Who and What is the Happy Warrior

The Happy Warrior is the title of a poem... and yes, I love this poem. I do not wish to be mischaracterized, for the most part poetry is not my bag. I am not an afficionado of literature nor am I a metro-sexual (I despise that term) but a dear friend introduced me to this masterpiece of prose several years ago... it has provided no end of inspiration. The Happy Warrior by William Wordsworth outlines the qualities of a magnificent soul. I aspire to possess even one or two characteristics that "every man in arms should wish to be."

This blog is a representation, in conversational form, of my voyage to wrap my arms around the world in which Mr. Worsdworth's warrior finds happiness.

(Standing disclaimer: Luckily tests of spelling accuracy ended in 4th grade otherwise I would still be in Elementary School. Be forewarned, spelling errors ahead. I subscribe to the wisdom of a great man who said, "I have utmost disdain for a man who can only spell a word one way." -Benjamin Franklin)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Compassion for Dummies 101

This is actually a full article by Rabbi David Wolpe titled "How to Visit the Sick". Since visiting the sick and afflicted is a core component of Christianity, Judaism and most every other religious tradition, it is practical advice for everyone. Even for the agnostic, the following are useful points since sickness (and eventually death) are the common lot of all humanity. While we all share the experience of visiting the sick and are often the recipient of such visits, the skillful navigation of this situation is a rare art. Hence the following article was extremely useful for me and may offer some guidance for others:

After enduring both a brain tumor and chemotherapy for lymphoma, I learned something about how to be sick, and how to visit those who are sick. As a Rabbi I have also seen these lessons enacted - and too often violated. So here are ten simple rules and suggestions:

1. Do not greet the sick person morosely. If he is feeling well, he must now accommodate your level of sadness. One who is sick does not spend all day thinking, "I am sick." She may be thinking about lunch. Greet normally, and allow the patient to guide the emotional tone.

2. If you visit someone going through chemotherapy, remember: Losing hair is visible and dramatic, but not catastrophic. After all, the Talmud tells us that Rabbi Akiba was bald. Yul Brenner was bald. This is usually more trying for women than for men, but it is a stage to seeking wellness. Don't make it more important than it is; it is not a symptom nor a symbol; just a side-effect.

3. Offers to help should be specific. "Let me know if there is anything I can do" though well meant, places the burden on the sick person. "Can I bring you dinner tomorrow night?" is far better. The best gifts I received were an IPOD loaded with music to listen to during chemo (mostly classical and gentle melodies) and a credit at a local restaurant to charge dinners for delivery. If you make a dinner, there is always the chance the person will not like it; they are obligated to return the dishes, and they have to communicate their thanks and praise. Every extra obligation is wearing on the sick person. Ordering is easy.

4. If help is refused, or offers and good wishes met with silence, do not be hurt. Sometimes coordinating help, checking on it, thanking, is more trouble and fatigue inducing than refusal. Responding to even the most gracious message requires energy the person may need elsewhere.

5. The Jewish tradition esteems the art of medicine. If you have the blessing of good doctors and nurses you understand why. Anyone who has ever spent an uncomfortable night in a hospital is not likely to undervalue nurses. A good nurse is God's most gracious emissary in this world. A bad one...well, less so. So don't hesitate to ask the person if he or she trusts/ likes their doctor, and if you have a suggestion for another, offer it without insisting. Second opinions can be lifesavers.

6. Strength and weakness both are good, and each has its place. If the patient is acting strong, they may need to; if they are self-pitying, they may need that too. Particularly when we are ill, our moods shift with pain, medicine, diagnoses and whim. Do not flaunt your own strength or health. Don't stand above the bed. Sit at eye level. Sick and well are not superior and inferior, just sick and well.

7. In every sickness one can find mission and meaning. That does not make the sickness welcome, but it can give it a new and powerful dimension. Don't assume the person cannot find light in this darkness. But it is their light to find; yours at most, gently to suggest.

8. Even a dying person can still teach. Indeed these may be his or her most powerful moments. I study each week with a 93 year old man who still remembers his mother, some seventy years ago, saying to him as she died, "Do not be afraid. It happens to everyone." The thought gives him comfort to this day. So let the person know that you wish to learn from them, not only comfort them.

9. No matter your theology, there is a great power and beauty in prayer. The heart overflows - with fear, with hope, with thanks. Don't be afraid to let it pour out. Prayer is poetry. Check your caveats at the door and don't deprive yourself of this comfort and strength. An offer to pray for or with someone can be refused, but also can gratefully be accepted.

10. To the one who is sick: Death is inevitable. Love is a choice. Kindness is a decision. Don't let what must happen rob you of what can happen. Live the time you have.

May I add an 11th suggestion that may be a bit more personally applicable and less generalizable: a mint and chip milkshake contains sufficient ingredients to mediate almost any ailment if only in the short term.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beware of the literal figurative

I make a concerted effort to learn something new everyday. More than not the morsel of knowledge I gain is some trivial bit of information. Every once in a while I stumble upon some great insight or piece of wisdom. I'll let you decide which category best fits for my learning experience yesterday.

Language is filled with sayings we often designate as figurative. A person might be explaining something and say "figuratively speaking...." I learned that it is a dangerous thing to transform the figurative into the literal. Take, for example, the figurative expressing "I ran into a brick wall." This is a figurative expression one should not take to a literal reality. Unfortunately I did.

The whole experince sounds quite ridiculous. I was swimming in our pool after the sun had set and while the temerature still exceeded the hundred degree mark. I was attempting to swim as many laps as I could with only one breath. Since I wear contacts I cannot open my eyes while swimming... you can begin to sense the inevitable transition of figurative to literal. Usually I have a very good sense of my body in relation to other objects but, as I quickly came to discover, this sense is not so developed in a liquid environment. Let's just say that I plowed full force into the side of the pool when, according to my reckoning I should have been in the middle and yet quite a distance from the end.

I have not experienced such a violent blow to the head in probably fifteen years (even the multiple car crashes during the mid 90's only impacted my torso and arms). I saw a white light flash and that crushing unexpected pain. After the split-second of complete disorientation due to an unexpected change of reality, I stood up and put my hand to my forehead to see if I could determine if there was any blood spilling down onto my face. I didn't identify any sign of blood but I did feel what seemed to be a second, albeit smaller, head growing out of my skull. I don't think I have had a "goose-egg" since I was four or five years old. Later, when standing in front of a mirror I discovered a nice "road-rash" below the goose-egg where I must have skidded along the plaster.

And so amidst the many lessons that could have been garnered from this experience, I learned that it is best that the figurative and the literal never become one.

(no, don't hold your breath for a picture of my injured likeness)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wacky Wednesday 2010: Vol. 6

Yes, I have been inexcusably absent for much too long. I am touched if anyone actually took notice. There is no better day than "Wacky Wednesday" to resurface. Here is a picture that will be appreciated by those who have children... particularly by those of you who might have recently attempted a family photo shoot with a little one who would not sit still. Solution: duct tape!