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Archive for the ‘Clouds-lined and otherwise’ Category

When I called to tell Maksim that Liza had had another seizure, and the doctor wanted permission to do a spinal tap to check for meningitus and bleeding of the brain, he said “I don’t understand why God is putting us through so many trials.”  I told him we’d understand later; not that I really think so, but I wanted to comfort him. 

I don’t think that people necessarily find answers to the trials of life.  I’m not sure we need them.  That’s life.  The modern version is “Into each life some rain must fall”; the ancient version is “God sends rain on the heads of the just and the unjust.”  Incidentally, the ancient style is rather ambiguous: rain is relative, it can be a blessing or a curse; and the imagery invoked by the phrase “on the heads” repeats the dual notion of blessing or punishment.

Maksim is disturbed when the rain falls heavier than usual because for one thing he’s sanguine and optimistic- and for another, he’s been raised to equate good things with God’s blessing and bad things with God’s punishment.  I don’t agree with that view.  God is sovereign, yes; God blesses, and God chastens, I agree; God knows when the sparrow falls to the ground, I know; BUT sometimes we turn God into a puppet master, and forget the point of free will.

C. S. Lewis points this out very clearly in his “The Problem of Pain”; lying on my side to protect my stitches in the hospital, with Liza several doors down with an IV in her head, and artificial sunlight treating her jaundice, I don’t have access to his thoughts word for word- but I can paraphrase them.  Some people think that a loving God would smooth the way for us on all sides.  But in order for us to have a free will God HAD to create a world that worked according to rules: in this case, the rules of nature.  If the world did not work as an absolute, but was individual to us each and our needs, we would no longer have a free will- we could no longer be autonomous.  We would be in the same position as Liza is now.  Fed when we were hungry, put to sleep when we were tired, medicated when we were sick, by no choice of our own.  And further, in order for this world of natural law and our freedom of choice to be uncompromised, God can’t interfere or adjust rules of nature too often.  Miracles can and do happen- oftener than we think- but if God interfered in the laws of natural phenomenon every time, there would be no point in having the law.

Sometimes we’re more spiritual than God is.  We want to turn everything into a spiritual issue.  And while it’s true that there is a constant spiritual battle going on… that part of our making is spirit, in the image of God… that we are to worship in spirit and in truth, keeping our eyes on the mark… we shouldn’t forget that God created the physiological laws and natural phenomenon.  They aren’t vindictive or evil; they work in a logical, rational way according to plans God set down at creation.  If Adam and Eve had used their free will wisely, this wouldn’t cramp our style at all.  It was the sin that let pain and death into our world that turned these laws and phenomenon into something frightening and threatening.

But the point is that God doesn’t change.  When He made the world, He saw that it was good; the evil was let in by man- granted, through the agency of a fallen angel.  And now, we cannot demand that God make continual exceptions to the laws He created in the first place for our good.

Do I believe that Liza’s illness is governed by physiological rules of nature? Yes.  Does that mean God couldn’t have interfered? No.  So in that sense, God allowed Liza to be sick…  But God was allowing His own laws to work as they were created to; He did not strike Liza down with a plague as a punishment for some vague sin that we need to ferret out and repent of.  Of course, sometimes He allows illness in order to bring someone to repentance, but not always.  Paul was not called to repent of some deep, dark, hidden sin; nor was he “given” his thorn in the flesh.  God forebore to heal him- to interfere in the course of nature- while promising to support him through it.

Bad things happen.  They happen to good people.  They happen to bad people.  They just happen, because we live in a fallen world.  Sometimes we see that God has allowed something to show us our mistakes… sometimes we see that He wants to learn something… sometimes we don’t see anything until years later, or not at all.  But always He wants us to turn to Him, and depend on Him.

God doesn’t always tell us why we’re experiencing testing; because sometimes we don’t need to know, sometimes we wouldn’t understand.  His ways are not our ways, though we keep trying to pull them down to our understandable level.  The important thing is that He wants us to trust Him; because even as He allows nature to run its course, protecting our free will, His will is to love us and it is perfect.  And so we can be certain that His will is right, and when we pray that His will be done, it will be better than our understanding.

Overspiritualizing, and turning a hang nail into a reason to repent of watching television on Sunday is a mistake.  Assuming that if we are within God’s will everything should be stars and flowers is also a mistake.  The infamous “right to the pursuit of happiness” is from the American Constitution, not the New Testament- and at that, often wrongly interpreted as the right to happiness, which is quite different.  Happiness does not have to mean cloudless skies; but trusting in God and His ultimate wisdom, whatever the rain, that is happiness.

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Hippocrates has a lot to answer for. One generally credits him with being the father of the medieval muddle that is modern medicine. And that goes to show that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Leeches are back, so are various weeds and grasses; euthanasia- practised as economy by the Spartans- is now legitimized as sympathy. And every medical medium overlooks the beam in its own eye to pick at the mote in its neighbor’s.
Let me start by saying that contrary to popular opinion, Russian medicine is no more barbaric than American. Granted, that’s not saying much… But the medical situation falls in line with my general theory about countries and places of living: which is that every country has its own advantages and disadvantages, the choice lies in which problems one is ready to live with. In general, Russian doctors are more human… have less of a god complex… are more ready to accept or even suggest natural healing techniques… and are a thousand times cheaper. On the downside, some practised theories are ancient, equipment often more so, and medicine in general is way over-specialized.
My own experiences have been varied: after passing a required medical exam prior to working in a day camp 5 years ago, I vowed never again- much too painful and humiliating. In my opinion, gynecologists are the world’s curse. But I found an excellent doctor who got my thyroid in order (after the American doctor almost gave me a heart attack with a dose 4 times higher than necessary) and cleaned my gall bladder and liver. That is, pretty much par for the course: one man’s quack is another man’s guru.
But when it comes to children- that’s another story altogether. The circus that is children’s medicine has got to be seen to be believed. After suffering the indignities of the birthing process, surviving five days in a ghastly boring hospital room you bring your bundled child home- only to be visited every week by the doctor, and twice a week by the nurse, culminating in a series of check-ups at a month: the neurologist, orthopedist, surgeon, occulist, and an ultrasound of the hips and soft spots (oh, well, fontanels, whatever). Further monthly check-ups are complicated by a urine and blood analysis at 3 months (try getting a urine sample from a 3 month old- it’s a real barrel of laughs), along with another visit to the neurologist (can’t stand her, terribly brusque, totally non-communicative- and likes to make elephants out of flies, as the saying goes); a visit to the dentist at 8 months, a visit to the surgeon at 9 months, an EKG, visit to the dentist, the neurologist, the orthopedist, the surgeon, the occulist and the ear-nose-throat fellow at 11 months- and of course, one’s garden variety of vaccinations- or not, if one has prudently decided to skip them till a year.
These are the basics. Then come the complications. Massage and exercise from one month of age- every day. Walks, in any weather, beginning at an hour, and reaching 3 hours a day by the age of 3 months; in summer, the child is supposed to be out of doors no less than 4 hours a day. (One wonders where one is supposed to find those three hours a day, in between housework et al. «Well, you don’t have to do three hours at a stretch, you can go out three times a day, for an hour each.» Oh. That helps.) The temperature in the house should be 22 degrees, gradually working it down to 18. (That’s Celcius.) Bathwater must be measured, because you’re supposed to lower the temperature of the water by one degree each week till you reach 22 degrees. What does the child say at 6 months? Well, she’s not reading Dostoevsky just yet… They’re not amused.
I think that’s the main problem. They’re not amused. At all. At anything. Ever. No sense of humor. Ghastly people have no sense of humor. They take everything too seriously. When the neurologist told me that my one month old had a catastrophic lack of oxygen (say what?) and prescribed suppositories (WHAT? To improve her oxygen intake?) she was really taking herself much too seriously. Little did she know that the improvement she noticed at 3 months was due to me doing- NOTHING.
And somehow one has the feeling that these mini-Hippocrates are ever so slightly hypocritical; an ever so wee suspicion that someone is trying to keep himself busy and save his job….
Regardless, I now know that my maternity leave pay is not «Pass Go, collect $200». It’s a job as a minor official in a major burocracy.

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For tomorrow we diet. Or the day after. As the case may be. Which is much better. Tomorrow, that is. Because the whole point of a diet is to say you’re on it.

Diets are measures of our self-respect- much as any form of self-abegnation. Or flagellation, which is much closer, pyschologically. In short, I think diets are Catholic: self-esteem by works, not grace. In punishing ourselves culinarily we achieve redemption from the gross fat that damns us from the cult of Health and Beauty- regardless of the physical results, our efforts show that our heart is in the right place. The failure of the diet to make any changes in said grossness removes responsibility from our shoulders, and places it on the shoulders of Provender- I mean, Providence. That is, Nature gives, and Nature taketh away- or not, as she pleases. Thankfully, we’re not required to bless her for it.

Granted, some of us are a little more fanatic. (What is a religion without fanatics?) There are the Pharisees, who count calories, and eat sugar-less-fat-free cardboard and go jogging in trademark sweatsuits. Then there are the Sadducees who prefer the fad diets… all meat, no carbs… all carbs, no meat… cabbage… grapefruit… The Ascetics go vegetarian. The Jesuits go around telling everyone what diet they’re on, and who should be.

Some of us are sinners. We eat. Like, food and stuff. (It’s the stuff that gets you everytime.) Being a generally traditional, religious person, the diet kick was mother’s milk to me. (Literally. Mother and I have shared many diets.) I tried cutting out sugar- which kicked up my caffeine intake; tried eleven day diets- I get the days confused; tried eating once a day- but had too much fun with my evening meal. When I had «sand» in my gallbladder, I ate only buckwheat and oatmeal. Being a dilettante of self-discipline, I tried seeing how little I actually could eat: I can subsist on the Grace Livingston Hill diet of a cup of tea, and a slice of bread and butter in the evening, but it was leading in anorexic directions, and when I started getting nauseous when I ate I quit that. And incidentally quit the diet/self-discipline thing and became a dyed-in-the-wool food sinner. And fattish, to boot.

Because the thing is, there’s food. Lots of it. I read something similar in «Why Frenchwomen are Thin»: the author said that Frenchwomen eat whatever they like and enjoy- but in limited quantities. Which is a diet, if you ask me. For the sake of my self-respect, I don’t gorge myself, but neither do I torture myself with proportions and food balances.

«The world is so full of a number of things….» Pails of pudgy red-gold strawberries, transparent purply currants, sharp cucumbers that smell like spring when you cut them open, small mountains of multicolored mushrooms, sour cream, clinging thickly to the spoon… And the blueberries aren’t even ripe yet. Strawberry shortcake with blancmange in place of whipped cream, pancakes with crushed strawberries and sour cream, dumplings with gleaming red cherries from the bush under the window, quick-salted cucumbers, exhuding essence of dill-and-garlic, mushrooms fried with generous amounts of onions… Who said anything about a diet?!

The real point for a diet atheist is that the whole skinny-as-a-rail thing is overdone and unnatural. If we were supposed to look like sticks, we’d have been born in Auschwitz. Or Africa… Granted, it’s a bit difficult to hold this position when one looks in awed admiration at the canonized saints who have achieved the thin, delicate look with beauty and avoided the martyrization of say, Keira Knightly. One might be almost tempted to genuflect before icons of Halle Berry et al. One must remind oneself very strongly that such characters as Audrey Hepburn are mythological….

Life becomes much simpler when we forego the religious ecstasies of the sacrificial diet. Maybe a bit boring… a bit less romantic… no fluttering hopes of ethereal beauty to comfort us in the dark… But comfortable… practical… delicious, when all is said and done. Ah well, surely chocolate was created that we might enjoy it?!

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… they first give mothers-in-law. It’s really too anecdotal. What is the chemistry that turns two well-meaning people into reluctant but obstreperous enemies? How can that simple little piece of paper that makes a man and a woman one flesh make the same woman and her mother-in-law the opposing parties?

Granted, I was afraid that is, intimidated by my mother-in-law before we were married. Some primitive instinct thing, I suppose. The same empty stomach feeling you get when you’re waiting for your turn in the gynecologist’s office. But it was entirely one-sided, as far as I was concerned. She was a little old woman, and was accomodating enough to give me her son.

What happened between Saturday, March 15 and Sunday, March 16 to drastically change the status quo? If a man and a woman become one flesh, why do they have such different reactions to his mother? Because if a man can be impatient, disobedient, and dismissive of his mother before marriage, after marriage he becomes an ideal son. Could it possibly be a schizophrenic reaction? Any latent resentments and conflicts are mysteriously transferred over to his «better» half, and the man is free to respond to maternal love- while his wife takes over the task of testing it.

And it happens to the best of us. Meaning me. Without any active participation on my part and with the best of intentions. I never expected to love Maksim’s mother as my own, but I assumed that we could have a polite, cordial relationship. I mean, I’m nice. I always have been. At least that’s what people tell me. I’m practically legendary at work for my patience, of all things. Easy-going, pleasant. Like a sheep. Or a cow. Who unfortunately saw red after becoming one flesh with a bull.

Of course, it didn’t happen in one day. Little drops of water, little grains of sand… First there were the childish complaints that we didn’t visit as often as we should- for instance, five or six times a week. Then the querulous commands to go here, chop that, buy this, drive there. Next, the innocently reported «defenses» of my lack of initiative to help around the house- her house. (Because after all, a woman without children has nothing to do at home.) Finally, we came to inspection tours. A step before she crossed the threshhold, my mother-in-law could spot a dirty- at least in her opinion- floor. I never washed the dishes before Maksim came home from work. The clothes smelled too strongly of laundry detergent, they should really be rinsed. The floor would be a different color entirely if it was scrubbed with a brush, on my knees. The food was burnt, undone, unsalted, too sweet. There was garlic in everything, pepper in the soup. Gravy was too greasy for her liver, pasta too stiff for her gums, tea was too strong. By the time Sofya was born my nerves were stretched to a rubber band tautness.

But surely, surely, a grandchild would satisfy. Only the 54th grandchild didn’t really make much of an impression. She didn’t look like any of theirs. My stomach was still extended two days after the birth. The baby was too heavy to hold. And naturally, I didn’t do anything right there either. I held the baby too much. I didn’t force her legs down. I didn’t swaddle her. I didn’t even express my milk. I let her cry. I held her in an upright position so she could see the world, instead of treating her like a porcelain reclining baby doll. I encouraged her to suck her thumb- and anything else she wanted. I let her go undressed. I didn’t put all 42 layers of required clothing on her. I let her sit up when she wanted to, instead of keeping her bed-bound to six months. And I didn’t (and don’t) feed her.. Really, what is the world -and its daughters-in-law- coming to?!

Having an inherent desire to please, I generally make a concerted effort to meet people’s expectations. But there is that bovine tendency of mine, which, when it meets a determined refusal to be pleased, says «Well, suit yourself then.» And this is where we run into difficulties. Because while I am easy-going, obedient and tractable in most conditions, frustration quickly drives me to play devil’s advocate. And that really can complicate matters if a person doesn’t have a sense of humor… And what mother-in-law has a sense of humor in relation to a daughter-in-law?

So really, things couldn’t get much worse… which is when they do, generally speaking. Naturally, at this uneasy point in our relationship, the next step was to seriously offend me- on my first anniversary, as a more or less convenient opportunity- by telling me that I was from a flawed breed, and had make-up, earrings, and other sins in my blood, but Sofya was going to be God’s child, so I wasn’t to corrupt her. And straight on the heels of this blow to my psyche, require an urgent move to the parental home- six months ahead of schedule- to help said «invalided» parents out.

Now I’m all for caring for the aged parent, a la Dickens and Mr. W, but I prefer it to be in real need. A woman who weeds the garden, plants cabbage, bakes bread, pies, and rolls, and then makes a pot of soup, doesn’t need a caring daughter-in-law. She needs a psychiatrist. And when said aged parent sees this «help» more in the line of a maid, wages to be paid in the inheritance, I find myself becoming downright agressive. No passive resistance here!

My mother-in-law, benighted soul, can’t understand why her thick daughter-in-law doesn’t want to knuckle under and become a part of the family- under matriarchal law. I, in my equally benighted state, cannot understand why She won’t except that we (meaning Maksim, Sofya and I) are our own family, and have our own laws. And so we find ourselves, two generally well-thought of women, standing, swords drawn at a legal impasse. Outright conflict is definitely not our sphere, but the icy chills of a cold war are eating into our bones…and nerves…

I think we need a lawyer, under the circumstances. But then I remember the anecdote of the preacher who asked what a Christian is doing under the circumstances. Which reminds me that we do actually have a Lawyer. Or at any rate, an Advocate. And He’s definitely capable of fulfilling any laws. And now that I think of it, Maksim gave me His calling card, and a recommendation. (Maksim thinks I have post-partum depression, or something of the sort, while I know I have a mother-in-law. ) I forebore quoting him the verse of those that go not out without prayer and fasting, but I have to admit that Maksim is probably right…

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