Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Peace on Earth


Mid-holiday season, the time between Christmas and New Years, I am enjoying the music, the bundling up to keep warm, the conversations with old and new friends, and the excuse to eat favorite foods.

Holiday music, the blues and funk have been playing in the house. My daughters have decided that cooking to soul music is more inspiring than traditional holiday music. A walk across the kitchen becomes a dance.

Actually, it isn't that simple.

I get the feeling that listening on Pandora Radio via the internet is more than a metaphor. The open box, it seems, is the conjouring room called a kitchen. The ingredients include past knowledge and all kinds of trouble that are the stuff of family politics. My daughters are now in their mid-twenties. They have taken over the kitchen for holiday meals.

Ideally, we would be doing a dance to encourage each other to do what they do best or perhaps express their deepest desire. This holiday cooking time moved beyond beginners luck of glorious meals produced uneventfully to this time where we had ovens that cooked unevenly, a turkey that wasn't going to serve enough as people were added to the guest list, and foods that we simply ran out of time to prepare.

During the last holiday meal preparation, there was a meltdown. Chaulk it up to hormones.

One of the kids had tried to tell me how to make roasted veggies. I basically told her to back off. She could make the dishes she was making her way. I was making mine my way. The son-in-law tried to intervene. I certainly wasn't dancing gracefully at that moment. Couldn't I just have acknowledged her ideas and moved a little kinder in the kitchen?... my kitchen?

That was part of the problem. When the girls cooked, they really worked well together. But I was the one who couldn't figure out how to share space. I had become used to cooking alone in this kitchen. When they were home, there was almost a glee in kicking mom out of the kitchen, mom's kitchen.

We moved a few years ago from a very tiny house to a more spacious home. When we cooked in the old house, we couldn't help but bump into each other as we moved around the tiny space. Now we had more space, a different space, in a different time.

These women have taken favorite recipes from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers and are making them their own to bring to the holiday table. There is such emotion in this cooking.

As the guest list grew and it became clear that one turkey would not be enough, I pulled out a beef to roast. Well, that screwed up the intricate, but unseen schedule someone was keeping in their mental calculations. Actually, I'm not sure who was figuring this out, but all hell was breaking loose.

Ovens were cranked up hotter, hands moved faster, recipes adjusted, creative cooking got more creative. Someone was trying to keep up with cleaning pots and pans, so that we could reuse them for other dishes. We were doing a dance and didn't know it.

Dinner was served a little later than planned. That's okay. There are family members who always come late anyway. Those who leave early stayed a little longer. Funny how this worked out.

Hospitality is a grace that my maternal side of the family understood. It isn't just the food, it is the awareness that everyone counts and is included. Truth be told, some of those dishes are awful, but are so packed with memories that they have to be included. This stuff defies logic. But each food or gift or conversation brings with it a connection to something larger than the face of the thing. I suppose it is love in all of its imperfect and messy glory.

Later in the night when everything was winding down, Pandora was switched off and traditional choral music was playing about the birth of Christ and the hope that comes with it. Somehow this music, too, motivates my family to find our groove in that most feminine of gifts: nourishment and hospitality.

As with our family holiday prayer: may this food be put to the use in the service of building God's Kingdom here on earth. Bless all who are here and especially those who aren't. Peace be with you. To which I would add, may love be with you in all of its imperfect and messy glory.

I wish all these things for you... and if you get a chance to eat Bean's angelic homemade mashed potatoes or Pumpkin's pies you are in for a treat. Their tag lines could be: No storebought instant foods used, or specializing in comfort foods. This proud momma can imagine a heavenly rest-stop/restaurant here on earth.

Friday, December 10, 2010

When is a new job not new?


I started a part-time social work position at a government-run assisted living - a remnant of the poor house in my community. My adult professional life has been focused on work with the poor, older adults and their families. In an era when there are fewer jobs for workers seeking work, I am glad to have this job.

After a week at this facility, the director of nursing came up to me and asked me how it was going. She asked if I was okay since I had been pretty much on my own. I smiled.

After 30 years of work where I have never had a job that had enough training and orientation and where the job description never really matched what actually was done, I jumped right in and focused on what I saw was my work: to get to know the residents, staff, families and volunteers.

I'm rotten with names, so I met residents and staff at breakfast and again at lunch. If they happened to be in public space during the day, I'd stop and introduce myself. Normally, I'd assume that they would be more likely to remember me - one new person in their life, as opposed to me learning several dozen names and faces. But, with many having some form of memory problems and my job being part-time, we may be a while learning and remembering each other.

Of course there are other details to attend to. I needed to see their records and at least look at their "face" sheet - the key information about the person, and then check the psycho-social sections. Then there is the business of setting up one's desk, computer and phone.

The real challenge, however, is the work-place politics.

The first week at work, a citizen had come in to do "research" on the organization. This person said their research showed that the property and services the community has commited to over the past 200 years has been bogus. The county bought the land and no documents have been found to support a responsibility to serve the poor.

Really? My heart sank. I can remember visiting a great-great aunt at this facility when it was the firetrap-of-a-poorhouse. In the 1970's, the county built a safer facility and was now building a new facility again on the same property.

Why would our community lie to itself about its responsiblity for the poor and elderly? Then I thought about the legal sense of what he was saying versus the moral and ethical bonds we have to each other in community.

Two days later, the new county board of elected officials had put the facility on "notice" publically in the local newspaper. The facility was operating in the red and things needed to change. Serving the poor is never a profitable business and this facility has been no different. In the past, there had been noise about closing down or selling off the long-term care services to the poor in the community, but local residents have always pushed back.

This time, the community has grown as a suburb of the big city so much that area residents are new and do not have a sense of connectedness beyond coming home to shop or go out to eat. At a PTA meeting years ago, my husband returned saying the tone of the meeting was that parents wanted a "good" school so that when they moved, their resale values would be strong.

The mood of the country around government services has radically changed in this past election with tea party groups seeking to dismantle anything that doesn't directly impact them. My community is no different. The county officials feel their responsibility is limited to funding roads and emergency services.

Week Two: the director of the agency called a staff meeting to allay staff fears about rumors of privitization. Almost all of the staff are personal care aides, housekeepers, and kitchen help. These folks are not weathly and need their jobs. We were told to not scare ourselves when the officials talk about "privatization" and instead to think in terms of "doing business differently." The director was fierce about trying to reassure staff that changes would affect new hires, not current hires. As a part-time director, she has dedicated her life to the care of the residents and nurturing caring staff.

I'm feeling like I've just been hired to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. I was hired to help residents, their families, and staff cope with the stress of an upcoming moving, the usual losses associated with aging, and working with very little resources, an already challenging place operating on the thinnest thread. It certainly feels like a ship in a storm. I just hope the hull is intact and we can ride this out.

And then, I remember that Buddhists believe change is eternal. For Christians, love is the common underlying force. With both spiritual perspectives, I have to acknowledge that this is a time to deepen my faith practices.

In my line of work, there always seems to be the threat of abandoning the poor. As the global economy faces challenges that impact all of us, my prayer is that I remain faithful to supporting ways of life that bring about health, wellness and happiness in the face of stormy changes.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I'm not old; I'm ancient


Sometimes there are things so sweet that they have to be shared. I just got finished listening to a very basic, bland webinar on spirituality and aging. About half-way through the talk, I found myself checking my e-mail and Facebook page.

Through Facebook, a friend connected me to a site called Walking the Red Road - dedicated to giving voice to First Nations people. Walking the Red Road was a nice antidote to the Western mind's linear and intellectual thinking I heard on the webinar.

Checking out the photos on Walking the Red Road, I found quotes associated with the faces of contemporary Native People elders. Below is a one that caught my attention.

"I am not old; I'm ancient. And when you're ancient, you never get old."

Vi Hilbert, Upper Skagit


Now there is a long view on aging and eldering if I ever heard one.

And for those of you who are interested in reading Vi's "signature" story about Lady Louse, you will be treated to a very short, but important story.
http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8156

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fruits of Worship


This past weekend felt like a time of living in between time. I am back to trying to find additional part-time work to supplement my private practice and other clinical work after taking time off from actively looking last spring - which I promptly spent getting sick and recovering.

Piece mealing my work life seems to give me the illusion of control. I hate the yoke of an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule.

Partner and I attended a daylong workshop Saturday on Gay Hendrick's Conscious Living concepts. I was having a hard time thinking of any specific interest to help me think about creative possibilities. I write, play the harp, play with my grandson, talk with my friends and family, cook, clean, listen, meditate, worship, counsel, ... So in the back of my mind I was imagining what it would be like if I had to decide between the two jobs I was currently interviewing for. Which one would be better suited to my gifts, or, as framed in the workshop, my natural genius?

Then on Sunday morning, my Quaker meeting held a session after worship on Fruits of Worship: Taking Our Faith into the World. I think I participated unknowingly in a cosmic joke. I was asked over the phone by someone at the meeting to participate in this after submitting an FYI letter about two workshops I'd recently given at other Quaker meetings. I only heard the part about worship and fruits.

At the session, people started talking about their good works. Many did amazing work around the world. The more folks talked, the smaller I felt. I knew these inadequate feelings were of my own doing, but jeez. What could I say to such worldly, talented people?

My first thing was to redirect the talking to focus on worship as the source of our faith community's connection to that source which produces the fruit. Earlier in worship and again during the program, people talked about how meditation at meeting was so helpful to them. I said I participated in a weekly meditation group and what we were talking about was not really meditation.

A 20th century Quaker once attributed to Friends the unique worship style that allowed for a corporate mystical experience without a priest or intermediary. We are to wait in the grand Silence to come into contact with the Divine. However, all bets are off about silence once that contact happens. My personal opinion is that there are folks in this meeting who aren't interested in contact with the Divine, but are idolizing silence which keeps them isolated from each other.

I blabbed from my personal place of inadequacy as a local who stayed pretty local. However, my own adult spiritual life really took off with the home births of my children. My gift was focusing on the domestic needs of family, friends, and community. I've kept my response brief here, but I am pretty sure I just sounded neurotic.

When I left, I wanted to cry. I remember my dreams of wanting to see the world and to be helpful, educated, and interesting. I wanted to be somebody.

I'm aware that I tend to covet others' gifts. It isn't new. I spent the first year of a two-year spiritual nurturer's program in awe of others' ministries. I was so blinded by my desire to have their gifts that I couldn't appreciate my own.

When I got home, Partner asked what we wanted to do with the nice day. I said it'd been a while since we went for a walk along the river. I desperately needed time in the unusually warm November sun.

When we got to the river, the moon was just coming up over the hillside. This time of year, the moon follows the rise of the hill as the earth turns during the day. It is so cool to see the moon rise up and sideways continually passing trees on the horizon. The sky was a stunning deep blue. Families were playing at the river's edge. Birds were flying the currents overhead. A kingfisher was squawking and chattering from the middle of the river where a few trees rise up from small islands.

Partner asked if I was ready to leave when the sun went behind some clouds and the air felt noticeably cooler. No, I said. I was still too unsettled.

More water flowed down the river. The moon continued to lift into the sky. Visitors came and went. Partner asked if I saw that - and pointed just over the river's opposite edge, where something was hanging low. Huge wings spread and flapped as crows harassed it. I immediately noticed the white tail, then the white head. It was a bald eagle. I'd been convinced that they should have left for the winter. Yet, there it was.

I exhaled. How can I feel "less than" when there are so many miracles everywhere? Sometimes it feels like my work is to try to stay put, get quiet, witness the amazing ordinary things in life, and accept the grace that is already at work in my life.

The irony of tying my worth to work or ideas about who I should be struck me after I returned to the house. What if I don't get asked by either employer to work for them? Maybe I'm back on the treadmill of doing interviews when I probably should be working harder at developing my private practice. Maybe the real work in my life isn't about paid work. Maybe I don't know what this is all about.

It was probably no mistake that on the way to Quaker meeting, I got stuck behind a car driving under the speed limit. Whenever there was a passing line, someone was coming from the other direction so that I couldn't pass. I just had to be present to the situation as it was. I couldn't rush it without the risk of hurting someone.

All of this attempt to remain conscious is driving me crazy. This morning I made applesauce and cleaned the house. I had breakfast with my daughter. I talked briefly to a friend on the phone. I started to write this blog.

But mostly, I just want to hug my grandson and take him down to the river. Thank goodness we are celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend instead of the following weekend! I can't wait.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Life & Death within the Beloved Community


This morning I found myself thinking about all the things that have been going on since I last wrote. I've given two workshops and hosted another day-long retreat. I've picked up a new counseling job. And, then there is the usual stuff.

What my mind rested on during meditation was how tied up I'd gotten from the workshop this weekend. I was asked to speak on aging and end-of-life issues with a small Quaker meeting who has experienced lots of loss. I didn't see anyone under the age of 50 years.

Several 80-year old members had or were experiencing health problems. I listened intently as people spoke about their fears and gratitudes. One of them was a man who had been dealing with prostate cancer.

One of the reasons I had been called in was that he had brought up euthanasia in a discussion which stunned his wife. At the workshop, he went from "euthanasia" in the conversation to "assisted suicide" to using the term "suicide". He said he knew how he could do it. He just didn't want his family to have to live with the shame. He quietly spoke of his doctor's recent suggestion that he consider hospice. He didn't say all of this at once nor in a way that people understood fully what he was saying.

I talked about the gift of ministry where at a Quaker retirement home, people who are in the nursing home are often fed by people who live on the independent side of the community. This is relatively unusual because in many retirement communities, the general public independent elders are terrified of this stage of life and will avoid coming into contact with higher need residents. Those at this Quaker community, who spoke about feeding their former mentors, talk about doing this with great emotion. It was an intimate giving back to someone they saw as their elder. It was an honor.

I also talked about situations I knew of where elders who had been dealing with a great deal of pain, loss of function, and were ready to move on, stopped eating or drinking. They did this in close consultation with their loved ones and doctor. In one case, a person was evaluated by a psychiatrist to determine if depression was an issue. In that case, the doctor felt she was not depressed. Although she started the fast, she discontinued it after a few weeks and lived several more years.

After the workshop with the Quakers, I spoke to key leaders in the meeting and said this man was at risk for suicide. He talked about suicide; he said he had the means. Older white males are one of the highest risk categories for suicide. They cannot tolerate accepting assistance or being a "burden". One person said he seemed to be in more pain than she'd seen him in before. What about his wife who wasn't a Quaker and was having difficulty talking with him about end-of-life issues?

I left feeling jangled and went to a spot on the Shenandoah River where I thought I would cry. Instead, I prayed my heart out. I didn't have a problem with the group talking about euthanasia if it was done in an open and honest way. What I felt was a brewing act of violence against oneself and adding to the pain of his death within his family and faith community. By killing himself, acting alone, he would be shutting himself out of the gift of accepting love from others, working through this with his family and closest friends.

The next day, I got a call from the head of their pastoral care committee. We talked for 1 1/2 hour on the phone. How was she doing? What is the plan to reach out to him? Where does she derive her faith from? She had been identified as someone who had a good relationship with this man. People were in essence supporting her so that she could tend to him. She said she was glad to hear I went to the river to pray afterwards. I told her that I didn't know how the community could bear losing him since I fell in love with him from just meeting him once. We exhaled and talked about the bigger Mystery and our hope to be faithful to that which felt much larger than ourselves.

The next evening I got a voicemail message. When the pastoral care person was writing her monthly report, she decided to give him a call. He had signed in to hospice. They were immediately starting treatment for pain and depression. His wife was on board. He had reached out in his faith community and had been heard. My heart leapt with joy.

I am no fan of pain or suffering. Yet, it is a part of life. We will all die. The questions for me are: how will we live with the short time we have on earth? How do we do this in community? Is there room in our community for us in our need - to be of service or to be cared for?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Sneaky little fox


This morning sitting on my meditation cushion, a fox ran through the back yard and under a hole in one of the bushes. There was no hesitation. It was just like she had done this plenty of times before. I had no idea that she was trotting through that opening under the forsythia bushes.I'd seen birds nesting there in the past.

This fox fascinates me.

The first time I saw her, she batted at the lower beech tree leaves passing by. Trot, trot, elevate, bat, pause, drop down, trot, trot. What was that about?

Then the fox trotted over to the bird feeder. Oh, bird seed for the birds, bird-as-food for the fox.

In the morning, I will occasionally see the fox trot by going west to east, or, east to west through the back yard. Some evenings it will cross in front of the car as I come up the driveway.

But the maddening thing is that the fox never comes by when I am near a camera.

I often take photos of wildlife and birds drawn to the back yard. The camera is often perched on our kitchen window table ready for those opportunities to pick it up and capture an image.

The fox will have none of that. It only comes by, or I only notice it, when the camera has been put away in another room.

This morning the fox came by again as I was talking to my daughter.

"Wait," I whispered. "Let me go get the camera."

I put the phone down, practically crawled under the kitchen window. Stood back up and walked down the hall. Checking through blinds, the fox had moved under the beech tree and was licking its fur.

Great, I thought. I grabbed the camera - still there, but the screen over the window would render the photo useless. I needed to get back to the picture window in the kitchen.

By the time I eased myself back to the window, the fox was gone.

I'm sure there is some moral to the story or a metaphor for my meditation practice, but I can't think of one. It's like my neurons have blocked any significant connection.

I vaguely remember thinking that the fox darting under the bushes during meditation was akin to my sneaky thoughts that flit in and out seeking to flush out the succulent bird or finding temporary cover on my way to going somewhere else with a thought. But I can't hold on to those thoughts, either. Yet, if I am trying to make some meaning out of this, isn't trying to find meaning an attachment?

Peace little fox. Even though I never saw you catch a bird, you sure do look healthy.

Oh, I am sorely tempted to bring my camera to my morning meditation.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Super Harvest Moon


At 11:09 p.m. EST, the autumn equinox will be taking place. This means that the sun is in line with the equator, that great imaginary line around the girth of our planet earth. In fact, according to NASA, this year we are having a "super harvest moon." This has to do with the full moon (harvest moon) taking place within hours of the fall equinox. The sun goes down just as the full moon comes up on the horizon.
https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/22sep_harvestmoon/

As a grandmother with a spreading belly, I used to be offended by my own expanding middle. Some of it I tried to write-off as the cost I paid for bearing children. I tried to steer clear of cultural messages about age, youth and beauty. But they seem to be as pervasive as the air I breath. My partner really doesn't seem to mind. It is my own hang-up that weights me down the most.

Healing around this is a continuing practice. By finding a character who is happy and chunky, I am making peace with my body. I have begun to take great joy in meditating with a small tubby little monk.

People often confuse the little chubby figure thinking it is a Buddha. But the skinny dude is considered a representation of the more traditional form of Buddha - Siddhartha Gautama, the guy we tend to think of as the Enlightened Buddha who sat under the Bodhi tree two thousand years ago.

I find the fat, happy little guy much more appealing and one who speaks to my condition. He is often associated with joy, abundance, and wisdom even though he is thought to have needed very little for himself. He seems more suited to my extroverted nature. His big smile just disarms me. Like Thich Nhat Hanh, a smile is part of the meditation.

It just happens that the image of the monk evokes something more earthy and robust in my imagination. I have a whole side of the family with bodies like his from whom I inherited their genetics. It was the happy elderly aunts with the soft arms, portly middle, tiny thick fingers, and gentle hearts who reverberate in my memory. Not all of them were so terrific. Some of them were senile, and in their senility could go either way - pleasant or mean. Please let me soften, ripen into old age as sweetly as Helen and not like Maude.

Dr. Bill Thomas, a geriatric physician and social change leader in eldercare, points out that the word senile actually has roots in sen and the word senescence which means to ripen, like produce in the autumn. Our culture misses reaping the harvest of our elders because we have segregated people in all kinds of ways.

This rotund monk has a Saint Nicholas-type aura about him. There are Chinese stories about how children flocked to him as he would hide or gave out candy.

This worn-out mother would like to be the one with no responsibilities for family, but cares deeply about the village, the children, and the elderly where ever she is at.

In the fullness of autumn, I find the vines dying off and the fruit coming into maturity. How can I joyfully live my life so that it benefits others? The statue of the monk inspire me to move beyond myself and let that inward work of meditation express itself in happiness - just as the harvest moon playfully chases the sun across the sky no matter how ancient they are.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

As if we had control of the situation...


Life keeps plugging along, but I seem lost somehow as the clear skies of autumn reflect a brilliant blue. Babies grow into toddlers and then they start school. Okay, my grandson is starting a three-year old program, but still. Could it be possible that his mother's own start in preschool was 25 years ago already? How could that have happened?

My maternal grandmother, who has been home receiving round-the-clock care since a stroke 8 1/2 years ago, may be starting hospice care soon. She's been receiving total care at home for over eight years and is the last living grandparent. It is as simple as one of the family members calling the agency. Yet, after weeks of discussion, it hasn't happened.

The phone rang. My west-coast sister called before heading off to work. It was so nice to be her playful, loving sister on the other end of the line. After a delightful Labor Day weekend, she was bemoaning the fact that she had to go back to work. She likes the people part of the job, but says that she has been saddled with a database project that is taking forever. It sounded a bit like the back-to-school blues.

She asked if she got me up. It was 8:30 a.m. EST/5:30 PST, I say,” No, I've been up since 4:30 a.m.” As middle-aged women, sleep, or lack thereof, is always a topic for conversation for us.

We talked about sleep, our thyroid malfunctions, the kids, the weekend, work, our parents’ aging farmhouse, our aging parents,

...and how when our grandmother had her stroke there was an advanced directive that spelled out no feeding tubes, life support, nothing to extend her life; but, the hospital "lost" her advanced directive. It took two days to get the lawyer's staff to fax another copy. At the time of her stroke, due to pressure from her half-sisters at the hospital and the doctors' differing stories about the cause of her stroke, the doctors ignored her children and grandchildren and did what they could to sustain her life. Always remember, fear of lawsuits trumps patient wishes when there is doubt.

She didn't want this. And now, over 8 years later, it might be time for hospice.
The family and carers have been terrific at keeping her alive and relatively healthy. With all of the stents put into place before the carotid artery surgery, oddly her cardiovascular system was in better shape than it had been in years. But now she is having difficulty swallowing, losing more weight, experiencing more cognitive problems, and in a continuous battle with bedsores.

She's in pain. For the longest time, she was able to enjoy eating and going for a ride in her wheelchair van. She doesn't seem to be enjoying anything right now. With the bedsores, wheelchair rides are out of the picture. Grandma’s sky blue eyes are mostly cloudy and unfocused these days.

In the conversation with my sister, I learned that she had assumed that hospice had been started and was mentally on a funeral watch.

Sweetie, you need to relax. Put on a kettle for tea.

I'm thinking that this is like all good childbirths or any major transition. There is a sense of timing that is beyond our control.

To be sure, mom and the aunties are sorting this out and once hospice is called, the agency will be out promptly. But that still doesn't mean much change in care or that death will be sudden. Perhaps there will be more of a focus on pain management and an additional level of support for the family. But it still sounds like the family is working through their own questions before coming to some kind of decision.

As we talk about the family dynamics around major transitions, my sister shared her thoughts about advanced directives. She let it slip that she wanted to have the best drugs possible so that she could be numbed out, and if she had consciousness, she wanted to eat coffee ice cream in order for her to have some kind of quality of life. We laughed about how dry most advanced directives are and how we wanted fun ones.

I didn't have the nerve to tell her that if she got "good" hospice drugs, that she would likely become pretty constipated and that the only real satisfaction she'd get from coffee ice cream would be if it were an enema.

Caught up in the emotion of the conversation,I couldn't bring myself to tell her that I just want to make sure that I have my small blue cloud pillow to hold next to my chest and some funky blues music on my headset. Of course, I remember having these elaborate plans for music and creating a "mood" for my homebirths, and that stuff never happened. My kids were born too fast - both in the bathroom of all places. I didn't tell my sister that today I'm not sure advanced directives do much besides make us feel better and give us an illusion of control when we are most vulnerable.

I also couldn't seem to share with her that my daughter tells me that my grandson is enamored with outer space. He received a NASA baseball cap that is supposed to have flown on a space shuttle once. He reads about Curious George going on a rocket ship. When he is asked what he is going to do tomorrow, he responds, "I'm going into space tomorrow." Every day offers the delay of tomorrow.

It was getting time for her to go to work. She returned to bemoaning having to face the dataset. I found myself encouraging her to look up from her project and see the AIDS/HIV infected patients at her clinic and imagine what their advanced directives might look like if they got to enliven them.

Perhaps tomorrow we might need today's conversations to guide our family and friends through parts of a universal trip we will all take.

With demands pressing us to leave, we said our "I love you's" and got on with our day.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where two rivers merge



Crying tears into the Shenandoah
where the force of one river runs into another
a memory triggers crumbling rock in my chest

Old sorrows ride
down the rapids and into a gorge
there is no turning back

I want to strip and dive in
but the birds keep calling:
Hold on, hold on, hold on

A fish reaches up and kisses the sky
breaking the surface tension
seeking the Other

I want to die
life is too hard
I don’t have a choice in the matter

Geese squawk noisily
Chasing each other between the chasm and here
Curiosity saves me again

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wisdom and Creativity



Wisdom is an interesting concept. It sounds like a very important word. But what does it really mean?

My first inclination is to think that common sense is required. But, what is common sense? Some people would say that you know it when you see it. But is that always true?

My own interest in the word wisdom really came into focus after the 9-11 attacks. How would our leaders, those we put into power, deal with its aftermath. (It is interesting to me that I found myself using the word aftermath because that feels like there is some sort of calculation going on.)

But my feminine side kept thinking, there is more to this than a rational set of factors that contribute to this complex response.

My hope was that our leaders would not exploit this for their own purposes, but focus on the most correct response as the facts became clearer.

A few years later, I was seeking to develop my own counseling approach with clients. I wanted a way to move past checking off the "done" box regarding some problem thought or behavior, and then repeating the same mistakes again. I wanted to understand key elements of growing in wisdom.

Developing wisdom doesn't seem like something that happens overnight. I was beginning to see that in human development, older adults were often overlooked in counseling theories. Youth were the dominate areas for detailed developmental perspectives. Yet, in many cultures there was a special place for elders in their societies for honoring the wisdom of experience.

What happens between youth/young adult development and the aged? What were our adult leaders thinking? How would their own experiences and understandings come into play?

While exploring this in the conscious world, I had a dream one night:

I walked into a restaurant that had a down-home country feel to it. A game of chance was available. It consisted of a large water jug with cups in it. The idea was to drop a coin into the jug and if it landed on one of the cups, you won something. There were lots of coins at the bottom and very few in the cups.

I took out a penny and dropped it in the top. I saw that the top cup was wisdom. My penny dropped past it. The coin continued past the other cups on its way down and I began to feel sad that I missed the wisdom cup and worried when I kept missing the other cups. However, it landed upon the last cup which was creativity.

Immediately, the whole jug and room lit up in a brilliant, fluorescent colored blue. The color was gorgeous and bathed everything. I was thrilled.

Upon waking up, I had mixed feelings. I was elated from the vision of such a rich and beautiful dream. I was relieved that the coin wasn't wasted. I was also sad that I hadn't hit the jack-pot with hitting wisdom right off the bat.

But upon reflection, I was grateful for the insight. One of the most important elements to wisdom is creativity, thinking outside of the box. Creativity seemed to be a stepping stone to wisdom. Knowledge alone isn't enough. Einstein is quoted:
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all that we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand.

A favorite concept of mine, borrowed from the Buddhists and the Quakers, is to live experimentally. Test ideas and concepts. Don't just take other peoples' words for it. This helps prevent group-think or other social group problems where people often have a piece of the puzzle but are afraid to speak their minds about something.

Another realization that I had was that there are plenty of charlatans - people parading around spouting stuff that sounds good, but for their own purposes. The ego is dominated by such a character. What good is it to attempt to become wise when there is lots of learning, creating and experimenting to be done?

There was a time in my younger adult life where I really wanted to have things figured out, be considered smart or wise, get things right. In the process, I worked very hard to read and become knowledgable about life in an effort to avoid problems. Sometimes that helped. But just as often, I just postponed a real run-in with the concept or idea I was working on.

In this dream, I was given a piece of wisdom. I imagine that others who wish for and dream about wisdom will have their own pieces of the puzzle revealed in their own unique ways that help them grow and develop into mature elders.

My prayer is that our world focus on developing youth and adults interested in true growth and development over a lifetime that supports the best in all of us.

The sky is the limit using our imagination. Our world depends on it.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Love my trucks


I have a relationship with my truck that goes beyond rational. After the family car was totaled back in 2000, I took the insurance money and put a down payment on a used Chevy Tahoe, complete with heavy duty suspension and tow package, 4-wheel drive, and plenty of room for the family and stuff.

I grew up on a farm where the family cars were International Harvester Travelall's. They were god-ugly and an embarrassment to me as a teenager. I used to cry when I missed the bus and begged my parents to drop me off a block from the high school entrance, which they refused to do.

There was nothing graceful or attractive about them. I learned to drive stick shift in one of those tanks. I think my parents let us kids learn to drive the family tank around age 12 years because you couldn't hurt those things. I remember once missing a sharp curve in our lane and hitting a locust post. It hurt me more than it hurt the truck or the post, let me tell ya.

They certainly had their quirks. It was from driving Travelalls that I learned that I have two rules when I buy a used vehicle: it has to have brakes and heat. Everything else is extra.

And, I mean everything.

The floor was rusted out in the second seat area so that when my dad drove us out the lane and he hit a mud puddle, we got splatted on. We had one truck that had barn-door style doors that swung open when going around a corner. We just over-corrected the curve and they usually slammed shut on the rebound.

Windshield wipers sometimes worked. And, forget the defroster. I figure I've got plenty of experience for when cataracts set in or macular degeneration because I learned to drive with a vague sense of what was "out there."

My rationale for latching onto the Tahoe was that I drove to work using a two-lane highway in Virginia that had no shoulders and lots of tractor trailers and motor homes on it. If the roads were bad or if someone lost control, I at least wanted more than a prayer to help protect me. Nothing else I test drove felt that powerful or functional.

I’ve had the Tahoe for 10 years now and the thing is getting tired. After changing jobs and roads, I purchased a small, energy efficient car. I get to feel better about the gas mileage, but I miss sitting up higher so that I can see better out the window; not to mention, I loved driving the Tahoe.

My partner actually took it over a while back and uses it as his daily driver. The interior is now grease-stained and gritty with dirt. The back window over the gate doesn't latch. We use a bungee cord to hold it down. The air conditioner has long since quit. The radio and speakers don't work right. The interior lights only work manually.

But it still runs.

The amazing thing is that the engine has had a knock that started at about 85,000 miles. My beloved, being the cost-conscious mechanic that he is, was ready to dump it.

However, my years of growing up on a farm with lots of equipment and vehicles that never ran right, but got us where we needed to go (usually), kept nagging at me.

It has been a faithful workhorse. When the weather was bad, this was the "car" to take. When a trailer needed to be pulled, this was the truck equipped to do it. When I needed to take a vehicle down to where my partner was injured, this was the one with the ability to get down and up the hill, and have enough space for him to maneuver getting in and out of.

My partner has been having trouble with the Tahoe. Once or twice, it actually stalled on him while on the road. But then it ran again. He had the engine checked. A valve is shot, but that isn't new. He keeps making noise that it really is done. But I encourage patience.

At 226,000 miles, I have a ritual when I get into the truck. I treat it like a reliable horse.

I pat the dash and say soothing things in quiet tones like, "Good, boy," or "Let's go," or "You can do it." Mostly, I thank it for giving such good service and hope it has it in it to make another trip.

Last night I attended a meeting in a rural part of the area. After Partner had been making so much noise about its unreliability, I was a little nervous.

Was the truck really shot?

The oil pressure had been hanging at zero. Partner changed the oil earlier in the week, hoping that would do something. But he was taking the other truck to work. The oil gauge was still hanging at zero on my trip to and from the meeting. But I didn’t have any problems. Maybe the gauge is bad.

Partner took the truck to work himself today. He didn’t say a word about its performance when he got home. I didn’t get a call to come pick him up either.

Like all things of this world, its days are numbered. But, the old Tahoe hasn’t let me down yet.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Longing for Friendship



I'm back.

The trip to find the younger me on my North Carolina trip lead me elsewhere. It took me to Friends and friends.

To be frank, I wanted to see this with my first love, my coming of age boyfriend I came to know at the Eastern Music Festival. But alas, in my old age, this is a fantasy that makes no sense. What I could do was to bring my 14 year old self along as my 48 year old self made her way to Guilford College to witness the last performances of the summer music festival for youth and to visit Friends in the area.

To explain the usual difference, capital "F" Friends are Quakers and lower case "f" friends are what everyone commonly refers to as people we know and love. In my case, they often mean the same thing. My faith requires of me to treat others as I want to be treated, to love as I want to be loved.

I think I am a lousy lover. I read Rumi on the trip and am reminded of the beauty, passion, tenderness, desire, and so much more that Love/God/Goddess/Divine Grace holds. But maybe I can be a good friend.

After reading Rumi, I realized that the only capital "F" Friend is the Source. Except all of my lower case "f" friends and Quaker friends contain that sacred seed of the Source.

Confused?

Just think that all capitalized words are archetypal energies and are connected to the Divine. Everything else has the Source within them, but is reflections of God, but is not God. All great religions struggle with the divine dance and interplay of the potentiality everything has and is of Creation.

The balancing problem I have at home is this: I love being with my friends and family and, I cherish my time alone. There is something about alone-time that keeps me close to the Source, my greatest Teacher.

Paradoxically, alone-time also frees me up to meet others. And a trip gives me time to break away from my daily life routines and experience life with a fresh view.

At Greensboro, North Carolina, my youthful self intersected with my adult self. Little did I know at the time of my Eastern Music Festival (EMF) experience at the Quaker Guilford College that would I leave behind my Lutheran denomination for Friends after as a young mother of two.

Not only did I leave music behind, but I embraced silence. For the Quakers I hung out with were "unprogrammed" - no music, no liturgy, just waiting to be moved to speak out of the great Silence - the place beyond words.

While visiting on the Guilford College campus at the Easter Music Festival (EMF), I met several music students. It was a joy to talk with them, listen to their hopes, dreams, and challenges. Other youth I got to hear through their music, bringing me to tears. Whether music or words were used, there was a deep well from which I listened.

The music students had no idea about the importance of the campus they were living at for the summer - what it means to be a Quaker, its history, etc. I met two young men in the Hut, a place where Quaker student leaders meet, where students worship, and where a small Quaker library provides materials.

It was simply a quiet, out-of-the-way place to hang out. Maybe some sort of seed is being planted that I can't see, just as I had no idea until much later how this important this campus would be in my life.

While visiting Jamestown Friends Meeting, I got to experience a semi-programmed meeting - where there is a barebones program with some singing. I wish my meeting had some sort of music in its meetinghouse. Once I sang during an invitation for "after thoughts", but I haven't heard anyone sing during worship.

I talked with many people. I found such warmth and interest in sharing their stories and interests. But, they weren't very interested in the EMF kids. There was a disconnect. But the younger adults who found their way from Guilford College as traditional students to Jamestown were engaged in the world, bringing a vibrancy and relevance to the meeting that might otherwise be missing.

In the midst of these two experiences, I visited with my Quaker friends living in the area. How sweet. The time too short together. A relief in seeing how well they are doing. A longing to see each other again.

I think my younger self is so wrapped up in so many layers of my older self that I don't know if I will ever find her again. I kept wishing that her old friends from the Festival were with her as she visited. But maybe the spirits of those friends were there. Maybe the reflection of the Friend through others is more than enough.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Packing Up


There is a certain futility in packing up and heading off on a trip. I am reminded of the saying: No matter where you go, there you are.

It is with both a certain excitement and concern that I gather my things in preparation of visiting my old stomping ground of the summer of 1976.

I am going it alone. On purpose. I need to be free from worrying about taking care of anyone else. I will be witnessing youth in their glory playing music and getting ready to leave a form of Eden that will be etched into their memories for the rest of their lives. I know those emotional departures from summer camp. There is a part of me hoping to find the music-camp-me, the one who existed before wife, before mother, before grandmother took over.

Of course, things won't be the same on this southern campus these 34 years later. So much water has gone under the bridge.

Yet, it is the Stream of Life that I am attempting to dip my toes in and find refreshment. Perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that I am trying to follow the ethereal sounds or fragrance of the Divine or find that deep sacred place where I get to meet the Friend.

Really, I am seeking Mystery. Can I look into that water and see a reflection that I recognise? Will my heart be able to pulse with it?

I'll let you know what I find. Perhaps there will be words for it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Earthquake?


This is the big weekend: parent's 50th wedding anniversary, preparing for an upcoming candidates night, hosting guests, and dealing with a crashed thyroid. I'm already tired.

This morning around 5 a.m., I was in that state of not quite being asleep and thinking about how I was going to get things done when I heard a loud rumble and felt the house shake. I thought that a big thunderstorm was close by. I live in a gap where noise travels around. Our house seems to be built on a rock and shakes when big things happen.

I asked my partner, did you hear that? He said that it must have been a train as he tried to get a few more minutes of sleep in before getting up for the day.

I heard it again. There must be a storm further down the ridge.

In my state of not quite being awake yet not altogether asleep, I let it rest.

I learned of the earthquake from a Quaker friend who is terrified of earthquakes and volcanoes. The idea of the earth being a dynamic force isn't very comforting to her. She e-mailed me the news.

My west coast sibling was staying overnight with us. The topic of earthquakes had come up just last night. Her introduction to earthquakes in the west was with a seasoned friend who was excited about them and showed her how to ride the waves. How funny that she brought her trembling earth with her, I thought. When asked if she noticed this one, she reported sleeping so soundly that she was unaware. It was, after all, just a 3.6.


The timing was exquisite. How utterly symbolic to witness an earthquake this weekend. My intuitive or feminine side says to pay attention to these seismic activities - whether in the earth, community, family or physical body.


I can't seem to get away from the body as major shifts keep taking place in my own body. I'm told that the thyroid affects every cell in the body. In many ways, I think my body is be doing fine. And then, I feel what I would call an earthquake in my body that seems to bring me up short. There has been continuous pressure on my chest that my doctor attributes to muscle spasms. I just know that it grinds me to a halt.

Excuse me, I have to rest a while and catch my breath.

Maybe this is just a warning shot about something much deeper moving in our family or in our culture. Or, it is just a shift that is loud and rumbling and will settle down for another 36 years or so - that's how long it has been since the area experienced an earthquake of this magnitude.

I found myself wishing the epicenter had been closer to Washington D.C. Maybe our elected officials and bureaucrats would get it, get something, maybe an epiphany about some sort of change that is aching to take place.

I am reminded of a deceased pastor who loved the mountains in my neck of the woods. He would often point out how old these ancient rocks are in our little part of the Appalachian chain. He believed that these hills and mountains were once as majestic as the Rocky Mountains are now. It's just that the Appalachian mountains have just been worn down with time and exposure to the elements.

What a very mild introduction to a much deeper power that exists in nature, our nature and the earth's. From that relatively gentle yet powerful shift I experienced this morning, I am glad to be an insignificant part of something so awesome.

Riding the waves, when they roll my way, might be the only sane thing to do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Nothing to be done


I have a friend who walks around saying that, "There really isn't anything to be done."

She usually says this when people are running around trying to fix a problem that isn't life or death. She recognizes the crazy-making feeling that happens when people get stirred up. And, for what?

Lately, she's also been known to say this as friends are in the actively-dying phase and their loved-ones are stressed. They call her seeking a way to take away the pain of loss. She said that sometimes the best way she knows how to help is to remember that there isn't anything she can do herself except to quiet down.

We all want the pain to go away.

Yesterday my body was all stirred up. I'm not sure what the cells where doing, but my chest was really hurting under the breastbone and my back ached. I was so tired that it was an effort to move. This time, my breathing was more of a challenge than in the past. I'd had this in May, except this time I was having a little more trouble breathing.

"Here we go again," I thought.

Last week, I finally got to see the endocrinology for the first time since this mess started back in April. I was prepared to dislike her, but I couldn't. She did a great job explaining things and took her time with me. She even did her own ultrasound on me pointing out that my thyroid no longer had a clear shape anymore.

It looked more like applesauce on the screen rather than a distinct organ. The scientist in me thought that was so cool. The me in me was horrified.

She explained the possibility that I could go from having a hyper-active thyroid to having a lull and perhaps a meltdown as the thyroid function switched to the hypo-active state.

Afterward the medical appointment, I had so many things to do. However, I stopped off for a blood draw before soldiering on.

I noticed that I was having more problems swallowing after the appointment. Damn her. Things had been calm and with all that digging around my throat with her fingers and ultrasound wand, I was having more trouble again.

From that point on, I was booked solid for the next several days. I was running down and then running on empty. By yesterday, I recognized the bottom when I could barely shake the feeling that I couldn't seem to fully wake up and that my chest hurt. I kept yawning. Any exertion felt like such work. Driving felt more tedious. My old symptoms were back.

It probably didn't help that one of my beloved elderly friends had a heart attack over the weekend and was in the ICU. We have over 20 years of shared experiences with the Quakers, and lots of beloved time together in a meditation group and a writers group.

Additionally, it isn't a surprise that as I get closer to the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents that my body acts out. I've been fretting over this for some time now. Their party is this coming weekend.

And then there is the Candidates Night event that I am chairing. This week the candidates' responses are due and the event is next week.

I called someone whom I was supposed to see the next day and said I needed to cancel our time together. The sweet soul on the other end of the phone really pushed me to call the specialist.

"Don't ignore this," she said.

So at 4 p.m., I called the doctor's office. At 5 p.m., I got a return call. The exam wouldn't cause these symptoms, I was told. The lab results were now showing a switch to hypo-thyroid levels and my squishy thyroid was likely crashing.

Dr.: Do you need to go the E.R.?

Me: No. I'm not that bad. I'm feeling better than I did earlier in the day.

I called a friend and decided to see if she would take me to the writers group in the evening. I didn't trust myself to drive. But going had to be better than sitting on the couch with my silent, helpless partner watching T.V.

There was really nothing to be done.

I was already on a beta blocker. Thyroid medications are a no-no with this disease process. Just waiting it out to see where it lands is the treatment of choice for 95% of people who get thyroiditis. There is the question of additional autoimmune problems, but we don't know yet.

As the evening wore on and the ibuprofen kicked in, I felt better. I got to listen to others' stories and hear them talk about their writing process. I was able to write in the company of others. I got to laugh. I was feeling better.

This morning I see the specialist. In the face of yesterday, I am feeling so much better. Go figure.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Heart Work


This morning I woke up from a dream that spoke to my condition. Jung believed that dreams were meant to do just that.

The part I'd like to share is the struggle with identity and ego stuff in the midst of a mid-life realignment.

In real life, I keep telling my family and closest friends that I no longer fit into the roles that I wear: mother, wife, daughter, granddaughter, social worker, Democrat, Quaker, ... whatever I was, I can't breath in them anymore. Those clothes are too tight. However I have defined those roles in the past, they simply don't fit now.

In the dream, I find myself at my maternal grandmother's home. More precisely, I am in her kitchen. My partner and other spiritual friends are there. I try to call one of them who is missing, except I mis-dial the number.

Instead, I get a request line for an internet radio station that plays soul and love music. The disc jockey is working from his home and we can see each other from our respective places. I'm so happy to have found such a wonderful, earthy music station.

I need to know the world-wide web address so that I can enjoy this music, but to ask will give myself away. I can't think of a song fast enough to request and pause too long. He knows.

He quickly recovers and says that I am a winner and will receive pottery inscribed with my favorite love line. I tell him I can't think of just the right one.

Can I call back?

Yes, he responds.

He provides the number and tells me that he or his girlfriend Angell could answer, just so I know. I spell Angell with two L's. He can see that and asks me how I knew to spell it with two L's. I knew because otherwise, she'd be immortal.

When I get off the line, I look and see my long-lost friend in the kitchen. She's the one who embodies love of life. She's an intuitive healer who works at the individual and community level. I see her warm brown eyes and am so glad to see her. I've missed her.

As I awaken from the dream in that twilight in-between state, the line is:
My heart belongs to no-one and everyone.

Thinking this is too self-centered, I quickly amend it to be:
The heart belongs to no-one and to everyone.

And as I sit with my journal, I write:
The Heart belongs to no-one and to everyone.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Empty Basket


This morning I sat outside to meditate with an empty basket.

I had been using this basket to keep sticky pads and note paper in. As I cleaned off the desk so that my partner had room for his stuff, I kept moving it around. There really wasn't a great place for it anymore. So, it kept finding temporary homes around the office: on top the file cabinet, on top of another pile of papers, under the desk, and on the floor. Sticky pads kept falling out.

Why did I feel compelled to keep it so full?

I recently overheard my daughter telling her husband that I have a thing for office supplies.

It's true. I like paper and pens, tape dispensers and staplers. I really love colored markers and crayons. I keep file folders and notebooks for re-use. I like to look like I mean business. I like to feel in control of my life and this helps. But clearly, my basket was getting out of hand.

This is more than symbolic. Since moving three years ago, I took over setting up the house while my partner set-up a garage and moved his "projects" in - with cars and trucks that he wanted to salvage or keep up, lots of tools, and items he couldn't part with. I rationalized controlling the house space, because "we" were hoping to use this new place as a counseling/retreat place. It would be my business from home.

It hasn't turned out quite that way. I do have a small counseling practice at home. I've held workshops on aging and spirituality. We have held meeting for worship (a Quaker form of worship) here. Community activities have taken place. But I really didn't need to lock him out of the office. I just needed a locked file drawer for my work.

The basket seemed to keep getting lost and spilling over while I was sorting through the desk contents. Even after the desk was cleaned out, the basket couldn't seem to find its place - until this past week.

The usual facilitator of the meditation group would be out of town for two weeks. I offered to fill in.

The first week, I brought the chime, a small vase of flowers and a reading. When someone asked where the basket was for dana (the Buddhist term for donations), I realized that I didn't have one. But then it dawned on me that I knew exactly what would serve as our dana basket next week.

This week, I cleaned out the basket, recycling most of the papers and passing on the pads to my partner. He told me that he had just made scrap-paper note pads since he was out of them at his work. This is a company where cost-cutting measures included reducing staff by a third last year and where each office supply purchase is carefully considered.

I brought the empty basket to meditation and it seems everyone contributed to the dana this week.

In preparation for my daily morning meditation today, I put out the empty basket. I used it as a reminder to empty myself and appreciate the lightness of passing on whatever comes my way without clinging. As I dedicated the merit of my practice to the well-being of all in the universe, two herons flew nearby and honked.

The simplicity of their graceful flight inspired in me a sense of lightness and freedom that I imagine the basket must be enjoying.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Assumptions


I don't know what to think. This is getting to become pretty common after a life-time of needing to be right or know something.

My regular doctor recently saw me since it was going to be a month before seeing the specialist. Things look good. I'm on a little medication that is meant to calm down some of the hyper-thyroid responses.

The thing is, I don't want to go to the specialist. I keep telling myself I feel better. No problem. I dread going and getting the brush-off. What are you doing here?

On the surface things really are looking better. People have been telling me how much better I look.

The doctor put me on the minimum amount of beta blockers so that my heart rate and blood pressure would calm down. He said it would help with the headaches.

After the first week, I really did feel better. Although, I am quick to tell people that I started really feeling better the day before I started the beta blockers.

The doctor let me know that in some sports, beta blockers can be banned. He went on to explain how in the Olympic games, some archery players were using beta blockers leading to an unfair advantage. They could steady themselves better.

A veterinarian friend said that she heard of public speakers and performers using beta blockers to reduce anxiety or the jitters.

So imagine my surprise when two of my close friends ended each visit last week by letting me know how relaxed I looked - like it'd been months since I looked so good. Hmmm. Or my youngest daughter who told me that I seemed calmer and looked less puffy around the face.

But the most hilarious response was from my partner. We were sitting across from each other for our evening meal and he kept looking at me. I didn't handle it gracefully.

Me: What are you looking at?

Him: You look different.

Me: Really? How?

Him: Ummm... you have that glow - like when you were pregnant.

Me: Great.

I remember feeling obese and sick while pregnant. What if this is menopausal hormones? It can't be pregnancy.

Me: Or, maybe more like people who come to terms with their lives and are getting ready to die. That's it. I'm getting ready to spontaneously combust. Wait. I got it! I'm going to do - what do the religious people call it? Assumption?

Him: No. Ascension.

Me: Right. No, I like assumption. All my assumptions have caught up with me and I will implode. Finally, peace.

He seemed to be finished with the conversation and started to eat. But I was imagining a Gary Larson cartoon with assumption-cowboys on horseback chasing me down. Like an old movie. I would finally be able to give-up my assumptions that are wrong or cloud my thinking - after the required chasing and wrestling, of course. The ego would finally be tamed.

Fighting/resisting/running until I am exhausted is my mode of operation. All of my hard and fast rules, thoughts, ideas, imaginings, and fears, are tightly held. Illness is one of those times when I simply don't have the energy to fight them anymore. Of course, there are assumptions I get to deal with around that. This stuff never seems to end.

Last night, after two weeks of feeling much better in which I consider to be a period of grace, I got sick again. Maybe it was something I ate, maybe it was a bug, maybe it is my psyche calling up more stuff, I don't know. But this time, I did not belabor it. I simply got sick in the middle of the night and put myself back in bed in the best position I could.

This morning when my beloved went to kiss me for the day, I put a hand up to my lips. Sick. Can you get me the Barf Bucket?

He thanked me for not passing on the germs and came back with our handy family bowl.

While nauseous off and on, I was able to move through the day doing my usual things - just like old times. I wanted to cancel lots of things, but it just didn't warrant it. No fever. Mild headache. Ate a little fruit. When I focused on other things, I didn't notice the queasies or dull headache so much.

I will go to the specialist - if for no other reason than to practice letting go of one of my assumptions.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Better than a Space Age Pen



I’d been muttering to my partner that once I felt better, I was going somewhere. I didn’t know where, I didn’t know how, or with what money, but I needed to go.

In the midst of feeling really rotten last month, I got a call. At first I thought it was from a telemarketer. It’s a good thing I didn’t hang up on him. Instead, I was informed that I had won a one-night’s stay in Greensboro, NC from a tourism group.

At first I really couldn’t believe it. Besides winning small games at the local carnival, the last time I won something was a Space Age pen – probable in the 1970’s from a Tang promotion.

The irony is that now I can return to the town where I spent my Coming of Age summer in 1976. I’ve been wanting to see a performance of the Eastern Music Festival (EMF) kids for years now. I remember the vitality and creative energy brought about by the intensity of learning new music and performing it weekly. This practice pushed me to higher levels of performance. I remember dreaming of something much bigger than my life back home on the farm.

Summer programs may be only a few weeks long, but the impact has been for a lifetime.

There is also a twist of coincidence that EMF was held at a Quaker college - Guilford. As an adult, I came to join the Quakers as my theology of choice - initially because of their peace and social justice theology.

My partner and I had stopped by Greensboro on the way back from our harp conference/coastal trip this winter to visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. It had just opened a few weeks prior and the visit was filled with emotion as it focused on the lunch counter sit-in and the power of youth and development of leadership in the midst of very difficult and dangerous times.

Because of that visit, I became aware of the drawing and signed up.

I can’t help but be amazed by the crazy coincidence of desperation, hope, and luck that brought this about. Or, maybe it was a prayer answered.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait


It has been a week since I went to see the doctor. This time he spent lots of time with me. The tests came back showing something.

He chastised me in a nice way when I said that I couldn't do the things I always want to. He said, that's the problem. He said he is so conditioned to patients who expect to be fixed from whatever ails them that he didn't realize at the last appointment how sick I was.

I look too well, I know. My family didn't even get it until the ultra sound and blood work showed something.

He told me that my T4 and T3 tests showed hyperthyroid activity and that the sed rate - a blood test that indicates inflammation - showed inflammation.

Okay. Now what?

He explained that regular hypo or hyper thyroid conditions don't usually create the neck tenderness and swelling. So he was still going with thyroiditis - which simply means swollen thyroid.

The problem is, what caused it? I didn't have any neck trauma to create swelling. Post-partum moms sometimes get this, but the last time I gave birth was 24 years ago. Instead, my options were bacterial or viral infection, or an autoimmune problem.

He explained that this could get complicated and that I should see a thyroid specialist. The usual referral was to an internal medicine guy who did some thyroid work, but wasn't really a thyroid specialist. While he went to the hallway to consult with a colleague, I called my aunt to find out the name of the specialist my younger cousin sees in the area. He has metastatic thyroid cancer - everyone says, if you are going to get a cancer, get this one or some such nonsense. My sister with Graves disease took two tries to find a good thyroid specialist, but she lives on the other coast.

He returned with an agreement from his colleague that it looked like thyroiditis. While he said he usually sees an average of 2 patients a week with hyper or hypo thyroidism, thyroiditis is less common.

He ordered more blood tests for other thyroid-related markers of some sort. He also said he would personally call the thyroid specialist that day to get the ball rolling.

I left with a script for more blood work and orders to pick up a beta blocker since my heart rate, blood pressure and headaches were still a problem.

Great, something is finally happening.

I called the specialist's office and was told that she was out for the day. The secretary took my information and said that the records needed to be sent before the doctor would make any decision. She also said that if I didn't hear back from the office, I should call next Wednesday to make an appointment.

On Wednesday, I called the office. The initial response was that they never received my paperwork. I explained that my doc said he would call. She ruffled around and said that she remembered the call, put me on hold, and several minutes later said that the specialist had the records. Could I call back tomorrow?

On Thursday, I called the office. The initial response was that they never received my paperwork. I explained that I had called yesterday and that they already had the paperwork since Friday. Oh. I was put on hold, and several minutes later said that the doctor had the records. As a new patient, my appointment would be in exactly a month from today.

Really? Yes, it takes a month for new patients to be seen.

I called my family practice and left a message. Is it okay to wait a month before being seen? My heart is still going pitter-patter when I exert myself. Do I need to adjust from the minimum dose of beta blocker or wait for it to build up?

The doctor is off today.

That's okay. This isn't an emergency. This has been going on for at least six weeks now.

I'm actually, very slowly, getting better. One friend mentioned that I might be getting better at adjusting my life around my body's needs. It's good that I have flexible work.

Mornings and early afternoon, I feel pretty normal. Okay, this morning I have a vague headache and nausea, but every day is a little different in that way. My appetite is picking up. Swallowing is much easier. By evening, the headaches are more forceful and the energy wanes, but my scalp doesn't feel sunburned anymore. The heart pitter-pat's a little harder if I push myself at night.

The good thing is that my thinking and focus are better than last month. The fevers and nasty chills followed by sweats have pretty much stopped. I figure that what is left of the sweats, I can pin on peri-menopause. I don't feel flu-y anymore.

In the middle of all of this, my partner and I finally took our first walk in over a month by the river. His ankle, still swollen and tender, has slowly been recovering for several weeks, too. We sat on logs by the edge listening to the water rush by and watching the birds ride the currents over the mountain ridge. He leaned over and said wouldn't it be nice if a bald eagle shows up. I was convinced they had packed up and nested elsewhere this year. I figured he was putting out some serious wishful thinking.

Ten minutes later, a large black bird with the characteristic white head and tail feathers of an eagle circled its way over the ridge and rode the air higher and higher until I couldn't see its markings anymore.

I wanted to cry. I didn't know why. I still don't exactly know why. Dare I wish for such amazing things in the midst of this crazy world and with my out-of-control body?

So, I wait. At any rate, I'm not holding my breath. I managed without much help from the medical world for the month I really felt rotten. I will continue to advocate for myself even as things are slowly calming down. And if I am real lucky, this thing will disappear by the time I see a specialist.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Riding the roller coaster


The Buddhists talk about non-attachment, continuous change, and experimentation - just don't take Buddha's word or anyone elses, see for yourself.

So this mindfulness stuff helps me be with the roller coaster.

One minute, I feel sick and mentally fuzzy. Thirty minutes after taking an ibuprofen, I feel better. But then I get the sweats. Daytimes are much better than evenings. Days are morphing into weeks, but things are getting better.

Yesterday I was feeling the best I had felt in weeks. I could do my financial work without fear of messing up the books. The day before, it took me three tries to split an account accurately.

I was also waiting for lab results taken last week. With the Memorial Day weekend holiday, it took longer than usual to get them back.

After 2:00 p.m., the nurse called me. Instead of giving me the results over the phone, I got this: the doctor wants to see you; can you come in this afternoon or first thing tomorrow morning before our regular hours.

Since I've been dealing with whatever this is for over a month, I figured a few more hours wouldn't matter. I said I'd come in the next morning.

So, the headaches and pains came on last night around 5 p.m. Thirty minutes later, I got relief and a little warm and sweaty. And then, like many other nights, once the medication wears off, the headache and aches wake me up. I try to practice relaxation exercises.

See, I can breath deeply, I can ride the waves. But after lying in bed for who knows how long, I get up and take an ibuprofen. Thirty minutes later, I realize that I can breath easier and that the pain is subsiding. Then I get warmer and sweatier than during the day. I hate that feeling.

I keep pushing away thoughts of the doctor's appointment. What could be so important?

When I got the call back from the initial bloodwork several weeks ago, I was told that my thyroid activity was elevated. I became upset. Hyper-active thyroid? I can't loose weight on a diet and have no appetite, and you are telling me I am hyperthryroid? I was told over the phone to come back in two months to get it retested, keep taking the antibiotic for Lymes disease and let's see what happens.

The nurse practitioner humored me when I asked if there wasn't something more we could do since I just had a sister diagnosed with Graves disase (hyperthyroid) last year and a younger cousin with metastatic thyroid cancer. I have lots of family members on my maternal grandmother's side with thyroid and autoimmune problems.

She mailed me the ultrasound order and said I could get it done when it was convenient.

Fast forward to the ultra sound test: yes, there is some swelling of the thyroid and a node. At this point, my swallowing had been much more difficult than it is now.

I made an appointment with a doctor in the practice for the day after the ultrasound.

This is a big deal since I have been mostly seeing nurse practitioners. The female doc in the office I used to see opted out of insurance and does holistic medicine, which is nice but I can't afford it. The last time I saw a male doc, he had his head stuck in the laptop computer except for the most perfunctory check-up.

I needed someone - male or female - who would listen and who had experience. So many of the docs are new to the practice as the community grows and the older docs are retiring. Maybe I was getting to an age where I should be seeing an internal medicine doctor. But I wanted to give this family practice a try. Our family has stayed with this practice because they backed up our homebirth midwives when others would not.

I settled on one of the men I had probably over ten years ago for something minor. At the end of the first appointment, he held my gaze for longer than I was used to. I didn't look sick enough for some of the things he was thinking about, he'd said earlier in the appointment. I was hoping for some kind of healing transmission, but figured that wasn't really what the gaze was about. It was more like, what is going on?

As I ride the rollercoaster, my own attachments around health and illness, medical institutions and the people involved in our healthcare system, science and faith, my loved one's reactions, and my own relationship to my body, are being tested.

Yes, what is going on?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A point in time


First of all, I haven't been writing recently because I don't trust myself. After several weeks, possibly dealing with Lymes disease and then thyroiditis, I still don't feel like I have a great story to tell. What's to tell about existing and not knowing?

In my attempt to be faithful to something larger than myself, I am showing up on this blog. No guarantee that it will be pretty.

Mostly, I've been feeling very small and insignificant. I'm an extrovert and depend on human interaction for feedback or a reminder that I exist. It's not that I don't have housemates or caring people in my life. It is my own stuckness in my mundane daily life.

This feeling started before this last bout of illness. I think it is related to loss. But the past few weeks made it worse.

Over the past month with very little energy some days, I've had to figure out what one major effort I had the energy to invest in for that day. My world became smaller. It was also frustrating to experience fevers, difficulty swallowing and aches that bothered me, but some of those closest to me didn't see it. It was like my experience didn't exist in some way.

In my foggy state, time just slipped away. Wow, a month has gone by? You mean it is June already? Okay, thyroiditis. Just take aspirin and rest. Hmmm, an uncontrollable oil spill in the Gulf. Stay on the antibiotic, just in case. Genetically modified plants can't keep up with bugs and weeds they were designed to outrun. Sorry, can't help. Nope, not even a letter to the politicians. Then I would wander around in my mental attic picking up signals that haven't been too helpful.

One of them had to do with: how did I get here? Meaning - what about my fantasies of how life would be by now as I approach 50?

I had the idea that somehow if I completed a graduate program, my life would be easier in my later years. In some ways, it was a burden lifted after years of internalized expectations. It was what I was supposed to do. My parents had always expressed the hope that I wouldn't waste my mind. I now have the degree to prove it.

But since graduation, I have had several awkward attempts at fulfilling my counseling license requirements. This was something I hadn't really factored in. I didn't want to work in dysfunctional human services organizations. I have a friend who was a former social worker. She keeps telling me that she left social work to find employment where she is treated well.

Recently, two older women therapists whom I admire suggested that I was in a natural phase of mid-life stuff and that I was also trying to figure out how to apply counseling theories to real people.

Truly.

I look around me and see people in my field of counseling or pastoral counseling who have an active practice and a sense of vitality about their work. They are making a difference in peoples' lives. They know their way and have a great support network.

Then I made the mistake of Google-ing people from my music camp experience. The two people I was closest to are both professional musicians now. I'll spare you the details, except to say that they both have traveled around the world while I stayed home. It hurt.

While I tend to the family and community, these things feel very small. It is unpaid work and never-ending. As a Feminist, I never imagined that I would be in such a place. I've always had my primary focus on my family. I love being engaged in community work. Yet, I am also keenly aware of my own felt need to have financial security.

I can't believe I'm writing this, but I want to be rich and important. I want to be rich in utilizing my own education and life experience, and then, share it with people. Plus, I want it to matter.

Jung is attributed to saying that we need an ego, our core, our essential beingness needs to exist but that we want it to be as small and tight as possible - so that we can access the Self (Divine energy), where we then connect to a Source that is beyond us, allowing us to freely give and be available to others in their need. In the great circle of giving and receiving, we experience both more fully.

How can the culmination of my losses of so many expectations this past year be put into service? How can I allow space for the new? My hope is that there is a rich loam in my heart from which new things can grow.

If it is believed that God knows how many hairs we have on our heads, how can we believe we are insignificant? Even as my headaches are accompanied by a sun-burned feeling on my scalp, my faith is being tested, seared into something that while molten and liquid in the midst of them, can quickly harden.

Beyond housework, I'm trying to stay with the harp and meditation. Everything else is beyond me.

My rambling, unfocused mind scares me. There had better be a divine, loving presence in the universe. My own attempts to rationalize or understand my state seem limited at this point.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Just ask the Universe


Maybe this story will help someone. I don’t know.

It began with the usual things. I’ve been known to have aches and pains. It’s just one of those things. If the pain got too bad, I’d take aspirin or the like.

I practice meditation. I try to avoid dairy because of allergies. I try to stay active. But things got hectic and I stopped going to the gym.

Recently, I went to an acupuncturist for a spring treatment. It’s kind of like spring house cleaning. After the first session, I felt like I’d been in a wreck. Wow, I thought, that was powerful stuff. For my next session, she dialed back the treatment. Yet, the aches and pains were getting worse.

Somewhere along the line, I thought that with everything going on in my life, maybe I was depressed or anxious or just needed to chill. I kept trying to figure out if there were psychological reasons for my pain. I felt that maybe I just wasn’t doing the right things. Maybe I needed medication.

I’d seen plenty of women go to their doctor’s for pain and were told that they had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and were prescribed anti-depressants. I dreaded that.

I began to kid with my family that I thought I was having mini-strokes. In the evening, I seemed more fatigued, had painful headaches, and was garbling my words. I was having difficulty swallowing. It was like there was a lump in the base of my throat. My vision didn’t seem right either.

Maybe I’m just getting old. Or, maybe these are menopausal symptoms. I noticed that I was taking more and more steaming hot baths after midnight because of pain.

I called my acupuncturist. She said the treatments wouldn’t cause this stuff. She’d already talked to me about the possibility of thyroid issues. But I’ve been checked many times, and it never shows up as a problem. But, wasn’t my body changing? Maybe I really needed to check this again.

This week, I bought a thermometer to check my base-line morning body temperature for low thyroid. I’ve always run a degree or lower than the “average.” The morning I checked my temp, it was almost 100 degrees. That’s not right, I thought to myself. I must be working on something.

That was enough to get me to make a doctor’s appointment. I was seen that day.

I live in an area that considers Lyme disease an epidemic. We’ve had an early spring. Apparently, Lyme disease is showing up a lot in this practice. Except for the bulls-eye rash, the symptoms seemed to match up. Lots of blood was drawn to rule out other things. But I was sent home with an antibiotic prescription. I was told: if this is Lyme’s disease, the antibiotic will make you feel worse before you feel better.

Having gone through this treatment back in 2003, I also remember how the antibiotic made me nauseous.

After I left the office, I drug myself around various stops to finish up some errands. Passing over the Shenandoah River, I decided to pull off and park. My mind was swirling with so much.

It might sound crazy, but I sure hoped it was Lyme disease since I was afraid of the neurological symptoms. If not this, then what?

What purpose does this illness serve? That seemed like an absurd question.

I am so tired of this, whatever this is – mostly tired. Tired of the headaches, the pain, the self-doubt and inward blaming, the house that is falling apart, my partner’s slow recovery from his accident – something that is taking much longer that either one of us expected.

When will it end? Meaning, when will the illnesses, accidents, heartaches, and all the other injustices end?

Every time I came close to despair, a large fish jumped out of the river. What’s that about? Like a fish out of water? Seeking a bug for nourishment? Jumping for joy? Fish suicide? Taunting the human or the predator?

I would also see a heron about the same time. The heron has a connection to the ancestors among the Northwest Indian tribes. Talk to me. Tell me what to do or stop doing? I did get a honk once from a heron up stream, but I couldn’t assign any meaning to it.

I wanted to cry, but seemed frozen. It dawned on me after a cool breeze caressed my face that the Divine is everywhere. Nature is here to support the cycle of life. Crying would be witnessed in the same way that everything else is around here. Just get it out.

None of my tears made it into the river. But the sobs relaxed my body. I didn’t need to cry gobs, just release some sadness and fear.

Lots of birds had been singing. Something caught my ear.

I couldn’t tell if I had just heard a dog or a barred owl. I waited. Then with a much stronger, maybe closer hoot, I heard two cycles of the chant, “Who cooks for you.”

Thank you. Thank you.

The barred owl has been an important companion on my spiritual journey for the past several years. One nested in a sycamore tree for a few years near my home. It let me photograph it. My grandparents had a general store named “Sycamore Super Service.” How was this tied into my desire to be of service, my connection with my ancestors,and my soul’s purpose?

All that I really want is an affirmation that in the great Mystery of life, that I am connected to something larger. Standing by the river in the woods, I had gotten an answer. My suffering is not in vain. I didn’t have to know why. I didn’t have to know how.

I drove home and started the medicine.