and today is thursday and he's so lost and confused.

masud never used to sit still with me; he always had to get up and see something. but tonight he lay on my chest while i read; his little body over my great heart, the speed of our breathing so different.

and he had to lie right under my chin. he had to put his little hands all over my glasses.

"no, you're not allowed to bite the glasses. no, you're not allowed to bite the bible." (i am trying to read through isaiah before saturday.)

but he puts his little hands all over my face; on my cheeks, in my nose, in my ears. you really have to be able to concentrate if you're going to read through all that.

but then i'm done reading and i have to give him his medication. when one rat dies and the remaining one has the sniffles, the remaining rat gets antibiotics.

batril, while a very effective veterinary antibiotic, is horrid-tasting. it smells horrid to me and since my rats seems to enjoy the tastes of things people like, i'm assuming it's every bit as filthy tasting as it smells.

and i have to hold him still while i pump a syringe of it in his mouth. you have to do it from the side, because otherwise he can block it with his tongue.

he hates it. he squirms and struggles and screams at the top of his little lungs but for some reason he does not bite. he is too good a boy to bite, even though he could put his teeth right through my hand if he wanted to.

it's a thought i have to keep in consideration while i'm putting him through this, just in case i wear out his prodigious patience. and then i always give him a treat, partly to say i'm sorry, and partly to help him get the taste out of his mouth.

he is not always glad to see me lately.

and the ground is frozen, so until springtime, i have a rat in my freezer.

i promised him that i'd bury him somewhere pretty. out by the fountain at grandma's house, where all the other rats are buried. he has friends there.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

here's your hat, what's your hurry?

tomorrow is the Shortest Day of the year.

my hat is ready.

i'm really looking forward to the days growing longer. this is not just idle chitchat; i have this screaming seasonal affectation on top of an already serious manic-depression so things have been rough for me lately.

not to mention all of a sudden last july i realized that God exists, so i'm coming up on my first christmas with that on my plate. in my head. heart.

in here, where i live.

i've known about it, yeah. but never understood it and i think i still don't get it, but i keep being amazed and i keep crying in church.

great. i've become a cliché.

and my biggest ambition right now is to finish reading isaiah before saturday, which means i still have to finish ecclesiastes and song of solomon.

i can't just get religion; i have to take it up full-time. i've got a bookbag that just keeps on filling itself up. every time i have a vacancy somebody has something to put into it.

a vacancy. that's what i call it. i have to carry 'round two or three books on christianity, two hymnals and a bible, KJV.

i'm trying to catch up, to get a grip. but weird stuff keeps happening. God has been speaking to me, and i'm pretty sure it's not because my meds need adjusting. Except God only gives half the directions and i have to figure out the rest.

true story: i'm coming home from church and i hear this voice, not my voice, not the voice of me when i'm talking to myself, or when i'm imagining someone i know on the other end of my thinking-out-loud conversation.

and God says:

"you will bring your gifts to that church."

what maybe you should know is that i'm a classically trained musician. i am accustomed to singing in all kinds of choirs. i read well, i have a servicable voice, and good rehearsal practice. i show up on time, warmed up, and with my part learned.

and i do not want to join the church choir. maybe i'll tell you why later, but not now.

so God says to me "you will bring your gifts to that church."
and i say "ok... i'll just settle in and see how i can be of service."
"you will bring your gifts to that church."
"i really don't want to have to join choir... something else."
"you will bring your gifts to that church."
"ok, maybe after christmas. i'd like to just see it once from the pews..."
"you will bring your gifts to that church." God is starting to get tedious.
"ok, now. when i can be of real service."

and God said: "ah."

so sunday for the first time i sang in the choir. it was quite a thing.

and then when i got home, one of my boys needeed to go to the vet. friday he looked like he should see someone maybe monday; it sounded to me like a little bronchitis thing going on.

but sunday afternoon he looks really sick and in the time it takes between making the appointment to the time he gets examined, he looks like he's dying.

and he is. so now i have 50% fewer pets, and it's sunday night and I CAN'T SLEEP! i lay awake all night, all cranked up about the rat in the freezer and about four or five pieces of music that all of a suden i'm going to write even though i've had a compositional dry period of about fifteen years and i think, i just THINK, someone probably mislabeled the decaf after church.

I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE REGULAR COFFEE. it does bad things to me. what happens is even under a heavy load of sedatives, i lay awake very quietly, very relaxed. but i DO lay awake.

all night. and then when i try to go to work in the morning, i get there and then promptly fall asleep standing up.

this can be awkward.

so when it happened to me, they cleared me off to a dark corner and fretted about how to get me home. somebody, i'm told, had the brilliant idea to let me sleep for a while and see what happens.

what happened is that i was out cold until noon, woke up in fine shape and then went home.

i am really looking forward to the days getting longer.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

fall line

i've been gone a long time, and i'd forgotten how much i love ricker mountain.

i tanked on a whole season last year, and i didn't even get to go get my picture taken for my pass.

i worried that i'd forget how to ski, but after a few turns i was swinging smoothly back and forth across the fall line, observing newton's laws.

it isn't too cold and the snow is good and soft which is a bonus beause it's early season and there's never enough open and it gets skiied off too early in the day.

and they even have the number one chair open (the wilderness chair to those who must use trail maps), which is some kind of honkin' miracle because there's no snowmaking up there and you never know what you're going to get.

there's a trail up there called peggy dow's. not peggy dow's this or peggy dow's anything, just "peggy dow's". i've never been able to find anyone who can tell me who peggy dow was. when you're standing there in the late day light there's nothing that can touch you and gravity is your friend, if you can pick your spots.

but get this: there's this woman i know from mountain bike racing and i don't have her phone number or her email address because by the time i realized i really needed to talk to her, it was late in the season and she skipped the last few weeks.

and lately i've REALLY wanted to talk to her.

and i get on the chairlift with this kid and he's friendlier than most and he asks me if i've gotten a lot of runs in and i tell him it's my second run of the season and somehow it comes up that i didn't ski at all last year because of my knees and then we're talking about mountain biking and he gets to the point where he says "do you know my mom?"

KNOW HER? i want to talk to her. can you write this down?

so. sometimes you're in exactly the right place at exactly the right time, which is why, kind of, i want to talk to this kid's mom anyway. it's kind of complicated.

but they don't have the new quad open yet, which means you can't go up to the top of the mountain, and they took out the old vista chair so now the mid-mountain just does that: it drops you off mid-mountain, only now there's no option from there to keep going up, which i find somewhat depressing.

they call that chair the vista chair because, i suppose, it's a treed-in summit and there is no view.

soon, but not soon enough i'll take the new quad up to (nearly) the top of ricker mountain and i'll walk the rest of the way to stand on the platform and look out over the valley and hey, you can almost see my house from here.

i've got to go; i have reading to do and morning will come up quickly.

Friday, December 16, 2005

four dreams

this one is recurring: i've had it for years. it has unlimited variations, but the dream is always the same.

this time i am with my friend Flyingfisher and i don't know what about it is my fault, but there is fault and it is mine. this time the attacker is a man i have been talking to. he's wearing a light blue button down shirt; he's bald on top, he wears wire-rim glasses. he looks harmless enough but at some point he becomes threatening to us, to Flyingfisher in particular.

and i have to stop him. i do not have enough strenth to pull him away; nothing i say can stop him. i have to resort to violence. this time the weapon at hand is a garden rake. i strike him with it, trying to get his attention with the blunt end.

he only smiles at me, turning his attention back to her. i start trying to dig in with the tines, his arm, his shoulder, his head. oh, God, his head. and the tines strike and stick and i pull them out and strike again and there is blood and there are bone chips and he is not stopped but as long as i keep hitting him he does not look toward Flyingfisher.

he laughs at me, telling me there will be no help forthcoming, that no one will believe this




once when i was very broken down i came crushed from my day to evening prayer.

please watch over me. let me sleep, let me rest. watch over me in the night. be with me, and let nothing come with intent to harm.

and in the night Jesus comes and gets in on the right side of the bed, against my back. he watches over me. he keeps a hand on me. and i sleep.


i am standing- no, maybe standing is not the word for it, even though suspended isn't really the word, either, because there is no floor, no ceiling, there are no walls. there is no center, no sense of gravity and there is nothing but blackness.

but above me there is another place, a room, maybe, and it is full of light. there's a door of some sort above me and behind it is all light. it isn't blinding and it doesn't light up wherever i am; it is still all black, all nothingness, but the rays of it slice through the darkness in much the same way as sunlight streams through the clouds on a summer day, lighting up where the fingers touch.

i cannot see how the light makes its way to me; i can see no link from the room above to me, but when i stretch out my hand the light shines from my fingertips. everything i touch is held in light.


i am sleeping on my right side. when i sleep on my left i feel as if i am wrapped up and kept safe, but when i sleep on my right it is as if i can hold the whole of the world in my arms and lift it to my great heart.

and for a while, maybe at the same time, the whole of the wold appears flat to me and every christian that ever was stands up together shoulder to shoulder and we all shout in unison YES, WE ARE READY TO SERVE YOU.

the world is round again. there are spaces between us and in the spaces we are all set to our tasks. we do not ask how or why; it is late and there is much work to be done.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

can i see some ID please?

it's my birthday. i'm forty-one.

they're still arguing about evolution over at the forums.

and nobody want to argue with me on these points, so i'm disappointed. and i'm quoting myself here.


ok, let's assume that you can't prove God exists. you just can't. why should you? once you take the supposition that there exists an ever-present living God you have abandoned the arena where proof is needed. the concept in and of itself is preposterous unless you believe it to be true, in which case proof is useless.

so. i'd like to assume that there is an ever-present living God.

why would such a being bother to create us and the intricate universe that houses us? if we're the star creations, it's a mighty big stage for us to be playing on.

or why bother to create such amazing and balanced systems that we can study for thousands of years and with all our accumulated knowledge we can't quite fathom?

i'm an artist. i create things for the enjoyment of it. i set my hand to a thing and it has some meaning, or beauty. i write a string quartet and it gets interpreted by every new set of players. sometimes you create art and it is meant to interact with its environment; the whole point of it is to watch it unfold.

scientists, i'm told, like to create models. they set up environments with given sets of rules and they observe what hapens when things interact within the set of rules the scientist has created. it is possible for the scientist to change the parameters of the model and things within it will behave differently.

why would anybody go to the trouble of creating art, or models?

because we like to. because it pleases us. we like to find out what happens. we like to see the manifestation of our ideas take shape.

if we are in God's image, perhaps God too is like this. there is much talk about God having peopled this world with creatures posessed of free will.

it is possible that God created this incredible, highly ordered set of complex and beautiful systems simply because it pleased him. it is also possible that such a God could set up this model with rules that even he obeys. you know, to see what happens. to watch his creation grow and manifest.

a God like this could easily adjust a parameter and step back to see what effect it has on all his creation. things might evolve. they might evolve because the parameters change, or because they can.

we were given free will. somtimes we change in unexpected or sudden ways. sometimes you can trace a continuum, sometimes you can't.

as much as you can't SEE the ever-present Hand Of God working each string, you can't see it NOT there, either.

our perception of all of creation is so limited by the way we understand time and space and the more we know, the more there is for us to try to learn. we can unravel some of the mystery of our physical world but no amount of science will detect the absence or presence of God's hand in it.

so we may as well use our science to observe and describe what happened. a lot of the "how" will probably always be a mystery. you may as well not get started on the original "why".

i am amazed by the vast scope of all of creation and the intricacy of the systems that govern it. i look to science and its current best guesses to tell me what we can understand of how it all works.

i feel the living Hand of God as certainly as i feel anything in my soul and yet it is not up to science to ascertain his great majesty nor to fathom his singular mind.

a scientist may speculate on matters of faith and what mighty force, what great heart, what boundless intellect may have been working here.

a man of faith may speculate as to the miraclulous workings of atoms and stars and things to small and distant for us to understand.

and although one may think about these things with one heart, one soul, one is not science and the other is not faith. to teach one as the other devalues both.

Monday, December 05, 2005

old testament as history?

i have a few things to say about the discussion about evolution and intelligent design that is for some reason going on over at the forums, but since this debates is pretty far off the topic of geocaching the conversation is going on in the off-topic forum, which you can only see if you're a paying member.

i am, so not only do i get to see it, but i get to spout off my opinions, which are many.

there was a side debate about whether or not the old testament can be described as history, and this is my response:


the OT is a lovely volume of actual honkin' history.

if you start reading from the beginning and keep going you notice this really cool shift taking place:

early on it appears that God really hasn't got it all together. there's a lot of waffling, a lot of incomprehensible stuff besides who begat whom and who was wiped out for what reason, but not a lot of reasoning, nor any apparent plan.

and then as you keep reading, God seems to be evolving a personality.

...but wait! it is possible that it's people who are evolving! we can follow right along as people seem to be acquiring reasoning skills, or at least the ability to keep track of a narrative.

and they're trying to the very best of their tiny ability to tell what happened. it's a step above cave painting. we consider cave paintings to be history.

and why do they have to keep reciting the same stuff over and over before telling any new part of the story? because they haven't invented writing yet.

and at some point they discover writing and trust us to go back and read it for ourselves. later on they go on to invent the telephone, the compact disc and (nobody knows why) automated phone systems.

later on, smarter people will come along and declare our understanding of the workings of the universe laughable and our recording methods quaint. they will have discovered that time does not work the way we thought it did.

scholars will argue over whether that stuff we wrote down was metaphorical or not. and because large portions of documents will have corrupted data, they will be able to make very nice livings arguing amongst themselves as to what we really meant.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

because you asked for it...

someone asked me recently to write a little bit about my late november trip to the finger lakes region. here it is, cleaned up a little for spelling and such:


because you asked for it...

what i know of central new york i know from the years when i came of age.

the first time i was in ithaca i was sort of by myself; i came with a friend of a friend and stayed overnight with friends of friends of friends but i was there for an audition and it was one of those great days in ithaca when every car on every vertical street has right-of-way, regardless of the traffic signs.

i remember driving with my mom through dryden and into a sunset, listening to the mozart clarinet quintet all the way from vermont because it was the only tape we had in the car, and all through central new york it's all flatland and easy rollers and then you come to the lip of one of those lakes and fly down into the bowl of it, always feeling the pull of one end or the other. never the middle, but the ends.

and ithaca is at the end of one of them and you teeter over the edge of the rim and down from triphammer road and if you come in twighlight all of the city is spread out below you and in front of you, all the way up onto south hill and you see the familiar buildings and all the lights just coming on and it's like landing in a plane, with the roar of the engines and everything seems to vibrate as you come streaming out into route 13 downtown, which they keep changing and now the two lanes are far enough apart to have buildings between them and by golly you'd better be in the right lane or you'll get carried halfway to elmira before you can stop it.

if you time it right, you can see all the way down through fifteen, twenty-two rows of traffic lights, all green for just a few moments.

but i know the lights of the octopus; i see clearly the neck of the swan and no matter how much they change the traffic patterns they can't change that. i know that the lights of cornell do not form an expletive if you look at them right, no matter what they tell the freshmen.

i've written assignments on napkins from steamer night at captain joe's reef, and although i never saw let alone drank the bastard series at the rongovian embassy, i've seen some of the carnage that remains afterward.

we played on the swings at stewart park after closing time, and we went to horseheads to play "cup of coffeee". woolworth's is gone, and so is the store where we'd buy three kinds of flavored popcorn and then try to get the woolworth's floorwalker to follow us into the lingerie department.

budget entertainment, we called it. two dollars each, and hours of fun.

and we watched the seasons turn: we went to upper buttermilk and bobbed for apples in the pools there. i had a friend out on coddington road who had late sweet corn and i learned that you can boil half an ear at a time in a standard hot pot and keep the half ears coming well into the evening.

we cut up fresh apples and ate them with last year's syrup, knowing in the spring we would go to the marathon maple festival and although i thumbed my nose at the time, new york maple is just as good as anyone else's, and sugar on snow is sugar on snow.

we endured winter. it rained and it snowed. a lot. and the wind was bitter. and there were long stretches of time when it was never really raining but never really not raining either, which we called "ithacation".

in the spring we went to treman and swam in the meltwater because we were so glad the winter was over and we didn't care that it really WAS meltwater; we swam in it anyway even though it took hours to warm up afterwards.

we were young and pretended to be free; we piled into cars to go to elmira to hear the symphony. we drove up to seneca falls to see the white deer and got there at sunset and saw glowing pink deer with fiery eyes. we went to eat at arturo's in east syracuse, where the city bumps up againt that tall grass wasteland of railroad and warehouse and interstate exchanges and you can get the "bad breath special", a plate of seafood and pasta bigger than your head and under ten dollars.

and when you take the 690 east from liverpool in the mornings with the sun in your eyes you feel most gloriously alive. you learn quickly to change lanes before you get flattened or you get dumped onto salina street.

i've watched the half moon reflected on onondaga lake, seen the ups and downs of employment in solvay. and now i've been to auburn and seen copper john. i've watched the yellow, yellow leaves fall onto the old canals, and i've see the giant windmills spin gracefullly, shining and red in a chittenango sunset.

the roads in the wildlife management areas are all square and straight and are built with no regard for steepness of terrain; they simply do not plow or sand them in winter and you can ride up and down those roads all through hunting season and nobody wonders who you are or why you're there as long as you keep your orange hat where they can see it.

so keep your orange hat on the dash; they won't hold your out-of-state plates against you. don't blink as you pass through alpine or lodi, not if you want to know you were there.

and just once in my life, i want to be in ithaca on new year's eve, when they change the number of the year by the lights of the towers.

just once.

soon, maybe.


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