Sunday, December 10, 2017

TODAY I MISSED MY MOTHER

     Today I missed my mother. 

     So, maybe you’re asking, does this really merit a blog post?  Well, yes, for me it does. Let’s start with the facts:  

     My mother died three-and-a-half years ago at almost 94.  

     I loved her.  

     We were not close in the usual sense, although, beginning in my adolescence, we did a long and complicated dance that lasted until the brink of her death.

     She lived a mile from me during the last 12 years of her life, so we spent a lot of time together and, during her final three or four years, I did a lot of caregiving.

     I loved her, and I rarely found a way past the thicket of her defenses, which mostly took the form of offenses.

     It pained me to write that last sentence.

     Today I missed my mother.  I missed her fiercely.  I missed her in a way that took my breath away.  I was in my bedroom folding laundry, thinking about nothing.  And then I was missing my mother. 

     Perhaps this seems unremarkable to you - you who are/were able to talk with your moms about things that are/were important to you.  But for me it is always a surprise.  At first, after she passed, I felt mostly exhausted and relieved, and sad for her because of the awfulness of her final months. 

     And then, every now and again, after days or weeks of barely thinking of her, I started to have these moments.  Moments of sharp missing. 

    At these times, I ask myself:  Who am I missing?  Is there a body memory of the woman who held me and fed me and read to me during the early pre-memory years?  Certainly, by the time we were interacting in a way I would remember, she had shown herself to be threatened and confused by a separate me, a me who had opportunities that she had never had, and I was struggling to cope with her defenses to genuine and meaningful interaction.  I was learning that talking, for some, is a way of avoiding intimacy.

     Sometimes I think I have always been missing my mother.  Sometimes I wish I could have known her as a girl, as a young woman -- before life took its toll.

     Before she had to leave school at 14.

     Before her city was bombed during WWII.

     Before she had to leave her job upon marrying at age 23.

     Before my father decided that the family – my mom, my older brother, and I in utero - should move with him across an ocean to Canada, and then to the U.S.

      Before she realized she would never see her parents again.  

      My daughters, who did not carry the baggage with which I was laden, had a different relationship with my mother.  The things she had found threatening in me – my independence, my education – she celebrated in them.  I am happy that they were able to know her in a different way.

       Here is an excerpt from something that my daughter, Anne, wrote shortly after my mother died:

      "If she had not been born in Glasgow in the interim of two world
      wars; if she had not had to leave school like all girls and most boys
      of her social class to become a working member of the family; if she
      had not been expected to marry and bear children as her sole 
      occupation; if she had been of a different time, my gran might have 
      lived a life not so unlike mine.  She was an extraordinary woman.”

      Perhaps Anne, who was able to see the extraordinary in her grandmother, saw my mother more clearly than I did.  Her life was not what it might have been had she been born a few decades later or gotten to choose to stay in school or where and when to work or where to live.  And yet, I can see now in retrospect, that she did the best that she could, or, as her fellow Scots would say, she made a pretty good fist of it. 

         And so today, I raise a figurative glass to her perseverance. Today I miss her in all of her prickly complexity.   

        


Saturday, November 4, 2017

EVERYTHING IS EASIER With TWO LEGS

Lessons learned or relearned during my first week post-Achilles-tendon surgery:

1.   Surgery and its aftermath are exhausting.  Plan for this.

2.   It is much more relaxing to be laid-up when you are retired. (Makes No. 1 above easier to deal with)

3.   My husband is a great caregiver.  (Thank you, Bill!)

4.   Pain sucks.  Taking narcotics for a few days will not make you part of the opioid crisis.

5.   Everything is easier with two legs.

6.   The recliner is a brilliant invention.

7.   The inventor of the knee scooter is a god.





8.   A hat can be repurposed as a toe warmer.



9.   My friends are great cooks. Thank you all.

10.  Mandatory downtime can be a nice opportunity for reading and reflection.  (A reflection: Awkwardness in getting from here to there for a few weeks is not that big a deal in the scheme of things, especially if No. 2 above applies.  I have a warm home, food, hot running water, and I WILL be back on my feet.)

11.  It is not advisable to knit while on narcotics, unless you want to spend three days knitting and ripping out the same 10 rows.

12.  Your doctor won't tell you everything.  For instance, telling me that if I had to go upstairs, I should do it on my bottom was good advice.  Neglecting to mention that I would need someone at the top of the stairs to help me get from the floor to the knee scooter would have been a dangerous omission if I lived alone.

13.  Balance matters.  So glad I did all those yoga balance poses over the years.

14. Take nothing for granted.  When you get out of bed in the morning, check to see that everything is working.  If yes, thank your arms and legs and brain for doing their jobs.  If you can get into the  shower without assistance, be grateful for that too.

Blessings to all everywhere who are now, have ever been, or ever will be, temporarily or permanently without the use of one or more limbs.






Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ICING

And you may ask yourself, well
How did I get here?

                  -Talking Heads

        
         While swimming the other morning, I pondered the very young lifeguards (probably local community college students), and wondered what they make of the grey-haired swimmers who populate the pool most mornings.

         Given that 40-year-olds seemed impossibly old and barely worthy of my notice when I was 20, I imagine the lifeguards view us (who are well beyond 40) as ancient and not meriting a thought beyond making sure we don’t drown.

         I think about these young lifeguards as I prepare to travel east for my 50-year high-school reunion.  I will come back to the lifeguards in a moment, but allow me to first share my initial reaction to the notices I received about the reunion.

         Astonishment--plain and simple.

         Really? 

         Already?

         How did I get here?  How is it possible that I have a history that stretches back 50 years and more?  Where did the time go?  When I expressed this sentiment to a daughter recently, she insisted that I am still young, and kindly added that I look younger than I am. 

         I think she may have missed the point.  (How could she not?  She is 29).    

         Regardless of how I look or feel (fine, thank you), the years ahead are looking more finite.  When I was very young, the end of life was a distant fog.  I understood that it would come, but it was so far away—old age itself seemed so improbable--that it hardly warranted my attention.   

         In mid-life, I had young children and was too busy to think much about the end.  It was out there, but I had daughters to raise and a job to go to.    

         But now.  Now, I have reached the point where the end has weight and heft.  It is in sight.  It may not come for 30 more years – my family is long-lived – but it is clear that it will come. 

         I do not write about this because I am afraid.  I am not.  Nor am I unhappy.  I am just surprised.  Closely following upon my surprise is gratitude.  I am grateful to have made it this far -- I love my life.

         Here is what those young lifeguards can’t see and won’t know for a very long time.  We 60-somethings may not look like much, but my life and the lives of my friends are rich and full of meaning.

         And we have something those lifeguards don’t have. 

         We have time. 

         Does it seem odd that I say we have time right after saying that it has been 50 years since high school?  Well, of course, I don’t mean that we have endless years stretching ahead, but while those years last, we do have time.

         If we had kids, they are grown.  Most of us have seen our parents through their final years.  If we are fortunate, our 30- or 40- or 50-hour-a-week work is done.  We can now take up paid or volunteer work that feeds our souls. 

         We have time to do the things that we love.  To write or to garden or to paint. We have time to travel.  To read.  To take classes.

         For me, the two most precious things for which I have time are relationships and the causes that were given short shrift during mid-life.  I can hang out with friends or daughters or grandkids.  I have time to do things with my husband. And I am delighted to be able to devote time to the social justice activities that are dear to my heart.  

         When I retired, a friend said to me, “We have had our cake.  These years are the icing.”  So, I don’t envy those lifeguards their youth.  I had mine.  And I don’t mind that I am all but invisible to them.  I am too busy enjoying the icing, and I intend to continue to do so for as long as I am able.
          


Friday, July 14, 2017

FEET DON'T FAIL ME NOW!

         You know those memories that stick in your head for no apparent reason?  Today’s example is the clear echo in my mind of the words on Bruce (now Caitlin) Jenner’s T-shirt during the 1976 Olympic decathalon:  “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now!”

         Why would I remember such a thing, when I can’t remember what I did two days ago?  Perhaps it is the boot I have been hobbling around in for almost five weeks that has jarred loose this memory.

        

         Yes, dear reader, I have injured my Achilles Tendon, and after months of stretching, icing, resting, and PT-ing, I am now in a boot that is supposed to immobilize the tendon so that it may heal. 

         May it be so.

         It is not, however, the boot, the tendon, or even Jenner, that I wish to talk about here.  (Although I do want to mention that it was rude of the podiatrist to opine that I have a “disorganized tendon.”)

         What I want to address here is the seemingly mundane subject of feet themselves. 

         Why feet?  No, I haven’t run out of more interesting topics.  I just think (at this moment when one of mine is not working as it should) that it’s time to give feet their due.  

         Feet, of course, keep us upright and mobile.  They allow us rise from sitting, to stand, to balance, to walk, to run, to dance, to hike, to climb stairs and mountains.  They are, in short, indispensable to ease of living, as I am now only too well aware. 

         Still it is not their everyday heroics that I want to write about here.  I instead wish to describe two ways in which our feet can keep us from losing our way – metaphorically that is, not while hiking. 

         1.      Our feet remind us that we are embodied.

         We human beings often forget that we are embodied, that we are in fact creatures -- animals.  It is so easy for us to live in, and rely upon, our heads alone and to believe that we are different from other embodied beings. 

         Nothing brings me out of this delusion faster than taking a good look at my feet.  Try it yourself the next time you are in the shower. Is there anything more creaturely than a foot?
          
          You can paint the nails.  You can admire a slim ankle.  But, come on. Take a really good look.  Stare at them for a while. 

         Yep.  You are an animal.
        
         Periodically spending some time with this knowledge is a good way to deflate the ego and remember that we are part of, and dependent upon, an intricate web of other beings.  Whereas, living in the head alone can lead to anxiety and a feeling of separation from the rest of creation.

         When we come back into our bodies and really abide there, instead of treating them as nothing more than conveyances for our brains, we experience life differently.  I don’t know about you, but when I am fully in my body, I am more open to intuition.  I experience, and am able to better regulate, my emotions.  My ego quiets.

         And moving my body calms and centers me.  A solitary walk or swim or bike ride can settle an unquiet mind.  A half an hour of yoga can bring body and mind into balance. 
        

         2.      Our feet remind us to stay grounded.

         Our feet literally connect us to the ground as we move through our days.  And they can remind us to stay emotionally and spiritually grounded. 

         Every morning I stand in front of my bedroom window and do the yoga tree pose.     

(No that isn’t me – it someone younger and more coordinated, but it’s a good illustration.)

         Outside my window, is a giant Douglas Fir.  I stand in front of its trunk and feel my foot connecting with the floor, while picturing the tree’s roots connecting to the earth.  After switching feet, I take a moment to remember to ground myself in the earth and in what is important to me.  

         On a good day, this helps me to keep from losing my way in the thicket of information, noise, and obligations that obscures my path. It just might work for you too.

         So, please don’t wait for your feet to fail you.  Take a good look at them, and let them remind you to live in your body as well as your brain. And if they are working well, appreciate them and notice how they ground you as you move forward through your days.






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN


    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
    And sorry I could not travel both
    And be one traveler, long I stood
    And looked down one as far as I could
    To where it bent in the undergrowth;

    Then took the other, as just as fair,
    And having perhaps the better claim,
    Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
   
    * * * * *
    Oh, I kept the first for another day!
    Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
    I doubted if I should ever come back.

* * * * *
                                    - Robert Frost


            A while back, I was talking with an old friend on the phone when she mentioned that one of the characters on a popular TV show looked like me.  I was flattered, but puzzled.  Why was she seeing me in an actress over 30 years my junior?

         And then it dawned on me – my friend, who lives 3000 miles from me, still pictures me as I was not just 30 years, but, if truth be told, 40 years ago.  Sure, we have seen each other every couple of years since I moved away from New Jersey, the place where our friendship began, but her enduring image of me is apparently carried forth from the few years in our late teens and early twenties when we developed our friendship and shared our lives. 

         I miss her.   

         I am well aware of all that I gained by moving to the Pacific Northwest over 40 years ago.  The benefits have been varied and many.   I live in an area of unmatched natural beauty.  I met my husband here, as well as the former husband who is the father of my fabulous daughters, and this was a great place to raise those daughters. I have developed deep and life-affirming friendships.  In truth, I believe that, for a number of reasons that I need not go into here, I had to move away to grow into my authentic self. 

         And yet.

         And yet, as I grow older I begin to understand that my decision to move so far away from where I started was not without cost.  Certainly when I moved west at age 25, I was not, in Frost’s words, “sorry I could not travel both.”  I was ready to move far away.  It is also true that, although I did not leave with the idea of staying forever—it was only going to be for a few years while I went to school, I have never gone back, except to visit. 

         Yesterday, while listening to Carole King’s song, So Far Away, I thought to myself, "Isn't that the truth.  No one stays in one place anymore." Then it occurred to me that I had no cause to complain, given that it was I, not my friends or family, who had moved so far away.  My temporary move west had somehow turned into a lifetime as I put down roots, made friends, and learned to love this place.

         And so, 40 years on, I pause to contemplate what I left behind.  There is family, of course—my brothers live in New Jersey and Florida.  And then there are the handful of east-coast friends who remain dear to me, despite my seeing them only infrequently.  For a long time, the distance did not feel terribly daunting.  There were visits and, in the early days, letters and infrequent phone calls, and then, with the advent of cell phones, more frequent phone calls, and, most recently, Skype and Facetime talks.  As the years pass, though, I feel the distance more keenly.  I realized during my last two trips east, where years of updates were packed into days, what a loss it has been not to have had these friends and family members close by as I have made way through adulthood.  And it also crossed my mind that the day will come when long plane trips will become more difficult or even impossible.    

         So this has been the cost of the move that has otherwise been good for me in every way -- my geographical distance from family and friends.  My older brother is the only living person who has known me since I was born, and he and my younger brother are the only living people who shared my family of origin with me.  No one else has those memories—both good and bad.  

         And then there is the loss of proximity to my oldest friends.  The one who has known me since we were seven.  The one I have known since junior high.  The ones I met in my late teens and early 20s.  Some of my current friends have known me for a very long time.  These are the friends with whom I shared my entry into adulthood, the childrearing years, the working years, and with whom I will share whatever it is that lies ahead.  If I had not moved west, these friends would not grace my life.  I love them, and cannot imagine my life without these friendships.

         Still, we do not replace friends, we just add to them.  As the years have passed I have come to value those who knew me when I was a girl and a very young adult.  We shared the years when everything lay ahead of us, the years of riding bikes around the neighborhood and talking about boys, the years when everything looked shiny and new.  We shared the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Beatles.  The Kennedy assassinations and the moon landing.  And for the continued sharing of that history with friends so far away, I am forever grateful.  

         So, thank you to the friend who was able to see the long-ago me in a young actress.  And thank you to all of the friends, both old and new, who have seen, and continue to see, me through. 

         I am truly blessed. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

JOY IN DARK TIMES


         My parents were married during a world war, a war where bombs were dropped on their city.  With WWII now a matter for the history books, it is easy to forget that in 1943, my parents did not know how the war would end.  They married anyway.  I trust that they felt joy on their wedding day.     

         I am thinking about this now because on November 8, a quarter of my fellow citizens elected a president who, for me, represents the opposite of all that this country stands for, signaling for me a dark, uncertain, and frightening time, and on November 23, my daughter, Anne, married her sweetheart in my living room.  Her father (my former husband) and I performed the ceremony.  Her sister and a cousin and their husbands, as well as my current husband, were in attendance.  It was a joyous occasion.

         In the aftermath of these two events, I have struggled to hold my joy and fear at the same time.  I have wondered if it is fair for me to feel such joy when others are so afraid.  And I have concluded that it is not only fair, it is necessary. 

         Here I pause to make a distinction between seeking escape from what is real and embracing moments of joy.  Me binge-watching House is escape.  Me playing with granddaughters is joy.  The distinction may seem obscure, so I will attempt to illuminate the distinction by borrowing these words from the poet, William Stafford:

         Your life you live by the light you find
         and follow it on as well as you can,
         carrying through darkness wherever you go
         your one little fire that will start again.

         Moments of joy—my daughter’s wedding, watching a granddaughter twirl around in her new tutu—remind me of what is important, remind me of what is worth fighting for, of what is at stake.  They energize me.  In Stafford’s words, they restart my fire.      

         My attempts at escape, on the other hand, are engaging in the moment, but ultimately leave me feeling heavy and lethargic. They do nothing to help me to feel empowered.  I do not pretend that I will cease to look for escape, but I am trying to keep from giving it a central place in my life.    

           My parents did what they could during WWII.  My father built ships for the war effort; my mother joined the Women’s Forestry Service.  And it feels important for me to do what I can now, to pay attention to what is happening in Washington D.C. (or, for the moment, New York).  It feels important to figure out how to make my voice heard when rights are threatened, and to be present for those who are rightly afraid for their personal safety now that certain portions of our population feel free to express their hatred through ugly words or violence.    

         So, I will continue to give money to organizations that safeguard civil and human rights.  I will keep my Senators and Congresswoman on speed dial.  I will be alert for opportunities to reassure those who feel threatened. 

         I will try not to let fear still my voice. 

         And I will remember that WWII ended, that my parents went on to raise three children, one born during the war.  We do not know for certain what the next four years will bring, but we can vow to resist those who would endanger our future, and we can use our moments of joy to feed the flame of our resistance.

         May it be so.