Saturday, December 24, 2011

#378: The Law of the Pack

Mom always tried to get me to write thank you notes. For reasons I cannot explain, I resisted her efforts. Wicked child. I didn't know what to say. As if "Thank You," just wasn't original enough somehow.

I've always wanted to be impressive. Umpteen years ago, this blog started under the title PennsyltuckianI started blogging to share my deep insights into God, the Universe, and Everything with a world that was starving for my wisdom and eloquence. The more I wrote, the less impressed I grew with myself. The more words I typed, the more I realized how little I really had to say. The truth is, I didn't know squat about God, the Universe, or Anything. Fortunately, God's wisdom had a course of graduate studies in mind for me. I'm still not nearly as original, wise, or insightful as I want to be, but I do have a PhD in Gratitude. Here's an extract from my dissertation.

I am grateful for the Pack. I live in a world that idolizes the lone wolf, the man who can stand on his own two feet. He think for himself, takes care of his own, minds his business, and keeps his own counsel. I tried so long to be that man.

We had cats for years. Lions live together, but most cats are lonely people. Given her 'druthers, Maggie and Kizzie would spend their whole lives curled up in a warm spot, purring quietly, contemplating the mysteries of the universe and occasionally taunting the dogs through the baby gate. Their encounters with each other can be civil and affectionate, even tender, but they always carry a tinder-box in their back pocket.  They will hop up onto the bed when the mood strikes them, but neither is much for hugging. You can love a cat with all your heart, but the cat will always her limits.

Leader of the Pack?
Dogs live in the Pack. They hunt together, sleep together, raise their pups together. The dogs in my life have shown me how to love without limits. We play in the rain. We run in the grass. They have welcomed me into their world, though I can't do a thing for them except scoop dry nasty chunks of food into a bowl a couple times a day. It's a poor substitute for the game they were created to hunt and share in the wild, but they are grateful. I love all the creatures who share my home, but I will never be "one of the cats." The dogs have taken me in as one of their own. They even let me think I'm in charge from time to time.

Humans are slow, weak creatures. Compared to our brothers and sisters in the wild, we are not fast or strong. We can't see our food or smell danger. Our claws are short and brittle, our teeth flat and dull. The one advantage a human has is a brain. We're smart. And our ancestors were smart enough to realize that the only way for us to survive was if we lived together. We learned the law of the Pack. Mrs P likes to tell me, "Everything we do is better when we do it together." As always, she is right.

"We are the Duck!"
When I lost my job, I found a group of people struggling together to make it in the world. We traveled in small groups, trying to sell insurance to people who, for the most part, didn't want to see our faces, let alone buy our products. It could have been a lonely, depressing life - and the truth is, I sucked at selling insurance - but I found a pack who cared about one another. We understood one another's struggles, and when one of us was in trouble, the rest of us were willing to come to their aid. A few succeeded in the business, most of us didn't, but all of us found strength and love in that strange, wonderful Pack.

Stolen image, but this is what crazy feels like.
When I lost my mind, Mrs P knew she couldn't pull me back to sanity by herself, and that I couldn't help myself, either. She took me to the nut house. I spent 10 days there, taking pills, walking the halls, living without shoelaces or a belt. Afterwards, I was in an outpatient program for a month. I met with shrinks and counselors and social workers and big burly types who always showed up when one of us got out of hand. Those people were great. But the most important part of my healing happened in the big room in the middle of the ward, when all the professionals were in their offices doing paperwork, and the nuts would sit together and share our stories. We were depressed housewives, battered lovers, broken-hearted soldiers, grieving orphans. We had been fired, raped, dumped on, cheated on, and born with wired crossed in our heads. Most of us knew what it was to face the choice between life and death, and many of us had tried to choose death. Some of us had days when the pain of getting out of bed was just too great. One by one, we would stop by their room, like a little den, and offer to listen. We didn't have to ask how they were doing. We knew. All we could offer was our presence. The safety of the pack. There were no miracle cures in the nut house. We all went in crippled, and we all came out limping, but we were all a little stronger for the time we had spent together.

If you've been following FMR, you know my cancer story. I'm always blabbing about it. I wonder if people get sick of hearing it. But then I think of the people who might need to hear: the people who stare at the ceiling in the dark, worrying about a cough or a lump or a spot of blood that shouldn't be there; the people waiting for the results of tests that will change their lives; the people who haven't yet decided whether to fight or give up; the ones whose hope is fading; the weary cancer fighters who feel like old lions, left behind to die; the ones who love people with cancer, who don't know how to help and don't know how to keep fighting. Most of the people who hear my story won't need to hear it, but some will. That's my job. They are my Pack.

The Strong Eight - cancer warriors
My Wife. My Mother. My sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. The friends who call and pray. The strangers who weep and nod in recognition. The church that never gave up on me, when I gave up on it. The theatre who played on my behalf and welcomed me back when the time was right. The Head and Neck Support group who shared my whole healing journey with me, from puking and oxygen tanks to my first half-marathon. The men and women at the YMCA, some vets of the cancer wars, some simply people who loved us, who came together to sweat and laugh and cry for joy at the life we have been given. The lady at the gas station who told me she was having a great day because "I'm a ten year breast cancer survivor." The man who had just had his prostate removed and was afraid he would never make love again. A guy who won the Tour de France seven times. A woman who had just been told she had started her third relapse of ovarian cancer. The people who take the time to read FMR. They are my Pack. You are my Pack.

And so this is Christmas: The Feast of the Incarnation. Believe what you want. Celebrate how you like. In my house, we celebrate the day God turned to creation and whispered, "You are my Pack. I am one of you. We are more whole when we are together. You are the source of love in my life, and I am yours. We each have our own stories. We live our own lives. But our lives are better because we are together."


God is with us.

And we are with one another.

The Law of the Pack.

Thanks be to God.



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