Sunday, June 17, 2018

Father's Day Meditation. Sort Of.

Let me BRIEFLY dispose of the hippopotamus in the mud puddle before he does something tasteless.

The elephant in the living room is long since gone from MY house, but the hippo does make an appearance twice a year, sometimes three times. I do not particularly begrudge him the space in the mud puddle; in fact, he is the only one who uses it, except for the Moose, when he gets a rash.
It's just that when the hippo is ensconced in the cool, soothing, gludge, he has the nasty habit of getting what used to be referred to as 'the vapors,' and it splatters.

So, here is me, driving the hippo out of the mud puddle:

Father's Day ceased to have much attraction to me after 1975. Up until then, my GrandDaddy Paulette was alive, and he was in loco parentis. 
(That does not mean that he was a crazy parent; in means he was acting in the place of a parent; for the first five years of my life, he was the adult male authority I interacted with every day.)
And, for reasons that MOSTLY departed with the elephant when I drove him out of the living room, I was pretty much done with Father's Day after 1975. There were notable exceptions, but the general rule was that I didn't like Father's Day.

THIS IS A MAJOR, HUGE, GIGANTIC POINT: Be clear on this: it was the HOLIDAY I objected to, NOT being a father. There is no role I have taken on in my life that I have loved more than being a father. People say, 'being a grandparent is much better than being a parent, because when you get tired of playing with them, you just hand them back.' Well, I understand that perspective, and those ARE nice moments when the parents return from their date night, and baby-sitting is over, but otherwise, the statement is just wrong, wrong, wrong. I love being a grandparent! But, here's the analogy that comes to mind:
'Being a grandparent' is to 'being a parent' in the same way that 'taking your best friend's older sister to senior prom because you didn't have a date' is to 'going with your fiance to pick our a wedding ring.' 
And since I love being a grandparent SO MUCH, that may tell you a bit about how much I love being a father. That role certainly has changed as my bio-children have become adults, but it's still a badge I wear with pride.

And yet, for reasons, I didn't like the Father's Day holiday, and let the people around me know that.

Then, some few years ago, it changed. I had the great good fortune to find my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA,  shortly before Christmas of 2010, and we met face to face for the first time on that day. That was also when I discovered that she was not the Starter Kit wife, the one with no options. Nope, she came fully equipped, with every option package, and chief among these were 6 year old Kenneth and 4 year old Alicia (plus some adult children). Yup, I wasn't just going to be getting a wife, I was getting an entire new family to raise!

Daunting, at first. However,  within a very short time, I was thoroughly converted to the idea.

In June 2012, it was Kenneth & Alicia's first Father's Day as my own. Children's Church at Liberty Church, where we attend, had helped all the kids prepare a special gift & card. I found out about it, and started my customary grumble about not wanting to observe the day.

Vanessa got my attention, by getting a firm grip on my right ear, and pulling me into a private area behind some pyracantha hedge, where she proceeded to explain it to me in a way I could understand.
"You listen to me, Pat Patterson! You are going to stop this talk RIGHT NOW about not liking Father's Day. I don't CARE if you don't like Father's Day! This has NOTHING to do with what you like and what you don't like! Those children have made you a gift, and you are going to be GRACIOUS and THANKFUL and show them HOW MUCH YOU APPRECIATE IT! The next words out of your mouth had better be "yes, ma'am" or I am going to be upset with you! Do you UNDERSTAND?"
Well, all of a sudden, I DID understand, and so I said "yes, ma'am," and I complied. I should mention that she held me by the ear during the entire discussion, and that each exclamation point or capitalized word represents her rhetorical style of twisting my ear and/or pushing me further into the pyracantha. It's an amazing tactic for helping your fellow conversationalist clarify their thinking. This is what I looked like after our conversation:

So, that's how it happened that I began to be able to feign appreciation for the day, and over the last six years, not actively dread the day. And, when my children or grandchildren give me a Father's Day card, or an email, text, or phone call, I really DO appreciate it. It also doesn't bum me out if, acting on  instructions given in prior years, they allow me to pass the time in peace. I throw no interpretation on either approach, other than to be grateful.

And that is true contentment: to be thankful and satisfied with what you have.

A late edit:
Caleb Gramling, the son of one of my oldest and dearest friends, sings this song, which is the prayer for almost every father I know.

Peace be on your household.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Do You Dare to Live? Sarvet's Wanderyar, by J. M. Ney-Grimm

Warning: this blog post may contain items which may be regarded as spoilers.
I do not intend them as such.
However, the author, J. M. Ney-Grimm, has written so clearly about a core crisis in our lives that I HAVE to talk about it.
And so,  I return to my blog, which has been neglected for months. This is where I talk about the things that really matter, in addition to writing wildly ridiculous stories.

First, the background.

Sarvet is mentioned briefly (IIRC) in "Winter Glory," which is the first work of Ney-Grimm's I encountered. It tells the story of her mother Paiam and her father Ivvar, in a time when they have grown old and mostly grey, although they do retain most of their vitality. It is a wonderful story that tells the truth: old people can fall in love, mightily, and can be counted on not to be twerps about it, unlike the star-crossed lovers, the terminally stupid Romeo and Juliet.
If it did NOTHING else than point out the truth that old people can love JUST as authentically, if not more so, than the young and reckless, it would be enough.
However, it also an excellently crafted tale of fantastical life in a mythic Northland. And if THAT was all it did, it would be enough.
But, in the middle of the book, Ney-Grimm tosses in an insight into the working of the human heart that was so succinct and poignant, that I had to set the book aside, and meditate on it; and then, I presented it to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. She was also rendered temporarily immobile by the power of the words.
From the POV of Paiam:
"Ivvar had laughed and pulled his jacket from his rucksack, wrapping it around her while she gaped in surprise. She’d felt so cared for, so safe. And hated it, because under that safety, she felt vulnerable. If he could make her safe, then he could make her unsafe, too. **I wanted my own strength, not his.** Borrowing strength felt risky.
And so she picked a quarrel on the way home."
Ney-Grimm, J.M. (2015-11-12). Winter Glory (p. 82). Wild Unicorn Books. Kindle Edition.
And now, returning to the purpose of this post: Maybe 70 years before the setting of "Winter Glory," we have a prequel in "Sarvet's Wanderyar."

Nearly 15 years old, Sarvet lives with her Sisters, in a community of women. At regular but infrequent times, the Sisters are host to the Brothers, who live some distance away in a community of their own. Except for these special holidays, there is no interaction between men and women; boy children stay with  their mothers, only until they are old enough to join the Brothers in their home.

The book begins with the morning of one of the special holidays, Other-joy. There are a number of events to be celebrated this day, and one of them is the 'linking' ceremony, which we would call a wedding. Following the linking, the couple lives together for a month, then return to live in community houses, to be united only at the designated holidays. (I may have some small part of the details wrong, but that's the basic idea.)

Sarvet is too young to be a candidate for the linking ceremony, but will progress through other ceremonies for a few years until she is eligible.

However, there is a problem.

Sarvet had a birth injury that has made her lame, and causes her chronic pain. Her Birth-Mother, Paiam,  is adamantly opposed to the thought of Sarvet progressing further along the ceremonies of maturity. In fact, Paiam opposes all physical activity for Sarvet, and has attempted to forbid her from participating in the life of the Sister House by insisting that she be removed from the roster of chores requiring anything other than the most sedentary of activities. Sarvet hates this approach, and wishes that she could be defined and celebrated for all that she IS able to do, and not by what she can't. It does take her more effort to walk, and running is impossible, and yet Sarvet has learned coping skills that allow her to perform many tasks, even if it takes her more time.

Sarvet is not without allies. Lodge-Mother Johtaia, the head of the Sister House, has used her authority in small ways to make her life easier. However, a showdown, which no one really wants, and yet everyone seems to be conspiring to make happen, will take place very soon.



By the way, the section above the warning is what comprises my book review of  "Sarvet's Wanderyar." If that's all you seek, then turn back, or click here.

Sarvet is an adolescent female, but the life crisis she experiences isn't limited by her age, gender, or her culture. I believe she has come up against the primary Question. She is experiencing it as "How do I stop all this (emotional) pain I am feeling," but I think that's just a symptom. I think the pain is what drives us into ASKING the Question, which I think is some combination of  "Who am I? What does it mean? How am I to live?"

Her physical limitation, and her mother's reaction to it, have driven her to develop certain coping mechanisms. Some of those, especially those related to her non-working hip and ankle, remain functional; she still needs to use a special movement, and certain specific muscles, in order to walk. True, it usually is a painful walk, but she has learned to accept the pain, and to push through it.

However, the coping mechanisms she HAD to develop to protect herself against her mother's anger and rejection have become a problem for her. They have become SO powerful, that she finds herself mentally and emotionally including her mother in everything she does. This is the case, even if her mother is not present. In her youth, Sarvet HAD to develop the habit of anticipating her mother's reaction; and now that she is approaching some sort of independence, she discovers that she is carrying her mother's rejection around with her, and in that way, her mother is STILL influencing everything she does.

She DESPERATELY wants to be free of her mother, but the desire itself is a sign that she is still a slave.

Now, in the story (SPOILER) a miracle happens, in that Sarvet encounters mythical beings with the ability to heal. It is in that process of healing that she discovers the implacable problem, which I have called  the Question:
"Letting go is letting her in, and I won’t!”
She was scared to expand, scared to claim the fullness of bounty available in a life, scared to expect fun, scared to expect pleasure. I snatch when chance presents an opportunity, but I don’t seek any out. I’m a beggar at the gates of living, just like my mother, and .  .  . I do not have to be!
“Receiving a gift is dangerous, but barring out risk in fear .  .  . is the greater loss.”

J.M. Ney-Grimm. Sarvet's Wanderyar (Kindle Locations 689...764). Wild Unicorn Books.

I have said that this section is philosophy, and not a book review. However, I MUST point out the brilliance with which Ney-Grimm has set up this crisis, in the presence of the mythical beings with the power to heal.
(SPOILER) Earlier, Sarvet was in a conflict with her Birth-Mother, and her Lodge-Mother instructed her to ask for her heart's desire.
So, Sarvet did, (not gonna tell you what that was! Ain't spoiling EVERYTHING!)
And her Lodge-Mother gasps, and tells her to ask for something else!
What an absolute kick in the head! You get told to ASK, by an authority, and you risk all by asking, and they deny it! Not the sort of thing that makes you want to take an emotional risk again, is it?
And that is just exactly the risk she is asked to take.

While most of us will not find ourselves in the presence of mythical beings with the power to heal a birth injury, I believe ALL of us will find ourselves in what is fundamentally exactly the same crisis, IF WE ARE FORTUNATE! We will be forced to see that something that we NEEDED as a defense against our adversaries has become the WORST adversary. Although it started as something to help and support us, now it limits and constrains us. And, IF WE ARE FORTUNATE, we will be asked to let go of that defense, and we will NOT be given a guarantee that the outcome will include our safety.

Letting go of that constricting defense may, in fact, expose us to more pain. Remember, “Receiving a gift is dangerous.” But the alternative is, at best, to be slowly strangled emotionally by the defenses we HAD to put in place to shield ourselves from being hurt.

Now, perhaps my language has not been as brilliantly illuminating as Ney-Grimm's, and you have no idea what is the nature of a crisis as described. My use of the term ' the Question' makes you think of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but that's about it. So, let me give you the three examples that come to mind in my own life. There may have been more than three of these, but these are the crisis points that I immediately thought of:
1. My conversion to Christianity in 1973.
2. My admission of alcoholism in 1988.
3. My offering myself in marriage to my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, in 2010.

It would take too much time to explain to you exactly WHY those three times were such a crisis point, but I hope you will believe me when I tell you that in each case, it WAS a crisis, and it WAS a tremendous risk, because I had no guarantee it was going to work out for me, So far, all three HAVE worked out, but at the time I committed, I didn't know that. All I knew was that in each case I felt as if I had to get better or die, and either choice was acceptable to me.

And THAT, I believe, is what what Ney-Grimm has expressed so beautifully in this book. With 65 years of experience as a human being, two graduate degrees in counseling, and 30 years in recovery, I am HIGHLY endorsing this book for its' insight, AND it is a great story, too; not a bit of preachiness to it. Yes, message fiction works, IF you are the kind or artist Ney-Grimm is.

Peace be on your household.