Friday, March 31, 2006

The Lost School of Yiddish Zen

Thanks to Jeff for sending me this forward. Keep 'em comin!


The Lotus & the Mishpokheh:

1. Let your mind be as a floating cloud. Let your stillness be as the
wooded glen. And sit up straight. You'll never meet the Buddha with
such round shoulders.

2. There is no escaping karma. In a previous life, you never called,
you never wrote, you never visited. And whose fault was that?

3. Wherever you go, there you are. Your luggage is another story.

4. To practice Zen and the art of Jewish motorcycle maintenance, do
the following: get rid of the motorcycle. What were you thinking?

5. Be aware of your body. Be aware of your perceptions. Keep in mind
that not every physical sensation is a symptom of a terminal illness.

6. If there is no self, whose arthritis is this?

7. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Forget this and
attaining enlightenment will be the least of your problems.

8. The Tao has no expectations. The Tao demands nothing of others. The
Tao does not speak. The Tao does not blame. The Tao does not take
sides. The Tao is not Jewish.

9. Drink tea and nourish life. With the first sip, joy. With the
second, satisfaction. With the third, Danish.

10. The Buddha taught that one should practice loving kindness to all
sentient beings. Still, would it kill you to find a nice sentient
being who happens to be Jewish?

11. Be patient and achieve all things. Be impatient and achieve all
things faster.

12. To Find the Buddha, look within. Deep inside you are ten thousand
flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten
thousand petals. You might want to see a specialist.

13. Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?

14. Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then
what do you have? Bupkes!

When Christianity and Islam get mixed, the results are often explosive. It's nice to see that other great religions can blend with results that are merely humorous.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Your Sombrero, Senator?

The current storyline over at the webcomic Shortpacked asks the question "How silly can Congress get?"

Their answer: Really, really silly.

Over the top? Yes. Fundamentally wrong? *sigh* That's where I wonder...

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Anthropology of Dying

My grandmother has been in declining health for the last few years. She suffers from vascular dementia, among other age and smoking-related problems.

Recently, she fell and broke her hip. She had a partial hip replacement operation and blessedly came through it in good physical shape (for her age and condition).

Her mental shape? Not so good. Memory problems are not new territory for her, but she's been very confused ever since the operation. Confused enough that every morning, she tries to get out of bed and falls because she can't remember that she broke her hip.

The painful conversation about where she is and why she can't go home is repeated several times a day. Last week, she moved from the hospital to a rehab facility, which hasn't helped her confusion.

When I visit my grandmother, I don't know how to talk to her. She pleads again and again to go home, and it breaks my heart to deny her over and over again. My grandmother has had episodes of acute dementia before, but never for this long, and doctors tell the family that she is unlikely to recover mentally or physically to level she was at before the fall.

The situation is difficult for everyone in my family. There seem to be no good answers here.

Human cultures tend to develop rituals for difficult times in life. In most parts of the world, funerals and mourning behavior are well understood, even if the rules are seldom written down.

We have rules for death. We have sytems for dealing with it. Wills, executors, burials, afterlives. We don't seem to have rules for the long, slow, decline that more and more often precedes death. "Modern medicine" has kept my grandmother alive for years, perhaps decades, longer than she would have lived a centruy ago. Well and good. But medicine offers no rules on how to deal with a beloved relative who is less and less the person that she was.

Forgive me, medicine does offer ONE rule- "Pay the bills. Right away." Not very comforting.

How do you treat an aging relative whose decline reaches a point where the label "second childhood" is not strong enough? When the family matriarch crosses the line from being "not her old self" to being not quite a full person anymore?

Ours is the first generation when geriatric medicine has made this set of problems widespread. It is now easy for us to help along an aging heart, but we are almost powerless to halt the decay of an aging brain.

Mixing-bowl, libertine America is generally weak on cultural rituals. We are too mixed-up, too scattered, and too focused on the new to remember the traditional, at least until we belatedly discover that we need tradition to lean on.

Maybe this is a situation where that weakness of tradition can become a strength. Before now, no culture in the world has needed to find ways to deal with geriatric dementia on a large scale.

I can reasonably expect (okay, hope) that people scattered all over the U.S. and Canada will read this blog, plus a few on on other continents. Have any of you had similar experiences with an older relative or friend? Have you found anything that helps? I'm collecting all idea, no matter how odd or person-specific.

P.S.- I'm not saying that there are NO resources out there to help people cope with this sort of problem, but I still think that long-term mental decline is not quite the same problem as death. Some resources I've found helpful before are below; will add to these as I find more:

Hospice Net-
Elisabeth Kubler Ross-

Bill Moyers: Dying On Our Own Terms-

The World Is Too Small: 6.5 billion and counting

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and United Nations Population Fund, there are now more than 6.5 billion humans living on Earth. That's 6,500,000,000 people, for those of you who are impressed by zeroes.

If you're one in a million, there are 298 of you in the U.S.A. and 6,500 of you in the world.

Is it possible for any human being to be unique anymore? They say that everyone has a twin somewhere. Heck, I'll settle just for being unique in my metro area and job market, but even that's getting harder and harder. So unless you're really strange, get used to the idea that while you may be different compared with the people in your immediate vicinity, it's getting harder and harder to be special.