Praise Song for the Day BY ELIZABETH ALEXANDER A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each other’s eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere, with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice. A woman and her son wait for the bus. A farmer considers the changing sky. A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin. We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed, words to consider, reconsider. We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of some one and then others, who said I need to see what’s on the other side. I know there’s something better down the road. We need to find a place where we are safe. We walk into that which we cannot yet see. Say it plain: that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of. Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign, the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables. Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself, others by first do no harm or take no more than you need. What if the mightiest word is love? Love beyond marital, filial, national, love that casts a widening pool of light, love with no need to pre-empt grievance. In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, any thing can be made, any sentence begun. On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp, praise song for walking forward in that light. Copyright © 2009 by Elizabeth Alexander. All rights reserved. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. A chapbook edition of Praise Song for the Day will be published on February 6, 2009. Source: Praise Song for the Day (Graywolf Press, 2009)
I’ve been making a lot of lists. Movies to watch, tv shows to watch, dystopian books I’ve read, tasks to do, tasks done. I’ve worked on budgets for us, for K’s parents, for the rentals. I’ve walked the dogs with K, perused random things on the internet, and read too many news stories. We’ve planted flowers after doing the whole social distance shopping thing to pick up the flowers. I’m restless. I know you are too. We’ve watched the birds, purchased more than our share of oranges and jelly to feed the beautiful migratory Orioles, purchased bags of seed in that same social distancing way we shop for everything now.
The girlie is standing on our deck right now shaking. She’s staring at the back door and shaking. K is making sausages for breakfast. Riley is shaking. It makes no sense. I think she’s expecting disaster to strike. For the smoke alarm to go off or some other big sound she knows she will hate. It’s happened a couple of times before, the smoke alarm going off. She knows this. She does not trust sausage or the oven. She is preemptively shaking. I am too.
Aren’t we all? What the hell is up?
I like to keep track of things. I count. I love when Goodreads tells me I’m “on track!” to complete my yearly reading challenge. 11 of 30 books read so far this year. I just finished a good one last night. I have a list at IMDb of movies that have yet to come out or have already come out that I want to see. I have lists of movies I’ve seen. I time the coffee when it’s steeping. If I forget to put the timer on I count. I’m slightly obsessive. Who knew? It doesn’t really surprise me, though I just noticed it recently.
Things are quieter. Not in my head, no, not there. But quieter. We were walking last night and actually commented on how it was so quiet. Not as much car noise. Not as many cars. People were out walking as well, but in hushed tones. Crossing the street to keep the 6 feet rule intact. I feel like we’re all hushed and waiting. Sometimes holding our breath, hoping the big bad runs past us and doesn’t see us there, hiding behind that bush. Everything is a movie scene in my mind.
The weather is turning. Finally getting warm. It took long enough. Of course we’re also in the middle of storm season so it’s warmer, but stormy a lot. We’re taking advantage of some sun right now and enjoying our deck. Dogs on dog beds or the chaise lounge. They love it out here too. We have a playset in our yard. The grandkids have used it quite a bit over the years we’ve lived here. We added an extra slide and a mini climbing wall. Sebastian helped K build the climbing wall. There are places for two swings. One side has a swing on it and the other just has chains hanging down. We had a baby swing there for years, but they are all too big for that now. We took it down and gave it away meaning to get another swing seat for that side. We haven’t done it yet. We may never. The grandkids haven’t been here in months now. Not since before we left for the West Coast, before all of this really took off. It makes me a little sad looking at those chains. No seat. Maybe no reason to put one on it. We even started talking about taking down the entire thing. We’re waiting. Waiting to see what happens.
Maybe we’ll go for a ride today. Get out and away from the house. Go somewhere else to walk. Look at other birds. Stand in a different quiet place.
I’m struggling to have enthusiasm about much of anything lately. It’s a problem. I try to occupy my time, my thoughts, myself. We buy plants, we shop online, I do the laundry and the dishes, K cooks, I have even cooked a little, K works, we watch TV and movies, we listen to music, we watch online streaming events, we make plans we hope we can keep, and we mourn the loss of activities we were going to do but that are now canceled.
We were going to camp in May and June. Now we aren’t. We were going to go to the pool with the kiddos a lot, we bought a pass, now we aren’t. We were going to go to Ebertfest in April, we didn’t. Dommy was going to go to Circus Camp at the end of June, he isn’t. We were going to go to music in the park, we won’t. We were going to enjoy the 4th of July parade and fireworks, we won’t.
We’ve had quite a few mini disasters since returning home from the West Coast in March. Our fridge went out and we had to have it replaced. Our kitchen sink drain got plugged, some ancient, before we owned the house problem that reared its head and required a plummer, twice. Our basement flooded because I didn’t put the washer drain plug back in properly and then ran a tub clean cycle, with bleach. Many towels were used, fans were turned on, we took everything out under the stairs, the dehumidifier went into high alert. One of the jugs of water we have in the basement for emergency supply leaked, after the flood was cleaned up mind you, separate incident, and got the stair carpet wet again. We had to take all the stuff under the stairs from out again. Fan plugged in and turning, again. Drying things out. At least the jug didn’t have as much water as the washer did when it leaked out. A bit of a silver lining.
A beetle just tried to commit suicide, accidental of course, in my cup of coffee. It was wandering around the rim of it, then just plunged in. I watched it struggle for a moment or two. Flailing about, head under, legs going as fast as they could go, getting nowhere. I took my cup and poured it into the grass to save the little thing. It worked. It started moving and I’m sure has wandered off by now. I hope it’s learned its lesson. Probably not.
It stormed last night. It’s always so beautiful after a storm. Deep blue sky, calm, hardly any wind. Clear clean air. We had so much rain in the last 24 hours. Our rain gauge is nearly full. Crazy amounts of water. So much so we had ponds form in places in our backyard. The streets flooded around here, where they are prone to. The occasional car going by splashing it’s way through. We could hear it, nearby.
When it rains like that we get a pond on our patio we have to squeegee. It’s butted up against the house and pools near a basement window. We’ve never had it actually get deep enough to pour in the window, but it gets at least 2-3 inches deep. We had to squeegee yesterday. Weston also wouldn’t go out to pee. We had to leash him and take him to the front of the house so he could pee under the eave on the house. We did this twice, trying to take him out. We also leashed him and tried to take him in the backyard. He had none of it. Though he did pee on the house that one time. Fun times. It gives us anxiety for him when he won’t go out. We know he has to go, he won’t go, he’s restless. It makes us restless.
Our driveway is so slippery where the sump pump releases it’s stream of water. It travels down that side of the driveway toward the road. Not ideal, but changing it would require a major job and a lot of money. We’re just not up for that. Maybe someday. But man… K fell down last night (onto a knee) trying to take Weston out to pee. Umbrella in one hand, Weston in the other. Slippery driveway. Recipe for disaster. She is sore today. I nearly fell down taking out the garbage and recycling bins last night as well. I didn’t, but I twisted in a way that I shouldn’t have. I’m sore today.
We got a call yesterday morning about 8:30 that Mary’s dog, Wicket, had gotten out of the yard and was missing. The gate had blown open in the storm. We went over immediately and started looking. I was cruising up and down the streets in the big white van. I’m sure I looked creepy. I kept rolling down the window asking people walking by if they’d seen a little white dog. No one had. One guy said to me, now I know why you’ve been slowly cruising around the neighborhood. Mary had said to me, laughing, I didn’t look creepy at all driving around in the big white van. She was right. I looked creepy. K was walking looking for him. We did this for an hour or so. Finally Mary got a call from a neighbor two blocks over saying they had him. Had had him since 1:30AM. He kept setting off their security lights. Poor guy. It was raining. He hates the rain. They said when they opened their door to see what it was setting off their lights he just ran in their house. He’s old, crotchety, and doesn’t really care, so in he went. Mary’s phone had been acting up and the woman had called her more than once. Finally she got through and Mary and K walked over to get him. When he got back to Mary’s he just ran in the house like nothing had happened. Dogs. I want to be them.
And another thing… our Jeep is acting up. We went for a social distance drive. Just us, a couple of bags of popcorn, some water, some binoculars, my camera. We drove to some county parks. They were too crowded to get out and actually walk anywhere, which was a bummer. But we got out of the house, enjoyed each other’s company. Listened to some music. All was well until we got back into town. Suddenly the Jeep is going wacko. A message came on saying I had to put it in gear (it was in drive), it started shifting gears on it’s own, the battery light came on, and then it died at a stop sign. I managed to get it started and we managed to get home. We’re taking it to Bloomington today, if we can make it, to get it checked over, repaired, and serviced. Saturday, after this occurred we rode the scooter over to the warehouse and picked up the van, so we have transport. K will follow me in the van to Bloomington. I hope we make it.
You know how I said things keep happening… I wasn’t kidding or exaggerating. K said to me this morning that it would be nice to have a day where nothing happened. I agree. Today we attempt to drive 50 miles to Bloomington in a Jeep that doesn’t want to work. We’re hoping to make it, to not have to call AAA. This is where I would put a fingers crossed emoji.
I have to check my lists today… see what’s to be done. I just cleaned the bathrooms, changed the laundry over, and started the dishwasher. K is working, in a meeting right now. I can hear it. Sort of. She has the door closed.
It’s quiet in here right now. No sound but the ceiling fan and the sump pump going off just now. Quiet. No one out, no one walking by, no one driving by. Just me in this chair, Weston asleep against my leg, the hushed sounds of K’s work meeting.
Time to get up, brush my teeth, and put on some clean clothes. If we have to call AAA I don’t want to frighten them.
What the hell?
It’s 6:31AM. I’m awake.
In these days of no certain schedule, we try to keep busy, to keep our own schedule. But sometimes we go to bed earlier than normal, or maybe we don’t and I just wake up because my brain never shuts off. It whispers to me, we are not safe.
Weston is alseep now, moved from being next to me in the bed to being next to me on the chair. He can’t get comfy. He’s trying. Soon, when he does, he’ll be snoring. This is a dogs life. This world we’re living in is a dogs world. He doesn’t know anything about the big bad. He just wants a comfortable place to sleep awhile.
K is working a bit this week. She wasn’t supposed to. Was actually supposed to be off all week. We were supposed to be driving back from California this week. We came home early. It was a whirlwind trip, and scary. “Did you touch that?” “Use hand sanitizer.” “Did anyone get close to you when you went in?” “A woman was coughing really bad in the stall next to me in the bathroom.” And on and on… We were not safe.
K’s working because her company, who off-shores some work to India just got word India is shutting down. India is trying to contain the big bad with drastic measures. The work will not get done. Now some people on her team are training to do some of the data entry. Her comment… this is one of the reasons we should not be off-shoring. She is proud of her team. Knows they will rock this new challenge. Many of them were data entry people when she hired them years and years ago. It’s an ever changing world right now. Everyone is trying to adapt.
We’re counting down the days until we’ve been home two weeks. It’s been 8 days today. It seems like an important marker somehow. As if when we reach it we can release a breath and say, OK, we’re safe now. But we aren’t safe now.
We put a bear in our window, it’s bear hunt time. We clean the house, look for chores. We order a lot of groceries, trying out different methods. We want to feel safe. We wave at neighbors across the street, across the fence. We ride bikes and don’t get close to anyone. Don’t get close. It’s not safe.
Sitting here right now, listening to K’s work call, Weston sleeping between my legs, drinking a cup of coffee, sound of the dishwasher running in the kitchen, looking out the window, things seem normal. Spring is here. The trees and bushes are budding out, the daffodils are up and blooming, the sun is out. Things seem normal. They are not normal I remind myself. They are not normal at all. We are still not safe.
We try to focus on moments of laughter and beauty. Those moments happen often. Like when we made a lip sync video and danced. We made ourselves laugh so hard. We keep watching it. It cracks us up. We feel the sun and look at the flowers and get a kick out of our dogs, not to mention tons of love from our dogs. We try. We want to forget, just for a moment or two, that we are not safe.
We watch the concerts of friends and singers we like, take virtual tours of museums, listen to music, try yoga, read enough of the news to know what’s going on but not too much, not too much.
We were separated for 10 days when the shit was really hitting the fan. When we were still on the West Coast. K in California with her parents, me in Oregon and Washington and Oregon again with my Mom. It was tough to be away from her, and then tough to leave my Mom. I flew one direction, but rented a car to get back to her. Seemed safer than flying again. 10 days is a long time when you’re in the middle of something like this. I got back to California and we left that same day to head to Illinois and home. We hadn’t planned to, but then who could plan for all of this? The authorities were going to shut down the bay area and we wanted to get out while we could. It was a whirlwind. It felt like an escape. It felt like a movie. To be honest, everything still feels like a movie.
I need another cup of coffee now. It’s 7:53.
I check the weather.
I try to think of some task or chore I can do right now. This post is winding down. The distraction is winding down. And the whisper starts to sneak it’s way in again… we are not safe.
We are not safe.
I’m going to go empty the dishwasher, have some cereal. Take vitamins that help boost immunity. Everyone is probably taking those kinds of vitamins now. First though, I will wash my hands. Wash my hands for 20 seconds.
We are not safe.
Eight years ago today a doctor walked into my hospital room and told me I had leukemia.
Since then I’ve periodically asked a question of myself. Not, as you might expect, why me, or even just why. There is no why. It was random, not predictable, and as far as we know not preventable. It just was. So the question isn’t why, but who. Who was I then, am I the same person now, what did I learn from the experience?
I’ve written here about my philosophy of life a bit… which is basically kindness is key, our love for the people we love and who love us is all that really matters, find joy in the every day, and don’t lose hope about the things that matter to you. But as this day rolls around every year I find myself doing a bit of an assessment.
I believe in forgiveness, in kindness, joy, hope, and love. But, I’m not always the best at those things. And on this day I find myself trying to remind myself who I am. I find myself trying to forgive myself for the ways I know I’ve hurt people, which doesn’t let me off the hook for those slights, but it does let me employ one of my strongly held beliefs which is that each of us is doing the best we know how at the moment. Sometimes our efforts aren’t that great, and we don’t handle things well, but at the moment we are only doing what we can with what we have. It still means we have to try and do better, be better. We owe our people that. But, we also can’t continually beat ourselves up for the things we’ve done. This is where apologizing comes in. Sincere apology. We admit what we’ve done, we feel it in our bones, the ways we’ve hurt someone, and then we say we’re sorry for it. The apology is freeing for both people. So I ask, have I apologized enough and meant it. Have I forgiven others, have I forgiven myself?
Kindness. Have I been kind? To my people, to strangers, to myself. Am I moving through the world as a kind person? Do I say thank you, look people in the eyes, empathize, treat people with respect, watch out for their feelings, simply honor people as the beautiful human beings they are? Am I kind to myself? I hope so, I hope I do all of these things, but I know the answer is, I don’t always. So I need to be more kind. We can always be kinder. I think there’s always another level of kindness to strive for. I think the key for me is to be aware, to be present with people. If I am, I’m kinder.
Joy. It’s easy to get discouraged in life. About our place in it, circumstances we find ourselves in, the state of the world. The enemy of joy is fear. So the key is to not be fearful. But, that’s a tough one. Having gone through this whole life-threatening experience I find myself afraid of the random and unknown. Afraid of what could happen, suddenly, without warning. This fear has no face or name or even bearing on what’s actually happening in my life at the time. It just comes with large amounts of anxiety. And when it comes it eats my joy whole. Like a kipper snack. So I find myself searching for ways to lessen the fear and find the joy. I’m innately a silly, joyful person. I’m a dork. I can find joy in the smallest things when I’m not afraid. So I’ve spent some time working on and continue to work on trying to be present in the small moments of life, which I feel is where joy lives. In smiles and sunsets and dogs and wind in the trees and whispered secrets from grandchildren and laughs over nothing at all. I try to remind myself to be present. Nothing is promised to us, which certainly includes time, so we have to live now. Be alive now. Be joyous now. This is a tough one, but I’m trying. The wind chimes are going strong right now on the front porch, and the sound is magical, and there is joy in that.
Hope. It’s tough to be hopeful when all you see is the stuff that’s not working out. But as I’m taking a look this year I find myself reminding myself that life is perception. We see what we want. Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes of all time. It comes from the movie, The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.” At the time the film was made the cold war was still in full swing, so the Russians were the bad guys. But the point isn’t that part of the quote. The point is the essence of it which to me means we see what we want to see, which is frequently driven by our personal fears, and we have to look with better eyes. So, I can either see the world from a place of love and forgiveness and hope, or I can see fear, I can see enemies. I try to come from a place of seeing people as friendly, as human, as trying. Again, I don’t always succeed in this, but when I do, hope springs and the world looks different somehow. Brighter, fuller, rich in color and possibility. It is hopeful.
Love. I believe in connection and responsibility to and for that connection. Life is about love. Who we love, who loves us. It’s about how we love. Do we say it? Do we show it? Do we let the people we love feel the love we have for them? For me, this brings gratitude into my life and makes me want to share that gratitude. To say how grateful I feel for the people and love in my life doesn’t even cover it. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the waves of it. Struck profoundly silent by the weight of all the love I know I have in my life. But, it’s sometimes too easy to see what we don’t have in life, what we think we’re missing. And in the muck of that, we sometimes forget to take stock of what we have, or even to recognize that it’s there. Who we have and what that means to us. Love is all around us. It’s all around me. So, as I go through this day I let that wave of gratitude for enormous and profound love wash over me. Hold me up. It did when I was sick. It’s what got me through. Even though I was semi-isolated when I was sick, I felt the love pouring into me. Lifting me up. Holding me. I felt it. And luckily, I feel it still. If I sit with it for a few moments I cry. Out of a gratitude so overwhelming it crushes me in all the right ways. That’s where I want to live, where I try to live. Even when things are tough, the love is there. I have it, and I try to give it back. We’re responsible for giving it back. For loving, and loving well.
Eight years. If I think of all the beautiful and strange and magical and messy things that have happened in my life in the last eight years I’m amazed and so moved by it all. It has definitely not all been easy, and there have definitely been sad and heart-breaking times, but there have also been so many moments of joy and laughter and love. And I guess maybe that’s the point of taking stock. Which is to say, it’s a messy thing, life. But it’s in the middle of all that mess we find love and hope, kindness, and joy. And I remind myself, isn’t that an amazing and beautiful thing?
Eight years. Eight years on top of the nearly 45 years before those.
Wow. What a ride it’s been so far.
I just now finished up posting all of my reviews for the movies we watched at Ebertfest this year. It was a splendid group of films, as per usual. Lots of things I hadn’t seen this time around, which is always fun. I was shocked I hadn’t ever seen Hair or Being There, but I hadn’t. I loved the documentaries as well, particularly Mind/Game about Chamique Holdsclaw’s struggle with mental illness. She was eloquent and brave and open. I also really enjoyed Elle, disturbing and confounding as it was, and The Handmaiden. The storytelling in The Handmaiden was smart and creative. It was, as I said, a fantastic experience once again… except…
For a brief terrible time, day four, midafternoon, our little Riley went missing. We were on a break from the festival, searching for a little chocolate to sate the sweet tooth, and in that vein had wandered into Cafe Kopi (our favorite coffee spot downtown). We’d chosen a couple of small bars and also a little snack pack of some meats and cheeses when K got a text from our lawn guy. He’d left the gate open, thinking the dogs couldn’t get out to the backyard, and Riley had run out. We threw our goods back into the case at Kopi, literally, and ran toward the Jeep. We didn’t even, right away anyway, tell Mom, who was inside the theater, or our friend Ann, also inside the theater, that we were leaving, we just left. I drove too fast and sort of like a maniac to get home. K’s daughter had been called by our lawn guy as well because he hadn’t been able to get ahold of K right way. She was on her way to our house at the same time we were, though slightly ahead of us. She hadn’t made it to our house yet when she spotted Riley running down a street fairly near our home. She stopped her car in the middle of the road, jumped out, and called to Riley, sitting down on the side of the road to try and be calm for Riley. Riley though, given her poor eyesight and the panic she was probably feeling at the time, ran the other direction. Mary, K’s daughter, called K, who I dropped off, and K started chasing. She also spotted Riley, on another street, way far way and up head. She called to Riley, but at just that moment our gardener drove past K and we think Riley saw him (who she was afraid of) and continued to run. K chased her on foot for a bit, not seeing her anymore, but circling around. K eventually came back to the house and got on her bike so she could be faster and cover more ground. Mary walked around as well, in other areas, and this whole time I drove around our neighborhood, all the places we walk (which are many). We talked to everyone we passed, asking if people had seen her. Some had and pointed us in one direction or another, others hadn’t. It was terrifying and heart-breaking. We cried a lot, though we were trying not to, trying to stay focused, trying to keep on track. My Mom, who we’d contacted, left the theater and took an Uber to our house. Once she got there she stood out front, with the garage door open, just in case Riley came back.
Four hours this went on. Four hours of looking and not finding her, of asking people, of circling and driving and riding and walking. At one point we took Weston out thinking if Riley heard or saw him she would come to him, but he eventually got too tired and we had to take him home. I walked and ran and yelled and asked and drove and asked and drove. K walked and rode her bike and eventually got in Mary’s car with her and they drove around and around. Mary walked and ran and drove. My Mom paced in front of our house, showing anyone who walked past Riley’s photo and asked about her. Weston fretted in the house knowing something was wrong, probably wondering where his little sister was.
We missed a film at the festival. We didn’t care.
Finally, four hours later, I was driving along a street I’d been up and down many times, when a man, who I’d stopped and asked about Riley earlier, waved me down. He said he’d just seen her running West. I knew that was toward our house. At the same time, I got a text, but I didn’t check it because I was then trying to get home to see if she was around there anywhere. I pulled up toward our house and my Mom looked at me and gave the biggest smile, pantomiming that Riley was there, that she’d shown back up.
Relief. Total relief.
K and Mary showed up shortly after and we were all reunited. Other than being really thirsty Riley acted totally normal. She lay down of course because, well, she had been running pretty much non-stop for four hours, but she was fine. Totally fine.
As I said, relief. Your mind tries not to go to all the scary dark places it could during these times… but they are there, inside of you, haunting you throughout. It’s a huge amount of stress.
We made sure Riley was fine, that the gate was locked, that she had sufficient cuddles, and we then took off, back to Ebertfest. We’d been willing to miss the rest of it if we’d had to if we didn’t find her, but since we did, we didn’t want to miss any more than we had. We had that luxury. Life was back to normal. We were lucky. Riley was lucky.
Life throws things at you like a missing dog, a missed film at Ebertfest because of it, the anxiety of it all followed by the elation. In a nutshell, it’s a rollercoaster.
I appreciate life so much, not just because of this incident, but I would include this incident as a factor. You never know what’s going to happen so hug your people, tell them you love them, hug your pets, tell them you love them, look at the sky and the trees and feel the wind in your face. There’s beauty and love and light everywhere.
Riley came home. And we’ll just get Pleasantville, the movie we missed at Ebertfest, from the library.
We’ve taken our usual sojourn some 2300 miles from Illinois to Oregon this summer. We do this every year, as you probably know if you’ve been following the blog for some time.
This year our schedule has let us be more relaxed, more able to just enjoy hanging out at the farm and spending time with my mom and my bro.
I’ve seen friends and other family, and hope to see more before we go. We have some things planned, not many, and are looking forward to doing those thing, to seeing those people.
All that aside, the weather this summer in Oregon has been fantastic. It’s been everything we always hope it will be. Most times it doesn’t disappoint, though last year it ended up being hotter here for much of the time we were here than it was in Illinois during that same time. Go figure. We leave to get away from the heat and humidity (OK, also to spend time with friends and family) and it didn’t deliver last year. This year though, it’s been spectacular. Pretty much the best weather we could hope for.
The journey so far hasn’t been without incident. A couple of stressful moments with Weston (he does tend to get himself into trouble now and then) and a bit of a back issue for me, but seriously, it’s been splendid so far.
Oregon my Oregon, I do love you so.
I was just reading a piece I have in draft, one I never posted here. It was a general rant about how much of what we read, see, are offered to take in via news and social media, is negative, derisive, and ugly.
I’m not going to post it.
I still agree with what I wrote. How I’m tired of the negative, how I yearn for the positive. But I’m too old to be on the playground, and that’s what it feels like. It feels like what it was to be out on recess, caught in the middle of some ridiculous name calling fight. How those fights seemed to escalate into the absurd and how the passion for those ludicrous arguments seemed to escalate as well. Escalation turned ugly, pushing turned to shoving, sometimes turning to blows. It’s exhausting.
I want a revolution of thought, I’m getting bogged down without one. I want kindness, ideas, offered solutions, compassion, a recognition of simple human dignity. I don’t think I’m the only one. I think most of us feel this way, even as we sometimes find ourselves participating in those playground-like antics.
What if, for a day, we posted only something positive. The old adage, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If that’s you, post a photo of a sunrise or a cute puppy, or your grandchildren instead of that negative thing you are about to post.
What would that feel like?
I get up, I make my way to the french press and the tea kettle, I get my steaming mug of freshly made delicious coffee, I empty the dishwasher, I fold the laundry, I open my laptop to check email, then I head to my news feeds and finally Facebook. I’m shocked to see news articles about new inventions and good deeds and how even though I may not agree with this politicians views on this or that thing, they have good intentions, or are good in this one area, or they’re smart. I see that everyone seems to be posting how happy they are about this or that event, or friendship, or job opportunity, or the tasty hot meal they had last night. I read about how this guy, running for this office, had this idea to solve this problem. How interesting. I hear that even though Democrats and Republicans and Tea Party people are staunch, they are fair, and understanding, and compassionate toward those who don’t agree with them. I see kindness and forgiveness and goodwill toward fellow humans. I see us disagreeing with respect. I see sharing and helping and love.
Life is a matter of perception. It always is. We can look and see terrible things in our opponents, in the government, in each other, or we can look and see that even though we don’t agree it doesn’t make either of us a monster. It doesn’t make either of us an idiot. From there we can have reasonable discussions, we can listen to each other, we can gain understanding, and we can start to move forward, freed from the quagmire of distrust and finger-pointing and nastiness. There is something to like in almost everyone. Just as there is something to dislike. We see what we want to see.
We can see the negative in things, in life, in each other, and we can dwell there. If that’s the case, that’s what we will notice, that’s what we will pick up on first. The problems, the differences, the ways in which things are not right. Or we can see the positive in things, in life, and in each other. We can dwell there. In that place there’s forgiveness, problem-solving, things to build on, there’s hope.
It’s up to each of us to decide. I’d just like it if I could wave the magic wand and for one day we helped without criticism, we offered opinions without disparaging someone else, and we talked about solutions with kindness, instead of venom and animosity.
I believe, with all my heart, each of us is doing the best we can in the world. Making our way the best we know how. Sometimes what we do is not that great, and most times if it’s not that great it’s because we faltered, or we were never taught a better way, or we ran into something that spiraled out of control. We don’t know anyone else’s story. We can’t presume to know. We also can’t presume to think our ideas, our solutions, our way of doing things is the only way, or even the right way. There are many paths to a good solution, there are many “right” ways. Yes, there are wrong ways too, but we must make people feel safe in order to help them change. We must make them feel listened to, just as we like to be listened to. We can’t bully, or push, or strong arm people into our way of thinking. Most of us hate being told what we should be doing, but we don’t mind being talked to, respected for our opinions, and offered other opinions in return. We don’t mind a good chat. We all feel we should be respected. That doesn’t change with position or ideology or background. We all want to be respected as human beings, and we all should be.
I don’t expect that we’ll all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but wouldn’t it be great if we went at things with that in our hearts. If we were open, loving, and kind. If we all realized we were in it together. Facing it together. Because we are. None of us are in it alone. Everything we do, small and large, effects other people, and spreads like a ripple out from ourselves.
I can only start with me. So this is me saying to me that I’ll try to be more present, more aware of what I say, how I say it, what I put out into the world. I’ll picture the faces of friends and family, I’ll try to act with hope and kindness and understanding. I will try not to judge. I’ll try to be fair. I will try to be a better listener.
Sure, we have a lot of problems, but there are also so many things that are good and beautiful out there. Look around. See them. Feel what that feels like to see them. To use a line from The Abyss, a movie I love, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and he sees Russians. He sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.”
Look with your better eyes. Look with them, and see.
“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love – for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you from misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”
― Max Ehrmann, Desiderata: A Poem for a Way of Life
“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances. ”
Music articulates life in a way nothing else can. Emotion, feeling, grace, anger, desperation, agreement, honesty, truth, beauty, joy, hope, distress, and on and on and on. Feelings too numerous to list. There is music everywhere, a rhythm to the world, underneath the noise of everyday life. There’s even music in that noise, if you quiet your heart enough to hear it. We are a part of it, our souls singing their own songs. Artists articulate it for us, but we have our own as well. I can feel the essence of things in a beat or a phrase of music. Our hearts beat, our heads sometimes pound, our feet tap to the sounds of windshield wipers. Hearing that ever-present music connects us. Music lets us know we aren’t alone. It helps us to know we are connected to the whole of the world.
“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you really start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book, and remembering – because you can’t take it in all at once.” ― Audrey Hepburn
Soaking up moments, trying to absorb details as they happen, connects us with what’s happening now. Not just seeing, but feeling what’s going on right where we are, deepens our connection to the moments we have, and helps us to have a greater experience. Skimming over the details, failing to absorb what’s going on right where we are, lessens our connection, distances us from the moment.
“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”
― Bruce Lee
A simple life, living with less, craving less, adds so much richness to our lives. Not being concerned with having stuff, things, collecting, lessens the burdens of life and frees us up to concentrate on the things that really matter… family, friends, being right where we are. Things weigh us down, more than we think they do. When we begin to let some of those things go, we feel lighter, unchained somehow. It opens space in our lives.
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” ― Virginia Woolf,
Coffee is essential to good living. For me anyway. I think everyone has that thing, small, but decadent. Mine is coffee. I look forward to it in the morning. I’ve spent many an hour over a cup of coffee hashing out the ups and downs of life. The smell of it brewing, the taste of a good cup. Nectar of the gods for me. We should all find simple pleasure is simple things. One of those things for me is enjoying a great cup of coffee.
“It’s so large”
“It’s the world dear, did you think it’d be small?”
― C.S. Lewis,
We are small in a larger world. It helps to remember this when our problems seem insurmountable, our sadness overwhelming. Going out in nature, climbing up a hill and looking out over an endless vista, putting your feet in the sand and watching the crashing of wave after wave, gazing up to the clouds to see them moving. These things remind us how small we are. Even sitting in a traffic jam and noticing all the other people also sitting there, wondering where they’re going, what their day is like, where they all might be trying to get to. We are so many times overburdened by our own thoughts, our own perspective, our own small lives. The world is a vast place, enormous, and if we can keep some thought of that in mind, we can see how whatever is plaguing us at the moment is pliable, changeable, and in the grander scheme, small.
“The greatest wisdom is in simplicity. Love, respect, tolerance, sharing, gratitude, forgiveness. It’s not complex or elaborate. The real knowledge is free. It’s encoded in your DNA. All you need is within you. Great teachers have said that from the beginning. Find your heart, and you will find your way.”
― Carlos Barrios, Mayan elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan
I’m 50 now. The big 5-0. It doesn’t freak me out, worry me, or make me feel like I’m old and getting older (though I am). It has however made me reflect a bit on the life I’ve lived. There are things I thought were important when I was younger, when I was more self-conscious and filled with angst. Very dramatic. I wrote a lot then. Prose, poetry (some OK, mostly not), letters I never sent, some I did. Now, at 50, I’m much more certain of myself, much more comfortable in my skin, not as self-conscious. I’ve grown. Most of us do.
Through the course of this time I’ve spent reflecting lately I’ve made a mental list of the things I think are important in life. Obviously the people in our lives are the most important, but this list of things/ideals are what I believe make a life more fulfilled, the things that can actually make a life extraordinary. I strive to put them into practice every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes not. But life is in the trying, and I try.
In honor of my turning the big 5-0 I’m going to throw the list out to the universe, as a gesture of good will and safe keeping.
I got a little carried away when I actually sat down to make the list (which is in no particular order by the way, just written as it came to me) so I’ve decided I will post it in parts.
Welcome to part 1….
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
― Mother Teresa
Compassion is paramount to living a fulling life, without it we are acting alone in the world, separate from our fellow humans. We cannot pretend to know another persons story, or how they came to feel and think as they do, but we can honor them as human beings and wish the best for them. We can be open to the fact that they have had different experiences than our own, not expecting them to then act and think as we do. Compassion fills our hearts with love instead of animosity, it elevates us.
“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ~ Dalai Lama
Kindness is the most important tenet, to me. Above all things. It’s so important to me that I have the above quote about kindness on every email I send out – you might have gotten one. Kindness is always possible. We have to be kind to others, and to ourselves. I’ve learned a little kindness takes us everywhere we want to go. It soothes souls, can make a persons day, and costs us nothing. A smile, a kind word, a thank you, a simple acknowledgement of someone all work toward the common good, and good in ourselves. It is beyond valuable, beyond priceless. Kindness is key.
“Tears are words that need to be written.” ― Paulo Coelho
Sadness happens to everyone in life, let yourself be sad when you are, but don’t live there, wallowing in it. It’s a tough balance, but necessary. You honor the feelings by letting yourself feel them. You don’t let it take control of your life by remembering that there is more to life than just the thing that’s created your feeling of sadness.
Inhabiting yourself – feel your body, know your mind, feel your presence. Things will happen to us in life. Things we cannot control. Things terrible and strange and lovely and warm and awful and on and on. We get through it. We get through it best when we know ourselves, when we feel our own presence and our own power. That knowing helps us to understand that life will happen, but we can bear it, we can step through it. We can move beyond whatever it is that’s happened and into something new, something that could be wonderful in its own way.
“Beauty doesn’t have to be about anything. What’s a vase about? What’s a sunset or a flower about? What, for that matter, is Mozart’s Twenty-third Piano Concerto about?”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt
Beauty is everywhere, if you look for it. Noticing the wind moving the trees, the sun glinting through a fence, the way the dogs have that little walk they have, a phrase, a painting, a blade of grass, my honey breaking into song, in light and love and kindness. Beauty is everywhere. We choose to see it, or not. Life is so much better if you look for it.
“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
― Herman Melville
Connectedness Connection is everything. We are not islands unto ourselves. Our actions effect those around us, just as the actions of others affects us. It’s so important to remember that our ideas and ideals are ours and to dwell in the knowledge that other people, other creatures, have their own ideas, wants, needs. What we do, every day; the words we use when speaking to others, the actions we take in kindness, to our fellows and to our planet, all ripple out. One kindness generates another, one word of anger generates more anger, one positive thought spills out to create more positivity in the world, a negative thought spreads negativity. Everything we do has a consequence for others in small, and sometimes not so small, ways. Everything is connected.
“But I can hardly sit still. I keep fidgeting, crossing one leg and then the other. I feel like I could throw off sparks, or break a window–maybe rearrange all the furniture.”
― Raymond Carver,
Anxiety. I have it. Everyone experiences it. It’s not always rational, but it’s a natural part of living, of caring about people, caring about the world, caring about yourself. There is no getting rid of it entirely. The question is, does the anxiety control you, or do you remember to breathe, look it in the face, and try to keep stepping forward. Sometimes I succeed in that. Sometimes I don’t. That’s OK too. We can all wish for a little less anxiety in life, but we have to be careful the wishing doesn’t just lead to more anxiety. Acceptance, stepping into and through it, instead of constantly denying and fighting against it, helps. We have to remember to breathe.
“No one needed to say it, but the room overflowed with that sort of blessing. The combination of loss and abundance. The abundance that has no guilt. The loss that has no fix. The simple tiredness that is not weary. The hope not built on blindness.”
― Aimee Bender,
Temperament and trying to keep oneself on an even keel is important. The energy we give out to the world matters. Not that we should live for others, we shouldn’t, but it’s important to be aware of our impact on others. That we do have an impact. It’s not easy when you’re in a bad mood, but it’s so important to try to be your better self, to try to remember not to inflict that mood on everyone around you. Conversely it’s important to remember that if someone you meet in your day is in a bad space, they may have had a terrible day, or be battling demons you don’t know or understand.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
― Frank Herbert,
Fear, or the lack of it, is one of those constants in life. We are afraid of what is happening, or what could happen, or what did happen. Fear eats at us and taunts us and reminds us that we have a lot in life we don’t want to lose. Fear is. I love the line in the quote above about letting it pass through. That rings true to me. We have to face the things we’re afraid of, as best we can, and then let that fear pass through us. We have to let ourselves look at what we fear, look it in the eye. Only then do we begin to take the reins back from it. We can never live entirely without fear. We love, we dream, we hope, and so, we fear. It is a part of living. A part of caring. But we can try to keep it from taking control of us, we can try to be its master, instead of letting it be the master of us.
“The only time you look in your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look in your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have as much as them.”
― Louis C.K.
Empathy is central to living a full life. Kindness, compassion, and love all come from a place of empathy. We don’t have to know or have lived someone else’s circumstances to ache for them or to hope for them. We tend to live in our own little worlds, sure of our ideas and opinions, secure in the thought that what we think, the way we think, is the right way. Sometimes we even believe what we think is the only way. We’re wrong. We have no idea what another person’s experience is, where they came from, what they’ve seen, what they’ve lived through. To have true empathy is to say that you might not understand someone, but you want to nourish their souls anyway. It is to admit that you don’t know everything, and that you shouldn’t judge what you don’t understand. To empathize is to step outside of your own set of rules and to say that you feel for another human, regardless of the presumptions you have about them.
When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure. ~ Peter Marshall
Sierra Club Daily Ray of Hope
I know, I know, there’s a lot of shit going on in the world. Yes, I said shit, I’m allowed to cuss once in a while. Sometimes no other word works. Seriously though, I’m not blind to all the stuff that’s not working. I know there are things that need fixing.
I think it’s easy to get caught up in what’s wrong. It’s so easy in fact that we don’t see what’s going right. What’s good. The conflict and hate and the things we dislike seem to take our attention. I’m not sure why that is. We get critical of, and complain about a myriad of things – family members and politicians and news programs and celebrities and an endless litany of stuff. The onslaught leaves us in a state of anxiety, anger, and helplessness. Is there another way?
Sometimes, I think it’s just a matter of perspective. Sometimes, all it takes is a moment, a little shift. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and open them again. Look at the sky and the light and the faces of the people you love. Put on a great album and hear the notes, the arrangement, the groove of the vocals. Read a book and appreciate the beauty of the words. Listen to the laughter of your children or grandchildren or your spouse. Play with your pups or cats or rabbits or lizards and notice how much they love you. Seek out positivity in your news, see what good is being done out in the world, there’s so much of it. Notice kindnesses and smiles and the friendliness of your neighbors. Watch sunsets and look with wonder at the amazing things we can build when we dream. See the world with different eyes, a different heart, and it will be different. It can be. Even if we only manage to do it for a moment or a day. String those moments to hours and those days to weeks. If we notice the kindnesses in the world, maybe we’ll act with more kindness. Be the love you want to see in the world.
I’m in a good mood today and I want everyone to be in a good mood.
Many of our friends and family members are celebrating right now. My Mom just sent us a text message expressing her excitement about the decision from SCOTUS today on marriage equality. To me it’s always a beautiful thing when love wins.
For those wondering what gay marriage, which from now on will just be referred to as marriage, looks like, I wrote this post to fill you in. First though, some background. We’ve been married, in one form or another, since 2003, having had our actual marriage ceremony (the non-legal one) on the beach in Maui, then a few years later we got our legal domestic partnership in Oregon (I think it was 2007), and finally we were legally married in Illinois last year. We’ve never had to have the paperwork to tell us who we are or to define our relationship. We’ve always known. And in fact we’ve only actually had one ceremony, that day on the beach in Maui, just the two of us, all those years ago. The rest of it, for us, has just been about getting the paperwork, making it legal. And being legal matters because we wanted the same privileges when it comes to protections for each other, rights to be enjoyed, etc. We celebrated each time we took a step in that direction, each time we were afforded another set of rights, protections, and privileges. And we are celebrating again today, because now so many of our friends can, if they choose to, make that same legal commitment to each other. It’s a beautiful moment.
But what does “gay” marriage look like you ask? What exactly is “gay” marriage?
Every day we get up when the alarm goes off. We grumble a little, sometimes just laying there, petting the dogs, wishing it was a no alarm day. But it is, so we get up. We open the doggie door and put the water on for coffee. Coffee is essential. If there are dishes in the sink from the night before they get loaded into the dishwasher. The dogs get breakfast. My honey fires up her work computer in the office and gets to the task of ruling the world from her pajamas. I pay some bills and get an appointment made to get our Jeep serviced. Breakfast of some sort gets made. The morning goes on, turning into afternoon. Sometimes I run errands, we may get a visit from the grand kids, we take the dogs for a walk. In the spring and summer we find time to pull weeds in the garden, dead head some flowers, fill the bird feeders. We say hello to our mail lady and sometimes have a friendly chat with our neighbors as on both sides of the fence the barbecues get fired up to make dinner. We laugh together. We talk about our upcoming vacation and get excited about the places we’re going and the beauty we hope to see there. We talk about the news and the grandkids and our parents. My honey’s birthday is coming up and I’m excited about the present I got for her this year. She’s hard to buy for, but I think I did it right this time. I hope so. We make dinner, barbecuing some steaks, steaming some vegetables, and feed the dogs their dinner. They are, as always, excited about getting fed. We head down to the family room where we sit in our recliners, which are side by side, and watch whatever shows we happened to have recorded. I’m a huge fan of the tiny house shows at the moment so we usually watch one of them. My honey enjoys them too, but mostly I think she watches them because I love them. That’s how we are. We hold hands and pet the dogs who seem to always find their way onto our laps. We chat, we make each other laugh. Every day it seems we have to take turns emptying the dehumidifier which always seems to be full this time of year. My honey heads up to the kitchen and comes back down with some small sweet dessert. I throw in a load of laundry. We finish up our evening, wander back upstairs, do the dishes so they won’t be in the sink the next morning, make sure the dogs go out and then shut the doggie door. We turn off the lights, brush our teeth, and make our way back into bed. We flip on the tv for a little bit, the dogs snuggle in with us, we watch, we chat, we laugh, we say I love you, and then we shut off the tv and go to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll do it again. And the next day. And the day after that. It’s our life. Our beautiful, wonderful, regular life.
This is what marriage looks like.
I didn’t really throw a tantrum, though it sort of felt like one in my head, mental foot stomping and all. Sometimes our better selves appear to the world, but not always so much inside our own minds.
I’ve always had this idea, as many of us have I imagine, that I was meant for great things. That I was meant to do something extraordinary, something beyond the usual, past the normal, over and above the every day. I can’t really remember a time I didn’t feel this way. And the feeling of it, the haunting thoughts that come with that feeling, are sometimes sort of depressing. After all, I haven’t really achieved anything big. Big in the I’ve written the great american novel and it became hugely successful kind of way. So to have this feeling with me that I haven’t yet done “the thing”, whatever that might look like, can be a downer. You know, not having fulfilled my greater potential and all.
I’ve lived, to this point, an ordinary life.
I say that, and then the next thought is… yeah, but… wait. Think of this life I have, this life I’ve lived and am living. Think of the wonder of it.
It occurred to me the other day, driving down the freeway toward Chicago with the radio blasting my current favorite playlist, that I’ve always had this feeling. This feeling of not achieving. I’ve had it, and never named it, never spoken it aloud, or even mentioned it quietly to myself. Never the less, it’s always been there, taunting me, haunting me, and pressuring me since forever. The next thought that day was that I’ll be turning 50 on my next birthday. The big 5-0. Surprisingly I realized I wasn’t dreading it. In fact, I’m sort of excited to be entering the next decade of my life. I think good things are ahead.
But, back to the deep thoughts I was having that day in the car. All of this was passing through my mind, my strange expectation for extraordinary, my approaching milestone of a birthday, what my life has been and is, and then it hit me, the most simple of ideas. The purest of truths. My life is amazing. My life is phenomenal.
When I looked on my life, the ins and outs of it, the ups and downs, I realized something wonderful. I already have an extraordinary life. My every day is impeccable. My place in the world is secure, my mark on the world happening every day. If I honestly look at myself I realize I’m a good person. I treat people well, I’m there for people when they need me, I look at things with a bend toward the positive instead of the negative, I love nature and my fellow humans despite all of their flaws and sometimes because of them, and I truly believe we can all rise up to be our better selves if given the opportunity and sometimes a little help. I’m a good sister, a good daughter, a good friend, and a pretty good partner. I tend to think the best of people, want the most for people, care deeply about what happens to my fellow creatures great and small, I recycle, I dance in the kitchen, and I feel a deep sense of wonder and awe about the world around me. I also realized in that moment that my life has been a wonder so far. The people I’ve known and know, the places I’ve been lucky enough to see, the experiences I’ve had in small ways and big. It was incredible. An enlightening realization. I have and am everything I need. My life is already extraordinary.
Sometimes small moments, little thoughts, turn into huge discoveries. One minute you’re just driving down the freeway listening to music on a sunny day and the next you are shifting how you feel about yourself and your world.
I’ve spent most of my life to this point thinking there was more, should be more, was supposed to be more. That I was somehow not all I could be or should be or might be. And that feeling, as I said before, haunted me. It informed decisions, lent itself to indecision, and pushed me in all sorts of directions at once, while keeping me stuck where I was more often than not. All of it inside, occasionally making me feel incomplete.
My realization, my revelation, is that I am all I was ever intended to be. The rest, it’s unimportant. I know now that by being who I am, just me, I have changed people’s lives. I had jobs where that was a literal thing, and yet somehow I always devalued it, until now. I also know that I have had a decent impact on the people in my life, hopefully a good one. Not just those I have known and still know, but on those I once knew, and don’t know anymore, and on those I will know. I feel this certainty now as much as I felt the lack of it before. I know this because I know how much the people in my life have had an effect on me. I know this because it is. And that is extraordinary.
My life has to this point been a series of wonder-filled moments. Incredible moments. I recognized some of them as they happened, more so when I looked back on them, but to now feel this sense of accomplishment for just being who I am, for just living the life I am, for just touching the lives of the people I have, it’s ground breaking to me.
This life, my life, is far from ordinary. My life, every moment of it, has been and is extra-ordinary. Light and love filled, even in it’s darkest moments. To know this, to feel it now, to see it for what it actually has been and is…. it’s joyous.
I was just wondering, uh… now I forget.
Leaves are falling, and all over the ground. We’ve already picked up a few bags of them. The first of many. And yes, we’ve already talked to our lawn guy about maybe handling the leaves in the front yard, assuring him we planned on taking care of the leaves in the backyard. I’m sure he was relieved. I’m kidding. He’s a professional, don’t try this at home. We are very relieved. Last year we had around 100 bags of leaves. 100. That’s a lot of raking. I’m not sad even just a little bit about having someone help us out with that task. We do, however, need to take care of what is becoming a wet mess in the backyard. It’s supposed to dry up the next day or two and then there will be some raking in our future. I’m psychic like that.
It is beautiful out there though, if you ignore the rain and just look at the changing colors. Really getting gorgeous now. Maybe this weekend we can get out there and take some photos. Go to Homer or some such place. Take the cameras. Take the dogs. Have a day trip. It might be a fun thing to do after we, on Friday, take our trailer in for the season. Yes, Lily is going to the barn. Not actually a barn, this is a figurative barn with heat and loads of other trailers parked in it. She’ll be nice and tucked away for the winter. We’ll be sad to see her go, but glad she’s being well looked after. We have a big fondness for our travel trailer. It could border on unnatural.
My honey is making a meatloaf. Right now she’s mixing it up. We’re taking it to the kid’s house tonight. Meatloaf, sweet potatoes, peas. Yum. I’m hungry right now, I didn’t each lunch, so almost anything would sound good. My honey’s meatloaf though, it’s tasty.
The dogs are happy. We just got a new box of Greenies. They are fans of the Greenie. We spoil them, that’s a good thing. They totally deserve to be spoiled.
I can’t believe we leave for Florida next week. Crazy. Seems like we were planning this so long ago and now it’s here. Family reunion time. K’s family. It will be great to see everyone. We’re going to Orlando. Dog/house sitter arranged, car rentals arranged, rooms arranged. We’ll be packing shorts, probably our last chance to wear them this year. We’ve been wearing jeans for a week now at home, too cold and wet now for shorts in Illinois.
It’s Thursday now….
We just got back from a regular six month appointment with my oncologist. I used to see him every three months (for two years now, since getting into the whole post treatment phase) with accompanying blood work, then every six months though I still had blood draws every three months. Today he told me that he’s going to work it so that I see him once a year, and I’ll see my regular doc for a physical once a year. He wants to coordinate so that I’m seeing one of them every six months, with blood work. Meaning I’m now only going to get blood work every six months. I will see him again in March, then a physical with my regular doc in September, and then him again in March, and on and on. This is big news for me. Great news for me. He said my blood work was fantastic. He said I was doing really well. I feel high right now. Leukemia, and the threat of it, has been a part of my life since June 1, 2010, the day I went into the hospital for the first time. I’m much better now about leading a normal life and trying not to worry about it, but it’s still there sometimes, the fear, lurking. Every time I get another step or two away from it I feel freer somehow. Less encumbered by thoughts of it. More like my self, the self before it every happened to me. It’s a good day.
Our life is amazing. Simple, lovely, wonderful, and joyously alive. Every bit of it. Every small tiny bit.
I was commenting on a friend’s Facebook post today, trying to put across the message that we need a little more positivity in the world and how positivity catches hold, just like negativity, if we let it.
So, here’s the deal. (Yes, I’m on the soap box again.) I don’t post negative stuff on Facebook, or this blog for that matter. It’s a conscious choice. I decided that what I put out into the world will try to be positive and beautiful and kind. Not to say I’m not aware of the myriad of things about this country, the world, the way things are politically and spiritually and environmentally, etc., etc., etc., and on, and on, and on, that could be changed. Or frankly, need to be changed. I know there are issues. I know there are things that are wrong. I know we all have varying ideas about what those things are. I’m aware. I just choose, being the person I am on the this planet, to only put out positive energy. At least, that’s what I strive to do.
Here’s why. There’s enough bullshit out there already. There’s enough opinion and doomsday predictions and nasty words and accusations and scare tactics and bullying behavior and finger-pointing and hurtfulness to fill pages and pages for years and years. Frankly, it doesn’t really solve anything, or do us any good. It’s divisive and has about as much impact as spitting in the wind.
I believe in what comes around goes around, do unto others, being kind to our fellow humans and the planet, what you put out you get back 10 fold, I believe in being the change I wish to see in the world. And the change I wish to see in the world is that we all become kinder, gentler, less judging, more helpful, less greedy, not as self-centered, nicer versions of ourselves. We can choose to look at all that’s wrong, pointing fingers and shouting doomsday predictions, or we can look at what’s right, and build on that. We can try for understanding and compassion instead of accusations and tearing people down. Ideas, even if they aren’t yours or mine, are all valid. None of us have all the answers. Which brings me to the thought that a little less arrogance would also be in order. Thinking we have all the answers is the first step to not getting any worthwhile answers at all. And believing we know, without a doubt, what’s best for our neighbors, our towns, our country, or the world, is crazy thinking. Just sayin’. No one knows everything, and the moment we start to think we do, we’ve cut off our nose to spite our face. We can only try our best, try to evolve with our problems, and try to respect each other. We all, whoever we are, deserve at least some modicum of respect. As human beings with feelings if nothing else.
So, I know there’s a lot going on in the world. I know some of it isn’t good. I know some of it needs to be changed. But, I also know that there’s beauty and light and love and kindness and compassion and gentleness and giving and loving and respecting and grace out there. People are, generally, good. Most of us want the same things in life. Most of us want not only ourselves but our fellow humans to be well, to be happy, to be fulfilled and to have joy. Most of us are good people doing the best we can to get by, to have a life, to make a better future for our children and grandchildren. We are more alike than we aren’t.
Like I used to tell the kids I worked with, “use your powers (and there are many) for good, not evil”. You have a choice. I choose to try to emphasize the love and beauty and light and joy in the world. Not to say my way is better than any other way, but it’s my way, and this is my blog. This is the best way for me. It helps to remind me, every day, that there are good people out there and good things happening. It helps me remember that we are more the same than different and that there’s so much creativity and goodness in the world. If I seek out the positive, I find it.
I think of it like this… a drop of light creates a ripple of kindness, which leads to waves of joy and compassion and understanding that flow out well beyond where that one drop started. Just think what would happen if we all got together and tried compassion and understanding and joy for change. Think of what could happen. Think of the huge wonderful waves that shared energy would create. Think of how beautiful that would be.
We knew, coming out to Oregon this year, we would be emptying out our storage unit in Scappoose, bringing all the stuff to Mom’s, sorting it, re-boxing it all into plastic tubs instead of old boxes, and then finding a much smaller storage unit here in town, closer to Mom, to put the remaining stuff in.
We’ve moved it here, which took several hours, we unloaded it from the large rental truck, which also took several hours as we were sorting it all into piles as we went, and then we began the sorting/culling process. What a job. Having to make decisions about stuff we’ve each kept from our pasts, childhoods, K’s kid’s childhoods, etc., is a job. It’s hard. Not just the physical labor of it all, but the emotional task of deciding it’s finally time to let some things go. We were each doing this, occasionally showing each other stuff we’d found, telling stories about a certain item, what it meant, where it came from. Fun, and sad, and cool, and touching.
We placed a tarp on the ground the size of the storage unit we want to get. We piled up our tubs, nestling them in as we filled them up. I went through boxes and boxes of books, deciding to get rid of so many, saying a mental goodbye, and being OK with that. And then I took CD after CD out of it’s case, putting them into binders instead. That alone took an entire day. I have a lot of CDs. Luckily I’ve already digitized them, but seriously, I’m a music fiend. K went through box after box of her kid’s stuff, holding up hockey jerseys and swim caps, old skirts and hats, toys and books they liked. Fun, and hard.
This coming weekend there will be a big yard sale at my Mom’s place. It was already planned, and we are adding a lot to it. We’re also selling some stuff on Craigslist. It’s time to purge. Time to pare down. Time to finally let go of stuff we’ve been holding onto for a long long time. Doing so is no small task, but it must be done.
We’re simplifying. Seems simple. But really, it’s not.
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
― Maya Angelou
My mom turns 70 today. In honor of this milestone, and of her, I thought I’d throw out 70 facts about her. So off we go….
1. She has the best smile of anyone I know. Period, the end. She smiles with her eyes, and is always sincere.
2. She played a mean trombone when she was younger. I actually have a record of her playing with her high school band. She rocked.
3. She lived next to and was friends with a prostitute when she was younger, though she was naïve and didn’t really know it at the time.
4. Her love of music led her to her love of my dad, which led to me and my brother. He was playing in a band at what I think was a bar. Their eyes met across the room…. (actually he might have known someone she knew, or something like that, and they were introduced? I should really ask her this question.)
5. She is kind.
6. She can solve most problems to do with fixing things. She’s very handy to have around because of this.
7. She isn’t above being silly, which I love about her.
8. She loves deeply.
9. She manages to handle tough situations with more light and grace than anyone I’ve ever met.
10. She’s one of the two best people I know, the other being my honey.
11. She went back to school when my brother and I were in grade school and got her degree in education.
12. I learned to play guitar because she took guitar in college.
13. She’s super artistic and can draw really well.
14. She really pays attention.
15. She was a Cub Scout leader.
16. Every time she made a pie when we were kids she made squirrel tails out of the extra dough. (squirrel tails are made of pie dough sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and then rolled up, cut into little rounds, and baked… you should try them. Tasty!)
17. She used to read to us while we ate breakfast, before school. This gave me a huge love of books and words.
18. She’s a mean Scrabble player and we played a lot of Scrabble growing up.
19. She loves to laugh.
20. She’s an amazing gardener. She can grow anything, and has probably tried to.
21. She can carve a pumpkin better than anyone else I know.
22. She’s always there to help, genuinely.
23. She’s someone you can always count on.
24. She has big feet for a small woman, size 10.
25. She’s the second born child of seven siblings.
26. She worked at the Salem hospital for a few years.
27. She’s in much better shape than I am.
28. She used to be a Jazzersize fiend.
29. She makes me proud to be her daughter every day.
30. She’s a breast cancer survivor.
31. She can drive a tractor.
32. She took Latin in high school.
33. She’s lived in the same house since 1979.
34. She’s generous.
35. We’ve had many a dance party in various kitchens.
36. She’s incredibly smart.
37. She’s very emotional, which is where I get it I think. I’m glad of this.
38. She’s the one, and probably doesn’t know this, who got me interested in photography. She loves taking photos, the art of it, and has all my life.
39. She once slept in a hammock by a river in the jungles of Guatemala.
40. She has eaten some gross and disgusting things (this goes along with the category of will try almost anything) like crickets and fish eyes. Gross.
41. She loves road trips and travel in general.
42. She can fit into tiny spaces and is the person you want when you need to have a small area painted. Somehow she fits in there and gets the job done.
43. She loves to sing.
44. She used to make our clothes when Kev and I were younger.
45. She used to knit and I still have a crazy sweater she once made for me (at my request I think) that’s made up of all the left over yarn she had. It’s multi-colored and awesome.
46. My friends, throughout my life, have loved her and consistently told me how lucky I am to have her as a mom. They’ve been right.
47. She calls our dogs her grand dogs and they love her tremendously.
48. She was a row boss when Kev and I picked strawberries as kids. She was tough.
49. She once substitute taught for one of my grade school classes, I believe it was 5th grade. She was hard on me. I deserved it.
50. She’s a mama bear when someone threatens one of her cubs. You don’t want to mess with her when she’s defending someone she loves.
51. She’s vegan and has been for a few years now. Even still, she calls herself a weekend carnivore as she sometimes eats meat on special occasions.
52. She’s open to and interested in other people’s ideas and thoughts.
53. She’s a staunch supporter of her gay daughter and her gay daughter’s partner. It breaks her heart when discrimination of any kind is mentioned to or seen by her.
54. She used to fly fish the Metolious River with me, and my brother. I loved that time with her.
55. She used to be a little overweight, but decided to lose it and has kept it off. It’s inspiring and she looks awesome.
56. She always swam with us when we were kids. I have great memories of being in pools with her at little motels all over the place when we’d go on family vacations.
57. She used to water ski, and we have the super 8 video to prove it.
58. She has an adventurous spirit and loves to do new things, try new things, and push herself.
59. She’s brave.
60. She once traveled across the country in a train.
61. She has the best laugh.
62. She has a big love of family.
63. She’s interested in how things work and is curious by nature.
64. She’s played miniature golf on a cruise ship and eaten pineapple on Antigua.
65. She’s always the first to volunteer help when someone needs it.
66. She did a 4 day 40 mile hike along the Rogue River.
67. She grew up on a farm where my grandparents, for a time, practiced the ‘have more’ plan. Basically self-sufficient farming, etc.
68. She’s had to shoot many a skunk and possum in her life. She doesn’t like it, but does it because it needs to be done.
69. She knows what’s important in life, and has always made that clear, and thankfully, passed it down to me.
70. She is loved so much by so many people it’s pretty amazing. I doubt she knows how much people think of her, or how much she means to so many. She’s humble like that.
I love you Mom. More than I could ever express. I am so lucky to have you in my life, and I’m thankful for it every day. Happy birthday!
I’ve never been a huge Eisenhower fan, and to be honest, I don’t really know too much about him. He was a two term president, a conservative who also happened to be against McCarthy, for civil rights and inclusion, and ultimately pretty good a foreign policy. He adhered to a policy of moderation and cooperation as a means of governance. Yeah, you got me, I just looked him up and that last bit is a direct quote from Wikipedia. I just read a bit about him and turns out he was an interesting guy that somehow gets overlooked when we mention presidents. Probably because he came after Truman, and World War II, and before Kennedy, who garnered a lot of attention.
What strikes me about this quote is how relevant it is today. We find ourselves in an era of bitter rivalry, and one might even say hatred, toward our fellows. Our political system is a prime example of this. Hate, fear, finger-pointing, and a general culture of unkindness seems to prevail. Individuals, and I see this all the time on Facebook, love to post hurtful, finger-pointing comments full of ridicule and scorn. Nowhere in that is a thought toward commonality, togetherness, kindness, or even an idea toward actually working a solution to our many problems. It’s all about how the other guy is an oaf or an idiot or simple-minded. Sadly, it’s the same behavior I saw so many times while I was working with at risk kids. People who post these inflammatory things are bullies. They wouldn’t call themselves that, no. They would say they are passionate about their topic of choice and are attempting to push change. They are wrong, just as people who try to bully have always been wrong. One does not get their way by pushing, cajoling, shoving, and name-calling. Name-calling… I’m appalled. Adults, people I know, do this. It’s like we’re back on the playground again. Ridiculous. Arrogant. Shameful.
If you are a passionate person about, well, anything, the way forward is to promote an idea, not knock someone else down for an opinion that differs from yours. Find what you feel are solutions and put those forward. Create ideas or support causes you feel are worthy and promote those. Stand up and state what you believe in, without saying that someone who believes differently is an idiot. They aren’t, they just don’t agree with you. And their not agreeing with you is OK too. Differing ideas bring different looks at a problem. We have a lot of problems, we need a lot of looks. If you must comment on the “other side”, do so by posting actual, honest and real, events or circumstances that happened that you don’t agree with. Then, comment on those with integrity, and an eye, again, toward solution.
I’m so tired, can you tell, of the trend toward mass posting these ridiculous saying and quotes about how liberals are this or that or tea party members are this or that. Blanket statements that do nothing to enrich the world. Mean quips and vicious comments about “those people”. You know what? I’m those people, and my mom is those people, my family is those people, and my friends are those people, on both sides. Before you post something of that nature, think of people you know, picture their faces, and decide if you would say whatever it is you are about to post right to their face. If you would, well then I guess you aren’t really a friend of mine because true friends of mine aren’t mean. Friends of mine are kind. I will, to borrow a phrase, accept no substitutes. Everyone, and I mean nearly everyone, is entitled to a measure of respect. You choose who you are. You can rise, be kind, elevate. Or you can degrade, denigrate, and wallow in the muck.
As Eisenhower, whose quote started this whole little stand on the soap box, said… “we must avoid becoming a community of dreadful hate and fear” and as the character Lindsey Brigman says in the movie The Abyss, “We all see what we want to see. Coffey looks and… he sees hate and fear. You have to look with better eyes than that.” I love that quote. It’s stuck with me. We see what we want, we create our world based on what we see and what we do. We have to be better, for the world and for each other. If we show a general disrespect for people we don’t even know, we disrespect ourselves, our children, our neighborhoods, our larger communities. We have to look with better eyes than that.
Ever find yourself sitting in the garage after you’ve pulled in, unwilling to get out of the car because the song that’s playing is making you feel something?
That was me just now, and damn, it is great to be alive.
Every once in awhile I find myself, because of a song, or a video, or a thought, or something my honey or the grandsons or the dogs do, just loving being alive. And not just loving it, but being so overwhelmingly grateful that I’m here, enjoying whatever it is that’s making me feel so much at the moment, I cry.
There’s a story behind this. Yeah, yeah, isn’t there always?
The story is a tad long, but it’s mine, and today I’ve decided to tell it. Here goes…
At the end of 2009, November it was, life was moving along just fine. Work, home, friends, family, dogs… a good life. Then, unexpectedly and out out of the blue, my honey got sick. Not just sick, but really sick. Sick as in we went to urgent care, they said oh, you have pneumonia, and here … have a shot in your bum, and go home. Only to be called by an emergency room doctor a couple of hours later who, after reviewing the blood work, told me to get her in immediately. He even told me all the other hospitals along my route in case she lost consciousness. Seems she was sicker than we were originally told. She went into the cardiac critical care unit. One of her lungs was completely full and the other was half full of stuff. This was effecting her heart as well, hence the cardiac critical care unit. She was delirious, literally. I didn’t know what she was saying half the time and she didn’t know much of what was going on. The nurses repeatedly told me she was the sickest person on that unit. She was there in critical condition for a week, before they were able to downgrade her and then finally send her home. I stayed with her at the hospital, never leaving. How could I? She’s my everything. It was the worst week of my life. Which, after you hear the rest of the story will mean even more than it does right now.
Fast forward to May 2010, six months after her illness, and I started not feeling that great. Looking back now I wasn’t feeling great for a little while, but by the end of May 2010 I really wasn’t feeling good. On June 1st we had yet another fateful trip to urgent care. Some blood work results, and they sent me directly from urgent care to the hospital, by ambulance. Seems I was so sick by then that if I’d gotten in a car accident on the way to the hospital from urgent care I would’ve bled to death. The EMTs took me directly to the oncology unit. A couple of transfusions, a bone marrow biopsy (my first of three) with the results a couple of days later, and what we feared had come true. I had leukemia. I was told that it was the deadliest form, but if I lived through the first month, it was also the kind that was curable. Scary, but… good? Yes. Good. If I lived, I thought, I might live.
I spent a month in the hospital… multiple transfusions, multiple tests, and my first round of major chemotherapy. I say first because though I got out of the hospital a month to the day that I went in, I had to go back in later in July for a second round. I was in for a week that time. Then again in August, for another round and another week. And then, in September, I got to do my last round, which was only two pushes (the last of which was on my birthday), outpatient. Unfortunately I ended up getting a neutropenic fever after that round and ended up in the hospital again, for another week, anyway.
By October I was done with the major chemo and starting on maintenance treatment. Which would last for two years and entailed me taking rounds of ATRA (the thing I started right in the beginning that really saved my life), low dose chemo in the form of pills, and a shot, every week. I had to go into the infusion center every week for that shot. It was my life, our lives, for two years. My first, and diagnosing, oncologist, who was an amazing guy, told me that the maintenance treatment was akin to sweeping the floor. Done to make sure we got anything that could be lurking. I was all for it. My attitude, during the whole thing, was let’s go. Whatever we have to do, let’s do it.
In November, of that first year, I had the third of my bone marrow biopsies. They did a molecular scan and I was cancer free. No aberrant cells found at all. Yay! I cried, my honey cried, my Mom cried. I think I might have breathed deeply for the first time since the ordeal started.
Here I am, three and half years later, no longer on maintenance treatment, still getting blood work and seeing an oncologist every three months. Leukemia free. I will do this for another year or so before, once again, my protocol will change and I will only have to go once every six months, and then, at some point, maybe once a year. Who knows. I’m OK with whatever the schedule is.
I chronicled part of this journey here, on this blog. Not posting during that initial time in the hospital, except maybe right in the first few days, but posting here and there during the months that followed. I posted about things that happened, but I never really posted about how I felt.
Damn, I’m so glad to be alive.
I was, as maybe you can or can’t imagine, scared as hell. Scared doesn’t even cut it really. I was terrified. When you hear the words, “your body is chalk full of Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia” everything sort of freezes. Slow motion starts and you look at your honey and your Mom and your brother who are all there with you and they all start crying at once. You look back at the doctor and he’s looking at you, and you say something that seems like it comes from you, and from someone else all at the same time. You say, “OK, what do we do, let’s go”. I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry at all. Everyone else was crying, but I just felt this thing come alive in me. Will. An amazingly strong will. It was there, nuzzled right up against the terror. I would be so determined and yet I kept thinking about things like, oh god, if I die my honey will be alone, my Mom will lose a child (which is unthinkable), my brother will lose his sister, that my grandson won’t know me, that my honey won’t have any more adventures with me, that my dogs won’t understand if I don’t come home. I was so worried about everyone else. Interesting. I kept rehearsing the speech I would have with my Mom if it looked like I was going to take a bad turn. The speech where I tell her to be with my honey, to help her through losing me, to comfort each other. I wanted to live, I was fighting to live, but I also had to prepare myself mentally for the other thing that could happen.
I went through some awful things while I was sick. After the first round of chemo, while I was still in the hospital, I got so sick I don’t remember much, thank goodness. I had to be helped to the bathroom (by my honey or my mom), someone (my honey or my mom) had to shower me, I would throw up and have diarrhea at the same time which the nurses would have to clean up. During this time I also had to have a test (one of many), I don’t remember which one, and part of it was that I had to drink some stuff. I remember my honey, who spent only one night away from me during that entire time (working from the hospital, sleeping there, taking care of me) having to try and talk me into drinking it because I was getting so sick from it. I was sick anyway, and having to drink that stuff didn’t help. She convinced me and encouraged me to get enough of it down so I could take the test. She also had to talk me into taking my pills every day, and trying to eat, and taking a shower. She was my champion.
Everyone talks about the chemo, but no one talks about the other things… weird little side effects from basically having no immune system, like yeast that develops on parts of your body that you can’t get rid of, and other just as lovely things. I had a reaction to one of the transfusions and had to have a major dose of benadryl shot directly into me. I had neutropenic fevers followed by loads and loads of IV antibiotics (two at the same time), which didn’t help with the nausea. I had a pic line put in that was very difficult for them to get in and three weeks later an infection from that pic line which resulted in them having to take it out. I had ultrasounds because I had so much scar tissue in my veins in my arms after pushes and lines and blood draws and IVs that a couple of times they wanted to make sure I wasn’t clotting too much in there. I ended up at urgent once, during those first few months, because I got a hemorrhoid from all the laying and sitting, that started to bleed. Gross. But, so it went.
I think the worst of it though, ultimately was, and is, the anxiety. I’m a person who never had anxiety before all of this. I’m pretty laid back. Pretty care free and pretty full of joy. Anxiety was something unknown and foreign to me. But during this I developed anxiety. So much so that leaving the house, after I had been allowed to go home, was scary for me. My body would just react… feeling like I couldn’t breathe, heart pounding, panic. When I was neutropenic, which was a lot during those first months as every time I’d have a round of chemo my numbers would crash, I had to be so careful. When I was in the hospital the precautions for neutropenia were major. Gloves, masks on everyone who came in, no flowers in the room, no fresh veggies or fruits on my food tray (and if there was, even a sprig of parsley placed there accidentally, they had to remove it quickly from my room and get me a whole new tray), restricted visitation, basically creating a germ free zone. It wasn’t just that I might get sicker, it was that I could die. My body couldn’t fight anything off when I was neutropenic. An infection became life threatening, as did a cold. So I got anxious about a lot of things. When I was permitted to go home my honey had to remove all house plants from the house (there’s a fungus that can be in the soil that could kill me if I inhaled it), we couldn’t have fresh fruits or veggies, no one could see me if they had even been around someone who might have been sick. I was weak and tired and nauseous most of the time. And just when I’d start feeling better, just when the numbers would start to rise, I’d have to have another round of chemo. My life became very boxed in and small. Hospital for treatment, then home where leaving the house (I’d have to wear a mask when I was outside the house) was not worth it or even possible sometimes. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t do anything really. My honey didn’t even sleep in our bed during this time. She slept on that same air mattress she’d used in the hospital, next to our bed, with the dogs, who couldn’t sleep with me either. It’s not just that things were dangerous to me, I was dangerous to them. I was leaking poison out of my pours most of the time. No kisses, from my honey or the dogs, no using the same toilet even, because I was toxic. All of this created anxiety in me. I still get it actually. Less and less all the time, but I do. I have pills for it. I got them a lot in the hospital, and used them a lot during those months of chemotherapy. They help. And thank goodness for them. Sometimes my mind would go and go, worrying, and worrying. A loop of worry and fear and anxiety and sometimes, panic. As I said, I’m better now, but I don’t know how many times my honey has had to look me in the eye and say to me, “it’s OK my love, you aren’t sick anymore, there’s no leukemia in you… none”. And the rational me then sort of wakes up, comes to again, and knows it’s true.
And damn, it’s amazing to be alive.
I guess I’m recounting all of this because I never have before, and it’s time. Time for me to say it aloud, as aloud as this is. But I guess it’s also because all of this is the counter point to what I was feeling just a bit ago sitting in our garage after having come home from running some errands. Nothing big happened while I was out. I just went to the library and then to the coffee roasting house and then drove home, sipping some coffee and listening to music really loud in the car. It’s sort of gray outside today and the leaves are falling. But as I drove into the garage, and shut off the car, staying in there to listen to the rest of the song (Change by Rascal Flatts, for anyone who’s wondering) I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed because the leaves are falling, and the dogs were barking in the house knowing I was home, and I knew my honey was in her office working, and earlier today we’d gone swimming with our grandson, and the music was so beautiful. I started to cry. Crying from a place of overwhelming happiness and a feeling that life is so big and wonderful, and so fully felt.
Damn, it’s so so good to be alive.
I am grateful and I’m humbled by the quality of my life.
The thing I learned from my honey’s illness, and then mine, was something I already kind of knew anyway, but it got reinforced big time. It’s something, a feeling, I wish everyone could feel and something I wish everyone could know, without having to go through something so major, so awful. It’s the surety of knowing that there’s nothing important in life save for the people we have in ours. That is, period the end, the only thing that matters. Stuff, problems, annoyances, possessions… none of it matters. Not really. The time we spend having adventures and experiences with the people we love and who love us, that’s what matters. That’s what you think of, what you fear you’ll miss, if you think you could die.
It’s so damn good to be alive because I have so many fantastic people in my life. People, and dogs that is. People I love to be with, who love to be with me. People who I miss when I don’t see them, who miss me right back. Dogs who love me unconditionally and bring me so much joy I can hardly stand it sometimes. People who I laugh with, and get angry at, and cry with, and am silly with. People I have adventures with. People. There is nothing more important than our relationships and the experiences we create together. It’s the journey we’re making, with each other, that matters. It’s what matters most to me.
I am so happy, so thankful, so grateful, and so overwhelmed to be alive. Life is so beautiful.
Coffee is a good thing. Really good.
Last night, or more accurately, in the middle of the night, we woke up because one of the smoke detectors downstairs was first chirping, then talking. Anyone who has ever heard that sound knows how loud and annoying that chirping can be. Add in the voice saying, “battery low”, “battery low”, and at 2:30 in the morning it’s enough to make you lose your grip.
At first it’s disorienting. You wake up not really sure what’s happening. You notice the dogs are also sitting up, heads tilted to the side, looking at the door. What’s going on? Then you hear the first chirp. Damn. You know instantly what it is. You think to yourself, it’s loud, but not that loud. After all, it’s one of the detectors downstairs, so it’s not even on the same floor. Maybe, possibly, hopefully, we can all just go back to sleep and deal with it in the morning. You coax the dogs under the covers hoping the little extra bit of blanket buffer will help them to not hear it. They just get under, you just lay down again, and… chirp. Uhg! The dogs are back up, the little girlie is starting to shake as loud noises really bother her. Double damn. Then you think, OK, we’ll shut the door. That will help create an even greater sound barrier. Dogs calmed and back under, lay the heads back down on the pillows, close the eyes, start to drift off and… chirp… “battery low”. Oh for crying out loud! Time to get up.
We did. We got up, we went downstairs, we took the backup battery out, put a new battery in, headed back up to bed, and then… we couldn’t find the little girl. Relieved after putting in the battery we were back up stairs, Weston following, with the thought of how nice it would be to actually go back to sleep. Then, we realized Riley wasn’t with us. Weston was right there, but Riley was not. We started calling her and looking around. Something about her little personality is that when she gets frightened by noise she hides, and she shakes, and she never barks. For a dog that barks all the time in order to communicate with the people around her in all other situations, she doesn’t utter a sound when she’s scared. Not a peep. The couple of times we’ve accidentally locked her in a room she has never barked. Once, after shutting her in our room accidentally, we didn’t realize it for like three or four hours or something. We’d left the house and been gone, gotten home, and were going about our business when we realized she didn’t greet us when we got home. That was unusual because that’s when she’s normally at her loudest. We looked around and found her in the bedroom, sitting there on the floor behind the door just looking up, all tiny and cute. Not a peep out of her to let us know she was in there. So she’s very quiet when she’s scared. Meaning she’s hard to find. She’s also tiny. She can curl up in small spaces and she’s hard to see. And during a crisis, you know, a crisis to her, she usually goes downstairs to the media room or to our bedroom and curls up in a chair or on the bed next to a pillow, but she didn’t. The media room is downstairs so it was too close to the sound that was scaring her. The bedroom is where we’d been, so that was not for her either. We looked everywhere. Under couches, under beds, in closets she could get in, under tables, in corners… everywhere. She wasn’t in the house. We’d opened the doggie door since the dogs got up with us during this whole ordeal so the next logical step was to look outside. It was a bit stormy, though at that time it wasn’t raining, thank goodness, and we looked out. We couldn’t see her. Not anywhere out there. We stepped out on the deck and looked around, nothing. Then the little bits of panic and illogical thinking start in… Where is she? Did she somehow get out? If she did she doesn’t have her collar on because the pups “get naked” at night. If she did get out she’s hiding or running trying to get back to us, or… or…. or…. and on it goes in your head. We weren’t, either of us, mad at all. We started to get scared ourselves. We started to worry about her.
Finally I started to wander the yard on the periphery and found her, behind a huge tree near the back of the yard. She was hiding in the farthest point from the sound inside the house. She didn’t want to come in, even though the sound was gone. She was still shaking. And she was wet from the dripping leaves. I had to pick her up and carry her in. Luckily she calmed down pretty quickly when she realized the bad sound was gone and things were back to normal. Except by then it was nearly 3:00 in the morning and there’s nothing normal to the humans living in this house about being awake at 3:00 in the morning.
Adventures abound. Which is why coffee is such a good and lovely thing in the morning. Especially mornings after big nighttime adventures.
How eventful you were. Your straight line wind brought three limbs off of a tree in our front yard, you sent us a visitor in the way of a raccoon inside our compost bin that I saw when I went out to put stuff in and then had to rescue by using a rake to push it over so the little fella could get out, you provided not one but two challenges for my honey on the phone with one ending in her being very very unhappy, though she got her way, and us leaving a banking institution she’s been with for 30 years and the other leaving her feeling like a conqueror after she got Comcast to lower our bill $50 a month while doubling our internet speed and throwing in HBO, and, dear yesterday, you had us meet with my oncologist for the quarterly check up with blood work where we found everything was awesome. Yes yesterday, you were full of some major surprises, some good news, and some frustration.
Dear today… what will you bring?
It’s taken three years, but I finally wrote the email I’ve been thinking about writing for a long long time. I finally said thank you.
I could reiterate here what I said, but I think I’ll just post the letter I wrote. If there are people out there in helping professions, know that you make a difference. Know those kind words, smiles, and care, mean so much to the people you are working with. I’m so very grateful.
A caveat… I used everyone’s real name in the actual email. I just didn’t want to use them here. This isn’t the most eloquent I’ve ever been, and reading it through I’d already change some things. I guess that’s probably because there really are no words adequate enough to convey the depth of my gratitude and emotion.
Nancy…I’ve been wanting to write this email for some time. I’m sending it to you because you were always my go to contact person. No matter what the situation, you were there.Today I had my 9 month post maintenance check up with my oncologist here in Illinois. Everything was great, blood work great, etc. Every time I go in I think to myself I should write to you, and hopefully if you can pass this on, to a few other people… Dr. B, the nurses and staff in the infusion area, that first doctor at urgent care, S and T in the lab, the ladies at the front desk, and anyone else who might have come in contact with me during my treatment.In case you don’t remember… my name is Tam, my partner is K. I was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia in June of 2010. I went into urgent care on June 1 and met a wonderful doctor, I think his name was EM, who treated me with such kindness and care, even taking a moment, as they were loading me into the ambulance, to come over, look me in the eye, and wish me good luck. He didn’t have to do that as he was moving on to other patients at urgent care, but he did. I entered the hospital, and if you could pass this on to them as well I’d be eternally grateful, had my first bone marrow biopsy and a transfusion on June 2, was diagnosed on June 3, and was there for a month, discharging on July 1 after a few more transfusions, tests, and my first round of major chemo. I went back into the hospital for a week in July and again for a week in August, both times for the next rounds of chemo, and then for a week in September when I ended up with a neutropenic fever. I did my last two pushes of chemo outpatient, on September 16 and 17 (I only remember the dates because my last push was on my 45th birthday), at the infusion center at Interstate. I then started on maintenance treatment in October 2010. Every week, for maintenance, I went in for blood draws and a weekly shot. I was also taking medications orally, but that was on my own. I spent a lot of time at the infusion center and in the lab. I continued treatment until I moved to Illinois in August 2011. I finished my second year of maintenance treatment here, using the same protocol Dr. B set up and I’d been following in Oregon. And as I said, I just had my quarterly visit with my Illinois oncologist. Basically the 9 month visit since completion of maintenance. I’m doing great. It’s been just about three years since it started. Amazing.The reason I’m writing is because I want to say thank you. And in writing that I don’t think I’m fully expressing the level of gratitude I have for all the nurses, both in the hospital and the infusion center, you, the ladies in the lab, Dr. B, and the other staff including CNA’s, medical assistants, the people who delivered food to me at the hospital, the people who cleaned my room at the hospital, all the techs who performed one test or another on me, and probably countless others I’m forgetting. I get emotional when I think about this, and actually have tears running down my face right now. Not out of sadness, but from that deep sense of gratitude I mentioned earlier.I know every day all of you go to work, then go home to your own lives and your own families. I know that you’re human so some days at work are harder than others because life is like that, and on top of that the work you do is also difficult. Dealing with people, every day, who are very sick and scared and hurting. It’s a huge burden to carry, yet I felt, every time I spoke to you, or Dr. B, or a nurse in the infusion center, the ladies in the lab, and on and on, that I was always heard. I found so much grace and hope and comfort in that. I was, time after time, so impressed with the treatment I received and with the humanity in which that treatment was delivered. And not only did you all treat me well, but you treated K well. She stayed with me the entire time I was in the hospital and everyone was always so warm and gracious to her. And then, after, when we were coming in to the infusion center, and every time you talked to her on the phone, she was treated with respect and care. All of that made, and still makes, a huge impact on my life. I am blessed to have met you Nancy, and blessed to have met Dr. B and all those lovely lovely nurses I came in contact with on this journey. I want you, and Dr. B, and all those others, to know how much I appreciate you, and them. I want you to know that just those little bits of kindness, bits you probably weren’t even aware you were giving and showing, made such a difference to me. I want you to know that I am so thankful to still be here, and more than that to be healthy and happy and leading a great life. I have the life I do because I was lucky enough to have all of you come into my life when you did. What you all do makes a huge difference. You might not realize this, it might not occur to you on a daily basis, but it does. It made a huge difference to me.There aren’t enough words to express the feeling I have when I think of all of you. You will all, for the rest of my life, be in my heart. And the memory of what felt like warm hugs for my soul from all of you, through a little smile here or a little comment or laugh there, while I was going through something terrifying and horrible, will be with me forever. What you all do makes a difference, a huge difference, in people’s lives. I can’t say that enough. So when the day is hard, or bad, or long, please remember that there’s at least one person, two if you count K, who is out here thanking you, and wishing for all of you every good thing that can be imagined.K and I still live in Illinois, though we miss Oregon very much, and are happily very involved in our grandchildren’s lives. We have two now, both boys. The youngest, Dominic, is just two months old, the oldest, Sebastian, nearly three, calls me Gamma Tam. Isn’t that the best?Again, my best to you, and a wish for every good thing for you…. Tamra