Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Breaking News: Mary Not Mother of Modern Feminism

I bought my roommate a fair trade chocolate advent calender. Although there were no complaints about the quality of the milk chocolate, the Christmas story told in daily snippets was an object of some contention. My roomie is profoundly spiritual (when it comes to kayaks) and a devout atheist. So the story went something like this:

December 4th - "Angel Gabriel told Mary she had been chosen to have God's son."

Roomie - What?!? Where's the free will in all of this? She doesn't even get to choose to have the kid or not?

December 5th - "An angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to name the baby Jesus."

Roomie - Oh my goodness, this is ridiculous! Not only is there no choice about having the baby, but they can't even pick the name?

And so the story continued, but it does make you think. As a woman in a decidedly patriarchal society, maybe even misogynistic, I wonder how much choice she really had . . . how much choice did any woman have about reproductive issues at the start of the common era two thousand years ago. Heck, if a life-size glowing angel appeared in my room, I'd either say "Yeah, sure, just like you said!" . . . or, admit myself directly to the closest psychiatric ward.

My dad says the universe was thinner back then. That people were less stuck to science and more open and aware of the spiritual world interacting with the material one. The topic of women in the bible I am convinced must be taken with a healthy understanding of history.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Abject Incarnation

Christmas eve, the sun burning down, heat rising in waves from tin roofs, and I stand sticky in the dress I had no doubt been forced to wear. We had started that morning with bags of flour and rice spread across the floor of our small neighbourhood church in Arequipa, evaporated milk stacked in rows, making Christmas hampers. There was then a pick-up truck ride involving lots of dust, very exciting for a kid, and we eventually came to a crowded community some would have described as a shanty town. My memories of the sun and dust are vivid but other details are fuzzy. We stopped at a home to deliver a hamper, were greeted warmly, but the family didn't take it. Instead, they came with us and we drove up the mountain, apparently they knew a family who needed that flour and rice more than they did. I can't have been more than six or seven years old, but my memories of Christmas were of decorating the cactus 'Christmas tree' in our yard, baby Jesus, giving to those who didn't have as much as we did, sun, and definitely dust. Later, after moving to Scotland I remember much more in the way of exciting gifts and chocolate, athough my parents swear we did get presents in Peru as well.

I was putting out nativity scenes for my mom today, something I love doing. I've been collecting them as long as I can remember. I was never too sure about my parents' olive wood scene from Israel though, the pale baby Jesus lies serenely in his manger with arms outstretched in a position no baby ever takes. Mary kneels, her face blank of emotion, and the sheperd boy at the back with the lamb on his shoulder is forever falling over due to a broken foot. I prefer the rough clay set where one of the wise men carries a bunch of bananas as a gift and a donkey with buck teeth looks on, or the jungle Jesus who lacks a diaper and clearly has two descended testicles, or the wooden scene from Thailand with elephants and chickens welcoming God. More powerful to me than the crucifixion or resurection is the incarnation. A squirming, wet, mucous and blood-covered screaming smelly newborn surrounded by a goat or two and a clueless father. Did Joseph cut the cord? Did the placenta come out intact? Did Mary have a third degree tear? What were Jesus' Apgars? God came down the birth canal of an unmarried teenager? Who thought this stuff up anyway? There is a certain scandal to it all, very abject, very humble and not an image that the Christmas season gives us today.

I am forever grateful for the gift my parents have given me. They introduced me to the God of the poor, born surrounded by abject poverty and scandal. Where faith means hope and justice for the poor and marginalized here on earth.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas is Coming

Tck tck tck tck tck.

Tck tck tck tck tck.

Like a computer game the red laser beam at the end of the scope shoots holes in the rough yellow rock lodged firmly in tunnel of the ureter projected on the screen above my head. My shoulders are weighed down by the lead apron we wear under the surgical gown (to protect my little ovaries from the x-rays) . My glasses dig into my nose from the pressure of the goggles to protect my eyes from the laser. It seems a little ludicrous that the laser beam will bounce off the kidney stone lodged in the ureter get all the way down the tube to the bladder and somehow out of the penis and bounce into my eyeball . . . oh well, protocol I suppose. After shooting up your rock you put in a little basket and pull out the pieces. Urologists really have fantastic tools and seemingly get to play video games all day.

Yesterday they took out someone's bladder because of cancer and made her a new one out of a piece of her colon. It took six and a half hours, but it was pretty incredible! There's a downside to any specialty though, even if they do have cool toys and fascinating operations. There's kidney transplants that don't work after family members have donated their own kidneys and there's always cancers that recur and eventually are untreatable.

Near the end of my day today I was called with a consult from the palliative ward. A 50 year old lady with a recent spread of her previously treated cancer now had a kidney that was swelling up and its function going downhill, just over the past week. This can often happen when cancers grow and block off one of your ureters. In my mind it was a no brainer, we just put a little tube in the ureter to release the pressure and save the kidney. Its a simple procedure and would relieve a lot of pain and nausea. I sat on her bed and explained it several times, listened to her questions, thinking myself quite convincing.

Eventually she asked a question that stopped me cold.

How would you want to die?

Skydiving perhaps? Maybe in the Congo.

Although I disagreed with her, even thought her foolish to want to die in such discomfort, I had to accept that this was her body and her life, not mine. I can explain things and give recommendations, but the choice is hers of how to go. Oh so somber a note as she lays in hospital with Christmas approaching. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Snow Falling on Cedars

I awoke to snow drifting down in big juicy flakes onto the blanket of white covering the world. Unable to resist a run I went out clad in touque and gloves. My shoes sticking and squeaking with each stride. Silently and peacefully floating down around me. The water at Jericho beach lapping against the white carpet of the beach, melting the shore edge and turning it dark. Dark as the nearly black ocean spreading out towards the hidden north shore. Hidden by low deep gray misty clouds. Bull rushes with dainty snow caps, the snow turning the pond into an slushy gray pool. Dogs tumble in the snow, kids rolling snowballs, laying on the lawn, arms and legs flapping to make snow angels with mouths wide open catching the snow. As I pound my way home, snow flakes melt against the hot skin of my face, making salty rivulets down to my lips. A moment of perfection.

And this afternoon I will go to my shift at the emergency department just as I did yesterday, where I will see how others experience the snow. A split chin after slipping on the ice, an elderly woman with a broken elbow and then the things that aren't just accidents. The homeless hypothermic, the red swollen hands from exposure, the black toes needing amputation.

I am the privileged.