Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Strange, Occasionally Fortuitous Things My Mind Does Under the Influence of MS

For instance . . .

After having gone to Starbucks this morning to do my customary blogging stint, I got a phone call from my wife just as my first cappuccino showed up (delivered personally to my table, oh by the way, because I had already forgotten having ordered it). On the other end of the cell phone her voice seemed oddly hesitant as she asked where I was, what I was doing, and so forth. Then she apologized for yelling at me before I had left the house.

She needn't have mentioned it--because my mind had retained no recollection of any such occurrence. It took, in fact, some reminding before I could recover even a small sense of something having happened of the nature she was suggesting.

Oh, that's okay, I said. Why did you yell at me? What did I do?

There are things, as far as my brain is concerned (or not concerned, as it were) that may as well have never happened, for they have not been recorded, have not been saved, or have otherwise fallen through bottomless holes.

No point in arguing about nothing, right? No point in crying over spilled milk that did not actually spill at all, or was never even taken out of the refrigerator.

. . . and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds


He works in strange ways, for sure.

My Mama Done Told Me

Love is lovelier
the second time around;
Just as wonderful
with both feet on the ground . . .
--Sinatra (along with whoever wrote the song)

Aside from being lovelier the second time around, love has also a greater degree of sanity on repetition, which makes it not only better, but safer, especially from an MS point of view--for I am convinced that love (and divorce and sorrow and bitterness) made a significant, if not preeminent, contribution to the flash frying of my brain some three years ago.

I guess that's what happens when you play with fire . . . and there is a certain sort of love that burns just as surely, just as deeply, and scars just as permanently.

My mama done told me, when I wasn't knee high . . .

How much of love, what percentage of love, was actually lunacy, I cannot say. It was all mixed up together, a perfect tangle of passion and prudence, confidence and fear, tenderness and harshness.

My mama done told me, son . . .

I guess the simple way to say it, minus the music and lyrics, is that practice makes a difference, and experience pays out in wisdom (or at least patience, which is the next best thing). It pays also to seek a partner who has passed as well through the same sort of mill (sorry guys, no virgins here).

A woman will sweet talk, and give you the big eye, but when her sweet talkin's done . . .

At the same time, there are lovers in this world who continually seek the same sort of madness that killed things the first time around, mistaking passion for meaning, intensity for content. Tricked by love, they enter into the same uneven, unworkable contracts, Love becomes an opiate, a narcotic, a magic potion, promising a beanstalk to the heavens, yet delivering the same old bed of weeds in the end.

A woman's a two-face, a worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing the blues in the night . . .

In a world full of ironies, and with a disease which thrives on the same, I thank my lucky stars, once again, for the affliction that is too tired to tolerate trouble, too wise to mistake a cliff for a curbing, too experienced to imagine that the searing coals are merely colorful twinkle lights.

Love's more comfortable
the second time you fall . . .

And I suppose it's even better the third and the fourth . . . .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Smoker's Cough

It's a smoker's cough, it's a smoker's cough.

This is something I have to say a lot during the winter time, the virus months. Well, I don't have to say it, but I feel that I should. It's the responsible thing for a smoker to do. I know that I myself feel anxious when I find myself sitting by someone who is hacking his lungs out as he sips his coffee, so I try to go the extra mile, allay fears, put people at ease, you know?

I try to be a responsible smoker. I try to observe the rights of others, acknowledge another person's space.

Would you like me to stand at least ten feet from this door? Would you like me to stand ten feet away from you? I would stand ten feet away, but you see if I did, I'd be standing in the middle of yonder highway . . . .

I appreciate the whole concern about secondary smoke, but then again there are a few basic concerns of my own which must be observed. As a pedestrian, I mean. As a human being.

Here is something that any smoker will have noted: There are people, nonsmokers, who upon passing will cough at the mere sight of the cigarette you are smoking. They will cough very notably, screw up their faces, turn their heads. It makes me feel like I should carry along a bag of complimentary oxygen masks. I'm so sorry, here, put this on. Don't gulp the air--just breathe in naturally.

I know this is bothering you, and I apologize, really. I know this won't make the smoke go away, but still, it may serve as some consolation that without smokers there would be no cigarette tax, and without the 500 percent tax on cigarettes, the schools would not be properly funded, your children would suffer from ignorance, the streets would be rutted and broken, the city itself might crumble.

Think of us, therefore, as philanthropists and sponsors. No tax, no matter how high, will stop us from giving.

And remember, smoking, for us, is breathing. It is medicinal. It is physically needful.

What, did you think we like it?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Dead We Know

I wonder what happened to my Canadian friend. She used to visit me often here, and sometimes on my LJ as well, but I haven't seen her in a while now. Something I said? Busted computer? Just busted in general?

I miss people when they're not around anymore, and I take people for granted when they are. I miss my mom and my dad, though I did not miss them when they were here. But that's not quite right, honestly. I think I always missed my dad, from the time I was a little boy and unto this very day. I failed to take heed of the passing time, the opportunities which came and went along the way. So did he.

I miss my brother. Twenty-seven years gone now. I still dream of him. Those are good dreams. He seems most often to enter into the dream that is confused and troubling and somehow take command of it, defusing anxiety, dispersing the fog, leading to the path, the purpose, the light. I am glad I still dream of my brother.

I miss my children. My step-children. Ex-step children. All grown up now, scattered like so many marbles to the corners and under the tables. Only two or three years ago I would speak to them nearly every day.

Most of all I miss my son, abducted by schizophrenia so long ago, lost to me in lands of his own, which I can neither enter nor name. And yet my heart continues to search, day after day, remembering when we held hands on the way to school, remembering how he rode on my back, remembering the games we played, the places we went, the stories we told. My heart remembers the fierce love of its youth, the panic in thinking for a moment that we could lose him, the solemn and unbreakable promise of a parent to never leave, never forsake, and never let harm get past his guard.

So it happens that tears so readily come to my eyes. So it continues to happen for the first time, over and over and over again. My mother, my father, my brother, my son.

Hold tight to what you have, cherish and adore, for tomorrow keeps its secrets to itself, and takes no council in determining its course.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Life, New Med

Very soon now I will start on Copaxone, the non-interferon MS treatment that does not cause flu-like symptoms. Having had no relapses for two years, I cannot help but wonder if I need to take the medicine at all.

I remember how my son used to periodically decide that he had been miraculously cured of diabetes. He had prayed a lot, and his insulin requirements would seem to have diminished, and so he would quit the insulin altogether. Predictably enough, he would soon be running blood sugars in the 400s and 500s, and be forced to admit that he had not been cured after all. Not this time.

He has never given up. He continues the pattern to this very day.

For me, there had never been any doubt about his condition. Type 1 diabetes results from a destructive process in the pancreas. The ability of the organ to produce insulin and thus regulate blood sugar has been destroyed. You cannot magically revive the organ through either will power or prayer any more than you can raise the dead from their graves.

Why then is my response to my own condition any less final? Is is not infinitely more reasonable to conclude either than the Avonex has kept me from further relapses for the past two years, or that my disease has simply been dormant for a bit, anticipating the next opportunity for rampage?

Yes, I feel fine. But I felt fine also before the first attack, and before the second attack. What is real and what a delusion--the feeling of good health or the fact of disease?

In a funny sort of way, I cannot help but be taught by my son, for I have seen faith fall at the feet of flesh too many times to miss the point.

I have multiple sclerosis. It has taken sensation from my feet and legs, it has sapped my energy and sucked at my strength, it has dulled my mind and dug ruts and holes in the neural highways of mental conveyance, making me dull and sluggish, forgetful and confused, feeble, stupid, dim-witted, unable.

What is left to doubt? Is my case not just as clear as my son's?

Keep praying, my pastor says. Keep coming to church. We need to keep this thing down.

And take the Copaxone too, reason adds. Better safe than sorry.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Living Water, III

This morning I got a phone call from my schizophrenic son. He wanted me to know that should he suddenly die, or otherwise simply disappear--not that this was likely, but just in case--I should make it a point of the most pressing urgency to visit his trailer home and retrieve every page and portion of the world shattering research he has been doing for the last few years. I am under no circumstances to let this fall into his mother's hands. I am to personally gather it, protect it with my life, and bring it to the waiting world.

Contained in these pages, or so he tells me, is material of the most profound nature, the secrets of both the earth and the heavens. If used in the proper manner, it can change the world.

Last night he experienced a moment of the purest sort of revelation. Life, he said, society, religion, politics, culture, the whole interweaving of systems, ideas, and resulting practices, is based on hate. Hate is the foundation, corrupting all from the bottom up, a sterile soil at the depth of the garden, an evil from which nothing good can grow.

We must be transformed, he said. By love.

Revelation indeed. Everlasting revelation.

Well, I'm thinking Deja vu, dude. So many of us seem to be on the same page. And though we may be as wrong as Wellington Boone, we shall nonetheless persist, because our particular wrong is right.

Where is the reward, where the treasure? It is where the heart is, needing nothing, completely sufficient in and of itself. What is accomplished resides in the doing, what is gained is that which is given.

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.

In loving, therefore; in patience, in tolerance, in kindness, in forgiveness, we commit our hearts not to what is temporal, but to those things which eternally transform, one soul at a time. The reward is new life, day by day, and one could not ask for a better return.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Living Water, II

Wellington Boone was wrong. Or was he?

He had said, in the space of 200 pages or so, that if a man will go out of his way to serve others, then others will acknowledge the effort in like manner, i.e. the natural response to giving is to give in return.

Now, having afforded the theory a trial run of some 10 years' duration, I can say nothing other than that the results have consistently failed to support the hypothesis. Rather, extravagant giving would appear to create in others an extravagant appetite for receiving.

People do not see the force of will behind self-effacement. They simply conclude that you are weak. They do not see the strength in forbearance. They simply conclude that you are foolish. They do not understand that generosity is powered by love, nor that true love elevates the one who is loved above the common elements of personal recompense.

I have become, therefore, the proverbial doormat. Or so they will say, even as they continue to benefit by every property they have deemed foolish, weak, callow, obtuse.

What's up with that, Mr. Boone?

The answer, as it happens, is a bit beyond the mere ink that ended up on the page.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living Water, I

If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.
--John 7:37-38

I once read a book by fellow named Wellington Boone, a Georgia preacher who had a lot of say about compassion, tolerance, self-effacement, and the sacrificial love of Christ. I have not recovered since. The fool thing has ruined my life.

Here's the trouble. Love in this fine old world is commonly pursued for reward. Yes, when we love, we fully expect to be loved in return (and most often with interest). We serve expecting to be served. Acts of unusual kindness and charity, rare things that they are, anticipate a lively acknowledgment at least, and preferably adoration.

It seems a simple enough equation, a foolproof sort of math. I cannot fault Mr. Boone for having made assumptions which must have seemed like no-brainers. I was right there with him, on the very same page, as it were.

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

So said the Beatles. And what better authority could one desire?

Well, the Beatles were wrong. Wellington Boone was wrong. (Jim Baker was wrong too, but that's a different story).

Charity, love, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, are received not with thankfulness, but with avarice. He who gives freely from the goodness of his heart becomes to others a perpetual bank account, an eternal fountain of compassion from which more is drawn this visit to the next.

And yet no human soul flows eternal. Do they not see that the pool must shrink? Do they not see that what sustains must itself be sustained?

I am reminded of a bubbling cold spring in the mountains I used to go to. When I was young, no more than knee-high to a sapling, the water from the spring poured forth from the ground just as if from a sink faucet. You could cup your hands and draw out the purest sort of refreshment. And yet little by little, over the years, the flow has slackened, becoming finally a trickle, then a drip, and then nothing. I look now for where the water used to be. I tell the story to my children. But of course a story of water falls far short of the water itself.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Given my current financial situation, I am hoping that the economy continues to slip (though dive would be preferable) such that we will find ourselves in a true Great Depression mode, prompting a return to the days when those who could not pay for services in cash were allowed by the individual philanthropist to pay in potatoes (or some such other potable good).

I have plenty that might be traded along these lines--bushels of apples in the summer, for instance (God knows I don't want the damn things), strawberries from my garden, zucchinis, green onions.

I also have two dogs that could be traded off for some small consideration. Well, the big one anyway. The small dog honestly ain't worth a pinch of snuff, and I have too much personal integrity to dishonor myself in an uneven transaction.

In addition, being an at least marginally able-bodied worker, on a good day, I might also make payment in labor--painting houses, mowing lawns, providing sexual favors, that sort of thing.

Here's the trouble: I have at present a neurologist, a dentist, and an ophthalmologist telling me that I must receive treatment if I want to maintain any sort of livable existence. The clear implication is that I would be stupid not to do so. My few remaining teeth will soon flee, my MS will relapse, my sight will grow dim. Within weeks I will transform to the likeness of the Hunchback of Notredame.

And I agree with these folks. I really do. I certainly do not mean to be recalcitrant or obtuse.

Yet we seem completely unable to communicate. Because they do not understand the the words No money. No matter how many times I say the words, no comprehension results. It is as if I were speaking in some rare dialect of Mandarin or Swahili. The words go in one ear and out the other. They are meaningless, impotent.

The doctors stare right through me, listening but not hearing. And then they say I very strongly advise you to do this. You will be very unhappy if you do not.

Of course I will. I know. I agree. But, you see, I HAVE NO MONEY!

Good Lord.

Nor do I have money for medications. Protonix, Lexapro, Baclofen, Provigil, Ropinoril. All have seen their final refill. Until that lottery ticket pans out.

What luxury, what comfort must reside in the ignorance of want.

No money? No money? What can it mean? No money? Why, the man is either mad or an idiot. Doesn't he know that it grows on trees?

What's In A Name?

One's name is only a generally understood term, a practical designation. There is no question of a permanent individual implied in the use of the word.
--Milindapanha (Questions of King Menander)

What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet. --William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Though I call myself Richard, as do others who mean in a general way to attract my attention, I feel no particular ownership of the name, any more than if it were a number. I would ascribe, in fact, more sense of belonging to others who possess the same name, in that a superficial marker of identity would gain at least some meaningful power in the absence of applicable information. With the accumulation of particularizing data, however, knowledge deflates any meaning formerly possessed by name itself.

About whom, then, do we have more knowledge than ourselves?

Perhaps this is the reason that couples often give one another new names. Perhaps this is why the American Indians sought new, more personal identities in vision and experience. We are not who we were first labeled to be, but we are most essentially who we have become.

If we say, for instance, You have soiled my good name, if we speak of forgery or defamation of character, we are addressing a matter of value perceived on the basis of knowledge and familiarity--something particular, something defining. We do not speak of a name in and of itself. The name Richard, therefore, cannot in mere utterance be misused, for it has, in itself, no value of meaning whatsoever.

There are thousands of Richards, thousands of Roberts, thousands of Sallys and Vals; and yet at the same time only one of each.

We must weigh the intent of expression against the content of that which is being expressed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Love Your Enemies

If ye love those loving you, what grace have ye? for also the sinful love those loving them; and if ye do good to those doing good to you, what grace have ye? for also the sinful do the same
--Luke 6:32-33, YLT

Here is the test so consistently failed. We prefer to do what is easy, and call ourselves accomplished nonetheless.

"Well sure, he can do that," people will say, "because he's Jesus, he's God, ya know?"

Yet Jesus answered them, then and now, thus:

"Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods?"

But we cannot be so qualified, can we? Or perhaps we would simply prefer not to be.

Some Ironies We Could Do Without

We have read of the recent commuter plane that crashed, killing all aboard. Among the passengers was the wife of one of the 9/11 victims--those who had seized their jet from the terrorists before it crashed in Pennsylvania farmland.

How bitterly ironic this seems. So bitter, in fact, as to seem more than irony or accident.

How can such things be?

Do you remember the boy, Steven, who was kidnapped way back when, taken by a man posing as a reverend, sexually molested for years, until finally rediscovered by his family. Do you remember that some few years later, Steven was killed in a motorcycle accident?

What can it mean?

There was a movie about a Cambodian man who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime. Miraculously, this man escaped his captors, and while thousands were being slaughtered, the man made his way to freedom in the face of incredible danger and hardship.

Later on, living in America, he was knifed to death while trying to help a citizen who was being attacked.

What madman is in charge here? What must we do to reconcile such deadly irony with our own sense of what is proper and deserved?

One conclusion only can I find at this point, tired as I am, heartbroken, perplexed: Whoever is in charge, whomever he may be, he is certainly a long way from being us.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Popularity, Or Not

MS does not make a person popular.

I know, that sounds like kind of a no brainer. Maybe I should have put it this way:

MS makes a person less popular than he had previously been.

I must admit to having had a notion, in the graceful days, that the presence of a serious illness might sharpen the attention of compassion, that it might provide a sort of absolution for old conflicts and open a new door of reconciliation between people who had had their troubles in the past.

But it is not so. Or at least not in my experience thus far.

For the most part, I have found that people do not take a step closer. They take a step back. Old lovers take a step back, old friends, new friends, coworkers. You name it. People in management positions at work tow the line of official philanthropy, and yet in their subsequent actions they reveal a new irritability, a hard-ass sort of impatience. What do you mean you need the day off? Time off for the doctor--again? How many MRIs do they want you to get?

Business is business. Period.

Illnesses, special needs, compromises piss people off. And then, in order to cover their own guilt, they decide that the whole thing is a fake anyway. And they are not about to swallow this particular worm.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

We learn anew the truths contained in old cliches.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Saltiness of Salt

It seems that we who take various drugs for various problems have a certain inclination to suddenly decide that we no longer need one or the other or all of the drugs. The decision is perhaps not so coincidental as it is frugal--for, in my case anyway, it is often made when the time comes to refill a prescription.

Forty-five bucks! What the fuck! No way. Fact is, I've been feeling just fine. Fuck this shit!

This happened most recently when it came time to fill my prescription for Protonix, a medication that I have been taking for the last 10 years or so. Now why we miss the connection between feeling well and taking the medication, I am not quite sure. It is, as I said, a matter of money, but it is also more than that. Perhaps we continually entertain the deep set belief that we will eventually get better. We have seen it happen, and reliably so for that matter, with antibiotics, for instance, or with Tylenol for a headache. Why shouldn't it be the same with ulcers, or GERD, or depression, or anxiety, or MS?

I have decided at one time or another in the past, and will likely decide again in the future, that I do not need Protonix, I do not need Lexapro, I do not need baclofen, I do not need Provigil. And so on.

My body has always been quick to correct this perception.

We find, of all things, that these drugs actually have an effect. We remember that that is why we were taking them in the first place. It is not that these pills are anything in particular in and of themselves--i.e. it is a far cry from the summer of love, when one definitely knew whether he had taken a pill. Aside from the possibility of a noxious side effect, one may as well have swallowed a little piece of plaster or a stale bit of cracker.

No, the efficacy is found in the absence, not the presence. Because, folks, I have the stomachache of the century, and I need my Protonix now the way an addict needs his heroin.

As a caveat, I should mention that a sure substitute for all these drugs put together is a couple doses of double-strength Vicodin. The trouble is, of course, that Vicodin is a narcotic, and thus a controlled substance, therefore imposing a limit on ones monthly supply.

But I'll tell you one thing. If Vicodin were to be made available for a reasonable price at the neighborhood supermarket, someone out there would be making a shit-load of money!

The Chevy Chase Face

An old facet of the disease process active in patients with multiple sclerosis has been given a new face, thanks to the recent groundbreaking efforts of sub molecular researchers (MRs).

They call it the Chevy Chase Face, and it is bound to propel MS research to new heights of less value than ever before.

Patients who suffer from MS have long been painfully aware of the proclivity of the disease toward activating a sort of total body dyscoordination—a blatantly ridiculous inability to function as a normal person. This clumsiness can be manifested at any time and in any way, without warning or remedy. It may be manifested in suddenly falling down a stairway, tripping over a curb, or indeed tripping over nothing. It is apparent in the difficulty experienced with challenges such as holding two objects at once, talking while driving, chewing gum and walking at the same time.

But the most classic example of this curious deficit in coordination, affecting more than 500,000 people nationwide, is found in the consistently high rate of failure (70-90 percent) when patients were asked to look at their wristwatches while simultaneously holding a cup of coffee (or, indeed, any sort of liquid in a cup or a glass—for it was found in research that the type, flavor, and temperature properties of the cup’s contents had no statistically relevant effect on the outcome of experimentation).

Given these results, it seemed “the most natural thing,” in the words of one chuckling biologist, to immediately envision the slapstick comedy of Chevy Chase, particularly in his years on Saturday Night Live.

But there is more—and this is where the research becomes truly thrilling. In examining the brain activity of study subjects through microscopic subatomic microscopes planted in the frontal lobe of the brain of each study subject, a clear visual process was discovered to be taking place in the interaction of molecules and electrons at the very moment when each subject went to look at his watch while holding his cup, and thus causing the non-particular liquid to spill on his shirt front.

“It was like seeing a poodle crash into an elephant, and then get their leashes all tangled together,” one researcher quipped rather stupidly.

Moreover, when biologists zoomed in and focused on the exact area of molecular interaction, they found to their utter amazement that the offending molecule, when so isolated, actually looked like Chevy Chase!

“It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen,” said the leading biologist in the study. “It was completely unexpected. And boy was it funny!”

He went on to say, more soberly, that though these results had been exciting, much more research would be needed in the future.

“We know what,” he said. “Now the question is why?”

Chevy Chase himself could not be reached for comment.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Faith Healing for the Faithless, Part III

There are, perhaps, as many styles of faith healing as there are churches, or pastors, or scriptural interpretations.

My first healing was a little bit like a lynching in that there was a character of aggressiveness to the thing. There was shouting and pushing, shrill threats made against the devil, and demands made of God. The truth was stood upon (so to speak), promises and guarantees cited. The stocks of belief had been brought for redemption. God was read His rights. Deliver!

My second healing, received this time at Calvary Church, with no finger foods, could not have been more different from the first. There was no shouting, no pushing, no jumping, no gesticulating. It was corporate in the sense that there were other people present, but these people kept their seats, deferring to the power of authority, i.e. the pastor, on the strenght of the notion, as I would suppose, that Satan could call upon 500 demons as easily as Christ could summon 500 angels--a number, in any case, which would easily overwhelm the small congregation.

This was so quiet, so subdued in fact, that I could barely hear what the pastor was saying. He spoke almost in a whisper--a mumble on top of a whisper--with a thick East Indian accent. These are the sort of things that only God can understand. And I was happy enough to let Him do so.

The very next day I talked to my neurologist on the phone. We spoke for a long time, not only about MS and the treatment of MS, but also of the theory of evolution, Cromagnum man, submicroscopic cellular response to disease and to drugs, disease processes in general.

He has his own ideas. His own faith. The promises he embraces come wrapped in statistics, and the only guarantee he stands on is that there is no guarantee. His best advice was that I start Copaxone, which, we are told, reduces the chance of new relapses by 30 percent.

How very far we have traveled, and in such a short time, from Arise, take up your bed and walk.

In any case, I did not mention God, for He seemed, and so very sadly so, perfectly besides the point.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Faith Healing for the Faithless, Part II

I will make a deal with the Lord. Yes, this is the sort of thing usually reserved for that other deity (he who is called the God of this world), and yet a common enough tactic on the lips of men. We say if and then, forever in command of our own destiny, even as we ask someone else to be.

If you will keep me from further bodily damage from MS, then I will be content to live without complaint with damage I have already suffered. Heal me therefore from this time forward. It is a fair proposition.

Is this not the way we think? Is it not the natural way of the natural man to negotiate and bargain? But there is no bargaining in faith. Rather we come before the throne naked and powerless in order that even the simplest things may be bestowed upon us, at what is either the whim or the will of God. We cannot receive from His richness until we truly know our own poverty.

And yet these are still ideas--mental reckonings that ultimately succeed only in obscuring the face of authentic faith, for faith, as the scripture says, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Our request therefore, rightly expressed, is to experience the will of God in the sureness of knowledge, to cross the boundary between flesh and spirit, earth and heaven, and enter into the life that is hid in Christ. This is the ultimate answer to prayer and the healing of all illness, and the resulting transformation is itself the substance of faith.

I am healed. I always have been.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Faith Healing for the Faithless, Part I

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
--Mark 9:24

Yesterday I received my second faith healing. I say received in the sense that I was there. Whether I received in the sense of being miraculously cured, I do not know.

I suppose that one problem with this is the almost automatic inclination to think of such a result as miraculous rather than expected. At least in my mindset, a positive result attained to by nothing other than request seems perfectly doubtful and unlikely. My mind, therefore, becomes my enemy, in that healing is not a matter of the mind, but of faith.

Take a close look at St. Paul's prayer to be delivered from his thorn in his flesh. Three times he pleaded with the Lord that it might depart from him, and yet it did not. The impression imparted in these few words (2 Cor 12:7-10) is that if Paul was surprised at anything, it was at the fact that he had not been healed. Three times he pleaded, Paul says, as if to underline his perplexity at not immediately receiving the affirmative response he had anticipated.

People seem to be standing in line to heal me. I say that this was my second faith healing, but I mean the second in a premeditated, staged sort of way, where pastors, brothers, and sisters had gathered for this very purpose--a corporate effort at slaying the the dragon. Apart from that, however, I have been healed more times than I can count on both hands.

Those who believe are eager to see, feel, touch, witness the manifestation of their belief. eager for theory to become experience. Therefore it is said Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Faith itself needs sustenance.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Moriarty

Studies involving cognitive deficits in MS indicate a retrieval deficit combined with an underlying storage deficit in the semantic memory. Moreover, results specific to language function show both slowness in performance and a significantly increased rate of error over non-MS subjects.

Another way of putting this would be to say that if one has holes in his bucket, his bucket tends to leak. Rather, it is guaranteed to do so. Until such a time comes when the holes are patched, the bucket will leak. Sadly, we have no way at present of patching MS holes in the brain.

Learning a new language, therefore, becomes something of an exercise in futility. I may read a sentence in Indonesian, look up the words I do not know, insert the same into my immediate comprehension of the sentence, but that is often as far as it goes. Chances are good to perfect that the next time I see the same words, I will have forgotten their meanings, and find myself consulting the dictionary once again.

Begin from the beginning is good advice in general, but not something to be done on a perpetual basis.

Why then do I persist? Stubbornness, in a word. Or perhaps I have too much time on my hands. Or perhaps I believe deep down that I can think my way out of these holes. Perhaps deep down I refuse to acknowledge the very idea that I have permanent brain damage.

I remember a movie from a long time ago (They Might Be Giants) wherein George C. Scott played an intelligent, inventive man who also just happened to have schizophrenia and was convinced that he was Sherlock Holmes. He spent his time pursuing a certain Professor Moriarty, a sort of embodiment of all that is evil, destructive, amoral. Everything seemed to contain a clue--the daily newspaper, if you read it just right--a road sign--a scrap of paper on the sidewalk--a sideways glance from a stranger, and so on.

Scott dressed like Holmes, wore the coat and the hat; he smoked a pipe; and while meditating on the motives of his evil prey, he would play the violin, just as Holmes had. But the thing is, he did not have a clue about how to play the instrument. It was the act itself that mattered, the holding of it, the bowing of it, an actualization applied toward legitimizing the charade.

Directly questioned about this at one point by a female companion he had named Watson, Scott broke down and in a moment of frustration (not to mention clarity), threw down the bow and shouted Well I don't know how to play the damn thing!

And yet he soon returned to doing so.

So it happens as well that I return to the study of a second language. It is the carrying of the book, the turning of the pages, the attempts of my tongue to actually produce the thing, no matter how dissonant the result, that finally matters.

Moriarty, I fear you not!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Language of Leaky Boats

Language is, as the experts say, something that is best learned when one is very young, while the brain is at the height of its elasticity and has not yet gone plastic. Language learned in early age is incorporated, internalized in a way that does not happen later on in life. Moreover, he who learns a second language as a child learns also the sort of fluency in that language that is otherwise common only to people who speak it as their native language. This is to say that the child learns to speak without an accent.

It has been shown on brain imaging that a particular area of the brain lights up in response to the stimulus of language. In the person who has learned two languages as he grew up, both languages activate this same area. However, in the individual who has learned a second language in his adult life, brain activation by the second language has migrated or expanded to an adjacent area of the brain. It is as if a second room has been needed to house this second language.

Albert, my wife's ex-husband, learned both English and Indonesian as a small child, having been raised by turn in both countries. He is equally fluent in both. An American listener would find nothing at all foreign in his speech, nor would an Indonesian listener.

And then there is me, trying to learn Indonesian at the ripe old age of 55. It is frustrating. I am wondering why my parents couldn't have done me the favor of regularly traveling to Indonesia. It makes me feel neglected and abused. And I swear, this second language room in my brain is about the size of a closet. A broom closet. And it is just not lighting up very well. Just a little light squeezing in under the door.

Talk about a plastic brain. I think that when I die they may put mine on display, the perfect example of what happens between childhood and old age.

Not only that, but this plastic has holes in it. Mine is an MS brain, a sieve, a leaky boat--and friends, it's sinking fast. I don't know whether to bail or to row.

More to come . . . .


There are these times, these days and hours, wherein ones very soul seems suddenly to have gone dull, enveloped in an inexplicable though not the less pervasive sense of drudgery. It feels either that you cannot wake up or that you have finally awakened. You find yourself in your car, on the road, radio playing tunes from the 70s, the same road, the same car, going to the same places, and the old world washes over your shoulders, bends your back forward in the flow.

And suddenly you can barely continue. You feel like pulling over to the side of the road. Where were you going, and why? Is that the same beggar on the corner there? The same as yesterday and the day before? The same cardboard sign? And there, just ahead, the supermarket, the Starbucks, the Burger King, the video store.

It has all crawled inside you, curled up next to your liver, toes poking one of your lungs. What happened? I was feeling fine, and then . . .

You find yourself alone, so alone that this state of only-ness inside you has grown its own identity, separate yet the same--you are known by it, it is known by you. The presence of the thing is suffocating, overbearing.

Jean Paul Sartre, in one of his novels, called it nausea.

I prefer to call it a lie.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Strangers And Aliens, Wanderers All

We are all strangers to our own bodies. We are molecules riding on the backs of our own cells. We are aliens and wanderers, strangers in a strange land.

Did you know that all the smells in the world are detected and internalized by the molecules that bind to the chemicals that make up the smells? Moreover, did you know that each of these molecules has its own preferences for which chemicals it can interact with?

And I had thought it was a case of merely sniffing.

Not so, not so. It seems that the lion's share of our interaction with the world is being done on the molecular level, with no real need of us--we living, thinking, feeling people--other than as receptacles, containers, hosts. We are superstructures, a flesh which on its own may as well be stone--enlivened only by the invisible power in the air--light, electricity, the flow, the chi--a busy vacuum sealed universe of subatomic lightning bolts, the dizzy orbit of electrons and electrolytes, intricately premeditated collisions and explosions, a lifestyle of subatomic particles

When is the last time you thoughtfully directed a single molecule about its business? Never.

I return to the nose. It seems that all the smells of the world are nothing to the nose without that they can jump on to the back of a specifically assigned molecule, which in turn gallops along to the brain--Ah, a rose is a rose, the scent of a woman, and so on.

On the purely pedestrian level of human sympathy, I cannot help but wonder how some of these molecules ended up being so unlucky in their assignments. Take for instance the molecule assigned to host the smell of dog shit. Or the molecule assigned to convey the odor of carrion, or of sweaty socks, or rotten milk, or bad breath. And so on. These molecules, as I surmise, must have come late on the day assignments were being handed out.

It is the same way for taste, for sight, for touch, for motion. You name it. Are we perceiving, or are we being perceived? Can we trust these molecules?

We had better hope so. They are, after all, in charge from beginning to end.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Paint, He Said

What do you believe in?
Jesus Christ. You?

These were the words spoken in a dream I had last night. A young red haired man, sitting on a fence, asked me the question. My response was immediate. So was his. He did also elaborate to small degree in saying that he believed in all kinds of paints, all kinds of colors of paint.

I do not know what he meant, and yet I find it oddly compelling. Paint.

Significant also may be the fact that we both spoke in Bahasa.

Kamu percaya pada apa?
Yesus Kristus. Dan Kamu?

Paint covers things, it changes things, it beautifies things, it restores things. Paint can be used to whitewash a fence or to create a work of art. Paint is color, color is variety, a finished canvas or wall is comprehension, wholeness, the spectrum of light.

The more I think about it, the more confident I become that I too believe in paint.