Visits

Sunday, December 17, 2017

As the World Turns

Well, the welcome home/surprise party last night started out fairly drearily, not because it wasn't a nicely done party, with lots of balloons, twinkle lights and a lavish catered meal, but just because it felt just a bit odd for me to be in attendance at a surprise party for the man my wife is running away with. Lol. But, as I said, I want to do whatever I can to be a positive part of the situation--whether that means showing my friendship or disappearing altogether. Whatever is most pleasing to the people involved. 

The night improved, however, when I separated myself from the central group and joined 'the smoking table', around which were gathered five young men and one young woman, all Balinese and all employed by the catering service. (They had stayed, of course, for free drinks and food). Upon learning that I could speak Indonesian, they were all very excited and full of questions and comments. Where are you from? Oh, America! What part of America? What's the weather like there? Where do you live here? Why do you live here? What hobbies do you have? And so on and so forth. 

Then one asked, "Well, how do you know Louis?" 

"Well, she's my wife." 

"Oh? But I thought the party was for that bald Australian fellow." 

"Yes, it is. That's her boyfriend." 

"Hah! How can it be?"

So, I explained, and they listened attentively. 

"Wah, Bapak orang baik hati, ya." You are a kindhearted person. "Usually there must be much anger and fighting." 

Indeed.

"Hey, Bapak," the girl says, showing me a photo on her phone. "This is my mother. She is single. She is looking for man. She likes best the white man."

"No, no," her friend interrupts, thrusting his own phone forward. "This is my auntie. She is very beautiful, yes? She is single, Bapak. Looking for husband!" 

Life goes on, it seems. And very quickly at that. 

Now, how will I explain to the mother and the auntie that I am actually single and married. How do you say this in Indonesian, I wonder? 


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Party

Though it may seem a bit strange, I have been invited to attend tonight a surprise party for my wife's boyfriend. I suggested that this might be a bit uncomfortable--not for me, really, but for those friends she has invited--but she disagrees. Well, and she's probably right. These people, to me, are mere acquaintances, as for a long while now, we have not matriculated in the same groups. She has tended to gather with people from her former workplace, salsa enthusiasts and various others, while I have tended to associate mostly with the neighborhood dogs. This is not to say that I am very excited about going, and yet my feeling, now as always, is that if I can be of any help in the fashioning of a stabile, peaceful, secure relationship, I want to do so.

I wrote something not long ago to this effect: There are those who are strong on the outside but weak on the inside; and there are those who are weak on the outside but strong on the inside.

My wife is of the former type. She is quite able when it comes to navigating the 'business' side of the world, in what one might call matters of exterior decoration and functionality, but crumbles quite hopelessly when deeper strengths of heart and spirit are needed. Given to doubt, suspicion, fear and despair, she needs as many immovable stones as possible in times of storm.

New relationships are never easy, and they are especially difficult when they involve a sudden transition from former husband and former wife, as this one does in the cases of she and of her new mate. The expectation that everything will be peachy because, after all, love is involved, is simply unrealistic. The road is bound at first to be quite bumpy indeed, and getting through these particular woods will require fortitude, trust, forgiveness, persistence. Sometimes it's not very much fun at all. I know this, for I have been there three times and failed three times.

And so I understand; and my inclination is to be as helpful and as supportive as possible, such that I may keep myself from being a bane in favor of becoming a blessing.
 

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Island Without a Christmas Tree

I think I've already mentioned that I've been watching a bunch of Christmas movies during this season. I can't help but notice that quite a few of these titles include the word "without" -- you know, like The Town Without Christmas or The Christmas Without Santa, or the House Without a Christmas Tree. So, it got me to thinking about a title of my own: The Decade Without a Christmas Tree. Even though I've not yet been here in Bali for a decade, I'm closing in on it fast and will make it within three years, assuming, of course, that I don't kick the bucket first, in which case we would have The Christmas Without Me. 

So, why no Christmas tree in so many years? 

Well, I guess first off, a Christmas tree would just seem strangely out of place. I mean, there's no such thing here as a fir tree or a pine tree. Then again, I suppose there are places in the US where there is no such thing, either. I guess I'm just used to living in the very midst of the evergreen forests of Oregon, such that trees of the Christmas sort seem the most natural thing in the world. A Christmas Cactus would seem odd, as would a Christmas Palm Tree.
 
I doubt whether one could even buy a real Christmas tree here in Bali--or, if he could, it would no doubt cost an arm and a leg. Moreover, it would surely suffer instant dehydration and wilt to death in the first day.

Of course, they do sell fake trees. I actually entertained the notion of purchasing one of these, setting it up in a corner and watchfully awaiting the magical appearance of presents. But then I saw the price of one of these fake trees in the mall, and a bony little thing at that, and said No. Or rather, Oh hell, no.

Still, it's curious that so many Christmases are "without" something. Or perhaps it's not. It may be that we feel at baseline that life in general is lacking something; and it is this something, in the plotline of so many movies, that is magically, and for once, supplied during Christmas--love, spirit, warmth, a home, a husband, a wife, and so on. 

And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. 


Thursday, December 14, 2017

New New Testament

I happened upon an article the other day regarding a new translation of the New Testament by a man by the name of David Bentley Hart. Hart is an American Orthodox Christian philosophical theologian as well as an expert in the Greek language in which the New Testament was written. I found the article so fascinating that I just had to buy the book for iPad. Of course, I would rather have the book itself--I mean the kind that has pages and all--but this would 1) be expensive, especially given the mailing costs, and 2) might not arrive in Bali at all. The mail service here is hit and miss. 

Anyway, having read now the long introduction as well as half the book of Matthew, I am finding it well worth my time and money. One of Hart's main goals here has been to reproduce the New Testament in a translation that is as close as possible to the Greek version that the early Christians would have read. This results in some poor grammar, but also in a feeling of immediacy and authenticity that has sometimes been polished out in other translations, or worse, actually altered somewhat to suit the doctrinal requirements of the particular translator or committee of translators. Going back to the literal Greek, or as close as Hart can get to it in English, provides a new, refreshing experience of the material.
 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Merry Christmas

Here's a positive note about Christmas in Bali -- they love anything that is religious. Any religion will do. Therefore, there are no laws against Christmas lights or Christmas displays or the display of nativity scenes or what have you. Everyone is welcomed, and there is a general inclination to humbly learn about beliefs rather than prohibit them. Of course, there is a common sense line that ought not to be crossed. During a Hindu ceremony, for instance, invasion by Jehovah's Witness folks armed with pamphlets is not appreciated. Not long ago, this particular group aggressively disrupted one of the major temple ceremonies -- which is totally not cool. Respect and be respected. At the malls and at the coffee shops, specifically Christian music is played (as opposed to Santa Claus and reindeer and jingle bell songs, which, of course, are also played). One will hear Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels, Silent Night -- all the classics. And there is no problem at all with saying Merry Christmas -- Selamat Hari Natal. They don't know any other greeting. By the same token, we will all say Selamat Hari Galungan (Hinduism) and Selamat Idul Fitri (Islam). They don't say 'Happy Holidays'. They don't know what it means. 

Heat Intolerance

Interestingly (or not), I have discovered that the super hot winter weather in Bali tends to exacerbate my symptoms of neuropathic pain. As the day enters late afternoon and the heat/humidity grows to the height of its intensity, the pain/stiffness in my neck, shoulder and back intensifies as well. I find that a cold shower will reduce the pain, or lying down in an air-conditioned room. It's odd -- for the first 8 years or so of my journey with MS, I had no awareness of heat sensitivity at all. Of course, there's not that much heat to be sensitive to in Portland, Oregon; but even here in Bali, I went probably four years, at least, without being any more bothered by the heat than anyone else. But for whatever reason, that common MS symptom decided to come to life in my body. It is also different than one might have imagined. One might have thought that he would simply feel extra hot, but it's more than that. Aside from being extra hot, one suffers an increase in whatever baseline symptoms he already has. Baseline neuropathic pain will become worse. Numbness becomes worse. Lack of coordination becomes worse. Cognitive malfunction becomes worse. So, it's more like a frying of the whole system, not just feeling hot.

Ah, the multitudinous avenues by which MS travels through the system! 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What Ever Happened to Christmas?

I've been trying to get into the Christmas spirit over the last week, but I think I'm going to have to complain a bit. For one thing, it's always a challenge here in Bali, because there is no Christmas to speak of, except at Starbucks, where they play Christmas music throughout the day. In the midst of the wet season, the heat is particularly oppressive--not at all the sort of holiday weather I'm accustomed to--although I should be accustomed to it by now, after 7 years here. But then again, that has to be compared with 55 in Oregon. The volcano puffing out clouds of ash some 50 miles away seems also decidedly non-Christmassy. As I write this, I'm sitting outside, because there's no seating open inside, it's 6:30 in the evening, 29 degree centigrade (feels like 34 with the humidity factored in), and I'm sweating like a pig. Ho-ho-ho.

Aside from all that, though, there seems to be an especially Grinchy feeling to social media posts as the season progresses. I've mentioned this before, but I'll mention it again. Why people become especially vicious about the Christian faith over the holiday season is a mystery to me. I mean, the other day a friend of mine (who is not even a Christian to begin with) posted what would have seemed to be perfectly agreeable short quote from the Pope (something about love and peace), but the general response was one of such bitter vitriol that the ultimate result was not one of comfort but one of depression. What the hell is going on, one wonders? What happened to peace on earth good will toward men? What happened to holiday warmth and cheer? Why is it that people feel so driven to post insulting comics or verbal insults? What harm has Christmas done them? 

One commentator glibly observed that the whole silly thing (religion, that is) would probably be swept into the ashbin of history anyway within the next ten years. Is she aware, I wonder, that most Christians in the world are not white Americans, but people from other cultures which have not suffered the general malaise of the West? I might agree that western civilization may end up in the ashbin of history within ten years, but, no, not religion. Faith will prevail. It always has. 

Well, and of course we're going into the holidays suddenly single rather than married--although happily, in an odd sort of way, my wife was never a very Christmassy person anyway ... but still, it's different to be alone during the season for the first time in eleven years. Perhaps if I put a Santa hat on the big fat brown dog things will seem a bit more cheery. 

Speaking of the big fat brown dog, I had mentioned the other day that if she happens to kick the bucket, I might have her stuffed as a cozy chair (given that most of my furniture has moved out of the house). A friend of mine "consulted with a taxidermist" (he says) and offered the furnishing idea in the photo below, should the big fat brown dog pass on. 

Cheers! 



Monday, December 11, 2017

Villa Louis

This villa, to which my (ex) wife finalized her move yesterday, is located in Sanur. As with most villas, it faces a central pool and garden. There are two bedroom suites, each having its own bathroom and shower, and in one of the suites there is also an outdoor bath and shower. The living area is open-air and has a full kitchen at the back. There is also a "maid's room" beyond the kitchen. The villa is, of course, equipped with wifi and cable TV. My (ex) wife (let's just call her Louis) asked me to stay overnight, as her new mate, a semi-retired pilot, was on the job and she was "scared" to stay alone :)

For me, the silence in these villas is deafening. I can't really blame her for feeling afraid. Unlike the common house or apartment in Bali, these villas are isolated in their own little pockets of space and closed in from the outside world. Nothing outside the villa grounds can be seen. It is an eerie, lonely sort of feeling, and opulence itself is not necessarily good company. One kind of wanders in this closed space, wondering where he ought to be, but finds nowhere to go. A sort of longing for 'the real world' creeps into the mind.

In my own house, I am accustomed to being sort of an interactive piece of the neighborhood at large. There is the family in the house behind mine, whose voices you can always hear, the little girl singing, or Kadek wailing because he doesn't want to bathe. People come and go on the street in front, cars and motorbikes, school children. Dogs wander in and out of the house. One may sit on his front porch and wave at the neighbor or chat a bit. It just seems to be a more natural progression of the world, whereas in the typical villa, one seems almost to be hiding from the world. 

But each to his own, I guess. I suppose that if you're in an intimate relationship, the intimacy of the villa would be a welcome thing. And of course it's a great place for people to gather, swim, share a meal, and so forth. 









Sunday, December 10, 2017

All's Well that Ends Well


Who says you can't take it with you?

Yes, seeing is believing--seven years worth of a life in Bali headed down the road. 

What's that? Oh. No. I'm not goin' anywhere. Just this stuff. And my wife. 

Well, but, to be honest, it has been a pretty gradual thing, something that has been happening over a couple of years. No drama, no shouting or screaming or throwing of plates. Just waiting for the proper ducks to line up. 

Not my decision, mind you--but given my poor health, and my poverty, the logic of the decision is not lost on me. I suppose the worst thing about being unwell, for me, anyway, is for the unwell-ness to be a burden on anyone else.

So, she is bound for a villa with pool, God bless her, and our old little house is now my little house. Well, and the big fat brown dog's little house. Depending, that is, upon what the owner decides come February. Frankly, I hope to stay, because it's cozy here and familiar and because I'm lazy. And because someone needs to be here to feed the big fat brown dog. 

Time will tell. 



Saturday, December 9, 2017

Father's Xmas

This Christmas season, I'm missing my children. I suppose that's always the case. But it just seems like more the case than ever before this year. Maybe I wouldn't miss them so much if one or more of them actually called or sent me a note or something. I'm talking about one natural child and four step-children, the oldest 43, the youngest 17. You'd think I had treated them horribly or something--you know, like an abusive father or a strict disciplinarian. I don't know--maybe I'd be more popular now if I had been one or the other of those. But honestly, folks, I was a very kind, loving father. Not perfect, no--but I tried for all I was worth. I raised my own son alone from the time he was 4, and I raised and loved four stepchildren just as if they had been my own. And yet here we are. Silence. Whether I was a good father or not becomes a moot point. What is clear is that I was a very forgettable father. 

New Diet

The big fat brown dog's diet has undergone a rather sudden and perhaps somewhat unfortunate change since the chicken lady has gone. The chicken lady is what she called my wife--now ex-wife, I suppose, though not yet legally so. But for all practical purposes, as far as the big fat brown dog is concerned, the chicken lady is gone and her diet now consists of whatever I happen to have in the fridge. Could still be chicken if she she's lucky. Could also be a slice of bread or a cookie or some cheese. Last night it was what remained of a tub of yogurt. I think it is fairly safe to say that had never seen nor tasted yogurt before, but, as it turns out, she found it quite delicious and she has decided that it is now one of her favorite foods (along with chicken, pork, beef, cheese, rice with soup, gingersnaps, popcorn and any kind of cake). 



Friday, December 8, 2017

GBU

There's a scene in the old movie "The Odd Couple" which features the following bit of dialog: 

Oscar (to Felix): You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you a hundred-and-sixty-eight times I can't stand little notes on my pillow! 'We are all out of Corn Flakes. -FU.' It took me three hours to figure out that FU was Felix Unger!

Honestly, I can't help but identify with Oscar, but I'm thinking here of the constant abbreviations that we see on Facebook and other social media, and even in emails. 'Richard - GBU'. Like Oscar, it took me some considerable time to figure out what GBU might mean. Was I being praised or cursed? Was this a friendly note, or some kind of sinister warning?

Well, I'm not quite so sharp as Oscar. As it turned out, I had to ask a friend what this means. 

"GBU? God bless you."

"Ah! Whew."

Another is 'GWS'. Sounds like it might be the make of a certain car, or perhaps a government agency; but no, it means Get Well Soon. (But then, did the writer really mean it, seeing that he seems to have felt that typing out the full words would take too much time?). 

Of course, there are many others. STFU, for instance. This has nothing to do with Felix Unger, despite the presence of his initials. 

I remember that my cousin, despite having spent an entire career in computer technology, once asked me what 'LOL' means. Clearly, we come from the same family. 

The problem is further compounded when one lives in a foreign country, as I do, for the abbreviations are likely to be indicating words in a foreign language, thus making it very unlikely that you will ever know what was meant. 


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Morning

So, this is my morning. I wake up at about 6:30, who knows why. I always wake up at about 6:30. Clock in my head. I remember the dream I was having and turn it about in my head for a while. Very often there has been something irritating or worrisome about my dream, something I would prefer not to think about in the waking hours, so I consider the thing, what it may mean, how I may apply the knowledge to my life this day and thereafter. I resist actually getting up for a while, because my rested body feels almost normal and because the Xanax from the night before is still doing its thing more or less. But finally I get up, open the front door for the big fat brown dog and then open the back door so that I can go out and prepare a cup of coffee and sit with the sun on my back for a few moments. The big fat brown dog shows up, looking for breakfast and then, having eaten, wanders into the bedroom and falls asleep. After smoking a cigarette, it's time for a shower, because the cold water in the morning feels good on my already aching neck and shoulder. Several hours then magically disappear and the next thing I know it is 10 o'clock and time to ride my bike over to Starbucks, to set up at my usual table, and to write something silly like this. Here I will stay until about noon, and if my barista friends are not busy, they will come out and chat with me. I've kind of lost track of what to do after all this, for no one awaits me now, there is no 'to do' list, no task nor demand other than the usual household tasks, which can always be done tomorrow. Everything has changed, and has become almost immediately the same. Chameleon-like, I fit in. Bisa buat apa lain?, as they say in the language. What else can one do?

My Journey with Multiple Sclerosis, Part 2

So, here is part two of my 'journey with MS', as published in Mytherapyapp.com. You can follow the link here (http://www.mytherapyapp.com.blog), or read it below. It has been a pleasure to work with these folks, in particular with Abigail Abraira-Burkin, who is also, coincidentally, originally from Portland, Oregon, and to be introduced to some of the fascinating blogging on the site. 

Life and its various circumstances can change very rapidly indeed, such that one may find himself on a new island altogether, so to speak, and his story in need of a 'part three'. That said, I hope the reader will enjoy part two in any case. 


Traveling with MS: My New Life in Bali - Part Two

Richard Boughton Moved Across the Globe to Indonesia, Three Years After His Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

Richard Boughton
Richard Boughton
December 6, 2017


ms journey to indonesia

In part one of ‘Traveling with MS,’ Richard Boughton recounts his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 2007, and the challenges he and his wife faced in the years that followed. He picks up the story in 2010, having arrived in his new home, Bali – one of the thousands of islands that comprise his wife's home nation, Indonesia.

A guest post by Richard Boughton

The island of Bali is just off the east coast of the large island of Java. Bali is a small, lush island, renowned for tourism. The southern coast of the island is famed for its long, white beaches, from Sanur to Kuta and Nusa Dua, the latter spot being a popular destination for presidents and kings. Barack Obama has been here two times during my stay. The King of Saudi Arabia just recently departed. Inland, one finds the old ancestral city of Ubud, home of artists and wannabe writers, and to the east there is an active volcano, Mt. Agung, which has in these latter days erupted once again. The north coast is less developed, though quaint towns such as Singaraja and Lovina are popular with many for their relative isolation and for the frequent sight of leaping dolphins on that coast.

This was all new to me – entirely new. I had never been outside of North America, and here I was on what may as well have been another planet! We settled in the quiet town of Sanur, and every day of that first year, I went swimming in the gentle, salt-heavy sea – just floating, gazing up at the sky, marveling at the expanse of the ocean, the endless sky, the alien intensity of the tropical heat! Having lived 55 years in Oregon, I had not realized that the sun could be quite so hot. Here we were – or here I was, anyway – in a perfectly foreign world, where people gathered for ceremonies in exotic garb, and restaurants and shops had no doors, and wild dogs wandered in and out, and thunder and lightning were as sudden and as intense as the pounding sun itself, and everyone drove a motorbike, and the streets seemed utter chaos, though everyone smiled and everyone was friendly and everyone was speaking a foreign language – or rather I myself was speaking a foreign language. Here I was with a thousand things to learn, a thousand faces to know, a thousand places to see – and for a time, I can tell you, it seemed almost as if I did not have multiple sclerosis anymore. I even said so, straight out. I don’t have MS anymore. My wife made friends and found work, reengaged in life, and I myself did some part-time jobs, writing for a local magazine and teaching English to local students.
It all seemed to be working out quite well.

As it turned out, however, I was not miraculously cured of MS. Of course I wasn’t. I merely enjoyed a vacation. A much needed vacation.

A couple more years down the road, however, I began again with new, strange afflictions. The afflictions of MS always seem strange, at first. I guess that’s because they seem to have no actual cause. It is nothing you have done. You have not injured yourself, or eaten something bad, or contracted a tropical illness. You have MS. Yes, you still have MS. I remember this period starting with this sense of overwhelming fatigue. I had been able again, awake, active, energetic, and now, suddenly, I could barely stay awake. This was followed by a relentless headache, day and night, and then by a loud ringing in my ears.

This was when I got my first good taste of the medical system in Indonesia. Or, rather, the lack of a medical system. I took myself to the doctor, reported my symptoms, explained that I have MS, and told her what I thought I would need in the way of medication. Naturally, the doctor did not speak English. Very few of them do. But I had learned enough Indonesian by then to carry out a meaningful communication.

“No. Cannot,” she said. “You must have an MRI.”

“But why would I want an MRI? I’ve just told you that I have MS, and I’ve told you what medication

I likely need.”

“No. Cannot.”

So I go to the MRI suite, to a machine that looks something like a 50’s era Chevy.

Upon returning to the doctor I had initially seen, I am told that I must see the Chief Neurologist, who will be in at 7 pm.

The chief neurologist is kindly, heavyset, older man (which, coming from an older man such as myself, means that he’s pretty old indeed). He tapes the MRI onto a backlit screen, points here and there, says “Hmm, hmmm,” then turns to me and says, “Do you think you might have multiple sclerosis?”

Sigh.

Well, as I said, he’s a friendly old guy, eager to help, and eager as well, as he admits, to learn, for he has never once, in his long career, seen a person with multiple sclerosis.

“You tell me what you need. Tell me how this works. Tell me how I can help you.”

Gee, isn’t that what I asked in the first place?

In any case, you get the picture. Multiple sclerosis is practically unknown in Southeast Asia. For this reason, one must be extremely proactive, for it is guaranteed that you know much more about the disease than they. Luckily, we have experience, we have all the information in the world on the internet, we have MS communities online, and we have common sense and intelligence to apply to our investigation of the symptoms that assail us. Is the symptom associated with MS to begin with? If so, what does the literature say about treatment? What has been helpful for similar problems in the past?

Although I enjoyed this old fellow at the hospital, I no longer bother with doctors nowadays. For one thing, I had insurance then, now I don’t. And it would be rather foolish to pay a million Rupiah to a doctor who will only ask you to explain for him what he should do. Nowadays, I keep a close eye on myself. I take a number of non-pharmaceutical treatments, such as turmeric and lipoic acid. I don’t actually know whether these are helpful, but I reckon they can’t hurt, and there is the added benefit, albeit perhaps psychological, that I’m doing something for my condition every day.

My latest problem, and, I think, by far the most painful problem I have had with MS, has been with neuropathic pain in my neck, right shoulder and upper right back. I thought at first that this was a case of cervical radiculopathy, for, even though I had no recollection of having injured myself, the symptoms seemed to fit. However, after a half year of pain, along with failure to respond to the common medications that would fit the initial supposition, I had to admit that yes, this was yet another weird manifestation of MS. I began, therefore, to look into neurologic meds, and have begun to have some success.

Some of these meds are prescription meds. This leaves you with two courses. You can pay a doctor to prescribe what you need, and then pay for the prescription as well, or you can befriend a local pharmacist, who will then give you the medication without a prescription because … well, because it’s all about money here. Happily, my pharmacist is much younger than I, and is likely to retain his health for many years beyond my time. Although you never know, do you? Things can happen suddenly, without rhyme or reason. Take MS, for instance.


multiple sclerosis journey to bali
In the course of these troubles over the past several years, my world has shrunk in some ways, just as it had seemed to so expand a mere seven years ago. I am less able, less steady, less active, and most often in some degree of pain. On the other hand, my wife is still young, still quite active, still adventurous. For this reason, I encourage her to be with friends, to travel, to dance, to trust that I take joy in her joy, that I can and will take care of myself, that I will always be here when she comes home. Naturally, she misses the times when we could do all these things together – and I do continue to make the utmost effort to take part in as much as I can. There is a line, however, where one’s limitations fall with a rather resounding thud. I admit to what is real, to what I cannot change, while in the meantime I grow, or hope to grow, in love, in compassion, in tolerance, in friendship, as a husband, as a man, as a human being.

And, strangely enough, as my world becomes smaller, it also grows in fresh and unexpected ways. It seems that entire universes can fit into small spaces, if you look at them just so. In this way, Bali has become home, a place that I both know and continually begin to know. I have advanced far beyond basic utterances, for instance, in the Indonesian language – please and thank you and how much does this cost – and have arrived at the point where I can carry on complete conversations with friends and strangers, can joke and laugh, can share opinions and feelings – and if there’s any one thing the Indonesian people love, it’s a good conversation! Paradise is found in particles, in the aggregation of many, many parts. You don’t have to fly anywhere to find it, you don’t have to climb any mountain or cross any border, and you don’t have to be perfectly healthy, completely without pain, free of all trouble. Therein lies the real fairytale, for we all must live with some pain, some trouble, some disappointment – else how would we know happiness or comfort or peace or joy?

A few years ago, I took a trip to Bangkok, Thailand – Bangkok, with its golden temples and grand spires, its raucous markets and teeming nightlife, its exotic ladyboys, and its Buddhist processions … and yet, here is the thing I remember most, like a picture etched on my mind and soul: a poor man, dressed in rags, living in a cardboard box, with a mattress, a blanket, a radio, a bowl of rice … and the biggest smile I have ever seen.

We would like to thank Richard for sharing his MS journey with us

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What the Flu Thinks

I was about to say this morning that being alone is not so bad, but I think I will have to defer judgement until time has released me from the mind- and spirit-dulling effects of the flu, for I have not had time, really, to feel alone or anything else other than simply ill. I don't know if I'm lonely or bored or sad or happy or relieved or hopeful or what have you. I do know that I feel like crap. My idea at present of an exciting part of the day is when it is time to take another pain pill or flu medication. I guess one thing that I could say about these new circumstances is that I feel fortunate to be free of any particular demands, obligations or tasks. I am free, at least, to be as sick as my flu pleases, and as lazy and inactive as it compels me to be. And so the flu is my strange comrade during this period of change. I don't have the time nor the energy to suffer anything else. And though I am not dying, but simply have the flu, I remember a time when my brother was dying and his wife brought a new 'boyfriend' to his hospital room. Very hurtful, it would seem, under any circumstances; but I remember his response, uttered peacefully and with as much breath as he could manage at that late stage. I don't have the energy to engage in this right now. Let it be. There are more pressing matters at hand.
 

Love Deeply

There's a wonderful quote from I Peter that goes like this: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." I like the application of the adverb deeply, for it is this depth, this extremity of love that rises above the more ignoble inclinations of man that stand in the way. And I think this is a good verse as well for gaining a greater understanding of what is meant by sin. This is a word that has collected the more unfortunate dust of the ages, such that its originally intended meaning has become greatly obscured, like the face of a coal miner hidden beneath the lifetime grime of his occupation. Where the sense of this verse is concerned, and the sense of the word in general, sin is better represented by failings, weaknesses, regretful actions -- anger, jealousy, greed, unkindness, betrayal -- those 'lesser' things to which we are all prone as natural men and women. In the literal Greek, sin merely means "missing the mark, falling short". Through time, and indeed often enough through misapplication by religious people, the word sin has gathered about itself an aura of harshness and judgement, of accusation and damnation. And yet, in the scripture, we are told not to judge or condemn, but to love deeply, such that mercy and forgiveness may be elevated to the utmost. The lesser things, after all, are easy and quite natural. If our neighbor falls short, we like to feel justified in falling short as well, tit for tat. Yet Peter says love deeply, and thus free both yourself and your fellows from the curse of being less than love can afford. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Meds Note

Just a quick note on meds ...

I have mentioned earlier my discovery of Xanax as an effective medication for the neuropathic pain I have been suffering for more than a year. But the trouble has always been that Xanax puts you to sleep right quick, and so one must take it at night. There is no feeling of drowsiness in the morning (for me, anyway), but it does wear off during the day. Happily, however, I have discovered that Neurontin during the day is rather helpful. It provides the desired relief (to some extent) and it doesn't put you to sleep. I have had this on order from my pharmacist for some time now, but she has continually said that her supplier is out of the medication. Thus, I went to big name pharmacy here, Kimia, and bought a strip of 10 tablets. This cost me 180.000 Rupiah. This seemed excessive to me, so I contacted my local pharmacist, who said that indeed it is excessive. So, although her supplier is still 'out of' Neurontin, she will search for other suppliers for a better price. Live and learn.  

Christmas Movies

Whilst 'enjoying' the flu this week, I have been watching old Christmas movies every day, from a list that purports to contain '50 of the best Christmas movies ever'. Some of these are actually pretty good, some pretty bad -- but what I note in almost all is the memories they bring back, for I remember the periods during which they first appeared, or during which I first watched them. Some are from the 70's, and I remember being in college, or just out of college and with my first wife. And then some are from the 80's, and I remember watching them with my little boy. There are a few that I have not seen, nor ever heard of. One of these is a trilogy featuring Peter Falk, whom the reader may remember as Columbo in the TV detective series. In this trilogy, he plays a rather unlikely angel, a 'field agent' from heaven who is tasked each Christmas season with helping one or a number of people in challenging situations. The first in the series is rather inventive, the second rather not, but in the third we have a truly classic sequence wherein Falk plays a female character! One can hardly think of anything more unlikely than Peter Falk as a female, but the amazing thing is that he pulls it off beautifully. Dustin Hoffman has nothing on old Peter. The gestures and inflections are perfect, and hilarious. It is just a short scene, but worth watching the whole movie to see the one scene. (Or perhaps in my weakened, bleary condition, I am easily amused?). Ah well ... this hobby brings some Christmas cheer, which is so far in short supply this year. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Flooo

Boy have I been miserable the last few days. I have had a flu and thought that I was nearly at the end of the thing, but then it came back full force, with a sore throat added in. I am told by a friend, also currently suffering this flu, that this is actually one infection on top of another and that many people have been so stricken. These things seem at their worst in the 'winter' weather here, a stifling, oppressive, airless humidity which seems a perfect vehicle for the conveyance of such viruses. Nor does it help with the symptoms once you have them. So I spent most of yesterday in the air-conditioned bedroom of my little house. This morning, I have made it over to Starbucks, so I guess I must be feeling a little better. The music from A Charlie Brown Christmas helps too!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Peace on Earth

Tis the Season for denials of the man of the season - Christ the Lord. So here come the memes and the comics, accusations and insults falling on those who 'believe in fairy tales'. Here, the child is crucified while still in the manger, for, you see, he never lived. Or so we are told by the memes, and by the champions of the memes. And I wonder why, especially at Christmas time -- why is this denial so urgent for some? Why does it matter, when silence would be so much more respectful and graceful. Is it so hard to see that, for those of us who love the Lord, these judgements and disparagements are akin to assaults on a beloved mother or wife? Why have you bothered, if not to introduce hate into the season of love? If you are called to disbelief, then disbelieve, and go in peace, while allowing those who believe to believe in peace as well.

Please on earth. Goodwill toward men.

One Night


I do not remember what month it was. I remember rain, and that it was night, and that it was cold.

There are some things that happen whereof memory records but a vague impression, for the mind commits itself in those moments to an urgent need to move forward, believes in some deep and unreasoning way that if one moves quickly enough, one may actually move backward in time, undo what has been done, precede rather than proceed. We believe in those first emergent moments that wholeness may be restored, just as we believe that the suddenly severed arm may be pressed back into place and all will be well, as long as the repair is accomplished quickly enough, and thus essentially erased, as if it had never happened.

I will call the one person in this story ‘the man’ and the other ‘the woman’. I will say that they had argued that night and fought. They may have fought about money, or infidelity, or both. I do not remember. They may have fought about everything. They may have spoken of divorce. I do know that the man had said he was leaving the woman. I know that even then he wished that the right words could somehow undo painful events, could bring back what had been taken away – and he thought of it that way: that it had been taken rather than gone.

For a short time, the man left the bedroom. He wandered the house in the dead of night, entered each room as if to stabilize the crumbling structure with his presence, and then he went to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom to take a Vicodin tablet to calm his nerves.

And found the entire bottle, the prescription he had filled just this day, empty.

In the bedroom, the woman lay, already unconscious. 

The man touches the woman. No response. He shakes her.  

“What did you do?” he says loudly. “Did you take these pills?” He shakes the empty, silent bottle.

“Leave me alone,” she mutters.

He searches the bedcovers, the tabletop, the floor.

“Did you take this entire bottle? Did you swallow these pills?”

She shakes her head, turns her face to the pillow. “Just let me sleep” she says. “It doesn’t matter.”

Now the man’s heart is pounding like a drum. His breath is short. He feels as if he himself has swallowed an entire bottle of pills. And he moves, racing to catch up with his heart. He lifts the woman to a sitting position, and she struggles against him lazily. “Just leave me,” she says. He puts his shoulder to her stomach, rises to his feet.

“Stay awake!” he demands, rushing with his burden through the darkened house, thumping against walls and doors along the way. “Stay awake. Help me! We’ve got to go right now!”

“My coat,” she says, catching the doorknob to the closet, sliding down to her feet. She’s standing, swaying. The man helps her with the coat, holding her erect beneath his arm. “I think I’m okay,” she says. “I just need to lie down.”

“No,” the man says. “You’re not okay. You just took an entire bottle of Vicodin. Good Christ! The entire bottle! We’ve got to get to the hospital now!”

She is walking, after a fashion. They are walking together after a fashion, like a couple in a potato sack race. On the porch, he turns to lock the door, and she falls to her knees. The man kneels, leaving the door open. There is no time. He throws her over his shoulder once more, carries her through the pelting rain. He has forgotten his glasses. He has no coat. The woman manages to stand again by the car, and then slide into the passenger side seat. It is night. It is raining. The park way is muddy. The hospital is just a short distance away. He knows this well, because he works there. He goes there almost every day. But he has never been there on a day like this.

It takes perhaps 7 minutes, at perhaps 70 miles per hour, never mind the traffic lights. By the time he pulls up to the Emergency Department entrance, she is more conscious than she had been earlier. She has begun to understand what she has done. In a practical way. She understands that she is in trouble. “I’m nauseous,” she says. She walks beside him, needing only one arm around her waist, trying to hurry. She struggles to make a certain appearance, because here they are, with people looking on, facing sober clerks, business-like, professional.

As for the man, he cannot believe that they want names, insurance cards, needless things. What is needful is that somebody do something now!

“There she goes,” the admitting clerk says, rising from her chair as the woman falls to the floor.

A stretcher is brought. People begin to move more quickly. The man is enormously grateful. People waiting less urgently in the waiting room rise to their feet to see what is happening.

In the ER, a team of doctors and aides goes to work, gracing the man’s own panic with a calming sense of purposeful sobriety. He knows most of the doctors on duty, and for this reason they allow him to stay in the room. He stands in the corner, pinned in, trapped by the motion. IV lines are established, injections are administered. The woman vomits. She begins to cry, revived by fear. She looks at the man in the corner, so far away. He thinks that he may never see her eyes again. May never see them again. And he too begins to cry, and immediately dashes the tears away with the back of his hand.

And the man makes a solemn promise that moment to himself, to his God, to all gods; to the sky and to the earth; upon his heart and upon his soul – regardless of pleasure and regardless of pain; regardless of person or want or hardship or pride -- I will never, in any way, nor forevermore, allow any harm to come to this woman. I will lay down my life, I will make of my heart an altar, I will fashion of my soul a shield and strong tower, and I will never forsake nor forget my cause.

And so did the man. So did he until done. And when all was done and accomplished, he rested.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Gifted

My father had a special talent for purchasing the perfectly inappropriate or unwanted Christmas gift. For us boys - my brother and I - this could work out quite nicely on occasion. BB guns, for instance, were as perfectly inappropriate as a thing could possibly be -- and it was my mother, I think, who had originally coined the now common warning, 'You'll shoot your eye out". Yet, we both received one, thanks to dad, who had obviously, and probably purposefully, not checked his list against my mother's desires. Less fortunate were some of the gifts he proferred upon her. Certain dresses, for instance -- strange, gaudy, unusually colorful things which would take my mother's breath away, though not in a good way. And these he would give with great pride and flair, for he honestly believed them to be great treasures (and gotten at such a low price on sale!). I will say for my mother, angel that she was, that she did her best to 'stifle her lack of enthusiasm', so to speak. She might possibly ponder out loud, though with a polite sort of grace, 'But where would I possibly wear a dress like this?', and then place the thing admiringly back into its box, moving on swiftly to the next unopened gift.

I like to think that my dad passed some dim shade of this talent on to me; and I will say for myself that I have been the sponsor of several much hated gifts. I cannot say, however, that the beneficiaries of my efforts were quite so humble as dear old mom. I remember, specifically, a billowy red blouse that I wrapped up for my second wife; nor can I forget the horror on her face upon first (and last) inspection of the thing. One might have thought I had strangled a kitten before her eyes. "What the hell is this?" she said. "It looks like something a Texas whore would wear! Do I look like a Texas whore to you?"

I could not say, of course, for I had never been to Texas, and had never seen the particular sort of whore that the State apparently specializes in. I did understand, however, that she did not like this gift at all -- though I would have much preferred it had she asked, like my mother, where she might possibly wear such a lavish garment, and then silently tucked it away into history

Well, there were other insults awaiting other Christmases, though little by little, I learned the value of more neutral efforts, or, indeed, strict adherence to a specific list. And yet, I would forward one piece of advice this Christmas for those who find themselves faced with the un-asked for, unwanted, unseemly offering: Remember that to the giver of the gift, this looked something like the love that inspired him. You may never be able to wear that love in public, but it is a worthy clothing for the heart that receives it with knowledge of the intent in kind.

Laughing and Weeping

PBA, or PseudoBulbar Affect, is one of the stranger symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis and other neurologic maladies (such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's).This is the inclination, sometimes without reason, sometimes with little reason, to suddenly burst into laughter or tears. I do not say that I have PBA. I do say, however, that I am much more inclined to laugh or to cry than I used to be, though I think this is more a symptom of older age and a softer heart.

In my life, it may be said that I have tended to be rather reserved or guarded (the fault of my father, I'm sure). There was a day when I could not understand people who would cry during a movie, for instance. It is a surprise, therefore, to find myself in tears nowadays while viewing a sad scene in a movie. Last night, for instance, I was watching A Christmas Carol (the '80s version with George C. Scott), and found myself weeping over poor Tiny Tim, over the ownerless crutch in the chimney corner, over the Spirit's pointed scolding of Scrooge for his hard-heartedness and lack of charity.

"Man," said the ghost, "if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! to hear the Insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!"

Yup, that made me cry.

Perhaps it has something to do, as well, with the callous, unkind times in which we live. It seems that the Ghost may as well have been talking to a certain American president.

Cannabis for MS

I was asked recently to post the following article on the beneficial effects of cannabis in multiple sclerosis. I do personally know some folks who use it for symptoms and feel that it is significantly helpful. I'd try it myself if it weren't strictly illegal here in Indonesia. Hell, I'd try shooting up heroin for the worst pains. Well, maybe not ... but you know what I mean. In any case, the article is reproduced below. 

How Cannabis Can Help with Multiple Sclerosis




Cannabis can help you get your life back if you are suffering from MS

Multiple Sclerosis is a scary disease, and researchers still don’t know its exact causes or how to prevent it. Once again, it’s cannabis to the rescue! Cannabis has been successful in mitigating the symptoms of MS, from alleviating pain to controlling muscle spasms. So how exactly does this work? Find out here!

Overview
 What is multiple sclerosis?
 What current treatments are available for MS?
 How is cannabis effective is treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis?

What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a nervous system disease that damages your brain and spinal cord. It attacks the myelin sheath, which is the material that protects your nerve cells. This blocks and impedes messages between your brain and body. Researchers believe this to be an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system attacks healthy, normal cells by mistake. Unfortunately, the exact cause of the disease is still unknown.

There is no definitive test that doctors administer to identify MS in patients. Instead, doctors examine medical histories, MRIs, and neurological exams to diagnose it. MS tends to appear in women more than men, with the average age of diagnosis ranging from the ages of 20 to 40.  Symptoms of MS include:

 Muscle weakness
 Poor coordination or balance
 Numbness, the sensation of pins and needles, or prickling feeling
 Visual disturbances
 Problems with memory or thinking

 
Symptoms of MS can make you feel completely alone

There is no known cure for MS, but there are several treatments available, with varying degrees of effectiveness.

What current treatments are available for MS?

For some people, MS only manifests in mild symptoms; for others, the symptoms are much more severe. Since there is no known cure for MS, treatments focus on slowing down the progression of the disease and managing symptoms. These include:
 Beta interferons: These are the most common medications prescribed for MS. They are injected under the skin or into the muscle in order to reduce the frequencies of relapses. Blood tests are needed to monitor liver enzymes, as liver damage could result from interferon use.
 Physical Therapy: It is common for MS patients to undergo physical therapy, as it helps manage leg weakness. Physical therapists also teach MS patients how to use different devices to make daily tasks easier.
 Muscle Relaxants: Often times, MS patients experience muscle spasms or stiffness, particularly in the legs. Doctors prescribe muscle relaxants, such as Lioresal and Zanaflex, to ease these symptoms.
 Medications: Because the symptoms of MS vary, different medications might be prescribed to deal with the various effects.  Doctors might prescribe medication for depression, fatigue, pain, bladder or bowel control problems, and sexual dysfunction.
 
Many medications are prescribed to MS patients, but they may not cover all the symptoms

Because there is no “one-size-fits-all” treatment for MS, many medications and treatments that doctors prescribe don’t protect patients from every symptom. That’s where cannabis comes in.

How is cannabis effective is treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
Cannabis works in many different ways to combat multiple sclerosis. Take a look at the many healing properties of this miraculous plant!

1. Cannabis reduces inflammation
When immune cells in MS patients activate, they release proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation of the brain. The most active components in cannabis, cannabinoids, reduce inflammation and deactivate the immune system, which stops the assault on the central nervous system.

2. Cannabis reduces pain
Inflammation and pain are like two peas in a hellish pod. When inflammation is reduced, pain is lessened. Cannabinoids also engage the pain receptors and work as an analgesic.

3. Cannabis helps digestion
MS patients often experience gastrointestinal difficulties. Once again, it’s cannabis’ anti-inflammatory properties to the rescue! Cannabinoids engage with immune cells and reduce inflammation in the bowels. Cannabis also reduces nausea and acts as an appetite stimulant, which gets MS patients on the right digestive tract!
 
Gastrointestinal distress can make living with MS a daily nightmare

4.  Cannabis helps your eyes
One common symptom of MS is blurriness of vision. MS causes inflammation of the optic nerve, resulting in impaired vision until the swelling subsides. Cannabis reduces the inflammation of the optic nerve (this is why it is recommended for degenerative eye diseases such as glaucoma). 

5. Cannabis helps you sleep
For people living with chronic pain, simply falling asleep can be a formidable task. Cannabis can not only help you to fall asleep faster, but it puts you in a deeper sleep. During deep sleep, your body repairs itself by rebuilding bones and muscles and improving the immune system.

6. Cannabis helps with depression
Living with MS can take its toll on a patient’s mental health. Cannabis helps flood the brain with endocannabinoids, which alleviates depression. Still, if you are struggling with depression you should talk to a professional. There are also many websites that are helpful for coping with mental illness.

Researchers continue to study cannabis’s effects on multiple sclerosis and the results so far have been fascinating. Thankfully, medical cannabis research is moving forward. Cannabis-based MS drugs are already available on pharmacy shelves. It’s fair to say that the future looks bright for MS patients.