Xander and Karen’s Epic Adventure

For years Mom had been telling us about her rh negative blood and her adopted great-great-great-someone who might have been Tatar, or descended from Genghis Khan, or possibly Basque Reptile Aliens. Finally, in an effort to solve the mystery of the great-great-great I bought Mom one of those DNA kits. After I bought the kit for Mom, I noticed that Dad looked pretty interested in being tested, too. So last week I ordered a kit for him.

The kit wasn’t supposed to arrive until Tuesday. This was a bummer because I have Saturday through Monday off every week, and if the kit didn’t arrive until Tuesday I’d have to wait a whole ‘nother week to bring it down to Dad. I started monitoring the kit’s progress across the country via its UPS tracking number and on Saturday found that it had made it to Seattle in the early morning. The odds of it getting to my local post office in time for me to pick it up while the post office crew was still there seemed pretty low – and if I couldn’t pick it up Saturday I’d have to wait until after work on Tuesday to get it because Monday was a holiday. So I did the Karen-thing. I threw out my happy hopes to the “cosmos” – thought of all the wonderful post office workers who were handling the kit and how efficient they all were, and how if they knew my need they’d want to help me – and drove to the post office on Saturday morning with an expectancy of finding Good waiting for me there. And it was! The kit had arrived!

As I was getting ready to leave for my folks’ my son, Xander, told me he’d like to go with me to visit his grandparents.  And so began our epic adventure.

The drive to my parents’ home went well – the express lanes through Seattle were open and we arrived at Dad and Mom’s in a couple hours. The DNA test involved spitting into a tube. Dad took care of that pretty quickly, and we moved onto other things. Xander, who has recently discovered his gifts as an artist and poet, and also recently discovered from a Wikipedia article that his grampa painted the “highest painting in the world” (my dad, Dee Molenaar, painted a watercolor at 25,000 feet on K2), began asking Dad about his painting technique. So Dad got out his watercolors and painted a picture for Xander on the dining room table. Watching Dad paint was oddly soothing – the sound of the brush on the paper, the stillness and quiet as Dad focused on his work – Xander and I both found ourselves getting relaxed and drowsy as we watched the painting unfold in front of us. There was something very precious in the bonding that was happening between the artist born at the beginning of the 20th century (in 1918) and his grandson-artist, born at the end of the 20th century (in 1994).

When it came time to go, Xander signed one of his books for his grandparents, and Dad signed his painting for Xander, we gave Mom and Dad tight hugs, and then got back in the car to begin our adventure home.

It had begun to rain.

By the time we reached I-5 the rain had become a deluge. It was dark, visibility was low, and people were hydro-planing by us at 80 mph. There were flashing red and blue lights coming from the side of the freeway on the right, and more flashing on the left. Xander said, “This is scary.” Something about the way he said it struck me as funny, and we both started laughing.  Then, still laughing, Xander shared his belief that people living in America today have become everyday daredevils.  Driving I-5 has become an “extreme sport” – we all race down the freeway in our narrow lanes – and if we cross over the lines we could be toast. We depend on everyone else to know what they’re doing, but “there are 16 year-olds driving down this freeway,” Xander pointed out – and everyone acts like this is all normal. Xander’s observations about the absurdity of modern freeway-driving cracked me up. The laughter helped ease the tension I’d been feeling.

I felt we were meant to be exactly where we were at that moment, and I felt we really could depend on everyone else to be exactly where they needed to be, too. The day had begun perfectly with the arrival of the DNA kit; the visit with my parents had been precious and dear; and now I was enjoying shared laughter with my son.  There was no place for anything less than perfect in this perfect and epic adventure.

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Dee Molenaar painting a picture of Mount Rainier.

 

 

Freckle Rose (1998-2015)

I scratch her behind her ears.
She gives a sweet little meow,
and puts her paw on top of my hand
one last time before she moves on…

 

My cat, Freckle Rose, passed on yesterday. She was almost 17. I guess we recognized she was dying for the last several weeks. There were decisions to make or not to make – should we take her to the vet and let him “put her to sleep” or should we let her die in her own home, in her own time, in her own way? She didn’t seem to be in pain (but who knows with cats, right?) and the last time I’d taken her to the vet she’d been really scared and unahppy – so I decided to keep her home and let her move on in her own way.

She stopped eating. Finally stopped drinking, too. I kept waking up every morning expecting to find she’d died in the night.

Yesterday morning when I went downstairs Scott said he’d found her lying on the floor next to a little stuffed animal that he thinks our dog maybe brought to her. Scott had put her on the couch. He told me he wasn’t sure if she was still with us. I went over to her. She didn’t seem to be moving. I started scratching behind her ears and she stretched – like cats do when they’re enjoying something. She meowed once – but not a grown-up cat meow – it was the same kind of meow she’d had when she was a little kitty – a sweet little meow. And she put her paw on my hand. I sang to her, and told her to look for my Aunt Junie – told her Junie would take care of her – and I told her to look for her mentor-cat, Paws. (She’d loved Paws. When she was still a youngster, she’d seen Paws get run over in front of our house, and had come running to the door to tell me – she’d led me to Paws in the same way that a dog would.)

After awhile I brought her outside into the sunshine – the birds were busy out there and the air was full of birdsong. Freckle meowed three times – really loud – kind of excited – and then her head dropped against my arm. I brought her back inside and laid her back on the couch. Her breaths became gasps with long spaces of nothing in between. I kept my hand on her body and could feel it still pulsing. And then I stopped feeling the life. Her eyes dilated. I think I knew when she was gone – but I’m not sure – it was a very gentle, gradual thing – no definite moment between life and death.

Scott had to go to work, but he said he’d help me bury her when he got home, if I wanted. But I wanted to bury Freckle while the sun was still out and the birds were still singing. So I went out to bury Freckle in my Secret Garden – I was going to do it by myself – I dug a hole and put her in it – but it wasn’t big enough and her little paws were sticking out of it. That was not going to work. So I found another place and started to dig, and then I turned around and my sons had come out to the garden to help me. They dug a nice deep hole for me, and we put Freckle in it and put a spring pansy in it on top of her, and covered her in the good earth.

I think of all Freckle Rose lived through with me. When I got her she was a feral little ball of fluff – only a month or two old. She’d shared most of her entire life with me, and a big chunk of my life: She’d been alive when my youngest had started kindergarten and been alive when he graduated high school; She’d been alive when we moved, and built our new house and moved again; She’d been alive on 9-11-2001;  She’d been alive when I’d lived through my life-changing depression, when I’d published my first book, and my second and third and fourth books; She’d been alive as I’d worked my way through my Master’s program; When my Aunt Junie had passed, Freckle Rose had been here; And when we’d acquired our rambunctious Labradane pup five years ago, Freckle had been alive and might have wondered what in the hell we were thinking. Freckle Rose had lived through a lot.

It’s weird to live in a world with no Freckle Rose.

Perception and “The Dress”

So this picture of a dress has been going around – you may have seen it – and apparently 74% of people see white and gold. I see blue and black. I’ve tried really hard to see white and gold, but it ain’t happening.

Go here to see the dress: https://www.yahoo.com/health/is-this-dress-blue-and-black-or-white-and-gold-112194158507.html

And here’s an explanation for why people are seeing different things: http://www.wired.com/2015/02/science-one-agrees-color-dress/

This incident with The Dress – and the way people can see the same thing so differently and are so sure they’re right about the way they see it – reminded me of some conversations I’ve had with others about God and Nogod. Many of those dialogues have been frustrating for everyone involved. But there was a dialogue I had on this blog a year ago with Andrey Pavlov, a young medical doctor and atheist, that was one of the most enjoyable conversations I believe I have ever had with another human being regarding “God.” I had met Andrey on the sciencebasedmedicine.org website, and he had kindly joined me on my blog so we could carry on our conversation.

I’d tried to describe to Andrey what “God” is to me. I’d written: And perhaps “God” IS nothing more than my own consciousness of good, really – but I feel this Good as a presence in my life. It’s as real to me as the air I breath. It speaks to me – not in a man-voice – but… it speaks to me as Truth. As Love. In times when I’m scared, I feel this presence of Love and comfort around me – and, again, maybe that’s nothing more than my own thoughts – but whatever it is – whether it’s just my own consciousness – something inside me – or whether it’s something I am inside of – this power I call God has been with me when I’ve been sick, and when I’ve been scared, and when I’ve had to make important decisions in my life – and this presence has helped me.

And Andrey responded with this –

“This is interesting to me. I believe you, I really do. I absolutely believe that you have these experiences and feel the things you do as you say them. And I do not think these are evidence of any sort of psychiatric illness, cognitive dysfunction, or anything someone may call ‘abnormal.’ I don’t really know (nobody does) but there is plenty of evidence to lead us to think that this is simply one of the many fluid ways in which an individual processes the universe around them.

“It is, IMO, important to realize that everything a person sees, feels,experiences in any way is highly processed by the software and hardware of our brains. We (mostly) all agree that an object which reflects electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of 650nM looks ‘red.’ But how do I know that what you actually experience as ‘red’ is actually what I experience as ‘red’? I can’t know and you can’t know. That is what philosophers refer to as the ‘qualia’ of life – that purely internal subjective processing and experience of life and the universe through the consciousness we have. It raises this interesting idea of ‘p-zombies.’ Dan Dennett has written a fair bit on them and it stems in part from the concept of a Turing test.

“So when you say that you ‘feel’ the presence of Love, Goodness, etc. I believe you. I can’t possibly imagine what that means in the same way I can’t imagine what it means when a synesthetic says that someone’s name is “lime green” in color. But to that synesthetic, it is a consistent, meaningful, and very real experience.”

I really appreciated the way Andrey listened – heard me – and made an effort to understand my perspective and translate it into something he could relate to in some way.

And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if we all could do that for each other?

“We must think critically…”

“We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others. Be hard on your beliefs. Take them out on the verandah and beat them with a cricket bat… Be intellectually rigorous.Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privilege.” – Tim Minchin

I really like the quote above. But – and I suppose this will show my own biases – it strikes me as a really masculine way of looking at self-reflection – so aggressive – so over-the-top – like we’re marching off into a major war or something, with swords drawn and bludgeons and bats at the ready.

My approach to the art of critical thinking is a little different, I guess. Sometimes I’m a gardener – pulling up the weeds, planting the cheery sunflowers, nurturing and watering the good, plucking out the stuff that’s not so good. And sometimes I approach it as a housekeeper might – adding a little vinegar to the water, and wiping the film and build-up of nonsense off the window panes so I can see clearly again, and so the light can come into my home.

We don’t need to beat the crap out of ourselves – and certainly not out of others – to make progress in our lives. We don’t need to break the windows – we just need to clean them, you know?

So how do we know when we need to spruce up our beliefs? Well, for me it starts with looking at where my beliefs are taking me. If they’re leading me towards hate, fear, anger, bigotry, bullying, greed, and selfishness, then those beliefs have got to go. But if my beliefs are leading me towards love – guiding me to a place of courage and compassion, generosity and hope, joy and kindness and forgiveness and integrity – then those are the beliefs I’m going to nurture.

Are we clearing the gardens of thought by uprooting the noxious weeds of passion, malice, envy, and strife? – Mary Baker Eddy

The way to extract error from mortal mind is to pour in truth through flood-tides of Love. – Mary Baker Eddy

sunflower and bee

photo of sunflower and bee by Karen Molenaar Terrell