Nature Builds on Grace

So imagine for a moment that in the space of two weeks you learn that your kid has a potentially life-threatening (but otherwise probably benign) tumor in her heart, and then you travel out of town to get it removed via open-heart surgery, and then you come home after and basically you’re done.*  In two weeks.

That’s crazy.  Far too crazy to be eligible for fiction, what with no foreshadowing, no crises, and a shocking denouement in which you get home and have to forbid your kid to clean her room, until you finally break down after a couple hours and let her clean her room.

Also it can’t be fiction because everyone was fine.  A little edgy, sure, definitely some adrenaline happened.  Garden-variety hospital snafus happened (ex: The Night of the Beeping Monitors). There was sunburn during the lead-up to the climax, and also my sister sitting alone on the beach nobly guarding my phone, which was actually with me in the beach parking lot talking to the insurance people. But mostly everything was fine.

Truth: While we were busy with our dramatic medical incident, many friends were enduring much worse suffering.  That is, if by “worse” you mean people-actually-died ‘n stuff.

Since there can therefore be no riveting memoir, here’s my how-to quick guide on How to Throw a Successful Medical Crisis in Just Two Weeks!

 

1.  Try to recruit about a thousand people to pray for you.  If you do this, then your most anxiety-prone child of the bunch can be the one who needs to have her sternum cracked and her heart sliced open, and it’ll be fine.  By “a thousand” what I mean is: The actual, literal number 1,000.  That’s my ballpark estimate of how many seriously praying people were on this job.  Do that.  You want these people.  What they do matters.

2. Happen to invite the exact right relatives to come stay with you.  Try to get them to arrive for vacation the day before you go in to receive the shocking diagnosis.  Whom to invite?  The ones who keep the house clean, provide competent medical advice, have a couple cousins of just the right ages and personalities to provide 24/7 emotional support for the kids, and who are restless enough to keep everyone busy with activities so you don’t have much time to sit around dreading things.

2a.  Dessert.  The children insist you want to invite the relatives who firmly believe in running out to the store to buy three boxes of brownie mix, because there weren’t any brownies in the house.  I say if you do the dishes, vacuum, and wash the sheets before you leave . . . you make all the brownies you want, I can be healthy again after you go home.

3.  Go to the beach.  Oh, you just want to sit around googling statistics about rare surgical procedures?  That’s why you arranged for your sister to show up: Because she is going to take you to the beach, and once you’ve viewed one excision of a right ventricular mass you’ve viewed them all.  Go to the beach. Your kid is gonna have a very boring and painful summer once surgery happens.  For goodness sake go to the beach.

Backlit tree with egrets at sunset.
Sunset at the rental house on John’s Island. It’s hard to be stressed here.

4. Comparative Advantage for the win.  So you are going to ask all your friends with relevant experience for their advice, and then you will take it.  One of the things you’ll learn is that there are different types of work for different people at different times.

  • The aunt who is perfectly capable of watching your healthy kids is the person who needs the power of attorney so she can do her thing and not need to call you at just the wrong time.
  • The ICU nurse who has gotten your kid stable post-op, and she is not tired, and she is one-on-one with your kid, is the person who should stay up all night after surgery watching your kid while you go to the hotel and get as much sleep as you can.
  • The spouse who does better on disrupted sleep should take night shift in the step-down unit.
  • The spouse who does better at asking hard questions and won’t be intimidated by the platoon of physicians descending on your room during rounds should do day shift.
  • The people who cook astonishingly good food available at local restaurants should feed you during shift change.
Dinner at Fuel. Tourist tip if you’re ever in Charleston: King Street is for people who like normal food. MUSC neighborhood is for people who feel cheated if the taco is just a regular taco with no purple cabbage on it.

5.  A sane parent is a priceless treasure. There is no substitute for a parent who is willing to do whatever it takes to support a child in a medical crisis.  Thus more sides to the shape of parental-sanity:

(A) If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to do the whatever it takes when the need arises.

(B) Whatever it takes includes doing some hard things, but not all the hard things.  If you don’t have to be there doing a thing, go do something that makes you better able to do the things only you can do.

So yeah: I totally made a teenager deliver me my good cruiser so I could go on a bike ride when it was my turn to get out and get some fresh air.  Yes, the spouse and I got out for couple-time during shift change, so we could see daylight, talk to each other without interruptions, eat something good and be ready to go back in for more.

 

Lawn by the ER at MUSC
If your kid kicks you out of her room because she doesn’t want to smell your heated-up frozen dinner, then go lie down in green pastures on the lawn by the ER. It’s okay to take pleasure in good things even when your kid just had major-major surgery.

6.  You can just be real about the situation.  Back to that whole 1,000-person prayer team:  Yes, the SuperHusband and I, and everyone else, were worried and scared.  Left to my own devices, not only could I worry about this child’s impending doom, I could also conjure up scenarios in which other children met tragic fates while we were all distracted by the one having the official crisis.  Drowning? Fatal car accident?  Nobody’s safe!  Ever!

Nobody is ever safe.  Our kid came through surgery just fine, and other people were receiving bad news.  Our days were getting better and better while other people’s lives were getting worse and worse.  It’s a fallen world.  You don’t have to pick a single All-Purpose Mood that somehow perfectly matches the gravity of the situation, because the truth is that the situation is complicated, and some really good things are happening and so are some bad things.  So just whatever.  Don’t feel beholden to the Feelings Police.

7.  Eternity is for real.  The thought of my kid dying is unbearable.  Also: It could happen on my watch.  Indeed, the expected death rate for my children is 100%, so unless we all die in the same train wreck, some of us get to be bereaved.

This is awful.  Believing in God doesn’t take away the intense grief that comes with losing someone you love.

But here’s what it does do: It means you aren’t hanging all your faith on doctors.  You can be sensible and do practical things to try to ensure the best odds possible on your kid’s survival, but the weight of Everything Forever And Ever Amen doesn’t hang on your shoulders, and it doesn’t hang on the doctors’ shoulders.  When you know that God has everything under control, you don’t have to be in a non-stop panic, frantically trying to save your kid from eternal nothingness.

You ask God to spare you the suffering, and hopefully He spares you the suffering.  But you also know that the separation of death is temporary, and no matter how bad things get in this life, no matter how black your grief, no matter how much your life sinks into the abyss of loss if the worst should happen, it isn’t the end of the story.

And then if your kid’s not dead and actually she’s recovering pretty well, you can leave her to the spouse who has day shift and get out for fresh air and sanity.

Green sea grass with sailboats on the water in the distance.
View of the marsh and estuary from the Lockwood Drive greenway.
Concrete walk along The Battery, Charleston, SC, with house and palmetto trees.
The Battery, where cars are as slow as the bicycles that pull over to let faster traffic pass.

 

*It’s not done until Pathology says it’s done . . . but we’re not going there right now.

Ableism Entrenched

Up at the Register: Are People with Disabilities Welcome at Your Parish?

Ableism is the counterpart to “racism” or “ageism,” the often-insidious discrimination against people with disabilities.  Ableism is happening when a parish that has three wheelchair-accessible entrances decides to lock all doors except the one with the stairs.  No malice, just complete indifference.

When you park in the handicap spot even though you don’t need it, that’s ableism.  It’s also ableism when you assume the person with the tag must be faking just because you can’t identify an obvious disability.

Here’s an example of how pervasive ableism is:

We’re at the “atrium” of the children’s hospital today, a big sunny play space where kids can do fun stuff.

Children's Atrium, MUSC Children's Hospital

L. is in the teen corner doing arts and crafts, and it gets to be a few minutes before closing.  The other family there is a patient with her dad and a sister.  The dad calls clean-up time, and I get up and go help with putting away all the craft supplies.  I’m not really paying attention to who is doing what, other than that I start with putting away the things we personally got out (because I know where they came from) and also I tell L. to go sit in her wheelchair and hold all our junk for the trip up.

Here’s the entrenched-ableism mindset: In my brain I compose an explanation for why my kid is not helping clean up.

My child has a broken sternum from open-heart surgery less than 3-days earlier, and I am feeling the need to be ready to explain why she can’t walk around putting things away.  In a children’s hospital.  Where everyone else is there with a kid (or is the kid) who also can’t do all the things.

Mind you, not a person batted an eye.  But you know you are used to living in an abelist world when you just automatically prepare to fend off stupid accusations against a kid with an invisible (and thankfully temporary) disability.

Which is why we have parishes that lock people out of Mass if they can’t climb stairs.  And that’s a problem.

Can Goodness Fix Abuse?

In conversation surrounding Simcha Fisher’s piece on why the Fr. Luke Reese criminal trial is something the community needs to know about, a related topic came up: What role do victims play in their abuse?

For some perspective, Fr. Reese is charged with carrying out an 18-hour ordeal in which, at its peak, he dragged his wife in front of the altar (Fr. Reese is a married priest, yes the Catholic Church has them) and beat her there.

There are no counter-charges that Mrs. Reese was in some way abusing her husband and he was merely physically defending himself.  This is not a case of brawling.  This is assault and battery.

And yet — and the argument is even more deeply entrenched in cases of emotional abuse — some people labor under the idea that abusive behavior is “provoked” by the victim.

This is false.

Why the confusion?

We know a few things about healthy relationships:

  • You can make your relationship stronger by being kind, considerate, and generous.
  • You can help each other grow in virtue and avoid sin by making an effort to avoid tempting yourself and others.

So, for example, if you want to get along better with your workmates, greeting them cheerfully and completely your work promptly can help you all form a better team.

If you and your date are determined to remain chaste, choosing to avoid actions the other finds alluring can make it easier to abstain.

If you and your neighbor want to live on good terms, observing quiet hours can make it easier to get along.

These things work when everyone involved wants a healthy relationship.

It is the nature of abuse to try to pretend there is a “good reason” for the abuser’s behavior.  But there isn’t.

It is normal to get a little frustrated at other people’s faults.  A normal married couple might argue over who should do the dishes.  A normal married couple will not physically assault each other over who should do the dishes.

That’s what makes abuse different from normal behavior: The action or reaction in no way matches the circumstances.

How to Have a Better Marriage

If you and your spouse are both desiring a happier, more joyful marriage, there are things you can do to help with that.  You can pay attention to your spouse’s preferences, and find little ways to show consideration.  Maybe that is by taking on a chore your spouse finds tedious, or by giving attention to some detail that other people might not care about, but which especially pleases your spouse.

She likes tulips not roses, so you bring her tulips.  He hates cilantro, so you serve it on the side.  Of course you do these things, because you love each other and you want to please each other.  You might go so far as to choose an outfit that your spouse particularly admires (and which you agree is becoming on you and fitted to the occasion), even though left to your own devices you yourself wouldn’t spend so much time on your appearance.

An abusive person is not abusive because you brought the wrong flower or served the wrong meal.  An abusive person isn’t going to be “cured” by your selecting a nicer outfit next time.   Healthy people don’t beat their spouse over failing to coordinate the day’s plans, or failing to keep the house clean, or failing to make the children settle down.  Healthy people don’t kidnap, rape, and beat their spouse even over suspected infidelity.

Healthy Responses to Very Bad Behavior

If you thought your spouse was cheating on you, healthy, proportionate reactions might include:

  • Asking your spouse to explain his or her behavior.
  • Attending counseling, with or without your spouse (or both).
  • Asking your spouse to cut ties with a specific person he or she committed adultery with previously.
  • Refraining from intercourse if there is reason to be concerned about sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Insisting your spouse be transparent about internet and social media use.
  • Considering whether a civil divorce or other legal action is a necessary way to handle the fallout from marital infidelity.

Some of these actions are very serious responses to very serious concerns.  None of them involve assaulting your spouse.

 

File:Historic image of Rod Liddle.jpg

Image courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

How To Have Competent Young Adults

So Saturday the internet went out, and here’s what happened next:  Mr. Boy, now officially all graduated and legal and I guess technically Mr. Young Man, says to my husband, “Would you like me to clean the house, or would you like me to get on the phone with AT&T and get our service fixed?”

Now he does not have superhuman powers, so it still took until Tuesday for AT&T to actually show up.  But they did, and the friendly service guy, who is not at fault for AT&T’s corporate lapses, worked with Mr. Young Man to figure out what had happened and get it fixed.  (It was them not us . . . my IT Boy Man would have fixed it if it were us.)

Here is another thing that happened on Saturday: My 16-year-old and I got into a huge fight about the state of our front yard, eventually came to a truce-type-moment, and she proceeded to carry out a massive landscaping renovation.  First thing Monday she phone around to mulch dealers, got the best price on pinestraw, calculated how much she’d need, drove the truck (and I drove the other truck) out to pick it up, loaded the truck with a bazillion bales of pinestraw, and came home and made our yard look 10,000 times better . . . and then pressured-washed the driveway.

File:FEMA - 7305 - Photograph by Liz Roll taken on 11-16-2002 in Tennessee.jpgFile:Blithewold Mansion - Water Garden.jpg

Our yard Before & After, as visualized by Wikimedia.  [Public Domain and CC 3.0  Daderot at en.wikipedia respectively.]

 

So how do you get yourself some teenagers who are able to take the initiative and do responsible things?

By letting them take the initiative and learn to do responsible things.

For the boy, I’d say the turning point was letting him unschool 7th grade science.  Every day he was required to read or do some kind of science thing, and make a note of what that was.   I knew I could count on him to educate himself in that area, and indeed he did. Mostly he read technology websites that year.  In later years we bought him computer pieces for his birthday or Christmas when he wanted to build or re-build a computer.  By spring of 12th grade he’d landed his first regular IT job.  He’s 18 and pretty much already has a profession, because we let him do the thing he was interested in.  We didn’t send him to lessons or anything complicated.  We let him experiment and take risks and just do the thing.  There was a lot of trial-and-error involved, but it was his trial, not ours, and now he knows how to avoid the errors.

I’ve already documented some of E.’s artful adventures.  Note that nearly all the things from this beautiful backyard patio area have now been moved around for other decorating needs.   Having a child who can paint means never knowing where your paintbrushes are (except when they are left sitting by the kitchen sink).  The reason the girl is confident she can take on a front-yard renovation is because she’s been let loose with the weed-whacker and the leaf-blower and the pressure-washer many times before, even though she doesn’t always do it the way I wish she would.  (See: Bitter Argument Saturday Morning, Why Did You Chop Down That Oak Sapling?)

Now notice here that my IT guy did not help with the lawn.  Note that my lawn girl did not lift a finger to fix the internet (shout-out to the grandparents who pay for her data plan . . . she had internet while I didn’t, ha.)  There will come a time when they are older and they’ll have to take on a certain number of big projects that they don’t particularly care to do.  At 16 & 18, a realistic expectation is that your kids will go big and deep on the things that are most important to them.

But that’s a good start.  If they learn in their teens that they can take an interest in something, master all the skills, and be turning out professional-grade work as a result?  I think that’s about where they need to be.

So parents,  if you are terrified of the mess your kids are going to make, or you are tempted to over-program and over-schedule their lives, or you worry that your kids aren’t “well-rounded” because they tend to focus mostly on one or two types of interests and not ALL THE THINGS, relax.

Set a few boundaries, sure.  But mostly: Just let your kids do things.

 

The Disconnect After You Realize Abuse is Happening

There are two extra torments after you realize you’ve been party to an abusive relationship:

  • You wonder why it took you so long to realize what was happening.
  • You wonder why other people can’t see what is now so obvious to you.

When you realize that you’d been duped for so long, you can end up blaming yourself.  Surely you should have seen the warning signs. Surely you should have been smarter than to get pulled along with all this.

When you experience the frustration of seeing so clearly what others are still denying, all sorts of other, complicated dynamics ensue.

You might second guess yourself: Are you the crazy one?  Are you blowing this out of proportion?  You’ll no doubt hear from others that yes, you’re just “being dramatic” or “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

You might feel betrayed by friends or family members who should be supporting you, but instead are loyal to the abuser and are denying anything significantly wrong has happened.

Unless your friends on the other side of the divide are truly magnanimous, you will probably lose friendships.  Even if you are still civil to each other, it won’t be the same as before.

It is quite likely that you who have called out the abuse, or who have merely refused to cooperate with it, are suddenly under attack.

***

All these things are the fallout of the nature of abusive relationships.

By definition, the abuser has sought to normalize his or her behavior.  The only way abuse gets perpetrated in the first place is by the abuser somehow convincing people the behavior is acceptable.  One of the reasons we don’t recognize abuse when it happens is that the abuser has done his or her best to make sure we don’t recognize it.

Another reason is that abusive behavior falls on a continuum.  Just how far over the line someone has strayed is not always easy to discern.  It can be hard to judge where on the continuum you’re sitting.  We all sin. We all have our weaknesses.  We have to live with one another, and it’s normal to show mercy and give the benefit of the doubt.

And finally, false accusations do happen.  We who are honest rightly want to avoid jumping to conclusions and criminalizing imperfect but not predatory behavior.  Those who are dishonest will in turn exploit every weak spot to cultivate doubt about the seriousness of the abusive behavior, and to cast the critics in the worst possible light.

Oh and then there’s the fact that those who have recognized the abusive behavior are themselves flawed persons who don’t necessarily know the best way to handle the situation.

***

So all this stuff happens.

It is horrible.

But it’s not something you can blame yourself for.  It’s just part of wrestling with the beast.

File:Drago - Piero di Cosimo - Andromeda Perseo.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, Public Domain

My Family’s Billy Graham Story

Shortly before she died, my mom gave me the cross you see on the left here:

It is her baptism cross.

Her mother, my grandmother, was raised Catholic up in New Jersey.  Her father, my grandfather, was raised Baptist and staunchly anti-Catholic down in the deep South.  They met during WWII when his ship was in port near where Grandma lived up in the metro area of NYC.   They fell in love, married, and went on to raise their family in the US Navy.   They couldn’t come to an agreement on religion, so they came to a truce: As a family they’d attend whatever church was closest to base that was neither Catholic nor Baptist.

My mom was not, therefore, baptized Catholic as an infant.

As a girl, sometime in the late 1950’s most likely, she attended a Billy Graham crusade.  She told me she found it very moving — she was in fact evangelized by that crusade.  She was baptized Presbyterian (due to the truce), and that cross is the one she received at her baptism.

Later in college she converted to Catholicism and married a cradle Catholic.  As happens to many families who get overwhelmed by young children and moving around with work, for about a decade when I was growing up our family lived firmly on the list of Bad Catholics Parish Staff Love to Hate.  We were the people taking your parking space and crowding your pews twice a year.

Mom didn’t like that though.  She knew we needed to be going to church every Sunday.  She kept trying and trying, and eventually she was victorious.  For many years before she died she was fervent in practicing and sharing the Catholic faith.

My dad, the same guy who was such a foot-dragging-Catholic during our Tick Off The DRE years, went on to meet my stepmother (that’s her heart up there to the right) at church after he was widowed. The two of them are now active in their parish, carrying out all kinds of works of mercy and going on parish pilgrimages to holy sites around the world.

Would we have the same story if my mom hadn’t attended a Billy Graham crusade?  There’s no way to know.  But she did, and it made it a difference in her life.

March for Life 2018

Between the Metro & the March and a museum visit, we walked 7.5 miles today.

Turnout was enormous.  The column of marchers extended as far as you could see, filling the streets.

One of the things people do is come in groups with matching hats, or scarves, or t-shirts, or sweatshirts — and in one case, yellow ponchos. Many of them are very memorable.  The March is so big that you’ll see thousands upon thousands of people, and then when you are walking to a Metro station afterwards, you’ll see groups gathered waiting for their tour bus that you never saw the entire day until you passed each other post-March.

 

There were a couple marching bands along the route.  (Sound quality is my phone, not the band – they were super.)

The atmosphere varies as you go, but it’s always friendly and peaceful.  We prayed along with part or all of various Rosaries and Chaplets of Divine Mercy being led by participants:

As the roads widen and narrow, and people walk at different paces, you end up here and there, walking alongside all kinds of different people.

We ended up stopped for a bit next to this group in blue sweatshirts:

The baby on the back of the sweatshirt was actually on last year’s March, in-utero, then born prematurely, and now doing great.  The adult hand in the picture is the father’s hand:

The caption at the bottom is: No hand is too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.

 

***

And something amusing . . .

.

.

.

.

All dogs go to Heaven.  All youth groups go to Air & Space.  US History gets its share, too.

Somehow the first time I went to DC for the March I imagined we wouldn’t be allowed into the museums during the March.  I guess I figured we were the rabble that had to be kept away from the innocent visitors.

Actually: As long as you comply with the rules & regulations for the museum of your choice, you are welcome to come inside.

And hence this year I confirmed that if you want tranquility, and a surprising number of Dominicans, go to the National Gallery.   You’ll spend $40,000 on lunch in the cafeteria (but it’s decent food).  But maybe also you will be able to personally identify the person in art who looks most like yourself.

This is me & my kids a few years ago:


It’s not so much the precise physical resemblance as the Oh my gosh, someone has painted a picture of my life.  And yes, we’re as tired as we look.  Here’s a version not from my phone:

The kids are little taller now.

 

 

All photos & video by Jen Fitz except that one you can find on Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Snowpersons for Life

What do you when the interstate becomes impassable on your route to the March for Life?  Pull over and make Phyllis, the snowperson.  Why yes, the pro-life movement is young — and happy to be alive.

FYI if you didn’t see it over at the Register, this is what happened at our state March for Life, when a non-denominational Christian tried to talk my son and his friends out of being Catholic.

One Weird Trick for Understanding Homeless People

Over Thanksgiving the topic of services for the homeless came up at dinner, and last night the subject again resurfaced.  In my experience, there is no such thing as a “typical” homeless person, because people are complex and their stories are unique.  You can speak of common factors among this or that sub-group (mental illness, lack of a personal social net, etc.) but the intricacies don’t satisfy.  People want to “understand homelessness” as if it were a tricky lock in need of the right key and combination.

Finally I told my husband that if he wanted to understand why someone would be persistently homeless, despite the many social services available in our area (which help!), here’s what you do:

Think about something that you, personally, absolutely stink at.  The part of your life where you just can’t seem to get your act together.  Other people manage to do this thing just fine, but you don’t.

[In my husband’s case: Keeping the garage clean.  We could say the same about my desk and my inbox and let’s not even talk about the state of my refrigerator.  Other people might struggle with family relationships, or road rage, or over-eating, anorexia, compulsive shopping . . . whatever.]

You persistently, year after year, struggle with this thing that ought to be simple.  Sometimes you make progress, and other times you fall back into the pit.

Other people who have this problem are sympathetic; those who don’t have this problem wonder why you can’t get your act together in this area.  You’ve got so much else going for you — what’s the big deal?

Think about that problem.  Think about all the things that contribute to that problem.

Some of things might be outside your control: Your health, your work schedule, your family dynamics.  Some of the things that contribute to your problem are just your own personal collection of weaknesses and foibles.  Many things are a combination — your circumstances work against you, and you work against you, too.

Be really honest about acknowledging your problem and all the many things that make it so persistent.

***

And that’s it.   Now you know.

 

File:OldBeggar1.jpg

Artwork via Wikimedia, public domain.

Not So Bewuthered

What started last week and has been keeping me busy and happy is my literature class on The Hobbit.  It’ll run six weeks, and the students range from devoted fans taking the class purely for fun to poor, downtrodden middle-schoolers being forced to drudge through worthwhile art and write about it for actual English lit and composition credit.  Homework assignments vary per the student (at the parents’ direction), which promises to make grading much more interesting and the class less of a slog for everybody.

I’m not a Tolkien expert, I’m a writer, so that’s how we’re looking at the book.  I do think one of the most important parts of studying literature is making sure that the kids understand what the heck they’re reading.  So before each reading assignment we go through two sets of vocabulary.  The first set is Landscape of Middle Earth, because if you don’t know what laburnums are, how can you possibly visualize them?  Wikimedia is my fast friend in finding images for the tour.

The other set of vocabulary is non-landscape words that the kids are unlikely to know, or for which they might not know the intended meaning in context.  (The fender on a fireplace rather than one on a car, or a porter that you drink, not one that you hire.)

In looking up vocabulary, I’ve noticed Tolkien is assumed to have created a few words that he didn’t invent, or didn’t quite.  A few that get attention:

Flummoxed – bewildered, confounded, confused.  Not a Tolkien-built word: Merriam Webster notes its appearance in The Pickwick Papers.

Confusticate – (slang) – to confuse, perplex, bewilder.  Notes on the presumed origin (American) are here and here.  Where the word came from is not very clear, but it’s quite clear it wasn’t Tolkien’s invention.

Bebother – to bring trouble upon (someone).  Wicktionary has citations from 1896 and 1908.

Bebother follows the same pattern as bewilder, as in the famous description of Bilbo as being “bewildered and bewuthered.”

Bewuther, the fan pages tell us, is a fabricated word that means the same thing as bewilder.  I disagree.

Look up the word wuther:

verb (used without object), British Dialect. 1. (of wind) to blow fiercely. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/wuthering

1846; variant of dial. and Scots whither, Middle English (Scots) quhediren; compare Old Norse hvitha squall of wind

Someone who was, say, a professor of Anglo-Saxon literature, would know the word wuther.  Such a person would also know how to use the prefix “be-” to build related words, such as bewilder, bedraggle, bespoke, bespeak, become, bemuse, and so forth.

Bewilder, if we look at its etymology, has a sense of someone going astray or getting lost.  Think of it as being led into the emotional wild-lands.

We should infer, using the logic that Tolkien knows what English words mean and that he builds English constructions accordingly, that bewuther means something slightly different than bewilder.  It means to be wuthered – to be blown about.

→ Bewuthered is to be blown about, in a figurative sense in this case.

One can therefore be both bewildered and bewuthered, but one is not necessarily both at the same time.  You might be thoroughly bewuthered and yet entirely sure of where you’ve landed, for example — not bewildered at all, just well-tossed and reeling a bit from the blow.

Or, if you take my literature class, hopefully you end up neither.  In addition to going over tricky words before the reading, we’ll do a plot summary at the start of class each week to make sure the kids understood the reading.  There’s no sense talking about writing techniques and stunning poetry until you know who did what, when, where and how.   After that?  Bring it on.

 

My partner in crime came up with a project for the fankids, writing their names on stones in runes.  It was pretty cool.  This artwork courtesy of Wikimedia, Public Domain.