Saturday, April 29, 2017

Comforts: Often a Blessing, Sometimes a Pitfall

                                   
                                                






  By Robert R. Schwarz




                                    Comfort:  strengthening, encouragement, incitement,
                                    aid, succor, support .  In a bad sense: to encourage…
                                    that which is evil. ( Oxford English Dictionary )

                                 A ship  is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships
                                  are for . ( anonymous )

                                  The  spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. ( Jesus'
                                  admonition about temptation; Matthew 26: 41 )


            It's a given: our current American culture has never provided so many comforts for mind and  body. Perhaps the best was to quantify this is by recalling the countless number of  compelling advertisements  for comfort products and pleasures we see in the  media. But far be it for this writer to part company with several of his compelling  comforts. Yet as a journalist who  years ago surrendered a brief sybaritic lifestyle, he feels  obligated—and somewhat qualified —to report a few opinions he has gathered about the  dark side of comfort .

            In  the article, "Why Comfort Is Actually Bad for You "  ( http://HuffingtonPost. com  ) , Joe Robinson writes :  "As marketers have known since the days of toga sales, humans love their creature comforts. Tempur-pedic beds and cinema-sized TVs are nice, but researchers tell us we’re a lot happier when we can tear ourselves away from what makes us feel cozy. It turns out that what our brains and bodies really want isn’t comfort. It’s engagement. Comfort is your enemy…. The science shows, though, that it’s just the opposite of the velvet cocoon that gratifies us. Our core psychological needs are satisfied not by how comfy we feel but by breaking out of the force field of routine. The two key factors in long-term life satisfaction are novelty and challenge, says brain scientist Gregory Berns of Emory University School of Medicine. The plush life doesn’t make us happy because, like all external metrics, it doesn’t do anything for you internally, where the real arbiters of gratification live….

            " A study led by Australian researcher David Dunston found that watching TV more than four hours a day is associated with an 80 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Alpa Patel, of the American Cancer Society, who studied 120,000 people and their sitting habits, says that people who sit too much cut two years off their life…

            " If you want a memorable life, the research is very clear: You have to live a life worth remembering….

            " We cling to comfort zones because they offer perceived safety and keep the threat of change from our doorsteps. And they’re easy. They require no effort. We’re led to believe that non-exertion is the way to happiness, but our brains hate being on idle, looking into the window of life. We wind up with a hollowed-out life of spectating and learned helplessness, without the initiating skills essential to self-worth and a well-lived life. It’s self-determined actions and experiences that provide the gratification we need. Your core psychological needs — autonomy, competence and relatedness, the social connection — can only be satisfied through participation, not cushy observation….

 " The goal isn’t to avoid lifting a finger on this planet, but to dig in with both hands to the wisdom of uncomfortable places. "

More about Comfort Zones
           

            On the office wall of Deacon Paul  Schmidt  hangs  a sketch  of a beached and battered rowboat which sole reason for being there is that the boat is empty.  Paul occasionally  looks at the sketch  to remind himself  of  those simple  fishermen who, when  called by Jesus to be His disciples,  immediately left  the "comfort zone " of  their boat  and  followed  Him.

            "This empty boat reminded me  years ago to get out of my comfort zone and  do something for people, "  said the 71-year-old deacon  during our interview . Paul, a deacon  at the St. James Catholic church in Arlington Heights, Illinois , left a life of comfort for what he'll tell you  was a more meaningful life  baptizing  babies, counseling  couples about to marry, and comforting  people at funeral wakes—not to mention  working fulltime as  business manager of another church.   

            Last March , Sr. Joanne Fedwa  of Sisters of the Living Word in Arlington Heights,  helped celebrate  a Lenten holy feast day with the theme "Mary's Move from Comfort to Courage. "   Mary "needed to muster up a lot of courage" to say yes  to becoming the mother of Jesus, "  the 87-year-old nun asserted .  "She was likely in shock when asked by the Holy Spirit the give up a simple life of virginity. If she hadn't been willing to leave her comfort  zone, it would have been a sad situation . "
            Years ago , Sr. Fedwa worried when asked to give up her comfort zone to accept a mission assignment to teach in a small rural , Afro-American community in Arkansas.  But  "it turned out to be a positive experience ," she said , and she stayed  13 years.

            What can happen when one has too much comfort?  I asked her.  Her reply: " We then tend to forget the most important things in life, like our relationship with God."

            And  what do you really get when you're willing to step outside of your comfort zone? asks Alan Henry in his posted blog " Mind Hacks " ( http://lifehacker.com/the-science-of-breaking-out-of-your-comfort-zone-and-w-656426705 ) .  Some of the major benefits he mentions are:

Ø  You'll be more productive. Comfort kills productivity because without the sense of unease that comes from having deadlines and expectations, we tend to phone it in and do the minimum required to get by. We lose the drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We also fall into the "work trap," where we feign "busy" as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things. Pushing your personal boundaries can help you hit your stride sooner, get more done, and find smarter ways to work.
Ø  You'll have an easier time dealing with new and unexpected changes. In his article in  The New York Times, Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, explains that one of the worst things we can do is pretend fear and uncertainty don't exist. By taking risks in a controlled fashion and challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn't do, you can experience some of that uncertainty in a controlled, manageable environment. Learning to live outside your comfort zone when you choose to can prep you for life changes that force you out of it.
Ø  You'll find it easier to brainstorm and harness your creativity. This is a soft benefit, but it's fairly common knowledge (and it's easily reproducible) that seeking new experiences, learning new skills, and opening the door to new ideas inspire us and educate us in a way that little else does. Trying new things can make us reflect on our old ideas and where they clash with our new knowledge, and inspire us to learn more and challenge confirmation bias, our tendency to only seek out information we already agree with. Even in the short term, a positively uncomfortable experience can help us brainstorm, see old problems in a new light, and tackle the challenges we face with new energy.


            In one of his homilies at St.James   during this past Lent , Fr. Derek Ho quoted Pope Benedict XVI , who said , " The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness. "  A week later, Fr. Derek wrote  the following reflection in the  church bulletin:

            " Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor in Auschwitz, noticed that the first people to die in the concentration camp were not those who died due to a lack of food or water or medicine. The first people to die were those who lacked purpose and meaning. They were enduring a massive amount of suffering but could not find the meaning behind it. And so they gave up…
      
            "Jesus’ experience in the desert is meant to serve as a reference point for all Lenten resolutions. He chooses to suffer as we choose to suffer,  not simply for suffering’s sake, but to detach ourselves from the comforts offered by the world (and the evil one) and to allow our desire for God to grow ever deeper. "

What Can We Might Learn from Growing Pecan Trees   


            While living on a ranch in Arkansas , I not only learned why a pound of pecans is a costly grocery item but also   something  ( perhaps trivial  to the city dweller )  which remains in my mind about the benefit of discomfort .

            One day while I was planting three pecan tree saplings, a neighbor strolled over to me …I remember our conversation but not his name .

            "You planting for pecans ? " he asked .
            "Right, " I replied. " Where they'll get plenty of sun."
            "Might take ten years before you pick any, you know. Maybe even fifteen."
            I looked at my neighbor with  disbelief  and waited for an explanation.
            " But  some , I'm told , have lived for 300 years. "  He laughed . I did not.

            For the next five minutes,  my neighbor  recited facts about pecan trees. Though his knowledge about these trees was credible, it did nothing to halt my thought of  returning the  saplings to the nursery . Really, they should have screened me for unlimited patience before  I purchased them! 
            " But listen here now ," my neighbor continued. "  You-all  come over to my place  . I got five pecan trees growing there . Been giving nuts for years. But I  had the good sense  not to plant them in the sun. No sir . Planted then in a shady spot. Forced them to  grow, reach for their sun. Three—not ten, mind you—years later  I had me great pecans . Wife put them on ice cream for us and the kids. Delicious ! "

            Nowadays I think how analogous was my neighbor's pecan  anecdote to us humans "planting" our   bodies  and minds  where they  will not wilt or get flabby  from too much comfort ; rather, we should plant them  in our life's work and love so that  when we  get lazy and flabby— sheer will power or passion  can only do so much , you know—we'll be forced to keep reaching for the  sun which God's grace shines on us in all weather. 

            Now in my senior years, when I find myself looking for  a shortcut to heaven by sitting  with eyes half-closed in my favorite chair  and listening to a   CD of  meditation music, I am reminded of the exhortations of the Apostle Paul , who seldom seemed to experience physical comfort. In 50 A.D. , he wrote this  to the citizens of Corinth , a wealthy Greek city know for everything depraved, , dissolute, and debauched :  " Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things…Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I  buffet my body and make it my slave …"  ( I Corinthians 10: 24-27 )

             Lyn Metter  in her National Catholic Register article ( April 2, 2017 ), " Penance Promotes Peace ," quoted these words  from  Fr. Mitch Pacwa , a host on the EWTN television channel :  "Abstaining from many of the easy and comfortable things in our life…aid a person in becoming free of these attachments. "

            She also  quoted 31-year-old Jonathan Conrad of Indianapolis, a member of Exodus 20, a fast-growing fraternity of Christians seeking  spiritual development: " The pleasures of this world are not fulfilling—period. They are all short-lived and leave us longing for something more. Something as simple as a cold shower teaches you the discipline of control over  your most primal sensual urges. If you can't control those, you have no hope for anything greater. "

            Here are  a few words from Saint Catherine of Sienna, a woman whose  spiritual writings  have for centuries been contemplated world-over :  " We become fearful…because we have set our love and trust in something weak, something completely unstable and inconstant, something as passing as the wind…" And lastly, a conviction  of the British martyr, Sir Thomas More,  God is a Christian's only comfort. 
The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz


Saturday, April 1, 2017

Forgiving : Often a Hard Pill to Swallow

By Robert R. Schwarz

                        Forgive: to give up resentment against or the desire
                        to punish  ; stop being angry with ; pardon…
                        ( Webster's New World College Dictionary )

                        To forgive someone is for us. You don't do
                        it for that person. It doesn’t mean forgetting
                          any evil done. .. ( Dr. Vernon Bell, psychiatrist,
                          addictive behaviorist specialist )

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

            The three quotes above might  tell the reader that all the books in the world could not exhaust the   subject of "forgiveness "nor, likely, could any two people today agree on the best way to write a how-to-do-it manual about it.   Nevertheless, here are  a few  true-life scenes which I believe display the many facets of forgiving someone despite how badly he or she  has wounded us or the wickedness of the deed. One is about a saintly Dutch woman who forgave a murderous concentration camp guard during World War I ; another is a healing service conducted in a suburban church outside Chicago by a priest whose family were victims of the Rwanda genocide in 1994 ; also there is a retired U.S. Army general and an army chaplain I interviewed about forgiveness as a key ingredient in healing the so-called moral wounds of our combat soldiers; and , lastly ,  I write about the poignant scene of my mother again  forgiving dark side behavior of  my schizophrenic brother. 

I     Corrie ten Boom    Could he erase her death simply for the asking ?… The most difficult and heart-wrenching act of forgiveness I know of  was related  on a network  radio station four or  five decades ago.  The radio voice was that of Corrie ten Boom , who related how after the war,  she forgave , face to face, the Nazi  guard in the concentration camp where she had been  interned and where her sister and hundreds of others  died  slow deaths.
            Born in 1892 in Amsterdam ,  the Netherlands, Cornelia ten Boom , a Christian and a watchmaker, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust . For this, she was imprisoned in the Ravensbruck camp. The following are excerpts from her book , "The Hiding Place",   as appeared in the July 24, 2014 internet post of Guideposts : 
            "It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives...The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe.. People stood up in silence, collected their wraps, and left the room…
            "Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent. Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out:  'A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! ' 
            "And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course. How could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women? But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. 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.
            “ 'You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,'  he was saying. 'I was a guard in there.'  No, he did not remember me.
            “ 'But since that time', he went on, 'I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well, Fräulein (again the hand came out) will you forgive me '?
            "And I stood there–I whose sins had to be forgiven every day –I could not. Betsie had died in that place.  Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
            "It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do. For I had to do it–I knew that. The message that God forgives us has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us.  If you do not forgive men their trespasses, Jesus says, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.
            "I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
            "And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. 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. I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.
            "And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!
            "For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.
                        " But if there’s one thing I’ve learned at 80 years of age, it’s that I can’t store up good feelings and behavior–but only draw them fresh from God each day. " 
    

II     They had come to be healed; but first, to forgive…They had come  to be healed on the morning of last March 11  of  their illness or affliction or an emotional wound for which , presumably ,   no doctor had been able to heal . Many among the standing-room only  "Mass with Healing Prayers " service in the Arlington Heights  ( Illinois) church were likely surprised when advised that a condition for  this healing was their "opening five doors," one being that the individual forgive anyone who had hurt him or her  either physically, mentally, or other wise.  The man telling them this was Fr. Ubald Rugirangoa, a priest from Rwanda . He had lived through the  genocide there in 1994 which took the lives of  45,000 of his parishioners, among them 80 members of his own family.

            As a prelude to the healing  ritual,  Fr. Ubald spoke  not only about  forgiveness
 but also on the other "four doors"  which,  he exhorted ,  had to be "opened ".  Among these doors were professing faith in God , acknowledging gratitude for all that  God had done for the individual,  and a decision to "connect" to Jesus Christ.

            Taking hold of   the monstrance  ( a golden, cross-shaped vessel in which the consecrated communion host is exposed for adoration ) , Fr. Ubald then slowly paced up and down each of the  four aisles  while making the sign of a cross with the monstrance as he  paused  now and  then  to bless the more than 500 people sitting in pews.   As he did this for an estimated 20 minutes, the people chanted  the word "Jesus" to the tune of  Amazing Grace . Many crossed themselves  with arms  raised   in praise.  
      
            At the end, after much praying by  Fr. Ubald and the people,  the priest and his assistant,  Monique Stevens ,  went to the apse ( lectern ) .  Fr. Ubald  whispered  to Monique each particular  healing which  he believed had just  occurred. As he did, Monique  called out   each healing over a microphone.  Next, the priest invited  all those who could now lay "claim" to their healing to come up and relate it  the congregation.  At least 20 people did, many choked with emotion and praising God  for healing them or a loved one. They told  of pending  divorces and other  serious marriage or family problems, various types of cancer , an inability to  fall asleep at night, epilepsy of a loved one, chronic unemployment, intestinal and stomach afflictions,   the conversion of a child, and an inability to forgive someone.

            "The Lord makes known to Fr. Ubald the healings that have occurred during his service, and  he then  relays this to the people ,"  Monique told me. She said two years ago , at a church  in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Fr. Ubald healed her of a serious allergy that caused sunlight to harm her skin.
' Extreme Horror Requires Extreme Forgiveness '
                                     [ note: the following are excerpts from Fr. Ubald's
                                     websites, https://frubald.files.wordpress.com/.../extren-horror-                   requieresextrenforgiveness-upd...or www. frubald.com  ]

Fr. Ubald holding  a monstrance at a
"healing Mass" in 2016 in the Kigali
stadium in Rwanda 
            "Forgiveness and reconciliation… The genocide against the Tutsis had hurt me so much that I felt tired. I was like a commander of an army who had lost the fight. I needed new energy to go on fighting. After 6 months in Europe, months of rest and prayers. I decided to go back to Rwanda. I arrived in Rwanda 5/01/1995. I had no time to lose.  I immediately began to help people with their inner wounds, listening to them, and praying with them. I said masses with healing prayers. Many people were helped and I realized why God told me to go and get refuge abroad when I hid myself in the Bishop’s house. It was to evangelize and help people to begin with new life, to speak about forgiveness and reconciliation. It was not easy. The victims of genocide were so angry against  those who made genocide to them. Those who made genocide were not ready to beg pardon even to recognize that they had made genocide. It took a long time to convince the victims to forgive …. those who made genocide .  After 4 years of evangelization, speaking  about forgiveness and reconciliation, praying for healing all over the country, my Bishop gave me a new mission, to be pastor of Mushawka parish. I had been there after evangelization in prison. I had experience of people who had made genocide against Tutsi ethnicity already in prison…. I did my best to help parishioners to think about that ethnic problem,  and they concluded that to be from Hutu ethnicity or Tutsi ethnicity was not a problem;  the real problem was ideology. Everyone was created in God’s image. We had to fight together against genocide ideology in society. I helped Christians to fight it by preaching retreats. " 


III     A psychiatrist comments…Many years ago, as a journalist,  I reported on a lecture  by Dr Vernon Bell, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictive behavior. The following are some of his comments about  forgiveness:
            " Asking to be forgiven doesn't mean you’re being asked to give up your  rights."
            " It doesn't mean you'll be restored to wholeness; that's God's job."
            " The value of forgiving someone  is that  it will prevent you from dwelling upon the hurt or the harm you  did."
            " Don't expect the person to accept  it."


IV     Forgiving  ourselves to heal a moral wound…Earlier this year I reported on a panel discussion in Chicago about  the  moral wounds of American combat soldiers involved in the killing of the enemy . Leading the panel was Major General ( ret) James Mukoyama , a veteran of the Vietnam war and founder of Military  Outreach USA . Sitting around him were an Army chaplain , a clinical psychologist the a Veterans Administration hospital, and the author of the book They Don't Receive Purple Hearts. 

            Not being  able to forgive ones' self for causing a combat death of the enemy has led to an alarming rate of suicide and homelessness among veterans, the  panel concluded.  In my feature story that appeared in the Daily Herald ( Dec. 1, 2016 ) ,  I reported: " For years, Mukoyama has maintained that  'the main approach for moral injury is not a medical doctor  with prescription drugs, but rather an approach that includes the forgiveness and grace of moral authority ."


V    A Mother forgiving her mentally ill son…My brother Lester  before his death several years ago at age 75,  had been  afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia for most of his adult life . He was dropped from the  U.S. Air Force officers training school and later given a general discharge with a 100 per cent disability: then followed a divorce, joblessness year after year, a prison sentence when he failed to take his meds and discharged a firearm while driving,   and a long succession of stays in veteran-sponsored  retirement  homes and hospitals. He was a college graduate and , until the  outbreak of his illness , his character had been  spotless 

            When able, Lester would visit his 80-year-old  mother once twice weekly in her Arlington Heights ( IL ) nursing home. Lester's  behavior when he was not in a care-giving facility was known  only to my mother . She   had chosen not to share  with me what she knew  until  the afternoon  I intruded on a whisper-quiet conversation  she was having with my brother  in  her room.  I remember the details—most of which I'd rather forget—of this particular meeting. 
     " Bring in a chair for your brother,"  Mom told my brother ,whom I noticed was well-groomed this day—clean blue jeans, a haircut, and a red sport shirt without the usual two or three food stains.  
      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."
            " We just saw each other Monday,"  Lester said, and left.
              I asked my mother what she and Lester  had been talking about .     Mom lowered her head. " I shouldn't tell you."
            "Yes, Mom, you should.  "
            " He does things he shouldn't," she said.
            " Please tell me." 

         While she  spoke, I saw the anguish of a mother  helpless to stop her child  from further damning himself with behavior incited , in large, by his mental illness.  With her head bowed    long pauses, Mom told me of Lester's solitary  drinking  in his retirement home room,  his late night drives  to a  porno shop , and , most alarming,   the skipping of his anti-psychotic meds whenever he could fake  swallowing them in front of the nurse who knocked daily on his retirement home  door.

     "He tells all of this to you,  his mother !" I said angrily . later regretting being angry with my mother.  
     " Who else is there? "  she said . "He's hurting so and he hates what he does, Robert.  But please, dear, don't say anything to him. Promise ? "
    " But, Mom,  he keeps doing it! "
    "Your brother says he's sorry. He can't help it, Robert. "    
  " Then what do you say !" I demanded.
"   I tell him it's all right…  Oh, son , your brother so badly  needs to hear that it's all right." 

            My mother's words would always mean to me that my brother had made a confession to her and that  she had--once again--forgiven him. 

     Finally, my mother   looked at me and, as if sharing  a long-concealed secret, softly said,  " I love Jesus and pray to Him every night  ."  

     When  leaving Mom's room on another day,  a  nurse walked in, followed a few seconds later  by two volunteers.  Curious , I paused outside the door to eavesdrop. Soon everyone in the room was chatting as if at a tea party.  At my next visit ,  I asked that nurse  in the hallway what had been going on in my mother's room that day. She said, "Oh, we go in there  now and then to get cheered up by your mother. " 

     My wife and I were at Lester's bedside at the Veteran's hospital in North Chicago  a few weeks before he  died. With us was one of the hospital chaplains,  Fr. VanderHey . The nurse removed Lester's oxygen mask. My brother was wide-eyed and attentive , a face  I had not seen in decades. 

      Lester  had made his profession of faith .

     My  brother, I thought ,  appeared as serene as he did that day Mom in her  room asked him to pull up a chair for me.

     When the three of  us exited Lester's room,  Fr. VanderHey took us aside and , referring to the conversion of a psychotically ill  person in I.C.U. ,  he  exclaimed,  "In my twenty years as chaplain, I've  only seen  this [ kind of conversion ]   twice !" 

     While  rummaging through old family documents after my mother's death nine years later,  I came across this poem she wrote, I know, with  a child-like  innocence  at age 18—the only poem she would  ever wrote.  She had quit  her job as an Illinois Bell  telephone switchboard operator to marry my father and was now pregnant with Lester.

Where did you come from, Baby Dear?
By Dorothy Eleanor Schwarz
                                                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 that  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 you are here.

            After I had read it three times,  I began to sense  a holiness  in my mother , a sense of pure innocence that resonated  from  her poem and sounded in her voice when she had told me about my brother .  My discernment  brought thoughts about the love which the Holy Mother   felt for her Son Jesus as she cradled Him at the foot of  His cross.  This man,  I recalled,  had taken ownership of  all the sins of humankind , including those infinitely more wicked than Lester's.   I next found  these words of Paul the Deacon, an 8th Century Benedictine monk:   "And she   [Mary ] knows how to have compassion on human weakness, because she knows  of what we are made. " 

            I had similar thoughts that day about my  father's steadfast loyalty to Lester throughout those scandalous years.  It made me think of the  loyalty  Joseph  gave to Mary when pregnant with God's  Son  and how her sheltered Him  that night in Bethlehem.   I'm sure the world has many, many Marys and Josephs like my parents. 
The End
All comments are welcome.
© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz




           




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Love Affairs ( some Godly ) Between These People and Their Dogs ( part two of two parts )

Blind and Deaf , He Prays for a Friend and Gets a Dog, Then a Wife and Son , and Finally His Own Company

By Robert R. Schwarz

                        God  has chosen  the weak things  of the world to shame the
                        things which are strong ….that no man should boast
                         before God.  ( Saint Paul  to the   Corinthians  (I),  1:27 )

[Note: All spoken or written  words attributed to Bapin
in this article he communicated either by the
tactile American Sign Language or a Telebraille
 machine. ]


             
            I       This report is about a uniquely gifted  blind-deaf  man from India named Anidya "Bapin" Bhattachayya .   My first encounter with him would become the most memorable, and  it occurred  in the  Leader Dog School dining room of LeaderDogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Michigan. I was there on a magazine  assignment in 1998 for  Lions Clubs International, the world's  largest volunteer service organization, which had formerly employed me for 13 years as its manager of leadership development.   
           
Bapin and  Dinah in training with LeaderDog expert Keith MacGregor
At eight round tables  sat  22 blind men and women  anxiously and silently  waiting to be introduced to a new friend  with whom they would live for the next ten or more years. Then, one by one, German Shepherds and  Labrador retrievers were led into the room  by LeaderDog trainers and led to each of their new masters.  Bapin was the only blind-deaf person in the room.  The  dogs were soon at their masters' feet, where they remained quietly , lying with heads between paws . Hands reached down and searched for a head or back to stroke. The room was quiet,  as if respecting a kind of sanctity of the moment.  One man  grabbed his dog's  harness , and the two  made their  way to an old upright  piano . Impromptu , the man began to play a cheerful melody. I saw sightless eyes moisten.

II          A year earlier, Bapin, at age 26 , had been dealing with a sadness common to  college students away from home for the first time; he  was lonely and friendless. Though his fellow students were always signaling their willingness to do him a favor— often ineptly— "none of them were willing to go the distance of true friendship, "  Bapin explained to during one of our several ensuing  interviews . He was preoccupied with his upcoming final exams , the climax of  five years of study, most of it by reading Braille and living in a world without sound.
            One afternoon he went to his dorm room and closed the door. He began thinking of a boyhood conversations with his Hindu mother about his parents' god  and, more recently, about his  recent lunch with two teens from a Little Rock church . Using a tactile sign language where fingers were pressed to form letters on Bapin's palm, they had told him  that  God must come  first before anything else. 
            That night, Bapin went to his knees, likely  for the first time in his life. But soon he began  doubting the  rectitude of his prayerful behavior. He quickly rose to face the painful dilemma of telling or not telling  his Hindu parents that he was thinking of becoming a Christian.  Then  he was reminded of something else those two teens had told him. Don’t worry about your parents. God will work in their heart, too. Again Bapin went to his knees . He prayed to have  a "close friend. " 
            "Two Sundays later, "  Bapin told me, "I answered an altar call from the church pastor and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. " It changed my  life overnight. There was so much peace. I began to ask God to 'see' and 'hear ' for me.'  When he wrote his parents in India and shared his  conversion, they  rejoiced. "I didn't expect that !" Bapin  exclaimed. Still, he continued to pray hard  for that close friend. 
            Bapin took his final exams in political science for  his B.A. degree from   the University of Arkansas. Stress mounted as he waited for test results. Being an outstanding student had won him a scholarship from the National  Federation of   the Blind. As he  was sitting one day eating pizza in  the university cafeteria , an excited  staff member came to him and slapped him on the shoulder. Bapin learned  he would soon have his "close friend" ,  though not exactly what he had prayed for . But this friend would be  close .  
             She  was "Chica" , a yellow Labrador retriever .  Unknown to  Bapin,  , news of  his scholarship had caught the attention of the Rochester (Michigan )  Lions Club , one of several thousand clubs of Lions Clubs International (LCI ),  the world's foremost supporters of Leader dogs .  Training of Bapin and Chica  at the  LeaderDog school in Rochester Hills would  cost $19,000. It was a charitable gift to Bapin.
            Confused and stunned,  Bapin rose from his chair and stood for a long moment to discern how an animal , especially a  dog, could ever be a close friend. It would be a grueling  lesson for him to learn, seeing that he knew nothing about dogs…

 III   Tragedy, then Another… Bapin's challenged life began at birth and  was greatly worsened at age  eight at a potato-roasting school  campfire in India . A few miles away was  the farmland village of Telari , where  85  percent of the surrounding population was illiterate and poverty-stricken . There Bapin was  born deaf and later accidentally   blinded in one eye while digging in the soil .
            Bapin  was sitting with fellow  rugby   team members who had just elected him team captain.  The Bengali language of  the  team rang with cheer about  their recent game victory.  One team member, however,  was smoldering with jealously and growing increasingly  morose . He continued to stare at the fire, preoccupied with  the thought that he, certainly not Bapin, should have been chosen  captain.  After all,  how can you  have a captain who is deaf and blind in one eye ? He  suddenly leaped up , scooped up several  glowing coals and threw them at Bapin's face .
            In days ahead,  Bapin and his parents kept asking where in the world do we get help for our deaf-blind son ? Certainly not near Telari or elsewhere.   Friends and neighbors throughout the family's countryside saw no hope that Bapin's  life would ever become humanized. 
       
The author interviewing Bapin with  a Telebraille machine
    Bapin during our initial interview several years ago, told me : "My blindness frustrated me because I did not understand how to express my problems, and became angry and mischievous .   I often would sneak out of the house to make trouble while everyone was having a siesta. I would sometimes throw hay through my neighbors' windows. Other times I would lock their doors from outside by hooking up chains. Although I was troubled as a child,  I found a little peace in creative expression. I developed a hobby by using manual skills to make statues of Indian gods and goddesses through woodworking and ceramics. Since my mother was a talented artist, she always offered to paint these statues for me."
            Something else  would repeatedly trouble him in  future years : his  inability to forgive the youth who destroyed his one remaining eye.

IV    A Long Search for Help, Then a Long Journey… For four years Bapin's for searched unsuccessfully throughout  India for a school equipped to educate a deaf-blind student. Then, through the efforts of a kind aunt his  persevering father, who had become a school principal ,  Bapin in 1983 received a scholarship to attend the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. Airline tickets to America for Mr. Bhattacharyya and son cost the father one  year's salary. "My father accompanied me to be my English-to- Bengali translator , "  Bapin later wrote in a short  biography. "All I knew was English alphabet letters and a few words such as 'I love you,' 'I want to go to the bathroom,'  'I want to eat,' and, 'I want to go to sleep.'  Taking a journey halfway around the globe was an awakening adventure . But my life was completely changed from a life of darkness to light when I came to Perkins.  
            "Upon arrival at Perkins and entering my dorm, the first question I was asked, was whether I wanted to live alone or with my father. I told my father that I wanted to live by myself to force myself to learn English. From the next day on, I rolled up my sleeves to learn English, Braille, and sign language at the same time. My father also learned Braille and took courses to acquire new knowledge about how to work with deaf-blind children.
            "I started to see a different world by meeting other students who also were deaf-blind, which encouraged me to adjust to my deaf-blindness. I never imagined that from a village with a large population living in poverty and illiteracy, that there could also be people in similar situations as myself who existed on this earth. The only drawback was that I could not communicate easily with these deaf-blind students because of my limited sign language."
            Leaving  his son under the guardianship of Bapin's English teacher ,  the  father returned to India. During Bapin's  years at Perkins and a subsequent year at Gallaudet University , a  liberal arts university in Washington, D.C., Bapin developed a strong interest in helping blind and deaf people . "My enthusiasm to achieve higher education also continued," he told me.  A few years later he became the first deaf-blind student at the University of Arkansas.  Bapin, who today remains characteristically aggressive about learning new skills,  soon persuaded the university to add  Braille to its computer lab and to  hire signers for lectures.

      V    Led by a Dog from Darkness to Light… After five years of university study that demanded much from Bapin , physically  and mentally, he arrived at the LeaderDog school for training  (some of which I was fortunate to observe close up ) . Before  the students' arrival, the r dogs had already received  several weeks of preliminary training and an exhaustive screening process that had  began soon after they were whelped by home-based volunteer dog lovers. 
            Bapin is now in his late 30's . He has tufts of black hair and stands   five-feet-four-inches . When, during our years of friendship , I had tossed him the compliment that I saw him as  six-feet tall in courage, he laughed—in Braille.  What is striking about Bapin is the speed with which he walks and  thinks. It  blindness and deafness.  One of his   interpreters told  me, " Bapin can read Braille as fast as a secretary can type. " 
            The arduous, military-like  training that would last 24 days for Bapin and his assigned dog, Chica ,  began  at 6 a.m., when all dogs were taken to an outdoor run to relieve themselves.  An hour later, a training cadre of  more than a dozen  men and women attired in khaki shorts , maneuver students and dogs out to the 14-acre school complex.
            Students and dogs first learn hand signals: "forward," "left," "right," "sit," "down," "stay," and "walk faster." Later, the canines  will learn to guide their masters away from oncoming cars, and construction zones and other hazards such as tree branches overhanging   sidewalks. Each dog  must  acquire "a sense of responsibility" for his or her  master . But more critical—and often painfully  slow— is that master and dog absolutely must to learn what to expect from each other. And before a Leader dog can be released to its new owner, both dog and the owner must pass a final test. What no one apparently told  Bapin is how critically important it  is  for the master to trust his dog. 
            I  kept my eye on Bapin and Chica as both strained to  coordinate  each other's  movements . Other students  relied on the  trainer's  voice commands.  Bapin, however,  was forced to react fast in reading the  sign language which his trainer , Keith MacGregor ,  communicated to him with fingers that pressed   hard and often on  Bapin's  palm (as if it were a notebook ). Once, a substitute trainer for Bapin was called in because MacGregor's shoulder was in  pain due to the prolonged downward  force  used by his fingers  to sign on Bapin's palm. I was told that MacGregor at the time was likely the world's only guide dog trainer skilled in tactile signing. 
            I asked MacGregor , " Does Chica know that Bapin is blind ?"
            "I  believe that Leader dogs know something is different about someone who can't see, " he replied.   Said Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of the book  The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn ,  " Though dogs have been our best friends for tens of thousands of  years, they still read us far more skillfully than we read them. "
            Bapin and Chica and the others closed their training day with a lecture at 8 p.m. Everyone rested  on Sunday; some students went to church,  but without their dogs.
            Six days into the training, Bapin begins to frown while we are talking via his  Telebraille. He is obviously worried and  tells me: " I took the college exams ten days ago and do not know if I passed. " As he begins another sentence, the Telebraille malfunctions. Bapin has a moment of angry panic, wondering how long his voice medium will take to repair.  I refrained from telling him about a major crisis now developing .  
            MacGregor had told me at lunch  that he had been noticing Chica was sometimes refusing to lead , causing  Bapin to doubt Chica's  ability to lead.  " Truth is, "  MacGregor said, " he mistakenly expects his dog to walk in a straight line like a robot and never to pause to sniff something ."  He  also speculated—but hadn't yet told Bapin—that Chica might be over-reacting to the strangeness she senses from human deafness.  Solving this problem is urgent,  MacGregor said ,  for both dog and master  now faced being dropped from the training  program.  
                 Two days later , MacGregor approaches me shaking his head. "You won't believe this," he said.  " Chica is Bapin's very first experience with any dog! . My guess is that  bonding with a dog is emotionally alien to this  young man from Indian . "  
            The insight came too late.  Chica was dismissed and , according to program  policy, would not ever be  considered again for Leader dog training. I visited Bapin in his room that night. My friend was obviously crestfallen yet exuded an indomitable spirit that defied his awesome handicap.  "I was hit hard and I miss her," he said. "I was slow to understand what a relationship to a dog really means .  I had never felt this kind of emotion for an animal. I found myself loving her, yet I didn't keep a balance between this love and her need for discipline."  
            News came the next day that Bapin had passed his final college exams. Between 1993 and 1998 ,  the university had presented him five various service  awards .  "I tried to be happy, but could not," he said.
             MacGregor persuaded director Bill Hansen to give  Bapin  another opportunity . Bapin waxed joyous when  introduced to Dinah, a 21-month-old, 64-pound yellow Lab . She had been returned to LeaderDogs for the Blind   three months ago by an individual who had diligently raised her as part of the school's volunteer puppy-raising program .
            Dinah and Bapin worked well together , though the vital bonding process took longer than the normal ten days because Dinah could not hear any voice command from her master. Graduation would require Bapin and Dinah to pass a final test to  prove that  the two of them could work with mutual trust. Dinah  would be  required  to obey all commands she had learned from MacGregor and which were signaled on her halter by Bapin . I  knew Bapin was a bit head-strong but did not know how he would meet   the challenge of  deferring to a dog's willful instincts rather than his own.
      
Bapin taking a test walk before the critical  final test that will decide if he can keep  Dinah   

          On the day of the test,  I drive from my home  near Chicago to be with  Bapin.  MacGregor, Bapin, Dinah, and I converge on a Saturday afternoon at a traffic-laden street corner in downtown Rochester . We are tense.   Dinah, I suspect, is sensing that something extra-doggy is about to happen. "This trust thing ," MacGregor says while  opening his van door for Bapin and Dinah,   "can be  a life or death issue when,  for example, both are about to cross a busy  street intersection  but  their instincts  are  demanding different behaviors.  Trust can be difficult enough for a blind person, but for a person who is also deaf, it sometimes seems impossible. "
        He and I exchange anxious glances while observing Bapin and Dinah  navigate through pedestrians  down a sidewalk towards another  busy intersection where the test will occur. We stay put. I hear MacGregor again  mumble to himself that he  will have to fail both Bapin and Dinah if they can't develop  this mutual trust. "This guy is a very independent dude," he mumbles for the second time.    
            All so far is going well; Dinah skirts his master around an overhanging, curbside tree branch. The two now halt at the corner  curb. MacGregor has purposely not told Bapin that the pedestrian crossing for this intersection, unlike the right angle crossing on which they were trained to cross, must be followed diagonally from corner to corner.  
           Rochester townspeople are used to seeing blind pedestrians and their Leader dogs and will  often help them cross streets . But not today.  We wait about a hundred feet away , watching for Bapin's first go-ahead tug on Dinah's halter. He tugs, which commands Dinah to proceed straight ahead, but not  to enter the diagonal pedestrian crossing . Dinah refuses to obey her master's command and  tugs to the right, towards the diagonal crossing ! ( "We want our dogs to use 'intelligent disobedience' , stubborn enough to say no when necessary, " Leader trainer Will Henry  will later tell me. ) Bapin firmly pulls Dinah back. I see   wince at this clash of wills; night and day for more than three weeks he  invested all his training skills to win this test  for  Bapin and Dinah.   
            A scene from a day ago flashes before me: it’s Bapin and Dinah taking a nap together on Bapin's bed, and it now makes me ask,  Has Bapin  again , as with  Chica, failed to discipline his novitiate affection for a dog, failed to grasp what MacGregor had imparted  to him about canine psychology ?
            Dinah tugs twice more to her right. "Damn it," MacGregor exclaims, " he believes  Dinah is confused. He thinks he's got to  do the leading ! "
            Our eyes stay on Bapin , who seems frozen in an  inexpressible thought.  Then, being  the professional Leader dog she is ,  Dinah once more  forward—into the  diagonal crossing.
             Bapin   follows her .
Best of friends
 

     VI         Bapin's Skills Put to Work for the Blind and Deaf …  Nine months later, Bapin was working full-time as an adaptive technology instructor at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths & Adults in Sands Point, New York. "He can take a computer apart and put it back together again," Bapin's  supervisor said. In his Internet-posted biography ( http://www.bapin.info/ ), Bapin wrote that this  was his dream job, "a perfect opportunity for me to move ahead in my life where I can bring myself  at the hands of every deaf-blind person worldwide who is hungry for golden opportunities."
            Dinah was never further away from him than a tug on her  harness .
I didn't hear from Bapin  until  eight years later when I asked him for an update on his life .  " At this moment," he replied, "Dinah is resting on her bed in one corner of my office."  The two had just returned on a jet from a conference in Los Angeles. "She loves flying all the time. She even went to Kolkata [Calcutta] with me twice, and all of my family members loved having her there.  Dinah is now ten and a half and loves going to work all the time, so I don’t know when she will be ready to retire." Bapin also mentioned that the dog's spleen had to be removed because of a benign tumor. 
            On April 4, 2008, in an email sent at 12:40 a.m. to more than 50 friends, Bapin related how Dinah had collapsed a few hours ago due to a cancerous tumor around her heart. He was now working in the San Francisco branch office of the Helen Keller Center.  "Today, Dinah led me home from my office,  12 blocks away ," he wrote. "She ate her dinner and soon thereafter collapsed. I am praying and hoping for a few more days Dinah can enjoy living." 
            Dinah spent a few days in an animal hospital  and then was brought home. Another email followed: "I came home during lunchtime to check on her. Dinah still greets me when I get home, and she gets excited with the tail wagging hard, the usual Dinah. I took her outside for her to do her business. She dragged me to walk around an entire block. "   
            Dinah's medical bills so far had personally cost Bapin $3,500. Wanting his companion to live out her last days in a familiar environment, Bapin took Dinah back to New York to stay with his former landlord and co-worker at the Helen Keller Center. To avoid Dinah being left  too long without him,  he flew monthly each month ( from May until October )  from San Francisco to New York to consult with a veterinarian .  Bapin emailed me on May 30: "She has not yet shown any decline in the guiding skills as she tries to guide me even on her leash when I am using my cane."
            In October,  Bapin posted on his webpage: "It's very sad to let you know that Dinah passed away on October 14th. She collapsed at 3:45 p.m. as my co-worker James Feldman was trying to make her stand up from her bed under his office's desk. She would not stand up and needed to be lifted onto a cart by two other colleagues, John Baroncelli and Robert Pena. She was taken to Robert's car and driven away to the Animal Medical Center in NYC. The doctors found that the fluids in the sac around Dinah's heart filled up again. They had to flush out the fluids but 15 minutes later the fluids filled up fast. There was no other option to curing the tumor, and Dinah's primary doctor recommended to have her put down. James and Robert were at the hospital with Dinah and I was in my office here in San Francisco. I was on the phone with the doctor with an interpreter,  and we talked for a long time. We all decided to let Dinah go at 6:30 p.m. Dinah will be cremated and her ashes will be put into an urn."  
            Adjusting to daily living without a Leader dog was slow and demanding  for Bapin , who now navigated with a cane . Demand for  his technical  skills at the Helen Keller Center  increased with  his now added  role of  trainer for deaf and blind people. But Bapin , I was told,  remained his  quick-witted, impatient  self   with any project he undertook; among his several innovations at the Center were Braille-capturing radio instruments that emitted emergency notices on National Public Radio to individuals like himself.  He  terribly missed Dinah,  but his frequent travels as a spokesman  for the Center  offered him a different kind of companionship.       "When you are deaf-blind, technology is an ever-present companion," he told me. " I travel with a laptop for e-mail, phone and Internet access . I use a G.P.S.-equipped Braille  note-taker to get information about my surroundings. To communicate with others, I have a Screen Braille Communicator with two sides: one in Braille, which I can read and the other,  an L.C.D. screen with a keyboard for someone who is sighted."
At the sea shore with bride Sook Hee and--of course--Dinah as " Best Dog"
            Yet again he prayed again for a "close friend." 



VII     Marriage to a Deaf Woman and Then a Son…. At the conferences where he had been asked to demonstrate  his new adaptive technology products, Bapin  kept running into a deaf Korean woman, Sook Hee Choi—. "We were developing feelings for each other," Bapin told me over the telephone.  Sook Hee was  a slender  woman with black eyes and a melodic voice. She wore  glasses, dressed, professionally when working with her husband, and spoke  her native tongue  and a bit of English.   
      Knowing Bapin , I imagined he must have thought that marriage between a deaf-blind man and a deaf woman  would parallel that crisis with Dinah at that  Rochester traffic intersection.  Then his  email: "I am now engaged to get married. Sook Hee lives in San Francisco and works at the Lighthouse for the Blind there, and she is a wonderful woman! A wedding date has yet to be fixed. Do you remember that I told you…how I wanted Dinah to help me find a woman? Now, many thanks to her for finding me a girl!" 
             Sook Hee  accepted her fiancé's invitation to accompany him to India to celebrate his brother's birthday.  That same year, the couple were married in the  San Francisco city hall.  Eleven months later—on Sook Hee's birthday—Bapin and wife became parents of a healthy son, Navin.


        VIII      A  shining moment of Bapin's professional life came August 3, 2015 when he stood on stage before  an  audience of several hundred  people at the first-ever International Deaf-Blind Exposition at a major  Las Vegas hotel. When he was introduced as the CEO of an  adaptive technology company that now  bore his name : Bapin Group LLC  [www.bapingrouponline.com/ ]   Today ,  Bapin's company  is  a not-for-profit firm which provides instruments  for deaf and blind people in schools, government agencies, and businesses around the world .    
         Unfortunately, on that stage  Bapin  could not hear the roar of applause. But as the applause continued,  he was feeling the emotion of a celebrity as he read a description of  this event  being signed onto his palm by  his interpreter . Then Bapin  reached down to a dog sitting attentively at his side and  vigorously stroked  it  in a display of gratitude. This was  Walter, a five-year-old , 100-pound Labrador retriever, Bapin's  new friend…
            It is a May day,  and Bapin , Navin , and Walter  leave their El Cerrito  home and begin a five-minute walk to the train station for a two-minute ride followed by  a ten-minute walk to Navin's public school .  "He's learning English and Korean in his kindergarten class,"   Bapin tells me . " He's really smart and loves  technology. "  Some days ,  Bapin and Walter  might ride a train for 35 minutes to  Bapin's office in Berkeley or travel  to Fremont where Bapin  teaches a deaf-blind interpreting class at Oholone College . 
         I once asked Bapin if Navin senses that his father is blind . " Sometimes he says to his mother, ' Dad can't see. ' But he knows to clasp my hand for me to get him something. He also knows he needs to guide  me. He has good communication with us and  we make sure he is exposed to a lot of different experiences. With his mother,  he uses sign language  and is learning to  speak to her in Korean . She also reads his  lips . "  Bapin then paused to think:  " I have a higher priority for him .  We teach him how to be respectful to his parents and other people. But I've got to figure out how to help him more. I have to make more time for him because I'm very busy and want to make a good relationship with him. He's a sweet little kid."
                On weekends Hook See might travel to her husband's office to manage his company's product distribution . But today she is in her  backyard garden hoeing out weeds and uprooting some early vegetables. She is planning for a special meal tonight to celebrate the good news that her son will, for sure,  enter the first grade in September.  The sight of a lone seagull flying away from a neighbor's yard  delights her ; she recalls the pleasure of seeing  her son wave at a  gull here  last summer  and then  ask her  what kind of bird it was. Hook See did her best to name it .  

            The family's  two-bedroom apartment is very old. "It is like any other house, " he says  . "It has a stove, oven, microwave, oven. "  Unlike most homes, it has an alarm system which vibrates his pager when the phone or doorbell rings or if there is an intruder.   
            For that special dinner tonight, Sook Hee has  decorated the table with colorful , hand-stitched napkins and a table cloth from her native county; they were gifts from her mother when she lived here with Bapin and Hook See to help them through the challenges of their marriage and her daughter's pregnancy. The dishware is equally colorful, brought back from India by Bapin and Hook See when they visited Bapin's parents .          
            Bapin is at the front door and unlocks it. He and Walter enter .  Bapin is bone-weary, mind-weary. It's been a tedious, often hectic nine-hour day of communicating many business matters  via  his Telebraille and  the repeated  tactile signing between him and a colleague. There also was his two-hour delay in taking Walter outside for a required walk, followed by that  frantic search for  that latest piece of alpha electronic equipment an employee had placed in a remote section of the office and not telling Bapin about it.  In this moment,  Bapin's only desire is to release Walter from his harness and sink into a  favorite chair. No thinking, no communication, no task.   
            I saw him once like this after Dinah had been washed out of LeaderDog  training and he was exhausted from worrying about  his final college exams  and the  uncertainly of ever having a  Leader dog.  His thoughts as he now sat in that chair he would later express to me : "I need to learn to deal with  people who don't understand that I don't need them to pity me because  I'm deaf and blind or to treat me any less that any other human or say ,' Oh, he's not very smart because he's blind and deaf. ' "  
          His family greet him with tight hugs. Navin throws his arms around his father's thigh .  Bapin caresses  his son's head ,  then reaches down  to release Walter from his harness; this  signals the Lab that he's now  off-duty .  Bapin smells pizza and garden vegetables  ala Korean— his very favorites .  But Bapin is too tired to even smile.  " It is special tonight ,"  Hook See signs to  him , "because our son is  going soon to be  first grader. We are happy  and want to celebrate."   Bapin grimaces.  He has forgotten all about this event  and that toy gift for his son.
     Hook See  and Navin tell him how beautiful the table setting is . Bapin  sits down at the table and  slowly glides a finger across the dinner plate. He hopes his face will not show his diminished affection for his family.   The family prays .
           Bapin had at one time  prayed for the willingness to forgive that boy who had at the school camp fire maliciously destroyed his remaining sight. I don't know if that willingness ever came. No doubt  Bapin had often  asked God,  Do You really expect me to forgive him for what he did to me ?  
            But halfway through dinner, Bapin becomes visibly regenerated.  He speaks [ signs ] to his family with  cheerful and affectionate words.  Bapin would later tell me: " Bob, I found the right woman. She really takes care of me. We cherish each other. Sometimes we'll have bad days and sometimes good days. We really want to be better for our son." 
            During our last interview, I asked his opinion about the current American culture and his  own spirituality. "I feel bad," he replied, "that so many people have lost their moral values. Well, you know, as we get closer to the end of the world, as the Bible says, we will see  more and more of that.  Sometimes I wish I could do things my way, but then God tells me: No, my way.  I read the Bible, I pray before I go to bed ,  but I can't go the church very often because in California it's hard to find a good church that has interpreters. "  
            Encouraging  my friend to say more, he says: " I cherish life every day. I try to do the best things for other people, through God's help. But sometimes I feel I don't have enough power or energy . Then God helps me. "
            Two things make him happy: "family and exotic good food."  And sad ?  It's world hunger and people with disabilities who have to live with discrimination, he said.   
            Dinner over, Bapin walks eagerly to a small adjoining room  for an hour of woodwork; this time it's  replacing a broken  chair leg . After that, there's an unfinished cabinet he's been constructing. He loves it. 

            IX     Valuable Insights about God, Country, and Family Nearing the end  of writing this,   my mind returns  to that family dinner and of Walter  fast asleep under the dining room table with his harness  hanging on the wall by the door. I began to think deeply about Dinah , too,  and the five dogs in my own long life  who have been my  "close friends,"  particularly two German Shepherds  , Luther and Moses . Their   loyalty , obedience, and lack of moods me gave me new and valuable insights about my  relationship to God, country, and what defines a family .  I also  recall asking Bapin   what Dinah and Walter have taught him.  He said,  "I understand God better now because of Dinah and Walter. The reason is that God makes wonderful creatures,  and that gives me compassion. Walter is God's gift to me. And I can see how a dog can understand me. "
            And I can see Bapin  at that  dinner table with Hook See and Navin , communicating  love to each other as best they can.   I hear Bapin telling me , " Sometimes when I have frustrations, Walter helps me calm down and tell myself, Get over it !  Then I feel more positive about life. "  When I hear Bapin say , " I want to give of my self ,"  it reminds me of an  exhortation of a 19th Century holy man  whom Bapin cited at the bottom of an email he sent me: Don't let your life be sterile. Be useful .
            The light which Bapin's life shines on the path through my twilight years is also reflected  by a title of a book written in the 1960's by a former chaplain of a renowned rehabilitation center. It is LET GO AND LET GOD.  That's exactly what a blind-deaf man had to do at a  traffic-laden intersection  to become fully alive .   

The family eating dinner out with son Navin
     
                                                     


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© 2017 Robert R. Schwarz