Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Another week of interest.

Sunset on my Mount Cargill
I would love to know what forces make this mist creep over the hills like this. 
Love these bright little flowers beside the track.

Hospital visit disappointment
On Thursday I was to spend the day in hospital for a TROC – trial removal of my catheter. I went in hoping to come out with a “normally” working plumbing system. Short story is that I failed their tests.  Because I retain too much I still need catheterisation.  They instituted a different system of regular self-catheterisation. (don’t ask - it is not much fun!) Anyway it does mean that I am “normal”, don’t have to wear an embarrassing catheter nor connect to tubes and bag at night. I may have to have this for the rest of my life, but they are hoping for improvement.  It is disappointing; it feels like the operation was a waste of time and energy.  While sitting in the bed for the day I read another book so my time was not wasted.
I came out of the toilet to see Mark a local Catholic Priest who does some time as a hospital chaplain visiting the patient next to me. I have known Mark for about 25 years and admire his energy, his compassion and his quiet spirituality.  When he left his friend he saw me in bed and came over and we chatted warmly. “Would you like a blessing?” he asked. “Yes” I replied, well I could hardly say “no”.  So Mark got out his oil and prayed for me while tracing on my palms and on my forehead the sign of the cross with the oil. It was a “blessing”, somehow humbling and warming to receive this ministry from my colleague in ministry.
These days I have more proactively adopted a philosophy of trying my best in any situation to enhance life about me.  During my recent visits to hospital I asked myself, “What can I do in this situation to enhance life?” I purposely went about trying to make sensitive encouraging connections with the patients in my room and to express appreciation to the nurses and doctors for their care. Disappointment at the results meant I had to use more will power to continue to be positive. I found it helped me not to wallow in my predicament. On this visit as I left the ward and went into the lift I saw a man wearing the jacket of a rural volunteer fire fighter. I asked him what brigade he served in. He told me and I happened to know his chief very well.  As we descended to the ground floor I told him I was chaplain to the fire service in Dunedin.  In the foyer of the hospital the conversation moved on to him telling me about the friend he had been visiting who had terminal cancer and his feelings and experiences of his visit that day. He seemed to have a need to talk and I had a need to listen.  I still don’t know his name but it certainly made my wallowing in disappointment disappear.
“We have a photo of you…”
On Saturday a lovely Indian couple we have held a belated “house warming” party celebrating their purchase of a house.  It was held in the Church and we helped them set up and I led in a blessing.  There was a crowd of friends there most of them Indian families. Indian women are so beautiful and their men seem to look like perpetual teenagers. An Indian family arrived and the father seemed keen to talk with me. “I know you” he said, “We have a photo of you holding my son when he was two months old.”  The son, now fifteen stood there as tall as I am grinning. “How? When? Where?” I asked. He then told me that fifteen years ago they had come to New Zealand and had just arrived in Dunedin. He said that finances were low and they heard of our Christmas Day dinner so registered and came. I had arranged their transport and during the day had spent time chatting to them and at some stage held their baby.  It was a warm experience.  After stewing on it for some time my memory banks filled in the gaps.
“Man’s search for ultimate meaning.”
I have been reading this book by Viktor Frankl, the Psychiatrist who came up with “Logotherapy”. Logotherapy claims that humans have a “will to meaning.”  It says that in any given situation in life we need to see meaning and if that search is frustrated we suffer. Frankl himself was a survivor of Auschwitz and I find his theories ring bells with me. I believe we have a whole heap of problems as a society because people do not find meaning in life (Living in an “existential vacuum”).  The Bible says, “Without a vision the people perish.”  In a nutshell that is Viktor Frankl’s message. I want to just share a few disjointed quotes from this book.
“I for one think that if morals are to survive they will have to be ontologized. Ontologized morals, however, will no longer define what is good and what is bad in terms of what one should do and what one must not do. What is good will be defined as that which fosters the meaning fulfilment of being. And what is bad will be defined as that which hinders this meaning fulfilment.” (I see “ontologized” as “seen as part of the essence of life”.)

“Logotherapy is, as it were, trifocal. It focuses on three fundamental facts of human existence: a will to meaning, a meaning in suffering, and a freedom of will. As to the last, man’s freedom of choice concerns the freedom to choose not only one’s own way of living, but even one’s own attitude of dying.”

Frankl was speaking to a group of tough criminals in prison. A prisoner interrupted saying, “Dr Frankl, would you be kind enough to say a few words through the mike to Aaron Mitchell, who is expected to die in the gas chamber in a couple of days?” Here is some of what he said to this prisoner on death row.  “Mr Mitchell, believe me, I understand your situation. I myself had to live for some time in the shadow of a gas chamber. But also believe me that even then I did not give up my conviction of the unconditional meaningfulness of life, because either life has meaning - and then it retains this meaning even if the life is short lived – or life has no meaning – and then adding ever more years just perpetuates this meaninglessness. And believe me, even a life that has been meaningless all along, that is, a life that has wasted, may – even in the last moment – still be bestowed with meaning by the very way we tackle this situation.”

“..in fact, each life situation confronting us places a demand on us, presents a question to us – a question to which we have to answer by doing something about the given situation.”

“…. three avenues lead to meaning fulfilment: First, doing a deed or creating a work; second, experiencing something or encountering someone; in other words, meaning can be found not only in work but also love.  Most important, however, is the third avenue: Facing a fate we cannot change, we are called upon to make the best of it by rising above ourselves and growing beyond ourselves, in a word, by changing ourselves.”

“I would like to offer you a peculiar definition of God at which, I confess, I arrived at the age of 15 years. It is in a sense an operational definition. It reads as follows:  God is the partner of our most intimate soliloquies. That is to say, whenever you are talking to yourself in utmost sincerity and ultimate solitude – he to whom you are addressing yourself may justifiably be called God.”

While there are parts of the book you need a psychiatry degree to fully understand I enjoy his approach to life and therapy. It calls people to broaden their thinking, to transcend selfishness and thus find a more peaceful and powerful life.

No comments: