Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Metaphysics fatigue

My mind lately is a rather pointless and wearying metaphysics hamster wheel. In December we dealt with two deaths, neither someone we were very close to, but close enough for sadness.  One young and expected, after a long fight, and one seemingly out-of-nowhere suicide that really flummoxed me.

Stuff has kept piling on as the new year gets underway, and we're kind of battle weary.

I keep coming back to my great great grandmother, Georgia.  I wrote here about my discovery of her apparently lifelong chilliness toward her granddaughter.

But I've got this kind of cognitive dissonance about her because every other clue I have says really good things.  Starting just after the Civil War, she had a passel of kids, eventually including Iola, my great grandmother. This was a hazardous era for even genetically lucky babies.  All her kids lived to grow up.  Luck certainly played its part but it still tells me something good about their mother.

Keeping the kids fed and clean and healthy doesn't necessarily mean you've nurtured their spirits, but Georgia's children were all good people, not just well-respected but well-liked.  Some I know only through anecdotes and scraps of letters and inscriptions.  A couple, I knew personally.  Their descendants are a funny and nice, sometimes charmingly weird, generally terrific bunch of cousins I see every spring at a big gathering, and some I see regularly in daily life.

Georgia disliked Iola's firstborn, but none of Georgia's children seems to have emulated it.  Iola's siblings were warm and loving toward their niece, my grandmother.   Much that was nurturing and good for Gran had to be Georgia's legacy as well. If she had a weird prejudice, her children still seem to have been able to think for themselves. What was this woman about?  Of course, what is any of us about? and the answer is complex beyond imagining.

On the metaphysical side, I want and hope, so much, to meet her.  Want and hope that in 1984, when that granddaughter, whose feelings she hurt so deeply, left this life, they were united again in a dawn of understanding and a mended love they couldn't seem to get to while they were on earth.

I guess those of us who believe in an afterlife, or crave one, see no way that any kind of balance within this universe can be achieved without that chance for reconciliation.  But call it wish fulfillment if you want to.  My comprehension of the issue is too weak and muddled to offer anything except few observations, some postulations, and maybe a shrug.   If I ever get any answers, it won't be in this life.

But when I try to focus instead on good examples of living this life, I can't avoid Georgia.  I loved my grandmother dearly, yet I can't help but feel that Gran would be glad I consider Georgia's to be a life well lived.   Life has sort of forced on me awareness of how there's a whole mysterious universe inside every person. If we flower and fade in cosmic seconds, like time-lapse photography, we are still complicated and mysterious and, I can't help but think, eternal, in a way that defies explanation.

Yeah, yeah, isn't that special. But i'm examining what others made of their lives in part because my own confounds me.  My life is easier than that of 99% of people on earth, but I am SO tired and so discouraged with how little I can do to fight the entropy, not only in Haiti or Thailand, but for those I love, or those sitting across from me.

I can sit and banter about our Hondas with a guy and not have a clue that he's weeks away from putting a gun in his mouth. I'm not down on myself about that -- he successfully hid it from his nearest loved ones -- I'm more down on the UNintelligence of this Design in which we care and are all Oh So Spiritually Interconnected but that fellowship of all creation does these massive system-fails.

I can say prayers till I'm blue in the face but a 25 year old will still lose her fight with leukemia.  Somewhere someone wakes up to a day in which their family has been wiped out in a single fire or plane crash or tsunami, yet I have the audacity to feel like crawling under the blankets and saying "I can't face another goddam Christmas dinner."  Even though I suk it up and smile and do the celebratory thing, and end the day both glad I did it, and glad it's over.

I know, it's all a reminder that none of these other peoples' lives are in my hands, and God knows, I don't want them to be.  My AA program says "Let go. Turn it over."  My own life is all I've been given to handle, but the swear words keep welling up, as in, like, Who the  %@#!  is handling things, then?

I understand those who say there's no Big Guy In Charge, this life is our responsibility, we're the ones in charge.

But we're not.  See, that's the thing.  We can get a lot better at reducing intolerance and killer pollutants, we can do vastly more to heal disease, and make the world safer and kinder, and we'll be overjoyed that we've increased humanity's health-and-happiness rate from .... whatever, the 20% that it is now, to 60-70%.  Heck, make it 90% if you want to get real optimistic, but millions will always remain at the mercy of random miseries, pain and loss too horrible to bear thinking of.

That.  Will.  Not.  Change.  Ever.

Which doesn't mean we shouldn't demand of ourselves that we shoot for that 90% rate;  only that too much will always be beyond human power.  We can't make Paradise on earth, even at our very very best.  More than the "how" of coping, I keep wondering why we all have to be so powerless and why we're so interconnected when it doesn't, and can't, solve much.

When I read Candide for a class in 1975, I adored it instantly.  It just might be my favorite banned book.   I know, opinions by literary experts abound, and it has been 30+ years since that class, but I swear, the book stopped way short of claiming any final answers about a metaphysical realm and admitted that premature claims of understanding are simply .... premature.  Voltaire himself, I dunno, but the book stopped short.

There's a kind of wonder in realizing that all of our explanations of The Meaning of Life are the equivalent of toys.  Screw self-help books, Candide is the best depression-buster I've read.  Oh and it does it with delicious sarcasm.  That didn't hurt, either.

Depression for me is mired in craving Big Answers, and I'm thinking that I need to stop needing big answers.  If we tend our gardens, we've confined our hopes to the possible. There's nothing wrong with caring about and contemplating big answers, wanting is fine, but needing them -- though I may never disable that need -- can be paralyzing.

I think Georgia tended her garden, and that's more important than whether she screwed up in one, even a hard and unjust, way.   I have to more than accept, to actually take comfort in my limitations and say, "I can't take responsibility for this. I'm depleted, ask somebody else."  And maybe I need to reread Candide for fun.

Faith is for the things that take a while.

Meanwhile, I saved the best thing I got for Valentine's Day, for this post, though i really wish the whole sentence could show in one photo. But I need to keep this in sight, because letting it take time is something I need to remember to do.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

OK, Christian conservatives. Why hasn't Santorum teed you off?

There are a couple things I usually try not to do on my blog.  One is: state the obvious.  A big news story about something (stupid / dangerous / terrible) comes out, and every writer everywhere has to do an entry about how, Yes, it really is (stupid / dangerous / terrible).  Waste of time.

I also try not to give attention to fringe people with only niche influence.  While Rick Santorum is certainly a fairly major candidate for the GOP nomination, he's too extreme -- whether you like his stances or not -- to get elected.  He's a news byte and unlikely to be more, though I guess stranger things have happened.

I'm making an exception.  Not that I have read all the response to his comments about education, so it's likely that I have nothing new to say about it, but...

Never mind his diss of educated liberals -- why aren't conservative Christians themselves outraged and insulted by his sneer at education??

For a man who has earned three degrees in three major universities to tell the rest of us that higher education is screwing up peoples' minds and values, is both absurd and one of the most noxious examples of "I deserve it;  you and your children are too stupid to use it properly."

Because that is exactly what he's saying.  His complaint that increasing opportunites for higher education makes "snobs" and Obama clones is insulting to conservatives as well as to liberals.

He -- with his 3 degrees -- would claim that post-secondary learning is a tremendous danger because the kid, who's over 18, and you, as a parent, aren't quite up to the task of navigating a place like Penn State and coming out with your values intact.

He managed to, but I guess he's much smarter than you are, which is why he thinks you not only will fail to use critical judgment in what you read and hear, but that your/your child's access to a lot of careers, like computers and business and medical technology, is best limited, to keep you from finding out that some professor doesn't believe in God.

He also thinks that you're so stupid that you can't find educational institutions aside from them Godless places.

Never mind that the list of accredited colleges is huge.  Has the Rickster even looked at the size of any college guide??

1739 pages. Six pounds.

Never mind that this hefty volume includes loads of conservative and / or parochial colleges that also offer valuable programs.

And never mind that  "college education"  is a term that envelops a big spectrum of programs, from advanced esoteric subjects to career education certification at tech college level.   Public 2-year colleges need most of their time for teaching things that get you jobs, and don't have a lot left over for advancing the atheist agenda, and are a lynchpin of the opportunity that putting education in reach is all about.

I'm not bothering with arguments as to whether there are major universities pushing a liberal agenda, because it doesn't matter how much or how little truth there is to that.  Let's grant it,  just for argument's sake.

Alternatives to such institutions abound, from smaller schools, to faith-based schools of all sizes, to 2-year colleges that are letting hardworking and highly motivated people gain careers and be part of the dream.

Perhaps he would find comfort in discovering that liberals and Democrats will not select your college for you.

From the National Center for Education Statistics comes an important thing to ponder:
 From 1998–99 to 2008–09, the number of associate's degrees earned by Hispanics more than doubled (increasing by 101 percent), and the number earned by Black students increased by 77 percent, while the number earned by White students increased by 28 percent.
These are people who want a life for their families and the chance to make a difference in the community.  People whose parents work long hours and collect aluminum cans by the roadside to build tuition money and a better life for their kids.  But even with multiple jobs, tuition is getting beyond the reach of the many of the best, most valuable people who could contribute vastly more to this country with developed skills.

If he thinks that faith depends on keeping education levels low, what Christian wouldn't find that insulting in the extreme?

Elitism?  He patronizes people of faith this way, and has the gall to complain about elitism?

Every Christian conservative who has a college education, or wants one for their kid, who has spent 18 years teaching that child values, who thinks he or his child, or both, is bright enough to make choices, should be up in arms about this attack on their ability to think and discern.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Don't cry

When you go to any Twelve-Step group meeting, you notice something.  The room has a box of Klee--  oops, sorry, shouldn't use trademark as generic term -- a box of Facial Tissues located in some sort of central spot.  And if someone bursts into tears, which has been known to happen, they go grab a handful.  Nobody gets up or hands it to them or comes over to hug and pat and say "There there."

The idea is both that the person needs to cry, and that the rest of us need to not impede it by rushing over and "helping them" get back under control faster.  That's not as harsh as it sounds, since sympathy and empathy are fine in 12-step, but comforting can too often be a way to get you to stop crying before you're ready.

12-step is absolutely not comfort-less.  A lot of good "I understand" and "I've been there" happens and it helps you get your mind and heart working together instead of at cross-purposes.  But breaking that traditional rush to console is one of the many lessons in living and thinking differently, which 12-step programs are trying to teach.   There are things normal people can do that alcoholics/addicts just cannot, however unfair that is and however much that sux.  Things like: have a really hard gut-wrenching day and say "I wanna tie one on."  Or, indulge in self-pity.

And say, or expect to hear, "Don't cry."

The program can occasionally sound absurd, like, is every freakin' ordinary little thing wrong now?!  One friend actually felt guilty about doing crossword puzzles because she was using them to "avoid her issues."  Sheesh.  I mean, come on.  But the thing about this new way of thinking is that it asks only that you look at your coping mechanisms, not that you dump them entire.  You see plenty of people smoking multiple packs a day to stay off the sauce.  It's only about how some overuse of innocuous comforts can slow your progress.

What we learn is that a lot of us have done too much of the not-crying thing, under parental or cultural pressure to not express sadness, to not grieve, to Man Up, stop being childish, etc etc.

So one of the 12-step things you hear is that "Don't cry" can be part of that, and is awfully tempting to say as a false show of caring and support,  when somebody's crying makes you squirm and want to bolt.

True.  True true true,  I have to acknowledge this before I complain about it, because dismissing 12-step wisdom (or saying a teaching doesn't apply in this or that situation) is like a writer breaking grammar rules.  You have to master the wisdom and work it awhile before you have the discernment in place to legitimately discard it.

One of my favorite parents'-generation relatives ran a daycare when I was a teenager and hired me on as a classroom assistant, and I recall some of the lessons she was trying to teach kids about not getting hysterical over a scrape or bump or altercation with another kid.  I remember one little girl who was on the edge of a giant meltdown over a banged knee and my cousin talking her through it while she bandaged the scrape, distracting with sympathy and kindness until the wailing danger passed.

When does "Don't cry" prevent us from processing feelings, and when is it teaching us to shift into reasoned problem-solving mode?  To apply it takes that discernment.

But "Don't cry" becomes one of those Old Behaviors that I'm willing to say I miss.  I miss the days when collapsing in tears brought a heartfelt and caring "Don't cry."  I miss the comforting version, the one that means "It's going to be OK.  It's not a disaster.  You don't need to be so sad."  It's been tossed along with the "Stop sniveling" version.

Like wrecking my blood sugar with stress eating, or shrieking "Screw everything!" it's one of the old behaviors that I can't say is always bad, much less possible to completely overcome.  Nobody would expect that, but what I sometimes miss are the days when i didn't have to think about it.  There's something about the default "Don't cry" that I miss as much as I miss or embrace other comforts that range from unrealistic (and embarrassing) like J. D. Robb mysteries and Eight Is Enough, to downright harmful, like the days of being a young child on car trips without being trussed up in a car seat.