Friday, September 30, 2011

A Dog Tale

There is a certain economy with cats that you do not find with dogs.  Cats lick and clean and lick and clean and learn to use a litter box with very little instruction.  They deposit headless gifts at the doorstep and do cough up the occasional hairball, but all in all they are quite self-sufficient. 
Dogs, however, cannot bathe themselves and so require the back-breaking efforts of their masters (Read that:  me.) who refuse to spend fifty plus bucks for the professionals to do it.  I have to wonder what our collie would actually look like in the wild.  I suppose he would eventually possess collie dreadlocks and have ratted hair domiciles for ride-along creatures, both plant and animal.  But since our domesticated canine lives inside with us, is loved as the fifth son, has neighborhood appearances to keep up, and stinks, I must do his bathing for him.  Today was that day.
As a preamble to the bath, I took JD for a run (Read that:  I bike and he trots.).  This is a new venture for me.  Kelly has been exercising him like this ever since his latest leg problems have made park romps difficult.  This was my third time out, and I was gaining confidence.  That is until JD jerked me to a stop—a stop that almost left me splayed in the street.  Apparently, when the urge to poop hits him, he just stops.  My stopping was not as efficient. 
After his exercise, he was too tired to resist my man-handling efforts to drag him into the tub,  Typically, I must back him into the bathroom (as if he doesn’t know what is coming), lift the back legs in first, and then body slam him in, keeping one foot of mine in the tub and the other out.   So I have stumbled on the new method of “exhaustion,” which I will henceforth call superior planning. 
After soaking his long hair and exposing the skinny form that he really is, I proceeded to shampoo him with his Paul Mitchell pet product.  Only the best!  Layers and layers of coat are lifted and scrubbed and rinsed and rinsed again.  Meanwhile, my back burns and reconsiders the fifty bucks.  I have tried to sit on the toilet lid to get a rest, but the idiot who designed these new mini-flush toilets was brilliant enough to be environmentally conscious but too stupid to make a lid that does not collapse when the dog washer needs to sit.
Having done the dirty deed—or clean deed, I suppose—I proceed to the drying part.  This is no easy feat since JD knows the torture is almost over, and he becomes an expert scrambler, even with the towel covering his eyes.  Several times over with the towel and several shaking showers later, he is not approximating dry, but at least he is not dripping.  My walls are dripping a bit, though, since I have never convinced him to wait for his shake till he is safely outdoors. 
It has been a tiring dog day, and said dog is now sleeping peacefully on the cashmere Mongolian rug, allowing his wet dog smell to settle into it nicely.  I, in the meantime, am putting off doing my class corrections and am dreading the combing out which comes next.  Every brushing produces a miniature dog in fluff, and still there is more hair.  And then comes the vacuuming. 
Okay, I’ve stalled enough:  On to work!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Cat Story--An Austrian Tail or Tale!

My son Adam is in Austria, awaiting the arrival of his dear wife.  In the meantime, the cats arrived first by freight.  This is the saga of Adam's trip to Munich to pick the critters up.  :-)

I got to the train station at 6:30 a.m., an hour early, and noticed to my surprise that there was a train departing right then for Munich. Quick as a wink, I jumped on only to discover too late that this was a regional train that was going to stop at every doggone village in the entirety of Austria before getting to Munich. Furthermore, it's Octoberfest; so at each village, the train gets more and more crowded with people in costume and getting some advanced drinking in (and often with kids). Apparently for Octoberfest, gals dress up like slutty dairymaids and guys dress up like extras for the Nutcracker, either that or Willie Wonka.
Anywho, I neglected to write down the name of the cargo agency on my piece of paper, which was bad luck; but I did figure out at the last second that the stop before domestic travel was for the cargo companies, which was good luck.
The cats had not been processed when I found the right place, which was mildly bad luck; so I was directed to the cafeteria for some lunch, which was mildly good luck, as I was hungry. Ate the worst, most unnameable sandwich I've ever encountered, which was bad luck, went back to the cargo people to discover that they wanted me to pay them for holding paperwork done elsewhere with the money I'd just spend on lunch, which was worse luck, and they let me know that I could get cash out at a point they were able to point to on the distant horizon, which was worse luck still. And, of course, my stupid Austrian bank has still not given me a bank card, so I'm praying that they accept my American one, etc.
I come back, and a woman whose job is all and only to direct people from her office to customs gives me the wrong address for customs. I eventually find customs, which directs me to a warehouse whose address can only be seen when you are already inside it (think George McDonald's fairies).
I finally am greeted by Gloria and Garfunkel and proceed to do the first round of Dantean penance, which is carrying these shifty, heavy, loud, tortured beasts. I find my way back to the city train terminal; and since I hadn't learned my lesson last time, I jump on the first train that's headed to the Ostbahnoff station that I want to get to. Unfortunately, I did not know that there are two city trains that go from the airport to the bigger train stations and I just got on the wrong one, the one going the long way around the city before getting to those stations.
Meanwhile, the cats cry every time the automated female voice comes on to announce the next stop (on the off chance that it is Monica no doubt).  They cry whenever the doors open, they cry whenever someone pays attention to them, and they cry whenever anyone tells them "shh" or the German equivalent. The entire train is full of ridiculously dressed Germans going to Octoberfest who hate cats, except for the one out of ten who take pity on them (which, of course, causes them to cry louder). 
I get off the city train to find that my train to Innsbruck has left without me. Get on the next train to Innsbruck, am told by the conductor that I need to go further back in the train, not, as one might guess because I accidentally got on in first class (I was already in a second class car), but rather, because I had cats, and that meant for some reason that I must go to the back of the train.
I go several cars back, hands aching with the weight of the cats, only to be told a second time by the conductor (whose version of speaking English is speaking German sentences very slowly) to go to the back. So, I go to the back of the back, only to discover cars that have no room anywhere for cat crates. OK. So, I stack them in the space adjoining two cars and have to stand next to them until we get to Austria and enough people have gotten off to put them side by side. At this point, I discover the only thing that will shut up the cats:  the attention of little children.
Between one and three children, as well as an asthmatic old man, decided the cats were the best thing ever and between that and a louder train, noisy cats ceased to be an issue. At which point, I tried to steer an Irish psychologist living in France away from the topic of refugees as he seemed to think we had too many, which I thought was a little ironic.
Anyway, we finally get to Innsbruck, and I carry the little creatures the mile or so to the apartment, taking frequent breaks to wring out my hands. During one of these breaks, a local tried to buy one off of me to please his girlfriend / wife.
They are now safe and sound in the apartment and have addressed all necessary biological functions and have located the litter box. They rather like looking out at the world from the patio and are grateful to be able to move around, though I get the vague sense that they're wondering where Monica is.

Thus ends the Austrian tale.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Portrait on the Wall

Sometimes the beautifully touched up photography on our walls is not indicative of the real life that is happening.  Accountability.  Community.  We really need each other behind the portraits to help us become the kind of people and families that God desires us to be.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cloudy Days are Lilly Days

Friday, September 23, 2011, was a wonderful day for cloud chasers like myself.  I was standing on the second story landing at the school, waiting for our workshop group to arrive.  Snapping pictures, as always, on such a blustery day, I started seeing a peculiar cloud formation.  I have seen these in books, but I can't remember ever seeing them in person.  They are mammatus clouds and speak of severe weather in the area.

These pouch-like clouds (think mammary!) form on the underside of the anvil blow-off from a severe cumulonimbus (think thunderhead!)  They should tell the viewer to seek shelter because they form only in a moist unstable level in the atmosphere.  They demonstrate instability flowing in a downward direction.  And if they do not weaken, they could portend very severe weather.  As it was, there were clouds fomenting all around the mammatus and a lightning show on the horizon.  It was fun to watch it form.

What was kind of scary was the sound track to this show--that is, other than the rumbling thunder in the distance.  I could hear music being played outside and the laughter of kids, who apparently were having some kind of supervised outing nearby.  I was getting ready to go and tell them they ought to be looking at the sky and taking shelter.  Lightning may seem far away, but in a breath it can be near.  These Californians!

And here are some more shots from that day:

The rain looks like it is coming from the ground up!  So weird.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Behind the Headlines

“Three fast-food workers were found shot to death Wednesday . . .”
 “An explosion caused by a leaking propane tank leveled a house, killing a woman . . .” 
“A young actor was found dead in a hotel . . .”
 “A former long-haul trucker was executed by injection Wednesday for raping and stabbing three women . . .”
 “One body was discovered Wednesday in the wreckage of a pair of collapsed buildings . . .”
How many deaths was that—four, five, no seven?  I scanned the news in the local paper as I sipped my hot coffee and nibbled the remaining crust of my whole grain toast.  How could I just sit there eating—so uninvolved, so unaffected by the suffering of so many?  Did the weight of all that pain only justify a few lines of ink and newsprint, read today, tossed tomorrow?  I had become callused, hardened, I suppose, by the constant barrage of reported crime, death, accident, and war.  I’d become somewhat immune to the suffering of sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.  People just like me. 
I wondered if someone had picked up the Atlanta paper in May of 1979, and over coffee, skimmed the tiny headline about a young man in a motorcycle accident who spilled half his bright red blood on Bankhead Highway.
My eighteen-month-old son was in his highchair, screaming and pasting spaghetti to his hair.  The phone rang.  A woman identified herself as a nurse from Cobb County General Hospital:  “Your husband has been involved in a motorcycle accident.  He may have a broken leg.”  I proceeded to ask perfunctory questions, and she proceeded to give directions and very little specifics.
I knew in my heart it was bad.  My mind flashed an image of Kelly flying through the air.  My son still screamed.  I felt numb.  Immediately, I arranged for a baby sitter and a ride to the hospital.  I didn’t dare drive.  I moved in and out of a haze of tears and desperate “please Gods.” 
Word spread, and friends gathered, keeping the long vigil with me on hard plastic waiting room chairs.  Tears, phone calls, prayers, blurred conversations, heaviness on my chest.  We waited and waited and waited.
I saw him for a brief moment as they wheeled him down the hall to recovery in ICU.  He was barely lucid, sunken, gray, and vacant, but he was alive.  And he still had his leg—what was left of it. 
This was the beginning, the beginning of numerous reconstructive surgeries, infection, physical and spiritual pain, depression, physical and spiritual therapy.  For others, the crisis was over.  They moved on to the next headline.  But for us, the crisis ebbed and flowed for months and years and still affects our lives today.  The newspaper headline became an archive while the pain wore on.
Are we like the ancient Romans and their gladiators; do we get some kind of vicarious pleasure out of the suffering of others?  Or is it just that we hold headlines at an emotional distance, cluck our tongues, and inwardly thank God that this tragedy didn’t touch our home?
“Five perish on deadly day in Valley.”
“Twelve special-needs adults suffered minor injuries when the bus they were riding in collided with a vehicle . . .”
“A man was killed Thursday morning when he allegedly ran a red light . . .”
I can’t help in every situation.  I may not be in a position to touch directly the lives I read about, but I need to care.  I need to deeply care that someone in my community this night comes home to an empty house—comes home to a future alone after great loss.  Someone faces months of protracted pain and recovery and so many “whys.”  There is someone weighted with guilt over choices made and consequences earned, someone who wishes they could relive the moments.
 I need to care.   I need to pray for the peace of God to intervene and invade these broken lives, these broken hearts.  I can pray in a knowing way, as I remember what it feels like to live behind the headlines.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hope and Despair

Hope and despair,
side by side, comingled like lovers,
estranged but intimate--
of necessity joined
in a world that feeds both.
Hope looks beyond to the "other"--
promised, longed for.
Despair looks to what is,
heavy and real--
the pressing darkness
of a world given to
thorns, labor, and frustration.
Complications and too many too manys.
Where is the pillar of fire that leads?
Where is the cloud that calls us on?
Where is the still small voice in this hurricane?
If You, Holy One, are a resident guest,
why does my faith-walk seem like a script I'm reading,
rather than a life I'm living?

Lilly 9-19-11

In You, oh Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in Your righteousness.
Turn Your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Ps. 31:1-2