Friday, January 30, 2009

The Goat. (For Christy Heitger)

Growing up in suburban New York, I guess my school staff was worried about us kids being too far removed from our food sources. For educational purposes, one afternoon they brought a few farm animals onto school property for us to see and feel and think about how they were processed into the unrecognizable items in the grocery store. Okay, I don’t remember that last part specifically, but I’m sure that was the underlying message.

By the wise old age of seven, I had already been on several long road trips from New York to Ohio and Michigan and seen my share of open country and factory farms. To me, the animals were just cute. I liked the little billy goat best. He was the cutest. And since I already knew all about farm animals I had no fear and went right up to that little billy goat and patted his neck with confidence.

The goat, for his part, was too busy munching on the Dixson School lawn to even acknowledge my presence, never mind that of dozens of other squirrelly second-graders swarming around him. As he bent his neck down to reach the grass, I bent down to better scratch him between the ears.

Now I’m not entirely sure why my mouth was open. Was my nose stuffed up? Was I whispering sweet nothings to my new friend? Was I lulled into a moronic stupor by this riveting experience? I guess it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that all of a sudden, someone startled the billy goat and he threw back his head with an indignant bleat.

At that moment, one of his cute little (and obviously surgically sterile) billy goat horns went right through the roof of my open mouth.

I must have screamed, though I don’t remember it. The only striking visual image that remains is a view of my red wind-breaker with the Camp Koinonia patch covered in dark red-brown stains as some grownup held my hand and rushed me into the building.

I also remember the taste of blood. In my subsequent years as a biology geek, no one ever had to convince me that human blood was full of iron. And as much as I’ve enjoyed Anne Rice and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I just don’t get that vampire thing. Yeesh. Blecch.

The miracle of miracles was that I didn’t need stitches. According to the pediatrician (and again, I have absolutely zero memory of getting from the head start nurse’s office to the clinic) the goat horn had made a “clean” wound right between the hard and soft palettes. My treatment was to consist of eating all the popsicles I wanted until the cut healed. I don’t think they even gave me a tetanus booster.

My beautiful red wind-breaker with the Koinonia patch never came clean. But other than that, no permanent damage was done and the story has gone down in Fergus family history as the single most bizarre accident story ever. I even still think billy-goats are cute.

But I keep my distance.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Cop Out

I promised myself I'd update my blog every week.  I honestly have nothing to say right now.  So I thought I'd post the text of a picture book I wrote for my husband in honor of our dearly departed cat, Dolby.

Dolby died August 9th in Dan's arms after what was probably a long history of some sort of feline cancer, though we'll never know for sure.  I was with the kids at our family cabin in Michigan at the time and it was very hard for Dan to be here alone and deal with the loss.

Dealing with the loss long-distance and having to tell the kids was no picnic either. But there was a moment of--I don't know, clarity? Comfort? Insight?--for me.  I was walking from the living area into the kitchen and had a sudden thought: Dolby is an angel.  He had always been and would always be a part of our divine family.  It was odd how perfectly clear that thought was, but those things happen to me now and then and I accepted it.  Miraculously, my grief vanished, and this story poured out into my journal out of love and celebration of Dan and Dolby, the best of friends.



A man had a cat.

Up to then, he had never much cared for cats. But his wife really wanted one. So he agreed.

After all, it would be her cat.

But Dolby had a way of getting into everything.

And it wasn’t long before Dolby got into the man’s heart.

They became the best of friends.

Dolby lived a long and happy life with the man and his family.

When Dolby died, the man buried him under his favorite window.

The man, too, lived a long and happy life.

Very early one morning, he slipped away.

He walked through fields and forests, by hills and streams.

He came to a meadow where young men and women were playing.

One of the youths spotted the man and immediately ran over and embraced him. “You’re here!” he cried joyfully.

“Do I know you?” asked the man, for the boy seemed very familiar to him.

“I’m an angel,” replied the youth. “But you called me ‘Dolby’.”

The man cried out in recognition and threw his arms around his best friend.

Then, realizing he was now as youthful as the others, the man ran off after his friend and joined in the game.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Great Expectations

This country and all of its citizens owe an inestimable debt to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Americans of every race, gender, ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation and ability have benefited from his life’s work. His message of love, forgiveness and non-violence revolutionized the American socio-political landscape and inspired millions.

Yet on this day of his commemoration, I also want to remember his humanity. Dr. King was a man, plain and simple, and as a man, he made mistakes and experienced failures. Moreover, his accomplishments did not occur in a vacuum, for he was not the only one marching, preaching or sitting-in.

I say this not to denigrate his importance, but to drive home the essential truths that
(1) each of us has the potential to stand up for truth and justice and act non-violently out of love and service to make the world a better place; and
(2) that none of us can accomplish great things all by ourselves.

On the eve of what cannot be denied as a shining moment in American history, the inauguration of this country’s first African American President, it is of paramount importance that we hold these truths before us. For all that Barack Obama may represent, for all he may inspire, for all his potential, he is still a man. He will make mistakes. He will experience failures.

Those who are caught up in the adulation around his historic ascendancy will set themselves up for bitter disappointment. Those who oppose him will take every opportunity to expose and exploit the slightest misstep in an effort to sabotage any good he attempts. Both groups have the potential to draw the focus away from the real work that will have to be done by all of us if this presidential administration is to succeed in truly benefiting this country and its citizens.

Dr. King, I believe, was fully aware of his humanity. As a Christian pastor, he would have had to know that he, himself, was not God. We have to know that for all he accomplished, he did not eradicate racism in this country. He was unable, for all his efforts, to completely heal the wounds still festering 100 years after the end of slavery. Forty years after hatred and fear caused someone to murder him, these wounds still ooze. At the same time, his work and his message were not buried with his body. Thousands of individuals carried on his ideas and beliefs and, to this day, we remember and honor his ideals.

Mr. Obama, I hope, is also aware of his humanity. He knows it will take heroic efforts—far beyond human capability—to address our factiousness and unite us in a movement toward greater peace and justice in this country and beyond. We have to know that he can’t do it alone. Our work didn’t end when we cast our ballot. The real work—everyone’s work!—starts tomorrow.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Yoga with Cat

I have recently begun practicing yoga at home.  My husband was thoughtful enough to give me this wonderful book to guide me in structuring my practice. I highly recommend it. The explanations are very clear and helpful and the photos are excellent.

There is only one issue I have with this publication. It seems the book was written without consideration for the very real challenges one can experience practicing yoga in one's own home.

To rectify this, I have altered some of the poses from the book to more accurately reflect the circumstances in which I, and I'm sure many others, practice yoga.

Not-Quite-Perfect Pose
1) Assume Siddhasana, or Perfect Pose as described on p. 127

2) Hold perfectly still as cat butts head repeatedly into left hand, wondering why you're not petting it. Maintain pose as cat attempts same behavior with right hand.

3) Continue breath control while cat gives up and gets comfortable in your lap.

Downward-Facing Dog with Cat
1) Assume Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward-Facing Dog,  pp. 100-101.

2) Hold for the requisite 10-15 breaths while maintaining perfect balance in spite of cat walking back and forth under you, now and then rubbing his full body length against your chin and sticking his whiskers up your nose.

Cat Pose 
Actually, that is what it's called.  Its Sanskrit name is Biralasana, p. 37.

1) During Step 2, maintain pose and breath as cat leaps onto your back.  The added 12-15 pounds of weight will deepen the stretch. 

2) As you exhale and move to step 3, rounding your back, cat may jump down as comfortable, concave surface is eliminated.

3) Keeping back rounded and pelvis tucked, maintain balance while cat slams full body weight repeatedly into alternating arms.

4) Accept that you are not a cat and that the cat can just do this pose better than you.

The biggest challenge is to maintain "pranayama" or "breath control" while laughing. This should be its own discipline, I tell you.


Source: Brown, Christina, The Book of Yoga, Bath, UK, Parragon Publishing, 2002

Monday, January 5, 2009

Joy in the Longing

“Joy in the Longing” is an expression of my spiritual journey. I believe every human being is born with a piece missing, and that if I am truly in touch with my thoughts and feelings, I am aware of that little hole in my self. The longing is a constant fact. It is at times almost imperceptible, while at others it is so acute that nothing else in the world seems to matter. But it doesn’t go away if I am honest with myself, it is an ostinato over which the rest of my life is sung.

It is not a longing on the human plane, as for a bigger house or a better life or a serious relationship (if you strip away any of those longings, you will find, underneath, still deeper longings for things less material.) It is a longing, I believe, for what I truly am, or perhaps more appropriately, for what I truly will be. The way God intended me to be and the way God sees me even now, though I am fully aware of my incompleteness.

Still, while I yearn for that sacred other-ness, that communion with something greater than myself, there are plenty of practical matters to which I ought to attend. I have a husband and children, friendships and family relationships, commitments to various communities in which I claim membership. I believe the ‘here and now’ is an essential part of my being and that in seeking connection with God, I must live ‘life on life’s terms’ rather than trying to alter the fabric of time and space to my own comfort.

It is in this living of life each and every day that joy is found. As a deeply imperfect person, I can get lost in the day-to-day, mired in frustration, bogged down by seemingly incessant difficulties. But when I work (and I do mean work!) to stay present in the moment, to act out of love and service to others, to center myself on doing the next right thing, there are sudden and often unexpected moments of joy. Not simply happiness or satisfaction or contentedness. Joy. Exuberant, transcendent joy.

In the book Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis writes:
“It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.... It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, ‘in another dimension’ ... [it was] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy.... Anyone who has experienced it will want it again.”
This blog merely contains my musings on living life each day, always aware of that unsatisfied longing beneath, and always grateful for those moments when I can tap more deeply into the longing and experience joy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

It's here. No two ways about it. I don't have much to say about it yet, but I wanted to post SOMETHING right away as testament to my commitment to write on a regular basis. I'm out of town at my in-laws' at the moment and I suppose there's plenty of fodder for reflections on "Life on Life's Terms" here. Still, I think I'll just enjoy the purple-blue shadows of trees on the miles of unbroken snow all around, the momentary quiet of solitude, and the knowledge that I have the ability to be of service to those around me. And that's enough.