Monday, December 16, 2013

Catachumen Ruminations Part 2: Salvation.

This is America, and any time Christianity comes up it is always accompanied by the dreaded s-word. Who is? Who isn't? Who just thinks they are but are really fooling themselves? How do we know for sure? What are the criteria? Can you lose it? What does it even mean, anyway, besides a ticket into heaven?  It's basically the whole point of the Christian way, right? 

I'm not even sure where to start. Salvation as understood in Orthodoxy differs so greatly from Protestantism and even much of Westernized Catholicism (as I've understood it) that we need entirely different definitions. 

The Baptist tradition I grew up in taught that anyone old enough to understand the gospel who had been presented it was faced with two simple options: accept Jesus as God and savior and be saved or reject him and be lost. Saved people go to heaven, lost people go to hell, and once you are saved you can always be assured of your salvation. We are able to be saved because Jesus's sacrifice satisfies God the Father's perfect sense of justice, covering our sins and atoning our guilt. Other Protestant positions are similar, with more or less emphasis on belief vs. actions and some disagreement on the whole "once saved always saved" issue.

Needless to say, I believe there are some problems in this theology. I'll try to state them charitably. :) For starters, I don't think anyone is ever capable of understanding salvation. If we could analyze it, understand it, and break it down into a formula of actions so that--by our own will--we can fulfill a set of requirements to create salvation within us, then it isn't really a process of grace, is it? 

Secondly, the conflation of the words faith and belief has led many to think that salvation is simply a matter of confessing belief, i.e. the sinner's prayer. This leads to the born-again mentality that can be summed up with lyrics like "I once was lost and now I'm found,"  casual admissions like "Of course I'm saved, aren't you?," and ecstatic exclamations such as "I found Christ!" Oh really? The eternally-begotten, son-like hypostasis of the ultimate root of reality by whom, for whom, and in whom everything in (and probably out of) the universe is created and maintained? You just...found that, did you? 

The clencher, though, lies at the very foundation of the idea of salvation as it has come to be understood by the rationalist, legalistic West: substitutionary atonement. Simply put, God is upset with us, he can't stop being upset until a price is paid for our sinfulness, and that price was himself/his son in the form of a law-fulfilling, sin-covering blood sacrifice. Sorry, but I can't buy that. I've never been able to buy that from the moment I figured out what it meant.

I'm sorry my babbling has been pretty negative so far, but I think it is necessary to clarify what I'm not talking about before I can move on to what I am. Orthodoxy is full of this, and we call it apophatic theology. Especially when it comes to God, it is much easier to say what he isn't than than what he is. And even when we do say what he is in phrases like "God is love," we have to add the apophatic addendum, "but nothing like the love we are capable of understanding." So, I've probably ruffled some feathers talking about what I think salvation isn't, so now I'll fail miserably to make a botched attempt at explaining what it is. 

I take that back. One more apophatic statement. :) His Grace, Bishop ALEXANDER, Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Ottawa, Eastern Canada and Upstate New York delivered a sermon at our cathedral a few weeks ago about salvation. I was stuck out of the nave taking care of a grumbly baby, but Kerry told me about it. He told a story of Jehovah's Witnesses coming to his door and asking him the standard, "Are you saved by our lord and savior Jesus Christ?" His answer? "Yes. Possibly." I don't think an Orthodox Christian would ever use the word "saved" in the past tense in reference to anyone other than a canonized saint, because salvation is not a moment in time that can be pinned down and put in a frame. 

So what is it? Now I have to be careful. Salvation is (read: might be according to the uneducated catechumen) the ultimate redemption of all matter brought about by God himself becoming incarnate in essence within the reality he sustains, living and dying in the flesh in order to illuminate life and conquer death. He simultaneously created and showed us the way to be deified. To borrow a popular phrase, God became man that man might become God (not in essence obviously, but like him). 

So what is it for us? For me? First, it must be understood that Orthodoxy understands all of reality as being constantly sustained by God's energies. Even though creation is capable of bringing forth things out of itself and we are capable of exercising our own free will, nothing moves without God's energies moving it. Everything that happens, therefore, is either willed or allowed by God. Our job is to cooperate. God's grace is always bestowed upon us, but when we accept it and work with it in synergia, we enter a salvific state of theosis--becoming more 'one-with-God.'

What is that collaboration? I think it is somewhat of a mystery. It is different things for different people. For pre-Christian Israel, it was probably following the law. For pagans, it is probably exemplifying every aspect of their traditions that are pleasing to God. For atheists (thank God for atheists!), it is probably through the acts of kindness, benevolence, and Christ-like compassion they pour forth out of nothing but the goodness of their hearts. For the mentally ill, God alone knows what is salvific. 

The spirit blows where it wills, and God is not a tame lion. I, personally, don't think there is any limit to Christ's ability to save and deify people, even those who consciously reject him.

For those of us blessed with the gospels, we have the commandments given by Christ himself--love God with all that you are and love every other human being just as you love yourself--as well as the rest of his recorded life to emulate. Perfect salvation is egolessness: consciously doing every thing we ever do in a spirit of love, thankfulness, and praise toward God and for the service of others rather than ourselves. It is doing this every waking and sleeping moment, and doing it joyfully (I love how Fr. Thomas Hopko says you can't be a Christian and not be joyful). That perfect salvation is heaven, if only it could be attained on this Earth.

But we're not perfect. We're broken. None of us is ever always a Christian. I succumb to pride, anger, pleasure, passion, and lose my conscious awareness of God--and with it my spirit of repentance--hundreds of times a day. Does that mean I lose my salvation? I don't think so. Again, if it were totally dependent on me, it wouldn't be grace and I'd have little to be thankful for other than God providing me with a really hard checklist (and a run-away brain). I can either be in or out of synergia with God to varying degrees, but I don't think that means that one moment I'm "saved" and anotherI'm not. At the end of all things, according to scripture, I'll be judged by a God who is outside of and greater than time--who sees my life not as an unfolding story of moments, but who always has seen, is seeing, and always will see the entire thing that I am, from birth on, as one contiguous line all at once. I hope I make a pleasing line. 

So yeah. Salvation is a grace-filled mystery. It's something Christ does, not me. I'm trying to cooperate with him. I'll leave it at that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Catechumen Ruminations Part 1: The constant quest to be a little less of an apostate.

It has been a long time since my 'coming out' post about Orthodox Christianity. I've been hesitant to write much more on the subject because...well, because I just don't know very much. It is better for the fool to remain silent than to make an ass of himself on the internet, and I'm surely a fool. I have needed to spend much more time listening, reading, and praying than talking. And while that certainly will always remain true, I know that many of my friends and family--nearly all of whom are protestants or atheists--are curious about what I've been getting into. I still fear that blogging is just another way to tickle my ego and feed my pride, so I ask for you to pray with me that that will not become so. If it does become so, may God miraculously jam the space key on my keyboard and shut this booger down.

But there's over a foot of snow on the ground outside, liturgy has been cancelled, and the baby is finally asleep, so I'm going to try this. I am not an expert. I am not even part of the Church yet. I think it'd be pompous to even call myself a Christian. I'm still a sinful, heretical fool trying to step into a life of grace. Sometimes, I do the best I can. Other times, I fool myself into thinking I am. Most of the time, I just fail miserably. But such is life in a fallen world (not that I'm trying to use that as an excuse). What I'm trying to say is this: I know that it isn't about me. It is about God. All I can do is totter around cluelessly with  clumsy, outstretched arms, much like my one-year-old son, trying to grasp the tail something beyond my comprehension and babbling nonsense. But I do babble. It is what I do. It is how I process things. It is God's curse as well as God's gift to me. So I'll babble some, try to express and explain some things, and probably be wrong about as much as I'm right. :)

The amount of I's in this post goes to show just how far I still have to go :(

(I only just now noticed all the comments awaiting approval on my last post. Sorry for the delay, and thank you all for the responses. God bless!)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Looking East.

For two months, I've been silent. I now embark on this entry in fear and trembling, praying for a humble spirit. This post will probably be shocking, but I'm writing it to disclose the journey on which I'm embarking for the benefit of family and friends, not for the sake of vanity.

As followers of this blog can tell, my entries prior to my break in posting had become pretty negative. This blog had become an unhealthy venting place where I wallowed in self-pity, giving expression to all the loathsome trials of new-parenthood. And you can't even see the unposted things in my draft history. :) A big part of my downness can be chalked up to what has been diagnosed as dysthymia, and I have greatly benefited from anti-depression meds since that diagnosis.

But there was more to it. I wasn't dissatisfied with anything about my life. I have a very blessed life. I couldn't possibly ask for a more excellent and loving wife, a cuter baby, a cozier home, better friends, a more loving (if distant) family, or cuddlier cats. I was dissatisfied with life itself. Every day, the same work had to be done. The same diversions kept me from losing my mind. And at the end of the day, the thought of the sun rising again was oppressive. It was like listening to an endless loop of Pachelbel's Canon: that cello just won't stop doing the same thing over and over and over and over. If something different happens, it's merely an ephemeral aberration. Then it's back to the relentless, monotonous drone that--while pretty--eventually makes you want to turn the cello into a lifetime supply of toothpicks.

Why did I feel this way? What changed? I've been pretty happy to just enjoy Pachelbel for a decade, relishing life and rolling along toward my imminent and hopefully pleasant end. But in a pretty short span of time, I came to a point where I wanted nothing more than to devilishly dance around a bonfire of cellos. A trifecta of things led me to this point: a philosopher, a fiction writer, and an emptiness.

I guess a good starting point is Hubert Dreyfus: a Berkeley professor of philosophy whose online courses convinced me that gods are worth believing in. That human beings aren't isolated, sensory-fueled islands of reason as the enlightenment tells us, but that the enlightenment got it sorely wrong. We aren't rational creatures at all, and we are most ourselves when we aren't trying to be. Moods, passions, obsessions, furies--these can just as easily and accurately be understood phenomenologically as external forces acting upon us as they can be understood rationally as internal mechanations of the subconscious. And understanding them as such leads to a fuller, richer, more heroic life. We don't fall asleep--sleep takes us and lets us go at its pleasure. We don't decide we are going to get furious--we are possessed by the spirit of Ares. We don't decide to fall in love--we are overtaken by the shining light of Aphrodite. 

Understood in modern terms, humans are the most human when we are "in the zone:" when we become so attuned to what we are doing that we become practically submissive to it. We're "wooshed up," as Dreyfus would say, into a state where the cosmos illicits a perfect response from us without us even having to try. And the best way to destroy that state is to rationalize it too much. You can't sing a song well and analyze your performance at the same time. 

Dreyfus advocates a sort of modernistic polytheism (which I tried for a while), but that is where I have come to part ways with him. He condemns Captain Ahab's monomaniacal focus on finding something in this slippery world to hold on to, but I think that something like that is necessary. We can't be subject to being whooshed up by just anything, lest we become modern-day Helens sparking Trojan wars. But we can't close ourselves off to the experience of being whooshed up, either, or else all we doom ourselves to a banal life, cynically critical of all things, in which nothing is sacred. We need a compass, a lighthouse, an anchor of some sort if we want to remain stable, consistent, and protected against being whooshed up into the insane. In a word: we need monotheism.

The second man to whom I owe thanks is Neal Stephenson, my favorite modern novelist. It is harder to explain this one, but his books contain a kernel of the religious that resonates with me. His characterization of Isaac Newton in The Baroque Cycle has become something of a personal hero. The depiction of the Mathic cloisters in Anathem come about as close to my idea of heaven on earth as possible. And his implied case in Snow Crash that religious systems are an evolved advantage serving the purpose of protecting our minds from malicious memes is extremely compelling. His stories have convinced me that religion (not to be confused with spirituality) is valuable.

Lastly, I'll say a little bit about emptiness. I don't want to go off in a tangential indictment of American culture, but I've lost all faith in it. I've kind of come to hate it. The materialistic, secular world holds almost nothing sacred. And even those things it does hold sacred, it doesn't hold sacred enough to be worth fighting for. We are a cult of material well-being, and we have become cowards in our dependence on that cult. We have elevated entrees and entertainment to the status of gods, and are literally eating and distracting ourselves to death while our republic devolves into a corporate police state and the world around us suffers. Any drive to actually hold something sacred--to love something selflessly, sacrificially, and wholly--is met with cynical gazes and accusations of naivety followed by the directive to not let it get in the way of being a good consumer. Principles, conviction, purpose: these have little place in the kingdom ruled by the pantheon of the market.

And so I found myself in a state of yearning. No amount of games, books, television, tasty beverages, or fancy food could satisfy it. I also found my mind softened to the idea of faith for the first time since my teenage years. And in the midst of this, impending fatherhood loomed.

Making babies changes everything. I don't think I can ever say anything more profound than that.

Having a child is an act of faith. Perhaps the biggest act of faith possible. I've begat a person who is separate from myself, consigning him--by no choice of his own--to exist. He will live and die. He has his own will, and he will use that will as he will. Sometimes he'll be an angel, sometimes a demon. He will never live up to all my expectations, nor I his. He'll experience pleasure and pain. He will suffer. And I am responsible. His pain is my pain, his joy is my joy. I love him, do my best to guide and help him, and hope for his love in return. We will never completely understand each other. We will always be separate. But my hope is that we will always be linked in love, and my greatest fear is that we will not. I must have faith that his life will be worth living... Oh God, if ever I had the right to judge thee, it is forfeit, for I am now complicit in creation.

I wouldn't say that I've ever completely given up in theology, but it has been a casual interest at best for a very long time. Playing the believing game with every idea I was presented in college and ending up disappointed with them all left me thinking that theology is a hopeless game with no real answers, something to be toyed with as a hobby rather than seriously considered as potential absolute truth. Of course, I was operating under the absurd assumption that in order for any faith system to work, it would have to fit me rather than the other way around. I've been looking for something to subscribe to rather than something to change me, because--like every good post-modern existentialist--I've long considered myself a reliable arbiter of truth. 

As a friend in college put it, "Of course you consider yourself a moral person. You create your own morality." And I was ok with that. What I wasn't ok with--what none of us can ultimately be ok with--is other people doing the same. But to give myself that privilege while denying it to another is the ultimate hubris. To give it to everyone is pure anarchy. We are all, in varying degrees, stupid, ignorant, and evil. If any Christian doctrine is absolutely unassailable, even to the rationalist, it is the depravity of man.

So from whence can authority come? To what can we be obedient to keep ourselves from falling into natural chaos? Kings, emperors, city-states, nation-states, philosophy, science, and every -ism under the sun have failed to provide an answer to that question. So where is truth? Where is the incorruptible to be found?

I'm not a spiritual person, but here I have to exercise my capacity of free will and reason and, to paraphrase Spock, go with what must be truth, no matter how improbable, once all other options have proven impossible. If anything is absolutely true, it has to be supra-rational. It has to be beyond what our finite and flawed minds perceive as fact. It has to be beyond category, beyond conception, even beyond metaphor. It has to be, in a word, divine. 

So... All of a sudden I am taking theism seriously because I see it is the only alternative to a meaningless existence of flux. But where does one find a god? We can't make our own--that's just deified pluralism. So I looked. And it was at this point that, by the grace of God, I discovered Orthodox Christianity.

... Ok. I've been plinking this out over the course of three days and I have family arriving from halfway across the country this afternoon. It is also interfering with my prayer life, so its gotta get done! Forgive me if it becomes disorganized or sloppy ...

It is hard to define what drew me into Orthodoxy at first. At the time, I would have called them peripheral issues, though now I realize that nothing about Orthodoxy is peripheral. Nevertheless, I'll try to list the things that compelled me:

-Historicity. Many churches claim to be the original apostolic church, but the Orthodox Church's claim is the only one that I find valid. It's the one. The Roman Catholics can also lay claim, but in the case of one patriarch vs. all the rest, I'm going with the rest. :)

-History. After the Great Schism, Western Christianity became highly imperialized, scholastic, and judicial. It became a dominant worldly force--something a church should never be. Orthodoxy never had that chance, mainly because most of its adherents fell under Islamic occupation. Then the rest fell under communist tyranny. The Orthodox Churches have certainly been through the meat grinder and come out the other side.

-Biblical Hermeneutics. There is no sola scriptura heresy in the Orthodox Church. Scripture shares human inspiration with divine inspiration. God, after all, has never possessed a scribe's hand and moved it against his will. Some is poetry, some is allegory, some is law, some is history, all of it carries the significance of its culture and time. It must be interpreted in the light of the traditions of the church. The church wrote it, after all.

-Theosis. Salvation is not a matter of saying a single magic prayer, holding a blind faith, or conning God with good deeds. It is a matter of becoming closer and closer to God himself through synergistic praxis. We strive to pray without ceasing, love unconditionally, humble ourselves, and for every step we take towards God, God takes a hundred toward us.

-God. The Orthodox conception of God is... Well, it is perfect because it is true. It is unpolluted. God is pure love and pure humility beyond comprehension, beyond space, and beyond time. The Father is supra-universal, yet present through his Logos and life-giving Spirit. I hesitate to say more about something beyond my understanding.

-Creation. Nothing about Orthodoxy rejects the natural sciences. It may be a mysterious faith, but it does not require one to run contrary to reason. We live in a creation ruled by natural laws, imbued with the ability to bring forth things out of itself. Or perhaps it is ruled by unnatural laws, since it is a fallen creation. The miraculous, therefore, isn't the breaking of the natural order. It is a revelation of what the natural order should have looked like to begin with when God gifted the homo genus with cognition.

-Heaven and Hell. It must be said that God is love. God is mercy. God does not, therefore, dole out everlasting punishments. But if God is everywhere, and humans do indeed have immortal souls, there is nowhere and no time when we can escape God's love. To those who accept it, it is wondrous. But for those who choose to eternally reject it, not so much.

-Christus Victor. The Orthodox view of Christ is no sacrificial body sent to earth for the sole purpose of being brutally mangled and murdered in order to appease his father's twisted sense of justice. Christ came to die, but to--by dying--conquer death. Death, in Orthodoxy, is unnatural. It is evil. It shares an equal place with the devil himself as mankind's adversary. It is the biggest flaw in corrupt creation that sin has created. Christ fixes it by dying with us, carrying his love down into Hades itself, splitting it open, and saving us.

-Praxis. Orthodox faith is rigorous. It is hard. The prayer rules are long--ideally perpetual. The fasting rules don't joke around. The liturgies are lengthy, and you don't get to sit down much. It is a discipline. Orthodoxy doesn't bend to make itself more comfortable and palatable.

-Liturgy. Liturgy is beautiful. It has remained largely unchanged for almost two millennia. The entirety of the faith can be found in liturgy. God can be found in liturgy. It isn't a show. There is no sing-along followed by a concert followed by a lecture followed by a campfire song. It is living, breathing, communal divine tradition.

So all of this is appealing. It makes a perfect mythical system of metaphors to provide peace to the human psyche. But here is where I now struggle, because Jesus's virgin conception and resurrection have to be mythical, right? Only the clinically insane believe in angels and demons, right? Back to the history books I went, and I discovered much more uncertainty than I had before. The realization that hit me in the face like ton of bricks is that all of the modern scholarship, all the hermeneutics, all the textual criticism that I've taken for unshakable truth suffers from a glaring rational flaw: its conclusions preclude its methods. Of course the Jesus Seminar and their like are going to conclude that Jesus's divinity is improbable because they didn't buy that it was possible in the first place. All the attempts to recreate the "historical Jesus" end up in the Jesus the scholar wants. As much as I love Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, the result of their quests for the true Jesus look an awful lot like Marcus Borg and John Domonic Crossan. When and if you can suspend your disbelief and remove the anti-divinity prejudice, it becomes by far the simplest explanation. 

When I ask myself what "proof" would honestly convince me, I realize that none would unless it were overwhelming and pervasive enough that I would lose my freedom of will not to be convinced. I can't doubt that a hamburger is a hamburger--I have no free will there. If Christ had been a biologically immortal, flying, 50-foot tall superman with glowing rainbow eyes who solved all the world's problems and handed us all knowledge, I'd have no free will there, either.

Also, this tradition I've so fallen in love with falls flat on its face without a risen Christ. Christ is the key, and without him everything else falls apart. So I'm trying to have faith though I've learned to do nothing but doubt and dismiss. So far, the shoe fits, but it is a struggle to walk in it. One learns how to walk slowly, though, and God's grace supposedly never passes over those seeking it. Borrowing words from a spiritual advisor, "If you don't have faith, fake it. Then, eventually, you will."

I don't think the church is perfect. It is, after all, an institution polluted by humanity. But I am finding hope there. And love. And God. And a life worth living and, hopefully, passing on to my son. If nothing else can be said for it, it certainly beats watching tv, surfing reddit, and playing games with the free time I'm able to steal.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A rant about babies and cars.

Scenario: you've spent 20 minutes getting an infant ready to go out for a trip to the grocer and drug store, and you are finally ready. After putting on a fresh diaper, slapping on a set of going-out clothes, taking them off because they got immediately barfed on, slapping on another set, and making sure the diaper bag is packed with the proper amount of diapers, extra clothes, extra bibs, tools of baby distraction, milk, and the right sling, you are ready to go. Wait, now he's hungry. So you feed him, change the diaper again, settle for going out with puke on both of you, and you are once again ready to go. You get your precious little 20 pound package of man-flesh strapped into his 15 pound carrier, limp out to the car, click it into the carseat base, and BAM! Time to hit the road.

Wait ... no ... where's the diaper bag? Darn! You left it inside! So you quickly run back and grab it.

STOP! HOLD IT! You mean you just left your baby unattended in the vehicle for fifty-two seconds? What were you thinking? You might as well have left him in the dishwasher or in the middle of an exhibit of angry starving hyenas! What if you had locked your keys in the car and could do nothing but stare helplessly through the window drooling on yourself? What if a carjacker had stolen your car out of your driveway? What if your four-month-old had managed to squirm out of his carseat, put the car in drive, and run it into a lake? What if you had gone inside and DIED? You are a failure and a disgrace! You should be in jail! I'm calling the cops!

Seriously, now. Why are people so outrageously bad at risk assessment? It is bad enough that I can't drive the .5 miles down the 30 mph pedestrian road to the butcher's without packing my child into Megatron. If I can't leave him alone inside his Iron Man chair for the moments it takes to run inside for something I forgot or pick up my pizza from a counter that is less than 25 feet from my car on the other side of a wall of glass, I'm at a loss. I might as well just curl up around him in a fetal position inside of a cocoon of breathable blankets and cower under the bed waiting for Quaker extremists to kamikaze into my house with a dirigible

Monday, April 8, 2013

Four Months.

As I sit here in the sun with the window open behind me, rocking from side to side to keep Ephraim happy in my sling, it is hard to believe that it has been four months since cold and dreary D-Day. Kerry has recovered from the fourth degree tears of childbirth. We've survived a Christmas Eve pyloromyotomy. And four months of reflux puking! We've completely altered our diet. We've already had our first smiles, coos, nonsense talking, and rolling... We've spent a fourth of his life to date to, from, and in Arkansas. He has more than doubled in size. I've transitioned from being the night-shift parent using my foot to keep the bouncer bouncing while watching the TV on very low volume to being the day-shift parent struggling to keep the little guy entertained with toys, dances, songs, laughs, and bottles.

It has been an adjustment, and there are many more adjustments ahead. But we're figuring things out. We're surviving. And most of the time, we're content.

At this point in time, nothing makes Ephraim happier than me playing Tunak Tunak Tun and dancing like Daler Mehndi. It is weird. He also really, really wants to crawl but hasn't figured out what to do with his arms yet. So he just kicks at whatever surface he is on and scoots his head and torso along with his arms dragging behind. Between that and rolling, he is surprisingly motile. We've been saying that we're going to have to start baby-proofing soon, but I guess we really need to do it now. :/

Friday, April 5, 2013

Things I Miss.

What do you give up when you become a parent? It is a question I see crop up every now and then on reddit. Four months in, here's what I miss most:

1. Sleep. I miss the quantity, quality, and reliability of sleep. It really just goes out the window in all of those regards. Tiredness is staved off by coffee and tea, and you only get to stay one step ahead of exhaustion if that.

2. Food. Or should I say cooking? Cooking elaborate meals might be the single most baby-unfriendly activity possible. You have to be involved and attentive. You can't be interrupted. It involves fire. So it doesn't happen. Goodbye elaborate soups, cast-iron pans, and deliciously savory dishes. Hello generic and easy main courses accompanied by pre-cooked Trader Joe's potato products.

2.5. Eating. Meals are no longer things to be savored and enjoyed. They are to be consumed as rapidly as possible, broken up into shifts so that we can pass the baby back and forth and give each other opportunities to scarf.

3. Computer games. I knew it would be bad. I knew that my hobby was going to take a pounding. I didn't know the extent. I thought I'd be able to snatch an hour's worth of Civ, Minecraft, or FTL in a day. And for a while, before Kerry went back to work, I *did* manage to squeeze in 5 minutes here, fifteen minutes there on some simple (read: only requiring one hand) PC games  throughout the day. Now that Ephraim is grown up enough to demand absolute constant attention unless he is asleep, though, gaming has become an occasional round of bejeweled. That's pretty much it.

4. Reading. I know there are people who don't have a problem picking up and dropping off reading a book in ten minute chunks or less. I am unfortunately not one of them.

5.Freedom to "go." We can't just decide to go somewhere anymore. It takes planning and preparation to get out the door--is the diaper bag packed, is he freshly fed, is he clean, do his clothes fit the weather? It takes planning and preparation to hang out somewhere else--do we need the carrier, the stroller, the Katan sling, the chest-pack, a blanket or boppy to put him down on, do we plan on breastfeeding or should we take a bottle? And it takes planning and preparation to figure out what the sacrifice is (because there always is one) to going out--are we going to be out after bedtime, is this going to mess up his napping or feeding pattern, what chore is going to go undone in order to gain X amount of time?

6. Being alone. Truly alone. Even when I'm asleep, I'm connected to the baby through the monitor. The closest I feel to actually being alone is when I'm driving around with him in the carseat. It calms him to reliable silence...and even if he did get fussy, there wouldn't really be much to do about it.

And now his nap is over, and so is this list.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Incidental Finding

My right knee is a lemon. This has been apparent for a long time. Osgood Schlatter syndrome brought an abrupt halt to my budding interest in track and field in junior high. Sometime between then and my graduation from college, an ossicle grew into my patellar tendon and sharded off. Seven times. So to all those who judged me for using elevators, bleaurrrgh. After Kerry and I got married, I had them surgically removed and the front of my tibia shaved down. Entering early adulthood with a severely malformed knee and chronic tendonitis, I didn't figure I'd never be running a marathon.

Moving to Massachusetts helped. A lot. Arkansan heat and humidity had me relying on a cane, leaving work early around once a week, and sighing any time I saw stairs. The relative cool dryness of New England has helped the pain significantly. But it has never left. Waxing and waning chronic hurting just becomes a part of you after a while. Always there, like mosquitoes buzzing around your ears when you are trying to camp under the stars. Sometimes you can bury it deep. Other times it wakes you up at night and it is all you can do to keep from sobbing. But you deal with it. You writhe a bit, let your body contort a few times, shed a couple tears, pop four ibuprofen, maybe quaff a beer, and try your best to concentrate on anything but explosions, flames, stabbing, construction work, or things cracking open. 

Babies, however, are not kind to knees. The rocking, bouncing, kneeling, lifting, and going up and down are taxing. Toddlers and beyond are even less kind to knees, and this has been my single biggest dread of fatherhood. Whenever I played with my friends' son Parker, I'd pay for it with sleepless nights and shuffle-steps for the better part of a week. Now I have my own, and I dread not being physically able to keep up, to walk more than half a mile, to chase him around the yard, to play catch, and all that dad-and-boy stuff.


For the last nine months, my PCP has been experimenting with steroidal injections in different places (below my patella, behind my patella, directly into my surgical scar) in an attempt to alleviate the issue. Since it hasn't worked, I got to relax in the cool, white magnetic resonance tube last Sunday. As Kerry and I pored over the images of my jagged, weird-looking knee bones, it never occurred to us to look behind the tibia. So my doctor's prognosis on Monday was a bit of a surprise: yes--you have fluid buildup all in your knee joint, and no there is probably nothing to be done for that, but we are going to have to get a CT scan to figure out what that growth coming out of your fibula is.

Kerry and I went back to the images, and sure enough: the front and side of my fibula was covered with all sorts of black splotchy badness. And so from Monday to Thursday, we waited. I wasn't very phased. After all, to find the C-word in a knee that had already been through so much would be like shooting at a deer in the woods, missing, and accidentally killing a jackalope instead. I was imagining a fluid cyst that could be drained. Kerry, on the other hand, was apparently extremely worried without telling me. The relief when she told me about the radiological reports on Thursday evening was a tangible thing: probably either a benign enchondroma or hemangioma.

My actual doc confirmed what my wife doc told me on Friday: I have a benign cartilaginous tumor growing out of and into the top of my fibula. So the good news is that it is not malignantly out to end me! The bad news is that my knee is now even worse off than I thought. Usually these things are asymptomatic, but this one probably isn't. Probably, because it is hard to localize any pain in my knee due to its intrinsic screwed-up-ness.

So the plan of action as of now is to wait a month until my annual checkup. Wear a knee brace. Do the minimum with my knee as I can possible manage. Ascertain whether the pain/functionality trade-off is worth it. And if it isn't, get a bone scan to a) find out if there are any more and b) inform possible surgical options that it would be best to avoid. It is too big and too embedded to just remove, so options are limited. Bone grafts, possibly. Or in the worst case scenario, the fibula is an expendable bone.

So yeah. It could be worse. Much worse. I'm very grateful it isn't. But damn it stings to go from "Oh hey we're finally going to figure out how to make this better" to "You need to decrease your activity even more to keep this from flaring up."