short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Find a Way to Express the Situation Humorously

Raising two multiple-handicapped children has had its moments of stress. At times, it has been very natural to wish for a traditional family and "normal" (if one can define "normal") children. That was not to be, of course. Dealing with problem situations humorously has been the easiest way to ease the stress.

Whenever I would have trouble finding the humor in a situation, I would think of the experience of my friend, Susan (not her real name), and her consultation with a very wise psychiatrist. Remember his words always brought forth laughter -- for both of us.

Susan was in an even worse situation than I was. At one point, her daughter had been diagnosed with childhood diabetes -- a false alarm -- and her son had a very real, very rare, and very life-threatening immune system deficiency (previously colloquially referred to as "bubble baby" syndrome) that required daily doctor visits for years. Yet, she continued to work, and together with her husband, they managed all their problems.

Then, her husband developed cancer. The local Pittsburgh doctors could not help. They gave her husband six months to live. Susan decided to take him to an oncologist in Philadelphia. Taking their children with them, they locked up their home and left, not knowing when they would return. The oncologist in Philadelphia was quite talented, and after several weeks of treatment, it appeared that Susan's husband might have a shot at a somewhat longer life than previously predicted. Although months of cancer treatment would still be needed, further treatment could be carried out at home in Pittsburgh.

With some relief but also with some continuing concerns, Susan, her husband, and children returned home. There they found that someone had broken into their house, and nearly everything they owned was gone. When and how it had happened, no one seemed to know.

Considering this the final straw, Susan did some research to determine who was considered the best psychologist in the area. She made an urgent appointment with him.

The next day she found herself in the psychiatrist's office, explaining her situation. With no deliberation, he looked at her and said, "I don't know how to help you, and I'm not going to charge you. If I were in your shoes, I would go out and have myself a well earned nervous breakdown."

Whether or not his words were meant to be a joke does not matter. She took them that way and had a very long laugh. Whenever life's complications seemed overwhelming, she thought about that well earned nervous breakdown to which she had a right, would decide not to exercise her right at the moment, and the stress would sneak away.

She shared this experience with me. When the stress of raising several "special" children threatened to overwhelm, I, too, would think about the well earned nervous breakdown which I had the right to choose or not choose, and I each time I chose the laughter.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Accept the Blame Even When the Fault Is Not Yours

One of the hardest things to do is accept blame. It is hard enough to do when it is one's own fault. It is even harder to do when someone else causes the problem. The more typical reaction is to blame the other person and expect some changed behavior from that person. Instead, one often meets denial, defense, and anger, and a bad situation has turned into an impossible one.

The movie, Sommersby, with Jodie Foster and Richard Gere tells the story of Jack Sommersby, who returns home after spending time in prison -- only the returnee is not jack Sommersby but a schoolteacher from another county who looks just like him and has taken on his identity. For those who do not know the story, the new Jack Sommersby turned out to be a kind and humane man, unlike the real Jack Sommersby. One of his kindest acts is to help slave laborers who Sommersby's land to earn their own lots. Unfortunately, he is brought to trial as the real Jack Sommersby for a crime that warrants the death penalty. If he admits he is not the real Jack Sommersby, he will live, but the laborers will lose their land. He makes the decision to accept the blame for a crime that he did not commit. Like the true hero of A Tale of Two Cities, he expects that "it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

We may never be called upon to show the courage required to accept a level of blame that demands the payment of our lives. We do, however, often run into situations where accepting blame and not insisting that we are right (when we really, truly are right) is the better part of valor, better for those we are dealing with and better for ourselves, too.

I have a friend, a self-effacing immigrant with less than perfect English skills, who personifies the idea of accepting blame even when she is not at fault. When something goes wrong -- she is given an incorrect order, she gets the wrong change, or someone ignores her in line -- she apologizes.

At first, when I heard her do it, I thought that her English was deficient and she had not understand. Then, when I realized that this was not the case, I thought that she did not have the courage to stand up for her own rights. After watching her for a number of months and in a number of instances, I learned that she had greater courage. She had the courage to subordinate her need for being right (and feeling virtuous) to someone else's need to save face. As a result, she almost always gets what she is after, and both she and the other person feel good about what has transpired.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Act and React within a Broad Perspective

I have not posted anything from my vignettes book for a while. Figured it might be time!

Far too often, we consider the impact of the moment only. How things affect us right now tends to be more important than how they fit into the bigger scheme of things. In fact, when one is irritated, angry, disappointed, or threatened, it is very difficult to see the larger picture. Yet, that is precisely when it is most important to keep things in perspective.

My younger daughter, Noelle, copes with spina bifida, a neurological defect that, among other things, has left her with full paralysis below the waist. However, she has nearly always kept matters in perspective. Taking a broad perspective has allowed her to lead a fairly normal life -- attend local schools, go to college, work part-time, play (including roller-skating), and the like. In fact, her ability to take a broader view of things has at times quite surprised the medical profession.

A few years ago, she was sitting in a wheelchair, not paying much attention to her feet. First, she was not used to a wheelchair, having used long-leg braces for ambulation up until that time, and second, she does not feel her feet. As a result, when she accidentally caught her small toe in the spokes of the chair's wheel, she did not notice and ended up tearing the toe nearly off. Amputation was the only resolution of the problem.

Clearly, the doctor who amputated felt sorry for Noelle and wanted to help her through her feelings of loss. However, Noelle had no feelings of loss.

"Are you missing your toe?" asked the doctor. What she meant to ask was whether Noelle was feeling bad that the toe had to be amputated.

Noelle, already looking at the situation from the broader perspective, took the doctor's words literally. "Yep," she replied. "It's all gone."

Somewhat taken aback, the doctor clarified. "No, I meant, do you miss having a toe there?"

To that Noelle replied, "I have never felt that toe. How can I miss something I never knew I had?"

I learned the lesson of acting within a broad perspective even more dramatically from Dr. John Blanco, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Virginia Hospital (referred to in some of my writings, those that are pseudonymized, as Virginia State Hospital). At the time, I was the American guardian for Shura Ivanovich, who illustrated my vignettes book. I had brought him to the United States from Siberia, where he was not being adequately treated for spina bifida. Like my daughter's, his legs were also paralyzed but not as extensively. He was able to ambulate with crutches alone. However, as a result of inadequate care, both of his legs had become gangrenous, and the flesh on his feet had been eaten away.

Bringing Shura to the United States took nearly a year. The American Embassy in Moscow required incredible amounts of paperwork -- notes from the doctors in Siberia and notes and faxes from American doctors. Even then, the visa was denied, and I went to Moscow personally to intercede. Some of the embassy personnel were former students of mine, and they vouched for my sincerity and honesty to the consular officers. Finally, we had the visa, but Shura's condition had worsened. He was in the hospital. It took another couple of months before he was stable enough to move, during which time the gangrene worsened.

Once in the United States, Shura's first need was orthopedic care, which Dr. Blanco donated. What was needed was unfortunately very clear: a double amputation. The gangrene by then had taken over both legs, requiring amputation at the knee for one leg and amputation at the calf for the other. Shura took it in stride and readily gave permission. I, however, was devastated. I had to know the impact of the delay in getting the visa on the need for amputation.

"Could you have saved Shura's legs if we had brought him here a year earlier?" I asked. I thought I knew the answer. However, Dr. Blanco understood what was behind the question and gave me both an honest answer and a broader perspective.

"Perhaps I could have saved one of the legs," he replied. "The other leg was probably in poor shape even a year ago although I might have been able to save more of it. The important thing, however, is not whether getting him here earlier would have saved his legs. Rather, getting him here now saved his life."

A leg or a life -- that is a rather vivid way to describe what a broader perspective means.


Excerpted and adapted from a collection of vignettes I published, copyright 2003.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Bear Witness to the Light

One of the blogs on my blogroll has disappeared. Well, disappeared may be the wrong word. The blog is still there, but no posts have been posted in nearly two months. Fr. John Sullivan, Springfield, Massachusetts, posted regularly on his blog, Bear Witness to the Light. He was a kindly priest as I found out in his responses to my occasional comments. After a full month of seeing nothing posted, I became concerned. It did not seem that someone who had posted regularly for seven years would close down a blog without a word. One would expect to at least a final, good-bye post, but Fr. John's last blog was simply a routine post in keeping with his other posts. Something seemed wrong. No matter how I added two and two, I was not getting close to four.

So, I did a little research. After all, in a former life (uh, career), I was a pretty good academic. Therefore, I know how to research. So, off I went in search of one missing priest. And I found him, well, sort of. It turns out that Fr. John was injured by the tornado that flattened Springfield in June. He suffered a separated shoulder and broken leg and required surgery. He will be in a rehabilitation facility for a while.

In addition, St. Michael's Retired Priest Residence, where Fr. John was living, was damaged by the tornado. In fact, a good part of it was reduced to rubble. So, even when Fr. John is released to another residence, there is a likelihood that he will not have a computer for a while. (Of course, this is quite secondary to his health.)

I also tracked down an address where cards can be sent:

Fr. John Sullivan
St Michaels Cathedral Rectory
86 Wendover Rd
Springfield, MA 01118

So, if you happen to also be a reader of Fr. John's blog, you might want to send a card to him! I am going to try to send this information to all his followers -- if I can track down there email addresses. I ask you to pass along the information to any of his blog followers you might know.

Whether or not you know Fr. John, have interacted with him in the blogosphere or not, I would ask you to pray for him. I am sure he can use our prayers!

posted on all Mahlou blogs

About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.