429. Fartichoke Soup

Image result for artichoke pictures

It wasn’t last Christmas, so maybe two Christmases ago my New York City sophisticate daughter Erin was home for the holidays and was sharing some of her nifty NYC recipes. The first one was awesome. I believe it consisted of pan fried kale with sliced radishes and pumpkin seeds drizzled in lemon juice.  Perhaps I’m skipping bacon or some other delicious element. Anyway, it was delightfully tasty. For that matter so was the second dish she made for us.

It was Christmas Eve, as I recall. She was cooking down fresh artichokes, something my family never ate unless you count pickled artichoke hearts on a salad. There’s some yum yum eating. I don’t recall the other components, just that the end product resembled salsa verde or a thin split pea soup. Oh, it was tasty alright. As we sipped and sampled the soup, Erin offered this caveat:  “Some folks have gas reactions to this soup.”  We reassured her that we’d be fine. We were going to Christmas Eve worship service after this early supper. Certainly we would not fart in the house of God. As the old Chinese fortune cookie joke goes, “Man who fart in church sit in own pew.”

“Oh that is so good. I’ll have another bowl.” All of us approved highly of this high octane flatulence rocket fuel and, tragically as we were to learn later on, ate it up with smiles on our faces and soup spoons in our mouths. Not much time went by  before the artichoke soup began doing its malevolent magic.

Toot.”

Ripppppp.”

Snort.

Kaflump!

Purrrrkup.

Flubbbbbbbrrrrrrr.

Strangely, the entire Old Mcdonald’s Farm cast showed up in full throat– “Here a pig, there a goat in a cart; here a cow, there a horse. Fart, fart fart.” The resonance was amazingly melodious and slightly psychedelic, as if we had all taken LSD for dinner or hit the bong hard. Each toot was funnier than the last. We all regressed to being children on some level, fascinated with flatulent bubbles in the bathtub, laughing like stoned orangutans high on fermented mangoes. It was a bizarre predicament, a pickle barrel moment, as we considered, “Toot, toot, toot,” that we had to go to an hour’s service at church. How was that going to work?

Fortunately, fartichokes are all bark and no bite, so there was no scent trail, just burps of varying length, strength, timber, and melody. Perhaps fartichokes could have been the earliest form of cave man music. I imagined happy cave dweller families lounging around after a bowl or two, humming and then singing something like Sam Cooke’s “Working on the Chain Gang

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373. Love is a many Splintered thing

So Pat and Clark are in Florida on the Good Ship Lollipop, soaking in hot tubs and heated swimming pools at night, watching pelicans flail the air inches above Tampa Bay during the day. Sun, warmth, and elderly folks everywhere. But when you are 60 plus, you are in that demographic. The concept of OLD shrinks every year like grapes turning to raisins, you notice, as there are fewer and fewer people left on the vine who are older than you. Places come up for purchase at rock bottom prices. $59,000 will buy a nice home on a rental lot next to the river.  And you learn why such a deal exists:  the previous owner no longer exists. She went Home. Died. Crossed the River Styx.  Still, it’s tempting to settle into the last chapter of one’s life. Twenty pages left and then the hard cover of a carved coffin closes the story.

“We’re not ready to commit to living here six months a year. Not yet. It’s a different world here, though, nice and  friendly. Everyone is so helpful. They have nothing else to do. You know, it’s like a staging ground for launching into heaven… or somewhere.”

Clark pretends to complain about Pat when he calls me. “She’s getting violent, beating me about the head and neck for no reason.” In the background I hear Pat  say, “Oh, I am not!”

“She needs anger management, I’m telling you. It’s her Irish. You know, whiskey and anger. Anger and whiskey. The Irish drink cuz they’re mad, and they’re mad cuz they drink.”

Pat far away, “Heeeeeyyyy”.

“I suggest that Pat get a solid weapon such as a ball bat so she does not hurt her hand while whacking you, Tonto, who undoubtedly need correction. ”

“She’s worse than the nuns who used to beat me in elementary school.”

“Good. You are bigger now and need a stronger hand.”

“Hey, I’m the victim here.”

“Clark, remember one thing:  Everyone loves Pat. Nobody loves you.”

“That’s two things.”

“So it is.”

“But this is abuse.”

“Well, sometimes love has to be cruel to be kind. That’s how much she loves you, Dude.”

“With a ball bat?”

“Is it wooden or aluminum?”

“Wooden.”

“Yeah, that’s love.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You will break before the aluminum. With the wood, there’s a chance the bat will splinter in half with a good blow to your granite head.”

“And that’s okay with you?”

“Sure. Not just me, Clark. Poets sing of such love.”

“This cell phone is messing up your words. Sounds like you said something about poets love abuse.”

“Seriously, ‘Love is a many splintered thing’. Haven’t you heard that song lyric?”

“I remember Frank Sinatra singing ‘Love is a many splendored thing’….”

“No, man, they changed the lyrics for the movie version. The original, uh just wait a sec…. I’ll Google it to you… Yeah, it was a war movie, Losing Private Lyons. Dean Martin is sent to find Private Lyons, even though they love the same woman back in Toledo. Once Dean finds Private Lyons, played by Sinatra, he’s blown into bits by a land mine, and his head just lies there on the cold French landscape, looking at Dean with his eyes open; then he just starts singing as Dean Martin cradles him like a basketball…

Love
Is a many splintered thing
It’s the April rose
That only grows
In the early spring
Love
Is nature’s way of giving
A reason to be living
The golden crown
That makes a man a king

“And then the head just stops speaking as Deano blows up a Nazi machine gun nest.  See that?  Her beating you on your crown is a royal blessing on your noggin. Don’t you see?”

“I think you are messing with the words, El Capitan. Plus, I don’t believe that movie exists. I never seen it.”

“No, Bro Diddly, them’s the words. You just have to live in the world you’re in.”

“So, basically, you’re on Pat’s side again, is that it? And you’re gonna make up a bunch of lies to protect her?”

“Yep. Your side is the abyss. And you started the lying, Stubby. Look at the second verse, Broheme. It’s where Deano sings back to Frank’s head after he cleans out the nest of Nazi shooters.”

Once on a high
And windy hill
In the morning mist
Two lovers kissed
And the world stood still
Then your fingers touched
My silent heart
And taught it how to sing
Yes, true love’s
A many splintered thing

“Then he buried Frank’s head under a flat rock. It was a movie ending no one saw coming, I tell you. Do you see how the longing and the splinters are interwoven?”

“Not really. Now, I was never very good in English class, but I know when someone is pumping canal water up my ass.”

“You know, I’ve never understood that colloquialism.”

“It means you’re full of crap and you’re giving me a verbal enema.”

“Clark, that may be true, but love and splinters, that’s truth hard as a tooth. Ya know?”

“You’re not budging are you?”

“Let me just put it this way:  if Pat broke the bat over your head and you were  bleeding with half of the bat stuck in your cranium, meanwhile you have the entire assault recorded on your smart phone’s camera, the police would arrest you for bothering Pat.”

Cop 1, “He had it coming, Murphy.”

Cop 2, “Yep, surely he did, O’Malley. Let’s have a Guiness. I’ll buy.”

Cop 1, “No indeed. You bought this morning. This round is on me.”

Cop 2, “So be it. We’ll hoist a pint of Guiness for the love of Patty Girl. Aye.”

“You Irish always stick together, don’t you?”

“We have to. The world’s leaders know that if we are ever set free from Guiness and whiskey, we will rule the world. So they try and try to splinter us.”

“Uh huh. So is this going in your blog?”

“You know it is.”

“What are you gonna call it?”

“I’ve narrowed it down to Sinatra’s severed singing head or Love is a many splintered thing.”

“Yeah, I’d go with the second one.”

“Gotcha.”

348. Broken Vessel

While sitting with a client a week after her suicide attempt, I was struck by her brokenness.

A week before she had called to say she could not wait for our first session at the agency where I was working in the 90’s.  She was drunk and decided to swallow the fifty or so anti-depressants she had left in her prescription. It was an odd emergency cancellation call.

“I won’t  be able to make our schsleduled appointment cuz I’m gonna kill myschelf.”

“Okay. Could you do me a favor before you kill yourself?”

“Sschure.”

“Would you unlock your front door?”

“Okay. Anything elsssh I can do for you?”

“Nope. Just thanks for calling. That was super nice of you.”

“Oh Ssshertainly. Bye bye.”

I immediately called 911 and canceled the appointment I was in the middle of. Yeah, I had just met a lady with a circus of diagnoses in person and this craziness on the phone had exploded. “I gotta go, ma’am. It’s an emergency. I know we just met, but …”

 I met her as the medics carried her to the ambulance.  “Who the hell are you?” she slurred as we passed. I happened to look down and see her pathetic, impossibly childish, yellow suicide sticky note on the floor of her apartment building’s lobby.  It said, “My parents never loved me.”

Later at the hospital she had her stomach pumped and some crisis counseling. “I’m the guy on the phone. I’d still like to meet with you after your get out of here. Is that okay?”

As I listened during our first scheduled session, I visualized her as a ceramic vessel that had been shattered long ago.  I felt like I was figuratively “picking up the pieces”, as if I were a psychological archeologist.  I recalled the satisfactions I had derived from rebuilding broken furniture, kids’ toys, my old cars, etc.  I also sensed a fertile symbol here and a very powerful emotional image to manipulate.  I floated the broken vessel image with “Sherry”.  She accepted it as accurate.

“Yeah, my life is a shattered mess with lots of missing pieces.”

Before our next session I located a hammer and several old coffee cups, two plastic grocery bags and a tube of Elmer’s glue.  During this session I asked “Sherry” to pick a cup she most identified with.  She selected one with a floral pattern and a few minor chips.  I asked her to explain how she was like this vessel.  She mentioned its usefulness, attractiveness and sturdiness.

As the session progressed, she seemed to hold the cup with unconscious affection.

After a while I asked “Sherry” to recall the major traumas in her life.  She did so, noting that most had been abuse suffered at the hands of men in her life.  I then asked my client to wrap the cup in the plastic bags to guarantee we could retain all the pieces.  Giving her the hammer, I instructed “Sherry” to voice the three biggest hurts she had experienced as she pounded the cup in the bags.  As she did so, the force of her blows increased with each hit.  I believe she would have turned the cup to powder if I had not set limits.

My client noted an immediate emotional release; however, she appeared overwhelmed at the task ahead of her.  I asked her to open the bag and inspect the pieces.  “That looks like I feel”, she observed, “ a broken mess”.  Then I gave her the glue and asked her to rebuild the cup.   “The glue is therapy”, I observed. She quickly gave excuses why she could not comply.  I told her she might not ever want to complete the task, and that she could stop at any point in the process.

At our next session the mug was again in one piece and my client had several remarkable lessons to relate about how she rebuilt the cup.

“I started with the big pieces, then worked from the bottom to the top.  I had to wait between gluings to allow the first pieces to solidify. You can’t rush some of the mends.”

“I had to look for patterns to follow; the flower prints helped. So did the border.”

“I had to give up the notion of a perfect rebuild since some of the cup was powder now. I guess the first blow is likely gonna be a powder blast.”

“I was proud of myself.  I thought ‘if I can rebuild this shattered cup, I can do this therapy thing too.’”

“I want to keep this as a reminder of where I started. I mean, I won’t be drinking coffee out of it, but I can put flowers in it on my mantel.”

“Sherry” went on to question some old assumptions and behaviors, and worked on changing her view of herself.  Oddly enough, her suicide attempt was triggered by a promotion at work. She assumed that she would make a mess of the increased responsibilities and found out as a fraud. She had been alcoholic and self-destructive, beating life to the punch.  Ironically, or so it seems to me, the hammer of destruction had truly been in her hand over the past few years.  Visualizing this truth seemed to be the beginning of the healing process.

On other occasions I have used this technique with traumatized clients.  As far as I can tell, each application has been very satisfying and growth-enhancing for the client.  On one occasion the client chose not to hammer her marriage cup symbol.  In another case a child of abuse chose not to fully rebuild the cup she symbolized as her abuser, leaving several pieces unglued that could have easily been reintegrated. There is a certain beauty in repaired brokenness, don’t you think?

Jeremiah 30:17 says, “I will give you back your health and heal your wounds”, says the Lord. “For you are called an outcast, ‘Jerusalem for whom no one cares'”. And so it goes, back to unity and wholeness and harmony.

 

 

161. First Day of School

Back to school feels eerie this year. It’s unusually cool. This chilly air may actually help the kids accept going back into the warehouses of education, which are starting to resemble super-sized box stores. But honestly, these crisp sunny days are the choicest fruits of summer, far superior to the hazy days of June and July that oozed fat sweat drops of humidity which collected in fleshy creases and overlaps. No, days like these are brisk, sharply defined, cool and brilliant… and precious.

Heather downstairs was late coming across the parking lot, and I pretended that it mattered to me, tapping my left wrist as if I had a watch, which I don’t.

Flustered as usual, Heather gushed, “First day of school and I had to take the kids in…and my daughter’s soccer coach murdered his wife and killed himself last night. And I had to break that to my daughter this morning. She loved her coach and his two sons. She cried. I said it was an accident. Some other day we’ll say what it really was. Can you believe that? Have a nice first day, Sweetie.” Disturbing as a snake in a bird’s nest, gulping down hatching eggs whole.

Whoa! How do you do that? Kill your wife and then yourself as your two innocent sons sleep? The lady at the coffee shop had been mumbling about this murder/suicide twenty minutes earlier. “I would have just left,” she offered. Another patron reading the morning paper suggested that at 3:30 a.m. the wife may have been asleep. Single gunshot to the head. Boom. Over. The how and when are covered, but why? No reason can justify killing the mother of your two sons, leaving them orphaned. It smells like a guy who was out of control and tried to regain control with a gun. We may never know all the details since he killed the only other witness, himself. And yet, we think somehow that sense can be sifted from the ashes of senselessness. You may as well burn the newspaper and then try to read its ashes.

These sorts of stories are becoming ordinary events. When we moved out of the D.C. beltway madness in 1980, my wife and I rarely heard or read of a local killing in our rural Franklin County. Someone would be killed while hunting, perhaps mistaken for a turkey, but cold or hot blooded murder was pretty rare. Now, it happens with regularity. I don’t blame guns; they do not fire themselves in the night at point blank range. However, I am perplexed by a lack of emotional regulation, mostly by men who feel threatened by a wife or girl friend who is leaving. Not that women haven’t done the same thing. There was the lady at the mall a few years ago who shot at her husband repeatedly but was a bad shot, killing some glass and a couple of mannequins at J.C. Penney. How is it that a person gets so completely overwhelmed by rage or jealousy that killing their loved one seems like a logical choice? In that moment the loved one becomes a coiled rattlesnake with super toxic venom; it’s kill or be killed at some reptilian level of consciousness. Blogitzers, we need to stay out of that reptile zone or risk becoming a rattlesnake that strikes and eats its mate.

And school, somehow schools and school children keep coming up as preferred targets for out of control young men with arsenals at hand. How is it that so many disconnected young men seem to all arrive at the same conclusion– go to a public school and kill as many folks as possible. Why not rush a nursing home or hospital? Why a school? I don’t blame videogames either. Even though they seem to be training grounds for extreme violence. The fact remains: millions play them obsessively but few of the players offend. I don’t like the obsession with videogames, but folks always find something to obsess over.

Here’s the sad fact: Human life is not sacred to humans. Not even little kids’ lives. If it were, what would our world look like? Unimaginable grace would flow from one to another in all our relationships, husband to wife, parent to child, neighbor to neighbor, teacher to student, provider to customer, employer to employee. Utopia would be someplace near instead of nowhere. If I treated you as holy and you treated me as holy, wow. We’d both be holy and honor one another with words and deeds. We’d spend a lot more time thinking and praying than running around doing and competing. Holiness requires a lot more meditation, I think. We’d have to live in smaller units because of the demands of holiness (which means “set apart” for starters); and then the practical application of holiness would limit group sizes, don’t you think? How many holy men does it take to change a light bulb? None, they don’t need light; they are light bearers, radiating truth like neon angels in the desert darkness. Oddly though, they seem to be born in or live in deserts.

But human life is sacred to God, so the more we choose to honor and seek out God, the more we must treat human life as sacred. This opens a huge can of worms from abortion to euthanasia and cloning and war and famine and immigration and poverty. The easiest way to deal with the clamoring of all these issues is to get rid of God, but that just gets one back into chasing his own tail or shooting his loved ones. I wish it were simpler, like finding limes fought off scurvy. Simple. Or the world is round not flat. Simple. God values all life; and if we value God, then we must also value all life. Hard.

Perhaps if that were the first lesson taught on this first day of school, we would have some small holy tile moments that comprise the universal mosaic of sacred life.