Friday, July 18, 2008

The Undertaking II ~ “Crapper”

Woot woot! I managed to stay focused long enough to come back to The Undertaking! Yea me! Let’s jump right in, shall we?

In Lynch’s aptly named chapter, titled Crapper, he says the following:

The flush toilet, more than any single invention, has “civilized” us in a way that religion and law could never accomplish.

Odd, don’t you think?

But Lynch has a point. In the very same paragraph he tells us that… having lost the regular necessity of dealing with unpleasantries, we have lost the ability to do so when the need arises.

His point, of course, is that life is full of ugly, unpleasant shit (pun definitely intended) but we’ve done such a lovely job of taking care of the everyday nastiness with all our high-tech grandeur that we no longer know what to do with the really big ugly things that we can’t fix when they happen – things like death. Lynch goes on to write about a time when nearly everything of consequence (and, along with it, everything of human unpleasantry) happened in the family’s parlor and how nowadays, nearly everything of consequence happens away from home, distanced from the place where consequence truly belongs:

The homes were large to house multiple births and generations. These were
households in which, just as babies were being birthed, grandparents were aging upstairs…until alas, they died and were taken downstairs to the same room the babies were christened in to get what was called then, “laid out”. Between the births and deaths were the courtships…the children married, often in the same room – the room with large pocket doors drawn for privacy and access. The room in which grandparents were waked and new babies were baptized and love was proffered and contracted – the parlor.

Half a century, two world wars, and the New Deal later…the emphasis shifted from stability to mobility… The birthing room became the downstairs “bath”… Births were managed in the sparkling wards of hospitals… courtship was done en route, in a car. Retirees were deported to Sun City. Elders grew aged and sickly not upstairs in their own beds, but in a series of institutional venues: rest homes, nursing homes, hospital wards…And having lived their lives and died their deaths outside the home, they were taken to be laid out, not in the family parlor, but to the funeral parlor.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few weeks. I realize that my thoughts are scattered and they probably don’t make much sense, but they’re honest and I guess that’s what counts. So forgive me if this gets convoluted.

I’ve been thinking about how it bothers me that D is horror stricken by the idea of a home birth; not just because I’d prefer a home birth myself and his horror gets in the way, but because the basic premise of his horror is this: in his mind, civilized people simply don’t do homebirths. It isn’t the way things are done. In his mind, people go to hospitals and get hooked up to machines and have doctors tell them when to push the baby out.

In his mind, people go to nursing homes when they get old and funeral parlors when they die. In his mind, the best way to eat dinner is in front of the television. And he’s never questioned this. Not once.

Now I don’t mean to say anything negative about my husband. I’m simply trying to make a point. I think the vast majority of people in our society have the exact same things in their minds and have never questioned them. There’s just this certain way that things are done and it’s never crossed their minds that this certain way sells all our moments to nursing vendors or cable network sponsors and takes away the sense of community that truly makes us alive in all of these moments.

I don’t think the same way as D. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s because I just think too much so I’m always looking around for other options or if it’s because I read too much or listen to too many people talk or if it’s because I was just born this way. But I don’t think the same way at all. I think of birth and death and all the stuff in between and my immediate thought is to wonder where community fits into it and what the most normal, natural to way to go about it would be. It terrifies me how much community is taken from us each and every day and it terrifies me even more that we don’t even notice.

And it bothers me that everything is so complicated. There’s Medicare or Medicaid and direct deposit payments from pensions to nursing homes to make sure grandma and grandpa keep getting their dinner at 5:30 and weekly craft time on Wednesday from 1:00 – 3:00. We call the morgue and the mortician and we fight the funeral home for a better priced coffin and the perfect visiting hours and we ask the priest to pray, but never to give the dead space at the alter. We say goodbye to the dead in places we never said hello to them in the first place. And dating? I don’t even want to think about dating.

I just hate how un-natural and complicated and un-personal all the biggest things in life seem to feel.

I don’t want 12 nurses and my husband present at my baby’s birth. I want one person who knows what the hell they’re doing and all the rest of the people I love; D and Lisey and Velma and Cuthbert and Mia and J. Not because there’s anything fundamentally wrong with having a baby in a hospital – nothing wrong with that at all in my humble opinion, and that is what I’ll probably do – but because having a baby is one of those moments when you’re really alive and human and I can’t imagine that with only perfect strangers and without the people I love. Lisey had a baby last year and I got to be there with her husband and her mom and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. There’s no way in hell I’d have sent her in to do that with just the nurses and her husband and without her mom and me. It would’ve seemed wrong, because we’re the people who love her and who love to see her being alive and human.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about nursing homes, too. I’m afraid to think of how to care for our parents because I’ve never seen anyone care for their aging parents. Granted, I’ve got awhile to sort it out, but it still scares the crap out of me. I don’t want my mom and dad in a nursing home. It just feels wrong to me. It feels impersonal and wrong and like I have failed at living community, somehow. I get that sometimes we have to do these things – send our parents to places where people can take care of them – but I don’t think I have the heart to do it myself.

But at the same time I’m petrified of the responsibility of caring for them, I think partly because of that crazy little expectation in our society; that all people who are capable work outside the home full time. If we don’t both work full time, we can’t buy all that neat crap we want, after all, and we can’t keep cable television *gasp!* (who are we kidding – LOST is on local TV. I’m all set). Caring for aging parents doesn’t mix well with 2 breadwinners. How would D react to my plea to stay home and take care of my mom? It was hard enough to convince him I ought to stay home and take care of our baby. But being cared for at home seems so much more natural and right than being in a facility on a weekly craft time schedule.

I don’t know where I’m going with this except to say I’m freaked out by how things are and I’m even more freaked out by the fact that society has actually scared me into thinking I can’t do things the way communities always meant them to be done. I can’t have a home birth, I can’t take care of my parents... I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. That’s what they tell me anyways. I’m trying very hard not to believe them.

I don’t mean to judge anyone who likes hospital births and fast paced dating or who had to send their parents to a nursing home, or whatever un-natural feeling thing someone might have had to do. I know people have to do what people have to do. I’m just scared that maybe ‘what we have to do’ isn’t really ‘what we have to do’ and we don’t even know it and we’re somehow being ripped off by our crazy Technicolor world.

Every time I start down this thought path, I think of Cuthbert telling me about an episode of ‘Judging Amy’ that stuck with him. I’ve never seen this show so forgive me if I get the details wrong, but the gist of it was this: A couple had a baby, but were splitting up. Mom had been Amish and wanted to go back to the Amish community. Dad wanted to hang out in corporate America. Judge Amy had to decide who the baby was going to go with. Dad could give baby everything he needed – intramural sports teams and play groups and a college fund. But when mom spoke…. she talked about her way of life and how baby would never need a babysitter because there were family and community all around; how baby would grow up in community with land and animals and family everywhere. Baby wouldn’t have a college fund. But baby would have all those simple things American culture forgot.

I don’t know what Judge Amy decided. That’s not really the point. The point is that there is something in me that just yearns for that simplicity and I think it’s so incredibly sad that simplicity has to be fought for so hard and it’s so incredibly scary to me that at times I forget to fight for it altogether. So when Lynch writes about the way things once were, it’s hard for me to put the book down, forget about it, and go about my day. I’m not sure I want to do away with all the unpleasantries because I have a feeling that by doing so, I’m doing away with the things that make us alive and human.

Like I said, I’m not totally sure where I’m going with this. I just wish that things were simpler.

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