Saturday, February 3, 2018

Will Our American Culture Ever Get a Postmortem ?

[ Please note that Feb. 15  is the deadline
for emailing  article requests to Bob
Schwarz at .
 We hope to hear from many of you ! ]

                                      Better to reign in hell than
                                      serve in heaven ( Lucifer when
                                      cast from heaven, from Milton's
                                      poem " Paradise Lost " )

A Commentary

By Robert R. Schwarz 

            You've  seen this  sign on front lawns--haven't you?  HATE HAS NO HOME HERE.  Maybe the message  is for those who too often  don't know the difference between good and bad , or those who demand  "freedom"  as a pass to ignore the rules. Perhaps you and I are  voices crying out in the wilderness of our culture, asking God to rain down his Fatherly mercy  upon us as we struggle to bridge the ever-widening   the gap between  this  country's moral and  immoral lifestyles ? ( We are those--aren't we--with that willing Spirit to follow  rules with which  our conscience spurs us through  day-to-day living ? )
          As a retired newspaper editor  and a former manager of leadership development  for Lions Clubs International , I'm sort of compulsive about not minding my own business; for years I've been listening  to friends and strangers--liberals and conservatives, et al --talk intelligently ( often passionately )  about our American culture , including the bipolarity of its ethics.  Thanks to the 5 o'clock news, I think that many of us  have perceived that a number of those who recklessly or irrationally  foment  violence or try to oppose  traditional American principles , that they are ignoring tried-and-true Christian values.  Should we admit that the thinking and  behavior of some has shown a dismissal of God , even at times,  a hate of Him ?  ( More about that later. )  One word I'm hearing more and more to describe our wonderful America actually frightens me : it's  Post-America, a kind of ominous  synonym for  a Postmortem America.
        So, what  will it take to resuscitate our culture ?
            Let's start with the  global  and  licensed social worker   Michael McGillicuddy  . ( The two of us had a recent  conversation in my home . )  He   believes there is a current epidemic in America,  and he   calls it  POLARIZATION 
           " There is an accelerating crisis of polarization in America today, he says . " Political events of the last two years lay to rest any pretense that our conflicts are in the tolerable range. Good people fear rejection if they let down their guard and share unscripted opinions, so we don masks to protect ourselves. Trust is eroding. Friendships are fraying. Families members walk on egg shells for fear of becoming estranged.  We seem to be detaching from our common roots and retreating into parallel universes. " 
            McGillicuddy  wants more transparent and empathetic dialogue  between Americans as a healing agent for this polarization . This seventy-year-old married man says  has harnessed  energy and skills to this desire . He  also related a past life of helping  marginalized people around the world and serving with the Ignatian Volunteer Corps .  He quoted a  close observer of the 2016 national elections : "Any common ground between the two [ political ] sides has nearly disappeared.”  Himself a watchdog of our country's political  landscape , McGillicuddy  mentioned  that  many of the  one-fourth to one-third of Americans who are  politically active verge on hatred for those " on the other side."
McGillicuddy   ( right ) replies to an audience member's
question after his program at St. James
 Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. 
   Arguably, other social workers and  some  history scholars and  theologians  would see  this polarization as the   catalyst of many horrific events in human history such as racism ( and white supremacy ) , our own Civil War and, of course , the crucifixion of  that "hated " Jew from Nazareth    demanded by those  scribes and Pharisees  who were polar opposites from the people on who they imposed without compassion  over 600 religious  rules. 
            McGullicuddy's  perspective of polarization   played a role in the hundreds of thousands of deaths of innocent people in Nazi death camps and Soviet gulags during World War II . McGillicuddy would likely agree  that this war might have been avoided  if ,   decades before it,  if only there had been less fear and mistrust among the rulers themselves and they had summoned the courage to engage in open-heart dialogue--without an  attitude of  its either this— or it's  that. 
       As  a journalist and  Christian most of my life, I can not  avoid  the reader's  question of:  what role does evil itself play  when polarized people , including authorities ,  inevitably cross the line that separates lawful from unlawful  behavior, from a moral to an immoral lifestyle?   It's difficult to imagine a critical decision that leads to  war, a holocaust, or  mob violence which didn't germinate within  an exchange of unresolved viewpoints. . ( Here the reader might want to read my blog post of   April 1, 2017, " Forgiving: Often a Hard Pill to Swallow . " )     

'Freedom'  Some of You Shout ?  Freedom to  Do What ?
            How  often  do we read or see on  television an   angry demonstration   fanned into  violence by passions and rebellious mindsets demanding  freedom for this and that.  Though many a  group's outcry for freedom appears justified,  one needs to have a   heart-to-heart talk with some of the  protesters and ask: What  do you want to do with this freedom?  Is it to decide  for  YOURSELF what is wrong and right in life ?  To  be free to pick and choose what  social or governmental  rules YOU care to obey or disobey  ?  The freedom to do what YOU believe is moral ? 
            And , if you have time, get their opinion on  how reliable they believe  their conscience is in telling  them the real truth of the matter  and making wise  decisions about being a good neighbor .   (But you will keep in mind, won't you , that a human conscience is also formed what its been taught, how its been exercised. Adolph Hitler's elite and often  demonized  SS troopers prided   themselves on their  physical purity,  social morality,  and what they believed was  virtuous  obedience to Adolph's omniscient and omnipotent  authority ) .

            Commenting  on freedom  and truth , Pope Benedict  XVI  writes in his book (pg. 102 )  Reason Open to God,  " Freedom is a precious value, but a fragile one; it can be misunderstood and misused .  Today , a  particularly insidious obstacle  to the task of educating  is the massive presence in our society and culture of that relativism which, recognizing nothing as definitive, leaves as the ultimate criterion only the self   with its desires. And under the semblance of freedom it becomes a prison  for each one, for it separates people from one another, locking each person  into his or her own self. With such a relativistic horizon therefore , real education is not possible without the light of truth . "
             A theologian likely would assert  that getting to the  absolute  truth   of any  hotly debated and polarized  belief might  require reflecting on a  fundamental  Christian  belief,  that absolute truth begins and ends with the  One sent from heaven to tell us that He is not only the  Way and the Life , but also the Truth. ( Now, there's a  knot for our Congress  to  untie.  ) 
            Profound comments made about freedom and related to the fickleness of  human truth  came from  the archbishop of Philadelphia when interviewed recently outside  a hotdog stand in his city. When asked on the television "why faith in God is so essential to human freedom, archbishop Charles Chaput stated:   " If there isn't something above the state or us personally, then we become the arbiter of  all issues, we're the person in charge, we decide what's valuable and what's not valuable ;  [then ] we can change things if our mind or mood changes…In  order for us to have a stable country as well to have stable lives  within the country,  it's necessary to have a higher authority that guarantees  our freedoms ; otherwise someone else interferes and tells us what to do. It paves the way for dictators  and for the dictatorship of relativism , so that what we considered valuable 20 years ago is no longer valuable at all. That really undermines our capacity to live together as American citizens ."
            Adding to these thoughts is   Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvajal, who writes, "True freedom  is threatened by disordered sensuality , narrow-mindedness originating in selfishness, and the desire of doing one's own will.  These obstacles are overcome by  obedience, which raises and broadens one's personality ( from his five-volume opus ,  In Conversation with God, Vol 1, pg. 366 ).
            A horrible example  of polarization leading to  loss of freedom for a  society occurred in lst
Two in McGillicuddy's  audience engage each other with
questions about polarization. 
Century  Israel when a ruling group of men (  Pharisees and scribes ) stoned to death a  devout Christian named Stephen, recognized today as Christendom's   first saint. This group of extreme legalists  passionately believed they  were daily  obeying every word of God  handed down by Moses. But in  fact, as Bible scholars tell us,  their obedience was rife with hypocrisy and displayed a  cold-heart ,  slave-like rule over  the people. The polarization between what they believed   and what the people so desperately needed and what Jesus  taught ,  was cleaved  to   canyon. depths .
            I wonder if many   psychologists and behaviorists today understand why  these   Pharisees and scribes hated Stephen so intensely that they stoned him to death.  I've heard it said  and I believe  that they hatred Stephen because of his goodness and love of God , and therefore he was a living example of what they, the country's religious leaders ,  should have  but  ( outrageously)  did  not possess  . He was a constant reminder of their lack of love and wicked hypocrisy.  ( Talk about a corrupt heart and self-denial ! )
            So, when Stephen  told them one day, You men are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears,  always resisting the Holy Spirit, You who received the law as ordained by angles, and yet did not  keep it  ( Acts: 7:51 ) , they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.  They then drove him out of the city and stoned him  until he fell on his knees, crying with a loud voice, Lord do not  hold this sin against. them.

Unexplained Hatred  Against One 21st Century Christian Man

      Now,  dear reader, allow me an aside to report on  a  sometimes  lethal , hidden  dynamic of polarization: ENVY.
          In a rehabilitation center in Niles , Illinois, Bruce Kuss is one of  many patients  whose care comes mainly from a monthly  Social Security check. Bruce, a  boyhood friend of mine,  is 83 and has had  two heart surgeries and now is  afflicted with Parkinson's disease , which has attacked  his throat  , disabled  his legs and  forced  him into  a wheelchair
            Bruce is mentally quite normal and  loves to talk ; unfortunately , when  we converse during my weekly visits,  I can decipher only few of his words.  His diet is largely liquid  and, soon, according to his doctor, he will have to be fed by tubes . Bruce is firm about no tubes for him, which means he will soon be on hospice care.
            For most of his adult life, Bruce has literally shied  from churches , marriage , and  social interactions .  On the top of his  room dresser are several family photographs and  movie CDs given as birthday or Christmas gifts--mostly from a niece . She and I are his only visitors.  Also on this dresser stands  a framed portrait of Jesus ,  which he  acquired  when his father died when Bruce was a young  teenager. .  A few months ago, when Bruce spoke a bit clearer, he told me: " I look at  it often when I think of someone with a problem, someone hurting . I say a prayer for  them. " Then , looking over my shoulder at the Jesus portrait, he said to me  ,  " Wherever you go , whatever you do, He's looking over you."
            Two weeks ago, I asked one of the nursing aids what the staff thought about my friend . "He always has a good story to tell and something cheerful to say," she  said.  Cheerfulness and a you-before-me  philosophy  has remained  Bruce's  life mantra ; tragically, it also tied that knot which  social worker McGillicuddy  keeps trying to untie for people. . 
            One might characterize Bruce as a   sweet and pleasant fellow who (as far I know)  never uttered an obscenity, crude joke,  enacted  manipulative behavior , nor broke the rules laid down by the large retail store which had employed by for 45 years . Bruce sold  cameras, then shoes, and finally, when management would no longer tolerate his not  being aggressive enough with customers to sell his daily quota  credit cards--Bruce disliked the contract's  obscured   penalty clauses, which were as  draconian as the employee  rules-- Bruce  was assigned to  restocking inventory  shelves . Climbing that tall shelf ladder   pained his back,.  This last assignment was designed apparently to force my aging friend out of the company . But a more forceful event preceded it (an event which relates to a deeper level of polarization: Envy. (This and other facts related to Bruce's last days with this national  store  I had   to drag out of my  friend. )

                                    Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious
                                    to us…merely to see him is a  hardship for us…
                                    because his life is not like  other men's, and
                                    different are his ways. ( Wisdom: 12, 15 ) 

                                    They were unable to cope with
                                    the Spirit with which he was
                                    speaking. ( Acts:6 : 10 , before
                                    they  stoned Stephen to death)

            On an evening near the end of 2011, Bruce did not leave his work area with his fellow department workers at quitting time. Instead , he walked near  his manger, who was sorting out some sales documents .   The manager was in his forties ,  a "company" man who had come  on board a month ago . Bruce told me that the manager three times in the past and  for no apparent reason, had raised  his voice in giving a routine directive to Bruce.  His voice was  louder each time, until on third time it was almost  a shout. According to my deductions from what Bruce told me , the manager  appeared to be the polar  opposite of Bruce: he was aggressive, but in a quiet , disciplined way and without a show of pride or the defensive  behavior of someone lacking confidence . In fact, since the manager's arrival, there had been nothing--not even the credit cad issue-- about  behavior or words exchanged  between the two to there was any  conflict or" bad chemistry" between them.
            Nevertheless, I suspected something was festering in this manager, something hidden in his character which  he himself  was not aware of. I saw that as a threat to Bruce.
            It all  reminded me of a few occasions in grammar school  when  several buddies of mine and I , with jeers and disdain ,  expressed our dislike of three classmates by calling them  Goodie, Goodies .  It took years for us to realize that , in truth, our irrational--and sometimes intense dislike of this fellow classmates--came from our  envy of their disciplined behavior, good manners, and  grades always way better than ours . It was a daily , ill-rubbing hint that reminded us  of what was missing in us . We should try  harder to be more like them ? we thought.  No way !    For whatever reason, it was a truth we denied entry to our minds.  They had become in a sense, un-friends.
             Bruce stood  several feet  from his manager,  waiting to be noticed, ready to  help if asked,  and prepared to  reply calmly  to any burst of irrational temper from his superior . 
            The manager turned around and, according to Bruce , showed no emotion except what his lingering gaze might reveal  to a therapist's eye.
            " What are you hanging around here for ? "  he said in a  low  voice.
            "I thought you might need some help after hours ,"  Bruce said cheerfully, knowing, of course,  there would be no overtime pay. (I knew for a fact he had had no raise in several years ; he had always been  intimidated by the fact that requests for a  raise often meant an employee's hours would be lowered to a part-time status .   
            In that moment--and I imagine--the manager felt a strange despair overtake himself.  If only all my staff could be a  Bruce   If only I….No, who wants to  be a Bruce !  Merely to see him is a hardship  !    
            There was no thank-you to Bruce for his kind offer . Instead, the manager began yelling, again and again , not a tantrum, not blood-hot  anger, but hate expressed  incoherently with bursts that made no sense to Bruce nor, likely , to the manager himself  . It was over in five, maybe ten seconds . Both me stood and stared at each other. The manager turned swiftly and walked away.  All Bruce knew was he had become a threat to this manger. Utterly  confused and wounded, Bruce slowly walked out of the store and went home to his bachelor's apartment and watched the Andy Griffith show. 
            A week later three co-workers arranged a retirement party for Bruce in the cafeteria. No wrist watch or severance pay. But there  was coffee and two strawberry cakes. The manger a month later quit . Neither Bruce nor I ever found out what happened to him. 

Solutions  and Advice from McGillicuddy  ?

            Speaking to an audience of nearly 100 in the library of the St. James Catholic Church library, Michael McGillicuddy  lectured--he has master degrees  in sociology and industrial relations --for 90 minutes on "untying the knots " that polarize  people. Included among  his emphasized  comments  were:
            An attitude of I'm right , you're wrong  "is a formula for   disaster…We live in a world of gray,   It's not either-or, but both-and…"
            Having all friends  "who think as you do is a " drawback"  to un-polarized thinking .
            " Find common ground .  We must first  form a heart-relationship before a rational relationship. "
            McGillicuddy   then had his audience pair-off and ask each other  the follwiing questions:
            What do those who deeply disagree with you misunderstand about you core beliefs and values? What would you most like them to understand about your perspective ?
            What assumption do you make about people who hold very different beliefs and values from you ?
            Is your faith  [   church ] community polarized ? Do you feel safe sharing your views and telling your story?  
            Summing up,  McGillicuddy--he marched with Martin Luther King--told his audience, " We have to learn to live with each other. " 
I'm right, you're wrong   "is a formula for disaster ."

The End
            All comments are welcome.
© 2017-18  Robert R. Schwarz

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Bondage to Freedom: My Brother's Battle for Soul (3)

Part 3 of 3 parts : Dying  to  One's Self…
"In my 20 years as chaplain, I've only
seen this twice ! "

By Robert R. Schwarz

                                    The mother is the trustee of God  to
                                    her baby.   ( Caryll  Houselander )

                                    Though I sleep, my heart is
                                    awake. ( Song of Solomon 5:2 )

                        Lester did his five years and  for the next six  was  a resident or patient in  two   Veteran Administration hospitals and four of their  approved  nursing homes . My brother  was forced out of two of these homes for unacceptable behavior ; two other shelters   I  found unacceptable after two visits to each of them. One of the  hospitals discharged  Lester when   his mental and physical health "improved" , particularly  that emphysema which twice had required emergency  treatment. with a respirator . ( Lester dreaded to have his throat  sucked out,  but not enough to give up his  daily smoking two to three packs of  cigarettes .  )  Then there were two hernia  operations  and a fall on the ice that broker an arm , never to regain  full mobility.

            Though nowadays  I believe that all things work together for  good to   those who love God (Romans 8:28 ) ,  back then I felt nothing good could  come from my brother's  unceasing suffering.    I often  fretted over not seeing  any redemptive consequence to it. But when Lester later became bed-ridden , I began  to discern something wonderful was happening during the interactions between Lester and  his visitors, who numbered perhaps  25 and  who  took the one-hour drive from their homes to the V.A. hospital in North Chicago , near Waukegan.  Some I  suspect had never been at the bedside of a psychotic  person, let alone  an ex-felon ,  nor had   said a prayer in "public" . I was also pleased to see at least one busy nurse and two physicians take time to engage my brother in casual conversation.  Two  V.A. nurses, Kim   and Kali ,  were  Christians , causing me to hope that the challenge of helping Lester would   uniquely  benefit them  and other veterans in their care. As for Lester's other visitors, there were:

            Spencer… Lester's   son, a handsome , unassuming family man who played football tackle for his college  and later  did missionary  work for a  year in Taiwan.  Spencer flew in from Dallas to see his father ,  whom he had refrained from seeing for 14 years. 
            We were standing outside Lester's intensive care unit room when he said,  "I'd like to be with my father alone  . "  I closed the door and , looking through   the room's glass window,  I saw my nephew kneel at his father's bedside and pray.  He then  rose , pulled a nail clipper from his pocket and  began trimming his father's  finger nails.  I knew it was a relationship reborn.

            Lisa and Tim…my brother's daughter and her husband  flew in from Montreal. Lester hadn't seen Lisa in 20 years, and she had come to reconcile with her father . At dinner that night  with Mary Alice and me,  Lisa disclosed why she had refrained from all communication with her father for two decades . With tears , she said ,   " I was afraid that I might have inherited my father's illness."
            I asked her if she still held any ill feelings about her father .  ( Lisa's mother   and  Lester , then with these two children , were divorced when the first symptoms of my brother's illness appeared, causing years of hardship for the  mother.  "No," she said. "And "I'm grateful for what Lester's father did to get that Social Security check to us every month  and for your mother faithfully  sending me $100  each month from my father's VA disability pay." Lisa  and Tim visited  Lester twice more before departing after our  much needed family reconciliation.

My two "coffee" friends , the Rev. Richter (left) and Karl
           Karl…my 55-year-old  morning coffee buddy , a gentle , people-loving man who  often gushed forth  so much cheer to my brother that Lester once  had to tell him, " Shut up, Karl."   Karl , whose many health issues  disabled him from any employment,  was a walking miracle  whose diagnosis by any physician would likely be  "death in a year." 
Several months after his first visit with Lester, Karl's life was transformed  . He began  volunteering   alongside a  pastor helping  physically and mentally  handicapped adults. Soon after that,  Karl became successfully active with Alcoholics Anonymous.
Aji with my brother
…was a 38-year-old Iranian immigrant  taking English lessons from me  to elevate  himself  from the  tedious work of   cleaning grease traps at a Burger King.  In Iran he had been  educated up to the sixth grade. I never heard  Aji  express discontent . " I like to work," he would tell you. "No prejudice  here. I stay if what God wants. "
            During each of his visits with Lester,  he'd go to the window   and , with arms raised,  for Lester in Farsi.   The occasional nurse who entered the room took a moment to stare quizzically at Aji ,  but never asking  a   question that  obviously  nagged  them.  

            Philip…a boyhood friend of Lester and mine who never married—nor, likely,  dated anyone—and whose only passion was selling clothes at a large  department store.   Philip's  meekness, he once told me, made his too uncomfortable  to ever worship in the midst of a church congregation ; but  for years had kept a portrait of Jesus on his night table. "It reminds me to pray for people with problems who need cheering up," he told  me. 
            Susan…was a devout , middle-age Catholic  wife and mother from the school of street-corner  evangelism .  She once flew to California,  then hitchhiked a pilgrimage  to a remote Mexican village ; there she appeared unannounced one day at a church rectory, asking  the priest if she could help maintain his small, run-down church .
            On  her first  visit  with  Lester, she went immediately to Lester's bed, took his hand and leaned over and kissed   him on the cheek. Lester glowed and, with some struggle, rose from his pillow and returned the kiss.  ( I personally  loved it ! ) Susan  remained a prayer warrior for my brother.

            Patricia…a cheerful, steady-minded African-American nurse in the hospitals' mental health unit who became Lester's " girl friend". Lester  wanted to marry her  but instead was persuaded to give her a friendship ring .  She was to become a frequent visitor, sometimes staying an hour, holding Lester's  hand . She, like  most of my brother's visitors,  became a nurturing  light in Lester's room.  At dinner one night, Mary Alice and I told Patricia of our gratitude  

            Don…my good church friend and early mentor in the faith who  had  given Lester a  crucifix to hang on his room wall. Don remains  an indefatigable , on-fire prayer warrior and a leader in the international   Opus Dei  prelature.   

            Upon recollecting  these visits,  I fretted no more about my brother's suffering  not bearing good fruit. Now I knew it  would . My new fret was about the relentless    enemy so patiently waiting for my brother to drop his guard.
                         The dragon waits at the side of  the road,
                          waiting to devour us. We go to the father
                          of souls, but first it is necessary  to pass 
                         by the dragon.  (St. Cyril of Jerusalem ) 

    The wooden crucifix which now was nailed to the wall facing my brother's hospital bed showed Jesus , not crucified but with arms raised in victory or, as some might see Him, in freedom. When two years ago in a veteran's retirement home in Kenosha ( Wisconsin ), I had asked Lester  where in his room he wanted me to fasten the crucifix,  he said , "  Put it where I  can see it when I wake up in the morning. " I saw that he was pleased with the presence of the sacramental as I was.

            But on this particular morning when I walked into his room,  the crucifix was missing. I was alarmed. I went  to the wall where it had been screwed in . "Oh, no ," I mumbled , feeling sick. Obviously , the crucifix had been crudely yanked away.

            Though I expected no good explanation from Lester, my tone pleaded for one. I looked down at my brother and said,  "Lester, Where is it ?!  What happened to it  ? "

             " I don't know. Maybe somebody stole it,"   Lester replied. Neither his voice nor face  had emotion.

            I was too agitated to deal with his lie and left the room . 

            I sensed a full-court press by the Enemy and   took   the elevator down to consult with one of the chaplains,  Fr.  VanderHey .  We talked.  an hour . " I've seen your brother only twice,  " he said.   " I prayed once over him and asked if he wanted me to turn his  television channel to the in-house chapel services.  He said no."

            "You told me you were to  ask him if he wanted to join the church ? " I said.
            " No. Like you, I  want him to make a decision that is one-hundred per cent his.  But I did explain a few things about the faith."
            " Did he have any questions?"
            " I'm afraid not," the priest said. "He just kept saying  ' I see what you mean . '  "

            I brought up the topic of Satanic influence.  I  recall him quoting from the Bible, two quotes, one from Bible the chaplain made , Your adversary the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  He smiled knowingly  when I quoted from Milton's poem ,   "Paradise Lost"—Lucifer's words of rebellious hatred when God  cast him from heaven:  Better to reign in hell than serve   in heaven.    
            I charged back into my brother's  room, grabbed his hand,  and in a loud  but pleading tone,  asked him, " Les, is there anything  you  feel sorry about?  ANYTHING ?

            My brother replied  amazingly quick , as if  prepared for my question.

            " You asked me that once before. Like I told you, Robert: I'm sorry for all the bad stuff  I've done. But them then he laughed as if he had told me a dirty joke.  
            At my  home  that same day  (May 27, 2011 ) came  a  hospital call reporting that  Lester's blood pressure was dangerously low and that he had been returned to an intensive care unit.  Mary Alice and I  rushed back to the hospital  , me driving and  praying very, very hard.   I got Fr. VanderHey away from a conference,  and  the three of us a  few seconds later  were at  bed .  I called in a nurse and  asked if my brother's oxygen mask could be removed for ten minutes. She said " five minutes" and asked me why. When I told her, she said " no more than ten. "

            I leaned over my brother and said, " Les, do you , right now,  want to become   a Christian Catholic ? It's  hundred per cent up to you, kid .  "
He nodded yes.

            The   scene turned  melodramatic. With the nurse keeping any eye on Lester's monitors for pulse rate and oxygen level, Fr. VanderHey  read my  brother's  solemn profession of faith,  and Lester in a gurgling, soft but audible voice, repeated it.   Next came  the Nicene Creed. Whatever lung strength remained in Lester he now was using to  blast out words as if  coming from an  exhaust pipe.

Lester, now in this moment,  victorious--and free-- after  53 years of  an intense spiritual battle and what was thought to be an an intractable  mental   illness . Fr. VanderHey , a V.A. hospital chaplain ,   is on right, flanked by Lester's brother,  Bob Schwarz and  his wife Mary Alice.  

            My brother  affirmed the professions  with  an  " I  do "  , remaining wide-eyed and attentive  with a  face of  life   I had not seen in many years.   A glance at Lester from the nurse  told me that she too know that this sacred   ceremony was  the most important  event in this man's  life.

            Fr. VanderHey now  asked me, " Can your brother swallow."
            " Barely," the nurse said.
             " Please  do it now,  " I urged.
            " Give him half a host," Mary Alice advised.  The priest placed the wafer-like piece on my brother's tongue.   

            Fr. VanderHey then   pressed  his thumb into a small compact of holy ashes and made the sigh of the cross on Lester's forehead.  Then he   sprinkled holy water over my brother to administer  the Anointing of the Sick and the Apostolic Pardon.  Looking  at all of us , Fr. VanderHey said: " Lester Schwarz  gets a clean slate, receives forgiveness of all his sins up to this point in his life."             Lester  looked  serene.  So did the nurse as she quickly fitted my brother's oxygen mask back on.   I placed on Lester's chest the blue-colored   rosary  which had been  hand-knitted by my  friend Don Knorr. My brother grasped it.

            In the hallway, Fr. VanderHey  reflected out loud  on my brother's background ,  his spiritual combat and the intractability of paranoid  schizophrenia . "In my twenty years as chaplain, I've  only seen  this  twice !"  

            Lester lived  several months more !  I had him  moved to a hospice  when he lungs began filling with fluid , giving him the  pain of  drowning.  Morphine was administered but only in doses that  allowed him  some mental alertness. Visiting him one night in a nursing home, I waited awhile until a nurse  flushed his throat and then removed Lester's   respirator for a few minutes. My brother motioned me to come close. He  pulled my arm towards him . " I love you,"  he whispered. Then , pointing at a wall ,  said ,  "I  broke it and threw it in  the waste basket. Robert, I'm sorry  "

            I was suddenly compelled to ask my brother : " If a doctor could heal you today and return you to the outside world, would you go ? " 

           My brother shook his head  no.

            Was Lester  saying he was in the world but not of it anymore—and actually  preferred it this way, even it he were young and healthy ?   Was he--as some mystics  have said--DYING TO  SELF  yet fully and truly  alive  and at peace ?    Did he now crave--as all of us do all our lives-- for that  infinite Something to satisfy  our  deepest longings ?

            Lester's  body  systems  began to  shut down ; no longer could they assimilate  his  intravenously-fed   nutrients .With Lester on April 13,  I whispered the 23rd Psalm into his ear as I had for my dying mother, then kissed him on the forehead  and asked God to make all that was good about my brother remain alive in me. At  7:45 that evening,  my brother  died.   In that moment I experienced a joy of a great truth blossoming into reality :  My brother was now actually  alive , living joyfully  forever !  Over  his grave at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines (Illinois ) , I began to imagine my  brother arriving in  heaven  and being led by Jesus to Mom and Jesus  saying to  my brother ,  Now, Lester, Behold your mother.

Mrs. Dorothy Schwarz and sons Robert (left ) and Lester

The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2017-18  Robert R. Schwarz

Beginning Next Sunday:
"Can We Prevent a  Postmortem
American Culture? "
a commentary on  polarization
in our culture

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Bondage to Freedom: My Brother's Battle for Soul ... part 2

Part 2 of 3: Spiritual combat  in   the Penitentiary

By Robert R. Schwarz

                                    However  often a man may sin, if he return to
                                    me with  true and heartfelt penitence, I  am
                                    ever  ready to receive him; and I do not  regard
                                    the number of his sins, but the intention  and
                                    will with which he returns. ( attributed to Saint
                                    Bridget from her vision of Mary, the mother of
                                    Jesus )

                                    Father, forgive them: for they do not know
                                    what they are doing. ( Jesus while being
                                    crucified  . Luke 23:34 ) 

            My brother was sentenced to five years in prison, the  first two inside  the Cook County Jail , a fortress of  dim lights and  steel and cement and  where inmates often remain ( as did Lester )  more than two years before their final sentencing .At his final court hearing  in  2002 , his  attorney and I pressed hard  that  Lester  not be sent to a maximum security penitentiary such as Joliet State Prison ,  where  his illness  could  eventually crush him as it had countless of mentally ill inmates wrongly sent there. He was transferred  to   the prison at   Dixon, Illinois, a former mental health compound where  guards today still  refer  to an inmate as "mister." Though consultations with the several  psychiatrists and counselors who had examined or treated Lester  through the years had not given my any reason to believe my brother  could ever be cured of his illness , I remained steadfast with the hope that  both his mind and soul would be healed . I had been encouraged by a letter he wrote to his mother in 2002 while at the County jail.  Please understand, he wrote ,  that I'm going through a trying time with myself. I have to keep pushing fear  and frustration away…It seems like day  after day  goes by with me assembling  with my mind and emotions what I can do to  better myself the next day.   Three months later,  on September 25,  he wrote this to her: It is hard for me to find a way of looking forward to the future. This is what jail life produces after a while. I don't want to seem gloomy or bored about anything. There is still hope…Please be careful getting up and down out of the chair. And on June 21, 2003 , Mom, got this letter from him:   The only solace I can get is to go to God and Jesus in my prayers and try to keep my mind on a spiritual level much as possible. Robert has taught me a lot about this . 

            There also was  a letter from him to me in which he listed  several things he intended to do when  released from  prison: he would weekly  see a psychiatrist, get a part time job, and move in with me and smoke only in the basement . I handed  this list to  Lester's attorney to present to the judge, indicating that Lester. Schwarz was a changed man and deserved probation. It didn't help.

              I also had faith in what the 14th Century  Swedish saint, Bridget, wrote about   the vision  she  had  of  the Virgin Mary saying to her ,  However often a man may sin, if he return to me with true and heartfelt penitence, I am ever ready to receive him; and I do not regard the number  of his sins, but the intention and  will with which he returns .  

            A  pastor friend of mine  who   had   interacted with many   "good and bad dudes"   advised me  to confront my brother and tell him  it was " his  own finger that pulled that trigger and his own  deliberate decision  that led him to go off the meds  " , adding  that "Jesus is the only one who can forgive him and wash him clean of all guilt and then give him a new life. "(My brother had no reply when I shared this with him .  )   

            Mom  painfully weathered the news of Lester's crime and imprisonment. Though she understood  her son's criminal behavior was evil,  I never heard her  utter   a judgmental word about Lester  nor  take   issue with the judge's decision. Her  chronic bladder infection kept her in a wheelchair, disabling her from visiting Lester. At one of my last visits with her, we sat for a long time talking about our  past family life and glancing now and then out  her window at a tree with spring buds . Dad had died a year ago from  congestive heart failure , and Mom that day talked about loving  a man whose  last 20 years of retirement were not spent fishing or playing golf but doing his best as an in-home caregiver to keep his son  Lester off the street.  

             " I think, Robert, we had a wonderful life together ,  " Mom stated with pride , then  handed me her letter for  Lester .  As I wheeled her out to the nursing home's   gift shop  where she loved to pick out a candy bar, she said,   "I've never had a bad day here. I think about Jesus and God all the time. When you think about that, you forget about everything. " 

            Mom died three  weeks later  as  I held  her hand  praying Psalm 23. She had requested that  her body  not be  embalmed and that it be  cremated . Mom had  her ashes tossed upon the waters of Big Spider Lake in northern Wisconsin . Her husband's ashes and those of her father's had been tossed on the creek that flowed through the family's " little piece of Arkansas land. "

Mom, and sons  Lester (white shirt ) and  Robert

   From a  rowboat now,  I stared at the lake  waters swirling my mother's ashes downward.
 Near the shore a few hundred yards away was  an empty, aging log cabin where, in 1933, Mom and Dad honeymooned. I glanced quickly at it and rowed back.


                                    For our struggle is not against  flesh
                                    and blood, but against the rulers, against
                                    the powers, against the world forces
                                    of this darkness, against the spiritual
                                    forces of wickedness in the  heavenly
                                    places .  ( Ephesians 6: 12 ) 

             In  the Dixon  visitors' room ,  I waited for my brother to exit the strip-search chamber (he would again enter this chamber upon leaving this room to have his entire body probed—especially his mouth—for any drug   which  his  visitor might have been  passed on to him with a kiss or hug .  )  The room was  filled with at least 40  families and other  loved ones of the male inmate  sitting with them ; the room resounded with chatting  and occasional bursts of laughter from children . There appeared to be no visitor's time limit ; some groups were to remain   hours  playing cards or a board game and making an occasional trip to the vending machines for snacks. 

            Lester came out and approached our table with a grin  I  disliked,  for  I never knew what, if anything , had prompted it.   I said, "You look okay, kid.   "  In truth, my brother had a  week-old beard  and a face etched , I presumed,  by nights of fitful sleep . Three of his fingers were stained yellow from smoking cigarettes down to finger-pinch size.

            " Doesn't that stuff ever wash off ? " I asked.

            My brother shrugged his shoulders.

            ( From conversations with guards and an inmate friend of Lester's over the next several months , I was to conclude that a Dixon "culture"  harbored  many of the  perverted  behaviors of humankind . When I then asked Lester if he ever participated in these behaviors, he quite casually—and without any discernible regret—told me he did, and that this  was how he earned cigarette money beyond that which I was sending him for personal items like candy or stationary.  Common knowledge and statistics tell us that at least fifty per cent  of  released  convicts are eventually  imprisoned  again for felonies,  many related to drug addiction  and   sexual violence.  But I also was to learn that  Dixon had rehabilitated  some inmates  to live  outside prison walls with good coping skills for life's journey . )

            "How's Mary Alice?" ,  he asked about the woman I married after Judith died a year ago.

            He always  asked  this question first. We talked . My brother's speech had become slower  and more disjointed than usual . It now was peppered with prison slang  and an occasional profanity.  I now saw that my brother's life in this prison was making him worse , degrading him  and corrupting those  good plans of as   expressed to our mother .  

            I kept putting off the news of Mom's death.  Not know how my brother would react to it in this room  made  me nervous ,

             Finally I told him: "Les, I have something very sad to tell you.  It's about Mom. " My brother look hard at me and remained motionless. I  said: " Les, she's gone to heaven. "

     Lester cast his eyes upward , as if there was something on the ceiling he needed to grasp or cling to an elusive thought . We  sat in silence for awhile. Lester was   struggling with an  emotion he wasn't used to.   I felt so damn  helpless.   

            I pulled out the letter Mom had given me to give to Lester  . "Please read it to me, "  my brother said.

            Mom had written Love is the most important thing in life, Lester…Patience is a big thing…  There's good in everybody;   just look for it…  I've learned something  from everyone, and son, choose wisely between the two opposites in life. 

            Came a lot more silence, then with a solemnity I had never heard from my brother's lips, came,  "Mom will always be there for me to remember with love as well as Dad  ."  

      I left Dixon this time with heightened concern for my brother's soul. I sent  him a
Bible and asked him to read  the book of John and to answer  questions I  tailored for him. For the next year  he did this with the help of an  inmate friend , who , on May 5, 2005, wrote me:
Lester's  daughter Lisa visiting her father in a hospital
Robert, I pray lots of prayers for  him [ Lester ] 'cause of the condition he is in. It hurts me to  see him struggle to breathe and get tired out from a slight  walk. I  pray by testifying to him and through prayer that some way God will redeem him and open his heart, mind, and  soul and spirit to the one who died so we can live  through him. Your brother is safe though, happier less worried and gets plenty of peaceful rest. I help him out by taking care of him—hygiene-wise—and making sure his clothes and linens are cleaned. [  Schizophrenics commonly ignore personal hygiene ] I expect nothing  [ in return ]  because it's my duty as a Christian to offer my services to those who need help. I've been in the prison system since '91 on and off , in and out. I've made plenty of mistakes and bad choices but when I knelt down and surrendered my life to Jesus for dying for our sins, life has been truly wonderful… Sincerely , Freddie .

            My hopes for my brother's rehabilitation—or healing— soared  when I read Freddie's letter  and again soared  while reading these words  from  Lester :  I've got everything pretty much under control with myself and am first seeing the light of what I have to do to improve myself. I know it lies in my medication, my reading, my work  and Christian Devotion.   I will try to get to  church this Sunday . (  Dixon had a chapel .  )  

            Though  the letter's phrasing made me suspect that Lester's inmate friend had  helped  my brother compose this  letter , I remained cheerfully optimistic about my Lester's future;  that is, until Lester and I hit a danger  bump on his road to recovery.  One Saturday afternoon during a   visit, I pulled out my Bible and read  this verse from  Romans: We live by faith and not by sight. Noticing my brother did not have his Bible,  I asked , " Somebody swipe your Bible, Les ?"

            Lester shrugged his shoulders .

            " Well, that's okay, kid…How 'bout we now  say a little prayer, Les ? "

            Expecting his usual  sincere nod of  approval  he had been  giving me for weeks,  this time  Lester frowned and drew back  his chair and , with that simple grin ,   looked away .  "I don't think so  today, " he said.

            In that moment, despite the frown and the  grin,  I was pleased with what I thought was my brother's   spontaneous honesty  about the absent  Bible . But in the very next second of time,   I saw his eyes  a rebellious glare in his  eyes. It frightened me.     I suddenly remembered an evening years ago when Dad express disgust over Lester's fondness for reading books about  an arch vampire  named Dracula and  also the demonic dictatorship of Adolph  Hitler .
            I left Dixon that day wondering  if  Lester —I believed he had seriously  taken up arms to fight for his  sanity and a  good life—yes, I wondered if he  was  engaged  in some spiritual combat or that his schizophrenia had acquired  an  undiagnosed and more horrific dimension . The next day I stopped wondering. I was sure there was a war  going on inside my brother.

Next week ,  part 3 of 3:
Dying to One's Self… "In my 20  years
as chaplain,  I've  only seen  this  twice !" 
(Fr. VanderHey ,V.A. chaplain , The
Captain James A. Lovell 
Federal Health Care Center )  

All comments are welcome.
© 2017-18  Robert R. Schwarz

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Bondage to Freedom: My Brother's Battle for Soul (part 1 )

Part 1 of 3: Hard confessions to Mom
By Robert R. Schwarz

                             However  often a man may sin, if he return to
                                    me with  true and heartfelt penitence, I  am
                                    ever  ready to receive him; and I do not  regard
                                    the number of his sins, but the intention  and
                                    will with which he returns. ( attributed to Saint
                                    Bridget from her vision of Mary, the mother of
                             Jesus )

                                    Father, forgive them: for they do not know
                                    what they are doing. ( Jesus while being
                                    crucified  . Luke 23:34 ) 

          My 54—year—old brother woke up with confusion more distressing than any past  hallucination from  his paranoid schizophrenia. This morning felt something painfully shrouding him and he  could not free himself from it. It was,  I  would later learn,  the anguish of self-condemnation for years of perverse behavior , but more so this morning an intense guilt for his behavior the night before.   
           He had only vague memories of his life before  age 25: there was  teaching grade school  (after graduating from  college) , then  marrying  and fathering two children . Then life went bad: a divorce,  a general discharge from the U.S. Air Force  (he was in officers' training school ), followed by several hospitalizations. And  now he  was  living alone in  retirement home ,  barely staying  off the streets because of his  paranoid schizophrenia .
            On this particular morning, in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights , Illinois,  he was desperate to free himself of this new bondage of self-condemnation, from that force which kept jabbing at him with  an  accusing finger.  Hallucinations and strange voices he could deal with but not this.
            Lester go into his old Buick ( inherited  from our  deceased father  ) and drove to a nearby nursing home to see the  only human he knew who not afraid to confront my brother's dark side and in whom he saw more  omnipotence than in the bevy of counselors and psychiatrists he had seen in the last 29 years.   .
             I met him an hour later during  one of my regular visits to my mother, Mrs. Dorothy Schwarz, as I stepped into her s nursing home room , intruding on a whisper-quiet conversation the two were having. Lester had retained  a sheepish look.
Mom, Lester ( behind her )  and  me.
 was  in her early eighties then , with a full head of curled white hair, an unwrinkled face with a modest touch of rouge, wearing  a flower-patterned  dress and a warm smile . ( She would never see a  day of  dementia. ) My brother was months overdue for a haircut, wore a red shirt with food stains, and a face with unfocused eyes and skin darkened by years of strong medication; all  so unlike my memory of  my kid brother growing up ;  family and friends nicknamed him "The Lamb"—it was never meant to have any religious significance—because of  his gentle and  compliant behavior.
            " Bring in a chair for your brother,"  Mom said.          
            Lester got the chair and then  went for the door. " See you later, Robert ,  " he said.
            "Don't go ,  son, "  Mom said. "You know how I love to see you two together."
            Lester  left   to smoke . He was truly addicted and would pay heavily for it. 
            Mom's  room was small but  made homey with family photographs , two vases of artificial flowers,  and a few  oil paintings on the wall  done by my late artist  wife Judith .  There was her television to watch her favorite  Ted Turner  movies, like  The Wizard of Oz.  On her night table was the Holy Bible, a book on theosophy,  and  autobiographies of one-time   movie stars like  Betty Davis and Clark Gable. from the Forties.
            I had brought  Mom  a flask of  Chantilly Lace ,  her favorite cologne . .
            "Put it on  my dresser," she said. I also showed her a jar the cinnamon she had requested to spice up the  usual bland nursing home meals. Mom had been an excellent, indefatigable  home cook and baker and now sorely missed butter- and sauce-laden food. ( It had been  a sad day when she lost her dentures by leaving them on a food tray and thereafter  had to eat pureed food because her jaw could no longer support dentures. ) 
            When I asked her  what she and Lester  had been talking about , she  lowered her head and said,  " I shouldn't tell you."
              "Yes, Mom, you should.  I need to know. "
            " He does things he shouldn't," she said. 
            " Please tell me."
            She did: there had been  late night drives  to a  porno shop , and , most alarming to me,   the recent skipping of his anti-psychotic meds whenever he could fake  swallowing them in front of the nurse who knocked daily on his door. 
            Mom took off her glasses and  looked away. Her face  showed the regret  of a loyal  mother  helpless to stop her son   from  damning himself .
            "How often does he do this ? " I asked  like  prosecuting attorney .
             " He visits me sometimes twice a  week, "  
            Mom  held back tears and put her glasses back on.  We stayed silent for a long moment, and I felt myself growing angry . She broke the silence with  " I wish my family had stayed at the ranch." 
            I welcomed the segue and my thoughts flew back 30 years ago  to a run-down  barn and a small house on  a remote 207 acres in far western Arkansas  which Dad  purchased at a bargain price upon his retirement as truck salesman for the International Harvester Company in Chicago .  For years, we kids and Mom had been hearing Dad him say ( while reading his  Strout farm catalogue)  "I wish we had  a little piece of land ."
      No doubt Mom now was wishing a return to that family reunion on that "little piece of land "

with Lester ( no schizophrenia symptoms then ) , his wife and their toddler son , and  Judith and me

(recently discharged honorably  from the Army ) .

     Those seven days were filled with  Mom's dinner   roasts and pies ( inspired by her Swedish

ancestry  and  by family  strolls through fields of Lespedeza and Bermuda grass  and  by laughter

over a head-strong  bull named Rollo and by a dozen polled Herefords , each named by my mother

and fed by her every morning.

      Every  night Lester would drag out the telescope he had constructed at the Adler Planetarium  in

Chicago , and  we'd sit on the front law  making up silly  names for star constellations.  
Lester in Canada with  a Northern Pike
            A few hundred feet down the rocky sandy road in front of our house  and concealed  by pine and oak trees was a  small abandoned church which a farm neighbor opened for Mom  to teach Sunday school. ( I had been surprised to learn that my mother's teaching had been  resounding with Christian  orthodoxy in spite of her home library of pre-New Age books about Theosophy, astrology , Buddhism , karma and reincarnation . Dad had been unable to dissuade her from her study of the occult , which had become part of my religion smorgasbord but not beyond my teen years. Lester , however, continued to dip into occult beliefs, especially reincarnation and karma. Mom had been raised and confirmed  in the Lutheran faith ; Dad  had remained a Catholic until he married Mom;  and Lester and I were both confirmed in a Lutheran church and later attended a Christian Science church , where Mom taught Sunday school in those early years. How often I heard Mom wistfully tell Dad ,   " I am searching . " A few years before my father died of congestive heart failure, I asked him about his faith .  Tapping his pipe,  Dad replied : " I just ask myself what would Jesus do, and try to  do it. " He loved to read Plato and  for years kept a Bible on his bedroom night table, often reading the book of Romans . )
            My thoughts  returned to  Mom' s list of my  brother's recent  behaviors to which she now added a few. Without extending the compassion my mother obviously deserved, I raised my voice  to say: "He tells you all of  this ?! "
            " Who else is there ? " she  said,  in a  voice throbbing from  a pitiful truth.  "He's hurting so and he hates what he does , Robert. Please try to understand. " 
            " But, Mom,  he keeps doing it… doesn’t he ! " 
            She lowered her head again. " He can't help it, Robert !  Oh, son, your brother so badly needs to hear that  it's okay ." 
            Okay ?  I thought it a miserable choice of words . I knew she meant something else , but made no attempt to search for it. .
" And you FORGIVE  him ?!  I picked up one of her  Theosophy books and another on astrology and ,  forgetting that the nursing station was just outside her door and that she was the mother I loved dearly,  I  scolded her .  " Do you want Lester to believe that  his schizophrenia   is his  inescapable karma for doing bad things in this life and  previous lifes ? Do you want him  to think it's okay to relax his grip on his behavior,  not to worry about it  because he'll have several lives  ahead to get it right? "
He  retort suddenly replaced by hostility with a smile of admiration:
" Well, son ,  you know that  as ye sow, so shall ye reap . "  Then she  looked at me and, as if sharing  a long-concealed and precious secret, said ,  " I love Jesus and pray to Him every night  ." 
            I didn't know what to say nor think.   I hugged and kissed  Mom and left . As  I did , two cheerful  nursing assistants entered and began a tea-party-like  conversation with my mother.  I eavesdropped outside the door, and when another cheerful staff  member brushed by me to join her colleagues in their   light-hearted conversation,  I asked  her, " What in the world is  going on in there ?" She  quickly replied,  " Really nothing. I guess we go in there now and then to get  cheered up by Mrs. Schwarz. " 
            My thought: Aren't you  the ones paid to do the cheering up!
            Driving home.  the tenderness of my mother's  feelings somehow stirred scenes—at times I can be an imposing  sentimentalist—of that austere  apartment she had once described to me, the one above that old Schindler vaudeville theater near Bucktown in Chicago, where she was raised by her Swedish  mother and Russian immigrant father . Her mother was the ticket cashier and her father, Victor Rossnagel,   managed the theater which, with its silent movies,  often served as  my mother's  babysitter .  I also imagined Mom , when  only 20 , playing classical piano for a Chicago radio station and singing in her church choir. 
            My wife asked at the dinner table that night why I was so silent. "  I can't reconcile my mother's  occult beliefs  with what she told me about Jesus , " I said.  Neither could my wife.  Later,  I spent an hour rummaging  through old family documents and  came across a   poem she had written at  age 18 , a few days after  Lester was born.  I believe it was her first and  only  poem she  ever wrote.
                        Where did you come from, Baby Dear?

                                Out of the Everywhere into here…
                                Where did you get those eyes so blue?
                                Out of the sky as I came through.
                                What makes the light in them sparkle and spin ?
                                Some of the starry spikes were let in.
                                What makes your cheek like a warm white rose?
                                I saw something better than anyone knows.
                                Where did you get this pearly ear ?
                                God spoke, and it was made to hear.
                                Where did you get those arms and hands?
                                Love itself made those arms and hands.
                                But how did you come to us, you dear ?
                                God thought about you, and so I am here.

                 ( In re-reading Where Did You Come   from Baby Dear ?  before writing this report, I was struck by these words written about the Baby Jesus   by Caryll Houselander , a British mystic and poet:   It would have been unbearable to hold that infant Son in her arms , knowing that He must go away to a life of suffering and a cruel death, were it not for her faith in His heavenly Father , were it not for the certainty that the hands of God would  always be holding Him, and that God's hands, incredible thought it seemed, would hold Him even more tenderly, even more securely, than hers. )
   Mom's  poem also made me think of my those later years when my father's steadfast love for

Lester and the many apologies he  given  to friends and  complete strangers for  his son's  demented

My brother in his last weeks  with his favorite nurse 
            As for  my anger with Mom for  repeatedly forgiving Lester's loathsome acts and her  absence of any tough  love, I soon realized after leaning her that day that the compassion she  deserved from me but did not receive,  would require my coming to terms with my own dark side.  Fortunately , some insights about forgiveness came from  my hearing  a radio broadcast of an interview with Corrie ten Boom, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp where her sister and hundreds of others had   suffered  slow deaths.  
            Corrie had just ended her story before an audience in a Munich, Germany  church and was exiting the building  when  approached by a man who indentified himself as a former  guard  in that death camp.  She was shocked. " I remember him and the leather crop swinging from his belt, " she said in her  radio interview. " It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors, and my blood seemed to freeze."
            " 'Will you forgive me for the cruel things I did there ? ' "  the former guard  asked Corrie.
            " I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart , " Corrie continued.  " But forgiveness is not an emotion–I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.  'Jesus, help me!' I prayed silently. And so …I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me.
            “ 'I forgive you, brother!' ” I cried. “ 'With all my heart! ' ”
            During the week of Dec. 4, 2001, my brother sat in his room sipping whiskey to  sooth  the discomforting  side effects or  Zyprexa, Haldol,  and Depakote , which  for more than   three decades had  tormented him with clinging drowsiness  and  a rapid,   frightening heartbeat .            "  That night, Robert," he would later tell me in a rare moment of  introspection, " I  wanted to get a sense of power I never had. "
            Though Lester , I believe, had stuck to his regimen of psychotropic drugs  with a self-discipline unusual for paranoid schizophrenics , this night, however, he rebelled. Four days later,  his mind and body now weaned from the meds which shielded him from hallucinations and other disordered thinking, ,  my brother walked into a gun shop and, with a gun permit he had falsified, purchased a .45 caliber automatic pistol and a .38 caliber handgun.  Over the next  two days, he fired his weapons at two inanimate objects outside his retirement home and then, while driving his car down a toll way, fired at a passing car. ( Lester, according to police reports , never did fire at a person nor intended to . )
Next week ,  part 2 of 3:
The penitentiary and spiritual combat   
All comments are welcome.
© 2017-18  Robert R. Schwarz

Will Our American Culture Ever Get a Postmortem ?

[ Please note that Feb. 15  is the deadline for emailing  article requests to Bob Schwarz at .  We hope to he...