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What be this thing called hope, this state? To wander back-and-forth between hopelessness and hopefulness, why at times it feels as crazy as the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland. It is amazing how it seems to swing so slowly for a period. Yet at others, it lurches uncontrollably in staccato fashion between the two states. 

THE NATURE OF LIGHT

We sit confined, in a prism of our making. Yes, that’s the correct word: prism. Besides the traditional definitions of refractive light, the case I make for the word thusly is, “prisms can be made from any material that is transparent to the wavelengths for which they are designed…prisms can be used to reflect light, or to split light into components with different polarizations.” These latest words depict a state of both a claiming and rejection of elements of ourselves, as well as the implied polarization that is its consequence.

We will not always be home-bound. At some point we will be set free to roam the social gathering places, like gazelles to a watering hole but will not feel the same. For many, it may pale in comparison to the interior depths of ourselves we have plumbed during confinement, finding solace and comfort in a more authentic manner with those we hold most dear, including our own hearts. 

THE TEMPORARY IS JUST THAT

For others, being let loose will provide only temporary thrills, acknowledging a lack of appetite for the shallow and trite, intoxicating though it may be for a time. Somehow freedom to wing-spread will undergo a new definition, an acknowledgment of sorts. Given enough lack of interior sustenance they will begin to miss what began in their heretofore home-bound state, that unnamed itch for growth that has been awakened.

There will be those that carry on as if nothing has altered their perception of the world (and those in it), behaving like drunken sailors and raucous wenches, repressing the recent sting of social isolation, only to behave as before. Yet a seed will have been planted for future enlightenment, ripening once they have germinated long enough, whether in this lifetime or the next. 

ITERATIONS

Regardless, many things will be redefined, restructured and changed, for a quality left to the living will capture enough people’s imaginations to speak it, to live it differently. The “it” is that intangible and beneficent regard for others that acknowledges the depths of connections we all share as a species, regardless of malvescence by some, dependent on heroism by others. Those that have harmed the herd will endure accounting of it, there is no doubt. But with any luck, the subtle change in the refracted light of our better selves will triumph with enough heat and pressure of the current moment. 

And it is this process, the evolution of us as individuals and groups, having come out the other side to a new order of things that hope births. I see glimmers of it already: in nurses, doctors, deliverers of goods and services, in some public servants, and in the ordinary of us carrying on, socially isolating not just for ourselves but for the good of the whole. We KNOW inherently these acts are “in the service for more than us, they are for others too.”

THE PENDULUM SWINGS

Many will not be able to see this change but more folks likely will than not. Of that I am confident, hopeful even, regardless of the human, political and social “infection” we will have survived. Or because of it? While it may not be loud, there will be evidence. There already is in fact, in that subtle shifts are visible in the compassion shown by some media leaders, medical individuals interviewed, common neighborhood helpers and many ordinary people. The angry ones, the bitter and noisy gong people, critical and venomous will pale in comparison.

Not all moments seem to call for hope. There are times that call for despair, and we will have experienced the state far too often during this pandemic. Yet despair can be temporary at best, ultimately fostering hope from which emerges a slow but sturdy light refracted from the prism. After all, we do know why the caged bird sings.

AND SO MUST WE

And so we stand on the edge of sorrow and joy, despair and hope with the intuition that there will be better days, better angels and greater things to come. 

For we are not just refracted light. We are reflected light as well, created from a nature that in the end claims us all. Whether one believes in the divine or not, nature has its way with life, always continuing onward. Groaning though we may be in the current morass, hope is greater than even itself for it reflects something more. Out of it springs a faith in things unseen, of the promise by and for the living; for life ongoing forever after.

I sit here on a gloomy-stew Sunday, just me and the rain. It continues to feel like such a surreal existence, the social distancing, the subtle fear of others—could they have “it” or could I infect them, crossing my mind all too frequently. The odd wariness of people, be they strangers or even friends, it’s disconcerting, but a near curiosity nonetheless.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE

Through no fault of their own, everyone is suspect, including myself. The rain makes me think the earth is weeping for us. But maybe not out of sadness. Maybe just maybe, it’s a way to cleanse the world and metaphorically, us in it. How many mistakes we  humans make. If I wasn’t so personally involved and engaged in the whole pandemic, from a distance it presents as a puzzle, curiosity about the human race, however briefly. Oh, the folly of us.

It’s impossible not to judge although as quickly as I do, I try desperately to chastise myself for doing it. I watch people walk around without any protection, though not too many of them, and marvel at governors who still don’t have statewide orders to social distance. They are making an assumption because they only have four people in the state who are infected, that they are exempt from tragedy somehow. Oh, the folly of human thought. And the arrogance.

I LOVE ME WHO DO YOU LOVE

Arrogance is as arrogance does, or so they say. So too ignorance, and too many Americans, certainly suffer from it. Sadly, both conditions are part of the human experience, part of each of us in unequal measure. We either think we know best, think nothing bad will ever really seriously happen to us, or believe in wacky political ideas that are naive at best, nefarious at their worst. 

Then there’s the greed and selfishness of people hoarding, sometimes out of downright fear I realize, but all too often out of a belief system that “I’ve got to get mine so I won’t lose out” mindset, strutting their behavior like terrified peacocks. I, I, I! It is the bane of our existence.

COVID-19 RISING

They say the next couple of weeks could be very grim with the contagion spreading like wildfire, infecting many more people, with a rising death toll as a result. It will be an uneven contagion no doubt, much like it has been to date. Still, there’ll be some in disbelief, denial. Still there’ll be people who think it’s a conspiracy, some absurd plot. For what end? What global purpose? Remarkably we still live in an age of the superstitious. Still!

And so we soldier on, trying as we might, to protect ourselves as best we can from “the others” be it person or germ. What lesson is it that we must individually and as a collective learn? What spiritual, ethical and social nugget have we yet to break open and discern? Can it result in a “dear God please let us be better than our former selves, please let us think of our brothers, please let us have compassion and caring,” at least those of us who are capable of it. To expand that intent and cover, not just this nation in an atmosphere of love, but indeed the entire world, is our mandate besides the practical behaviors we all must exercise. 

If only…

COMFORT

At two and a half, without completely understanding it, I was already heavily identified with the body. Of course I didn’t really know what that might mean. I, Rosalie, was a little person. There were other bodies in my family: my mother, my father, an older sister and a baby sister a bit younger.

I really only have two significant memories or memory shards below the age of five. One was of myself playing in a little sand pile outside our backyard, with toy cars and trucks on an imaginary town or ranch I created. I loved to invent the storyline of me driving around on roads in a truck. Oh, the freedom of it. I’m not even sure where I got the idea of a ranch, maybe from a little story book? or maybe having an imprint from going with mother past farms? Regardless of where it came from, it existed and for some inexplicable reason, it brought structure, organization and inventiveness to my world.

And the sun. I was always aware of light—bright, bold, effervescent light!

Why this memory sticks in my mind at all is mysterious, other than to say the 𝐌𝐞𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐲 also included a sense of something else that existed: nameless, peaceful, reassuring, warm. It was more reassuring and peaceful even than my mother although I had a strong impression she contained a solid measure of those qualities. 

But this is from the rearview mirror. Regardless, naming it at the time was not relevant. All I knew was that I felt the scene’s quiet power. It was carried by the sun’s light and heat, existing in the space both within my being and outside of it, separated only by a thin but potent membrane. I was aware of this otherness through not only light and sunshine but also nature, other physical elements of the world. 

Light seemed to be a primary delivery, however, communicating in a wordless language. And as much as I knew anything, it was my first crude memory of a sense of being cared for, by protection that was massive even beyond my mother but included her too. I’d be tempted to call it love with a capital L, maybe Divine, but I knew of no such construct then.

CONFUSION

The other significant memory occurred at around two and a half. I had a lump on the side of my right eye, near the temple. I think my mother had been fretting about it for quite some time. As it happens, she took me to an eye doctor and it was confirmed to be a cyst, a reasonably benign protrusion, harmless in and of itself. While I didn’t understand that at the time, I had a sense of no real danger. If anything, I had an awareness it was of more concern to my mother, which stands in stark contrast to her otherwise unflappable demeanor. 

I was told this particular cyst was problematic because of its location. Internally, it was pressing on my optic nerve and had the potential to compromise vision in that eye. Okay. But events overtook any crude understanding I had of the situation. One morning my mother led me by the hand, purposefully, walking across a large lobby. Bizarrely, I remember her walking quickly. This is bizarre in that it was out of character for my mother to do anything quickly. It simply was not her style—for walking, working, or anything else. Normally her gait was slow, methodical, determined, anything but quick. I’m assuming she had some sense of urgency about this little trip to the doctor’s office. This perception was new information for me.

The next part of the memory is hazy. I remember being in a little room, my mother speaking with the doctor, and him talking to her, then me. But I didn’t understand what either of them were telling me, not really. The best I can cobble together is of her saying I was to have a little procedure. She may have used the word procedure, surgery, etc. I cannot say. What I best remember was that I had to come back to have the cyst taken out.

IT’S NOT NICE TO TRAUMATIZE SMALL CHILDREN

Whether the procedure was the next day or a week later I do not know. Regardless, at some point I found myself again being led by the hand across a lobby and into a small room. Mother tried to explain that I had to stay overnight in the hospital, though I don’t really recall. What I do recall is a gauzy image of her trying to comfort me, that “everything will be fine” once the cyst was gone. She also swears she had explained more about what was to happen, that my eyes would be patched after the surgery but it would be temporary. Did I know what Temporary was?

All description about this cyst and the resultant eye surgery has likely been reinforced over the years while my mother was alive and throughout my childhood when I would bring it up. Even in my young adult years, I would question her about the event, all in an effort to understand why this was so upsetting to me even years later. 

The only reason I questioned her was because I had a lingering fright and even greater confusion as to the event’s meaning, along with the actual events themselves. Memory is a funny thing, the perception of a very small child in particular. It gets filtered through limited language and even less comprehension, as to its meaning. Perception by definition is distorted and memory further distorts what was initially perceived.

THE TURNING

There are two aspects, scenes really, mother could never explain, memories that she was not physically present for. After leaving me in the hands of a nurse the day of the procedure, the nurse put a little nightgown on me. Then she took me to a large room that was very, very cold. There was a lot of light in that room but I swear, even the light was cold. This was NOT like the light experienced in the sand pile. It was its opposite! The nurse helped me onto a very cold table while trying to explain what was to happen.

I recall a man—the doctor?—coming over to the table and saying a word or two. None of what he said do I recall. Rather, the scene is fixed like a cartoon character’s “wha-wha” description from Charles Schultz’s Snoopy before he leaves, goes over to the other side of the room to what I think must have been a sink. The nurse at my side whispers something to me and all goes black.

BLINDSIDED

The next thing I remember is waking up in a bed and screaming. Desperately. Both of my eyes were covered, thick patches obliterating sight, even light! I continued screaming even after a nurse came in and tried to shush me. I thought the doctor had removed my eyes! How would I navigate the world? I was terrified and would not be consoled. 

Evidently, the nurse tried to explain my eyes were there, they were just covered to protect them after the operation. Regardless, I had no faith in what she said because all I knew was that I could not see, believing instead there were no eyes to see from. Distorted as it may have been, my fast conclusion was to rely on myself and not anything she was telling me.

The hospital must have called my mother because I was told later that I kept screaming until she came, that no one else could calm me. How mother convinced me my eyes were still there I couldn’t tell you. I don’t remember her words but I do remember her energy. My mother was never a very affectionate woman but she was calm, reliable, steadfast, to be counted on. I knew that even then as sure as I knew there was a sun and a moon. But there was a change, palpable and real, in how I perceived her and more importantly, myself. A kind of doubt crept in. It was about the world and me in it. 

WHAT YOU THINK YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT’S THERE

At some point I go home. The patches have been removed. I can see again but there is a difference in what it is I think I see. While everything looks the same, my perception has changed, my understanding of what I can count on is off kilter. I am told I have to go back in a week or two to have stitches removed which seems like such a small thing at this point. 

I suppose one could draw all kinds of conclusions from this traumatic event for a very small child. Without entirely realizing it, however, perceptions occurred in my little brain as a consequence of all that had come before. The first was that my mother was cemented in my mind, and I suppose my heart, in her reliability, her constancy. After the surgery, however, the gravitational pull of her felt weakened and, in a turn, the gravity of her love and protection changed, modified somehow. My impression now included some inexplicable need to look to my small self for verification of the world and all things in it.

The second was that I firmly believed—without knowing I believed —the brightness of the sun had dimmed, was remote in a way that turned me into a separate “me” and less connected to that brightness as if I had been cast off from it. A sense of separateness and on my own had replaced the previous feeling of connectedness. No notion of a greater Other existed as comprehensively as the impression I previously held from the sand pile days, and of mother! It was a kind of grief I didn’t understand. Though not completely gone, it would be some years before I felt that powerful presence, and 50-plus years before I recontextualized my life.

How hard it is to stay quiet. Sometimes, I’ve become aware of fearing the very thing I crave. This morning when I was doing my meditation ritual, a sliver of sunlight insisted on showing itself through the olive tree branches in front of my window. All was quiet. I was aware of it, it being a kind of willing participant in silence. Actually, the longer the light pierced the leaves, the more aware I became.

Power and Light

I became immersed in a natural, diffuse yet potent quality that was far more definition of me than all the other personality traits I insist on clinging to. My sense of self was part of the field, a member of the whole which revealed itself. I was essential. As my awareness expanded through the quiet, not only did it feel organic, I also began to associate a sense of home to it.

Home is a funny thing. As mammals, we have such a physical need for nesting, over-associating a sense of comfort and security with physical space in which we reside. But the sense of quietness as home, maybe even womb-like, is different.

The Pull

There is something unique, inexplicable and indistinct that draws me to quiet. The phrase “moth to a flame” comes to mind. Quiet is both a lure and a disorientation. It carries with it a subtle fear of extinction. Scientists believe moths are drawn to light when their navigational systems become disrupted, leaving them confused and disoriented. And yet, drawn in they must be, even at risk of death, of which they cannot really know. There is something inevitable suggested in eventual death and transformation. Yet who rushes to it.

For me, as time slowed and I entered the subtle perception of a difference of being, it struck me as I, too, had become disoriented, though for a time, I seemed powerless to resist. Continuing, I rode the wave to its peak.  Up to a point! For a time, it was certainly worth the risk. Of what? Of the fear of losing my previously assumed sense of self, of what I’ve defined myself to be in mortal earth terms? In a flash, I had awareness that quiet is sourced from a different dimension, the quality of the Divine. It is outside of time and even space once you really settle into it. And therein lies both the comfort and the fright.

To Be or Not To Be

Quiet suggests a fright that is both compelling and repelling. Sometimes I just cannot stand all the noise of the world and must escape. At times even, quiet contains a whisper of ultimate freedom yet one with an eventual loss of a sense of self as I have previously been defined. Quiet presents the ultimate conflict because I both want to lose that sense of self which is purely fiction and an architecture of my own ego’s creation, as well as maintain the very fiction I have made. What am I if not my sense of self definition? While I personally believe I reflect an expression of God, I have gone about my physical existence segregated from that belief all too often.

If God exists as the silence, as pure potentiality as some scientists and theologians believe, then there actually seems to be no definition whatsoever other than potential expression as defined by… What? Me? A conscious human being that has been blessed to be born a human like the Buddha suggests, being endowed with the raw ingredients from which to evolve into greater consciousness? If God has created all things as expressions of his potentiality, which is infinite, He is everywhere and nowhere. He is both alpha and omega, beginning and end, over and over again.

 Context is Everything

He/She/It spins out a potential within a context, be it inanimate or animate, be it a life form, a liquid or a solid. What a sense of creative joyful play He must have! He gives each thing parameters, a context in which to further develop and continue his initial creation, active participants, a sort of “God thinned down” within, to carry on what He begat! Each thing carries the torch of ongoingness. One of the problems with us humans—and of me— is that we think we have done it all. That pesky ego we have been endowed with, an outgrowth of animal evolution, presumes to think we are the creators of ALL of our own lives instead of realizing we are merely stewards of His raw ingredients. We are so very arrogant!

But back to quiet. Quiet is both a whisper and a thunder, a lure and a resistance. At times I crave it whether I’ve cultivated it or stumbled into it by Grace. Regardless, I cannot ultimately stay away. The noise of the world becomes a pressure cooker after a time, one that requires a release of steam. Plus, I know in the quiet resides a real “me” to be rediscovered!

So of course I continue on, alternating between quiet’s pull to its very fright. At the end of the day, it makes no matter whether I understand or try to define it. Ultimately, I acknowledge the reality of creation and the rules that guide it are not up to me. Rather, I am aware of being a kind of project manager, a steward of gifts given me by a Source greater than I can truly comprehend. At the end of the day, I must surrender to a power greater than myself to follow the light of Home, that flame that calls us all, whether inside or out of time. It is the ultimate peace.

 

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.

Pullease

 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.

 

The fragrance of nature, particularly water and trees, has always brought something powerful to the surface of my mind, a kind of happy joy that is spontaneous and immediate. Nature conceals a deeper meaning, drawing me to its depths without knowing entirely why. Since I was a little girl I have always loved it. The natural world is an essential ingredient of what I am, just as much as the gristle and bone I walk around in. Sometimes I think it’s about identification. But that’s not it exactly. I am aware of being an animal, a mammal specifically. And yet it is the essence of spirit that I really identify with, coming from some ‘other’ that created all of this, that I am a part of.

Life For It’s Own Sake

On a recent family vacation in Lake Tahoe I was reminded ever more powerfully of this fact. Because it is a fact for me. A reality. I could be a tree. I could be a body of water. But it makes no matter because I have been blessedly created as a human, and how lucky is that? Even if one believes in no higher power or God, let’s say it’s fate or a roll of the dice that I was created thusly, I still value it immensely. While I happen to believe in God, I recognize not everyone does. Are these individuals no less grateful to be alive?

In any case, my nephew took this picture off the end of a boat touring around the lake and sent it to me. I was not onboard, instead stationed back at the resort like a sentry, resting inside but catching the faint whiff of pines and water regardless of my physical location. The picture is compelling, as compelling as the state of being. This was puzzling to me in the beginning, at least until I started to view it differently. The opaque quality in a milky, cataract kind of way disturbed me at first. I wanted to bring it into focus, to clarify the view. And then I thought, isn’t that what we are always trying to do?  To fix, to adjust what we think we see into one meaning that suits our purpose?

And the foreground of waterwheel, intrusive and initially dominating, became something to be managed, fixed, so that one could better get to the the dusting of pine-topped mountains beyond. When I ignore this fuzzy, filmy veneer, the restless idea of it, I can focus instead on the essence of sharing space with nature, conjoined, being an intimate and authentic part of it, even as it’s steward and, as such, as essential as the earth itself and sky above.

A Larger Lens

I am transported to a primordial soup from which we all come regardless of belief system. It is quite simply a knowing, with nothing arguable about it. It is rooted in depths of certitude, ineffable though it may be, a oneness that defies explanation even though I struggle to explain it in the here and now.

And so I leave it here, the unanswered and unanswerable mystery of being born not just a human but being born here, now, in this place and part of a whole that is an inexplicable existence. The mysterious gift of life, the nature of it all, a dust mote traversing the universe through space and time, me who has been afforded incredible Grace and peace as evocative as the whiff of the pines and water themselves.

You have pulled me back to you for some yet unknown reason and on this last day by your bedside, I’m getting ready to cycle back on my own elliptical trip to motherhood away from you. I cannot say, dear mommy, that I feel more sadness—at least not at this moment. In fact, in many ways, I feel far less. I don’t know exactly why. It may be because I keep my feelings at bay—a necessary adaptation to being in your presence. It may be because I have felt so many emotions, often in extreme or potent fashion, that there’s just less sad left to feel.

Or it may be because I accept the whole process of your dying—your timeline, your needs—surrendering in a far better way to the inevitable lack of control that I have rebelled against for so many months. I suppose, too, somehow my crying, my wailing and wallowing in my own muck and mire just seems less appropriate and out of place in the face of your ongoing dignity with which you approach your own death.

Death’s Dignity

Remarkably, it seems mystifying to me that you could be expressing dignity in the face of cancer and Alzheimer’s, with dirty wet diapers and bibs, your straight, white hair flying wildly behind you on the pillow as you continue to hold on fiercely to two teddy bears from your youngest and eldest daughters.

Yet somehow you preserve yourself with just that: a serene quality that comes from somewhere else—a not of this earth kind of thing. You release love and life entirely, attaching only temporary meaning to the props and decorations that identify you now as my mother. Actually, it almost seems as if you are trying to say to me through these scenes, “do not weep so…this ultimately is a much smaller thing than you think, dear daughter, the seemingly unattractive way I die.”

It’s as if you radiate questions like “what sort of compassion would you have exercised for someone not so personally attached to you had you not seen me drool, heard me jabber nonsense, seen me lie in my own waste.”

Loved Into Death

From where I sit it feels as if you offer yourself up yet one more time, sharing infinite lessons of love and light to all around you. At least that’s what I see when I get outside of just the ‘you’ I know was my mother. For I watch the delicate yet sturdy expressions of love and compassion as your nurses tenderly touch your face while giving you your medicine, stroking the sides of your throat, urging you to swallow your morphine to reduce your physical pain.

I watch your caretakers feed you cereal, adjust your head on the pillow, turn your body to prevent bedsores, all the while talking words of affection, encouragement, and humor. You are not their mother, yet you are comforted just the same through kindnesses springing from an impersonal source, being loved into death like I imagine you were once loved into life.

The Still, Small Voice

And ultimately I am struck not by the sadness of watching your earth life leak out of your very specific body I identify as my mother. Rather, I am struck by all the expressions of a still, small voice behind each act of caring extended, as each person responds to the soul dignity you miraculously emit like radar, invisible in its source yet manifested so visibly in each literal caress.

I am honored by the energy of it all driving each act I only later come to name as love. Ironically, I care less and less about the specific vehicle of what seems like a terminal condition—the Alzheimer’s and cancer eating away at your thin, frail body, with my previous interpretations of despair and tragedy all but gone, at least for the moment.

For in the end I gradually catch the faint but increasing whiff of your gift—that you keep your human heart beating for not just me, but for all your daughters as well, trying to communicate for as long as you can make it so, how much you really loved us. And while the details of our lives together continue to silently fall away, what remains of your final yet everlasting act of love—to crawl up onto your own personal cross, arms outstretched towards infinity as if to say “I love you this much”…

Redemption

… And months later, with tears streaming down my cheeks you have moved on, resurrected to another place of grace, with the Giver of the gift who moves us all to acts beyond our human capacity. And I am breathless and stalled momentarily in my human loss of your steady face, eyes that once beamed, missing your example and your effort.

Yet I continue on even though I’m at a different stage of pain, one which sometimes sends me reeling. I somehow manage because of what was given to me—that final act of love that you so graciously expressed. I manage because I know that you have been redeemed in parallel fashion much is you redeemed me. Without any doubt your effort to send one final message through the dignity and effort of your dying process thunders a love so loud it is unmistakable—a love given through great suffering only to sore and transform.

And I am grateful beyond words.

 

You learn a lot about yourself and others when you are in a physically compromised situation like I have been for the last six months. Between a couple surgeries and multiple fractures in my back, I’ve been laid low. Having a history of being fiercely independent previously, I have had the opportunity to learn the fine art of being dependent on others, at times feeling like a burden, a very uncomfortable position to say the least!

The Spiritual Squeeze

I have been forced to learn about patience, humility, and grace, none of which comes naturally to me. Quite the contrary. Being a single person for most of my adult life, I have taken undo pride and no small amount of egotism, feeling quite self-satisfied with my own fortitude and sufficiency.

Asking others for help now, sometimes from the smallest gestures to larger ones that might inconvenience them, has been challenging and sometimes downright painful for me in my current situation. It has come easier though is still uncomfortable and sometimes laced with fear and guilt.

I have found some people are generous and offer willingly while others get downright nervous or withdraw, pulling back with the subtlest of mortification, their pupils contracting inward scanning their own lives and responsibilities. Then there are those who offer but don’t really mean it, mostly unavailable when you get right down to the specific request later on.

It is very easy to be judgemental about this latter group, having operated from this very behavior myself in the past. I want to judge them when they turn me down, usually feeling a bit sorry for myself in the process. It is a lonely road. But the catch is, while I want to condemn them for being selfish, absorbed, uncaring or unsympathetic, the finger has quickly curved in on myself with the whiff of past recognition.

Occasional Salvation

One of the greatest gifts of my life, and I say this with all humility, is the occasional ability to move quickly from judgmentalism to forgiveness to acceptance. This was aided not long ago by flashbacks of moments when I’ve declined to help others during my far more vigorous, busy  and able-bodied history. I remember drawing away, pulling back, thinking I’ve got too much on my plate, sometimes offering help but knowing I don’t really mean it myself.

Tested

Recently I asked a woman in my apartment building if she could put a pain patch on my back and be available if I needed help for a few days, trying to explain that my regular backup people were away. Recognizing her reluctance from the get go, I tried to make clear it was short term. Her response was vigorous and persistent, telling me she was very busy, she wasn’t the best person to ask, she’d do what she could but couldn’t make a commitment.

Invariably she kept steering me away from her, stating she worked 55 hours a week, could I get a nurse, call the ER, whatever.  I like to think my decline of help to others was gentler, more subtle, but guessing I’ve been as transparent at times as she was with me, I doubt it. Becoming more angry than fearful I wouldn’t have help, I pressed her and she ultimately relented.

Remarkably, while I was very upset initially, I moved quickly to taking stock of my own past behaviors in this regard, knowing, knowing not only did I have to forgive her but also forgive myself. This struck swiftly and thoroughly and I felt relief, free of having to project my judgement onto her. This forgiveness and relief lasted about 12 hours!

Evolving

It is a hard thing at times having to take a steely-eyed look at ourselves, yet without examining our own behavior, what good are any lessons that are presented to us. After all, isn’t that what we’re here for? To learn, to grow, to evolve, to transcend? If I cannot forgive her how can I forgive me, and vice versa? We are all on a path at times intersecting with others, teachers of a sort, and presented with these golden opportunities. While this might seem like such a simple example, for me it is no less important than the earth shattering larger spiritual or ethical challenges in life.

At the end of the day, we are all at our own place of consciousness and development. When I forget that, that someone else no matter how obnoxious or irritating they might seem to me, or self absorbed and self centered, I am the one who suffers on the inside both emotionally and spiritually. I suffer in the judgment of that other person, But mostly I suffer in the condemnation and judgment of myself. To love oneself is just as important as to love another, to have compassion for the impairment that may be developmental, less visible than broken bones or surgeries in another, that is no less real but far less obvious.

The seemingly complicated state of fleeting forgiveness towards my reluctant neighbor squeezes me spiritually to step back, to really assess why I’m hurt, frustrated or scared and to at least try to identify with her. And even if I can’t stay in that space, I know I’m able to return to it at some point. Oh, the lessons of an illness, what consciousness-raising grist it provides for growth, acknowledging she too has her own struggle of guarded isolation and remoteness, filled with fear and self protection that felt as threatening to her as mine was for me in that moment.

And So It Goes

At the end of the day it does no good to compare me to her, her to me or even her to the two steadfast friends who have provided support and compassion but just happened to be gone at that time of seeking another’s help only to be thwarted by my neighbors reticence, no good at all. Identification is one thing, comparison quite another for comparison is filled with judgment. Whether I get irritated or not is irrelevant at the end of the day if she’s doing the best she can as I was in earlier situations—and even now—but lose the thread of ongoing understanding and forgiveness as a constant I can return to. Because I will invariably have to repeat the lesson, God willing, and by my own intention, be squeezed into that place of love and forgiveness of self and another we all seek until it all sticks.

 

Never in a million years did I think it would be this difficult just to get a colostomy after struggling with 14 year tumor excision history. For some crazy reason I was under the delusion that I’d be up and around moving relatively easily a couple of months after the initial surgery. Ha! I couldn’t have been more wrong. No one knows if they will have surgical complications. I was in that category of 100% believing it would be a trajectory of healing that had nowhere to go but up, forward, continually gaining strength, and improving. I suppose I was naïveté on steroids, confessing to being an optimist besides.

Years ago a former therapist told me only optimists get hurt. At the time I thought that sounded sort of odd. Asking her to explain, she laid out the following: pessimists expect the worst and are therefore rarely disappointed when something goes awry; Realists accommodate to whatever outcomes occur, using the intellect to manage any disappointments that come their way. But optimists, rarely fearing negatives, possess an expectation all will be well. The ship leaves port to arrive at the desired destination assuming all will be well. The hitch? The slide into disappointment when things do go wrong can be disorienting, sometimes debilitating, throwing the ship way off course, adding insult to the original injury, becoming unmoored.

Success Not Success

I could tell you the first surgery to remove the tumor and subsequent body parts that hosted it was highly successful. It is the truth. My insult occurred when three weeks later I had to have a second surgery to remove an unanticipated kink in my colon. Shocked, pissed, depressed and, well, pissed some more by the entire set back—which was substantial—my recovery has been slowed, sometimes feeling glacial. This event was peppered with other lesser setbacks such as UTI’s, lumbar compression fractures exasperated by required bed rest, wound healing that has been slow, etc, etc, etc!

In hindsight some of these setbacks feel more like nuisances at this point though not always. Rather, it is the aggregate of complications and slowdowns, the cumulative totality that has been the most difficult to adjust to, adding fuel to the disappointment fire. My intellect informs me, and rightfully so, this could be worse. It also reminds me of people who truly DO have medical situations far more dire and problematic than mine. After all, I am tumor free for they have removed the body parts that were its host. There is no “there” there! To say I remain incredibly grateful is the understatement of the century.

Unmoored

Yet still I grieve. Still I am pissed, at least at times although it does seem to be waning a bit. Feelings of loss are not just for missing body parts. Rather, they reflect an energy system that shrinks away from a physical life I once took for granted. They are for a psychological and emotional operating system of navigating the world and my place in it, as if a supernova is in the process of burning itself out in my small personal firmament.Turning that two ton ship around from optimism to realism necessarily has to be done by degrees much like a ship’s navigation.

This way of looking at my world involves patience, honest and authentic acceptance, and faith! The faith in not only things will be well, but that they already ARE! That the process of degree by degree learning to think and feel differently is beneficial and may even lead to a kind of salvation regardless of the slow-motion, occasionally agonizing discomfort that I feel going through it. The trilogy of qualities listed above have always been challenging for me, especially patience. I’d like it all healed NOW, body, mind and spirit!

Turning in Slow Motion

Having no other real choice, I trudge on in fits and starts with a new emotional, psychological, intellectual and spiritual mechanism that requires patience, forgiveness, compassion and understanding. Ain’t no other way. I guess that demonstrates at least a modicum of acceptance. I definitely feel the benefits of these qualities as they slowly come into focus, albeit it ever so slowly—degree by degree. Oh how I wish I could be on the other side of it. Of course that is not how evolution of any kind operates, at least not until a momentum has built to a critical mass creating a new order.

I know I am blessed. I even imagine, truly, in the end I will view this entire surgery, setbacks and all, as an unexpected gift, besides the obvious life saving measure that it is. In an odd way I’m beginning to see it has merely been a delivery system for a change that has been required of me all along: a blessing in disguise as a medical event. To know thyself one often needs to be tested, a catalyst of sorts, to hit bottom as it were. I may have unknowingly generated such a catalyst.

A New Radar

Some years ago after Michael J Fox had his Parkinson’s diagnosis, I was struck by what for me was a profound statement he had made. It went something like this: I could never sit still until I could not sit still. The habit deeply ingrained in an interior way of how we think and feel, how we approach our world, often requires something cataclysmic to get our attention. I see the value in having such an event, even as I have resisted and cursed it at times. “Lucky is the man who has lost his leg to find out what he is truly made of—not grizzle and bone. Rather, of a sturdy faith in the unseen ineffable Self.”

I am such a (wo)man!

It’s come down to this. There is a body part that needs removing due to a large, hideously unattractive tumor that has just, well, gotta go! Years ago (more than a decade, less than a century) it made its presence known similar to now. With a couple surgeries and double-digit colonoscopies to remove said growth and/or tiny polyps over the years, it has come back, the little bugger!! Excuse me: the big bugger!! Read more