Sunday, February 18, 2018

Learning from suffering

What can I learn about suffering?  That has become the spiritual question for me in recent weeks while recovering from my first hospitalization for a serious, complicated illness.

I have reminded myself daily of the inescapable fact that life involves pain and suffering; that millions are suffering around the world; that many people I know have major health challenges; and yet I remain trapped in my own mental delusion that I am unique.

I forget that  my faith teaches that love redeems the horrors of life, and so I reach out to others and welcome their good wishes and prayers, their phone calls and visits. I feel less isolated, which is one of the key aspects of suffering.

What else have I learned? To take each day at a time, refusing to worry about the future.  To appreciate simplicity: the little things I do in my home each day (cooking, e.g.) are important somehow in the bigger picture of my life.  Every task, however humble, has some meaning. I am being tested in mindfulness: full attention to the present moment.

I value the sun, the trees, the flowering azaleas here in Florida, the light as it streams through the window, the music I can access and all the other entertainments that can distract me from my discomfort.

I try to cultivate humility (a tough one) and acceptance of my human frailty. I tell myself, quoting a line from Rilke, that no feeling is final. The present headache or feeling of panic will pass. I have, after all, the most loving and wonderful of caregivers in the presence of my wife Lynn.  If prayer fails, she is there, smiling, comforting, helping me laugh.

And so I remind myself to be grateful for so much, for that fact that I am home healing and not getting (I hope) worse, that I am surrounded by love, that I have faith in God that is being tested and generally found to be solid.

Gratitude--and my sense of being connected to many friends, and to others in pain--are probably the key lessons I am learning.  But the struggle goes on, as it must, day by day.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

peacocks on board: flying pets

The picture of Dexter the peacock pictured in the press recently, lined up at the airport in Newark and being denied admission by the airlines, struck me as incredibly wacky and hilarious--but because of the crazy way some people act.

The article, in the NYTimes (2-4-18) by David Leonhardt, examines the strange policies that have developed allowing patients claiming the need for emotional support animals to board planes.   He says that Delta alone flies about 250,000 animals a year, not counting the ones  in the cargo hold.
People insist that they have a right to their pet pig, snake, bird, dog or cat, irrespective of the wishes (and allergies) of other human passengers.

When United Air said "No" recently to the woman taking Dexter the peacock along, there was much criticism. Few seemed to wonder, as I did, why a large, noisy, dirty bird could possibly provide any emotional support the woman insisted she needed for her flight to L.A.

Isn't there a big element of selfishness involved here, as people know the airlines are looking for extra money and don't bother to verify that the ticket-holder really has a medical need for an animal on board?  That's Leonhardt's point.

My point is, what about getting caring attention from other people? Have we given up on our human connections in turning to animals for support? Some people seem to have forgotten to trust each other or ask for human help.  I am thinking of human charity, sympathy, counseling, etc. rather than the extreme of resorting to a fad like relying on emotional support animals. (Obviously, the truly disabled blind, et al. have legitimate needs for their trained companions.)

I hope Dexter the peacock and his owner will open the door for reform in the airlines' policies of such flying pets.