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Archive for June, 2009

Crisis Of Faith

I’m breaking away from discussions about my Mom for this post. Well, mostly – she’s going to come up, but not as the main thrust.

I’ve been somewhat struck lately by a need to reaffirm my faith. Not faith in the way that mainstream America would consider to be a “conventional” kind of faith. Not the typical Judeo-Christian kind of faith, which, due mostly to the utter hypocrisy that I see from most who claim such faith, I have little or no use for. I believe that I can honestly say that it would take less than my ten fingers to count the number of true Christians I have met in my lifetime. For their sake, I will say for the record that when you do meet a true Christian, you will find that person to be one of the most amazing people you could ever hope to meet. You’ll forgive me for going down this road, but I need to state the things that I don’t believe in, and why, before I state the things that I do believe in, but that I find a need to reaffirm for myself these days.

I meet so many “Christians” who claim that they know without any doubt what their God expects of them. Thus, they go about their daily lives, reviling this group of people, condemning another group of people, looking down their noses at the poor, the hungry, the homeless. There is one so-called “Christian” preacher who is well known for his “God hates fags” slogan. Excuse me, but isn’t Christianity supposed to be a religion of tolerance? You don’t see many gay Christians (yes, there is such a thing, believe it or not), walking around carrying signs that read, “God hates heteros.”

My point is that as a whole, denominational religions tend to be very self-righteous and judgmental of anyone who does not believe exactly the same things that they believe. Here in America, that religious group tends to be the fundamental Christians. As a whole, they give hypocrisy a whole new level of meaning.

I was taught the spiritual practices of the Northern Cree people. While I was brought up Catholic, I rejected that religion quite early on, though I was required by my mother to attend mass regularly. Once I left home, I turned my back on Catholicism completely. The reasons for that are not important. For quite some time, I led a life with no spiritual practices at all, really. Then finally, I came to recognize the importance of those practices, of the existence of that faith in one’s life. It was at that point that I took up the regular practice of my Cree beliefs.

While mine is essentially an “Earth-based” faith, I do believe in a Creator, a Great Spirit who was responsible for the creation of the universe that we inhabit. However, unlike the other deities that I’m familiar with, mine has laid down no laws or rules to follow. Rather, I am guided through my life to always try and do the right things, the things that will please Creator.

Traditional teachings are as relevant today as they were in the time of my Ancestors. They are blueprints for human behavior – they connect us to the teachers of the natural and supernatural worlds, celestial beings, plants, animals, earth, air, fire, water – respected equals, in other words, whose unique traits provide models for living in a “good way.” There are lessons to be learned from both the secular and supernatural worlds – to be passed down from generation to generation through songs, drumming, stories, sharing, caring, medicine wheel teachings and ceremony.

These days, though, like many people of almost any faith do at some point, I find myself wondering if my faith is strong enough. My mother is dying of cancer. Her faith is not the same faith as mine, and I’m finding it difficult to reconcile the two spiritual worlds. It seems as though it should be simple: She will go to be with “THE” Supreme Being. There really is only one, in my opinion. Call that being God, Creator, Allah, Yahweh, Buddha, whatever; it’s all the same thing, you’re just using different names. And yet, I find myself worried and a bit taken aback. I criticize those “other” beliefs for not recognizing that theirs is not a monopoly on spirituality, yet here I am, worried that my mother may not make a safe journey to the other side because she doesn’t follow the teachings of the Cree elders.

When I rejected my Catholicism, I didn’t view it as a “crisis of faith,” and I still don’t. Rather, it was a rejection of religious authoritarianism. I eventually made my way to a set of spiritual beliefs and practices that are anything but authoritarian. There was a time when I thought that my faith was strong enough to reassure me that Creator would bring home anyone who crossed over, no matter their belief system. Now, I find that my faith is perhaps a little less than that strong.

As I’ve prayed about this, I’ve found that the more time I spend praying about it, the less assured I become in my beliefs. That is more than a little unnerving for me. I go out and pray twice a day, at sunrise and sunset, and each time, I come away feeling a bit less sure of myself.

All of this self-doubt comes at a time when I’ve been honored immensely. At the request of several people, I will be the leader of a sweat lodge ceremony, something that is only done by a person who is either a medicine person, or an elder. I have to wonder, did this request come because I need to do this in order to reaffirm my own faith by trying to teach others? Given my seeming lack of faith, do I have any right at all to be attempting to lead these people in a sweat lodge ceremony? How can I help them to learn more about their own faith, when my own is in question right now?

What the hell is happening to me?

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And It Continues

First, I’ve changed the title format of these posts about my Mom. Reality Check is beginning to get on my nerves. And if my readers can’t figure out that a post is about her then, well – they shouldn’t be trying to read grown up stuff.

I went to see her last Wednesday. I would have written about that visit before now, but I’ve been pretty busy. She will be going for her third chemo session tomorrow. After that, there will be three more.

The chemo is wearing her down. The last two times that I’ve gone to see her, she was upstairs in bed, propped up on pillows and watching television. There is a small table now set up next to her side of the bed, with all of her medications, books, a lamp, writing materials, etc. For the most part, I think that she is camped out in bed. Her hair is now gone, and for someone who doesn’t care about it, she will not take the scarf off of her head – even when it’s just her and my step dad there.

We’ve begun to talk about a myriad of little things when we find ourselves alone together, like a long overdue letter that I needed to write to one of my aunts for something that she did for me a long time ago. It’s one of those things that probably doesn’t matter in the long run, but feels very important. Sometimes, saying, “Thank you” for help and guidance is extremely important. I asked her for my aunt’s mailing address, and told her that I needed to write to her. She said, “B***?” I replied, “Yes,” and she said, “My B***?” I again replied, “Yes.” She wanted to know what I needed to write to her about. When I explained it, she was quite surprised at the whole thing. I think, though, that she was also grateful to her sister.

Watching my mother right now causes a strange mixture of feelings. It’s a painful thing to watch her. Until very recently, she was a lively, almost hyperactive woman. If you pissed her off – and I have a knack for doing that sometimes – her voice could overpower any other noise in the room. When they moved to the apartment where they now live, I watched her first pack, and then unpack with an energy level that was utterly amazing. When I think about that move, it strikes me that this fucking cancer was already at work in her body, with the sole purpose of gaining enough of a foothold to kill her.

There are other times, though, times that are becoming a bit more frequent each time I visit her, when I can feel us growing closer. For the sake of those who may have stumbled in here, and don’t know the back story, my family has never really been all that close.  Even though I live just ten miles from my parents, I would go months without visiting them. They didn’t expect it of me. So, when I say that my Mom and I are growing closer as we walk this path that she’s been put on, it is really a feeling that I haven’t experienced since I was a little boy. Honestly, it’s been something of a very bittersweet experience. I enjoy the closeness, I enjoy telling her that I love her, and hearing her tell me the same thing. I enjoy kissing the top of her head before I leave, even if it is through a scarf.

I feel as though I’ve found my mother again, after a long absence. That absence was, to be blunt, almost entirely my fault. But then, I’ve been operating under the assumption that my mother is immortal.

I know differently now, and I’m not going to squander the time that I have left with her.

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I visited my Mom the other day, mainly to deliver her trout to her. I got there in the afternoon, and she was upstairs in bed. She was tired, but wanted to visit a bit. She’d been through another round of chemotherapy that morning. She was propped up in bed watching television, with a scarf wrapped around her head. My mother has never been a vain woman, but the loss of her hair is bothering her, no matter what she might say.

At any rate, I told her that her trout were in the freezer. She asked me if they were small ones, and I said yes – these are her favorite. Then she said something that struck me as kind of funny. She asked me where I caught them, and I told her that they came from the brook behind my house. She asked, “Is it clean?”

Now, I understand why someone would ask that these days. Even here in Vermont, with its reputation for being pure and pristine, pollution is an issue – a very large issue in some places. There are advisories in effect concerning certain species of fish, and how much of it is safe to eat every month. In the central part of the state, where I live, I avoid fishing almost all of the lakes – they’re simply too polluted. There are a couple that are still quite clean, but the problem is growing. As for the rivers and streams, well, farm runoff has done a nice job of destroying many of them. In all honesty, it’s getting hard to find a decent place to fish in this area.

So I understand why my Mom would ask me about the water that those trout came from. On the other hand, this came from a woman who, on the day that she told me that she’s dying of lung cancer, sat on the sofa with an oxygen tube in her nose and a cigarette in her hand. When I looked at the cigarette, and then gave her “the look,” she said, “What? There’s no point in quitting now, is there?” In other words, I’m going to die, probably sooner rather than later, so why worry about it?

When she asked me about the trout, all I could think was, “Why is she worried about mercury in the fish? I seriously doubt it would accumulate enough to kill her before the cancer does.”

Something that I’ve been pleased to see is that her family has been rallying around her. They aren’t there constantly – they know that would more likely than not just serve to piss her off. But each time I visit, she’ll tell me that someone who lives out of state has called her, or my sister stopped by, or one of my uncles. They’re stopping by and checking in on her. This is good, because I think it does both her and them good to be able to have time together. If they get anything near what I get out of my visits to her, then they’re getting a lot.

Oh, the title of this post. I now have a mission – at least, as long as trout season is open. I’ll be making sure that my Mom always has a package of trout in her freezer. She doesn’t need much, her appetite is pretty much shot right now. But I’ll make sure she has a few fish in the freezer through the summer. It’s not much of a mission. But it’s something I can do for her – a simple little thing that gives her a little bit of pleasure.

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Seeking Your Opinions

Okay, so I’ve found something that I think works for me. What I’d like from you folks who read me is a concensus about whether or not this works for you. Is this a readable theme for you? Is it easy to navigate? Do you like it better than the old dark theme? Please, leave me a comment, and let me know. Thanks!

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A Short Aside

For those of you who have a difficult time reading this blog, I truly apologize to you. I did try switching out to a different theme, with a black font on a white background. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t give me the options that I want in the sidebar. And in order for me to modify the theme, which is quite easy with css, I have to pay for a custom css upgrade. Sorry, not doing that. I’ve played with several, but so far, I’ve not found one that I’m happy with.

I promise you, I’m still trying to find one that will combine ease of use with the features that I want.

On another note, I have a favor to ask. I’ll be putting this link in the sidebar, but I want to mention it here, also. If you feel so inclined, please visit the following site: Write Bite, take a look around for LupinePredator, and “bite me.” When you “bite” something that I’ve posted there, it’s a vote, and if I get enough votes, I get paid for the articles that I posted during the week. You’ll have to register to “bite me,” but it’s free registration – that’s right, you can bite me for free – and you’ll be helping me to try and earn a little extra cash…

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I went to see Mom again yesterday. She seems to be doing okay, except that her hair is beginning to fall out from the chemo and radiation. There’s some interesting things to say about that, actually.

My step-dad tells me that she feels like he’ll be embarrassed to be seen with her, because she’s losing her hair. No matter how he tries to reassure her, he says, it’s still there. Now, I know my step-dad, but more importantly, my Mom knows him. The fact that she’s losing her hair is not going to change the way he feels about her, or how he views her. She knows this. But, this is America, and in our infinite wisdom, we have made it very clear that a woman who has no hair is not a desirable woman. She is somehow less than other women.

What’s interesting is that I had the opportunity to talk to my step-dad alone yesterday. He let me know that this is really bothering her. A little while later, I was talking to Mom. She mentioned the fact that her hair is falling out, and I said, “So?” Her response was, “Oh, I don’t give a shit about it.” Ever the tough old Irish matriarch, I suppose…

I’ve been writing this blog with something of a misconception, I think. I’ve tried, a few times, to convey my feelings about my Mom. I’ve felt frustrated, because I don’t quite know how to get across to my very limited list of readers how I really feel about her, just how much she means to me. Today, I was struck with something. This requires a bit of a set up.

When I visited yesterday, I told her that I was planning to go and do some fishing this Friday. As I’ve told a friend, her eyes kind of lit up, and she asked if I was going trout fishing. I had not been intending to go after trout specifically, but I didn’t say anything about that. She asked me if I’d bring her a few smaller trout. Mom has always loved her fresh trout. I told her that sure, I could do that, no problem.

This morning, I went out to a small stream near the house, and I caught a few small trout. I cleaned and dressed them, and froze them for her. I’ll bring them to her in a day or two. But the point of the story is this:

Mom asked me to do something for her. Something that would give her a very small comfort pleasure. She can have a couple of nice little meals of freshly caught trout. And bringing the circle back…

I’ve been writing under the pressure of trying to explain to all of you who read this blog just what it means to love someone the way that I love my Mom. While I was on that stream this morning, with my line in the water, catching a few fish for my Mom, it suddenly hit me…

I don’t have to try to explain to you.

We all have a mother. And except in those very rare cases where that Mom was neglectful, or abusive, or whatever, every single one of you knows exactly what I’m talking about when I try to tell you how much I love my mother. You know. Our mothers are the women who gave birth to us – they are quite literally the sole person who is responsible for us being here, for being the persons that we are. There is no other relationship on this earth that is quite like the one between a mother and her child. Every person who reads this, whether you’ve experienced this or not, can empathize with what I’m going through right now. You can feel that empathy because every one of you has a mother…

You know, it doesn’t take much to get me out on the water with a fishing pole in my hand. I need no excuse to go fishing. It truly is one of the largest passions in my life. But, this week, to see my Mom’s face when she asked me for some trout, to know that this very simple little thing could mean so much to her… Being on that stream this morning, with my line in the water, catching a few trout for her to enjoy… See, this was something that my Mom asked me to do for her. As I thought about it, thought about everything that this amazing woman has done for me through my life, I felt humbled. With everything she’s done for me, now, near the end of her life, she’s asked me to catch a few trout for her…

You know that old cliché that says Moms give everything, asking nothing in return? After a lifetime of trying to care for me, all that my Mom has asked for at the end of her life is a few fresh trout…

There’s a lesson in that, but I do not have the wisdom to explain it…

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