Category Archives: Perfection

Reality?

Today I found myself discussing something I know very little about.

Reality TV.

I was with my girlfriend, sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for them to call us back to the examination room…and wouldn’t you know it? They had a copy of US Magazine in the waiting room. It was full of coverage of the Real Housewives of (some urban area in a city that I don’t live in).

You know that show, don’t you?

Okay…I have to admit that I have never watched a Real Housewives of (any city) because I don’t have cable TV and I am unwilling to pull it off of Hulu or Netflix.  I have never, for one minute of my life, compared my life as a housewife in Phoenix to anyone who considers themselves a ‘Real Housewife’ of anywhere else.  I don’t know that I’d survive the comparison.  First of all, I love my husband, but we are NOT that kind of rich.  Second, I love my husband, but being an engineer at Boeing does not make you any kind of famous. Finally, I love my husband, but he did not marry a woman who can be classified as “hot” housewife…not even remotely.  Then there’s the problem that neither I or my friends look good in designer gowns.

So there it is. I may be a housewife, but I’m not very ‘Real’.  Bummer, man.

Even so, my girlfriend and I looked at the pictures in US Magazine and were like WTH???

They had pictures of a lavish baby shower, a party of such epic importance that thousands of dollars were spent decorating the room where the baby shower was held; thousands more were spent on the catering and designer cake/cocktails/party favors.

I was incredulous.  Every baby shower I had ever attended was held in the conference room at the company where I worked. No lavish decorations. No interior designer. No custom cupcake flavors. No epic surprise gifts that had to be wheeled in while I closed my eyes.  The truth looked more like this: cake from Costco. Balloons from Party City. Pizza from Dominos or Pizza Hut. Gift money loaded onto a gift card by a motivated coworker who organized the entire party because they really, really liked me, or at the very least really, really wanted to be an event planner.

I was grateful for the gifts and the attention, and I considered it a bonus that my company allowed us all to slack off our work for 30 minutes or so to eat pizza and cake and celebrate something as obnoxious as impending maternity leave for a critical team member (that was me!)

It was nice to be considered ‘critical’ even if it meant that I couldn’t take the full twelve weeks of maternity leave.

As I sat there, waiting in the doctor’s office with my friend, I found that I didn’t know how to process all the slick pictures of balloons that were color coordinated to the theme of the baby’s nursery. I had no idea what it must be like to be a mom famous for being married to someone, enjoying a party for a person who isn’t yet born, eating catered food from a famous chef and a cake that cost more than I earn in a month.  I was a little disgusted by the excess and frustrated that I was expected to be deeply interested in gratuitous displays of wealth and privilege that have little to do with the event being celebrated.  Basically, the entire event spoke volumes about the wealth of the parents, the wealth of their friends, and the fame they had for being wealthy. There really wasn’t much to be said about the unborn child who was supposedly being celebrated, unless you count the sterling silver Tiffany rattle and the  top-of-the-line diaper service given as gifts, because doesn’t every newborn need precious metals to chew on and the softest, whitest diapers made of sustainable bamboo fibers washed in ecologically safe, non-sulfate detergents?

For a moment, can we admit that ‘Reality TV’ is an oxymoron? If you are watching TV, you are only accidentally (if at all) observing anything approaching reality.

I am not saying that TV never portrays reality. I have seen actual reality on television more than once. In fact, I can think of several instances when I watched actual reality untold on TV in real time.

I remember watching Harry Reasoner lose his composure in the hour after the news broke that Ronald Reagan had been shot. Reasoner, having lived through Kennedy’s assassination, was desperate to know if Reagan was alive or dead, if he was announcing the mourning of a nation or the failed attempt to assassinate the symbol of American power.

I remember watching the newsmen running away from the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma City after they suspected a second bomb had been found. The chaos was terrifying as cameramen and reporters frantically ran from the site of the initial bombing and the bodies of hundreds who were massacred by Timothy McVeigh.  Later on, I watched reporters cry as they announced that McVeigh had bombed a building with a daycare onsite, and that children were among the dead.

I remember listening to the horrified reporters who watched as victims jumped from the upper floors of the burning World Trade Center buildings. The shock was evident in their voices; they were unable to contain their sorrow. I listened to the stunned silence of those same reporters as we watched the twin towers collapse in plumes of smoke and debris.

I have seen reality on television and it isn’t pretty or polished; it is never color-coordinated. It has nothing to do with the rich and the powerful. Reality on TV has always had to do with tragedy and sorrow, when editors had no time to polish the report before it was put on camera, when no political spin could be achieved because the news was too bloody and fresh to be politicized.

Anything glibly called ‘Reality TV’ today is actually nothing more than TV, filmed on location with minimal script. I’d like to say that it has little political agenda, but Reality TV has always tended to show  Americans as people who either fight to survive in some competition (thus showing our physical prowess and strength of will) or as people of wealth and finesse (thus showing our financial dominance and well-deserved opulence) which means that reality TV is rife with political agenda. In essence, American ‘Reality TV’ shows are nothing more than an advertisement for the American dream, selling the world on the idea that we are stronger, richer, smarter, and more powerful than everyone else. It’s a slick lie that we foist on ourselves and on anyone who chooses to consume the propaganda of American wealth and dominance.

I normally don’t disparage our nation or our broadcasting networks quite this much, but today I am disgusted by what the media feeds us (and the world) about our country, when the best nature of the people in the United States has always been illustrated in the midst of ‘actual reality’, which tends to be one damn disaster after another. Americans display our best qualities when we are busy doing anything and everything we can to help one another despite whatever disaster has overcome us at the moment: natural disasters, financial disasters, terrorism, wars, you name it. The best qualities of US residents are always found in our response to the uglier realities of our day-to-day existence, no matter what we glorify on television.

Did you notice that I tried to include all persons living in the US? That’s because living in the US tends to draw us into a sense of common good, whether we are immigrant or long-term citizen, no matter our skin color, no matter our ethnic ancestry, no matter our current identification of citizenship or belonging. To live in the US is to slowly join in the hope that we truly can become ONE despite our differences, that there really is a great melting pot. To put a fine point to it, the diversity of this nation is its strength and its greatest gift. As a melting pot, we are deliciously wonderful, and I couldn’t be more pleased with my actual nation…far more pleased with its messy reality than the glorified version of it that is sold in the media. I know that much is wrong in the US and there is much to be addressed before there can be peace, safety, and equality for everyone, but I have faith that love is stronger than fear and that we are stronger than the hatred we were taught by culture indoctrination. Let me assure you: the struggles and tragedy that we all live with make us one homogenous mass of people in need, and in those moments we transcend our fears and serve each other in the most beautiful ways.

And that, my friend, is real REALITY. It isn’t pretty, but it is everything that I value: committed, selfless, and absent of artificial boundaries.

May God make it so, and soon.

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Demented Perfection

Dementia.

That word strikes fear into the heart of anyone who hears it spoken either in reference to themselves or to their loved ones.  Dementia is a strange death sentence in that it steals your life but leaves you alive; you or your loved one becomes a shell of themselves, unable to think clearly, unable to remember their loved ones, unable to be and do the very things that make them who they are.

And yet I wonder…

Does dementia strip us to our very core, eliminating everything but the nut of who we are? Or does dementia choose for us who we will be? Does dementia twist us out of our own personality and being into some caricature of ourselves, leaving our family with someone who looks just like us but acts like a total stranger?

I ask these things because I am losing my father by degrees, even though he still looks the same.

Only 30 days ago I could talk to my father over coffee and know who he was. He would complain about my mom at length, but eventually he would ask me about my daughters and my husband; he would ask me about my counseling practice and my ministry. We could laugh about the past and tell stories about his childhood and mine.  His stroke in 2009 may have stolen some of his ability to speak, but it didn’t steal his ability to communicate his love and who he was. My father still had his sense of humor and his concern for our entire family.

In late January 2018, my father fainted, fell, and broke all the bones in his face. The injury was so severe that it advanced his dementia dramatically; he lost both physical and mental abilities. The ten days he spent in the hospital made it clear that my father was so demented that my mother would never be able to bring him back home. After a short stay in a skilled nursing facility for physical therapy, we placed my father in a memory care center.***

Sadly, ever since about seven days after his hospitalization, my father has had only one thought: my mother, and why she isn’t taking him home. His anger increases by the day and so does his agitation. I tried bringing my two dogs to visit my dad at the memory care center so that he had something else to focus on, but he continued to have a one-track mind. The staff have been unable to derail his thought process; I have been unable to derail his thought process; sadly, my mom’s visits have done nothing but increase his anger and aggressiveness.

To put this in plain language, when my mom shows up he threatens to beat her severely and has even threatened to kill her several times.

The whole thing just might kill me.

I live in fear that one day dementia will take me down this path and I will suddenly become a monster that terrorizes my own family; I fear that my words will become weapons and I will become a burden they ought not to bear, not even for love.

This is why I wonder if dementia decides who we will be, or if we are simply stripped to our core.

If dementia decides for us, there is much to be afraid of but little to do, except try to remain optimally healthy with low cholesterol numbers and CRP (C Reactive Protein) counts. After all, if dementia decides who we will be then we can only hope to avoid dementia and the various diseases that cause it (strokes, other brain injuries, Parkinson’s, etc.)

On the other hand…and of course, this is the option that causes me even more pain…

I am not even going to attempt to understand how this violence and anger can be all that was at my father’s core. It is very painful to think about, and it wouldn’t change anything or make what is happening easier to bear.

So…

If dementia strips us to the very core, to the nut of our personality, then it is time to examine what sits in the center…the sin, self-centeredness, and cruelty that we try to hide from anyone and everyone. No matter how much I love Jesus and how faithfully I serve, I am only human and there is nothing good in the center, if you know what I mean. I am constantly aware of my own failure and the unkind thoughts that rise in me with every demand to serve or to set myself aside. I am painfully aware of who I am, and the sinfulness to undergirds that. Thinking that this is what my family will face if I am stripped to my core by dementia is terrifying! I never want to be that person, not to anyone else and definitely not to the people I love the most.

This is when I become aware of how important it is to consistently submit to Christ and to the work of sanctifying grace.  I find great comfort in the thought that I can let the Holy Spirit and grace so transform me that nothing but grace will be left at the center; that in the absence of any other part of my personality, what will be left is love, kindness, and mercy. Strangely, I find comfort in the idea of sitting in a memory care unit, sweetly thanking my caregivers and my family, even when I no longer know who they are.

I suppose that I should be grateful that I had this realization while I am still relatively young and healthy, while I am still able to allow Jesus to transform me from the inside out. For that, I thank my father, because I might not have realized this otherwise.

Having said that, I am also praying for a strange dichotomy to occur in my mind. I want to consign my father’s behavior to dementia’s choice so that I can keep visiting him and love him despite his behavior and the pain it causes me. I also want to remain thoroughly convinced that I need to be transformed at the very center to avoid my father’s fate, so that I do not give up the quest for sanctifying grace and Christian perfection in this life.  And if my father’s legacy is that he causes me to seek after grace and perfection, that would be a fitting tribute to his life, don’t you think?

 

***  We were assisted by SeniorPlanning.org, an organization that helps families with a variety of housing needs for seniors who cannot live without assistance. They charge no fees to the family and are comprehensive in their services. I cannot recommend them highly enough and encourage you to take the time to acquaint yourself with them. They are sensitive to each family’s needs and do not try to fit every family into the same solution. Their help saved us weeks of trying to find our way to the right memory care facility for my father.