Winter Whining

I don’t want to be in a quarantine within a quarantine, the outdoors closed to me as well as my home being closed to others, just because a lower level winter godlet came up with the big bright idea of icing the stubbornly remaining mounds of snow with freezing drizzle. I step out to assess the sidewalk for my daily walk. Mmmkay, some mitzvahteer (good deeder) shoveled it without cutting corners. I could actually see the bare concrete itself as if it were getting ready for a sunbath. I get both feet to agree to make their next moves, congratulating myself for not letting a little chill intimidate me into a retreat. But then, after I reach the corner of the block, I stop short. The #@$!% did not shovel the snow away from the corner curb cut! There is a great hulking heap of it blocking my way! (Yes, they did not cut corners, but they did not shovel them either.) What good is it to have all that concrete screaming to me that it is all cleared of every last snowflake so that my undeserving self might indulge in prancing along it, only to thwart my progress once I reach the first intersection? What, I’m supposed to confine myself to pacing back and forth on one block? Or risk falling on ice- encrusted snow by clambering over a mountain range?

The snow on the curb consists of about 5% of the snow that had covered the rest of the sidewalk, more or less. But that neglected 5% casts a shadow on the remaining 95%, rendering it useless does it not? Now let’s think about that together. If someone can’t walk more than a few steps and a driver takes them 95% of the way and no further, that accomplishes nothing more than not to take the ride at all. Be aware of not finishing what you start. And there, my friends, is my profound moral for the day.

And now for the other matter I must bring up. If you are guilty of this, then I hope you feel thoroughly rebuked! Yes, it takes hours to diligently and thoroughly dig out a parking spot after a snowstorm, and yes, some spots are not fully finished (verging on the problem above). But: when I have left my spot, and someone has taken it ( who knows full well I did all that work on it), and THEN I look for another, and I see a good one but which has a garbage can or chair upon the center of it, I want to call the city. I don’t of course. I must not be thought of as a whiner. I just steam with indignation. And I don’t remove the offending object off to the side because the maniac might damage my car for taking THEIR alleged spot and removing THEIR property.

So I haphazardly park in an inferior spot, hearing lots of crunch crunching as I do so as if the car were being murdered. Then I leave, having to choose between clambering over another mountain range at one curb, or stepping up to my ankle in filthy slush at the other. I make it back inside my home as I whine some more at the irrationality and pettiness of others who let mere frozen water, in all of its manifestations, strip away all sense of community and empathy in a cold unfeeling world.

Her Most Memorable Cup Of Coffee

When we anticipate something major happening to the loved ones in our lives, we picture that it will occur in some dramatic context, almost with music materializing in the background like in the movies. Law professor and prolific author Roberta Rosenthal Kwall finds out that when key events happen to her parents late in their lives, that is not what it is like at all when she gets the news. When you read her story below, does it resonate with you? What were you in the middle of doing when a loved one fell or got very ill or died? Whatever it was, no matter how mundane, you will remember it forever.

“For most of my adult life, I did not live in geographic proximity to my parents. Shortly after my husband and I married and moved to Chicago, my parents moved to Florida where they lived for many years. We saw one another a few times a year and spoke at least weekly, often more. But during most of this time, I found it relatively easy to avoid too much focus on my parents’ mortality despite their occasional brushes with even some serious health conditions. Eventually, however, I had to confront the reality that they needed to move closer to me so I could step up my level of involvement on a daily basis. They moved to Chicago about two years before my father passed. Not surprisingly, this was not an easy sell given the harsh Chicago winters…

But soon my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and then my mother was hit by a car as she was crossing the street. I had to move my father to the nursing wing while my mother spent three months in the hospital and a rehab facility. Given the extent of her injuries and his progressing illness, my father needed to remain in the nursing section permanently.

Six months later, my father fell and broke his pelvis. His doctor predicted he had about a month to live given the nature of his injuries and the trajectory of Alzheimer’s patients who experience this type of injury. He was 100% on target. In a way, I was relieved because I never wanted to see my father in the end stages of this Alzheimer’s. At the time he passed away, he still more or less knew who I was and he could still communicate. Still, when the call came, it was almost sundown on a wintery Saturday afternoon and I was home reading a book. Despite his doctor’s prediction, the event still seemed unexpected and was a shock. I learned what it meant to expect the unexpected.

My mother passed away six-and-a-half years later, but although they both died at the age of 92, the circumstances were very different… Her last years were difficult physically but I want to believe they were also somewhat emotionally joyous. She saw our family all the time and even got to meet our daughters’ significant others and attend our oldest daughter’s wedding.

The last time I saw my mother was a beautiful sunny day right before my husband and I left for a trip to Italy. It was a short but sweet visit and she seemed stable and in good spirits. I never expected this to be the last time I would see her, although that thought always crossed my mind whenever I traveled. But two days into our trip I got a phone call informing me that she had passed away. We were at breakfast overlooking the Amalfi coast, and I was just about to take a sip of a delectable Italian coffee. Again, another case of expecting the unexpected. No matter how old your parents are, and how infirm, it is often the case that one just does not expect to receive the news that they have passed.”

© Roberta Rosenthal Kwall:Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved, from her book Remix Judaism: Preserving Tradition in a Diverse World. Roberta Rosenthal Kwall is the Raymond P. Niro Professor at DePaul University College of Law. Kwall is an internationally renowned scholar and lecturer and has published over 30 articles on a wide variety of topics including Jewish law and culture, authorship rights, and intellectual property. For more information on her book, go to this Amazon link: https://amzn.to/2kY8gFo

For my microblogging, you can go to https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

A Parody of Self-Help Posts

My husband Steve managed to combine a self-help parody with horror. A nice corrective to all the self-help stuff I have imposed on you throughout the years. Have fun and don’t read the story below too close to bedtime:

Tomorrow is a Bad Day

Hello, dear client. I have trouble remembering names so everyone to me is “dear client.” I’m your favorite self-help swami, Steven Jon, the regrettably unavoidable Kaplan. It’s too late to run and too tough to hide. I’m here to get your life back on track so you can go around and around the fateful wheel of your life with increasing confidence. All you need to do is to make a few minor changes to your daily routine. Our mantra is, “Tomorrow is a Bad Day.”

Yes, you heard that right. Since tomorrow is a bad day, especially for accomplishing anything important, we have to do the tough things today. You were planning on watching TV this evening? Forget about it. You’re going to sit down right now and not get up until you’ve finished a full page of that book you keep postponing. I’m going to watch to make sure. I conveniently have a whole dozen grade A jumbo raw eggs in the trunk of my car and your hair looks like a perfect place to make an omelet in case you don’t comply. Look, you paid me for this, right? So I’m not just going to let you get away with whatever you thought you were going to get away with. Tough love is my middle name.

I can read your mind and tell that you’re wondering if this was such a good idea after all. Trust me, it is. This is the best thing that has ever happened to you. As soon as you finish writing that page we’re going to edit it together and see how we can improve it. After that we’re going out to your back yard and we’re going to start a garden. I see you shaking your head, but anyone can do it. When you see something growing a little each day it will give you the extra encouragement you need to continue with your projects. Don’t worry, I have Siberian seeds which grow almost as well in the winter as they do the rest of the year. These plants will hardly care if it’s below freezing, if it’s snowing, if you’re a political prisoner, or anything else. Sure, you might not always be thrilled about having to go outdoors in the cold and dark, but you’ll learn to devote part of each day to something which will be around long after you’re gone.

Take a look at how you’re dressed. I understand that everyone is more sloppy these days with the coronavirus but there’s no excuse for not looking your best at all times. If you care about how you look to others then you’ll have more respect for yourself. Sure, it’s corny. But it works so you had better get into the habit of adding a tie whenever you put on a shirt. Speaking of your shirt, fold back those cuffs they way they do in those 1950s movies. That’s it. You’re a quick learner. You’ll be so surprised when you find yourself automatically listening to whatever I tell you and learning to go through your life in a completely different way.

What is your plan for tomorrow morning? It’s a bad day, remember? To make it less bad we’re going to try something I’m sure you’ve never done: we’re going to list the first five activities today that you want to do tomorrow morning. If you’ve always wanted to do anything with your life, anything at all, then you must confront it directly and not keep postponing it until that imaginary day or decade. Are you thinking about your personal five items? If you write down brushing or flossing your teeth then I’m going to have to use one of my eggs. I want to see five real action items, the kind of stuff you know you ought to do but you never quite get around to it. Try doing the first one now. Excellent! I see that you’ll be preparing the legacy you’re going to leave to this world when you depart. I knew you’d excel at this once we really got underway.

I’m not sure if I mentioned that I’m going to be staying with you overnight for the next month to ensure that you don’t try to evade your responsibilities. Don’t worry, I can fit into your bed one way or another and I’ve brought along my own favorite pillow. Before you go to sleep each night I’m going to take out my recorder and you’re going to spend exactly 2-1/2 minutes telling me what you learned during the day and how you fell short of your objectives. It’s all about the process.

You’re the best client I ever had. No, I don’t say that to everyone. I really mean it in my heart. You’re going to be a whole new you. Tomorrow is a bad day, but today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Biden Team’s Inner Chaplain: Covid-19 National Memorial Service

I wondered how I could talk about the presidential inauguration without being political. Answer: a ceremony the evening before that taps into one of the most elemental emotions of all humans and perhaps many animals as well: grief. The view opens on the reflecting pool at the Lincoln Memorial, subdued and peaceful as Cardinal Gregory comes up to speak. We see the Biden and the Harris couples in the background, distanced and masked. Cardinal Gregory says, “Our sorrow unites us to one another as a single people with compassionate hearts.” After his speech ends, I am temporarily puzzled as I watch an unknown person approach the lectern. But no, he is not going to speak, he is disinfecting it for the next speaker!

Kamala Harris conveys the message that it is one thing to grieve alone, but we attain another level of grieving as we do so together as a nation. She then introduces a “singing nurse” who has served in COVID-19 wings. The nurse sings Amazing Grace, and later, after the lectern is again disinfected, Joe Biden comes up to speak, looking to me at this moment just like a clergy person. And like a clergy person, he makes a moving profound statement: “to heal, we must remember. By remembering, that is how we heal.” During the speeches,we see an interpreter using sign language. But it is not just their hand gestures. The interpreters use their faces and arms to convey the mood of the speeches, like a minimalist dance supplementing the words themselves. As the ceremony concludes, it moves me so much as the camera pans the reflecting pool lighting up, that I cannot give more details without it being a spoiler. For emotional, spiritual, and yes patriotic healing, see this quarter-hour service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSTqSYHwqzw&feature=youtu.be

Prayer Good For One Year Only

I heard on the radio that prayers are in high demand these days, so I decided to add one of my own. Naturally, it has to be offbeat as well as compassionate to make it into this blog, so do not expect the usual sort of thing. But you don’t have to brace yourself for anything disorienting either.

The smoothness of hair after a wash,

The dull colors of petals past their season,

The lullaby voice of a tranquil companion:

Let such softnesses reconnect us to calming presences.

The passion of a cougar on the run,

The burst of sound from a row of trumpets,

The creation of newcomers smashing into being in the birth canal of a galaxy:

Let such intensities blast away our distress and fling us forward to 2021.

Bill Bryson’s Banter In “The Lost Continent”

I don’t know if it is because I am giddy from just having retired from hospice work or what, but reading Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, is making me laugh so hard that my tears are contributing to the festivities. Last time I read a book like that is beyond the horizon of my memory. Here is what he has to say for example about Washington and the White House: “You feel as if you are in some agreeable provincial city, but then you turn a corner and there it is—the White House—right in the middle of the downtown.” And then as with much of his writing, he himself turns a corner and makes a comment that has nothing to do with the significance of the White House. He instead points out its pedestrian convenience for its inhabitants: “So handy for shopping.” A page or so later, talking about the Washington Mall and walking at night, he says, “I expected to be mugged–indeed, I took it as my due wandering in a city park like this on a dark night [sic]–but evidently the muggers couldn’t see me.” There he goes again, shifting your mind into an unexpected direction like a train jumping the tracks and somehow landing on an alternate set of them.

Throughout the book, he relentlessly pokes fun at or screams in dismay at anything in his travels that is tawdry or fake. He derides ripoffs for tourists and the hapless dullards who fall for those scams. Anything shoddy gets the sharpest linguistic ax in the shed, including discursive cursing. He demolishes anything whatsoever that comes his way during his travels. During a crushingly boring part of the drive, he turns on the radio. There is an ad about the Airport Barber Shop in Biloxi, followed by a scanty segment of news of the if-it-bleeds-it-leads variety. “Then there was another commercial for the Airport Barber Shop, in case you were so monumentally cretinous that you had forgotten about it during the previous thirty seconds of news.”

But boy when he approves of something that contributes quality, the aggressive humor evaporates and he sings accolades with the purity of one “who is as wholesome as a bottle of milk”, and whose worst sin to date is chewing gum in class. He crows, as if promoting an advertisement of his own, that we are lucky to have the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, because they bought and maintained Mount Vernon when no governmental body would do so. They restored it to every detail, “right down to the correct pigments of paint and patterns of wallpaper.”

While the book is funny, I have mixed feelings about recommending it here, as it is somewhat low on my compassion-meter. For example he makes fun of people in the South who pronounce their towns, such as Athens and Cairo, not as we learned in history class, but as Ay-thens and Kay-ro. I sort of laugh but also say “ouch” when he does not leave it alone and bites their residents with, “I don’t know whether the people in those towns pronounce them that way because they are backward, under-educated shitkickers who don’t know any better or whether they know better but don’t care that everybody thinks that they are under-educated shitkickers.”

The saving grace of the book is his intolerance for mediocrity, and high praise and encouragement of any one who is caring in any way about their town and any visitors that come their way. And even as I was writing this up, I could scarcely stop laughing. Perhaps this is all about my decompressing from having to hear almost exclusively heavy stories from people about death, dying and bereavement, and other attendant miseries since 2005. But the fact that I laughed until I cried may make it worth your gambling to see if this book does the same for you or whether that was merely a symptom of my two-week-old retirement.

Still unsure? I will give you one last indication of how objective I hope I am being here. Bryson’s humor reminds me of the comedian Stephen Wright, so if you like him, you can’t miss! Wright for example said during one of his stand-ups, “There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.” And one other: “I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time.’ So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance.” At any rate, we all know how badly we need a laugh these days, and if nothing else, I hope you got at least one here.

A Lightness of Being

I have been keeping track of people’s responses to “I am now retired from my hospice chaplain career.” Most popular is, “Gee, that’s a big change,” with an accompanying look of worry, wonderment, and maybe envy. Finally I got a “Congratulations!” from a young person and from people who generally do not know me all that well. Still, it was nice to get a cheery exclamation rather than the hidden questions of “Won’t you be bored? Are you sure that is a good decision? What about the unknowns of adjusting to this change? Doesn’t that make you feel over the hill?”

Other respondents were indifferent, while some were curious enough to ask what I would be doing next. One of those curiosity seekers commented that I did not look like the kind of person who would just sit around and play___. (I am leaving the maligned game for you to supply, rather than give offense.) Far from it for me to be mysterious, I explained that I was now doing more for what has now become a mom and pop company, namely, one belonging to my husband and me. Okay, curious? See https://truecontrarian-sjk.blogspot.com/ Hint: it is about a style of investing that “unfollows the herd.” Naturally someone’s follow-up to that new direction was, “That’s a big switch in careers.” The implication presumably being, “What’s a nice chaplain like you doing in a business career like that?” Well, is it an incongruous switch? Yes and no. I find the listening skills learned as a chaplain is a huge asset, so to speak. Like everyone else in the world, clients want to be heard and ideally, cared about. Some have even sought my counsel on personal matters. So you see, chaplaincy will never really get too far away.

The most surprising response to my announcement about retiring was, “Why?” I echoed that and said “Whaddya mean ‘why’? I am a hospice chaplain and you are asking me ‘why”? He didn’t seem to get it. If anything, the vast majority of people wonder what I was doing in such a career in the first place. I even wrote a whole book about it to explain why. Now though, I am half-wondering myself how I did it all those years. Especially in my last month, every call to a patient felt like I was vaulting over a higher and higher fence.

Even so, I certainly had hesitated to make “the big change.” Would I be fidgety? Down in the mouth? Anxious? At a loss? Would I be relieved after all? So far—all of one entire week– I was overwhelmed and nervous at first, but already I feel “lighter” and yes relieved. Also, I feel animated at the prospect of focusing on people who are very much alive, and in some cases humorous, inventive, inquisitive, and ambitious. I have always been up for adventure, and a future-in-progress beckons.

If you are currently pondering when it is time to call it quits, see my previous post. For more writing like this on my micro blog, see me at https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan.

Of Guilty Pleasures and Moving On

My idea of a meaningful birthday is to have some thoughtful one-on-one discussions with people like my Uncle Harold. Especially this time as I am about to retire from my hospice chaplain career. During that recent birthday I first told him about my indulgences, including unlimited brownie consumption, and he said, “Pleasure Is underrated. Go ahead and have another brownie.” Not only do we underrate pleasure, those of us who do not often indulge in it are dismissive of needing it or even think it is a human failing. Thus “guilt” and “pleasure” is a common association. Why is it that we think of pleasure as wrong on some level? Assuming we are not talking about a destructive form of it, pleasure is a way to savor our lives. Not only that, I think pleasure, like duty or patriotism or any other value, can be modeled. I hope for instance I provided a pleasurable moment at my Zoom birthday party by singing a Beatles song that revealed my age (They had better enjoyed it, as I had to practice it a lot to get the rhythms right!) In other words, I think we need to give each other permission to experience pleasure and not see it as a waste of time or worse.

Now that I am about to retire, I notice that I can take the time to pause in whatever I am doing or observing at the moment to think about its import to me. William Wordsworth’s lines come to mind: “I wandered lonely as a cloud/that floats on high o’er vales and hills,/When all at once I saw a crowd,/ A host, of golden daffodils/… and then my heart with pleasure fills/ and dances with the daffodils.”

I think the timing of my retiring has to do with pleasure, too, but not just from being free from what can be an emotionally draining task. It has to do with how I currently feel about being a hospice chaplain. I used to derive a sort of “pleasure” in taking on the challenge of this job through providing solace, insight, counseling, and yes, even dispensing a pleasurable experience to persons in distress through singing. But while I know I am still providing all these things, I do not feel that satisfaction anymore, and so that alerts me that I need to wrap up a career I have had more or less since 2005. During another one of those searching birthday discussions, my cousin Bobby so accurately observed, “Karen, hospice care is no longer a challenge for you.” That really struck me. I used to find each new case unique and a mystery to delve into. Now I just see each client falling into one of several common patterns for how persons deal with facing death and with bereavement. Any elements of surprise or learning something new are by and large gone.

For colleagues reading this, and for persons in general considering retirement from a current career, perhaps my experience will be a guide as to the timing. Barring financial restraints, I think it is time to retire when the life has gone out of an endeavor. As so many of my patients and family members have done, I have had to acknowledge when it is necessary to move on. If you are considering a career transition, does any of this essay resonate with you? Do you have other angles on this to share with me and my readers?

Flight Destination: Cloud Nine

Here’s an example par excellence of “it’s the journey, not the destination”:  Last Tuesday I read an article in The New York Times called, “Miss the Experience of Traveling? These Flights Go From Point A to Point A.” (September 22, 2020) It describes people who miss traveling and are willing to buy tickets just to fly and take in those cute clouds that look as soft as wool and land right back where they started. Huh? “It’s the journey” you say? In this case, you take “the destination” out of the equation altogether! The article goes on to say that “thousands of people in Brunei, Taiwan, Japan and Australia have started booking flights that start and end in the same place.” The passengers not only like the scenery, they like having a gourmet meal on board, and beforehand, an entertaining event as people board, and unusual decorations in the plane for a given theme such as a Hawaiian resort.

 I laughed out loud when I read that. And the passengers are even willing to put up with masks and physical distancing. After my laughter subsided, I thought this over to the point that I had to analyze such an offbeat article here on my blog. I think people crave the normalcy of flying for those who customarily do that, as well as an escape: the fantasy of a hassle-free check-in, the luxurious welcome, the themed events and decorations, and the scenery of a bird’s eye view. But who am I to laugh? I recently went to the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington, masked and physically separated, because I craved the pleasure of experiencing original art live. I even got to go the gift shop and buy two pairs of socks that show Monet’s Water Lilies and Klimt’s The Kiss, which I have been wearing on cool days.

All this reading fun, itself an escape, was spoiled towards the end with mention of the naysayers: “environmental groups… have taken to social media to express their frustrations” that the airlines are going back to negatively affecting the environment with these “unnecessary trips.” My retort to that is that many flights before the pandemic, with destinations and all– were for pleasure and therefore in a sense unnecessary. Even some business travel is now seen as “unnecessary,” and when the pandemic is over, may decrease from the level it was before.

Setting aside my original derision of these flights of fancy, and the comments from the naysayers, I think what steered me to this topic of traveling for its own sake is the broader one of creative adaptations to hard times. I hear of factories being retooled to produce masks rather than perfume, I note the revival of drive-in movies. The one phenomenon, therefore, that I celebrate during this time of travail, is the broader scope for creativity that it fosters. Instead of being a threat, creative solutions are now a salve to the edgy unnerving atmosphere we find ourselves in.

Meanwhile ready to board? A spokesperson for the Taiwanese airline Starlux is quoted in the Times article as saying that “most of the flights have sold out in ten minutes of being announced.”

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For more of Karen’s kibbitzing, see here: https://twitter.com/chaplainkkaplan

 

 

 

 

 

Me A Shopper? That’s A Show Stopper

I’d rather plop down on a couch

Than shop around like a grouch.

What? Don a mask inside?

By that terrible task must I abide?

Virtual shopping then?

There is no denial,

Online is less of a trial.

Yes, I’ve dilly dallied for quite awhile:

Shopping, any shopping, has never been my style.