Pain Bleg Update –> How’s It Going, Jen?

So if you post something like last month’s Name This Pain bleg, it’s a good idea to update sooner, rather than later, when you rejoin the happy world of healthy-type people.  Otherwise, every time you turn up some friend will peer at you with concern and ask gravely, “How are you?”

If you are me, it’ll take you a minute to wonder why they are asking this way, because I’m somewhat forgetful in this regard.

(My description of a particularly difficult bout of unmedicated childbirth:  “It took me several days to be willing to do that again.”  Whether this level of forgetfulness is good for the overall survival of the species depends on which sort of calculations you favor.)

So first of all, many thanks to those who replied to me.  The most interesting response was that many people wrote in to say it sounded like their own experience with Restless Legs Syndrome.  This was curious, since it means that a number of physicians have ditched the “urge to move” component of the diagnostic criteria for that disorder.

More interesting: Two readers with RLS and one reader who did not mention RLS said that their symptoms (identical to what I described) were caused by medications.  The three medications mentioned were: Antihistamines, ibuprofen, and migraine medication (Imitrex, I think?)

Whether any of these are a factor for me, I do not know.  I ran some experiments which were inconclusive.

Here is something I do know: God hears the cry of the migraine sufferer.

That’s not me.  That’s my poor friend and colleague from whom I really needed some information, and even when she explained that she was standing in the dark because she had a migraine, did I leave her in peace?  No I did not.    Even though I KNEW that I was being a horrible person and begging for divine retribution, I persisted in asking my questions anyway — which she answered quite helpfully, just as I’d hoped.

So then when I came down with a couple days of non-migraine-but-still-deeply-irritating headache shortly thereafter, the explanation was obvious.

I don’t know that I wouldn’t risk it again, honestly.

***

Anyhow, I am doing wonderfully this month.  Perfectly perfect, other than when I’m courting wrath.  You who have been praying, I am immensely grateful.

Me with Larry Peterson

Here’s me looking as happy as I am, after lunch with Larry Peterson today.   I am really enjoying this thing where I just go around places having a good time, done.

 

The Makings of a Psychiatric Service Dog – Meet Frank and Josef

I’ve long been interested in service dogs, but something new to me is the idea of a psychiatric service dog.  You may have heard of “emotional support animals,” companion animals that help a person stay calm and cope with challenging situations just by being around in a general way.  You might think of it as passive support.

A psychiatric service dog, in contrast, is trained to perform specific tasks that actively help the handler through PTSD, anxiety, or other crisis episodes.  The dog actively monitors the handler’s well-being, and takes action to intervene or assist when needed.

Now a dear friend of mine is in the process of seeing if he and his dog have what it takes to be formally trained as a psychiatric support dog team — and all signs are very promising.

 

This is Josef Hathaway:

Image contains: 1 person, sunglasses, hat and closeup

Josef being himself.  Photo by Mary Hathaway, used with permission. 

He’s creative and insightful and a natural problem-solver.  His father John writes:

Josef was asking about getting an outside cat. Mary facetiously suggested, about an hour before Mass, that he catch one of the feral cats that prowl our yard. A bit later, we’re in our room getting ready and hear a loud crash! I thought another tree had fallen. We heard the girls, but no Joe.

Josef?!” Mary called.

“Yes?!” called a voice from below our feet.

“What are you doing?”

“You said I could trap a cat!” He was in the basement, pulling out the old dog cages.

“I also suggested you clean your room!”

“Yeah, but that’s boring!”

He’s funny and playful and loving.  This is a story Mary tells about Joseph and one of his three sisters:

Josef (menacingly): Gianna, you’re about to have a HEART ATTACK!

Me: Josef!

I turn around, and he proceeds to attack her by throwing paper hearts at her. (Phew.) LOL

Josef also has high functioning autism (Asperger’s) with a mood disorder, for which he receives professional treatment supervised by a psychologist specializing in his diagnoses.  At home, his parents provide the structure, diet, behavioral interventions, medical care, and family life adaptations designed by his care team for his situation.

One thing that helps him is time spent with animals.   Josef volunteered for about seven months in the puppy room at the  CSRA Humane Society.  The decision to adopt Frank the dog, though, was inspired by another Frank:

Dean Koontz (dog aficionado) led me to Frank Redman, who recommended we get Josef a lab, and we ended up adopting a lab already named Frank, rescued from Hurricane Matthew. That’s his back story. The SPCA brought him over from Charleston to their shelter during the hurricane.

When the family adopted Frank the dog, they were looking for a good companion who enjoyed chasing balls.  They had no idea how attuned he would be to the moods of the members of his adopted pack.  With no training at all, Frank has already started actively working as a psychiatric service dog.

Mary shares an example of way the Frank helps Josef calm down from a panic attack:

Josef had another panic attack.

Fifteen minutes before “Contractors for Christ” [coming to help the family with yard maintenance] showed up…he locked himself in his bedroom (John has now removed the door handle), and he was sobbing.

Frank came back and started barking at the door. John was able to get in, and Frank kept jumping up on Josef (kindly–not vicious) and barking at him and pawing at his hands so he would have to stop hurting himself.

Josef then went and closed himself in the closet, and then Frank barked at the door, I opened it, and he again came in and sat down with Josef and barked at him gently to calm down.

Josef was pretty stirred up–he gets anxious about anyone coming over, even if it’s someone he’s known for a while–so, he was still not 100%. But, thanks to Frank, he calmed down, thankfully.

Here’s an example of how attuned Frank is to Josef’s mood, and how quickly he intervenes to help:

Josef just talked to Frank Redman via Skype, and Josef joked that he was scared of something and fake whimpered. Frank came bolting into the room and started licking his hand.

This is all raw talent.  The Hathaways are arranging to consult with a professional psychiatric service dog trainer, to determine if Frank and Josef are candidates for training as a team.

Frank, black Labrador retriever, resting on the couch with Josef.

Photo of Frank and Josef, copyright John & Mary Hathaway, used with permission.

Concerning Ferocity

Arguing about the “Fearless Girl” statue is old sport now.  Pause for a moment and take a look at a completely different argument.  Here is  Zachary D. Schmoll at The Public Discourse: “Physician-Assisted Suicide Tells People Like Me That Our Lives Are No Longer Worth Living.

As a man with a physical disability, I need a lot of help to perform many basic daily activities. I still consider myself to be an independent thinker, but my physical independence is substantially limited by my severely reduced muscle strength. I need help to drive my van, get dressed, prepare my meals, and complete other daily tasks. For me, this is life. For many others, this level of dependence is motivation to consider bringing life to an end.

If you are wondering why the supporters and detractors of the Fearless Girl both seem to have a point, the point is implied by Schmoll: We are suffering from a fortitude-deficiency.

I give the benefit of the doubt to writers who create super-fighter female characters.  Aren’t all superheros a stretch of the imagination?  It is not necessary to have a feminist agenda to identify with a girl-fighter character.  There is the appeal of the underdog; there is the charm of the unlikely hero.  Quick art relies on facile stereotype: If you want “artistic tension” write yourself a hulking ballerina or a grandmother who hates crochet, done.  Thus one can object to fighter-girls on the grounds of bad artistry, sometimes.  To my mind, the main offense of the female super-fighter character is that she’s mostly hired for the job of over-filling her super-bikini.

Girls are not for that.

I know girls who fight with swords, or play rugby, or do other things that require physical toughness.  They do not fall out of their clothing.  Also, they are women, not wannabe-men.

It should require no proof or explanation that men and women are different from each other.  Faced with a culture determined to argue against the self-evident, conservatives sometimes lapse into stereotypes in order to make that point. Stereotypes fail because men and women resemble each other intensely. We all have wrists and necks and breasts and jaws and feet, which tend to be different between men and women, but the tendencies are not absolute.  It isn’t that women have flippers and men have tentacles; we all have hands.  A male hand and a female hand resemble each other far more than either one is like a dog’s paw or a horse’s hoof.

So it is with human emotions, human reasoning, and human passion.  There are differing tendencies between men and women, but other than motherhood and fatherhood and your part in the act that gets you there, there is nothing in the human experience that is the exclusive province of only men or only women.  A man is sensitive and compassionate and nurturing in a masculine way by definition: If it is a man expressing those traits, he is doing it in a way that men do it.

Women identify with traits likes toughness because toughness is a feminine trait as surely as it is a masculine one.  Like hands or feet or ear hair, there are differences in how that toughness tends to express itself in the lives of women compared to the lives of men.  But it is certainly there.

If you do not think women are made for feats of intense physical difficulty and danger, I fear your parents owe you an apology: That story about the stork is just a myth.

You are here on this earth because a woman gave birth to you.

Oh, but that’s not the same as manly physical difficulty and danger!  No, it isn’t.  A man’s body is made to express its strength and daring in a different way.  Strength and daring are not male traits or female traits; they are human traits.  As with hands or feet, there tend to be differences between men and women in the embodiment of those traits. But if we try to say that physical toughness and daring are solely the province of men and not women, we don’t end up with a definition of masculinity; we end up with an argument for abortion.

We are a culture that values not toughness but power.  It isn’t fortitude we treasure but autonomy.  It isn’t the ability to endure great trials that we prize, it is the ability to conquer decisively.  If there is real danger? We want an out.

Life involves danger and pain.  From the moment of conception to the last breath, danger and pain are risks we all run, and sooner or later both will overtake us.

The fundamental argument for abortion is this: I would rather you die than that I suffer.

The fundamental argument for euthanasia is this: We would rather you die than that we suffer.

The fundamental argument for assisted-suicide is this: I would rather I die than that I suffer.

We talk a big talk about being “fierce” but actually we are cowards.  We are only “fierce” in the face of bronzed threats — frozen solid, unable to harm us.  We can stare down a picture of danger all afternoon; real danger makes us proud to run and hide.

A ferocious beast will kill for its own gain.  It is not ferocity but fortitude that we humans undervalue.  We like these girls who fight because we know deep inside that we humans are created for the fight.  We are created for living dangerously, and for facing the trials of our life unflinching.

File:Budapest kunst 0010.tif Virgin Mary with St. Barbara and St. Catherine of Alexandria

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia: The Virgin Mary with saints Barbara and Catherine of Alexandria.  I dunno, were those girls all that tough?  Hmmn.

The Coffee-Beer Cure

I wish to thank everyone who has shared my crowd-sourcing post, and those who have given many helpful responses.  Every clue is a good clue.

Meanwhile, this is what relapsing-remitting chronic illness is like:

After six months of being a completely normal person for the first time in years, I get whammed with the Return of the Thing early last week.  It arrived disguised as a week or two of feeling not-quite-right, and then a bit of a cough when I woke up Tuesday and then Pow! Done.

So I get through the bare-minimum on the schedule (a schedule written for normal people, because I was a normal person a week ago), but not the whole thing.  Thank you caffeine I had a super day Friday, and went to bed excited about Saturday, only to, you know, sleep through Saturday.  Oops.

Sunday morning pain is down and I’m excited about Sunday, but, whoops, remember that thing where talking makes you lightheaded?  Yeah, I haven’t had that in six months.  Sure I mic’d up the other week to talk to a room full of eight people, but that was erring on the side of caution, mostly, though okay yes I know that talking loudly is not a great idea even with the Normal Self.

Anyhow, come Sunday talking was right out.  Even lip-syncing was a no-go.  Worst case of light-headed-while-talking I’ve had in years.  Wicked enough I was glad I had a student-driver to do the driving home from church after Mass.   I did some talking to some people anyway, because I am not nearly the recluse people like me say that I am, then went home after Mass and slept that off.  Went to a friends’ birthday party, sat around listening to people and avoiding talking (mostly), and had a wonderful couple hours and then went home and slept that off.

Tip: If you do something that makes you feel faint, that might make you tired after a while.  Even if you enjoy the activity! It’s like your brain doesn’t consider that sustainable behavior.

So I wake up for the third time Sunday and it’s still Sunday, and I’ve been judiciously avoiding junk food this past week despite the fact that it’s Easter and only heretics avoid junk food during Easter, and since I do make an honest effort to keep the commandments, I was practically obliged to have part of one these with dinner:
Evil Twin Brewing Imperial Biscotti Break

For you uncultured heathens, that would be beer with coffee in it.

And then I felt like going for a walk, which I figured would be short, and I grabbed my rosary, which I figured I would end up not praying because one of the comorbidities of feeling light-headed while talking is losing the ability to keep track of prayers silently either, but you never know so I took it.

I thought I’d be dragging myself home in two minutes, and I was wrong.

My head had been cured by the coffee-beer.  (Or something.) I prayed the whole dang thing including the extra litany of intentions (you could be on there) I try to add at the end, and that was impressive because when I am flopping around the house uselessly exhausted, Rosary and housework are the first things to go, because trying to keep the commandments and actually keeping them are two different things.

The coffee-beer didn’t even taste as good as it should have.  But it effected the cure.

Temporarily.  The thing is back now.  Sheesh.

Did you know that there exist certain neurological disorders whose symptoms are best improved by alcohol?  Neither did I, until I read about one of them this weekend, I can’t remember which.  Unfortunately, coffee-beer is, like nearly all the other pharmaceuticals used to treat unpleasant brain problems, loaded with potential for untoward side effects, so you can’t just have it all the time.  And you really wouldn’t want to, I hope.

Bleg: Name this Pain

Two interesting things happened this week:

(1) I finally met the physician I’d been referred to last October, and now I know why there was a seven-month wait on appointments.  The guy is both competent and humane (like Tod Worner, but a different guy).  I like that in a doctor.

(2) I’d been planning to tell him everything’s fine now, but actually it’s not fine.  I’ve had a wind-up of fatigue and the same kind of pain I was having last fall — it was still fairly mild on Thursday, but is getting more rather than less intense.

The purpose of this post is to try to find out if anyone else has experienced the thing I’m getting.  The rheumatologist has never heard of it, and he’s pretty experienced in his field, and he is also familiar with the types of pain associated with disorders outside his field. The internet isn’t giving up much so far, either.  But rare disorders exist, and so conceivably there are people in the world who either get this thing or have seen it in their practice.

If you are that person, my e-mail is below, scroll down to the bottom.

If you are not that person, help yourself to the blog discussion group for the purpose of general commiserating or talking about the thing you get that isn’t like my thing but you still want to talk about it.  Please do not e-mail me with those well-meant comments, because I am notoriously bad at keeping up with my e-mail as it is.

Do please share this post around, though.  There are sharing buttons below to make that easy for you.

(Please assure helpful strangers that I’m not interested in talking about religion or politics with them.  My rheumatologist isn’t really into that.  This is strictly a medical-bleg.)

The syndrome we’re talking about is this:

(a) Muscle pain.  Not joints, not skin, not your stomach or your sinuses, none of that. Feels like it’s muscles.

(b) Aching predominates, some burning, and the odd needle-like stab.

(c) Affects muscles that have been recently exercised (in the past day or two).  So usually legs, since I’m a person who walks, but if I did an abdominal workout it’ll be abs as well, if I did a lot of upper body stuff it could be arms or shoulders, etc etc.  It is utterly unlike normal post-exercise muscle soreness. Do not make me lecture you on how experienced I am with the normal stuff.  It is not that.  Not. at. all.

(d) The pain only comes on when the muscle is at rest.  (I get some calf pain with use, but let’s ignore that since it’s distracting.  I want to focus on the more perplexing stuff.)  By “at rest” I mean when the muscle is relaxed, for example if you’re sitting down your legs might be relaxed even if your upper body is engaged in some activity.  So it’s particularly noticeable when laying down during the day for some reason, or when going to bed, but it certainly does not require the whole body to be relaxed.   Time of day is irrelevant. The key factor is that the muscle that starts hurting is not presently doing any work.

(e) The pain is temporarily relieved by movement, stretching, or pressure, but returns as soon as the muscle is again completely at rest.

(So if I’m sitting and my leg starts to hurt, I can fidget and the pain goes away.  As soon as I forget to fidget, it’ll come back.  Unfortunately, one cannot fidget oneself to sleep.)

This presentation is extremely consistent.  It started intermittently about a year ago, became significantly problematic last fall, had largely gone away for six months, and has returned in exactly the same form as previously.  This consistency is why I’m persuaded it’s a physiological problem that surely other people have experienced.

Some additional notes that may or may not be helpful:

(f) There is no correlation with mental state.  Thinking or not thinking about it has no bearing on whether the pain shows up; being anxious or relaxed or distracted or you-name-it is irrelevant.

No relationship to menstrual cycle either.  I haven’t detected any other certain associations, other than fatigue and exercise.  (This prospect does not really keep me from exercising, because don’t be stupid, you need to exercise.  But the sleep-deprivation?  Yes, that will slow me down a lot.)

(g) Mine does respond to ibuprofen pretty well most of the time.  (I try to avoid taking it habitually though; I only use it if I’m really desperate for sleep.)

(h) For those who are curious, yes my dysautonomia symptoms are ramping back up as well.  So there does seem to be a strong correlation between when I’m feeling all that stuff and the pain-thing.

(i) In addition to the muscle pain, I also get random fasciculations along the same pattern, but they are not as prevalent. The muscle that is twitching is not a muscle that is hurting. (Probably because this particular thing involves muscles not hurting if they’re being used?)

(j) My diet is great and I take all the things and do all the things and present as a very healthy person.  I have a happy and enjoyable life, including a loving family and many good friends.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I pretty much live in the present.  When something’s not bothering me, I promptly forget about it and move on and think everything’s fine now.  Therefore I’m always a bit surprised and mildly insulted when symptoms come back later. (I thought you were gone. What are you doing here? Can’t you see I’m busy?)

Anyhow: If the description in (a) through (e) rings a bell with you, please e-mail me.

I can be reached at: currentresident [at] fitzes [dotcom].

Put something really obvious in the subject line such as answer to your bleg on “name that pain”, or I’ll accidentally delete you as spam.  I get a lot of spam, so if your subject line is “hi” or “help” or “about your blog post” or “hot Russian singles want to sell you cheap Canadian Viagra” you’ll be cast into the outer darkness.

Thank you!

Jen.

 

File:(Army Hospital Operating Room, Pepperell Manufacturing Company) (11179190325).jpg

Photo:By SMU Central University Libraries [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Wet Pants of Poverty

This week down at the laundry-shower place, a guy named Phil pees on himself.*

Oh, crazy street people, you say.

Nah, I don’t think so.  When you meet Phil, one of the things that stands out is that he almost certainly has miserable health problems.  A lot of the clients have that look.  From the way Phil has trouble walking, you might guess, for example, that he’s got a spinal injury or something.

Something else you notice after spending a little time in the same room, and getting to wash his clothes and to observe the care he puts into straightening himself up at the shaving sink, is that this is a guy who cares about his appearance.  He knows odds are against him, and he’s making the effort.  He doesn’t want to be that unkempt crazy street person.

No one who comes into the shower-laundry does.  That’s why they come.

So today from my post at the machines I notice the odd whiff of urine-fresh-scent, and it seems to pick up when Phil walks by, and sure enough when I glance over at him sitting waiting his turn for a shower, evidence is he either dropped a cup of water in his lap or he’s the guy.

He does what any sane person would do in his position: He stays cool and pretends it didn’t happen.  Maybe no one will notice.  Maybe people will think he spilled his ice water.

What else is he going to do?  In a minute he’s going to be able to shower and put his clothes in the wash and take care of the situation, but until then he’s stuck.  And I’m telling you: Phil is not a guy who wants to be sitting there with wet pants.  He just isn’t.  He hates it as much as you would.

***

Here are two things about being homeless:

  • You have to scratch together every bit of help from seven different places.
  • Poverty doesn’t wait until you’re ready for it.

When people with good stiff bootstraps visualize homelessness, they visualize a weekend with the Boy Scouts.  Be hard-working and resourceful!  No-match fires and a foraged meal?  Sure!  Except of course that if the Scouts went on a camping trip but you were in no condition to go, your mother made you stay home.

Poverty doesn’t check to see if you’re feeling well.

If you are homeless or nearly, depending on your area there may well be help for you with food and clothing, with shelter if you can get along in a group, and sporadically with medical care and so forth.  I’m not aware of any programs that stock incontinence supplies.  I checked our supply shelves — we don’t.  You have to have cash to cover that one.

That stuff’s expensive.   Price it yourself — everyone pays out of pocket, not just homeless people.   There’s a lot of help to be had for homeless people, but none of it involves handing out cash.  So if the problem’s new or infrequent, financially the calculus may well lean heavily towards hoping that if you have an accident it happens right before you go in to get your weekly shower.

 

*Heck no, I’m not telling you people’s private business.  All names and identifying info are totally changed.

File:The Dressing Table by Gribkov.jpg

Artwork: The Dressing Table, 1879, Gribkov.  Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

The Blessings of Being Flipped Off

by: Vincent Weaver

Something a lot of people involved in the pro-life movement do is to stand up for the unborn by praying outside of abortion clinics. Happily, this effort has gone in a much more positive, loving direction over the last 15 years. It’s not even accurate, in most cases, to call these “protests” anymore. Make no mistake, this presence is intended to bring attention to the defense of the most vulnerable in our society. To take an innocent human life is objectively wrong. To take the most innocent of all human lives is unacceptable. There should be no minced words about that. To be silent is false compassion – it’s spiritual and emotional euthanasia.

However, it is incredibly important to heed that ancient axiom to ‘hate the sin, but love the sinner’. We all have an obligation to point out injustice and wrongdoing. However, none of us has any right to condemn the person carrying out that act, as only God knows their heart. So, if you see or hear someone telling a woman considering an abortion that she’s going to Hell, then they clearly don’t understand the point here, nor do they understand Christ-like love.

The much more common scenario these days is people calmly and quietly standing outside abortion clinics praying. Sometimes they hold signs with slogans like, “Pray to End Abortion”, or “Adoption: The Loving Option”. We’re there to provide women in unplanned pregnancies real choices (having literature on alternatives to abortion available) and to let them know how much they (and their babies) are loved.

This reality makes it that much more bewildering when you’re standing there peacefully praying and someone drives by and gives you the finger.  Admittedly, there was a time when such actions irritated me. They fed a desire deep down in my heart to give that person “what for”. While I knew that wasn’t the proper reaction, it seemed instinctive.

Then, I read Abby Johnson’s book, “Unplanned” a few years ago. For those who don’t know Abby, she was a former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Then, one day (through some fluky circumstances), she ended up witnessing an actual abortion at her clinic. (This was the first time she saw the product of the business she was running.) She had a visceral reaction and knew she had to quit. And she did. Since then, she’s been an outspoken voice for life, and she wrote this book.

What “Unplanned” showed me (much to my surprise) was the humanity of abortion clinic workers. Honestly, I had never given these people much thought, other than as some kind of faceless monsters. That caused my praying for a culture of life to take on a much broader focus. Only then did a human face start to appear on these folks for me. These are real human beings who deserve our love, who deserve MY love, because to cast them aside would mean I just don’t get what it means to be a Christian.

That realization also helped my attitude towards the bird flippers driving by. (You know who you are!) J All of a sudden, my immediate response when being flipped off was to have compassion. I’d immediately think to myself, “What kind of pain must that person have suffered to feel this way?” “What is the source of that anger?” And by making that pain and anger clear to me, therein lay the ‘blessing’. By having a reaction – of any sort – that person gave my prayer a target. I would launch into a ‘Hail Mary’ or a Divine Mercy chaplet asking God to rain down His love and mercy on that person. I’d pray that they find healing, peace, and the presence of God.

So, if you see me (or any of the 1000s of other regulars) standing outside an abortion clinic praying and encouraging others to choose life, it’s okay if you feel the need to tell us we’re #1 with your middle finger. But know that prayer is powerful, and that I’m calling for all God’s truth, mercy, and love to come showering down on you very soon. And I thank you for giving me that blessing – that reminder of your humanity. Please pray for me, as well. I need all I can get.

And for all you awesome pro-life prayer warriors out there, please consider this unsolicited advice. Arguments don’t help. Love, prayer, and genuine compassion (and the willingness to listen) do.

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

The Unbearable Sameness of “Cool”

When you study buzzwords or fad words from each generation, very few stand the test of time. “Groovy”? “Hep”? “Tight”? “Gnarly”? (Really?) Nope. All of them – gone from our lexicon. However, one has stood strong for at least 3 generations. That is “cool”.

I don’t know why this specific word has lasted for so long, but I think I understand why what the word represents has endured. The idea is that you not only fit in, but that you fit in very nicely. Cool is comfortable. It fills that 3rd level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It means we are accepted and maybe even respected by the tribe.

Long ago, ‘cool’ meant being different in some sort of interesting way. The ‘differentness’ is what made the person (or the action) ‘cool’. However, ‘cool’ wasn’t usually associated with virtue or engaging in something ‘good’ or particularly healthy or virtuous. And that’s the downside – the dark side – of ‘cool’. It was never about becoming fully alive. It was never about growing as a person or being the best version of oneself. It was typically about wearing masks and aspiring to something that wasn’t worth the effort.

That differentness imbued with a general lack of goodness or virtue has become sameness. When you look around these days, ‘cool’ is about blending and conformity. Challenging traditional values was once considered ‘cool’. Now, if you don’t challenge them and conform to the ‘new normal’, you’re likely to be marginalized with visceral enthusiasm. Wearing underwear on the outside of one’s clothing (or in place of outer garments) used to be reserved for Superman. (Probably not the impression he was trying to give, though.) Now, if you leave anything to others’ imagination, you’re prudish. Getting a tattoo was once a unique thing to do. Now, it’s not a matter of getting a tattoo to express individuality – it’s that you’re kind of strange if you don’t get one. (This is not a judgment on tattoos, by the way – just saying that they hold no inherent ‘goodness’ or value.)

This new definition of ‘cool’ doesn’t just lack virtue, though – it’s not even cool. It’s now about fitting the beautiful diversity of what every single person brings to the table into a very small box – and a boring box of sameness, to boot.

But perhaps herein lies opportunity to rekindle ‘cool’ in a whole new way – a way that makes goodness and virtue desirable as something ‘different’. Recall those words from 1 Corinthians 12 where St. Paul says, “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.’”

There is a reason each of us is different. We all have unique talents which aren’t always appreciated by others, but that shouldn’t stop us from fully developing them for the good of mankind and for the glory of God. We’re meant to strive for goodness and virtue. Becoming more virtuous means becoming more like God. Anything else is disordered and a waste of our efforts. It’s just not ‘cool’ (in this new sense, of course).

Dare to be different. Dare to be the best you imaginable. Dare to let others see God through your actions. How cool would that be?

Vincent married up more than a quarter century ago and is a proud father of 5 wonderful daughters. He teaches business classes at a college in Greenville, SC, but thrives on discussing controversial topics, especially as they relate to Church teachings on sexual morality.

I’m Sorry if this Blog Post Offends You

If you found the title of this post a bit off-putting, then there’s a very good chance this post will resonate with you. (If you didn’t find a problem with it, you probably either decided not to read any further, or are looking for something provocative or titillating. I will gratuitously play along, and we’ll see if you find that which you seek.)

Apologies are hard. They strike at our pride and spotlight our need to grow further in virtue. That’s painful. Sometimes, it’s too much to bear. First, let me make a distinction. In our personal relationships, we should be liberal and sincere with our apologies. If I have an argument with my wife, and I’m even 1% at fault (though it’s usually well over 50% – okay, well over 90%), then I should apologize. I should do so quickly, sincerely, and without reservation or qualification. (We’ll look at examples in a few moments.)

As a management instructor, though, I’ve seen an abuse of apologies in the business world that render them wholly ineffective, sometimes even creating an unnecessary liability. For example, if a business engages in a well-thought-out decision to make a change in policy or process or product, then they should stand by it and offer the ‘why’ to the customer. Help the customer understand why this is a good thing and point out “what’s in it for you” to the customer. If a business just briefly mentions the change and ends with, “We apologize for any inconvenience,” they’re implying they did something wrong, and that it was not their best move. If it was a sound business decision, stand by it. If there is regret, either don’t do it or fully own up to it and make it right with the customer. To do anything ‘in between’ simply frustrates the customer and leaves the employees embarrassed about having to meekly address complaints. In some cases, a ‘feel-good’ apology in business could even be used against the company in court, as evidence of admitting fault or negligence.

On the other hand, in personal relationships (and when a public apology is necessary), there’s a right way and a wrong way to apologize. After the famous “wardrobe malfunction” during his and Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime show a few years ago, this is what Justin Timberlake came up with: “What occurred was unintentional and completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.” Sound familiar? Sadly, millions seem to be under the impression that this qualifies as an ‘apology’. It doesn’t (and I’m sorry if you’re offended by that). The underlying message here is, “Something went wrong, I take no ownership of it, but I am obligated to say SOMETHING, so if you’re offended by this then really it’s YOU who has the problem.” Classy. You make a mistake and blame others who noticed. “Apology” isn’t the right word here. “Cowardice” or “arrogance” would be far more suitable.

Instead, such unfortunate events could be seen as opportunities for developing virtue. If I play any role in something I regret (like saying some things I wished I hadn’t, which I’ve been known to do a time or a thousand), I can take complete ownership of it and grow in humility in the process. (That’s a good thing, by the way. It is the antidote for selfish pride. ‘Cause, you know, it goeth before a fall…and stuff.) “I said some deeply hurtful things to you (about such and such) and I’m ashamed of myself. You deserve better from me. Can you please forgive me?” A sincere apology doesn’t always have to follow these criteria, but it helps:

1) Identify the offense
2) Take ownership
3) Acknowledge the dignity of the other person
4) Ask for forgiveness
5) Offer no qualifiers or expectations of a reciprocal apology

That 4th item – asking for forgiveness – is often forgotten in apologies, but it’s important. And, when someone asks for forgiveness, give them that. Say out loud (and sincerely – harboring that grudge or ill will harms you, not them), “I forgive you.” (A hug might be a good touch then, depending on the relationship.) And that last item is the hardest. You’ll be a better, more mature person every time you successfully make an apology with that in mind, though, and you’ll strengthen your relationship with the other person.

Maybe there’s something you’ve done a long time ago for which you still have regret? Maybe there’s a relationship that is in need of repair? Perfect timing. It’s still Lent, after all. So, what are you waiting for?

Vintage photo of a juggler in top hat and partial clown-face walking past commuters on a streetcar traveling in the opposite direction.

Photo: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de], via Wikimedia Commons.

Lent Day 20: The Things You Learn About Yourself

 Just woke up the boy. Called through the bedroom door, “You are 6 feet, right?”

Tired boy, awake but not ready to join civilization, “Ymnf.”

“Need to know for your passport application.”

He is. Minus one inch for E (they just went back-to-back last night), and the two littles are a mystery.  We’ll have to measure.

[I am, meanwhile, praying the youngest gets tall enough before our trip to no longer require a booster seat in Switzerland.  One less hassle.  So if that prayer is answered, she may be traveling on an already-outdated passport.  All kids do, one hopes.]

Held my breath and put down “brown” for E’s hair color — I can never decide if it’s dark blonde or light brown.  Put down blonde for myself, which it is, mostly, but with the amused awareness that it’ll no longer be that by the time the new passport expires.  My eye color was debated for years — blue or green? — but at 15 standing in the passport office we all agreed on grey with a yellow circle around the iris pupil, hence the confusion.  Grey they are still.  Also I’ve grown half an inch (taller) since my last passport, I know because last fall when we were measuring kids we measured me too.

Thankfully the State Department knows better than to ask your weight.

Oh, you wanted to talk about Lent? Scott Reeves has you covered, as usual.  Self-examination of the deeper sort.

Passport application from 1922.

Scanned passport application, circa 1922. US passport office (US passport office) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Click through on the Wikimedia link to see whose it was. Ha!