Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reflections on Becoming a Cyborg

October 15th 2005 is just one of those days in my personal memory that doesn't fade from my memory. I spent the morning finishing off my taxes(I usually file for an extension for reasons that I won't go into here). I had planned to have a little Oktoberfest celebration with my friends that evening.

After the taxes had been mailed, and before starting to cook dinner, one of my friends and I took a bike ride down to the park near my house, played a little hackeysack and talked about everything and nothing in particular. As we rode back up to the house, my friend did one of those wheelies where you ride the wheelie for a while. I remarked that I didn't think that I could do one of those, and then I proceeded to find out that indeed I cannot. I hit the ground hard. As soon as I tried to stand up, it was obvious that my arm was broken. Somehow I had acquired an extra elbow in that arm, and as I picked my arm up off the ground, I made a normal fracture into a compound fracture. This was not a good turn of events.

You see, the cost of health care increases every year, and as such, health insurance companies raise premiums, at which time they inform you that you could save money by choosing a higher deductible. Well I hadn't been seriously sick or injured in years, so I figured it couldn't hurt to have a $2000 deductible. I made this decision within about a month of this accident. So in addition to pain and discomfort, I got to thinking about how I would pay for a hospital stay.

We walked back to my house. My friend found my wallet with my insurance card. We tried unsuccessfully to wrap my arm in a clean towel and then abandoned the idea because it was hurting to much to continue. We got in his car and headed to the hospital 25 minutes away. I asked him to call my mother who lives in the same town as the hospital, figuring she might want to know about this.

At this point I feel compelled to point out that paperwork is not fun when you are injured, and consequently the registration process was brutal. When I finally got a bed, I had to wait around forever before anyone even cleaned my open wound. In the Radiology room, I actually heard one nurse whisper to the other, "did you see that?" to which the other one responded "yeah, it's awful." While still waiting to have my wound cleaned and a splint applied to my arm, I got asked to sign a form. My left arm could not support itself, so my right arm was busy holding it, and couldn't be used for signing anything. So my poor mother had to hold my broken arm while I signed. I could tell from her expression how difficult it was for her to see her son broken like that.

The treatment for my arm required a couple metal plates, twelve screws, some ground up cadaver bone mixed with some sort of growth medium(I had never heard of this before), and because I had been smoking for the last 5 years or so, I needed to use a bone stimulator(which uses electromagnetic pulses to simulate the signals that broken bones send out, causing the body to work harder to fix the broken bone).

I digress again. Most people who make it to the age of 19 without smoking, don't start smoking. I started at 23. It was really stupid, and I regretted having started, but continued to smoke anyway. I quit after my grandmother died, but started again a couple months later. So at this point, I was still smoking. I learned that smoking decreases bone density, and can prevent proper healing of broken bones, so when the doctor told me to cut back, I quit.

I was admitted to the hospital. I had to wait until the following morning for surgery because they had to wait for the metal plates to arrive. That night was a long, horrible night. Once visiting hours were over and everyone went home, I sat there with just my thoughts. I was worried about surgery the next day, worried about how I was going to pay for my hospital stay, worried about how I was going to manage to keep working with one arm, with doctor's appointments and with physical therapy. I felt like my life was collapsing around me. It had been a couple years since I had been to Church on a regular basis (another long story best saved for later), and even though I was sure that my surgery was pretty routine, I really didn't want to go under anesthetic in my spiritual state. So for most of the night, I alternated between crying and praying, with as much sleep as the morphine would allow.

The next day I had my surgery. I remember being wheeled into the hallway near the Operating Room, I remember getting a shot of something, I remember being scared senseless, and I remember my Mom praying for me, and then I remember waking up. I was in a strange room, it hurt to breathe (no doubt because of the cigarettes), and there was an invisible thing squeezing my arm really hard (which I later figured out was an automatic blood pressure cuff). The next couple days are pretty hazy except for a few moments here and there. I had a roommate who had been thrown from a horse who spent most of his waking hours screaming or watching hunting shows on TV (which are horrible when you are in and out of consciousness). My priest came to visit me, and we had a good talk. My Mom visited as often as she could. My friend visited. I got calls from most of my family. Anyway, on the third day, I got released from the hospital.

For the next week, I stayed at my Mom's house, because nearly everything was more difficult to do with one arm (and on painkillers). I had to learn to rely on other people for things that I should be able to do myself. I learned a lot about what it means to love someone, and that ultimately love is shown through service to others. At a time in my life where I felt that I should be self-sufficient, I was relying on my mother to take care of me, which she did without reservation.

Weeks went by, I had plenty of doctor's appointments. I saw x-rays that never seemed to look much better. And when every time I got a new cast I got to see the frankenstein monster that was my arm before the new cast got put on. I finally got my last cast off for good on my Birthday. Then I started physical therapy for a couple more months. Three years later, and I still have nerve damage that affects part of my hand, and I lack the strength and mobility that I used to have. Plus, I am still paying medical bills.

Looking back at myself three years ago, I see a careless, stupid, and immature person. I can't believe what damage could be caused with a moment of carelessness, and how much more difficult it was made by years of bad decisions, and yet it was an important milestone in my life. The worry that I experienced in that hospital is what brought me back to prayer and back to Church. I needed to realize how empty my life had become in order to break myself of my old habits. Breaking my arm gave me an immediate reason to quit smoking, which hopefully will give me an opportunity to live a longer, more fulfilling life. Most importantly, I learned not to rely so much on myself, but on God, and on those wonderful people that God has given me in my life. And while I often complain about my lingering problems from the accident, those problems serve as a constant reminder to me of the lessons that I have learned. I'm not happy about what happened that day, but I am glad that my life has changed. I guess I would have preferred to have made good decisions throughout my life to avoid having to learn to fix those things the hard way.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, "Follow Me." So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.

Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples saying, "Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"

Jesus answered and said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."

It's been a few days since I have said my morning or evening prayers as I should, and this morning, I decided it was about time to get around to it again. And these are the words of the gospel appointed for today, the calling of St. Matthew to be a disciple of Christ. Every time I hear of St. Matthew's calling it is a strong reminder to me that, like my patron saint, I too am called out of the life that I have made for myself and to follow Christ. And it seems like I am always hearing these words at a time when I am clearly not living up to even my own standards for how I should live for God.

In reading these words today, my thought was "Why do You still eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? St. Matthew was called and it says he "left all, rose up, and followed Him." That call is the same for all of us, and yet most of us stay right where we are. Those who do heed that call usually follow for a time and then wander off, hopefully to return later. And yet Christ remains with us despite our sins, despite our shameful treatment of others, all He asks is that we repent of our sins, make amends with our neighbor, and come and eat and drink with Him. And not only does He eat and drink with us, but He gives of Himself as our food and as our drink, abiding in us.

This morning's prayers brought a reminder that I am still in need of a physician, but that Christ is still sitting at the table of the feast, ready to eat and drink with me, and to give of Himself for my healing and forgiveness.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Some new prayer cards, hot off the presses

I just added a few more prayer cards to my zazzle site, and thought I would give a heads up to anyone reading. They are all linked to a page where you can order prints if you like. I am up to 92 different products there, and hope to keep adding as much as I can to make it a valuable resource for anyone looking for nice quality prints, hopefully without breaking the bank.

Saint Kyriaki Prayer Card postcard
Saint Kyriaki

Korsun Mother of God Prayer Card postcard
Korsun Mother of God

Saint Herman of Alaska Prayer Card postcard
Saint Herman of Alaska

Mourn Not For Me, Mother Prayer Card postcard
Mourn Not For Me, Mother

I like your hat

For years I have been aware of St. Spyridon's existence. He has been staring back at me from books for as long as I have been hunting up prototypes to paint. And every time I saw an icon of St. Spyridon, I thought the same thing, "I love that hat." That, unfortunately, was the sum total of my thinking on the matter. I never bothered to find out why he wore such a funny looking hat. I never looked up an account of his life to see when he lived, what he did, or why we remember him at all. St. Spyridon was always just that guy with the odd pointy hat.

A few years back, I took a trip to Greece. During that time, I spent a few days in Corfu. In planning the trip, I had all these grand ideas of visiting tons of Orthodox Churches that I had seen in books, but never seen in person. As it turns out, I only got into one church in Corfu. I walked into St. Spyridon's Cathedral, and found it to be very dark. It was hard to see much. The highlight of the whole experience was that I saw an icon of St. John of Damascus that I had actually used as a prototype several times before. Of course the icon was probably 25 feet in the air, and a little hard to see, but I had seen it, and for that I was happy. We only stayed for a couple minutes before we ran off to catch a bus. It was only after returning home from Greece that I read in an icon book that St. Spyridon is actually at St. Spyridon Cathedral in Corfu. It was only after returning home that I learned that he is in a glass case, and that every year they take him on procession in Corfu. I learned after the fact that they change his shoes every year because they are miraculously worn out as a sign that he is still active in going to help people.

I finally painted an icon of St. Spyridon last year. I know now that he wears that funny little hat because he was a farmer, and that was the kind of hat that farmers wore. I've read about his election as a bishop despite his lack of theological training. I have read about him going to the First Ecumenical Council. And I see now that there is so much more to St. Spyridon than just a guy in a hat. He is a shining example for all of us that it is not earthly wisdom or intellectual pursuits that make us Godly people, but rather a simple love for God and His Church, and a desire to follow where God leads us.

St. James the Persian also has a funny hat. And his sleeves have a hole halfway up the sleeve so that his arm hangs out there while the rest of the sleeve hangs down looking like an elephant's trunk. Needless to say I was similarly captivated by St. James the Persian. I finally painted an icon of St. James around the same time as St. Spyridon. In the process, I read about St. James, and learned about his horrific martyrdom. St. James had abandoned his faith for the worship of idols. When he repented, the King ordered soldiers to cut him into pieces while still alive. Each of his fingers and toes were cut off, then his arms and legs before finally being beheaded. All the while, St. James who had been weak enough to leave his faith before found faith to endure this suffering, and as he was cut apart, there was a sweet smell that came from his wounds.

This is just another example of a Saint with an incredible story, and one that leads us to repentance and to reconciliation to our loving and forgiving God, and to me he was just a guy with a neat outfit.

I realize that this is not just the way I look at the Saints of the Church, it is also how I tend to look at people in general. I am easily caught up in externals. I might remember things about how someone looks, what they are wearing, or what they were doing when I saw them, but I have always been very slow to engage people in a meaningful way. I am usually oblivious to what is going on in the lives of people that I encounter, and I'm sure that a great many times their lives can be edifying as well. Our calling as Christians is to be social beings as a reflection of the persons of the Trinity in unity, and yet my inclination has always been to seek isolation rather than communion with others. But it is only in learning to love my fellow Christians like St. Spyridon, St. James, the person standing next to me in Church, the person I interact with on a forum, a blog, or anywhere else that I will really understand what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God in Trinity.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Time to jump in...

So this is the second blog that I have set up, and I have had it for days without using it. I don't particularly like the idea of having a blog because if what I write is boring, then it's not worth it for anyone else to read, and if what I write is interesting, I know I will only exult in the glory that is my magnificent writing. I don't really like either option too much. And yet it seems like you can't really call yourself a person unless you spill out your insides for everyone to see on some sort of electronic medium. And while I have a couple other sites, none of them is really an outlet for talking about the actual work of iconography. I use my website to showcase the finished work, and to write a little about the Saints depicted, but I rarely discuss what draws me to certain compositions, what I find compelling in the lives of the Saints, or what is going on in my spiritual life. So that's what I hope to do here. I can't guarantee it will be compelling reading, but I hope in some small way it can be edifying.