Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A flippin' victim

I have really struggled, since becoming a Christian, with a number of tenets of Christianity. The toughest ones to follow, it seems, are the building blocks of the whole saving grace. Of course they are. If it were simple, I wouldn't need grace, right?

The one that stumps me daily is the need to love others. This is how the world will know the followers of Jesus—by the way we love one another. Yikes.

I was not feeling love yesterday. I was feeling many other emotions. Not love.

It was my turn to take my son to his little Lego class ( I had just dropped him off, and I prepared to pull out of the parking lot, making a left turn so I could then turn left again to reach the gas station for a refill. It was a messy, rainy night, the shiny road surfaces reflecting bright headlights like mad. People were going too fast, as people who drive big killing machines on sleet-y nights are wont to do. I made sure I had lots of time and space, pulled out of the lot, and then drove a short way and into the turning lane in the middle of the highway. I used my left turn signal. Maybe I went too slowly? Maybe the poor visibility made me a tad more cautious and timid than usual? Or maybe I did nothing wrong. Maybe I was just in the path of someone's misdirected rage.

I had come to a stop in the turning lane, blink blink blink went my turn signal, and a large pickup truck pulled in front of me on a slight angle. It halted. The window rolled down with a fervor, and I looked with shock as a clean-cut young man threw his left arm out in my direction and flipped me a very angry, deliberate middle finger.

He glared at me as he saluted me, looking right into my eyes to ensure that I knew this bird was for me and me alone. It took a second or two for it to register in my mind that he was, indeed, flipping me off. Me. Why? I did not know. How to respond? I gathered my wits, smirked at him, and waved a friendly hand. He pulled his arm back in, rolled up the window, and sped back into the moving traffic lane.

How to respond to that? I sat, shaking slightly with bewilderment, perplexed as to what I had done to merit his supercilious assault. Then I got a break in the oncoming lanes, and I pulled into the gas station and filled the tank. Still confused. Still wondering what crime I had committed.

I ran to the grocery store for a few items, still replaying the scene in my mind. Still uncertain what wrong I had done.

I parked and went to get a cup of coffee to waste the remaining half hour before Lego class wrapped up. It began to dawn on me that it might be a good thing that I don't carry a loaded weapon. I began to realize, too, that no matter what I had done, it would not have merited such a mean-spirited, personal attack. I could only hope that the enraged kid had gotten the ire out of his system when he sent his clear message to me, and that his evil would end there.

I know, it's just a finger. Worse things happen to people every day. I guess it was just the senselessness of the act, the sheer meanness of it, and his utter lack of consideration for anything that might be going on in my world. And I pondered, for the millionth time, how God can love us, and how in God's name I can ever rise to the occasion of loving my fellow men and women.

We are, so help me God, an unlovable, awful, wretched, ignorant, smug, self-righteous bunch of jerks.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wading in unfriendly waters

I have often thought that if I were to seek another career, a selfless one, it would be advocacy for the elderly.

(Of course, I'd much rather pursue music or art, the things that I really enjoy. But those pursuits would be for my own interest and enjoyment... which is not very noble. Sigh.)

I've spent a ridiculous amount of time lately "chasing my tail"—trying to set things right with our property taxes, making sense of the many statements coming from various medical suppliers, fighting for Highmark coverage of damage caused by my recent concrete face plant, and sorting through electric bills in order to discern who, exactly, is our supplier... I've racked up hours on the telephone, more hours reading and creating forms and documents, experiencing deep frustration and annoyance at every turn.

Through it all, as I make minute, circuitous steps toward reaching various finish lines, I think of older folks who are attempting to do the same awful work. People who, by and large, are not familiar with computers, and complicated forms, and the parking arrangements downtown. People who may or may not be able to read small print. People who often have even less money to work with that I do.

It depresses me to imagine that sort of scene. While sorting through countless medical statements, I keep thinking how many elderly people I know would pay them without a thought, even though most of them are EOBs (explanations of benefits) and not invoices at all. Incidentally, this theory of mine has been proven many times through conversations with the people who work for dentists, doctors, and utility provides. The workers have all confirmed what I suspected: that the older generation doesn't want to be beholden to anyone and will often pay a non-bill out of fear of penalty.

I'm sick when I picture these unfortunate folks enduring the nonsense I've been experiencing for months now. Grandmothers and grandfathers, gray-haired widows and widowers, grizzled old fellows who meet and drink coffee all day, and little old ladies who love their TV shows and hair appointments... I'm sure that they, too, are assaulted by the same amount (or more) of denials, threats, and misleading non-bills that befall nearly all American adults on a regular basis. And I cringe when I picture them pulling out the big ol' checkbook to pay, pay, pay these people so they stay in the financial clear.

I did a quick search to see if there are volunteer advocacy groups where a younger person can sort of "champion" an older person in need of support and help. I didn't really find anything. It seems that most of the advocacy programs are handled at a higher level (translation: government-run, which makes me run away), or controlled by a larger company that is already supplying something to the public in general (and therefore also to the elderly). And when I think about how much information I need to have to figure this stuff out for myself, I realize how personal a relationship would need to exist between the giver of such assistance and the recipient.

Maybe it's just a matter of reaching out to elderly family members, friends, and neighbors so they feel comfortable asking for help when it's needed. Would they ask? Would pride keep them from asking? Would they be offended if I offered to help sort through paperwork and online information? I guess I'd offer anyway if I thought help was needed, even if I feared insulting them; I'm a straight shooter, and I'd rather err by being too pushy than by keeping a respectful (read: unconcerned) distance.

There's at least one good thing about my possible future career: if I ever go this route, I'll know I'm doing it because I want to help people. God knows how much I despise doing that kind of detective work for myself and my family; I can't imagine that navigating the cesspool of services and information on behalf of someone else would be any more enjoyable. The only satisfaction would be achieving a good, fair, affordable end for someone.

P.S. On a lighter note, here's a nice little story about how today's youth can play a helpful part in assisting older folks.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The winter of my discontent

It's been a rough few weeks. Nothing monumentally bad has happened, really. Yet there have been hours spent first asking, then whining, then fighting with insurance company representatives (Highmark, this means you. Quit running all those @!?*&# cutesie televisions ads with blue hands, and use my premiums to actually cover me for a change, you schmucks). There have been winter storms and scary, slush-covered roads to screw up plans. There have been more phone calls and visits to downtown, to try to wade through the unbelievably archaic, poorly organized property tax assessment system. We're smack-dab in the middle of the ugliest time of year, and I can't find a green leaf to save my life. Everyone is sick of being inside at my house (well, not so much my son, who loves inside especially when it's filled with Legos that stab my feet and clog the sweeper...) And the headlines? The country? The world? Bad. Bad. Bad. Long story short, I've been stumbling a bit. I don't think it's only me; it seems the whole world is feeling rather testy with itself and everything around it.

It's quite defeating, when efforts go unrewarded, when what should stand instead must be delayed, or changed a bit, or altered dramatically to meet ever-crumbling circumstances. Expectations? It seems, some days, as if they can't be set low enough.

I was really hitting a wall today. Gray day, gray mood. Dim light, more dim thoughts. Bleak bleak bleak. So I took a hot shower, preparing to pity myself. A funny thing happened, though: I started to cheer up. I just couldn't sustain the bleakness, and I ended up thinking about other things. I decided I'd make some fresh coffee when I finished showering, and from that point on, I just kept moving farther from the bleakness. It was a relief, stepping out of that tedious, exhausting landscape of grim self-absorption.

Speaking of books, someone gave me a great one (thanks, Cari!) and I'm re-reading it already. (I'm never able to fully absorb a book the first time through.) The author's gist seems to be that we must deliberately, daily pursue a thankful attitude toward God and everything He's created, and that this thanks is manifested in blessings—not lottery blessings, but a blessedly new perspective that allows us to see God more fully, to see everything in light cast by Him. The author really struggles some days to embrace this way of thinking; it's not an easy, automatic thing for her in any way, at least not at first, and it's especially challenging for her in the midst of trials.

But it's got me thinking that if we must strive to make deliberate choices to be thankful (and I believe we do), then perhaps we must also be equally, stubbornly determined about the other end of the spectrum... Meaning, to my twisted thinking, that the opposite, ungrateful, cheerless end of the spectrum is just as difficult to maintain. Right? Wouldn't that be illustrated by my easily distracted, cheerier shower-and-coffee self? It's hard work to be happy—and it's also hard work to remain miserable. Yes?

Does that theory hold water at all? I'm hoping it does, because I've been hanging out on the dark end of the gratitude rainbow for too long, and I am hoping that this break in my personal barometer is going to stick around; I simply don't have the energy to stay irritable and/or furious with everyone any longer—not even those &*#@?!! decision-makers at Highmark.

(Well, I might need to keep working on that. I just checked, and I still have some energy for Highmark...)