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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Somewhat Functional Family

I want to know who has a fully functional family. The term dysfunctional (relating badly; characterized by an inability to function emotionally or as a social unit- Encarta) is pretty generic now. Isn’t everybody’s family dysfunctional in some way? We got so used to this condition in our family we made it our trademark, and frankly, I think that has made all the difference.

When my husband, M. D., and I were first married, he set three alarm clocks. One was a windup clock—just in case the electricity went off. He would fiddle with those clocks like he was in a zone—the alarm-clock zone. He would scrunch up his face and pull out the knob to set the manual clock, back off, stare at it, and then check it again. Just before he lay down for the night, he’d ask if I had messed with the alarm clocks. I thought, “I have married a neurotic weirdo.” Today we call that OCD for obsessive compulsive disorder.

Recently we were served by what our daughter tagged an OCD waiter which led to me retelling that story about her dad. He laughed with us though he denied ever having acted that way.

Thirty-six years of marriage have mellowed the fellow. He is down to one alarm clock, an electric one which he barely fiddles with at all. Life is good.

I, on the other hand, am almost perfectly normal, from my humble perspective, except for the neurotic behaviors I developed in trying to keep the family on the normal track.

I have a family portrait to prove it: M.D. and me, James (10), Hope (8), Mark (6), and Gloria, the baby. We had a five o’clock Sunday afternoon appointment for a family photo shoot, a fund-raiser for the elementary school. For $4.95, we were to get a huge portrait of the fam. The photographer, of course, thought we would just love the poses he snapped and buy lots more. Think again, buddy.

It didn’t take this guy long to figure out he would lose on us. I saw it in his eyes. Gloria was just a few months old. Any mom should know that five p.m. is not the happy hour for baby. I must have gotten the only remaining timeslot having procrastinated, as I often did. Sure enough, she writhed, squirmed, and cried in my lap until the photographer just gave up, took a picture, and sent us on our way.

The final product was hilarious. M.D. looked like a member of the Mafia who was having a bad day. He had the proverbial five-o’clock shadow, not having shaved since dawn, and no trace of a smile. Surely this man can chew nails, one might think.

James had a look of sweet tolerance as if to say, “There’s no way out of this picture. I’m stuck until I graduate and make ‘em proud.” His expression looks more like a smirk than a smile.

Hope gave the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding smile. Surely she is thinking, “If I act like I really feel on this day, my expression will be forever frozen in photography, so I’ll attempt a smile.”

Mark, for some strange reason, sucked in his cheeks like he was about to make a fish mouth. Bless his heart. He seems to be waiting patiently for the inevitable.

Baby Gloria, arching her back, tears pooling in her big brown eyes, was working up to a major wail. Her useless pacifier slung forward from a ribbon pinned on her dress.

But I…I was like the Madonna. (Mother-of-Jesus Madonna, not the infamous singer). I have a serene countenance that is doing its work of drawing this half a dozen people together into a functional unit. I willed them to relate nicely, not badly; to function as a healthy social unit.

Well, the portrait arrived and we all got a good laugh out of it. Soon after that, my mom and dad came for a visit. To make them laugh, I showed them the picture. Mom said, “Well, I like it. Can I have it?”
“Sure,” I said. “I’m certainly not going to do anything with it. Use it for your vegetable garden instead of a scarecrow.”

Ha. Ha. Ha. I’ll have you know she framed it and hung it in her den for all the visitors to gaze at and say, “Oh, so this is your daughter and her family. Oh…..oh……oh.”

Mom always put them at ease and made them laugh as she told the story behind it. You see, she is also a serene soul, seeking to tie people into fully functioning family units, by all means possible. She gave that photo place! Her hanging it said to all viewers, “Life is not picture-perfect. So what. We’re still family. Now let’s admit it and laugh.”

We never had a professional family photo again. Never.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Primordial Pondering

I found Stephen W. Hawking's A Brief History of Time: from the Big Bang to Black Holes (Bantam Books, 1988) at a thrift store. I feel I owe Stephen an apology for not paying full price for this intense and awesome project.

I was first introduced to this amazing scientist when showing a video for a science class while substitute teaching at Union Pines High School once upon a time. I got to watch and take notes as many times as the day had class periods, minus one for the teacher's planning.

At the end of the video, I had this sneaking suspicion that Hawking believes in (gasp) a Creator, a Maker, which did not quell his passionate pursuit of "the outer limits of our knowledge of astrophysics and the nature of time and the universe" (from the inside book jacket).

Now that I have book in hand I am nudged into a "search for meaning." Not for my own existence but for the text before me. (I am so NOT a scientist.) Words and phrases like intrinsic mass, quantum mechanics, geodesics, pulsars, and primordial black holes hold strange fascination but are met sadly with no real comprehension from either my left or right brain.

My eyes rest upon a cool statement on a hot, glowing topic: "Black holes are not really black after all....the smaller they are the more they glow." Far out!

But my favorite gleaning from this browse-through is the last paragraph of the conclusion: "...if we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason--for then we would know the mind of God."

I honor the great effort of gifted individuals like Hawking and Einstein and I salute their passion for this pursuit. However, I am so relieved that having a glimpse of the mind of God is made available ironically through......are you ready?.......a childlike heart.

I must explain that I am a mere fascinated bystander to the scientific theories but a driven seeker of truth. The two identifications collide in an Einstein quote that I cherish. "The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives." Another favored quote rather on the same line of thought is by poet Louise Bogan, "I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!"

What a relief! Dare I tell the great scientists that the Creator is (complete theory, proven out 2000 years ago at the Roman execution of the Jewish Son of God).............are you ready?..... by His own admission, LOVE?

While that tidbit of profundity is best believed by faith, I am ever building a case to prove to someone out there that it is true. God is love.

When I taught sophomore English, Elie Wiesel's Night was in the curriculum. The story of a young boy's account of the reign of terror generated by maniacle spirits embodying the man Hitler and his engine of the final solution pushed me into deep meditation about the love of God.

I found comfort in the words of Francois Mauriac in answer to the question posed at the witness of the hanging of a child, who "had the face of a sad angel," in the concentration camp, "For God's sake, where is God?"

Mauriac replies to the question in the forward of Night:

"And I, who believe that God is love, what answer was there to give my young interlocutor [Elie] whose dark eyes still held the reflection of the angelic sadness that had appeared one day on the face of a hanged child? What did I say to him? Did I speak to him of that other Jew, this crucified brother who perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world? Did I explain to him that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for mine? And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost?"

If I may apply Mauriac's words to my premise, irony of ironies, "the connection between the cross and human suffering remains...the key to the unfathomable mystery...."--God is love.

In the midst of the thievery of our innocence, the killing of our brotherhood, the destruction of beauty and truth, the Crucified Jew, the ultimate expression of God's very essence on the earth, comes that we may "have life and that more abundantly."

That, dear reader, is a quantum thought that holds the universe poised on the axis of joy.