Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

More About This Lutheran To Buddhist Thing. Part 3.

Believe it or not, this blog has a mail service.  Yeah, it's not as sexy as Reddit or an RSS feed, but if you comment on here with your email address, and you like actually want me to, I'll add you to the list of people to whom I send new posts as they're posted.  Mostly I'm sending it to certain family members, who wouldn't read my stuff otherwise.  Too much trouble to check my Web site every Thursday (well, most every Thursday) or they're not on Facebook or they don't like to browse on the Internet or whatever.  This is convenient, in a way, because if I wanna talk about them, all I have to do is not send the post when I'm done.  Yeah, it's kinda cowardly, and there's that tree-falling-in-the-forest thing (if a post is posted on Blogger and there's nobody around to tweet about it, does that post still exist?) but I get to get plenty of stuff off my chest that way, without hurting anybody's feelings.  And really, would you want to send a post critical of a person directly to that person?  Even if you did, you wouldn't do it, if you were a Lutheran.  It's way too direct and problem-solvy for a Lutheran.  And I was once a Lutheran.  So there you are.

This here is one of those posts. Yep, another discourse on my ongoing confusion with religion.  Which started pretty early.  I think I was about five.  Apparently in some Sunday-school discussion, we'd been talking about the poor widow who only had two shekels to give to the temple, which God appreciated much more than the sacks of gold brought by the more well-to-do believers because she gave all she had.  (You might think God would just give the two shekels back and say, "No, really, I'm fine without these.  Please take them and, I dunno, buy food for your kids or something." Maybe God would.  But temple administrators?  That's a whole nother story.)  Anyway: It occurred to me that I had a lot more than two shekels and I wasn't giving God all I had, which was evidently bad.  The most valuable things I owned at the time were my gold birth ring and a collection of Barbies.  The ring was a lot more portable.  So after the service one Sunday, I sneaked into the sanctuary, put it on the railing in front of the altar (the altar was off limits; even before paralegal school, I knew the before-the-bar rule) and left it there.

Well, you know how this ends.  Somebody saw me and turned in the ring, and the pastor figured out who I was and returned the ring to my mother, who returned it to me.  And I got in all kinds of trouble about leaving important and valuable things just lying around places (and at church, no less).  What was I thinking?   I don't remember if I explained about the poor widow and the two shekels, but I probably tried to (at that age I was still trying to explain stuff; I don't think I gave up on that until I was thirteen or so, and one might argue that in fact I never really did).  Anyway, the whole religious aspect of this incident just got totally overlooked. Which, again, if you're five, is all manner of confusing.

Everybody gets mixed messages from their parents.  It's part of being human, I think.  My bag of mixed messages, when it comes to religion, runs something like this: It's very important that we go to church every Sunday.  Because it's just something this family does.  You need to dress up and look pretty so we can look nice as a family but don't try to look nicer than anybody else or do anything else to call attention to yourself.  Yes, they talk about religion there, but don't listen.  Be attentive to your Sunday-school teachers. Just don't believe anything they tell you.  Because religion is a bunch of crock, really.  Don't believe in God.  Or if you do believe in God, don't tell anybody.  Especially not people at church.  They'll think you're a holy roller, and you don't want to be a holy roller.  There is no devil and there is no hell but you shouldn't ever lie, cheat, steal or have sex, because otherwise you'll go straight there when you die.  Finally, the way you feel at church is not important and you shouldn't pay any attention to it.  If you get involved with religion based on the way you feel, you'll end up in a cult or living on the streets with the Jesus Freaks. But it's very important that we go to church every Sunday.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

You can see how this might get confusing for a five year old.  Hell, I'm 45 and I'm still confused.  Even during the whole last five years I was living at home, when I refused to go to church and waged World War III about it with my mother every single Sunday, I don't think we ever once had any kind of actual religious discussion.  By which I mean, "This is what I believe. (Statement.)  What do you believe?"  That just never, ever happened.  Again, I'm 45 and about all I can tell you about my parents' religious beliefs is that I don't think my mother believes in God at all and my dad might believe in intelligent design, based on something he said once in a discussion about evolution ten years ago.  That's it. That's all.  If one of them ever dies, I suppose we'll have the funeral in the Lutheran church, but for the life of me I don't know why.

The tricky bit, here, is that I really wanted to believe in God.  It's very comforting to think that if you need help, there's somebody up there who can send it, and that if you fall down, somebody will pick you up and put you back on your feet.  I could wrap my brain around the concept of God, but I couldn't really believe in it.  And Jesus was right out.  I mean, the guy was cool--long haired radical, taught people to do what was right instead of what was popular, wanted his flock to take care of the widows and the orphans and anybody else who was obviously having a hard time, ended up dying for what he believed in--but the son of God? (Actually, he never said that.  He called himself the Son of Man.)  None come to the Father but through me? Nope.  Couldn't do it.  Could not even for one second believe that God would just pitch you out if you didn't come by way of his caddy.  That was totally antithetical to anything being God would mean.  And by the way, I do have at least a shaky grip on what being God would mean.  So far I've absolutely refused to play any video games that even hint that you control the environment, like SimCity or Black & White or even virtual fish aquariums. And I thought the scariest part of The Talisman, by "Big Steve" King and Peter Straub, came near the end, when Jake was with the Talisman for the first time and realized that by holding it, he had become God.  That sort of thing upsets me tremendously.  I cannot handle it.  And so this I can say about God with complete certainty:  He is not me.  And I was never cut out to be Him.

(Yes, even in my manic phases, where sometimes grandiosity takes over and I start believing that everything I do takes on Extreme Significance and therefore must be done Exactly Right.  Thank God for meds, because seriously?  That sort of thing gets old quick. There's only so many times you can walk down Fifth Avenue between B Street and Broadway at exactly 11:15 in the morning on a Wednesday in order to avert the Something Bad that might happen. Sooner or later you just have to get some work done.)    

So to end the story if it has an ending, after some 26 years in the Lutheran church, a lot of years as a nonpracticing nothing-in-particular and these last four or five as a Buddhist, I have not the foggiest idea to whom I'm praying.  I could address my prayers "to whom it may concern," but it's easier to just say God. You know, that supreme being I don't believe in.  I believe in a Higher Power (yes, 6 years in OA hasn't been a total waste of spiritual time), but what that is, I couldn't tell you.  I believe in a sort of universal force for good, something out there maybe made up of all of the beings that ever were, are or will be, that just sort of wants what's best for everybody and thinks we should all be a little nicer to each other.  So Buddhism fits this pretty well, seeing as Buddhism isn't terribly concerned about the nature of God.  As my Buddhist monk friend told me, "If there is a God, then He needs to be enlightened.  If He is already enlightened, then we should strive to be like Him.  If there is not a God, then we don't need to worry about it."

He said that.  He really did say that.  Honestly,  I could just smack him sometimes.  Which would be a very un-Buddhist-y thing to do.  And my Higher Power probably wouldn't be happy about it either.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

MINI POST MEGA ALERT: Justina Pelletier Goes Home

Well, it only took 16 months.  Justina Pelletier, the 16-year-old who spent much of last year in a locked psychiatric ward while her parents and a hospital argued over her diagnosis, is going home today.  The judge responsible for her case, Joseph Johnston, wrote Tuesday that “I find that the parties have shown by credible evidence that circumstances have changed since the adjudication on Dec. 20, 2013, that Justina is a child in need of care and protection pursuant to G.L. c. 199, 24-26...Effective Wednesday, June 18, 2014, this care and protection petition is dismissed and custody of Justina is returned to her parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier.” 

This is about a 180-degree reversal from March, where the same judge wrote that Justina needed to remain in state custody "due to the conduct and inability of her parents, Linda Pelletier and Lou Pelletier, to provide for Justina’s necessary and proper physical, mental, and emotional development."  In that ruling, the judge stated that Justina's parents "continue to engage in very concerning conduct that does not give this court any confidence they will comply with conditions of custody.” 

So which ruling was bullshit, the March one or the one from yesterday?  For the moment it may not matter; after all, the kid's going home, which is what everybody involved claimed to want (except for maybe the psychologist at the hospital that reported the family to the authorities in the first place; Dr. Simona Bujoreanu has been involved in five other, similar cases in the last 18 months).  Justina's family fought the system every step of the way, and the fight wasn't cheap; I shudder to think about the legal bills, to say  nothing of the incidentals - hotel bills, gas money, putting lives and careers on hold.  What if her family hadn't had that kind of money, or that kind of stamina? What's more, what if Justina was African-American or Latina and came from a poor family?  Well, then, folks, we never would have heard of her.  She'd have disappeared into that locked-down psychiatric unit until her eighteenth birthday, if she lived that long, or vanished into foster care, never to be heard from again.  The Massachusetts authorities didn't suddenly change their minds about Justina and her family.  They were simply worn down from the publicity and the growing pressure, both from protesters, writers and activists and from Massachusetts politicians, who had already passed a resolution demanding that Justina be allowed to return home and were considering passing a law to force that to happen.

Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."  If you don't have the right to be free of constraints on your person (like, say, being locked up when you haven't done anything wrong) when you're a kid, then you don't have it as a grown-up, either. Witness the hue and cry for laws allowing the involuntary detention of mentally ill people every time there's a mass shooting.  (Wow. I just typed "every time there's a mass shooting."  Think about that.)  If you don't have the right, as a parent, to decide what doctor to take your children to in Massachusetts, then you don't have it in Texas or New York  or California.   

We'll have more on this later of course--several lawsuits are pending, including a Federal case for false imprisonment. But for now, welcome home, kiddo.  I hope the party never ends. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

So I'm 45 Years Old.

Yep, another birthday.  This is an important one, though, because it has a 5 in it.  Any birthday with a 5 in it is important.  The first 5 and you're ready to start kindergarten, thus ending the period of time known as childhood.  The second 5 and you're ready to date.  The third 5 has you out of college, probably working some menial job somewhere and wondering what in hell just happened.  By the time you get to the fourth 5, though, you've probably figured it out.  And then there's my 5.  Meaning, I only have 5 years left before every single year has a 5 in it for ten entire years.  Which, when you think about it, is pretty scary, because after that last 5 year, there's only 5 more years until you start collecting Social Security.  Unless you start early.

45 puts you smack in your Middle Forties.   By the time that 5 sneaks in there, you can't say that you're in your "early forties" anymore.  5 is halfway to 50, and I'm not going to be one of those creepy adults who tells you "It all went so fast I feel like I was seventeen just days ago."  What crap.  Plenty has happened since I was seventeen, and here's a news flash: A lot of time had gone by since then.  I was 17 in the Eighties, when everything was big and brash.  Fashions were big.  Hair was big.  Politicians were big (and they all wanted to be Ronald Reagan).  Pop music was big, AIDS wasn't yet a thing and everybody was doing cocaine.  Or at least, everybody who could afford it was doing cocaine.  Compared to what's going on now, it was practically an alien planet.  Who would walk down the street these days wearing stacked heels six inches high, shoulder pads that reach to her ears and hair that adds another foot to her height?  I mean, besides Sandra Bernhard?

Yeah.  A lot's happened.  And I'm on the other end of it, meaning I survived it.  Some of my friends didn't and are stuck somewhere between 1989 and now.  The thing that sucks about dying young is that you're forever mired in the context of whatever was going on when you checked out.  My friend Roberta, colloquially known as Burt, lives on in my head wearing the same black jeans and The Clash t-shirt she had on the last time I saw her.  Would she have gone on to embrace grunge, hip hop, Air Jordans and cargo pants?  Maybe, but we'll never know now, will we?

Anyway, I got to live to be this old.  And like the guy at the end of Saving Private Ryan, I'm sort of wondering if I've done anything that merits it.  I didn't cure cancer or bring peace to the Middle East.  I never sang with Lennon, or played in Jimi's band; I never met no president nor shook a Gandhi's hand.  (Oops.  Apologies to Stuart.)  Like everybody else on the planet, I was born with big dreams and fantastic visions.  Where did I end up?  Well, for the last fifteen years I've made lots of lawyers look good in court.  I wish some of them would have been arguing key human rights cases or at least fighting the big insurance companies, but most of them weren't.  Yay.  Go, me.

I need one of those It's a Wonderful Life experiences where I get to see what the world is like without me.  Maybe Noah would have formed a grunge band and ended up world famous in Estonia.  Maybe Kim would have moved to San Francisco, founded a tech company and changed the whole nature of right-clicking on things.  Maybe Joan would've led an armed band of church ladies into MGM Studios and forced Bruce Lansbury to start making Wild Wild West episodes again.  Immediately.  (No, not the godawful movie; the really cool TV show.) For that matter, maybe John O. Pastore would have never been elected to Congress, having his campaign undone when his affair with Madalyn Murray O'Hare came to light.  (And maybe Madalyn wouldn't have disappeared under mysterious circumstances, but then, who doesn't love a good mystery?)  And in case you have no earthly idea what I'm talking about or who these people are, well, that's what Wikipedia is for, kids.  As I was saying, a lot happened between then and now.  You can't exactly expect me to spell it all out.

Speaking of It's A Wonderful Life, though, I wonder what would have happened if George Bailey were to have gone back to Pottersville-that-could-have-been and discovered that most of his friends were doing just fine.  Mary Hatch married Sam Wainwright and had six brilliant children that invented things and cracked the stock market and created a new generation of jet airplanes.  Burt the cop and Ernie the cab driver formed a comedy duo in which they used puppets to argue with each other in an Odd Couple kind of way.  Mr. Potter found Transcendental Meditation through the Beatles and gave away his fortune to Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, who didn't want it but said what the hell and used it to develop a new line of Tarot cards. (Wikipedia, people.  Wikipedia.  Come on, it's just you and Google.  Who's gonna know, besides the forensics cops that will be tearing your computer apart after your wife disappears?)

And my little corner of the world?  Well, that's just what I'm wondering.  What if everything just kept rolling along, fine as paint, my absence marked by nothing more interesting than the lack of a bassoon player in a certain high school band?  I mean, bands can live without bassoon players, folks.  That's what the little tiny notes written above the second trombone part are for.

It's after midnight and I have a pool to be in around eight tomorrow, so we'll have to shut down speculation on this whole thing before I throw myself off a bridge into the Bedford River just to find out.  If nothing else, Chloe the Cat would not be happy if there wasn't a Jen-shaped human mattress to curl up uponst in the middle of the night.  And Joan might have something to say about it, too.  Anyway, I'm 45 years old.  That I've survived this long must mean something or other.  I wonder what.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Please Let Me Go Home Right Now."

Just watch the video, okay?  It's  45 seconds long.  You've got that much time. 

There. It only took 16 months, but Justina Pelletier finally got to say something.  Imagine what it must be like to have total strangers making your decisions for you, including where you get to live, who gets to see you and whether or not you get to attend school, or practice your religion or even get Communion, and nobody listens to a thing you say.  In fact, you don't get to say anything, never mind be listened to, because you're under eighteen and therefore legally incompetent.  Sixteen-year-olds can get married, rent an apartment in some states, get a job, join the military with parental consent and even (gasp!) fly alone on an airplane, but Justina doesn't get to decide if she can see her parents on her birthday or Mother's Day.  

And what did she do wrong, to be put in this situation?  Nothing.  Her parents disagreed with a doctor's diagnosis.  That is all.  That led to her parents losing custody at an "emergency hearing" that Justina did not attend. That led to over a year in a locked psychiatric ward when there was never any indication that she was suicidal, or homicidal, or doctor-cidal (though I certainly would be in the same circumstances).  And even if she was, why did it take them a year to stabilize her?  If anybody took a year to stabilize me, my insurance company would just laugh at them:  "$2,000 a day for a year?  That's very funny. Try 15 days at the outside, assholes, or get your funds somewhere else." 

Justina's now in the process of bouncing from one residential treatment facility to another, which has to be almost as much fun as being in a locked psych ward (well, I suppose you get to go outside occasionally).  Her parents have filed a motion that she be released home, and the state's not opposing it, probably just because of the bad publicity and the fact that the parents have worn them down.  But imagine if they hadn't.  What if Justina's parents were too overwhelmed, exhausted, discouraged, or simply not rich enough to keep paying their lawyers?  Well, then Justina probably would have just disappeared into the system, never to be heard from again.  Believe me, if she were a poor black child, we'd never have known about this case. 

By the way, Justina used to be a competition figure skater.  A figure skater.  Now she's in a wheelchair.  Sounds like all the medical care she was getting by force from the state of Massachusetts really did a lot of good, doesn't it?  But at least now she's been able to say something.  Maybe somebody will even listen.