IN THE DARK OF NIGHT, THE SOUNDS WE HEAR – Marilyn Armstrong

I have to start this out by explaining that just a couple of days ago, I heard a noise in the bedroom. It was the kind of noise the wakes me right up because it was a little squeaky noise. Like the sound a mouse makes. And it was followed by little scrabbly sounds.

We had a  mouse in the bedroom!

Now, we’ve put a fair amount of energy and money into controlling our mouse problems and we know we haven’t had any up here, and just a few in the basement. The last time the mouse guy was out — just a couple of weeks ago — I asked if there was any chance we’d solve the mouse problem and he said, “No. You live in the woods.”

I said: “I know the mice are just looking for a warm cozy place to spend the winter, but not here.”

He looked at me. “You are,” he said “Exactly what they are looking for. You live in the woods. The mice will find you. Do you know they can slip in through a space no wider than a dime?”

We spent considerable time cleaning the bedroom but didn’t find any sign of mice actually setting up a home in our bedroom. But if I hear that sound again, those mice people will have to get back here and do their mouse annihilation thing. I sympathize with chilled mice, but not my bedroom. Sorry small furries. If I won’t sleep with my dogs, I ain’t sleeping with you!

There are other sounds I’ve heard that cannot be managed by the mouse guy.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-legged beasties
And things that go bump in the night
Good Lord, deliver us!

– Traditional Scottish Prayer

I’ve never met a ghoul and I have questions about long-legged beasties, but I can speak from personal experience about Things That Go Bump in the Night. Long ago in a house far away, we had our own ghosts. Friendly ghosts or at least, they were friendly to us.

Ghosts have been part of human mythology as long as tales have been told around campfires. Maybe before campfires. I don’t think if any religion excludes the possibility of ghosts. There seems to be a general agreement that ghosts and wraiths are spirits of the dead who linger on Earth after they have slipped that mortal coil. Some are malevolent, others benevolent or merely curious. Ghosts vary by mythology, religion, and era. Even today, there are rumors and stories.

I cannot claim to have seen a ghost, but I lived in a house where everyone could hear our ghosts. It was 1965 when for $20,300, we were able to buy a tidy little brick house built in 1932. On the first floor were two bedrooms and a bathroom. There was a big bedroom on the partially finished second floor. The house was small but solid, walking distance from the college where my husband worked and I was finishing my degree.

The ambiance of the house from the moment we walked into it was overtly friendly. It welcomed everyone and made them feel at home. The little house had been built by a couple who had lived, raised children, and then died in it. They were not murdered or anything sordid. They merely grew old and passed on in the home they loved.

We loved it too. My son wouldn’t come onto the scene for 4 more years, but it was a good house to raise babies. I could feel it.

The house was a bit neglected. Not falling down but in need of paint and some modernization of its infrastructure. It still had its original heating system, converted from a coal burner to an oil furnace. Not very efficient and the radiators were huge, old and iron. Oil was cheap; we didn’t worry about it. We’d get to it eventually.

Initially, we lived on the first floor since the bathroom was there. The upstairs had been an attic, but half of it had become a bedroom. We wanted to move up there. It was bigger and had great light, but we needed to fix it up first.

Before anything else, we wanted to paint. The entire house was painted pale salmon pink. It wasn’t ugly, but it wasn’t any color we’d have chosen. Worse, it was high gloss paint, like one would use in a kitchen or bath.

We painted the downstairs first. Every night, we heard our ghosts walking. You could hear the sound of heavy, loud footsteps upstairs, sharp, like the soles of hard leather shoes or boots. Everyone on the lower floor heard it.

The walking started around eight in the evening, continued for a few minutes. Then the footsteps would pause and restart randomly until around midnight. The footsteps always stopped by midnight and never began before eight.

We called them “The Old Man” and “The Old Woman.” They wore different shoes. Her shoes had a sharp sound, like high heels on a hardwood floor. His were clunkier like maybe work boots. Both of them had died in the house, so they were prime candidates for ghosthood, especially since no one ever lived in the house until we moved in.

At first, we also heard them on the steps, but after we painted the stairway, the footsteps retreated and we only heard them in the attic and bedroom. After we began painting the bedroom, we continued to hear them for a while in the attic and then, one day, they were gone, never to return.

Were they watching to see if we properly cared for and loved their home? I thought so. Were we all hallucinating? It was the 1960s, so anything is possible, but I think it was the couple who had lived there watching to make sure we did right by the house. We did and I guess they felt it was okay to depart.

Life is full of strangeness. If anyone has bumped into a long-legged beastie, please tell me about it. I’m dying to know.

MY BROTHER ESAU WAS A HAIRY MAN, BUT I AM A SMOOTH MAN – Marilyn Armstrong

BEYOND THE FRINGE – TAKE A PEW

Because for reasons unknown, being hirsute is offensive to God. And from this, Monty Python was born.

You may put away your bibles. Don’t forget to drop some money in the basket.

ABUSE AND FORGIVENESS – Marilyn Armstrong

All religions have some good points, even ones with which you don’t quite always agree.

Personally, I am very fond of the Christian concept of “forgiveness.” It is not “I forgive you, let’s go hang out.” It is closer to “God forgives you, now please go away and never come back.”

You can forgive someone and not want anything to do with them. It took me the better part of a lifetime to figure out that my version of “forgive” and the Christian concept of “forgiveness” were not the same thing. Actually, they were not even close.

Forgiveness is about handing over your burden of pain and anger to your more powerful entity or whatever you want to call it.

It’s a brilliant concept. Dumping the burden, whether you throw it into the air to be absorbed into the never-ending universe or write it into your computer’s hard drive, it doesn’t matter. Whatever gives you your freedom, do it.

Forgiveness works because it’s a process. When you understand it, it gives you a place to start and a finish that includes freedom from anger and hate. Forgiveness matters. Not just religiously, but personally. If you never let go of the pain, anger or hurt, you can’t grow. You dry up.

After all these years, I wonder how so many smart people do such incredibly stupid things even when we (they) know better. Women marrying vicious men and staying with them long years after anyone — EVERYONE — can see they are in a hopeless, dangerous situation. Ditto men with women who are awful for them and make their lives into a hell. These are choices people make. Voluntarily. It isn’t always oppression or victimization. It can also be bad personal choices. Shame and pride keep people stuck in terrible situations.

Abuse is a huge issue in my world. If I can’t understand the bad choices people make when choosing mates, how can it be that parents abuse their children? Rape them? Beat them? Torment them? And sometimes kill them?

It turns the meaning of life upside down and inside out. Where is faith to be found in this horror? I can’t answer it because faith has always eluded me. The depravity of which people are capable is literally beyond my ability to contemplate. Torture? Intentional slaughter of an entire people? Abusing a child or dog to death?

Where is God in this?

The issue of abuse was important, to me because I was abused. The more I learn about it, the more people I discover who were also abused. It is not all that rare after all. Many people were abused as children and a lifetime later, still can’t talk about it.

I don’t mean can’t talk about it much. Can’t talk about it at all. I was able to get people to talk to me, at least a bit. To the extent, they could admit something happened. The sense of shame, anger, and horror which clings to victims is hard to understand given that victimization was unsought, unwanted, and terrifying.

Yet there it is. We are shamed by the evil others committed on us.

What makes it so much more difficult is that people whose lives were untouched by abuse don’t believe it happened. Their disbelief intensifies the shame. Not only do “regular” people disbelieve us, but judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers and other family members refuse to accept it. Nor has anyone a solution to fix it. Taking kids away and handing them to a stepfamily isn’t an answer. So many of these “temporary placements” are worse than the places from which the kids came.

It’s a problem we spend a lot of time talking about — and little effort solving. It’s a weird world in which we live.

SALVATION AND THE ELECTRONIC SHEAVES … – Marilyn Armstrong

What is Salvation But the Salvage of Your Soul?


Someone asked a pastor with whom I am acquainted (online) if he had any proof that praying on the Internet accomplished anything. He said “No. The prayer is really for you!”

Still and all, the last time we went to church — a pretty long time ago, I admit — this is pretty much how it went.

 


SALVATION ON THE INTERNET

PASTOR: “Praise the Lord!”

CONGREGATION: “Hallelujah!”

PASTOR: “Will everyone please turn on their tablet, PC, iPad, smartphone, and Kindle Bibles to 1 Corinthians, 13:13. Also, please switch on your Bluetooth to download the sermon.”

(P-a-u-s-e … )

PASTOR: “Now, Let us pray to commit this week into God’s hands. Open your Apps, Twitter and Facebook, and chat with God”

(S-i-l-e-n-c-e … )

PASTOR: “As we take our Sunday tithes and offerings, please have your credit and debit cards ready. You can log on to the church wi-fi using the password Lord-131. The ushers will circulate mobile card swipe machines among the worshipers. Those who prefer to make electronic fund transfers are directed to computers and laptops at the rear of the church. If you want to use your iPad, please open them. Those of you who use telephone banking, you can take out your cell phones to transfer contributions to the church account.”

(The holy atmosphere of the Church becomes electrified as smartphones, iPads, PCs, and laptops beep and flicker.)

AND IN CLOSING …

DEACON: Thank you all for being here today. Remember this week’s ministry meetings will be held on the various Facebook group pages where the usual group chatting takes place. Please log in and don’t miss out! Thursday’s Bible study will be held live on Skype at 19:00 GMT. Let’s see your face too! You can follow Pastor on Twitter this week #PastorCounsel for counseling and prayer.

God bless and have a great day.

I don’t know why, but we felt so out-of-place. We didn’t know whether to gasp, laugh, or cry … or maybe, all three.

WorseI forgot my smartphone!

BAD TO THE BONE: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO LITTLE DONNIE? Marilyn Armstrong

Because most of us are rational, we not only loathe the guy running our government. We also really want to know how he became such an awful person. We all know people — some of us are those people — who grew up with abusive parents. Desperately poverty. Rich and privileged, lower, middle, or undefined class. One of many children. An only child. Male. Female. Other.

By: Dreamicus

Most of us turned out okay. Even those who have (had) (still have) a lot of issues were never completely loathsome. All of us had a few good points. Someone thought we were okay.

But then, there’s Donald J. Trump.

So I thought I’d run a little survey.

QUESTION:

 


His father was a pretty ugly guy in his own right. A racist slumlord, I’m sure he passed his beliefs to his kid. But other people have rotten parents and they don’t grow up just like them. Rich and poor, children can grow into decent people, no matter how they began.

What made the difference? If it wasn’t a contract with the dark one? A television renewal failure? What happened to turn a rich asshole into the pit of evil?

GOD HAS A PLAN – Marilyn Armstrong

I was still trying to figure out if John Oliver was really going off the air, or it was the end of this season, or we’d just missed the final few minutes of his piece because we have a stupid DVR that clips the final few minutes. Instead, the Sports News Final came on.

It was retribution for Bruins fans. They lost. Bigly. All five games. So I left it on until finally one player admitted that the other team “played better than us,” and no amount of analysis was going to change that. This was the hour that I spend trying to find all the missed typos in new posts and that usually  takes me about an hour.

Garry goes off to bed because he has a DVR in there with all his favorite old westerns on it … plus a bunch of 1930s and 1940s black and white movies he loves which I don’t love nearly as much. He watches with the headset on and he is finally happy. No one is going to ask him to do ANYTHING. He has found true peace.

At some undetermined point, the Bruins concluded their apologies to all their fans and it being late Sunday night, a preacher came on television to announce that God has a plan.

For everything. Every single thing.

March Equinox Sunrise

Everything you think. Every illness, every idea, every mistake. Everything. Effectively humans have no control over their lives because it’s all part of God’s huge, gigantic, amazing plan that covers everything, everywhere forever, amen and probably the Bruins will win next year.

After a while, the harangue got a bit intense and I had to turn it off. I was getting ready to yell back at the television and ask about cancer and pain and death and Donald J. Trump, but I have found that yelling at the TV isn’t nearly as effective as I want it to be.

I gave the dogs their final biscuit and went into the bedroom. I made Garry remove his headphones and told him that God has a plan.

“Okay,” he said. “What brought this on?”

“The Bruins lost five to nothing and then there was a preacher and he was shouting how God knows every idiotic idea in your head, every ridiculous thing that might happen to you or me or anyone, so no matter how painful or scary life is, IT IS ALL PART OF GOD’s PLAN.”

“What were you WATCHING?’ he asked me. He then pointed out that on television they were singing Shall We Gather At The River with the ultimate intention of hanging someone.

I pointed out that this too was part of God’s plan and Garry said I should stop watching that stuff because it was ruining his viewing experience.

So, I wrote this instead. By the way — they hanged the guy. Not to worry because it was all part of God’s plan. I know because they told me. On television. So it must be true.

WRITE ABOUT DOGS

This is one of the few posts I wrote more than four years ago which I occasionally republish without changes. For some reason, this one seems “just right.”


My favorite cartoon – by George Booth — was originally published in The New Yorker. It shows a man sitting in front of a typewriter. Dogs are everywhere A woman, presumably his wife, watches from the doorway. The caption reads “Write about dogs.”

My home is full of dogs. Anyone who comes to visit must compete with the dogs for the comfortable chairs and the best spots on the sofa. (Come to think of it, we have to fight them for the best seats too.) That’s the way it is. The dogs are family.

If we have guests who are old, frail or allergic, we do our best to accommodate their needs. We put the most rambunctious, smelly, and hairy dogs out of the way if we can, but that depends on the weather. Basically, if you don’t like dogs, you’ve come to the wrong house. People who don’t like dogs are not frequent visitors.

That’s fine with me. I prefer the company of most dogs to most people. There are lots of reasons to prefer dogs. But the two big ones are love and honesty.

Gibbs with Duke

Dogs love you completely, totally, and without reservation. They don’t care about your social status or education, whether you are young or old, ugly or beautiful, rich or poor. They love you completely.

Your dog will never betray or abandon you.

Dogs are terrible liars. Not that they don’t try. Every dog will do his or her best to convince each human to give them treats. Your dog will tell you she needs a biscuit now or will collapse from hunger. This is not particularly convincing when the canine in question is a beefy pooch who has obviously never missed a meal. Eternally optimistic, all dogs figure it’s worth a shot. It’s a dog thing. You never know when a biscuit might fall your way.

Duke and Bonnie

When the performance our furry kids put on in hopes of getting a tasteless dry biscuit is especially hilarious, we relax the rules and give them a little something. After all, they don’t have hands and can’t grab one for themselves. Now and again, they need to get lucky because they’re cute and we love them.

Dogs lie, but their lies are simple and transparent. There’s no malice in them. They just want a biscuit or maybe have you throw that ball. If they don’t get what they want, they love you anyway.

When it comes to love, dogs are the best. They “get” love and think you are wonderful. They think you are wonderful every day of their lives. When they are dying, the last thing they will do is look at you with love in their eyes, wag their tail one final time and try to give you a kiss.

I have spent my life lurching between my quest for God and an equally ardent quest for the best dog food at the most reasonable price. When times have been hard and we’ve had to choose between food for us and food for our furry children, the fur kids always win.

Bonnie

Our dogs do not suffer from angst. They don’t worry unless supper runs late or biscuits are forgotten in the bustle of a day’s activities. If such a catastrophe should occur, they know exactly where to present their grievances and apply for redress.

Dogs live close to their deities. They hang out with their gods on the sofa. They get biscuits from them in the morning and evening. If life is circumscribed and a bit confined, it is nonetheless good.

Sometimes one of their gods gets angry and yells at them. That might make them unhappy for a few minutes, but the gods of their world don’t stay angry. Our dogs have kindly and loving gods who are inclined to scratch them behind the ears and talk to them in soft voices.

TinkerizedRemotes

We are gods to our dogs and as such, we set laws for them to live by. Don’t poop or pee in the house.

Do not chew things not given to you for chewing, especially not anything containing batteries. Don’t jump on old people or babies. Don’t growl at delivery people. Don’t stay up late barking. Abide by the law and all will be well.

When rules are clear and understood by all, life runs smoothly.

The human side of the contract is more complicated. It’s harder being god than dog.

We pledge to care for them all the days of their lives. We keep them healthy. We love and nurture them. We feed them properly, make sure they get exercise – though they don’t get enough of it and neither do we. We keep them warm and dry in winter, cool and dry in summer.

If we force them to go outside to do their business, it is because they are, after all, dogs.

About to engage …

Every evening, for at least a little while, their gods climb down from heaven to play on the floor.

Our dogs don’t fret about the future. They live in a joyful present. When their time comes, we will make sure they pass gently out of this world. We promise to keep them as free from suffering as is within our power.

That is our solemn contract. We live up to that pledge because we really are gods to our fur children and must never let them down. Pets teach you a lot about the divine contract.