Friday, July 17, 2015

Chop, Chop -- Book Review

A Review of the Book, Chop, Chop, by L. N. Cronk, currently available for free as a Kindle book.

I just finished crying over this book. At least I think I finished. It was a satisfying cry.

I loved this book all the way through, and I can't tell you how rarely that happens.

Who would have thought a 60 year old woman would enjoy a book that starts from the viewpoint of a preschool boy and follows him through to young adulthood? But it was simple, yet captivating. The conversations, the characterizations; all of it made me feel like I was right there, enjoying the friendships of these young people and of their families. Religion is an integral part of the story - it is called contemporary Christian fiction - but the religion comes through in a natural and caring way.

Throughout the book there is a tension, the knowledge that the book is leading inexorably to both love and tragedy. The tragedy might have been too much for me even a year ago. When it came, it did bring me to tears of sorrow; but as I continued to read, I was brought again to tears of joy.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On the Other Hand - The Woman who Needed Gas

Yesterday, I wrote about the woman who came up to my car window to ask for money to buy some food. I was just about to leave Five Guys, and absolutely no alarm bells went off in my head. So, as it turned out, I not only gave her money for lunch but we had a nice chat, too. 

On the other side of that coin, there are times when my intuition tells me to avoid a situation, and I listen to that voice in my head. 

This morning I received an email from someone who listened to the voice of caution but felt badly about the situation. If we care, we are going to feel badly about others sometimes. Sometimes, it might likely not be what they claim, but we might still feel badly. Here is, approximately, what I wrote to him:

"I understand your distress about the woman who asked for help the other night because, whatever her intentions, she was in distress. We don't want to see someone suffer and not be able to help. But I don't think it was within your scope to be able to help her. You are right; if she needed gas and her mother was having a heart attack, she should have called 911. If she didn't have a phone, she could have asked you to call 911, or raced into the store to ask someone to do so. You might not have thought of 911 until afterward because you were being approached for help, asking for another "solution". But who wouldn't think of it if was their own relative having a heart attack and they were short on gas?  And when you recommended she seek help in the store, she just stood there. 

"Thinking of reasons, other than her "mother's heart attack", that she might have been talking fast, I thought about your location: a grocery store parking lot, shortly before closing time, in an area where you can buy alcohol in the grocery store. 

"I thought, "Can alcohol withdrawal make someone hyper?"  I Googled that, and I found several sites that said withdrawal can cause hyper-excitability, anxiety, and agitation, among other things. So her anxiety could have been very real and valid.

"Looking at her story at face value at the time, you couldn't help her because you knew the gas station didn't accept cash at that hour, and you were wise not to offer to go to the pumps with her to use your debit card. But she probably didn't actually need gas, and she probably hadn't thought through all the details of her story.

"I'm guessing she had a real problem, but probably not her mother having a heart attack. It could have been a more long term problem than you could possibly do anything about since you can't follow her around and feed her habit. If she has one. Because, of course, I am making up a story! And I wasn't even there. It is absolutely not for me to say or know what her intentions were! But I do think that the pieces of her story don't seem to fit together. 

"Whatever her real story was, you were probably seeing someone in true distress, but someone you couldn't help. And that is always a tough feeling."

I share this to say, no, I don't recommend we do just anything that would naturally follow from someone's request. They need gas? The only way to do it would be to go to the pump, where no one else is at this hour, and use our card? No, I don't recommend that. 

Or,  someone else I know was once approached on a bus to get off at the bus stop and go together to an ATM to get some money from his account. No, I don't recommend that (and he didn't do it). 

There are some ways we can help people, and others that are not so wise. At the same time, we can still have compassion in our hearts. It is always right to have compassion. 

Just sharing some other thoughts.   

Here was my post about The Woman at my Window

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Woman at my Window

After a long and fruitful appointment with the new (to me) sleep doctor, I headed off to get something to eat, but I didn't really have a plan. I thought: Five Guys. No, too greasy. I know, Panera Bread. I headed to Panera Bread, came to a detour, missed a road, and ended up going back the way I had come. Okay, Five Guys it is. (And I only got a hamburger, not fries, so it wasn't greasy.)

When I came out of Five Guys and got in my car, a woman came up to my window. I started to groan and moan on the inside, and then I remembered that groaning person is not me, and that this is a real person at my window. So I listened.

She said she lives in a shelter, and she would like to be able to get something to eat. I had been planning to give her a protein bar, but at this point, being right outside Five Guys, I pulled out $8 and told her she could get a small hamburger and a drink with that, as that's what I had just gotten. She thanked me, put it in her purse, and started chatting. I started to groan inside (again! Yes, I'm human, folks). But I thought: I don't have to be anywhere at any particular time this afternoon and I can listen to a woman tell her story.

She had lost a small but nice apartment because it got burned during the riots. She said it wasn't just about police. Well-spoken, she described gentrification without actually naming it. She told me all about corporations coming into the city, buying up property, and building expensive apartments. She said many people don't realize it's going to hit them, too, eventually. She also said these corporations come in, and they don't hire local people who live in the area (black or white).

I wish I had had a tape recorder going, as it was fascinating, although it was heart breaking too. When she finished talking, I put my hand out the window to shake her hand and told her my first name. She looked so surprised, shook my hand, and told me her name too. She said she's writing her story, and she will put me in it. Then she walked into Five Guys, and I drove away, thinking about Matthew West's song, "Do Something".  I told Our Lord, "I don't know what you want me to do."  (You might notice that's not a direct question. I'm so afraid he's going to tell me one of these days.)

Really, it's so big, and I don't know what I can do. But there's a saying posted around here a lot (maybe where you are too), "If you see something, say something." Well, this is a different kind of "something" than the slogan has in mind, but I feel I need to say something, in whatever ways it comes to me.

But please understand that I'm not telling anyone to do what I do…what little I do. I know some people get defensive about the idea of giving money, and I usually say: I give food, not money. But recently, I've begun carrying a protein bar in a baggie with a folded paper towel and a couple dollars, so someone can get a bottle of water or soda. Today, I gave a lunch but I think the lunch was less important to her today than having someone to just listen. 

But we are each called differently in this world. Some give at the office…and yes, I mean that to sound cliché, and I don't really mean "give at the office", as in monetary contributions (though that's good too). I really mean many give of themselves at work: nursing and teaching and so many jobs; every honest job contributes well as parenting and caregiving, and so forth. 

But sometimes, what I can give is a smile or a listening ear; and it feels right. It doesn't feel like enough, but it feels right. 

Post Note the next day: I do think we need to exercise caution, think, and follow our intuition. I received an email today from someone who was feeling uneasy about a situation. Here are my comments on that.
On the Other Hand - The Woman who Needed Gas.


Monday, July 13, 2015

When Life Changes, It Doesn't Mean it's Over

Paul and his guide dog, Chicago

I wrote this at the request of a dear friend of many years. Thank you for asking me to write it, Sarah Blake LaRose, and I hope it comes close to what you might have had in mind.  I took your suggestion to write about my sons' lives after losing their vision, and I let my mind and heart go wherever they might.

When Life Changes, It Doesn't Mean it's Over

When I was a young teen, some of us discussed the question, "If you had to be one or the other, would you rather be deaf or blind?"

Since I was already deaf in one ear, I figured I could handle the deafness. But blindness? Oh no. I had viewed myself as a writer since fourth grade. So, I thought, blindness would mean my life would pretty much be over. But it was just a game, anyway, kind of like asking, "Would you rather have your arm broken or your leg broken?" Yes, we asked that, too. And then we ran off to play.

Never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that one of my sons would one day become legally blind or that, later, another son would become almost totally blind (only able to perceive a little light).

So, what about my childhood fears? Were my sons' lives "over"? Not hardly.

My son who became legally blind at age nine got behind academically for a bit, while the doctors worked out a diagnosis and while we arranged to get him adaptive equipment for reading. For us, personally, as homeschoolers, getting a little behind was okay, because we could catch up on our own timetable.

I'm not going to kid you. Of course his vision loss was hard for him! He couldn't play baseball anymore, and he'd been enthusiastic and a good catcher. He couldn't see the squirrels or deer someone would point out, just outside our back door. He was no longer allowed to go out and ride his bicycle by himself, and he had been more active than his siblings, so he suddenly became less active. There were many things that he lost, but he didn't lose his personal drive, and he adapted. I don't just mean he adapted and learned other ways to do things…although he did that, too.

He adapted to the joy of life as it had become now, rather than longing for the past. That doesn't mean he doesn't occasionally wish he could drive. And if someone offered him back the vision he lost, he would gratefully take it. But he doesn’t dwell on those things. He golfs with his dad on occasion. He walks with his white cane for identification. He takes the bus to his paid internship in accounting. He takes the train or flies for business trips, by himself, always with his confident walk and his friendly smile. He's active socially, and he is a leader in a church club and in a business organization at his college.

Twelve years or so ago, his life changed, but it wasn't over.

About seven years ago, another son lost his sight at age 22. He was an artist. Within a few weeks, he couldn't drive any more, and within a few more weeks, all he could see was some light.  Naturally, he didn't get very good grades that first semester that he lost his vision; but later on, he liked to say, with a laugh, that he got better grades after he lost his vision than before. Like his younger brother, he lost many things. He lost the freedom that went with driving and the joy of his art. But like his younger brother, he didn't lose the core of who he was. He was thankful for what he had, and he trusted in God, saying, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

He laughed as much as ever, and he enjoyed crazy adventures with his friends. Where his younger brother used screen magnification, he used a screen reader. He wrote stories; was active in leadership at college; graduated; and gave speeches at churches and schools.

Seven years ago, his life changed, but it wasn't over.

As some of you know, though, four years later, his life actually was over. He died in his sleep, and no one knows for sure why. Of course, as he would tell us if he could, his life wasn't really over, but only beginning. We believe a better life awaited him, and I like to imagine it with the ability to see beauty again and with the freedom that he had lost when he could no longer drive…the freedom he had regained in spirit even before he passed away.

But the lives of all my family changed this time.

How does life change when a mother loses a son? I don't know, really, because I am only one person, only one mother. For me, in the beginning, I cried easily and often; I obsessed over things I hadn't done for him in his lifetime, especially during those recent years; I worried over things I had said to people after he died and things they said to me; and I took wrong turns while I was driving to somewhere I had been a hundred times. I once drove away from the grocery store, leaving my purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot (fortunately, I got it back).

I can't say all of that has completely gone away, but all of it happens less now. I'm still a serious person but I always was a serious person. However, I was always a lover of life, too, and I still am. I'm still friendly; I still smile; and I still laugh at my own silly jokes.

Three years ago, my life changed, but it isn't over.

If you or your children have had major life changes, your experiences might be different than ours were. Some of it depends on individuals, and I'm guessing maybe some of it also depends on the kind of changes that have occurred too.

But sometimes I think we look at what happens in other people's lives, and we think, as I did as a young teen, that we could not deal with that particular trial, that life would be "over". I wonder if that very thought is sometimes what leads to fault finding thoughts. "I couldn't deal with that, so it wouldn't happen to me, or mine, right? So, it was someone's fault, right? So, I can prevent it, right?"

While we need to exercise some caution in life, most things happen because we are human: genetics, accidents, and so on. But we aren't each going to experience all the difficult things in the world, so there is no reason to go to the defensive-offensive mode. We can just say, "I'm sorry".

Is there anything else we can do? Thank you for asking, yes. This: Please don't run away. And believe me; I know this one from both sides. I still have a tendency to run away…or to stay away, if someone is suffering or has gone through a loss. After all, I might not know what to say. I might even – gasp – say the "wrong thing". (I've been known to do that a time or two, or a dozen or...).

You know what I've found in my own life? If someone says the "wrong thing" to me, I might get hurt or annoyed, but I'm usually glad for their presence, anyway. But if they say the "wrong thing", and then they don't come around after that, then I'm more apt to dwell on the hurtful thing they said, than I would if they continued to be there for me.

So, we can put on our moccasins and try to tread softly, and we can try to walk in their moccasins. But let's not take our moccasins off and sit by our fire when our friend's life has changed. Let's keep on being there for them, and especially if they have a harder time getting around, like my son who lost vision in college and was no longer able to drive.

From my experience, another thing we can do for those who experience a major or traumatic change is to accept it. When my youngest son suddenly lost so much of his vision, many people prayed, and I really appreciated that. But after we got a diagnosis - after we found out it would be a permanent loss - a few people would respond to that by telling me to pray to this saint, or pray that novena, in order to get my son's vision back. I told them: "Thank you for your prayers. The prayers are being answered. He has accepted his loss, and he is adapting to it well."

My feeling was kind of like this: I know it hurts you. But it hurts me more than it does you. And it hurts my son more than it hurts me. But we are going to go on living life as it is now.  And we will adjust to a new normal and a new life. 

Life has changed, but it certainly isn't over.