Archive for month: December, 2012

THOUGHTS DURING FREE FALL

30 Dec
December 30, 2012

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This morning, at approximately 6:00 a.m., I fell while attempting to make my way to the bathroom.

The position I landed in – because of my Congestive Heart Failure – made it almost impossible to breathe.

After activating the emergency pendant I wore around my neck, I knew my top priority was to get my breathing panic under control. I systematically began a series of deep inhalations through my nose, then I would hold it for a second, and exhale through my mouth.

It was a strategy that immediately paid dividends. I began to slow down physiologically and emotionally.

Turns out, I had plenty of time to ponder my situation — not one of the personal care aides responded to the emergency beacon for almost a full half-hour.

In fact, if it wasn’t for an aide, starting her shift, who’d  heard my screams, I might still be lying on the floor.

By the time someone did respond, I was enraged — but NOT at the aides or any of the staff — no, I was enraged at the owner.

The owner, one of the largest private  real estate developers in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley,  despite the fact he is a well educated, savvy business man, seems to have a fatal flaw in his business acumen when it comes to the top-down management system he’s created for the assisted living facility where I reside. He doesn’t seem to “get it” or just doesn’t care about the very real problem of employee turnover in the three facilities he owns. If this was just a problem “on paper,” that would be one thing — but it’s not. By paying his Personal Care Aides (PCAs) substandard wages, he creates a revolving door system of confusion and resentment for the residents. 95-year-old residents don’t appreciate the legions of new caregivers that come and go, day after day. And the decision makers for the residents (usually a child or children) aren’t usually around the facility enough to notice the changes in employees.

(to be continued)

THUNDERBOLT – The Summer of Love

29 Dec
December 29, 2012

 

bed

In June 1968, I attended my high school’s senior prom. My date was Joan, the Captain of the school’s cheer leading squad. Frank, my best friend and Dariel, his long time sweetheart, also attended. My father had agreed to let me use his new Oldsmobile Delta 88 – with its camel leather interior, power seats and five speaker sound system – it was a rather dramatic step up in luxury from Frank’s three-cylinder SAAB, and thus his decision to accept my offer to “double date” took all of two or three seconds.

Four years later, after returning from a ten month retreat at a Catholic Benedictine monastery, I met Dariel by accident. Our relationship had always been solid, yet strictly platonic. That would all change that summer.

With Dariel’s parents in Europe, her parent’s home quickly became a place to hang out at the end of a days work. We even went shopping together for food and would prepare meals together. Platonic, soon gave way to what we both called the “thunderbolt,” and our newly found passion and romance seemed as natural as a spring shower.

After the third or fourth week of thunderbolt intensity we decided to consummate the relationship. It was an important decision for both of us – neither of us took it lightly. After a dinner of pasta and broccoli, we listened to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, both working up the courage to expose ourselves, not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well.

We spent about an hour in her bed talking, holding hands, and letting nature take it’s course.

Which it did.

It was like watching a nitro-burning funny car go from 0 to 250 miles per hour. Clothes were flying this way and that and the passion of the moment made everything else irrelevant.

Our bodies came together as two flames. Our lips fused together as we prepared to become as one.

And then it happened . . .

The bed and box spring broke in half, the mattress collapsed and we were left in the middle of a mattress sandwich looking into each other’s eyes.

We exploded in laughter.

In fact I can’t remember ever laughing as hard as I did that night. We laid together on the broken bed, amazed at the turn of events, and aware that although a physical relationship was not in the cards, a beautiful friendship was born that evening – one that has continued to grow for 40 years.

 

 

SARAH ANN LANDIS – CIRCA 2012

28 Dec
December 28, 2012
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My mother, who is now 85 and living in a skilled nursing facility, told me a story when I turned 60.

She said that in 1972, when I was 22 and living in a monastery in California, she walked into the kitchen of her home in upstate New York one day and found herself in tears, unprepared for the depth of loneliness she felt for me, her first-born of seven – then, nearly 3,000 miles away.

Later that day, while cleaning her bedroom, she explained, she looked out a window and saw the sky, and an immense feeling of peace washed over her: “I knew that you could see the same sky,” she said. “I knew that we were connected.”

This week, on Christmas Day, I had the opportunity to hold my mother’s hand and look into eyes I know so well; eyes once bright and purposeful, now tired and resigned. Eyes that have watched three of her children die, and another bear the burden of Parkinson’s for two decades.

As we held hands, she says, “I wish I could have been a better parent.”

I asked her on the day I was born, about the instruction manual the OB nurses had given her. “Was it the one with the blue cover or the advanced edition with the red cover?”

“What in God’s name are you talking about?” she said. “I didn’t receive any instruction manual.”

“Well then,” I said, “that explains  why you weren’t the perfect parent —  you never received the instruction manuals.”

She smiled, and as we continued to hold hands, she drifted off to sleep.

 

CHRISTMAS EVE IN A MANGER – 1973

24 Dec
December 24, 2012
goat

Thirty-nine years ago I spent Christmas Eve with 25 Nubian and Alpine goats in a barn I helped build at a Soto Zen Buddhist monastery in Mount Shasta, California.

Earlier that day, Haryo and I (Haryo was a senior monk who taught me – among other things – the strategic value of buying Craftsman tools at garage sales) had finished building a birthing pen on the east side of the barn. I took the pickup truck into the town of Mt. Shasta and purchased four 250-watt infrared bulbs from the hardware store which served as the town’s post office and coffee shop. Later, I would mount the heating lamps on a single 2×6 board, which I hung over the new pen.

Now, the only thing left to do was to lay down a blanket of new straw and test the pen’s “snoozing coefficient.” As the Goat Monk, I had to rise every morning at 3:30 in order to have enough time to milk the goats, take the milk to the kitchen, and clean up. So one of the most demanding challenges was getting enough sleep. Most mornings, it was everything I could do to make zazen (meditation) on time with the other monks in the Zendo (meditation hall) at 5:00 a.m.

This particular evening, as I started to drift into twilight, I chuckled to myself, remembering a recent incident in which Haryo took a young man in his 20s, one of the laypeople on retreat as a guest, into the town of Mt. Shasta with him, as he needed help loading the truck with supplies. After the truck was loaded, Haryo thought he saw, out of the corner of his eye, a cat crawl under the truck. As he opened the truck door, and both men entered the cab, Haryo said, “Is there a cat under the truck?” The young man froze, seemingly unable to move. “What’s wrong?” Haryo asked.

The man answered, “I don’t know how to respond.”

“Respond to what?” Haryo said.

“To the koan: ‘Is there a cat under the truck.’”

“Koan?” Haryo asked.

The young man, clearly befuddled, looked at Haryo and said, “You know, like the sound of one hand clapping.”

Haryo got out and walked to the front of the truck, got down on his knees, and checked. “Nope. No cats.”

On the way back to the monastery, Haryo had to bite his lips to keep from laughing.

A 20-minute snooze left me refreshed and reinvigorated. The birthing that evening went as planned, without complications. And as I lay in the pen on that cold winter night, in the midst of the miracle of new life, I realized how fortunate I was just to be alive. I knelt in the straw, said a prayer to the Baby Jesus, and prepared for another day.

GOD, SAVE ME …

18 Dec
December 18, 2012

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… FROM RICH WHITE MEN WITH TINY HEARTS WHO LIVE ON GLACIERS OF AMBITION

About two months  ago my doctor told me clearly and emphatically, “You’ve been in a wheelchair for more than 15 years. This has not been good for either your legs (which are badly swollen and discolored) or your heart (which is enlarged because of the extra work it must do to keep my legs alive.)”

Then, after the convincing introduction, her voice dropped an octave, climbed ten decibels and she laid down the law. “I want those legs elevated for five hours a day. Got it?”

And yes, I did get it, thank you. When she left I went directly to the facility’s Director, Suzanne, a woman I have a great deal of respect and fondness for. I carefully explained what the doctor had said, and added that I had purchased a new laptop and a fancy $500 articulating arm that could be attached to the wall near my lift chair. When installed, I could elevate my legs, use my laptop to compose these clever posts I write for YOU and everyone would be happy.

Now, the only thing that remained was to screw a metal plate in the wall, and how long could that take?

Chapter Six, Lesson Seventeen of The Rich White Man’s Guide to Housing Old People For Fun and Profit is entitled,”An Effective Top-Down Management System is Your Best Friend”, and goes on to explain that the most routine of jobs can be “queued” indefinitely provided you’ve established a sufficient number of “layers”.

The real irony of this story is that because my legs were in such pain, I had already decided to do this myself. In fact, I told management back in the day, “Here’s what I’m going to do and why…”

And they said,”Nonsense, let us take care of that for you.”

Hey, I know what you’re thinking right about now: “For the love of God, does this story ever end?”

The answer, thankfully, is “Yes,” I hired a carpenter who will be here in three days.

Good. Now that that’s behind us. . .

NEWS FLASH: they just came in to give me my shower STOP this is the second day with no hot water STOP Oh nooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

 

The Fury That Was Adam Lanza

17 Dec
December 17, 2012

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I don’t pretend to have the faintest idea what the 20-year-old was thinking as he pulled the trigger over and over again at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school. No one except Lanza does, and in his final act as a human being, he made it clear he was in no mood for a round table discussion on the issue.

Nor can I possibly begin to understand the depths of anguish, horror and despair that 20 children’s parents must be entombed in as I write these words.

Here’s what I do know:  this kind of sociopathic aberrance is one social phenomenon here to stay.

No, this is not a segue to an NRA rant — their arrogance, intolerance and ignorance are their undoing. They don’t need my help.

And you can’t honestly expect me to accept the premise that our fragile and fractured mental health system is at fault. The system can’t handle healthy people, much less the likes of Lanza, Manson, Gacy, Bundy, and Berkowitz.

The hot ball of lead that’s hard to swallow on this one is the fact that WE are to blame. That’s right, you and I. Every time we watch a movie directed or co-produced by Quentin Tarantino, we feed a fire of social violence so pervasive, the line between reality and “entertainment” becomes a bit more difficult to distinguish with each viewing. And each gaming software purchase that makes it possible for your child to destroy his opponent cruelly and with malice, feeds the flames even more.

I was reading the updated version of the 1941 Baltimore Catechism the other night. (some light bedtime reading) and came across the following [I must paraphrase] : man sins because he is predisposed to evil.

I’d like to set that observation aside, pray it’s not true, and yet, in light of this new wave of ultra-violence in Connecticut, we are forced to look squarely in the eyes of evil,  and remember it was only 1900 years ago that we packed a lunch and took the kids to the Coliseum to watch the lions eat the Christians.

For a Dancer

06 Dec
December 6, 2012

John Gribowich
3/29/1935 – 12/05/12

 

Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours
Another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone

-Jackson Browne

 

I remember the first time I saw John dance. It was like watching a lava lamp: one fluid merged into an other, effortlessly. The experience made me think of a Saturday night in 1966 when, as a sophomore in high school, I went to a CYO dance. You know the drill; the boys stood on one side of the room and the girls on the other. Only the bravest and heartiest souls would venture out onto the dance floor — a fifteen-by-fifteen patch of linoleum that was installed before the Depression of ’29 – and it looked it.. I peered across the floor and saw Margaret Boutin, a quiet, shy girl I had admired from afar for over a year.

Tonight was my chance. Tonight I finally had the opportunity to show Margaret my stuff. So I went outside, smoked a cigarette to reinforce my courage, and walked back into the dance, heading straight for Margaret. With my heart pounding, I walked across the floor and asked Margaret to dance.

And what do you know- she said yes. Well, she didn’t actually say anything . . . She just walked with me onto the dance floor the same way you’d expect two family members might approach a coffin during a wake. When we finally selected a piece of linoleum we both could agree on, the band was already halfway through the song. If I was to impress Miss Boutin, I’d have to move fast, which is exactly what I did. Thinking to myself that I probably looked like a man having an epileptic seizure, I didn’t care. I was happy to let it all hang out. That is, until that fateful moment I looked over to see one of my best friends laughing at me.

It was thirty years until I danced again.

By that time, I was already pricing wheelchairs for my Parkinson’s.

All that disappeared the night I saw John, a seventy-seven-year-old retired engineer, stride across the floor with one woman after the other. I was mesmerized, and a part of me that had been dead for what seemed like an eternity suddenly came to life. Thank you, John, and godspeed on your journey.

Martin Bayne

Classy to the Very End

05 Dec
December 5, 2012

Last night a dear friend of mine dropped his 97-year-old body on the floor and ran off to join the group of friends who have been watching over him for the last century. I can only imagine it was a rowdy homecoming with lots of music, dancing, and celebration.

My friend and fellow assisted living facility resident, Charles, told me at lunch he would die last night. He didn’t actually use those words, but instead sent me a sign, a secret coded message that he knew I would understand (and anyone else that cared enough to pay attention).

What was this secret sign? He wore a pink sweater. And a pink shirt. This, from a man who, until two months ago, had worn the same ragtag clothes every day without fail. But eight weeks ago, Charles had an epiphany. And, like many of us who experience miracles of love in their lives, he would end up changing in ways no one could have predicted.

When I walked into the dining room at about 12:15 PM, I glanced at his table to see if he was there. The previous day he seemed a bit washed out, and I wasn’t sure if he would make it to the dining room. But there he was, as big as life, as tall as an oak tree, and wearing his pink sweater and pink shirt. It was as if there was a Navy Signal Corpsman sitting next to him waving his flags to spell out, “Martin, I’m going to die today- tonight at the very latest. Let’s say our goodbyes now and get on with things.”

I waited until he had finished his lunch, and as his wheelchair passed by my table on its way out the door, I wheeled over to him and placed my hand on his knee. He reached out for my hand with both of his and held it as one would a nest of robin eggs- firm, but incredibly tender. We both brushed back tears that ran down our cheeks as he continued to hold my hand. Then, without saying a word, he reached over and touched my face. And with his hand on my face he looked into my eyes, smiled, and said, “everything will be alright.”

Last night at about ten o’clock I decided to spend some time with him. I didn’t want to intrude, but I also didn’t want him to be alone. Unfortunately, my leg was hurting so badly that I rested in my lift chair, hoping to ease the pain, and the next thing I knew, it was morning.

I went to the dining room, ordered a cup of coffee, and looked over at Charles’ table. At that very second, Rachelle sat down next to me and said, “I have some very bad news.”

“I know,” I said.

Martin Bayne

 

JESUS AND BUDDHA ARE SITTING IN A BAR . . .

05 Dec
December 5, 2012

 

 

 

OK, I know the premise is a little implausible but no more so than the Holy Trinity, Parinirvana or Plenary Indulgences. Besides, who wouldn’t like to see Jesus and the Buddha, on mahogany bar stools, each with a cold one, discussing Yankee relievers, where to get a good Havana cigar, and how to make the Walking Dead series really come alive?

And imagine being a fly on the wall when their talk turns to religion:

Buddha: “Explain it to me again; you know, the part about mankind carrying Adam’s transgressions until the end of time. . .”

Jesus: “Look, it’s simple. This yet-to-be-named sin is my Father’s way of saying there are consequences to disobeying Him.”

Buddha: “Well, I’ll say one thing, it’s original.”

 

And to those Christians who will say that even the suggestion of their Savior leaving his recliner at His Father’s right hand for a bucket of suds with an old friend is heretical, I say, “Lighten up. You’ve been scaring your fellow man for 2,000 years with stories of apocalyptic gloom and doom – tales of eternal fire and brimstone that make the very best of Stephen King pale in comparison. I’m not sure which is more frightening to a child: a movie like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby or the updated and revised edition of the 1941 Baltimore Catechism.

And the saddest part of this rant? The best “story” of all — the one that is ever-hopeful and magical; the one that inspires generosity and kindness — is brutally ripped from our psyche with cruel laughter and the words, “What? You still believe in Santa Claus?”

 

The Great Bridge

01 Dec
December 1, 2012

 

We call the bridge between birth and death “aging.”

In it’s ascendancy, we are “young” even though our 10 trillion youthful cells have already started losing DNA telomere base pairs each time they divide.

If we survive youth, our aging cells become senescent and start to die. We call this “growing old”.

We are the only species that attempts to manipulate this natural cycle. (Ever see a  toothless lion in the wild?)

Because of our aversion to death, we prolong or “stretch out” this aging cycle, but the mind and body have no blueprint for these extra years, and without an instruction set, we simply create more hospice, skilled nursing, and assisted living beds.

What is the answer? In my lifetime, man has discovered DNA and mapped the human genome, rocketed to the moon and back, invented the transistor and created ambitious machines the size of small cities to explore sub-atomic particles. Yet, elder care remains stuck in the nineteenth century:  we still throw the confused, demented and disabled in “facilities” hoping God will sort it out.

Solving the aging dilemma is like nailing Jello to a tree. In truth, despite what the country’s most astute geriatricians, erudite scholars, and faceless Internet experts will tell you, there is very little one can do for an 82 year old woman with Alzheimer’s, a frail, 97-year old man in protracted renal failure, or a 62-year-old journalist with 19 years of Parkinson’s under his belt.

I know.

 

Martin Bayne

 

 

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