thoughts on dying and the angel of death

He is risen. This is the hardest for me to believe. I can read the gospels over and over. I can recite the creeds. I believe that what seems impossible can be possible but still, I am skeptical. I believe there is a time after death of the body that is an in-between state. I actually believe this state begins before death of the body. Having been present at the ends of many lives of those ready to pass on, I have seen the in-between state. They can still hear us…but they can also hear (and maybe see) something more.

Perhaps this is why we sit with the dying…to be with them on this side while they move to the next…to the other side. It isn’t easy to sit with the dying. They sound terrible with rattling lungs, full of fluid that will never be removed. Then comes the time closer to the end where each breath may be the last. A mixture of relief and disappointment when the next gasp comes. We want them to stay and we want to let them go. It isn’t easy. It isn’t meant to be easy. Birth isn’t easy. Death isn’t easy. That being said, life isn’t easy.

I have seen the living, the dying and the dead. There is a distinct difference to each. The living are clearly alive. The dead are gone. They don’t just look still…they look GONE. DEPARTED. The alive are very clearly HERE. The dying? They look somewhere in-between. They respond to voice and touch, they can still hear us. They must also see and hear something more, something beyond that beckons them. I like to think that it is He Who Has Risen or the Angel of Death beckoning the dying to join him…to go back to God.

Over the years I have thought many times of the Angel of Death. Angels, rather, there must be so many of them. I have seen people in misery recovering from a major stroke or some other medical catastrophe in which modern medicine was able to intervene. I have seen people upset with being alive in this new miserable state. I have seen within weeks or months this same person passing away from some other ailment. Then, I have thought: the Angel of Death has come back for you. This is a comforting thought, that even if death is cheated by modern medicine, God doesn’t forget about you, God will send the Messenger back to get you. The Angel of Death will come back for you.

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no one wants to hear about my workout

It is true. Just yesterday I was leaning on the counter, arms extended with flat back and I did a push-up. Then, I started to tell Liza about how I did push-ups on the barbell at the gym and she held up this magnet that we have on the fridge:

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There is one person who will listen to me and cheer my success. I tell Katie when I beat my time rowing and usually along with that I also feel like I am going to puke. I did 1000 meters in 4 minutes 34 seconds at resistance level 6. That is my best time so far. Last best time was 4 minutes 43 seconds. I need to shave off 4 seconds to get to my goal of 4:30. No one really cares about this but me. I am always excited when I beat my time. Katie has done rowing, too, so she knows what it feels like when you think you might die. Liza has not used the rowing machine, nor does she intend to ever use the rowing machine. She just puts the magnet in my face.

I started going to the gym January 14, the day after I joined. I just did machines at first. I joined in January because it was a good deal for the new year, no joining fee. I went to my first barbell class on January 25th and the next day I could hardly make it down the stairs because my muscles were like: what the hell? I went to the class again on the 27th. I have gone to the class twice a week ever since. Now I feel like I might freak out if I don’t go. It is a good feeling to get stronger. It is fun to have a new obsession.

After meeting with a fitness coach on February third I decided to give personal training a try. I have had 4 personal training sessions so far…next week would have been the last. But, I signed up for five more. I said it was a birthday present for myself. I will be 43 later this month and I feel stronger than I have in a very long time. Why? I decided to do something different. I knew walking the dog wasn’t going to get me under 180. I figured I could pay for the gym and buy less beer.  I even took beer OUT of the fridge the other day. This is bizarre behavior for a beer drinker…but there really was too much in there after our party this weekend.

I am under 180 now, just barely, but my body has changed as I have gained muscle from weight lifting. My goal now is to keep getting stronger and get under 170. It has been over 10 years since I have been under 170.  Looking forward to the scale reading 169.9 and my pants falling off. I’ll try not to bore you with stories of my workouts, beating my time or feeling like I am going to puke.

Note: I think the magnet is funny. But, that doesn’t stop my for trying to tell people about my workout.

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let’s just have a beer

My day begins with good intentions. Upon arising I usually intend to go back to bed immediately upon returning home. After being awake for about fifteen minutes my thoughts change to better intentions. After work I will walk the dog or go to the gym and eat a healthy dinner, like salad.

After actually being at work for ten minutes or maybe four hours my intentions change. Sometime before noon I decide that the first thing I want upon returning home is beer. I start thinking it earlier at work these days…like after ten minutes. During that time I am also thinking: I can’t do this anymore. This is a thought that crosses my mind most days. I keep making it through the day taking care of everybody else, just barely making it to the bathroom. I manage to inhale some food while writing in charts.

Taking care of people is hard. I feel like I give them everything I’ve got and I have nothing left for me or my family. I come home to more people who need help and I don’t want to help people anymore. Is it time to get out of nursing? If I am irritated with people soon after getting to work is it time to quit? Taking care of people with memory problems is challenging and exhausting. I suppose if I didn’t care so much I wouldn’t be exhausted from the work. Do other nurses feel like they just can’t do it anymore? Who is going to take care of the confused people when the people who care can’t do it anymore?

Almost everyday at work I think:  I can’t do this anymore. I keep going back and doing it another day. Perhaps my prayers are answered, giving me strength to make it through another day. Perhaps my intentions are changing for the better as I have made it to the gym three times now. Still, my thoughts wander to desire to just go have a beer.

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thoughts on our humanity

Should I love my neighbor or lock him out? Should I trust that those seeking help are sincere or should I be wary? Should I see others as other humans or as potential terrorists?

It really shouldn’t have to be black and white. I don’t tend to see things that way anyway. I see much more gray. There is so much more gray than black and white. The extremes are just that, extreme. Most of us lie somewhere in between. Where is the line between helping others and protecting your own?

Some people fear the others fleeing from terror thinking they might be trying to infiltrate and attack. This is a reasonable fear, perhaps, but it should not rule your life. There are people already here that do terrible things to other people. Are they not also terrorists? The wife of a wife-beater lives in terror. The molested child lives in terror. Just by looking I cannot tell if a man is a good man or a child molester. He could be any color and claim to be of any religion. I cannot tell by looking if the other people at the store have open minds or of they are closed. I cannot tell if they have compassion.

I have mentioned before that I often really do wonder:  What would Jesus do? It always pops into my head when I pass up a hitchhiker. I am a woman driving alone so I never pick up a hitchhiker. It would be stupid. My self-preservation wins in this situation even though I do not know if the hitchhiker has ill intentions or not. I would think that Jesus would pick up the hitchhiker if he were driving but I don’t think he would be driving. Seems more likely he would be hitchhiking. So, am I leaving Jesus on the side of the road?

Hearing about the bombings in Paris has brought out the best and the worst in people. Some people lean toward hate of all that is other and want to close the borders, get more guns, fly more flags, speak more English and be more Christian. Be more Christian? Can we protect ourselves and be more Christian? Can we be friends with our Muslim neighbors that already live here? I think it is natural to have initial thoughts of self-preservation and protection. But we cannot let hate of all that is other rule our lives.

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into the darkness

The darkness is upon us. Soon it will be dark most of the time and I will be counting down the days until we near the celebration of the birth of Jesus when the days start getting longer. I remember when I was a young girl the days were already short and dark by 4:30 in October. Now that daylight savings time is extended this doesn’t happen until November. Setting my clock back … Sunday will suddenly be dark an hour earlier and I will contemplate going tanning to get my sunlight. It is unlikely I will actually go tanning but I consider it every year when the darkness comes.

Today seemed dark all day. It was dark when I went to work and I noticed I had a headlight out. It was cloudy, dreary, raining and threatening to flood this weekend as I headed home for the day. At work, where I care for the elderly who are memory impaired, we have several nearing death. It happens every year, nearing the end of the year and the holidays, that people depart this world for the next.

During a recent trip to Colorado (where I did not see the Dalai Lama since he had to go back to India and I didn’t have tickets anyway) the dreary weather followed us and we had dreary, grey, cloudy rain for three days. On one rainy day at a candy shop I found a cookie cutter called Gingerdead Men. It was a typical gingerbread man cut out with a skeleton impression on the other side. I decided to purchase this item and made cookies the day after returning home. Like all my cooking adventures, this was less than perfect but still fun. The Gingerdead Men made the darkness more fun.

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I enjoy the darkness as a time to stay inside with family and contemplate a great many things. I dread the darkness as a time to be trapped inside while it is cold, wet and dark outside. I enjoy the darkness as a canvas for lights and revelry. I dread the darkness as a time when depression tries to take me.

We are coming up on Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) and I think of All Souls Day. This is an interesting day when the living pray for the souls of those departed to get them into Heaven (if they are not yet there). Interesting to think that we could have such power to pray our loved ones into Heaven. I’d like to think that when we depart all becomes new and forgiven and we go to the place we belong within the divine no longer of ourselves but one with the divine until such time comes to be mortal (into the darkness) once again.

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a little more Martha than Mary

When Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha, Martha welcomed him. Her sister, Mary, sat at his feet and listened to him while Martha was “distracted by all her many tasks.” Yes, I imagine woman’s work in biblical times was quite a distraction. We have no idea how much time it would take to cook and clean without electricity. I have great respect for Martha. The laundry isn’t going to wash itself. I also have great respect for Mary. She chose to forego her woman’s work and, instead, sit and listen to what Jesus had to say. I wonder if Martha was listening from the other room? When I am working in the kitchen working I can still hear what is being said in the other room. I can choose to holler out my two-cents if I so desire.

I’d like to think that if a holy person visited my home I would want to do nothing but sit and talk with him. Truthfully, I probably would want to feed him and offer him something to drink. I am comfortable in the kitchen where I do much of my woman’s work. This is something I have learned when the power goes out and I have nothing to do because I can’t turn on the oven and I should leave the fridge closed. This is reinforced when I go on vacation and the kitchen belongs to another woman and she doesn’t really need any help. Am I really so lost without my kitchen? I do prefer being hostess to being guest. I’d rather help the hostess in the kitchen that sit in the other room and chat.

I recognize that I am a little more Martha then Mary. Perhaps this if funny since I studied religion in college and then bailed out of graduate school because I didn’t want to become a part of a system that perpetuates itself. I didn’t want to study holiness. I wanted to become more holy. I’m not sure that I have succeeded in that since having left graduate school almost twenty years ago. I am trying. Instead of studying texts and discussing them with students I am caring for the elderly that are slowly losing their minds. I work in the world of dementia but these lost old souls still remember songs. Tending to the sick and the old is work that is never done. Nursing is work that is never done. Everyday woman’s work (cooking, cleaning, laundry) is work that is never done.

Poor Martha didn’t know what she was missing while she was so busy with her woman’s work and irritated with her sister. She even asked Jesus to tell her sister to help her! How must she have felt when he told her that Mary had chosen wisely. I imagine Martha wondering who was going to get all the work done with everyone sitting around talking all the time. I imagine Mary wondering why Martha was worried about daily tasks while Jesus was visiting. Somewhere between the two is the place to be. Perhaps we can all sit in the kitchen to talk and once in a while I will get up to check on dinner or throw another log on the fire. Perhaps, while I am up, I can offer everyone another beer and fill up the bowl of chips.

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thoughts on desire, compassion and the Dalai Lama

I have great desire to see the Dalai Lama in person before I die. Sometimes my desire to see him is so great that it brings me to tears when I discover that he is going to be in another state speaking and I will not be able to attend. I didn’t see him last time he came to the west coast. I didn’t see him when he came to Washington D.C. for the Kalachakra for World Peace.  Several months ago I discovered that the Dalai Lama would be speaking in Colorado this October.

Compassion in Action: The Colorado Teachings of His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. This will occur October 20-21 and includes a festival of Tibet. There is a Tibetan Association of Colorado and many Tibetans live there in exile.

I decided it was time to go see him speak to fulfill my desire.

We bought plane tickets ahead of time to get a good price. Ticket sales to see the Dalai Lama started a few weeks later. The web site was so saturated with people who shared my desire that most tickets were sold after about half an hour and the website crashed. I didn’t try to get tickets until I got home from work. The all day tickets were all sold out by then. The website notified us that more tickets would be available the following week. I was upset but accepted the fact that I may not get tickets. I even thought maybe I am not meant to see him this time. Maybe there are others who need to see him more than I do.

The next week I set my alarm to get up early and be ready to buy tickets. The website was unavailable most of the first hour but eventually I was able to get on the site.  I tried to get tickets. I tried every possible ticket combination for seat locations and time of day. The ticket site kept telling me it was sorry but was unable to find tickets.  Later in the evening the website notified us that it had crashed again that morning (even after updating the server or whatever) due to overwhelming demand. Tickets were all gone but a few in limited view remained. I tried to get them. They were gone.

So many of us want to see him…we desire to see him so much that we kept crashing the website trying to get on and get the tickets. We may suffer in our desire as it will not be fulfilled. The website suggested we consider ourselves honored to be among those who want to see him. I can hear, read and know the message of the Dalai Lama without seeing him with my own eyes and hearing him with my own ears and being in the same room with him. I know that truth is truth even if I never get to see him. I should be happy for those who are fortunate enough to see him…to those lucky enough to make it through the crashed websites to get tickets. Luck of the draw, really. Or is it fate? I do still desire to see him. Strangely, it is a calm desire. I am not even freaking out. I accept the things I cannot change (sometimes).

We will still go to Colorado. Between now and then I will keep searching for tickets. I accept that it is not likely I will find tickets. I will be happy to go visit a new place and meet new friends. I will be happy to be in the same area with the Dalai Lama. I wonder if he will walk by so we can just see him? I wonder if I reach out my hand and touch his gown, will I be healed? I am not saying he is divine necessarily but, he has such compassion that it must just pour out of him. My desire is that maybe if I see him I will become more compassionate – that something inside me will change because it will recognize the thing inside him.

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