Laughing is Good for Me- Part 8/Making a Difference

I had six stories for the laughing series. I decided six was too many for one post so I’m putting the last three stories into this post even though I expect this one to be significantly shorter than Part 7.

***

My daughter put a microwave oven in my apartment in the senior living facility when she fixed it up. I haven’t had a microwave oven since I found paint chips in my food in my old one. When I looked in that microwave oven, I saw chipped paint on the top.

I hadn’t used a microwave oven since then, except when I stayed at a friend’s house in the summer of 2020. Using one then reminded me how convenient it was to use one. So I wasn’t totally opposed to having it, especially since I knew wouldn’t be cooking on the stove top.

I had friends that objected though and suggested that I get a toaster oven which is what I have at home. They were even willing to go out and find me one. I was surprised when the one they bought was smaller than the microwave oven and since the kitchen has very little counterspace that was especially good.

I had been using the microwave oven to heat eye compresses so they put it on top of the refrigerator and plugged it into the same outlet that the refrigerator was plugged into.

I had second thoughts about that, and checked the Internet to see if it was okay. When I did that, I discovered that nothing should be plugged into the same outlet as the refrigerator. I was not surprised and had somebody unplug it for me. Later, another friend said my microwave oven was now a fly-proof storage unit.

I’m not used to being in Seattle for Christmas. For the last 30 years, I have been in India for almost all Christmas seasons. So when I fully realized I wouldn’t be going there, I wanted to get some Christmas presents, I wondered where to put them in the small studio apartment.

When I looked around, I noticed the microwave oven on top of the refrigerator. I remembered the friend commenting about it being fly-proof. It also would not be where anyone would look for anything and it certainly would not be used for cooking, since the plug and cord were hanging loose on the side of the refrigerator. So that microwave oven truly became a fly-proof storage unit!

***

Satvamrita became a brohmachari (monk) in March 2020. He received a new name at that time. (Before that he was named Sreejit, a name given to him by Amma when he was 15.)

His new name was much harder to remember. Al, his father, still called him Sreejit when talking about him (since Satvamrita was in india).

After Al had a stroke, Satvamrita came to Seattle to take care of him. Al wanted to say the new name correctly but he couldn’t, and so in his confusion used other names. The most common name that he was now calling my son was “Karuna,” my name! So Satvamrita heard “Karuna” many times a day.

On December 29, I came to Seattle for a doctors appointment. There was still snow on the ground.. Afterwards, since it was two blocks away, the friend who drove me and I went to Al’s apartment for dinner. I hadn’t seen him since before he had the stroke.

We didn’t stay long for a variety of reasons. Among them was the fact that between dealing with the snow, seeing Al, and the doctors visit, I was totally exhausted.

Satvamrita walked us out to the car. As we left the apartment, I needed help getting my walker over the edge of the doorway. I looked at my son and called out to him, “Al!” He looked at me shocked, “You too???” he said.

I thought that mistake was pretty funny and am still laughing about it.

***

I was awake from 1 to 3 AM two nights ago writing this last piece of this post in my head. I cried during part of it. I wish I had actually written it down because what I remember isn’t as complete as what I composed during the night. But it’s close.

One of the first things that happened after his stroke was that AL wanted somebody to notify all of his Facebook friends. That request was fulfilled.

One of the people that he notified was a friend that he used to work with and they had a large box of ice cream delivered to his apartment. There were 6 different kinds of ice cream in it.

Al goes to sleep about 5:30 in the evening now and he often wakes up throughout the night. One night, at 3 am Al called out to Satvamrita in the next room, “Does anybody want ice cream?” “No,” Satvamrita answered. A few moments later again Al called out, “Are you sure.” “Yes,” Satvamrita affirmed. Al had already had ice cream twice that day. Hearing the silence that followed, Satvamrita got up and brought the smiling Al some ice cream.

For some reason, I thought that him asking for it at 3 am was really funny. More importantly, the incident shows how people can make a difference in someone’s life by something that is as simple as sending/bringing them some ice cream.

Because of his stroke, I have realized what a difference Al has made in my life. In the late 1960s he protected me by sitting all night with me at a pier on the Seattle waterfront after I had missed my college dorm curfew. In the 1970’s, we attended concerts by Tina Turner, James Brown, War and others. Later we raised two wonderful children together, even after we were divorced. The hard and painful times that occurred back then are no longer important to me.

Before his stroke we talked on the phone every day for months. I know he was frustrated that he couldn’t do more to help me through my illness but those phone calls were a big help. I’m feeling a similar helplessness that I can’t make it better for him now, but am so grateful that our kids can help him.

This contemplation is giving me an opportunity to reflect on how many other people have made a difference in my life: Amma, my children, my friends, my spiritual community, my colleagues, my clients, my neighbors, and the staff and residents here in Woodinville. And I know I have made a difference in many of their lives as well.

I believe that the next moment is not in our hands. I don’t know whether Al and I will live for a few more days or 10 or more years. What I do know is that our friends and family are pitching in and helping us. They are making a difference. And I appreciate them more than I can say.

***

This post didn’t turn out to be the short one I visualized when I started it but it turned out to be an important one.

Contemplating “Lover of Leaving”

I woke up sometime in February with the phrase “lover of leaving” in my mind. I knew those words were from a line in a poem I had read in the past, but I didn’t remember who wrote it. I searched under Kabir and Hafiz to no avail but soon discovered the phrase was part of a Rumi poem I had read, and loved, many years ago.

“Come, come, whoever you are,
wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving,
it doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.
Come, come again, come.”

Later, I thought about something I once learned from Jean Illsley Clarke, a mentor of mine. She taught me that there are four ways of leaving: come and go, eject, grow up and leave, and stay. None of those ways of leaving are inherently bad or good, and we more than likely do them all. However, the way we leave our family of origin often becomes a life template.

My father was in the Army, so I grew up in a situation where I was surrounded by leaving. Either my family left, or other families left. I believe in third grade we moved three times. And there were only two times where we lived anywhere longer than three years: my first five years, we lived in Sandia Base in New Mexico and we lived in Pirmasens, Germany for four years. Other than those times, I think we moved every year or two.

While my “Army brat” upbringing gave me plenty of experiences with leaving and being left, the style of leaving that became my template was to eject. I was not a happy child or teenager. As a teenager, I counted the days before I could leave home and I unconsciously picked a college that was as far away as I could go and still be in the continental United States. (My family was living in Florida at the time, and I moved to Seattle.) I went home a few times when I was in college, but it was rare. Soon after I graduated, I told my father I was thinking of marrying Al, an African American friend. He made it clear that, by even considering doing that, I was no longer welcome in the house. So, I had not only ejected myself but was also ejected.

The protective mechanisms I developed were to be overly independent and to not bond with people. I tend to separate easily and rarely look back. Over the years, I became much better at bonding, but am still reluctant to give up my independence.

Several years ago, a friend pointed out that I leave events without letting anyone know; people have no idea where I’ve gone. In reflecting on her observation, I realized she was right. But the impulse to leave when I want to leave has been stronger than a desire to do something different so I have continued to do that. I can see that leaving without telling anyone I’m going is a form of ejection.

That doesn’t mean I always choose to eject , sometimes I stay until it is time to leave; sometimes I even stay longer than is in my best interest. I rarely, if ever, come and go.

Al and I married in 1971. I worked at the University of Washington for five years (1974-1979) after I finished my Master of Nursing degree, followed by ten years as a Clinical Nurse Specialist at Swedish Hospital Medical Center (1979-1988). During part of that time I worked in the Maternal-Newborn units. I also helped to organize and run a Satellite Baccalaureate program for the nurses that worked there. Then I became a Psychiatric and Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist and, along with co-therapists, led psychotherapy groups for the next thirty years (1987- 2017). Even though Al and I divorced when our children were young, he and I raised two wonderful children. I still live in the house he and I bought in 1973. I did not eject in any of those parts of my life. That doesn’t mean I never had the urge to eject, but rather I didn’t do it.

The Rumi poem I talked about at the beginning of this post referred to leaving as part of a spiritual process. At first I was going to say that is not an area where I eject, but as I thought about it, I realized that wasn’t true. I picked a very conservative Christian college in Seattle. I was there during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights era. I became very angry, judging the students and faculty as having their heads buried in their Bibles. By the time I left there, I had labeled myself as being somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist.

I had definitely ejected from the Christian Church. I maintained that position for the next 20 years. I felt nauseous if I even heard someone say the word God. That changed soon after I met Amma in 1989. When the music started that first night, I felt as if I was Home.

Even though she has been my spiritual teacher for 31 years, I occasionally feel the urge to eject. When I get triggered by something she says or does, there are times I think: “I’m not going to do this anymore” …. “I’m leaving.” However, now I don’t take those automatic thoughts seriously. I may go to the back of the room and pout and/or indulge in self-pity, but I know it usually will pass in a day or two. And even if it takes longer, I know I’m unlikely to ever leave. Amma is still Home to me.

(Note: Even though Amma has been the central part of my spiritual journey ever since I met her, I have also been involved with Christian organizations from time to time. I guess that is my example of the coming and going type of leaving!)

So even though my original style of leaving is to eject, it is only something for me to stay conscious of. I can use my discrimination and embrace coming and going, growing up and leaving or staying; saving ejecting as a form of leaving only for when it is necessary for my mental or physical health or survival.

Writing this contemplation post has been helpful to me. Perhaps once the pandemic is over and we are able to meet in groups again, I will begin to let people know when I am leaving. Leaving without saying goodbye is certainly not necessary for my mental or physical health or survival! I do not need to eject.

The Ideals To Which We Are Beholden

Sreejit from The Seekers Dungeon just wrote and published a new song. It is called The Ideals To Which We Are Beholden. The song is sobering and I believe it is a good reflection of the time in which we live. There is much in it that is worthy of contemplation.

Lyrics

When some are hailed as chosen it means others will be outcast – when greed defines our self-worth, we tighten poverty’s grasp – we’re all looking for happiness while pretending we’re not heartbroken – are you at peace with the ideals to which you are beholden?

The backs of others don’t make for a steady road – no one looks up to the boot against their throat – but our status is the one thing to which we have devotion– are you at peace with the ideals to which you are beholden?

We defend the words we know we have misspoken, we seek to teach before we truly have awoken, we soldier on though our beliefs are corroding – are you at peace with the ideals to which you are beholden?

We close the borders to keep our freedom safe, we close our hearts because rejection we cannot take – with love little more than a token notion,  are you at peace with the ideals to which you are beholden?

The innocent, who never had a chance because they were pawns in a power brokers dance, lay scattered, collateral is the word that’s softly spoken – are you at peace with the ideas to which you are beholden?

We defend the words we know we have misspoken, we seek to teach before we truly have awoken, we soldier on though our beliefs are corroding – are you at peace with the ideals to which you are beholden?

Oh mother, won’t you take your truth from me, and sing me back to sleep, just sing me back to sleep. I know the world is longing to be free, but sing me back to sleep, just sing me back to sleep. It takes so much good to destroy a little bit of evil so sing me back to sleep, just sing me back to sleep. But now you’ve destroyed my peace and I cannot sleep, so bring the fight to me, just bring the fight to me.