Showing posts with label Life Stories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Life Stories. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Life Stories - The first step on a spiritual path is rebellion

Barb G.: I don't know. I was raised Catholic, but I just don't believe the stuff they teach any more. Am I a bad person?

David Markham: Osho taught that the first step on the spiritual path is rebellion.

Barb G: Really? What does that mean?

David Markham: That you question authority.

Barb G.: Do you believe that Jesus is God?

David Markham: No. He certainly was an enlightened Master and I love Jesus, but he was no more God than you and me. We all have the divine spark within us and it is developed to greater or lesser degrees. Jesus was a very spiritual person like Buddha and other of the great Saints and enlightened Masters who have been on the earth.

Barb G.: Do you go to church?

David Markham: Yes, I go to a Unitarian Universalist church.

Barb G.: Where? Are there Unitarian Univers - what do you call it? churches in this area?

David Markham: Unitarian Universalists, UU for short. Yes there are two in Rochester, First Unitarian, and First Universalist, and there's Pullman Memorial Universalist Church in Albion, and there is the new one, the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Brockport.

Barb G.: I didn't know that. I don't know anything about it. What do Unitarian Universalists believe?

And so it went. Do you ever have conversations like these? How do they go?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life Stories - John, son killed himself

Yesterday, I met an old acquaintance at the entrance to a convenient store whom I hadn't seen in a few years. He had retired a couple of years ago and I hadn't seen him since.

David Markham: Hi, John, good to see you! How you doing?

John: Well, okay, ........................actually not so good.

David Markham: Oh.....what's going on?

John: My son killed himself last June. He left his wife and three kids.

David Markham: Oh my god, that's awful.

John: It's been really bad. I don't know. It doesn't get any better, you know.

David Markham: Yeah, it's something you never get over. (People are going in and out of the store around us.)

John: Well, there's nothing you can do about it. You know.

David Markham: When my kids were killed, the bumper sticker "Shit happens" was very popular and over in Pittsford one day I saw a BMW that had a bumper sticker on it that said "Mega Shit Happens", and I wanted to follow the car and when it pulled over, talk to the driver, and find out where he got the bumper sticker so I could buy a thousand of them.

John: I know what you mean.

David Markham: You never get over something like this. It will be with you til the day you die, but you do learn how to manage it better.

John: I hope so.

David Markham: Good to see you. Give me a call if you want to get together.

John: I feel better. Thanks for listening.

David Markham: Hey, I know how it is. After a few months, it's old news and people don't want to hear about it any more and you're still stuck with it. I'm glad I saw you.

John: Thanks, see you.

David Markham: Take care

I met John on the way to work and I had only stopped for coffee to drink on my 22 mile drive. I wondered about life, its fragility, its tragedy, the suffering we all endure sooner or later. How is it that life seems so overwhelming some times that we choose death over life?

I wondered about my Unitarian Universalist faith and the third principle of acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations. I started to feel annoyed with the tacked on clause "in our congregations". I think we are called upon to accept one another and encourage each other's spiritual growth every where not just in our congregations. I find that my "ministry" to others takes me way beyond our UU congregations. It takes me into the world.

John is not a member of my UU congregation and yet I accept him and his pain and I am drawn to stand in solidarity with him, and encourage him if possible. I wonder why, when the UU approved this principle, they stuck in that clause "in our congregations". It seems un UU to me. It expresses an exclusivity which I don't like so I drop it which I guess I would be encouraged to do based on fourth principle of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

One thing about life is that nothing is permanent and sooner or later, one way or another, come hell or high water, all our relationships will end no matter how important they are to us or how invested we are in them. Loosing a child, or a parent, or a spouse are three of the biggest losses we can experience. How does your UU faith help as a resource as you suffer through those losses?

When life looses all meaning and a person decides to end it, I feel a special sense of grief wishing I could have been there to encourage the person, that life could have been more understanding and supportive. Faith is like sitting around a campfire in the dark on a cold and windy night. When the fire goes out we left alone in the darkness. Our UU congregations need to be the campfires of life around which we sit to comfort, share, support, and love one another. With that kind of faith life becomes more bearable, more manageable, maybe even a joy.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Life Stories: Melissa P. and the grief of miscarriage

Melissa P.: I got pregnant when I was 16 and my mother and my boyfriend and my father were upset. They made it seem like it was all my fault. They wanted to know why I didn't use birth control. My father especially was negative so I went to live with my mother, but she wasn't much better. They wanted me to have an abortion, but I wanted to keep the baby.

David Markham: It sounds like a very difficult time for you.

Melissa P.: What was really bad was when I miscarried at 15 weeks and everyone was happy but I was very depressed and nobody cared. They acted like I should be happy that now things were back to normal. There was a big sigh of relief. My boyfriend broke up with me and I went back to live with my father and everything went back to normal supposedly but my grades went down, I just wanted to sleep all the time, I couldn't eat and lost 18 pounds. I couldn't concentrate and I didn't want to do anything any more with my friends. Everyone says I was depressed but they didn't understand. You're the first one.

David Markham: Wow, it sounds like you were pretty isolated and very lonely.

Melissa P.: Exactly, nobody wanted to deal with the truth. They wanted to just pretend that everything was Okay.

David Markham: So you really couldn't find anyone with whom to express the grief you were feeling.

Melissa P.: I have been all alone. They made me feel like I was crazy.

David Markham: They didn't want you to be pregnant and so were happy when you miscarried and you were happy about being pregnant and were devastated when the baby died.

Melissa P: (Weeping) Yes, it has been the worse thing in my life.

David Markham: Sometimes it seems like people think they know what is best for us and they want us to do certain things, live a certain way, value what they value, believe what they believe, do what they would do, and when we don't they are angry with us, or tell us we're crazy, or being bad, or we're disloyal in some way.

Melissa P.: Yeah, they want what is best for them not what is best for you.

David Markham: Right. It's hard for people sometimes to put themselves in someone else's shoes especially when it disagrees with them or is foreign to their experience.

Melissa P.: Right. Why are people like that?

David Markham: Well, we all a bit narcissistic and egotistical and we are insecure ourselves and when people agree with us it makes us feel better and when they disagree with us we become more anxious so insecure people want people to agree with them so they feel better.

Melissa P.: That's where Unitarian Universalism is very different from any other religion I have learned about. They want people to search for the truth and they are willing to accept people who think differently than they do.

David Markham: Right. It's a great thing isn't it?

Melissa P.: I am so glad that I found this church.

David Markham: We love having you and I'm glad that you have found a place to grieve the huge loss in your life and feel you can be accepted the way you are grief and all.

Melissa P.: I like talking to you, thanks.

David Markham: You're welcome. I have enjoyed hearing your story even though it is painful and full of suffering, it has helped me know you better,and appreciate what you have been through.

Editor's note: While this story is essentially true and actually happened, the names, other than mine, and some of the circumstances have been slightly altered to protect the person's confidentiality. This person is not a member of the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where I attend church.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Life Stories: Jennifer C. - How do you want to die?

Jennifer C.: My friend had breast cancer and she went through two years of chemo which was terrible and then she died. Everybody said how courageous and strong she was and how she fought the cancer until the end. Me, I think I would skip all of that, do you think I'm bad?

David Markham: Bad? What do you mean?

Jennifer C.: Do you think I am a bad person because I would just want to die? I am afraid people would be upset with me.

David Markham: I think it's your choice. If you chose to let nature take its course and not put yourself through extraordinary treatments, I think that's your right.

Jennifer C.: Is chemotherapy and radiation extraordinary? It doesn't seem to be any more. Most people are encouraged to go through it and then people praise them for fighting.

David Markham: Everybody's situation is different and their preferences are different. I don't think you can compare one person's situation and preferences to another's.

Jennifer C.: So you're saying it's all right if I didn't want to put myself through it?

David Markham: Jennifer, it's not for me to say, it would be a decision you would have to make. I certainly would support you in what every you decided.

Jennifer C.: If I chose not to you wouldn't think less of me, that I was weak or a coward or something like that?

David Markham: No.

Jennifer C.: What would you do?

David Markham: Well that depends, I guess, on what's going on in my life. But I'm 65. I've had a good life and I probably would not want to suffer any more than I would have to in the days that are left to me. I am more interested in the quality of life than the quantity. So unless there were good chances of a good recovery that would make the discomfort of treatment worth the benefit, I probably would not chose to go through chemo and radiation and all that stuff.

Jennifer C.: Really?

David Markham: My Unitarian Universalist faith holds that there is inherent worth and dignity in every person. I try to honor that. So the important thing for me would be what has the most worth and the most dignity? As a Unitarian Universalist I also believe in the right of conscience and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning and so, like Frank Sinatra's song, I would want to do it my way not just because other people were inappropriately expecting something else from me.

Jennifer C.: Right! You only get to die once so you might as well do it as you see fit.

David Markham: Exactly, my thoughts and feelings too. In Unitarian Universalism we value the acceptance of one another and we agree to encourage each other's spiritual growth. Facing death and dealing with it is something that we all have to do if we are willing to consciously think about it. A lot of people put it off and avoid it and if you die suddenly you never have to deal with dying consciously, but if you get a terminal diagnosis then you have to consciously think about and make some decisions about how you are going to handle it. Forrest Church was a pastor at All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City and he not only died very consciously have being dignosed with Esophogeal cancer but he shared the process with his whole congregation. It was extraordinary way to die, very deliberate, very public, and it seemed, very loving.

Jennifer C.: Thank you, Dave. Your listening to my story and talking with me about this makes me feel better.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Life Stories: Judy L., "the next right thing"

David Markham: Judy, I know you've had a tough time with your addictions to alcohol and crack cocaine, and you seem to be in a better place now.

Judy L.: Yes, I 've stopped trying to control everything. I realize that I can't. I stop myself from worrying about the future. I say the Serenity Prayer and tell myself to just focus on doing the next  right thing.

David Markham: The "next right thing"?

Judy L: Yeah, I am only worried about doing the next right thing.

David Markham: Wow. That's an interesting way to put it, "the next right thing." That sounds Buddhist. It's part of the 8 fold path.

Judy L.: I'm Catholic, but I realize I can't control things.

David Markham: It's a  humble approach to life, isn't it? We've accepted our limitations. We've given up our perfectionism, and our control issues. I am promising to live in the now, surrender, and only concern myself with doing the next right thing.

Judy L: Yes, it seems to be working for me. I feel better, and I am feeling more grateful for all the things in my life but especially the little things.

David Markham: You are taking things one step at a time, one day at a time as they teach in Alcoholic Anonymous.

Judy L.: Exactly, it's like a weight off my shoulders. I feel freer.

David Markham: One of the 7 principles in Unitarian Universalism is the acceptance of one another and the encouragement to spiritual growth. It's seem like this has been a spiritual insight for you not just a psychological tool to manage your addiction. Do you experience this as a spiritual development in you life?

Judy L. : Oh yes, Jesus says something about the birds of the air not worrying about what they will eat, and the lilies of the field not worrying about how they are dressed and so we should not worry either but have faith that things will work out and we should only worry about today. I think Jesus would tell us not to worry but only focus on the next right thing too.

David Markham: From my reading and learning from the New Testament and the life of Jesus I agree with you. I'm going to have to stop and I wonder if there is anything else before we finish.

Judy L.: No, not really. I am relieved that I feel better. I know I could still use, but I don't want to and I hope I'm on a better track this time.

David Markham: It sounds like there has been a qualitative shift in your life and I really like your new freedom in just focusing on the next best thing and letting everything else go. I think most people's lives would be improved if they adopted your approach. Can I share it with others?

Judy L: Absolutely! Anything that can help anyone else I'm all for.

David Markham: Thank you, Judy.

Judy L.: Thank you, Dave. I feel better, this is good.
Print Friendly and PDF