I posted that on Facebook yesterday. It was a rough night. I needed to talk to her. I always called her when I was struggling. And last night I was struggling.
Many kind people, very helpful people, commented.
“I’m so sorry. Praying loving memories of your Mom will soothe your heart.”
“I feel your pain.”
“Losing a parent is one of the toughest things you’ll ever endure. In time, you’ll learn to work around the hole she left.”
My mom is not dead, though. I didn’t lose her. She just can’t really talk anymore.
She’s just not the same.
She’s here and she’s not here.
My post on Facebook was about missing that giant part of her – the love and compassion and care.
That’s the part I was referring to last night. That’s the part that’s largely gone — her mind. And even though she’s here in the flesh and I am so incredibly grateful to be able to hold her frail hands, and caress her and kiss her and sometimes make her laugh, we can’t communicate.
Every Saturday, at a minimum, I visit the skilled nursing facility, also known as, her home.
Her room is near the end of the corridor to the right of a lobby. I walk down the corridor. Often, there is a very elderly woman with the knit beanie. Scuttling on the floor with her slippers, back and forth and back and forth, she mummers to herself. She has no teeth. She must weigh no more than 75 pounds. She holds a bald baby doll as if for dear life. Back and forth and back and forth, she scuttles. Others sit in the corridor in wheelchairs.
Mom has a roommate. There is a drape that separates them. It’s dull yellow. I’m not sure of the name of the lady she’s with this time. Over the past four years, there have been many. Some have died. I especially remember Mary, and wrote about her and this entire nightmare, here.
As I walk down the long corridor, I always look into the rooms to the right. It’s not a pretty sight, all these stroke victims or cancer victims or life victims. I’m telling you, it’s not nice to see.
Some of you know what I mean.
Mom’s bed is adjustable. She doesn’t walk anymore. I always lie next to her. I used to get her into her wheelchair, push her outside, then we’d sit on the outdoor sofa near the entrance. I would escort her around the rose garden, holding her left arm as we walked slowly. She would always look at the box hedges and say, “those are mine.” At her house (we had to sell it after the stroke) she had box hedges in the front yard. Often she would trim them.
We’d walk around the rose garden once or twice. Then we’d sit for hours — me to her right. We’d laugh. I’d show her pictures of her mother and father, my Nonno and Nonna. We’d listen to Pavarotti. I always brought one of those fruit bars from Trader Joe’s.
I still bring the fruit bars and show her the pictures and we listen to Pavarotti. But, as I said earlier, she doesn’t walk anymore. I still take her outside. We sit. I took this photo on Saturday.
I was happy because I made her laugh. You take what you can get.
I woke today thinking about Plato — his three appetites of the soul.: pleasure, reputation, and knowledge.
Who can be sure whether the drive for pleasure exceeds that drive for status — reputation?
But knowledge, especially today, comes in last. And society pays a high price.
Postscript. Perhaps there is no greater topic to man than that of appetites. The billions of dollars spent on advertising, to create needs that don’t really exist. The “top university” facade. Substance abuse. Brands. All creating the deepest forms of anxiety and depression due to envy. I’m not claiming to have an answer, other than to say that once upon a time, only the privileged could receive an education. Only those in the minority could be learned. Around 50 years ago, higher education in America became an instrumental value, versus intrinsic. Today learning (the pursuit of knowledge) is a means to an end: money, pleasure, status. Envy hurts society.
On Sunday I went church — a local Greek Orthodox parish called Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox.
I was there to receive a check. I am an advocate for children in foster care and am President of a global organization that works directly with thousands of children of neglect, abuse, and abandonment.
St. Paul’s is a church with a mission. This year, part of their mission is to help children who need help.
I have attended Saint Paul’s before. Maybe 6 times, on days where I wanted the deepest richness of liturgy. Have you ever attended an Orthodox service? Growing up Roman Catholic, I thought I knew everything about what some might deem “boring church.”
Roman Catholics sit and stand and kneel during their roughly one-hour mass – pretty boring. Reformed churches (non-traditional) make standing optional, but lots of people stand during the worship. You sit and watch during the hour and twenty minuteish service. And they have rock bands and cool videos and techy stuff. Way less boring.
In the Orthodox churches, you stand — basically for two straight hours. And there’s all this chanting and incense and robes and you feel like you are Greece or Turkey or places like that.
The Orthodox church was created in the 11th century. There was a split between the western church (Rome) and the eastern church (Constantinople) — the Great Schism. Previously, dating back from the time of Jesus, there was one denomination: the “Catholic” or “Universal” church.
We don’t hear about Orthodox churches here in the west because they are predominately eastern; the Roman Catholics, primarily western.
Today there are thousands of Christian denominations; the largest is Roman Catholic, then Orthodox, then the Anglican.
I am an Anglican (known in the U.S. as the Episcopal church). Sometimes the Anglican church is called The Church of England. They split from the Roman Catholic church, in the 16th century, for a bunch of reasons, including a divorce. You’ve probably heard that story.
Many pastors and theologians, for centuries, have argued about the purpose of church. The traditional churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist) think in terms of the power of incarnational worship — in certain mental respects, getting your body involved, as a way to lure in your mind and heart. Lots of symbols, and the involvement of your five senses.
After the Reformation — when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic priest tired of Roman antics — basically anything that resembled the Roman and Greek churches were ditched. Sola Scriptura became the main idea and it basically means traditions don’t matter – all that matters is the Bible.
I stood and stood and stood and stood with chants and incense and dozens of signs of the cross. My back started to hurt. (My lower back does that when I stand for too long.) But my Roman Catholic roots run deep, and appreciation for the virtue of sacrifice (i.e., pain) kept me on my two feet.
My friend and mentor Wayne stood to my right, and my youngest son Elliot stood to my left, and I wasn’t about to shame myself in front of them.
I didn’t want to run the risk of dishonoring God, either. I’m not even kidding I still feel guilt like that because of my upbringing.
Your mind is bound to wander during any two-hour liturgy when you’re standing basically the whole entire time. If I’m honest, I wanted to shuffle out of there a couple of times. But again, Wayne and Elliot.
But when that happens your mind attaches onto your senses: the sights, the smell, the sounds. That’s what Locke wrote about. The tabula rasa — our blank slate brain that is informed — shaped — by our senses.
The large domed ceiling. That color blue. I didn’t know whether to call it teal or turquoise. I toyed around with chartreuse for a few seconds but concluded that chartreuse was more like a pinkish color. (I’m still not sure, though.)
I’m not very good at naming novel colors.
I felt relieved that the Jesus on the ceiling didn’t have blonde hair.
There were the dark brown wooden pews with no padding.
The lady and two daughters sitting behind us, all dawning black dresses, all looking entirely foreign.
Most of the people in the dark brown wooden pews had darker hair.
The walls upfront seemed painted with gold.
For some reason, I thought about Christmas mornings attending Sunday church (Anglican) at Westminister Abbey.
The Jesus being baptized in the Jordan wall. I decided to take a photo of him.
I wanted to check my iPhone like a hundred times.
Then I thought about all the rubbish I’ve heard over the years — Roman Catholics aren’t, somehow, Christians. Neither are those who practice rituals.
It’s the “You don’t worship like us so you can’t possibly be a Christian” bile.
I was frustrated. I sometimes get frustrated with ignorance.
In my mind I say, “Think about it, for nearly 2,000 years, Christians have worshipped this way. And, today, the vast majority of Christians worship this way.”
I don’t know who I was talking to – I guess those who think their brand is the only brand: the tribalists.
I listened to the name of Jesus proclaimed countless times by the worshippers at Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church. “Jesus” over and over and over.
The service was all about God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Then the priest read from the words of Jesus, from the Gospel of Luke. A few minutes after that, Holy Communion.
Then the liturgy stopped. Two women came to the stage and invited me to join them.
In front of hundreds of faithful Greek Orthodox worshippers: On behalf of Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, we are honored to bless RFK with a check in the amount of $43,150 to help children in foster care.
I almost fell over.
I don’t remember how I thanked them, but I mentioned Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “Inasmuch you have done it for the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
It doesn’t get any more “least” than being a child.
Then being neglected.
Then being abused.
And then abandoned.
Family induced childhood trauma — we must help those children.
Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox helped those children.
Proclaiming and confessing the name of Jesus. Giving to the least of these. Studying scripture. As far as I am concerned, that is about as Christian as it gets.
I will be back in Saint Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine.
I want to go to an Orthodox church in Greece, too. Or, Russia, but I’ve been advised that it wouldn’t be safe for me to travel to Russia because of this.
Please read these words for the Gospel of Luke; they are the most important words on this page.
If only more people knew this Jesus:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I travel often. And I meet strangers on airplanes and restaurants, often. Curious people. And I always get nervous when they say, “What do you do?” I’m a CEO and I’m educated and I’m 54 years old — and I consider myself pretty confident — and I still get nervous when anyone asks, “What do you do?”
Business people are supposed to have a nice tidy “elevator speech” prepared for this question. Besides the fact that I was taught that it was rude to ask people “What do you do?” I refuse to prepare and memorize an “elevator speech.” Here’s why.
First, INTP/Enneagram 5 wing 4’s like me think too much. We overthink everything. And we possess this innate desire to be different. Besides all that, I don’t like the idea of memorizing some lame 30-second line to describe, me. Elevator speeches are stupid because there’s no possible way to summarize what anyone does in thirty seconds. Unless you are a barber or student or brain surgeon or something like that. But I’ve never had normal jobs like those.
You probably think that’s stupid and non-strategic for me to forego that elevator speech. All the management experts say you need an elevator speech to quickly hook someone into your business. I don’t want to hook anyone tho.
Second, I’m into authenticity. Elevator speeches just seem fake to me. I’m not saying that if you use elevator speeches that you are fake. I’m not even saying even that at all. I’m just saying that to me they are fake. Again, you might think I’m too idealistic or whatever but, there you go – elevator speeches seem fake to me.
Third, INTP/Enneagram 5 types are prone to stumble over our words. Hard to describe this phenomenon. Between the (overthinking) brain and the movements of my tongue and cheeks and jaw is this kind of delay thing that happens. People often tell me I seem “serious.” I think part of the reason is that when I speak I have to concentrate super hard on making sure that what is “in” my brain and the words I speak, match. It’s not easy – I’m telling you, it’s not.
And since I don’t memorize elevator speeches, I’m left to, extemporaneously, answer the curious people question, “What do you do.”
I usually say what I end up saying, with pauses and “ums.” It takes a while — more then 30 seconds. I get nervous. And even though it’s not a typical elevator speech, and I stutter a bit with “ums” and it takes a while, people always respond by saying something like, “That’s so amazing what you do for those children, and that you are giving back.”
Then I tell them that I don’t really get to work directly with the children in the way our volunteers do – that as the CEO I meet with donors and government leaders and stakeholders in our organization. Then they say, “Yeah but still you are helping people.”
That makes me feel good. (I do get to, once and a while, visit some of our programs and interact with the precious children. In the summer I did visits in Sacramento and San Diego and Dallas and Pennsylvania. And last week I did a visit to Poland.)
Anyway, I’m not sure elevator speeches are necessary. Maybe they are, I don’t know. But I’m going to continue to just give a non-rehearsed answer when the curious people ask, “What do you do?”
It goes something like this.
“I lead an international non-profit organization of 16,000 volunteers. Last year these amazing volunteers gave over 2.6 million hours toward working with children. Not just children, victims of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. We work alongside the government. Social Services locates the children for us, children in foster care. Our volunteers provide direct one-on-one mentoring, guidance, trauma-based interaction, fun, self-esteem activities, acceptance, structure, and most of all love.
“We work with the most at-risk population there is – minor children whose guardians, the ones who were supposed to love and nurture them, hurt and abandoned them, instead. We are an organization made up of Christians, but our goal is not to convert the children in any way. We just want to love them.
“We have a small staff – for every paid staff member, there are over 1,000 non-paid volunteers. We are committed to helping confront abuse, change lives, and transform communities. Because, statistics tell us that the way to prevent academic failure, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, sex trafficking, homelessness, incarceration, and rehabilitation, is to prevent it before it happens.
That’s what I say. But it’s not exactly that, of course.