Tax Collectors and Preachers

I mostly enjoyed my weekend at the abbey. I loved the remoteness and hard beauty of the land. I loved the chanting of the Psalms at Vespers and Compline. But the preaching, not so much.

I woke up early on Sunday morning and figured I’d check out mass since I dig ritual and it had been years since I had sat through a Catholic Mass. I’m good with all of the up and down, bow and straighten, genuflect and sign of the cross stuff. I even do some of it because I like the way it feels. But when it came time for the homily (sermon), I rankled.

The priest chose to talk about a story in Luke which concerned a pharisee and a tax collector and the differences in how the two pray. As a lead-in, he had told an amusing anecdote about overhearing part of a cell phone conversation and then proceeded to teach that context is important to understanding what you hear. So, to better understand the parable, he said, it is important to know that, between the pharisee and tax collector, the latter was, in principle, the lesser of two individuals because the tax collector exploits his own people. (How this is not also true of pharisee in Jesus’ time and place, I’m not clear.)

Now, if you’ve studied the socialist perspective on history and theology, you’ll immediately know why I rankled. Continue reading

Thanks, friends

Your prayers and well-wishing are working.

I’m feeling calmer today. Still understandably sad in the little Doo-shaped hole in my heart (like, for example, when I sat on the floor to put on my socks and shoes and he wasn’t there to play the “knock the sock off your head” game). But also pretty peaceful (like, after noticing that the sock game had become a rare occurrence because he was so constantly anxious and confused that he couldn’t keep track of where I was and having a sock draped over his head wasn’t helping).

I find myself excited about the future, dabbling in my dreams of a Ph.D. in religious studies (the program I want to go to has been undergoing some really wonderful changes and is looking better all the time) and of building/renovating a house in Salida (it would have a living green roof with a little belfry sticking up that would be used only for meditation in order to preserve the power of the silence of the space and would have 360 degree views of the mountains all around).

OK, those dreams are a bit conflicting, I know. But I’m enjoying holding open the possibilities.

In the meantime, I’ve written the Benedictine abbey, asking for retreat this weekend to re-ground myself in the comforting emptiness that is so present in me right now. As life breathes, I have been doing a lot of exhaling in the last year. And I feel an inhale coming on.

Bye, bye, my buddy

Last week with Doo Dog wasn’t going well. I was cleaning tracked-in, hardened, stinky messes every day. And he had developed a sore from where his diaper was rubbing, and this was making it painful to walk. One of his many warts ulcerated and started bleeding. The latter two were hard to clean because he had refused to co-operate with a haircut, and so he was getting pretty grungy.

I was in tears with exhaustion and anxiety over anticipating the end. What I had hoped to be quality time wasn’t turning out to be. And I was making myself sick with anxiety. All of the sobbing was just making me strung out.

So, I called the vet and asked them to move up our appointment to Friday.


Sad news about Doo

I’ve thought about writing this post for a week, but I haven’t been able to say anything without getting frozen with emotion.

I turned a corner with regards to Doo Dog the weekend before this past one. Those of you that don’t know the story, Doo is my 17 1/2 year old American Cocker Spaniel and my best friend in the whole world. He has been mostly blind, deaf, and bladder-incontinent for some time. He loses his balance often. He runs into things. He gets confused easily. He rarely sleeps through the night. He paces. He is easily startled. He wears diapers. Peeing on himself and not being able to see as he eats means that he gets greasy and smelly pretty quickly. But bathing, never one of his favorite activities, has now become occasion for a panic attack. He freaks out, thrashes like a crazy dog, poops in the tub, and it turns into an ordeal for us both. Usually a people-loving dog, he tried to bite the groomers last time he went and they eventually gave up and gave him back to me untrimmed. He doesn’t like to go outside unless it’s not too dark and not too bright and not too cold and not too wet. Suffice it to say that he makes a mess of the house. Often.

I’ve been dealing with this (with the help of my naturopathic and allopathic vet) for quite some time. Nothing major happened last weekend that precipitated a shift in my attitude about continuing on. It simply got to be too much.Now that I’m back at work full-time, I can’t keep up with the demands of caring for him. Consequently, I’m usually frustrated or disgusted around him (because I’ve just cleaned up a mess), or tense and controlling because I’m vigilantly trying to prevent the next frustrating or disgusting episode. And then I cry and cry because I hate that this little being who has been absolutely devoted to and adoring of me for his whole life has to suffer not only his own infirmities but my negativity as well.

I’ve been praying that he will simply die on his own, peacefully. It has been tearing me apart that my own inner resources ran out before his. Especially since there are still a few things about life that he seems to enjoy (e.g., eating, sniffing things in the yard, being with me).

I’ve been spontaneously breaking out in crying fits about this all week–less and less over the confusion and guilt of ending this and more and more over the grief of not having him in my life–and I imagine that I will continue to grieve long after he is gone. We have been together nearly half my life and all of my adult life. It’s hard to imagine life without him, and the idea of cruising down the highway without my little buddy beside me is so so sad.

A lot of friends and family have offered “if I can do anything–anything at all ….” I’ve got a couple of very understanding friends to go with Doo and I for the final event. My vet sent me flowers. That has all been really good. Mostly, it helps a lot knowing that the important folks in my life care and understand how confusing and heart-wrenching this process has been. Perhaps, if you all could keep Doo and I in your hearts on Saturday, October 27 at 11 AM MT as his little soul departs this world, it would mean a lot to me, and, if you don’t mind, make a little prayer for the peace of his soul … and to fill the Doo-shaped hole in my heart with peace, gratitude, and wisdom.

and now, a refuge in poetry …

Eid Mubarak

Eid Mubarak, friends.

(For those of you not in-the-know, today is Eid Al-Fitr, the day which marks the end of the month of Ramadan by the sighting of the new moon. Ramadan is the month in which Mohammed, on retreat in a cave nearly 1400 years ago, heard the first verses of the Qu’ran dictated to him while in an altered state of consciousness. Eid Al-Fitr is usually a day of much celebration, visiting, donating food to the poor, and in some cultures exchanging gifts and indulging in sweets. The closest thing to compare it to in historically Christian cultures is Christmas. So, Merry Eid! Or, rather, literally “Blessed Eid” to you.)

Tonight, Habiba and I will celebrate by having our first dinner at her new flat. She bought it in the spring, and, being an architect, she gutted and completely redesigned it. The renovation has taken all summer and into the fall, and it’s finally looking very swank, let me tell you.

Last night, in preparation, she made kheer (a traditional Indian sweet rice) for dessert. Yum, yum. I’m going to miss all of the great home-made cooking that I’ve been treated to while she has been staying with me this last month.

Fortunately, she lives less than a mile away. So, I plan to help her out with her leftovers as often as possible. 🙂

Pet Peeve

I just had a very disappointing interaction with a customer at Target.

I was at the “10 items or less” check out line. You’ve all seen these. There are multiple cashiers, but it’s very unclear as to how many lines customers should form. I’ve noticed that polite people tend to wait in a single line, or, if there is one person waiting or multiple people already in a single line, polite people at least have some form of verbal or non-verbal negotiation with the already queued people to make sure they wouldn’t be cutting by forming a new line.

I was the one person in line. And a woman waltzed right in front of me and went up to the farther counter to wait. I called to her, “It’s one line, I think.” Just then, her targeted cashier freed up and another assured her that forming multiple lines was OK. So, she turned to me and snidely said, “See, you’re wrong!” (Whatevah, it’s not written on a sign anywhere and I’ve stood at that checkout in a single line before.) So, I said, “Well, then it’s the neighborly thing to do.” And she retorted, “YOU were in the wrong line.” (Like I was the stupid one for being so naive as to expect the simple courtesy of a “Would you mind if …” from another human being.)

Dear human race, is it really necessary for us to be so rude to each other? Hmmmm? What do you think? Is it too much to ask to look out for others in small ways?

Psychology studies have shown that altruistic people are happier people in general. (See studies by Philip Shaver. Note that this says nothing about whether or not these individuals were already happy or their altruism precipitated their mood.) Also, conditional altruism is actually an effective strategy for evolution and long-term survival. (See Richard Dawkins’ Selfish Gene and see the Prisoner’s Dilemma” of Game Theory.) Now, I’m pushing the limits of relevance to the aforementioned situation since this woman and I are complete strangers and likely (hopefully) to never run into each other again. Therefore, the potential opportunities for reward of any altruism on her part would be limited to those who witnessed her being a nice person and that probably would extend only as far as the parking lot or the next 20 minutes or so.

But if psychology and evolution aren’t motivators enough to be decent and kind, here’s another often overlooked but important point. Queueing theory states that, all things being equal, M/M/k queues are more efficient that M/M/1 queues. For those of you that didn’t go to engineering graduate school, this says that the bank model is more efficient than the grocery store model. In the bank model (one line, multiple servers) individuals, on average, wait less time than in the grocery store model (one server per line).

Additionally, studies have shown that wait time is negatively correlated with a customer’s evaluation of service. Said plainly, the longer you have to wait for something, the crappier you are likely to think of the service or goods you eventually receive. So, you are more likely to enjoy what you are purchasing if you wait in line with everyone else. And companies are more likely have better reviews if they make it clear that everyone is to wait in the same damn line.

In short, don’t be an ass.

There. Now, I’ve gotten that off my chest, I sure hope someone does something nice to that woman today and she mellows a bit in return because, personally, my world can’t handle people being mean to each other for no reason at all. Ignorant and absent-minded, yes. But actively rude and selfish, not so much.

Yet another reason that I wish to move to a smaller town. Less anonymity means higher rate of return on niceness and higher rate of retribution for rudeness.