I’d be so incredibly dead if it wasn’t for modern medicine and a few physicians that seemed part magicians as well as excellent doctors. My gratitude is an understatement, to say the least! 

And yet, from the tenuousness of intermittent chronic health conditions to the fragility of human relationships, as I traverse through the narrowing of life, it all seems ever more fragile. Why? It is inevitable that a sense of security can evaporate in a heartbeat given a crisis. After a number of GI surgeries over the years, scarring has caught up with me, both the literal and metaphoric. 

While I don’t have any sort of actual timeline or expiration date (that I’m aware of at least) I may have used up all the good luck I’ve had to this point. For previous good luck (karma) I am grateful. And in a weird way, knowing there’s a more significant limit lets me see what time remains available can be viewed differently. What do I want to do with it? How do I want to live? Where? In what other circumstances? By what day-part-by-day part calculation? Perennial questions, all.

A Different Kind of Creature

Now I have always been the least conventional personality in my crowded family of origin. Having said that, I have also learned convention and stability don’t have to be dirty words either. When I was just five years old, we had a trapeze in our basement. I loved to swing and stand on it, pumping my little legs for momentum. I’d fantasize about being a famous trapeze artist in a circus with crowds of people cheering me on. It’s as if I’d never gotten completely acclimatized to being in a body. I envisioned myself flying through the air. Wasn’t I supposed to fly?

One such day I was doing this very act, with my mother in the basement loading the washing machine over in the corner. As (bad) luck would have it, I let go of my arms and promptly fell flat on my back with only the thinnest of raggedy rugs on the concrete for a cushion below. Splat!

The fall must have hit a nerve to my lungs because I couldn’t breathe, gasping for air was I! Thank God my mother was close by but as more (bad) luck would have it, she scooped me up and carried me upstairs. (This was before the days ordinary people would have been told not to move a person with certain kinds of falls.) Once there, she laid me flat on her bed. I think the bed was soft!

Perpetually Gasping

Next, she called my dad asking,  “what should I do, Nelson?” He must have told her to take me to the hospital, seven miles into town as we lived on an acreage. Again, she scoops me up, carries me to the car, my younger sister in our wake, and lays me out on the backseat, ultimately driving fast! (I’m still gasping for air, terrified and sobbing between breaths!) How we arrived unscathed is a wonder but once there, ER staff rushed me inside, X-rayed me only to discover I had five small vertebral fractures.

Ultimately, my treatment was to lay flat on my back, as still as possible, (basically rigid) in the bed, in a room with other patients, to let it heal. (They said it should be quick because I’m a child.) I had an excellent view of the ceiling but little else. I was able to see snatches of beds and people out of the corners of my eyes. For some reason, the Docs didn’t want to cast me. BUT, the threat was I had to lay perfectly still otherwise they would. I complied.

A Bit of History

This was my second significant patient do-what-the-doctors-say experience, having eye surgery at two and a half for a small growth pressing on my optic nerve a few years earlier. Bizarrely, I remember shards of the event, particularly being in the OR right before they put me out. I also remember waking up alone, screaming afterwards because I had both eyes covered in gauze, unable to see. I thought they had removed my eyes!! Terrifying for such a small child.

I had other health or moderate accidents along the childhood and young adulthood stages of my life—a few car accidents, illnesses, female issues, anorexia, travel dysentery, blah, blah, blah, recovering from all with minor or no lingering consequences to speak of. Remarkably, or maybe not, I also had years of health and vigor! Still, now that I’m at the narrowing of my life, with the body continuing to slowly break down, it’s impossible to not reflect on some of the incredible gifts though peppered with sorrows that dot my thinking at this time. 

History, Oh History

Unexpectedly, my earlier examples of relative endurance and toughness don’t compare to the “digging deep” throughout bowel resections to remove tumor growth, as well as several hernia repairs, that began in earnest several years ago. I guess you could say that ‘what came before’ prepared me for the now! It almost seems natural, a forgone conclusion, that I would survive it all since that’s my history. And while I had other health and accident issues, none of them compare to the GI surgeries in these more recent years. (And I’ll be honest, after one of them about three surgeries ago, I really wasn’t sure I’d make it!)

Yet, clearly I have made it this far. After eight surgical interventions beginning 20 years ago with a routine colonoscopy, I take it from my surgeon’s “you’re a survivor” comment, I may have surprised even him. And when I review my own history, it seems I can surprise myself. Years ago after a different but serious medical event, as I was recovering a doctor at the time asked me “what is your secret?” I was flummoxed, having no answer to tell him. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know; aren’t I supposed to just keep going?’

The Slowness of a Sunset 

Clearly, my DNA, while an apparent curse in some respects, is also a blessing and is no small amount of salvation in others. And I have come to know that besides having some amazing doctors over the years, and an exceptional surgeon now, I do have a secret ingredient, I guess, a secret sauce, so to speak. For it has become inescapable to not see what an incredibly strong Will I’ve always had, propelling me forward. Plus, I can also endure discomfort and pain, remarkably well. After all, I’ve had practice! What’s more, I’m slightly fierce on occasion which, in combination, can add up to a lot of grit that is catalyzing.

And there you have it! A tidy little package of me: a bit of grit and a bit of swagger…and aren’t I supposed to just keep going anyway as my history and nature proscribe? Still, I suppose I can’t last forever, though I’m unable to really imagine no “me” at all not walking around the planet. So off I tromp, ever forward.

Oh God, I can’t find my car keys. Big problem since I need to get a few things from the store, not to mention just to be able to exercise the freedom mobility offers. I remember when my parents were marching towards forgetfulness themselves, taking pity on them and, to my shame, judging them for their seemingly compromised state. And here I am, on the same trajectory.

I see my own son and daughter-in-law with a similar disregard for me at times, much like I developed for my own parents so long ago. It’s frustrating in part because they cannot know their own vulnerabilities staring back from some unknown point in their future. It’s opaque and unseen much like able bodied folks disregard physical impairments in others!

Having faculties decline like a balloon’s slow leak is tough to watch but, dare I say, tougher to experience. I remember feeling pity, for my mother in particular, to a lesser extent, for my father. He had just enough bluster and brashness in his personality to sort of camouflage the state of decay. My mother, on the other hand, with a quieter personality, left too much room for others’ observations. 

I Think, Therefore I am!

Yes, we modern Americans prize the mind, and I’d have to say, even more than money, which I realize is quite a claim. Both my parents were well-educated, having advanced degrees, and teaching us all to think. They encouraged us to go to college and even once graduated from something or other, use it in ways that not just expanded our own life capabilities, but also society’s. 

I remember when I was in sixth grade, my dad chastised (I’m being generous here with his demeanor) me once for my attitude towards social responsibility. He quoted John Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” Both he and our mother were involved in church and civic organizations to do just that—from the Lion’s Club, 4-H clubs, women’s organizations and other leadership activities to improve individuals and community well-being.

While all this sounds like a digression from “I can’t find my keys”, for me the metaphor is compelling. To help others BESIDES ourselves is a key to personal fulfillment. It’s enriching not just to a sense of community but also to one’s interior and, dare I say, spiritual life as well. How? We are a communal species. We live in packs, herds, as a way to protect ourselves but also teach and learn, passing it on to others. You don’t have to believe in God even (though I think it helps;) you just need to recognize there’s “an other” worth helping. We are all in this life together, or so it seems.


What does this fanciful digression have to do with my lost keys? As it happens, it was the day and time my cleaning lady was here. Now, I live in a tiny house and you might wonder why I even need a cleaning lady. As it turns out, I have a physical condition that prevents me from bending over. I can easily do surface tidy-ups but scrubbing on hands and knees is not in the cards. Hence, the help. Anyway, there’s only so many places the keys could be in a tiny house. I knew they were there somewhere because my i-phone has a locator function for tagged people and things. 

Said cleaning lady and I looked in every crevice and corner. No luck! As night follows day, or as “phone trackers follow lost items” we finally found them in a little jar on my hutch. Ta Da. Had I not had the tracker I could have been looking forever. I only “remembered” putting them in the jar once we found them. In fact, it was not my “regular” jar I routinely put my keys in so that was the problem. Anyway, suffice it to say, my recall did kick in but only “after the fact!”

As I continue to age, marching toward “senile prevention” I remember years ago what one of my doctor’s told me when I told him of my fear of getting dementia myself after my mother’s early decline and Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Was my losing of keys a sign? He sort of laughed and told me losing track of your keys is not a sign of dementia; it’s not remembering what they’re for, their purpose, that’s the problem. Mercifully, I’m still well aware of keys’ purpose.

Good Lord. We’re living longing and surviving better in the 21st Century than ever before. But Lordy it is not always so easy for folks with disabilities and questionable financial resources.

A Hymn to Being Old

Now, in no way is this any sort of complaint. Rather, it is a kind of hymn to those of us with physical challenges negotiating with svelte and vibrant young things (often loud) standing in the grocery line. They know nothing of such conditions or experiences as I did not when I was their age.

Most bodies move fast until, of course, they don’t. I’m having flashbacks of Tim Conway doing his really old man routine, shuffling r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, hands dangling, slack jawed, making growly noises as he proceeds at a snail’s pace to wherever he is going. It was so very funny then; not so much now!

Really, I’m nowhere near that bad! Nowhere, no how. The image still brings a smile and a tickle to my face. And, yet, and yet!!! Actually, I walk pretty fast, especially when I’m out with my hiking poles. But here’s the thing: the world is still flying by me! Part of me doesn’t give one whit. Part of me does, ambivalence writ large.

The Art of the False Start

You have to start somewhere, and so I have. Impulsive and a bit brash at times, I shot myself out of the running-away-from-home cannon and only later have I realized the problem of flying without a net. When I was a little girl (age five) we had a trapeze in our basement. I loved to swing on it, fantasizing about being a trapeze artist performing all kinds of tricks as a circus performer. 

One day, I decided to stand up and swing. After pumping my little legs, and after reaching a lively speed, I released my hands from the bar handles, imagining a skill I did not possess. As night follows day of course I fell. On the concrete basement floor, flat and splat prone! Mercifully, my mother had been in the basement across the room, doing laundry. 


To this day, the rest of the memory is equally vivid and hazy, both. Mom picked me up, carried me upstairs and laid me on the bed in my parents’ bedroom and called my dad asking him what to do. I remember crying and gasping, gasping for breath. At some point, she picked me up again, carried me to the car, laying me on the backseat.

I continued crying.

Living on an acreage about five miles from town, we finally arrived at the hospital, I’m rushed inside (by medical professionals,) X-rayed, diagnosed and installed in a ward, flat, prone, with a phenomenally boring view of the ceiling! I had five (or was it seven?) fractured vertebrae. I remember being told I had to lie only flat, could not roll over or move in much of any way, or they would put me in a body cast!

There were other patients on the ward, mostly adults, though not a lot as far as I could determine, with only their voices and slight dips to look out the sides of my head. I think I remember my mother and even father at the bedside at some point but they were eventually shushed out by nurses so I could rest.

The Metaphor Is Not Lost On Me

So here I am now, flying without a net, at age 71, after escaping from what, for me, was an immobilizing and painful “bed.” However many years I have left, I cannot lie flat and constrained, as long as I have five neurons left in my brain to accompany my unlimited spirit. Years ago when I was in college, I heard a description very apt for me: “she is an active verb.” Breathing makes me active, thinking and articulating thought makes me active, and I can do no other thing with my nature. In essence, I’m at a stage now of renegotiation. 

I’ve had two remarkable examples —Bennet and Magie—who serve as north stars for me. I did not, could not, have appreciated their importance in such a way now, even though they’ve served very different examples. Without a doubt, I was privileged to have them in my life earlier. But each, while springing to my mind and heart at such a time as this, are metaphorically whispering something delicate yet solid, sturdy in the face of challenge, encouraging an indescribable certitude in the very face of uncertainty. 

I ran away from home to find myself! At 71 years of age. In full possession of my faculties though not much grace in the action.

For several years now, I’ve needed to make a different decision about how I was living as an independent woman, one who has needed assistance from time to time, but also one intent on preserving as much dignity and self-respect as a moderately disabled aging person might possess.

This problem has ended up as an internal puzzle with no easy or obvious solution, given the tension between insufficient income and no serious drive to have full or even part time employment necessary to meet all my needs. After all, decades of working has put a crimp on any useful appetite to figure out how I am to care for myself, the physical self you might say, not to mention the interior one which is rich beyond imaginings.

Never perceiving myself as entirely conventional, I had not really arrived at a plan. It’s for others, the color-between-the-lines folks, predictable and, dare I say, staid! As night follows day, naturally there was bound to be a collision between expectations and downright denial as to a subsequent reckoning reality.

Turning Over The Dirt.

After a bit of to and fro, and what was designed to be a permanent solution by myself and others, it simply had turned antithetical to my core sense of beingness which is one of fierce independence in spirit and more of a color-outside-the-lines nature. Hence, the jailbreak of sorts triggering a sense of purpose and rightness I haven’t felt in years. But, it has also slid into an “I must reinvent myself”  mode, which is both frightening at this stage of life, as well as invigorating.

While it feels like I’m kind of old to be undertaking such an action, it has also occurred to me that this could be risky. A sense of terror has wafted over my fierce little core as to how to figure this out. Yet reinvent a new life I must. I have some important help on this front, demonstrating lifelines do exist. But it remains terrifying at times nonetheless due in part to no roadmap whatsoever!

I realize I’m not being terribly specific or detailed here but suffice it to say, “all will be revealed in due time.” Having upset the apple cart in a dramatic and messy fashion, sorting it all out in my own head and heart is now my job so to speak, and once again, flying without much of a net. 

Unconventional Is As Unconventional Does

So, I must lean into my creative and unconventional nature and summon some courage, maybe even fearlessness. And Peace! The details are yet to be determined. I have to set aside my current terror surrounding age, compromised financial situation, a compromised body, and well, all the above and move forward. How? No real clue yet but I’ve promised myself to come up with something, fast or slow, ideally creative, fulfilling and enduring.

The slate has been wiped clean and while I know I rest in spurts of delicious peacefulness, it also accompanies a vague unsettling that requires specific outcomes yet to be discovered. It seems I am left with a kind of pioneering spirit that must be tended to, cultivated yet consistent with my God-given creative nature. In the end, it’s the tiniest whisper, the subtle impulse that will reveal a solution to living this next stage of my life. And I will know…

One just can’t know the loss of personal freedom, how it feels, what it lives like until you get older and feel the slow leak of capabilities shrink. I sure didn’t. I watched my own mother’s loss and instead of looking closer at what was going on (or God forbid, asking her) I got frustrated with its outcomes instead, and her along with it—as if she were to blame for aging!


I’ve given this whole topic considerable more thought after having a conversation with a friend recently—about value and worth as bodies age and we shed our productive and professional identities. And after sobering up professionally, I have to admit there remains a sense of diminishment in me. While I make fun of my place in the aging category, I am reminded too of its emotional costs.

Given this small “come to Jesus” moment, if mom were here now, I’d apologize prostrate and profusely, for being so dense and dismissive with her, not paying attention. But how could I have known then what I could only learn once it began in me? Seriously. The aging thing; The slack disregard, the dismissal by others, as if you’re no longer a credible person, which implies less value, less worth. Half a person, really, with a lesser-than ability to even think!


I see my son and daughter-in-law react the same to me, or at least similarly as I did towards my mother, hence I’m on the receiving end of the spectrum now. The up close and personal feel of “less than” that is subtly reflected in their eyes staring back at mine as an imprint is painful. They won’t have kids so will not know the personalization of it when they get old. Although, since this is a societal problem also, they’ll still likely feel it’s sting to some degree.

Not-so-oddly, some aspects of aging I gladly surrender while other losses I resent like hell! I think of handicapped people (which I’ve come to include myself loosely in the category) and the grief they must feel in this regard. But aging? In some respects it’s a different kettle of fish altogether because unless you die young, everyone goes through one or both categories to some degree. And as a foot in each camp of aging and body breakdown, I feel some of the sting in each.


In more general terms, I look at others in my age group and often see similar patterns of personal freedom either denied or forfeited. Some individuals seem less affected or maybe I don’t look close enough because the symptoms are less obvious, more nuanced. Maybe they don’t consider it much, let alone express it. But the prospect and likelihood of each of us getting some humbling learning opportunities in a youth prized culture is unavoidable, at least to those who seek learning about such things. Ultimately, as the eyelids drift closed for the last time, rumor has it “all will be presented” in a flash for which both accounting and sweet liberation will occur—deliverance in its own time and place where value and worth are redefined by a greater and more generous authority.

Sigh! (And yes, it really does deserve an exclamation point.) For the last year oftentimes I have struggled to write, uncertain of my emotional and psychological footing. My opinions are lame, (being only opinions after all.) I’m also exhausted of others’ opinions, their precious positionalities suckled close to their solar plexus. Consequently, watching the state of the world and my place in it has been nothing short of confusing. Just when I think I get a grasp on making sense of things, or even one small corner of things, murkiness creeps in.


In the past 12 to 18 months people have been born but many have also died. The pandemic has been nothing short of bizarre in its population birth-death cycle. And who knew a virus could be so controversial! Some people feel afraid to not wear a mask out of personal and communal responsibility while others have felt the pandemic is all a hoax, justifying their own self-righteousness. A greater majority of folks (mercifully in most places but not all) feel a sense of duty to mask up for the good of all.

Between the rapid decline in democracy and societal norms, it may be that America is in a death spiral, irreversible in its demise, as certain to keel over, gasping as an individual human body does as it gives up the ghost. The longer all of this chaos and division go on, I do not see how America can recover any more than I can reverse my own aging process. Collectively we are all responsible, having ignored the cancerous tumor born out of deception and lies as if it had smoked cigarettes for two hundred plus years!


As I age, my body is breaking down too, slow but sure. I know in my bones that’s the way of things and yet it seems I fight against acceptance of it. I have never been terribly good at grace under pressure. Even though I’ve had lots of experience of the pressure! My trials and tribulations have been numerous and sometimes extreme, although, in the main, my life has certainly been that of relative ease and comfort. Oh, the drama of it all!

It makes me irritated that I have lost physical capacity—and for all I know mental capacity too. There are things that I do like about the aging process. For example, I don’t care much about impressing anybody about anything anymore. When I watch younger people do it, all puffed up, I can’t help but laugh at myself that I even operated in that mode. It truly is a marvel, and now it seems an embarrassment.


I have recently moved to another town in Sonoma county, safely ensconced in a tiny house out back, by a shed, on my son and daughter-in-law‘s property. I used to joke with my son when younger to just put me out back in a shed when I get old. By God, he’s done it! Now I get to joke about me and Elon Musk living in a tiny house—just not together! Ha! A stale joke maybe but one in which I still take perverse pleasure. A mixed blessing, this easier downsized life yet with it, an accompanying loss of personal voice and scope. Like Alice in Wonderland, I’m literally and figuratively shrinking!

For years Audrey Hepburn had a very small apartment in New York City, sparsely furnished. She mostly used it as a weigh station, a respite between Africa trips for the UN children’s program that she managed. To this day, I take comfort in her boldness, clearly in full control of her decision. Sometimes, when I’m feeling sorry for myself I think of Christopher Reeves too. How miraculous it seems to me that he soldiered on after barely surviving the polo accident—a whisper of an excruciating existence that ended up a roar, creating something so incredibly positive for others. How brave he truly was.


There are others. Helen Keller often surfaces in my consciousness. My disabilities pale in comparison. Yet she, along with other heroes of mine, provide a potency—an inoculation if you will—allowing me to stave off a darker grief when recontextualizing my own physical losses. What would I do without these larger-than-life role models? While I wish I could sit in a room with each of them, holding hands and comforting them along with myself, the mere thought of each of them sustains me at times when I have felt the worst.

And so I trudge on, until dis-identifying with the body altogether, resting instead on the buoyancy of spirit.

I swear, I don’t know which is worse: to lose vital functioning body parts or to lose one’s memory and therefore mind. I’d say they both pretty much suck! And if that sounds indelicate, too bad. You’ll just have to get over your proper, persnickety selves. Yes, I’m in a kind of a funk today, and all too often, too many days. I can be an Eeyore like the best of them. Just keeping it real.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep a sense of humor or to have a whole lotta Grace in the face of either intermittent, ongoing pain, or the inability to do simple functions I used to be able to do like go for a walk without the aid of hiking poles or a walker. I have come a long way and can even walk short distances on my own, but I cannot sustain it throughout the day without pain.


 And I must say, it really frustrates me to hear someone complain about what seems to be, in relative terms, a little ache, a little pain, the equivalent of a hangnail or a papercut. Now, I know that when I am in this kind of a mood I not only do not want to stay in it long, even though I indulge myself. Just as importantly, I can guarantee I will end up laughing at myself. It never lasts (although I sure seem to circle back to it.)

But sometimes I get stuck. It is hard to have the body continually deteriorate bit by bit, body part by body part—this otherwise exquisite, yet prone to break down communication device. Quite frankly, I’m too friggin young for this! Besides the tumor that was removed a year ago, along with 2 1/2 GI portions, I also have had a series of vertebrae’s fracture and collapse. (Yes, yes, I know I’ve complained about this before.)

I really have made tremendous progress since, but it seems the deterioration and decay is not done.

Eye to Eye

Recently I was diagnosed with Macular Degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in old people. But I’m not old! Am I? This really should be someone else’s problem, a much older person, not a 67-year-old’s. This latest diagnosis has been particularly sobering. How will I write?? Of course there’s a way. Braille. How will I drive? The flat out fact of that is, I won’t. While I haven’t been driving since my surgeries a year ago, I was viewing that as only a temporary condition. That could change.

And then of course—horror of horrors—how will I change my colostomy bag? Do they have bags in braille? Can I have little dots put on my belly right around the stoma so I can guide the bag opening exactly where it needs to be? This is important stuff for me. It’s certainly more important than teeth although they are going too. (Resorption!)

Eruption and Turning

I started this little series of paragraphs really pissed – – at people who are healthy (how dare they!), at young people, people who encourage me to keep on keeping on (oh sure, you try it,) at well-meaning folks who tell me this is a “growth opportunity”… a blessing in disguise for serious spiritual advancement!

And then of course, as night follows day, as I am writing this, I cry, feeling sorry for myself, pitifully, pitifully sorry for myself, and always, always, dammit, end up laughing at the absurdity of it all. For I know deep down where the One True Thing of me really lives, I survive. I am completely intact! The cursed package, the previously robust, svelte, athletic even, container is a facade. The cute clothes adorning curvy hips, the bobbles dangling from ears once nibbled on by seductive men, the ferocious energy I once displayed in jobs and select social occasions as a younger version of myself has all been part of a long one-act play.

My Body Not My Self—The Gameboard

Play, that’s it! A fraud perpetrated on myself, a kind of make believe  colluding along with everyone else in our society. The lies we tell ourselves about who we are are just that: lies. A deception so sophisticated we drink it up like Adam and Eve, until of course the body starts breaking down and we are naked. But the beauty about being naked, which is to say, exposed for not the Who but the What of us—of me—the essence that lays beneath the facade, is not just the truth insisting on being released. It is that kernel, the seed that carries the One True Thing of “me” effortlessly given by life’s originator itself, a Grace not of ourselves. I can pretend I make myself but at the end of the day I know I cannot. I can only grow, morph, transform even as I chafe against the constraints of Earth School.

And of course I understand, clearly, “ah yes, this is how it was always meant to be.” The thing we thought we were will always unfold, or emerge, or transform— whatever language you want to ascribe to it—into the state of being, of awareness, evolution one could say, it is meant to be. The beauty of each state has been intoxicating until of course, it wanes, followed by disappointment, anger, regret, sorrow, a husk of its former self waiting for the new perspective to gradually come into focus, with or without benefit of a literal, physical vision loss that forces not a narrowing of sight and understanding, but an expansion of it.


It may just be your average “age associated memory loss” I’m experiencing, the one most people in the mid 60’s undergo. But I have to tell you, it’s alarming when someone younger is trying to tell you something that is a NLO (New Learning Opportunity, allegedly good for the neuronal net) and you can’t really follow. In the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult for me to learn new things. I swear I can feel the brain creak, struggling to function as it gets slower and slower with each passing year. Read more

Why, you may ask, would I need to know how to sell a kidney? Well, let me tell you, it’s an ugly story. Recently, I went for a routine teeth cleaning and my annual dental exam, only to discover I need 5 crowns. Why? To save one molar and four incisors (two central and two laterals.) When learning of this, and in a state of shock I might add, I asked the dentist “is this because my teeth are old?” She informed me that the molar already had a large filling that had begun to leak (who knew,) but that it now also had a large cavity. To save the entire tooth, she would need to drill it down to a nub and put a crown on it. Read more