Category Archives: Starting Over

When did Compassion Become Political?


Rats

My dad called the other night to let me know that his oldest brother, an uncle I have not seen in several years, was taken by ambulance to the hospital. According to my dad, his oxygen levels are at 72% when resting and drop even lower when he gets up or tries to move or walk. They drained 1.5 liters of fluid off his lungs yet… they say he doesn’t have pneumonia, cirrhosis, kidney issues, heart issues, a blood clot or another discernible reason for the issues.

After the traditional and expected “I’m so sorry” and “Is there anything I can do” responses, I asked my dad if there was any family history of such events or if he had any suspicions about the cause.

My dad was silent for a minute before telling me he had asked the doctor if my uncle’s illness could be related to a small rodent problem he was experiencing. The doctor dismissed it as being unlikely. However, the way he delivered this information made me wonder so, I asked a follow up question.

“What kind of small rodent problem?”

My dad proceeded to explain that when my uncle had stopped farming, the price of corn had been low. He decided to winter it in the grain bins and sell it in the spring. But… he never did and the corn sat untouched.

And then, the rats came.

He said my uncle put out poison but instead of working the way he had intended, the poison was ingested by his horde of barn cats, leaving the rats unchecked.

Before long, they moved into his house and later into his car.

My dad and his siblings had been taking turns visiting him, bringing him food, helping him with basic housekeeping responsibilities. The scattered droppings behind the dishes each week gave his secret away but they just cleaned up it since my uncle never talked about it much.

When the scattered droppings turned into piles of droppings – even with weekly cleanings – my dad and his siblings started setting traps.  When rats began to make an appearance and scattered across the floor on a regular basis during their visits, my dad’s sister walked out and refused to step foot in the house again.

Apparently, that was more than three years ago. This is just the first time it has been mentioned to me.

When questioned further, my dad admitted that at this point, rats freely roam the house oblivious to human presence. He told me that my uncle’s stove is unusable as the rats have chewed all the insulation from it and have nests in the oven. They have also destroyed insulation in the walls of the house, chewed on cupboard doors, eaten through the sofa and shredded my uncle’s bed sheets and a few blankets. Apparently, they crawl on him while he sleeps and the whole house reeks with rat urine and feces.

According to my dad, my uncle says it doesn’t bother him that much. He doesn’t have a use for a lot of the stuff that was ruined and, if he takes out his hearing aids, he doesn’t even hear them.

Dad and his younger brother have been trying to get him to move out of the house into senior living but he is stubborn and refuses. So, they simply continue to take turns visiting him to bring him food, empty the traps and clean the best they can.

My dad said that they have not talked with his doctor or any other official about the conditions of the house because they don’t want to embarrass their big brother or cause trouble.

This is not an uncle I am close to but… he is a human being!

No one deserves to live like this. No one.

I encouraged my dad to be honest with my uncle’s doctors, to let them know the condition of the house and the extent of the rat problem. He is a vet. Between VA programs and social services, there has to be other people who can help convince him to take care of himself, to accept some help.

But my dad, relieved to not be carrying the secret any more, simply sighed and said, “My brother bought that house for my mom and dad when he left the navy. He has lived there his whole life and wants to die there. He doesn’t want to move anywhere else. We’ve taken him around to look and he is pretty adamant about it. He’s my big brother! I don’t want to make him upset or cause problems! What else am I supposed to do?”

Understanding that the Encephalitis my dad had in 2005 has left huge scarring of his brain tissue, I decided not to argue and to simply agree. My dad’s last neurological check indicated 92% of his left temporal lobe is gone as is 30% of his right temporal lobe. The rest of his brain is fine. This means he has all of his personality and if you met him on the street, you’d have no idea. However, my stoic, German father is now emotional and ‘huggy.’ He also cannot do math, write his own name, learn new card games etc. It is not fair to expect him to do the logically ‘right’ thing. It is somewhat miraculous – when you think about it – that he is able to help at all. Brains are funny and wondrous things.

My uncle needed some sort of intervention and he doesn’t have anyone in his life who – for various reasons – could do it. So, I did it. I called the Department of Public Health that serves his town. I reported the conditions of his house and asked what could be done.

Unfortunately, they told me that because his home is in a rural area, it is not subject to nuisance laws and, because there are no small children they cannot intervene or order a clean-up. He may qualify as a vulnerable adult but because he is neglecting himself and is not being abused by someone else, they may not be able to intervene. I am disappointed but I understand.

So, I will do my best to support my dad and his younger brother in trying to convince him to voluntarily clean-up and move. I can be there to help deal with the aftermath when he passes away or does decide to move.

What in the world will that house look like a year from now? Or five years from now? Ten years from now? I can’t even fathom… Will it be our – the family’s – responsibility to clean this up or has he willed it to someone else?

This is unfortunate but… as I understand it, not an unusual experience with an older family member who lives alone.

I was having coffee with long-time friends and shared this story. We do this, share things that have happened in our lives. It’s what friends do.

But… my friends did not commiserate. Instead, they responded to my concern about my uncle in a very different way.

“I can NOT believe you reported your uncle. You completed violated his property rights!”

“Of course! Call the government to fix it. Everyone and their uncle – literally in this case – feels entitled! Those are my tax dollars, honey!”

“Exactly. If he wants to live in a house infested with rats, who are you to judge him?”

“He is rural! He isn’t hurting anyone by living like this and you and your family just decide he is the drama of the month and try to take over? Un-believable!”

“If you don’t like how he chooses to live, just don’t go over there.”

“When I get older don’t come and bring me meals! I don’t need your judgment and harassment.”

I acknowledge that I have not been close with him over the years. There are reasons for that. But… he is still my uncle. He is still a human being.

There is still right and wrong.

Isn’t there?

Why is it wrong, judgmental and offensive to be concerned about someone’s health and safety, their well-being?

When did compassion become political?

Who are these women I had coffee with?

What happened to my long-time friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Ground


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“Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.”

What do I have in common with my fiancé?

Well… we both love art. In fact, we met in an art class – over 30 years ago – back when we were both 15 year old infants. We have carried this love of art into our adulthood and we often visit museums together, talk about films and music, analyzing the artists’ intent, the message, the relevance, whether we relate to it, whether we plain old like it.

We are both news junkies and often discuss stories.

We play cards together.

We go for walks together.

We both have a similar sense of dark, biting humor.

We visit car shows and both dream of (and have started saving our pennies for) a Dodge SRT Hellcat Challenger in Plum Crazy Purple with Oracle Halo Lights (in either blue or white), Lambo doors, custom rims and an after market air intake.  (That being said, we’d also settle for a Charger. It depends on what is available when we have money.)

We dream of taking occasional road trips as this car will be our one large toy – in lieu of the stereotypical cabin or boat.

We are on the same page financially. We made plans and goals together and are equally committed to them.

We both put our kids first before anyone else except each other. And the thing is, neither of us can think of anything more fun or amazing or important than dropping our plans to get a visit from one of them – his or mine.

But really, it goes deeper than that.

When I reconnected with the beautiful soul I once called my friend who I soon will call my husband, I heard his story – over time – from our missing years. I came to understand that he values his needs, feelings and wants the same way he values other people’s needs, feelings and wants.  He does not feel guilty for his needs, feelings and wants and does not feel guilty for communicating what he wants or needs.  He respects my rights and recognizes and acknowledges them as being equally important to his own. He does not feel threatened because I have my own wants, needs, thoughts and feelings. He does not judge my (or anyone else’s) needs, wants, thoughts and feelings.

He is not afraid of losing my love, friendship or approval by expressing himself. He is the first to apologize if he has done something wrong or insensitive but… he does not apologize for things that are out of his control and out of his realm of responsibility. He decided long ago that he was not going to live life being angry or resentful.  He was not going to live a life filled with ‘what ifs.’ He is done with the facades and pretending. He is perfectly happy living life, content with how he was created, satisfied doing the very best that he can.

And… I love that about him.

My soul shouts, ‘Me, too!’

While it is a work in progress and he is a little farther along than I am, we are both done with being something we are not.

We are both happy and committed to being our individual selves.

We have both decided to ignore the noise of the world and to live authentically, true to ourselves – quietly – under our own terms.

And, we plan on doing this together the rest of our lives.

 

Holy Vow!


Vows

My fiancé and I are eloping in a few months.

When people ask why we are eloping and not having a ‘real’ wedding, we remind them that an elopement IS a real wedding. Then we explain that we are simply both introverts and don’t like a lot of attention.

But the truth is a bit more complicated.

The truth is… we ARE both introverts and neither of us like attention.

The truth is… we are also not 23 anymore and we don’t want to worry about who is bored. We don’t want to worry about what we look like from behind (mostly that is just me but he gets it.) We don’t want to worry about who is wandering off a cliff while their parents get in some needed adult conversation.

The truth is… we also both had horrific first marriages. We were both betrayed a million times over. We both take promises seriously and will not make one that we can’t keep. Getting married a second time requires an awful lot of vulnerability and neither of us wish to share those tender feelings with the entire world – just with each other.

The truth is… when we exchange our vows, we want to be able to concentrate on what we are saying, what we are hearing. The vows are about us, about our relationship, about the life, the future we want to have. We don’t want to worry about what other people think.

❤ ❤ ❤

My fiance grew up attending a Lutheran Church closer to my house than his own. But… atheist siblings and some really bad experiences had an influence on him and he self-identifies as an Agnostic. That being said, we have frequent religious conversations. He claims we cannot know whether God exists yet, it is pretty clear any beef he has is with those people who call themselves followers of Christ who don’t act very Christ-like. In fact, when you talk with him and really listen, he DOES acknowledge God, His power, authority, omnipotence and love. He actually believes a lot of the same things I do. We are not too far off the mark from each other. The reason he calls himself an Agnostic is because, other than me, his entire experience with Christianity is that of God as a judge. And that unloving, uncaring, judgmental God? He doesn’t believe that one-sided, Magic Eight-ball kind of God exists. And I completely understand that. So.. yes, we have differences but.. we actually have more similarities than differences. He sees this, too and has volunteered to actively participate in a church together when we find one.

As for me, I grew up Lutheran (Missouri Synod) but spent most of my adult years in the Evangelical Covenant Church. Unfortunately, church member responses to my daughter’s coming out and responses / reactions to political issues in a controversial election were not very loving or open for dialogue. It made me extremely uncomfortable sitting next to them and made it impossible to worship my Abba, Father-God.

So much so, I stopped attending services for a while.

Right before the election, a couple of women noticed and sent me emails and messages encouraging me. They thought I was doing the right thing by not attending church right now. After all, they had never been comfortable with the things my ex-husband had done. At the same time, the fact that I was divorced in a church made up of young married couples / families also made them uncomfortable. They told me they believed my son was a good guy even if he did have long hair and listen to heavy metal and… they thought I was awfully brave for still living with and loving my gay daughter. So yes! They were completely in support of me taking some time out of church to process.

Just when I had been thinking I would be able to suck it up and go back soon, I couldn’t even….

The pastor noticed  my absence and invited me out for coffee. Desperate to talk about the issues / feelings I was experiencing, I asked for a date / time / place but he did not respond. This was followed by three more invitations, by three “Please. I would very, very much like that. Let me know what day / time and I will do everything I can to be there” responses and by three more failed follow-ups. Unfortunately, the invitation was only a token and not a genuine offer. He just wanted to be able to say he had done everything he could.  I know because he claimed to have done everything he could in a letter I received the week after I became engaged. This letter informed me that due to my lack of participation in Sunday Services, they were revoking my church membership.

I was destroyed, utterly destroyed.

I couldn’t worship there anymore but… it had been my refuge in some of the most difficult times of my life. I had served here, spent more time here, donated more than what I could afford here because they were my people, my family.

I have not yet found another church.

To be honest, I have not done anything more than a cursory Google search. I visit various church websites and see pseudo-political posts, judgmental sermon topics, links to social media accounts where members gossip about others and … I just can’t.  I still have my Bible. I still have my prayer walks. I still worship my Abba, Father-God. I still have my faith. I have conversations with my fiancé – for whom this underscores his own beliefs. I have conversations with my kids – one of whom faithfully attends two different churches and plays in two different worship bands; one of whom no longer feels welcome or accepted or clean or loved.

I have faith in God right now but… I do not have faith in those who call themselves His people.

I know.

I know! 

No one is perfect. Certainly I am not!

We are all just human reflections yada yada. But….  I just can’t. People can make mistakes. I can deal with that. But.. when they stop listening to each other? When they stop listening to God? I just can’t.

Anyway… this aside was intended to provide the context for our vow search. Back to my originally intended post… ❤ ❤ ❤

We pretty quickly agreed that the content of our vows is pretty important to us. So, we talked about them and looked at samples provided by our officiant.

Given our respective religious backgrounds, she provided us with traditional vows of various faiths: Protestant, Catholic, Methodist, Non-denominational, Baptist etc. Unfortunately, we found them to all be duty-heavy and absolutely joyless, making marriage seem entirely transactional.

We want God to be part of our wedding and part of our marriage but… the true God. Not the judgmental dictator waiting to strike us down at the first misstep. We want Abba, Father-God (Yes, allows consequences to happen and administers punishment when necessary) as personified through His Son Jesus Christ. We want Him to tell us stories to help us see a better way and to offer forgiveness and restoration as we learn how to do this thing called married life all over again. In our opinion, God is a dynamic being and does not fit in the little box we keep trying put Him in and it is THAT God, the TRUE God, we want in attendance.

And our marriage vows?

Well, in our opinion, they are our beginning, the creation of our world together.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1: 1 – 5

That right there, outlined in the very first verses of the book of John. That is what we want for our marriage. We want our marriage to be alive and able to withstand the darkness. That happens through Him and through the Word.

Yes, The Word.

But also, through our words to and our covenant with each other.

We want to promise to do the stuff that makes a marriage healthy. We want to promise to do the stuff that makes a marriage strong. We want to promise to do the stuff that will make us better as individuals and as a couple.

So… we did a Google search.

And much of what we found seemed to be, for lack of a better description, promises of a co-dependent and dysfunctional future, promises that are wishy-washy and not really promises at all or promises to turn each other into gods.

“I promise to be your constant love and support… that I will do anything and everything to be your place of comfort and calm… that I will never give up no matter what because I believe in us.”

“In the past I have taken you for granted. I have put others before you. I have done things I am not proud of and I have often been wrong. But, I have always loved you and stood beside you. I am here today to move forward with a renewed commitment to you, our love and lives together. I pledge that from this day forward you will be my number one priority.”

“I stand in the elegance of your beauty and the love for you that comes through God. Now here in front of witnesses I pledge that love ‘this I promise you.’ … Today, I see before me a young woman who still sparkles with laughter, who still has that magical zest for life and whose beauty captured my heart and soul. … Every time I look at you I surrender to you. I only want to be the man to give you everything that I can. Every day and every night.”

“In the presence of our family and friends, I claim you as my lifemate. I offer  you my life, my allegiance, my heart, my soul, my body. Your life, happiness and welfare will be cherished and placed above my own for all time.”

“When you found me: I was dying, you gave me life. I was aimless, you gave me purpose. I was nobody, you made me somebody. … I am me because of you and I know I can only be whole when you’re with me…. I thank you for all you have given me and for who you have made me.”

Ick.

Just… Ick.

These happened to all come from MyWeddingVows.Com but this type of vow is everywhere on-line. (No offense is intended if you used something similar in your wedding. They probably meant something different to you than how we are seeing them.)

Is it just us or do you see the trouble with these promises, too?

But… we are still without vows or ideas for vows.

I’m sure we will be doing another Google search but I want to hear what is tried and true.

What do you think makes for a healthy, strong relationship?

What has been the key to your relationship successes?