Monday, August 31, 2009

When Was I Most Happy In My Life?

A former sixty-ish American President, of the early Twentieth century, was asked at a formal White House dinner, when did he think his wife was “the most beautiful.” Without a moment’s hesitation he replied: “why----right now.” No doubt his “bride” must have beamed with radiance and pleasure. Yet, in effect, that moment was the only real slice of Time that existed! The past did not exist except in memory and the future had not yet come. Or might never come. Such a perception of Time is essential, I think, for us human beings who desire to exploit properly the priceless gift of the gracious God which is, of course, Life. Life which includes the dimension of appropriate fun among others. It would be difficult to live a “full” life if one were plagued with resentments, angers, guilt, and self depreciation about one’s past history and concurrently worried about unlimited fearful possibilities of the future. How could one experience the needed “playful”[1] dimension one finds in the mature, developed personality (of any age) if one is emotionally constricted by living in any time zone but the present? In a conversation with his alcoholic brother, a friend of mine (likewise alcoholic) discovered all they were talking about was the past and the future. The “present” had no rooting in their psyches, which significantly contributed to their current unhappiness.

With the lead given by Jesus Who taught us that “evil for the day is sufficient thereof…”, serious practitioners of the Art of Living such as the 12 step program leaders, have trumpeted the Mantra “One day at a time - One day at a time - One day at a time” with startling good results! Most of us do feel capable of tolerating pain or misery or heartbreak for a day—especially those who believe that God helps all of us with His “amazin’” grace. And even more especially for those who believe that God never gives us more than we can handle since His grace is always at our immediate disposal. From a theological standpoint, God gives grace only for the present moment since with God there is neither past nor future but only the eternal Now. Consistent with this view, the outspoken St Teresa of Avila wrote that for her, it had to be one minute at a time. Anything more would be too much to ask.

Obviously, almost any attitude can be carried to extremes. Sorrow for past misdeeds or sins is clearly appropriate. A sense of atonement coincides nicely with a healthy spiritual life. Making amends for past misdeeds is appropriate not only for A.A but also for an appropriate approach to God. Sensible prudence for the future is wise. Indolence of any kind is hardly consonant with an elegant life of the Spirit. In the Catholic spiritual tradition, the laid back, laissez-faire view tumbles dangerously close to the heresy of Quietism which leaves much of personal responsibility to others especially to the Lord. There is much of our own destiny which is in our own hands.

And of course one can wander pleasantly back to the “Good ole’ days” which have been decorously festooned with the passage of time. Most of us are inclined to re-do our own histories in the light of our present state of mind. I can do that. I can re-do my history so that it cannot compete with my present! I can remember my sense of well being as I, a youth given to contemplation, sat in a row boat, alone, in the middle of gorgeous Lake George in New York state. The sense of peace and closeness to God were priceless. The mountains, the clear fresh air, the comforting warm breezes combined in my soul to allow me to feel something of that elusive quality---happiness. I remember the soaring sense of joy I felt as I raced over cold snowy streets to the Lake on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street to ice skate. The feeling of free movement, the sparkle I felt from the stinging weather, the joy at being part of a laughing and deliriously youthful crowd - and so much more - gave me what I thought was happiness. I won a gold medal for achievement in grammar school. I walked on water emotionally when my family seemed so proud of me. Being in the “bosom” of family brought so much warmth and love and acceptance that one could easily say that human intimacy is the basis of happiness. But with whom? I scored 100% in the State Regents exam in Geometry. I was exuberant! I was accepted into the exclusive honors club in college and given a golden key which I still cherish. I was in 7th Heaven when I made my First Holy Communion. I was euphoric and certainly on the edge of ecstasy when I was ordained a priest.

I thrilled to the beauties of Europe sharing those delight with dear friends. I so enjoyed being at sea with the endless horizon always beckoning me to gaze at infinity. I almost burst with “happiness” when my public speaking stints brought me applause and praise. Oh yes, I keenly appreciate how satisfying it is to look back on one’s life, with satisfaction, and “enjoy” pleasant memories. The list of positives for any human being can usually be substantial if one wishes to float in re-painting history. But I, like most people, am inclined to eclipse the difficulties which I had in those days. Gilding the lily is everyone’s choice. But, nevertheless, nothing is so dead as yesterday’s news. It all passes. Or does it? What really does not change? The eternal Now never changes. I mean God ----- with me at this very moment.

The past is over. It does not exist and can never come again. There really is only now. As stated above, the Catholic Faith teaches that with God there is only the eternal Now –all is before Him—what we call past and present and future. Jesus, it seems to me, is telling us “Carpe diem” or seize the day! This day.

To exploit appropriately. To drink deep of the Nectar of God’s world. When was Life most beautiful for me? If I really could hear the Lord’s Voice in my soul, I would say “right now”!

[1] How often spiritual writers and mystics write about God’s pleasure on seeing His children laugh and sing and dance and enjoy life according to His Will!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Obama-Care for Dummies

Bill O’Reilly, of Fox News who identifies himself as “The Factor,” recently made a most unusual (and for him, humble) admission. He said that although he was a graduate of Harvard, he could not understand Obama’s Health Care bill. So, with a subtle tinge of intellectual snobbery, O’Reilly in effect asks how could the “dummies” of the nation possibly grasp what the President had in mind! If the top 1.2% of intellectuals in our midst are confused, especially the cognitive giant we have at Fox News, what must it be like for intellectual pygmies? Like me. How could I ever read a House Bill of over 1,000 pages or a Senate Bill of over 600 pages when most of Congress, who have been pressured by the President to sign these Bills unread, don’t even know what is in the Bill? Am I just one of the many Americans burdened with naiveté? I want reform in Health care. I want every American to have access to medical and pharmaceutical help. But I suspect Obama’s way is the wrong route.

Somebody Help!

Even though I am a political dummy[1] it seems to me that we have a quantum or space/time problem. Presently, we wait in a Doctor’s office to be seen --- for hours after our appointment time. Emergency rooms all complain about the glut of patients to be seen. Nurses are frazzled. The whole system is groaning under the weight of health care need. And our Omniscient President Messiah plans to add up to 47 million more persons for Health care with the same number of Health care professionals or possibly less. Is there some kind of misfit here? Doesn’t it seem that the numbers do not add up? How does one squeeze so many into so limited a “space”?

As a consequence of this misfit, the time spent on patients simply has to be more limited than at present. It means longer waits for appointments, for MRIs, Ct scans and all the items of health care. In effect it is time which cannot co-exist with the problem raised in #1. This probably means worse care for all than we now have. It necessarily means the implementation of the frightening horror: Rationing! I can make an analogy to priests hearing confessions. When there are long, long lines of Catholics waiting to make their personal confession, the confessor becomes stressed and is inclined to rush the penitents in order to serve all. The quality of his spiritual care necessarily becomes minimal as he attempts to serve everyone. There is no way that care can improve under that restriction. It can only slump. And who declares who needs care the most? It isn’t even physicians. It is, probably, a Board of “almost clerks” who make decisions without ever seeing the patient but who work from protocols in some office far from the scene. What openings this leaves for corruption as well as political nepotism!

The panels of death: It is alleged that persons of advanced age with serious medical problems will be seen by a physician (paid “adequately” by the Government) who will assist them in arranging for their final hours with “dignity.” In plain language this means ending the life of the senior by pill or injection. This makes great sense if one shares the slant of the Speaker of the House who explains away funding abortions as “cost effective”. A significant amount of health care costs does center on care for the elderly. So why not cut down on elderly care and save huge amounts of money which then would be available for younger and more productive members of society? This is excellent thinking if one espouses the Communist, Socialist secularist ideal. But for people who believe that life is sacred from conception to natural death, this is the acme of immorality. The lame defense by “Mug wump”[2] Catholics that Catholicism already allows such dialogue with the seriously ill, is absurd in that we strongly prohibit any active move to hasten death. To any experienced therapist it is plain that by carefully chosen words one can influence a vulnerable person to one direction or another. Such skill used for “dignified death” is seriously immoral. Who is more vulnerable than the sick, confused, weakened, frightened senior person before the calculated approach of a professional who might be at that bedside to influence a quicker solution than a drawn out illness which is costing the Government more money? I don’t think Barack has this in mind, but once we open legislative doors it is difficult to stop excesses.

My conscience as a health care person: There is very strong pressure to remove all conscience clauses from the Bill. In effect, if I refuse, as a physician, to perform or assist in something I find utterly unconscionable (e.g. abortion) I will be chastised or fired or blackballed. Nurses, aides, and others who find the dismemberment of a child monstrous will have no protection. (This is already happening. N.B. Nurse at Mt. Sinai in NYC)

Hospitals and other health care centers which do not abide by mandatory abortion requirements will be refused funding. This clearly points to Catholic institutions. To my simple mind this means closure of these centers to the detriment of the public which is heavily served by Catholic run institutions. Is this true? If the President signs the FOCA act (which he promised to do when addressing the NARAL group prior to his election) does this not mean the end of Catholic health care as we know it?

The assertion that it is better to go along with the immoral dimensions of the Bill in the hope that “common ground” might be found eventually, not only limps but is a fantasy wheelchair. It is obvious that the Administration with deep obligation to the extreme Left of this country has every intention of implementing forced abortion, assisted suicide, and experimentation with human embryo stem cell research. It is oxymoronic to speak of a “common ground” when one discusses abortion. How does one dialogue in this case? Is it like being “half pregnant”? Does the King have any clothes on? Or are hordes of us, including well meaning Catholics, even nuns and priests, well intentioned but seduced by high flown rhetoric and the ever elusive carrot at the end of a stick?

The question of real cost: I am staggered when I hear of the 12 zero figure called “a trillion.” It is beyond my capacity to grasp the unbelievable financial burden to be placed on the shoulders of ordinary (?) hard working Americans of two generations who follow us. When we are experiencing economic strictures of a major sort it seems totally irresponsible to raise serious financial prisons the like of which we have never seen! Is it because of the 10 million illegals we have that we re-design the American system of Life? A solution is needed there but not the one which cripples the Country for generations!

Finally, I am aghast at the thought that this highly skilled American medical establishment is about to face demolition and about to be reduced to the level of Sweden, Canada, or England which groan against the bureaucratic limitations shown by history to be unable to serve everyone as they had hoped. The statistics of waiting time in Canada (for example, for a knee replacement) are unbelievable - 12 months on the average!

Conclusion: It has been noted that the Bill 3200 is not basically about health care. It is about Power. It is the strange drive of some extreme “leftists” to control our lives. I am now becoming alarmed. Our Founders believed that when Government fears the people, it is democracy. When the people fear the Government, it is tyranny. No wonder there are Tea Parties and outraged Town Halls!

[1] Even though like O’Reilly I am educated (perhaps beyond my capacity) with a PhD in Psych from NYU and a license from New York state to practice, I don’t get it either!
[2] In the early American political scene the term “Mug wump” was coined to describe those who refused to take a stand. Their face (mug) was on one side of the fence and the rest (wump) on the other. Their studied non-position was supposed to protect them no matter who won the election. Like Senators who vote “present”—(not yea or nay) lest they be tied to a specific position.