Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Woe

Most of these reminiscences have been humorous, and there is plenty more of that to come. But not everything lying around in this basement is safe. There are places down here where children shan’t play. Where rusted edges jut, splintered corners lean, dank pools form and shadows seep. Why, oh why would I direct your attention to one of these areas?

Because there is a line we must walk, you and I.

Whether you think the stories I have shared so far are funny or not you must sense by now that I think they are hysterical. Know then that if my perspective were just a bit different each one of these events could have been tragedies. Each tale could have been a brick in a fortress of bitterness, shame and anger; each instance an exhibit in a court where I plead my life’s unfairness. If that were the case I should be such a person as would have no joy, worrying slights and turning them over in my hands as Gollum did the one ring. Happily that is not the case. My life has been unfair only in that I was given joy instead of the anguish that I deserved, mercy instead of justice. And so though it is cliché, the ability to laugh at one’s self truly must be retained. Herein lies one side of the line: the temptation to take every slight personal. It leads to an obsessive unhappy state. Celebrating your own indignities is a great way to keep the sense of proportion that we call humor.

The other temptation is the reason I bring you this tale today. The opposite temptation is to take nothing seriously. The reason it is tempting is because it seems like a way to escape pain. The person who laughs heartily at hard calamity is less human than the one who fixes their gaze unwaveringly on their own accumulated sufferings. Humor truly needs a sense of proportion, the ability to wave off the trifling against knowledge of the truly dreadful.

And so, I burden you with this woe. Please note that like the light stories before it, it could be told in a comedic manner. But I like knowing that you would feel the same unease in its inappropriate manner that you would if I attempted elicit sympathy from my funny stories as if they were horrors. Laugh at what is funny, cry at what is sad and keep walking that line.

My second senior year at college I moved into a freshman dorm with three other upperclassmen. (It’s okay to laugh at that part) The other guys were in Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship with me and two of them were the presidents of the two halves of our chapter. For this reason we referred to our rooms as the Presidential Suite. On a happier day I will tell you of a horrible embarrassment I suffered in the bathroom between the two rooms. The other non-president resident was my good friend Joshua. Josh lead a small group Bible study in the lounge one night a week and I helped out. There was a really good turnout as we had posted flyers and personally visited the dorm rooms of the students who were good enough to fill out a card indicating interest at Bronco Bash. Among those attending was a short, pretty Japanese girl named Akiko. As Providence would have it Jason, one of the Presidents, was also in the Bible study and was pretty fluent in Japanese having spent some of his schooling abroad. He was able to communicate with Akiko when the language barrier got above knee height, but Akiko had pretty good English.

Her prayer requests often focused on dealing with depression. She had recently converted to Catholicism and was excited to take part in the study of God’s word. One night Jason got a call from Akiko. I was the only other roommate there and he indicated that Akiko might be in trouble. I put my shoes on and we went down the elevator and to her room. When we got there she was sitting on the floor by her bed. Another Japanese transfer student was with her and he had put a large shirt on her. He looked worried. She brightened when we came in the room but she looked really out of it. She started talking to Jason and tried to pull the left sleeve of that big shirt up on her arm, but the guy (his name might have been Kenji or Kenshi) tried to prevent her. I saw blood on the inside of the cuff. She told Kenji/Kenshi that we could be trusted and took off that big shirt. There was blood on her dress from her arm. Her arm looked like it had been chipped. It reminded me of the big turning spit they use to make gyros at a Greek restaurant, only it was red and white instead of gray.

Japanese antidepressants aren’t as strong as those in the US. They come in powder form. No antidepressant should be consumed with alcohol. But I think Akiko had been accustomed to getting away with one glass of wine with her old meds. When she tried that with her American scrip she went mad. She had gone into the bathroom and found a razorblade that belonged to her suitemate. She had gone to work on her left arm with that blade trying to die. I guess she had attempted suicide on earlier occasions. She told me that cigarettes were poisonous if you tried to eat them. Jason stayed with her and I went for the Resident Advisor, a girl named Jamie who couldn’t have been more than a sophomore. She was one cool cucumber though. She assessed the situation and contacted the Hall Director. The decision was made to call the ambulance. Jamie had to explain what was going to happen and why to an increasingly alarmed Akiko. It wasn’t until the EMT’s arrived and took over that I saw how scared Jamie had been. Seeing that made me more impressed with her, not less.

Akiko started freaking out when the Med-tech’s got there. She had to be restrained on the gurney. When her arms were strapped down she stopped struggling. She gently called my name and said:
“Can you do me a favor?”
“What do you need, Akiko?” I said. I will never forget her eyes when she responded. She held my gaze. Her voice was calm, frank, sincere.
“Will you please kill me?”

They wheeled her away and she started struggling again. They told me she was going to the ward where she would be on suicide watch for a while. They said we could visit her at the hospital later. When we got back to our room Jason and I prayed for our friend.

The next night Kenji, Josh, Jason and I and perhaps a few others from the Bible study went to visit Akiko. She wanted us to be there when her father arrived. She was nervous. She wasn’t looking that great when we got there, but her arm had been bandaged and she was happy to see us. I had her Bible and asked if there was any Scripture she wanted to hear. She wanted to hear the first part of the fifth chapter of Mark.

Here it is in the NIV from www.bible.com:
Mark 5
The Healing of a Demon-possessed Man
1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.[a] 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil[b] spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" 8For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!"
9Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?"
"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them." 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well. 17Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.
18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis[c]how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.


The fifth verse struck me when I read it to her. I asked Akiko what she thought of the whole passage and she gently wept.
“I try to believe.” she said, “I try to believe.”

As the evening progressed word came that her father was on his way. I only include this next bit because it happened that same night and it was so bizarre, but I am not sure what connection it had to what was going on. I feel that it was part of it, but can’t quite say how. I went down to the hospital entrance to meet Akiko’s dad and guide him to the correct floor. When I got to the entrance it was dark. It looked closed. There wasn’t a sound. There were no door guards, orderlies, nothing; just the antiseptic lobby floor shining in the glow of the arc sodium lamplight streaming through the automated glass sliding doors.

“Oh, there you are!” came from my left.
A woman was walking toward me out of a dim hallway. She had graying straggly hair hanging on either side of her face. She had no teeth, but her eyes were lit up.
“I was wondering when I was going to meet you.” she said.
“You recognize me?” I asked.
“I have seen your face in my dreams. Sometimes I see monster faces, and then I throw a fireball in their mouth.”
I don’t know why I said what I said next. I guess I might have still been in some shock over the events of the night before. Everything was so weird and surreal. Maybe part of it is my non-confrontational nature. Who knows? Enough excuses, I’ll just tell you.
“Well please don’t throw a fireball in MY mouth.” I said.
She laughed.
“I wouldn’t do that to you. I’d know the difference.” and with that she walked past me and into the gloom of the hallway to my right. I looked around but there were no people around to help. I felt like I should probably tell somebody that this woman was walking around loose, but I didn’t know if that was part of her routine there or not. Maybe they let her take walks or something.

Anyway Akiko’s father arrived and we boarded the elevator. I don’t remember whether he came to my entrance or if Josh found him first, just being in the elevator with Josh and him. He worked for Fuji Film. Josh told him he used Fuji film and he told Josh that he was a good customer. That made all three of us smile. When we got there Akiko and her dad embraced and spoke in Japanese. I didn’t understand a word, but I saw the love and concern that was communicated. Akiko’s father told us that he was glad she had friends to come visit her and look out for her.

Akiko had to drop out of school that semester. The next semester she went to school in England. We got a letter from her saying that she had made some good friends there who had taken to calling her “Kiki.”

4 Comments:

Anonymous serina said...

Being married to that Japanese-speaking Jason, I remember this story. I pray Akiko's well today.

11:13 PM, March 31, 2006  
Blogger nicolas said...

You know...sometimes you just have to laugh at situations that aren't really that funny. You make an excellent point.

Crohn's disease is a perfect example of this. Intellectually, there is nothing funny about ulcers in your intestines. There is nothing funny about moving your bowels multiple times per day. There is nothing funny about being on medication to turn off your immune system, because your body is liable to tear itself apart if left unchecked. There is nothing funny about taking medication that is, in reality, genetically-engineered mouse antibodies.

But really, it is funny in many, many ways. For example-what other disease can one have that's brought about by living in a clean environment? I guess if you are obsessive-compulsive and have to wash your hands in the drinking fountain 87 times per day, that would count-but it IS funny.

My favorite Crohn's story about myself (which I'm sure I'll be telling a therapist someday) is during the early Crohn's years. I was, oh, thirteen years old, and part of the routine at that point was the dreaded rectal exam. Fellas...you know what I'm talking about here. The snap of the glove, the embarrased look on the doctor's face...both parties know what's coming, so both parties just try to get on with it. So I'm there in the doctor's office, in the little gown that they give you, awaiting the final part of the examination. It was at this point that the doctor informed me that a student would be giving me the rectal exam. Okay, no big deal, I thought. I just wished that this individual did not have gigantic fingers, and that, at the very least, the hand would be generally warm.

In walks the student doctor. The student, thankfully, does not have large hands. The student seems competent, speaking in a calm, even voice. However, the student is a FEMALE!!! In retrospect, this doesn't seem like such a big deal. At the time, however, I think my voice cracked multiple times when I was trying to get my name out (keep in mind, my name consists of a single syllable). I was completely embarrassed, because this was an attractive student doctor. This is the sort of thing that one might brag to one's friend's about ("Hey! Today an attractive student doctor put her hands on my heiney!"), except that one might have to explain further about what happened after that.

No wonder there were the rumors floating around I was gay in high school.

Anyhow, at the end of the exam, I just wanted a paper bag to put over my head on the way out of the office. Over the years, I've come to laugh about this stuff. Seriously, it seems like every doctor I've ever been to has a personal motto towards patients: "Up yours-literally". God help me if I ever forgot to pay one of them...who knows what sorts of maniacal tests I'd get scheduled for then ("Nick, we need to run this test where we fill your intestines with barium via this six-inch tube. Then we empty the barium out through your nostril.").

This isn't a very good story, but really, it still makes me chuckle when I think about it.

Jon, keep on smiling. If there is one thing that you taught me (besides the fact that it is irrelevant whether Jesus had a hairy back), its that laughter can be the most powerful ally to oneself and others. One can pass on more to the world through a smile than through any logic, reason, or intellectual know-how. These things aren't bad, but its you and your smile that makes the difference.

Smiling isn't just a way to ease pain, though. It's also a way to combat self-pity, a way to help oneself, a way to strengthen oneself. It's a way to fortify others, a way to keep spirits up.

So-with that said, what link do you see between faith and humor? I'm actually kind of serious with this question, because so many religions take themselves so seriously. The Bible is pretty darn serious (except for the Jesus tying his ass to a tree and walking up the mountain quote-pure hilarity!).

I'm done!

7:51 AM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Jonny10 said...

Nick!

Excellent question! I firmly believe there is a link between Faith and Mirth. It gets back to that perspective thing. If I truly believe,no matter what else happens that because Christ died my death on the cross and I bowed to Him and said, "let that sacrifice apply to me," that I will go to Heaven and be with a God who loves me when I die, then I know that after all there will be a happy ending. Any suffering is temporary and not to be compared with the coming glory I will take part in. This stance lets you let go of a lot of the incongruities of life and I hope all who read this are coming closer to that stance if they have not already accepted Christ's offer, and are standing firmer in it if they have. The following links deal with the concept of humor in the Bible. The first one is long but is the best and worth the read. The second is a short sermon (1 page). The last is another article that gets a little controversial, but makes an excellent point.

Here is the paradox. Our present set of behaviours when we read scripture can cause us to miss the humor in these situations. Because the Bible is talking about the Big Questions of life and existence we rightfully take it serious, but there are times when it is intentionally hilarious and it goes right over our heads. Read the first article linked below for more on that.

I think the scariest person of all is the one who has no sense of humor. C. S. Lewis said that when characterizing the Devil for fiction the one trait we must not give him is a sense of humor, because a sense of humor indicates a sense of proportion. I believe it is that sense if no other that the Devil is lacking else he would have known his place and not rebelled against the rightful Regent of All. The people that history shudders at were so focused on themselves and their ends and their means that humor could not enter in. Osama probably does not laugh at his time spent in the caves. Look at the results of a cartoon. Jesse Jackson would not endure the good natured ribbing of "Barbershop." The humorless trouble me, the religious humorless even more so.

Read this article!

Read that sermon!

Read the other article!

For those too lazy to click a link here are some quotes from famous Christians regarding humor.

"Jesus, for one, was witty, unpredictable, fully alive, and a person who delighted in, celebrated with, and was open to surprise. [I]t is safe to say that divorcing humor from religion is potentially destructive of true religion. Even when the separation is done with the best of motives, or in ignorance, the results are disastrous because we rob ourselves of the lightness and freedom necessary to notice and then to adore God.

"Life is serious all the time, but living cannot be. You may have all the solemnity you wish in your neckties, but in anything important (such as sex, death, and religion), you must have mirth or you will have madness. "
-- G.K. Chesterton, Lunacy and Letters, edited by Dorothy Collins (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958), p. 97.

The coarse joke proclaims that we have here an animal which finds its own animality either objectionable or funny. Unless there had been a quarrel between the spirit and the organism I do not see how this could be: it is the very mark of the two not being "at home" together. But it is very difficult to imagine such a state of affairs as original--to suppose a creature which from the very first was half shocked and half tickled to death at the mere fact of being the creature it is. I do not perceive that dogs see anything funny about being dogs: I suspect that angels see nothing funny about being angels. --C.S. Lewis

It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence. --George MacDonald

It is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart. --Martin Luther

It is unpardonable conceit not to laugh at your own jokes. Joking is undignified; that is why it is so good for one's soul. Do not fancy you can be a detached wit and avoid being a buffoon; you cannot. If you are the Court Jester you must be the Court Fool. --G.K. Chesterton

The joy of heaven incarnates in the humor of earth.--Terry Linvall

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is a nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. --C.S. Lewis

12:48 PM, April 05, 2006  
Blogger Dan "The Man" said...

Great thoughts! Keep your mind on Christ in faith, hope, and love. You, Jason, and Josh showed all three perfectly to Akiko. Your testimony of Christ to her will always be a part of her.

Praise God for that.

9:55 AM, May 01, 2006  

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