Saturday’s Musings: One Year to the Next

12/22/22

The wind is showing off it’s strange power again, slinging ice and tiny snowflakes, singing the trees, shaking and pressing whatever it can. The windows creak, perhaps even bend. I am listening, thinking of different snowstorms in my life…the glittering white stoles hugging earth and houses, so bright upon my shoulders as my wood and metal sled carves grooves behind me. Explorer and dreamer…hearty and tender: children learn much by crossing paths with winds-but winter wind! That brittle cold smarting faces, eyes streaming from the sting of it, and happiness shimmying through the blood. I am a wintered child who fell in love with all the seasons. But even now as I listen to the tossing of maples and oaks and impossibly tall pines, and the night lengthens in a landscape glazed with treachery of ice—even tonight, winter’s spirit lingers within me like a dear old friend sipping cocoa and telling stories, her eyes glistening, her hair a crown of icicles.

I imagine if I saw my reflection in a still river, an iced river, there’d be snow flowers around my face, my eyes a wintered blue, my lips red as holly berries, my cheeks creased with age and happiness.

12/25/22

The sleet and snow slip away, leaving tuneful riverlets of water. And all the care, time, hopes and decor so merry soon merge, but then become an unexpected experience. One daughter cancels flights due to the spector of illness; my son fulfills lengthy last minute obligations. Another daughter is split between too-tender memories seeded in loss, a tradition shared with the lost one…and us parents who wait with a holding-close and many gifts. My sister arrives, then waits with her shaggy dog on her broad lap. She cannot easily– for long– suss out the meaning of Russian teacakes and fancy chocolates, of jubilant carols and a dressy tree winking in waning day’s gloom. Does she wait for the ghost of her partner or for one more explanation of why we are here? Both, both. I lean into her, tossle her white waves. We sing “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” Every word is remembered in her soft alto.

But there comes the youngest daughter hauling bags of goodies and family through the colder dusk. We plunge into laughter, eat too many Christmas tacos, and the little twins’ exclamations and giggles rustle the air like spangles of light tossed high. They are electric energy given flesh and soul. Love can be a net of sweet burning stars like this. Love, too, the rippling echoes between our words. And Love is Christ born with nothing but Light, helpless and bawling in a manger next to the cows and sheep, with hardship and power awaiting him. Such creatures and Divinity meeting up…I have not fogotten.

But my family looks small around the oak table this year. Longing stirs a depth with few limits… for a moment. How can I seek more when abundance is so great? I take hands closest to me and squeeze lightly. And return squeezes pulse through the circle. I am inexplicably gifted with this. Too many are not.

And then there are none inhabiting the day but the two of us, husband, such an old friend, and me.

The house draws into itself; a multitude of candles flicker yellow and bright, cast dancing halos onto the table, walls. They soften the over-full mind and rich air. A heater that masquerades as woodstove emits more warmth as I watch through windows. Gathering night is opaque until a distant glimmer spreads, coloring a distance beyond the mountains. The bird seed on our balcony overlooking more pines has been pecked and eaten.Where do the hummingbirds go as arctic wind sweeps the tree branches? They will return in the morning, hungry, knowing they’ll be fed.

Nothing nurtures more wholeness than simply living a life– in a constancy of faith, in expectancy of more affection given and received, in small amazements, a wonder that circulates in breath and blood. I am a being known and cared for; I was given a name that someone calls out even if I am not listening well. I have to do nothing important, only stay true to what resonates within me, practice kindess and courage. Keep on.

12/31/22

And so it is the eve of an impending new year. I imagine it’s causing a hullabaloo in far-flung locations even now. Here? A cooling mocha in hand, anticipation of leftover linguini piccata, the oddness and satisfaction of words welcomed and released, a design across blankness. A practice of intention made more meaningful.

Yes, of course, the calendar flips soon. Yet the art of leaving anything or anyone is not so hard, anymore. I remember years of intense farewells, savoring each goodbye to the previous year–relationships and projects, places and accomplishments, false starts, worn out or satiated desires, and wounds too stubborn–but it’s like gazing backward down a too-long hallway. There I went, offering roses and asking forgiveness as if it mattered so much. Was I so impressed with my life that I had to mourn and memorialize a year’s transition? As if it was a mighty ship disappearing while passing an incoming vessel that brought—well, what? One never knew. That was the tricky thing, no matter my resolve to do this or that. That part is not different than happened before: life, the great surprise as it reveals itself. Before then, we can only imagine.

I find it easier as I get older to let go of the year that is fleeing. All the sore spots and balms of pleasure; the people well or poorly loved; the dramas and inconsequential hours, and goals that ended in a heap. Why cover events again? It takes too much and means so little, in the end.

I’d rather consider traversing interior and exterior landscapes. Variations of light and shadow play tag in my mind. The moss and ferns and rocks and waters. And moving among birds: Coopers hawks sskin-tingling calls, waiting for the eagle pair to hunt. The hummers that have hovered long and steady right before my eyes, one of which greets me daily. The secret lives of so many bugs. The slinky worms and shy butterflies. You know–this prowess of nature right beyond the door.

Three new friends were discovered this year!– just as we each needed. As I had longed for during the loneliest bits. Now, coffee and croissants; river walks; book and music and a spattering of health talk. Sharing as if we knew each other longer, better. The plain wisdom of trust. We jump in because it feels worth it.

The, too, helping create countless pictures with glue, glitter and sparkly pipe cleaners and markers: the genius of two 3 and 1/2 year olds’ ingenuity, what a joy. The relief of their lack of self-judgment or of others. They are at one with their feelings, and I marvel at it. My legs have been tugged and ringed with hugs as I cannot now get down on my knees–until one is fixed.

There have been stunning heartbreaks that have changed my very thoughts and actions; I pray them back to God. The wild and curated beauty have pulled me into sudden revelations, warmed my soul until all was bright once more. Human healing never quite ends whether body or spirit. And how fortunate that is so–we are made to utilize restorative processes, some unconscious.

But wait, I am beginning to fall prey to taking stock when I would rather move on. So this is a simple goodbye to this year as it slips into another, per the calendar. And it’s anybody’s guess what it will bring.

This year’s map for me is a schemata in pencil: there are notable events in January, particularly, but I can erase and alter to an extent. Right now it points to The Knee Surgery to fix a three-times-torn meniscus plus surprising if moderate arthritic wear and tear. And the work toward recovery, then hearty pain-free walking and hiking, once again–at last. I keep telling myself that so much cannot hinge on a right knee repair, yet it does. I am a restless person. Moving at will is central to many delights and fulfillment. I have not given up the hope of more ice skating, even a lazy circle around a rink. Of climbing a gnarly path a good seven to ten miles, wherever I choose to go. An enthusiatic wiggle and pivot and shuffle with snappy fingers to rhythmic music. Surrendering to this circumstance has been a struggle over the last twelve months. It is surprising how one’s deeper personal power can be accessed with less ranting and thrashing about.

The wind spirit is almost quiet tonight, as if letting the rest of nature recover. The chilling winter rains have swollen our rivers so that a few slip over impotent banks. Sodden earth has unhinged many trees, branches strewn artlessly. I am so tied to rains here that, even when it falls, I listen to it on an “app”–which states that rainstorms recorded at Stonehenge. Well, whatever it is, such downpours soothe me as I sink and rise in dreams.

This is not the winter of my greater dreams, nor of my childhood. It is the winter of this moment. I do reside within it like a welcome visitor. I smooth a worn, woolen gold-woven throw over my lap and sip the sweet and slightly bitter mocha. Let the world celebrate tonight if it can. I no longer feel an urge to dance madly in the streets; that already happened a few times– it may happen again. But tonight I will be listening to Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5”. It is gorgeous, enigmatic, goes right to the heart. Then a few pages of a new murder mystery set in Tuscany. Another inconsequential episode of daily life, a good night–no matter which year it is. After all, much of what we see is what we are looking for, isn’t it? I am searching for more goodness and illumination.

I send to all my good wishes for a more peaceful New Year. May your worries be far less than your wonderment.

Cynthia

Tuesday’s Thoughts: The Farewells We Make

I have been on a few lovely meanders recently. I had hoped to share decent beach photos and experiences. I still intend on doing that. Just not now. I have had many good intentions the last few years, then had to change my plans. Alter my expectations. It’s the way it is: none of us is protected from a halt-and-change-route kind of life, and we have to do it many times, at that.

Within the next 12 hours my sister Allanya’s partner, Skyler, will be leaving this realm for the next. It was not unimaginable that it might be sooner than later–she has been unwell for years– but not this soon. And I was hoping not this way. Oregon has the legal option of a physician-assisted death. And this is Skyler’s decision.

Of course, I have been mired in quandry– as have most who are part of the extended family. And some numbness. I can’t begin to sort out all my thoughts and emotions regarding this determination after her being in hospice care a short time. I have been trying to make it somehow align with my view of living and dying in my confused brain for a couple of weeks; it was to have happened in July. Then the date was changed. Suddenly last week on the way home from our beach trip I was informed I had to soon say goodbye to her. Yet another family member.

There has been no time to “prepare” myself. How does one do that in this circumstance, really? How do we ever prepare for death of those that have taken up time and space in our days and nights, our hearts? There are many sorts of death, and have been mourning a few of them– in this country and abroad. And now at home. What do I do with the plunge into the depths of it?

I breathe fully as I awaken another day, and meditate, pray and walk, listen to music, write, reach out. Everyday things can reshape so much. Another human being can soften the blows some.

She–Skyler– will be the eighth person to die in a few years. Many of you know we lost a granddaughter only last spring. My family is shrinking each year, to the point where I almost wonder when another must leave us…It happens usually in the spring. Beauty arrives; death follows. It is a river of grief and I float in it more than I think I can manage, but it is a most human thing. We all must do it; we learn how to do it.

I don’t make any judgment of her choice, even if I understand almost nothing of it and I don’t like it. I can note that Skyler is in her eighties, has been ill and in pain for many years with many ups and downs. I believe she has thought of this long and hard and believes this is best. But it still doesn’t seem simple. It doesn’t add up right now in some meaningful way I can grasp or feel fine about. Perhaps one day, perhaps never. But it is just not my life or death. I have cared about the woman my sister has loved. I will miss her and cherish the good memories shared. But right now I am confounded as well as feeling the sadness creep in as I anticipate a very hard day tomorrow. And the others after.

I am much more focused on my sister, her impending gigantic loss and compounded sorrows. It’s a grief she has tried to fend off… even if she has also worked on accepting such a possibility for years. I will spend alot of time with her for a long while to come, driving across the city whenever she wants me there. I imagine packing lunches and sitting outdoors in the sunshine with her. Telling her stories and hearing hers. Walking her dog through lush grass. Crying, crying, and holding her. (Waiting for her laugh, triggering it. She has the best gutsy laughter. But that will come again later and not for a long time.)

The thing is, I soon gain medical power of attorney for the rest of Allanya’s life because she has dementia. I am five years younger than Allanya and yet I am now helping manage her life more and more. She was a powerhouse and I still feel that in her, her strength and intelligence. She is lucid and present and cheerful–until just lately–if also increasingly lacking decent short term memory. I will be needed in ways I cannot even anticipate, though she is living in a good assisted living residence.

I cannot know how she is truly experiencing this. We are as close as sisters can be, the very best friends. But still her mind and feelings are not mine; her life has changed in essential ways and will be more altered so soon. I cannot understand this wholly. We will weep and weep more. But I seek ways to build better bridges to her heart and mind so I may continue to walk with her during the coming years.

What this all means to me and our family goes far beyond this clumsy language. But I wanted to share this much; I know I am not the only person in these situations. We are called to be expansively loving and courageous and also strong when family members–or, yes, others–need us more and more. And so I will do my best to answer that call again.

If I don’t post here for awhile you now know why. I will write and post as I can. I have truly missed being here regularly, as well as reading more of your great blogs this spring.

I sure hope you seek and find the illuminating, small wonders, and grab and share every good moment with those you love, and just keep on keeping on. It is a such mammoth mess of a world…we need to survive heartaches the best we can and discover more ways to love life even more. To do good work and cherish what matters most.

At least, that is what I aim to keep doing, moment by moment. Tears are not the worst part. Not honoring life with compassionate presence and curious attentiveness may be the worst, I think.

Til next time…sending good will out to you.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Hair=Signifying Crown of What?

My almost-twenty year old granddaughter sports a mane of ebony black hair though she was born with blond fluff that became a thick honey blonde. (See above, middle: she’s nine, at play) I bit my tongue when she first dyed it–glowing pink. Then blue tips on blond then beachy blond and stawberry blond and finally to blue-black and blacker. It has remained the latter for perhaps four years. I don’t ask about it; I tell her she is lovely– as she is, body and soul. But sometimes I long to see her real hair color again–whatever that is. Will it tend toward her mother’s, her grandmothers’ (I’m at right from last year in a shot for my friend, who gave me that delightful shamrock plant) and great-grandmothers’ (her paternal grandmother, my mom, above left, is about 28) hair color–all wearing a spectrum of auburn to chestnut to walnut brown full-bodied hair? Maybe that will come to be. But it’s her head of hair, not mine, and she’s growing into an adult whose crowning glory means something particular– to her. The style will evolve as she does; who knows where her journey will take her?

I get it, though. One reason I never criticize her dyeing sprees–or in the past, my four daughters’ and a son’s– is that I sure wasn’t immune to hair dye. I once tried a rich black-brown in junior high (now called middle school) and somehow it transformed into a muddy green horror. It even cast its ugliness onto my skin. I didn’t return to school until a stylist corrected the mess. I tearfully begged for my natural color’s retoration. She came close, yet it all was a disappointment. My first spontaneous experiment–and pushing against our cultural norms– met with hideous results.

Back in my earliest teen years I’d suffered with bristly rollers overnight or weird foam ones that left me in ringlets until I brushed hard, patted and plumped. I thus achieved a “bubble bob” cut at earlobes or jawline, or a puffy longer bob if it had somehow grown out some. That style required lacquering in place with many spurts of hairspray. It was the cool thing to do, so middle class WASP; we all looked alike–and dressed in matching skirt and sweater outfits with complementary Capezio flats. I got tired of enduring it all by 15 and found it singularly uninspiring. I was a diehard romantic, a poet and musician, not a sheep. And I loved being outdoors. I suited myself and let things go natural, bangs growing out so they formed a short curtain over my eyes. I was forever being nagged to push them off my brows or chop them off or I’d end up going blind, according to Mom. I left them as they were, the better to glower surreptitiously, and to observe…and hide a bit. But I liked that it was all so moveable, that wind could mess it up and I didn’t care.

Next came a daring change: the Twiggy haircut. Twiggy, a British model from the ’60s, was rail thin with huge eyes darkly outlined and fake-lashed. Her hair was pared down to bare minimum and it was fantastic. Actress Mia farrow had that haircut, too, and I wanted it. loved the bold statement. My classmates by then were wearing straighter, longer or medium length but still coiffed. (The guys slowly became shaggier a la Beatles.) I quite liked the severity of that cut. I saw it as gamine wearability–but it shocked my classmates and many adults who thought it “boyish” and “extreme” at the worst. I believe some guys I dated liked it fine. But I’d slipped into noncomfromity while in the midst of turmoil. It was an act of rebellion, as well as a way to demonstrate my growing interest in creative decision making.

I underwent DIY alterations. I toyed with blond streaks in my twenties, hoping for glamour that in fact was too transient and washed out my lightly sallow skin. Then I tinted it deeper auburn until it grew out. Until late thirties it grew to become shoulder length and beyond. The point was that it hung free, even tangly and true to hippie style. Once, at 33, I was struck by the lack of captivating curls so gave myself a perm. It sprang to life like a mad thing I couldn’t control, yet when I boarded an airplane to go meet my husband on a business trip, I felt like a new woman. He met me and stared at the corona around my face and said nothing. I felt so let down. Perhaps it wasn’t my best look, though once again it was liberating to do it. I recall pulling it back for months to keep it out of my eyes and mouth. Afterall, I had five kids by then, and off and on we lived in countryside. I wasn’t keeping up with fashion despite enjoying, from a distance, its creative aspects.(I often shopped at second hand stores for those fast-growing kiddos–and sometimes myself.) I’d half-forgotten what it was like to put on a pair of high heels and a dress. My weekly uniform was a clean shirt or sweater, jeans and Frye boots in winter; in warmer weather it was shorts, tank top/Tshirt and sandals. Like many mothers who stayed at home.

All that changed at 36 when I got a worthwhile, full time job that I loved and had to wear dresses or at least pants suits. It was 1985. My life was turning a corner and if it was positive it felt risky. I kept my hair chin length and easy but started to color it a bit red. I wanted to be someone else, I suspect, than who I’d become when drinking too much and failing to meet a myriad duties. And being sequestered in each new place my husband’s career set us all down. I was worn thin and thinner by endless housework, stress of life demands and our contentious marriage; and I was glued to my lovely but exasperating kids for many years. I tried to keep writing– children’s stories, poetry, short stories seeming like lifeboats in the midst of unpredictable seas. But it was often impossible and I flailed about. It may not resonate with some, but living unhappily in suburban Detroit did not work for me, anymore. Developing a career was a way out of the corner and it was a good transition. But it was not enough.

Before I embarked on a major change or two, my hair color had slipped into a fiery red as it got shorter. If that wasn’t a foretelling….and, unfortunately, not all for the best. Don’t get me wrong, I like (natural or otherwise) red hair on people just fine. But not for me. It was too flashy; it was an abrasive red. I was restless and mad, at times drinking again to muffle the miseries. I was getting ready to do something drastic even though I loved working and adored my children. Where all of that led me was to a couple bad choices.

I was divorced a second time at 42. But with a move to Oregon and upon making greater changes I began to find my way back to a more authentic self. And to my natural hair. I stopped dying it, rarely cut it much. It breathed, while it was apt to snag twigs, provide a resting place for flower petals and leaves; it shone in piney air and the sunlight of my new (sober, once and for all) and soon curiously improved life. I was on my way to peace.

I always had decent volume of hair if fine in texture. People complimented me; it half-embarrassed me, surprised me as I had increasingly “let it go” as my mother would have chided. It had grown wavier like my parents’ and siblings’ hair. It was a family trait for silvery streaks to adorn temples by age thirty, yet mine remained a stubborn single color for another three decades. I got regularly teased about it by family, as if something in my DNA had gone rogue. One niece had fully white hair before forty; it was ethereal, gorgeous with her alabaster skin. My sister in Portland sported deep waves of glimmering white like our mother. My jazz musician brother near by us had a head covered in silvery hues. I felt, frankly, left out. I wanted–no, needed–to identify with the tribe that my older four siblings and I embodied, especially after our parents died. But I checked in the mirror: same auburn-brown hair that grew by mid-forties to the middle of my back, curving about shoulders and face. It was curious.

I thought by fifty it would happen; it did not until my mid-to-late sixties, shiny strands here and there. But at least I had more healthy hair than ever before. It leased me that on hikes gusting wind lifted and swirled it around so that I felt like a creature at liberty to roam at will. Which I was, I realized. Only once more–after a heart disease diagnosis at 51 after my mother’s death and not working 3 years– I cut it once more. Very short. I felt it had to be gone for awhile. That I had to start over. And I can’t tell you how many people expressed disappointment I had done so. I had no idea my hair had secret admirers. I found it disconcerting, wanting to cover my near-naked head with hats. But it grew, of course, for a decade, then two.

Now I am 71. It is gradually going whiter at last, drier, coarser and wavier, too. But I’m also losing hair. Over the last three years, it’s drifted out and down quite a bit, and I can get alarmed when I note a small nest of it on the shower floor. I saw a dermatologist who said it was inherited hair loss via maternal genes and welcome to the club: 40% of older women have thinning hair. Sometimes even younger ones. And the past two years or so? Stressful doesn’t even cover it, so I doubt I’m the only one shedding more.

When I got home after my appointment I stopped to ponder how my mother aged. I had only known her since she was 40 when I was born; her hair was worn shorter and a gleaming grey. And we all loved her beautiful crown of hair above laughing blue-grey eyes. Few lines on her face even at 90. (My father had so-called good hair, once black gone white; his eyes were bigger, bluer.) She infrequently complained it had become more scarce but it was no tragedy. She got her hairdo “done” every week until the end–that was what women of her generation did if they could possibly manage it. A few times I rolled her soft hair in the bristly rollers, dried it under a hair dryer cap. The look was curlier than she liked but attractive. Nonetheless, she preferred her small beauty shop, and her stylist was one of her best friends. It was a happy social ritual, too. It’s safe to say it was a point of pride to keep her pretty hair in good shape. It was clear my father thought she was wonderful to look at no matter what. Yet pictures of her when younger astonish me–her spirited, intelligent face framed by cascading dark auburn hair. Her personality likely was close to the same.

What does hair mean to us women–and, likely, men? How much does it impact our sense of identity? How much speaks to our specific cultures and chosen subcultures, our socioeconomic groups? I suspect it affects how we feel about ourselves more than we care to admit. Which seems absurd as i write it. It likely moves others to pigeon-hole us, make decisions about who we are despite true identity being very much deeper. I experienced this to a dregee in the 1960s and ’70s. Activist men and women became more androgenous in atttitude and behavior, more experimental with fashion and risk-taking with political activism. After all, the personal was and can yet remain political. How are we set apart or pressured to blend in? How do we keep oursleves unique in a world where there is boring replication and uncannily fast? Our variety is an aspect that makes humans so fascinating–unlike the vast numbers of strikingly similar other creatures we live with on earth!

Let us be who we are– it seems such a reasonable thing to expect…and yet it seems even more a hot topic despite the loosening of strictures regarding appearance. Perhaps the more our world becomes multicultural, the more dividing lines may blur. Some will welcome that; others will not. But when it comes to hair–it is our own, it’s attached to our bodies so we own the right to do with it what we will. It ought to be an enjoyable freedom. We need to play it and adornments, if we chose–it can indicate more of who we are. But I know that for many this choice is not a given. I can only speak for myself, my own lifestyle milieu. I left behind judgments of how I look long ago (my thinness being another focal point of others over decades).

Our interest in hair–not to say obsession–daily supports a huge industry. Not only hair salons but endless products that one can amass, each more nature-made or fancy or miraculous than the last. I have a few but mostly forget to use them, so end up pawning them off on daughters. I haven’t tried aything to stop hair loss. I’m not close to balding and I guess if that happens I may cut it short once more. As an older woman, I choose to not shear it off yet like so many do. I want to feel it sway at my neck, let breezes muss it up. But my more loosely woven grey-to-brown hair doesn’t define me now, if it ever truly did. It’s like a practical accessory; it protects, warms and can be decorative.

I’m settled in with myself, this body. I’m my everyday self–no need to dress up or look fabulous–and so life is lived in such a way that renders what is on top of my head the least of priorities. Still, maybe one day I will blend in a soft lake hue of blue. My daughters have thought I should do that for years. It’s a tiny bit tempting–a last hurrah from a woman who knows her own mind, with hair that seems to have its own life. The aforementioned granddaughter, just back from Hawaii and glowing, would likely give me a “thumbs up”, as well. Meanwhile, there are many more intriguing matters to capture my interest, regardless how this mop of hair looks as I go through the day and night.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Body and Mind (Olympic Athletes…and Me)

(Photo by Thomas Laukat on Pexels.com)

Last night as I watched videos of athletic competitions, precursors to the Olympics, I pondered my general well being as I marvelled at the athletes. I know professionals have to juggle many needs as they rigorously train as well as cope with injuries and pain. They have to take good care of their mental health, as well, as we have heard increasingly–not a shocking admission, and it’s good they’re speaking up about it. They motivate me as I admire their power, their beauty, and wonder how they do manage to do it year after year. They’re gifted, yes, but profoundly disciplined. They don’t give up or not for long– or not that we can see. I’m pulled into their performances and submit to the spell. And studying the astounding forces of concentration. How can they do it all under constant pressure and enact a semblance of everyday life? I conclude they are extra human mentally, as well.

Or did they have unusual talent (as do more people have than we estimate)–but worked the very hardest? I ruminated about my various past endeavors, some perhaps semi-athletic. Despite my desire to be a really good athlete, I never got there for lots of reasons. But I dreamed some.

And as I considered all this and stared at the TV, I readjusted the hot/cold pack placed under and around my right knee and moaned a bit over twinges resulting from changing position. Back to earth…

If you’ve ever enjoyed being active, then had an injury–from spontaneous play or engaging in sports or daily exercising, perhaps running down a sidewalk– you understand why pain, healing and maintaining good self care habits does matter. Though I’ve never been a truly fine athlete (though I studied figure skating for 10 years and loved it–I did well enough), my state of health is important, too. It includes the daily maintenance of body as well as intellect and emotions. Balance internally/externally is a goal I work on– ah, that well-oiled working state of being, comprised of hidden and visible parts. It sustains and satisfies. And it isn’t simple to achieve.

There is the dilemma of pain. It can slow anyone down. We most ordinary earthlings also have to live with it, keep on although our reputations or careers don’t depend on it. It is present for a reason so we pay attention to the alarm– at some point. (I’ve a little knowledge of it after a lifetime of medical issues.) And if a person doesn’t use prescription pain medication–I do not as I’m in recovery plus dislike the entire effect–it can wear on the mental state as well as the body. Acetaminophen does little to ease the sharp ache of injury. I can’t use an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen as it’s discouraged for heart and GI patients. I use simple meditation and prayer, distraction and heat/cold.

This morning I had an x-ray of my knee, then a consult with the orthopedics doctor. This, because I re-injured the area after Christmas. It didn’t seem a big deal while on a snowy hike with a daughter and her partner, though my right knee and leg began to fuss at me as we returned. It was worse after a slip I had on my own–not a real fall–I have good reflexes–but limbs were at odds with the ground. This sort of stumble occurs occasionally; the problem recedes soon after. However, over the next days it didn’t get better with rest, was painful after I’d walked a half hour or pivoted or descended a steep hill. Or got up too fast from a chair. The discomfort has slowed me for a month. I’m grateful for the strength and energy I have; I am better off than many my age. But after two weeks it began to gnaw at me. It has made me feeluncertain of my physical capabilities. And where is the healing?

I have little patience for this. If I am physically restrained by illness or pain for a longer period that expected, I feel all constrained inside, too. It feels jail-like. I am not a sitter, unlike some who are serene as a cat in sunshine, remaining inert for hours. I don’t understand that way of being; it works for them, but not for me. I get antsy sitting for twenty minutes. (Writing for hours is the exception. I schedule 2-3 loads of laundry so I must get up. Time dissolves; I tend to “leave” my body as happens when deeply absorbed.)

The good doctor–congenial, set me at ease–manipulated knee and leg to discover how/where the pain got worse. He did an expert job of eliciting strong reactions from me. Then he pronounced the x-ray “good news!”–no bones are harmed and there is no arthritic degeneration of interest. No major tissue damage that showed. The diagnosis at this point is a lateral and/or medial meniscus tear. An MRI would show other or deeper views–but he decided to wait until later for that.

Menisci are two cushions of cartilage-like substance that cushion the knee joint, between tibia and femur. And this is a fairly common injury, generally not traumatic over age 40, as then they get softer so aren’t damaged as easily or much. Younger people, then, can have significant problems with a harder mesicus; more trauma occurs. I had this diagnosis about 5 years ago so suspected it. The treatment is 6 weeks of physical therapy followed by a revisit of the knee’s status. If it remains painful surgery may be indicated but this is not usual. It’s just that this kneee and leg have weakened over time; incidences of discomfort and pain occur more, and last longer.

Needless to say, I made a PT appointment immediately–despite a Covid shadow looming in medical offices…I have every intention of denying the doctor’s surgical instruments access to my knee.

Meantime, I can walk despite the ache of it–as long as it isn’t excessive. I amused to walking fast up and down steep hills as well as uneven woodsy paths. Or have until lately. Now I’m re-learning to be careful with small, discrete movements. I try to think in terms of a dance warm up done in earnest by an amateur–“do it, but easy does it” to borrow a phrase. It may seem counterintuitive that movement helps healing increase, but it keeps blood flowing and joints better lubricated. (I’ve generallybeen of the mind that if it hurts, move more but with caution.) The activity helps the frayed part–pain occurs as bones create friction– get “sanded down”, as he put it. Thus, torn bits can self-repair, pain diminishes and the knee is back to business. One hopes.

Best case scenario: healed up and going at it again in another month or more. Give me a challenge and I will rise to it. I love being physical; the terrific hormones produced, the pleasures of sensory input and the miracles of movement. The fun of it, really. What is given me (us, of course) is a gentle elation arising from a sense of unity and freedom, whether dancing, stretching thoroughly, walking and hiking, ice skating, playing various outdoor games, swimming, and so on. I don’t do nearly enough–held back by money, partly, for equipment or courses, occasionally health. But what I want is a kayak; to take rowing lessons; to cross country ski again; enroll in various dance classes (had ballet and explored modern dance as a youth); ride horses on the beach; hike more on Mt. Hood. If I can be outdoors, greeted by nature (or the curiosities of cities), I am happiest with the activity. Even if it’s a hard one. But indoors will do. Turn up the music, let it all go!

Covid-19 has restricted group actitivies and that includes useage of our recreation center. The reality is, I’d need to do much more alone if not in a group, as my husband is not a willing participant in much activity–he is one of the happy sitters if he has his choice. But I can get him to jooin me on a reasonable hike on week-ends, as he likes nature’s ways. Thankfully, there is my daily walking, too–free and accessible. We are blessed with abundant pathways in my area, and enjoy countless Pacific Northwest trail systems.

This body was born to move–we all utilize the human body’s genius. Even with limitations we explore and make good memories via interactions of our internal systems, our senses and minds. We have such capacity for adaptability. I am grateful to have been born strong and fearless enough to keep getting out there. Age isn’t so much an issue for me–at least not yet. But my mind can stop me is I face a hurdle.

Or this knee might…Can I hope to ice skate this year? I wince imagining a skate blade going other than the direction intended.

Much of any healing derives from learning to accept limitations without letting them rule. There are reasons it is better to pause. That impatience–that I have to get going–has to be calmed so I can concentrate on expending energy on restoration. It takes peserverance and honed skills to keep on when the way is not clear or easy. I talk to myself: do not give in, do not slip into the haze of malaise, do not think of youself as older or less than but, soon, better and stronger. Otherwise, health issues do their dirty work emotionally and can make me feel almost useless, a has-been, a woman who has lost all her edge. It firghtenes me to think I might become a person without stamina enough to live in the world well. With endurance and verve. May it never be so– if I can help it.

I have some experience holding on and keeping at it. But I admit there have been days the past month when covers yanked to my eyes felt better than chill air outside my cozy cave. There was the prospect of wrenching the stiff, achey knee when getting up. then taking one step at a time down our steep stairs, facing another shaky body day. But it is what it is whether I am grumpy or cheerful so I get to it. I must simply do it as this saves me from self pity-partying, keeps me forward-looking. I am reminded there is plenty to enjoy indoors while healing, as noted bfore. I enjoy reading, writing, drawing, talking to friends and family, listening to music I’ve neglected or am just now discovering, going outdoors to pick up the mail, looking at the mountains beyond the trees. And a short walk, with careful deliberation, chin up.

And soon watching Olympics events.

Whenever I think of how tough it is to live in a human body I think, for one, of my son, Joshua. (There two other children who’ve overcome unusual health difficulties, but keep remain mostly silent due to their need for privacy. Joshua has been written about by others often, so is an open book.) He’s a pro skater, has been for about 25 years, but not before a life-threatening motorcycle accident. After that he achieved far more than anyone ever imagined possible. It was made clear he might not survive, as internal organs were damaged, his jaw and teeth crushed, his head injury significant even with a helmet….The visits to critical and intensive care for almost three months are a series of mental images that remain vivid. That he was unlikely to walk out even close to well, much less get back on a skateboard was a medical given.

But Josh believes in Divine Love and how it enables self healing. The surgeons and doctors watched in astonishment as he grew strong when they predicted near-invalid status. Within a couple of weeks walked out and started anew–and there were future reconstructive surgeries to jaw and mouth (amazingly, quite successful). He defied all expectations: he’s appeared in hundreds of skate magazines, videos/films and continues to inspire people in diverse ways. Yes, it changed his life–mine, too. But he believes it changed him for the better. Was I afraid he’d injure hmself again? At first, of course. But before long I saw this made him happy. His living expanded spiritually and emotionally; entrepenuerial at heart, he began to develop various businesses. I have stopped fearing; he is an amazing athlete. A loving son, a good man. He does what he must do. (And skateboarding is an Olympic sport now. Josh finds that pretty strange but good; he grew up “radically” street skating.)

Whatever is this poor little bum knee to whine over? I’m embarrassed by my annoyance. But he texts me: Love and healing to you, mama, you’ll be alright, keep going.

This week I so look forward to the Winter Olympics–a fascinating experience to share with millions of others. I may have wanted to become an athlete along with other goals I harbored, sure. It wasn’t the top choice, clearly. But I understand to a minute degree the rush and freedom that comes after intense work and reaching a pinnacle. It’s a natural response to enjoy spectating as the great ones share passion realized as perfectly as possible. (Don’t we love a success story?) What a good time for me to do so. I observe young adults pushing bodies and minds to far edges. Such artistry; those skills. They do what they do best.

My own resolve to live well is increased by heroic human examples to admire. How I think about challenges makes a transformative difference. It makes me want to just go hiking, likely not climb an entire mountain peak–all the while praising the body I was given and yet enjoy.

***************************************************

Below, one of Josh’s earliest magazine articles (sorry I cannot identify it but it was posted by his wife)–shared with love and gratitude. If you care to read more about what happened and how he changed his life outcomes, please find link below for a post I wrote in 2014.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Growing up Lost, Finding the Way

(Photo by Joshua Abner on Pexels.com)

When I began my job at the residential youth facitlity, a co-worker immediately coined a nickname. “Hey, Miss Junior League”, she’d say, and I’d have to look twice to see if she was annoyed with me or just being rude. It often was both; we were opposites and we were doing the new acquaintance dance. There was an energy of boldness around her and I knew she likely took charge of anything at all. The tremendous volume of her wavy golden brown hair was enough to give pause. I either laughed or ignored her until she approached me with basic respect since we were equals on staff, more or less. When she sought to entertain people with off-kilter humor in the charting room or office, I obliged her with another snort of a laugh, then came back at her. I knew how to trade jabs that weren’t lethal and saw this was an easy game of sarcasm. I hadn’t expected it to be part of work behavior. But I was new to the workplace though I was not backing down; I needed that job and was there to stay. I understood the odd “Miss Junior League” moniker. I came by it honestly. Well, by upbringing if not by lifestyle. I knew how I seemed, especially in a new environment–we do what is natural without thinking. And then we adapt better and hopefully fast.

She’s been there perhaps a year. And she also “had been there, done that”, as she said, and also got how to handle teenagers that were high risk and full of high drama. I kept quiet and observed her and other counselors the first weeks. The Recreation Coordinator/alternative school’s teacher assistant job was new for me. I’d worked with high risk populations– geriatric and disabled clients. I was a manager in a subruban Detroit, MI. senior center, in addition to other positions. But I was intent on starting over in Oregon–this was the first interesting job available. When questioned as to why I’d want to work with gang-affiliated, drug-addicted, traumatized, often homeless teens, I could only answer, “Because I want to be of service to others–I have a solid history of doing that and I learn fast. I can find and provide good resources. And I can keep calm when things go haywire, usually.” The manager might have sensed I held back much that might impact his decision one way or another. But he took a chance–maybe better a warm body than nobody at all, I imagined. I couldn’t say: I’m desperate to pay my bills and change my life–I have to start somewhere. The work didn’t pay well but intrigued me.

The mistake my co-worker made at first was one we all make: stereotyping based on my clothes (I dressed in nice outfits, pretty flats, not jeans and tshirts…), perhaps my demeanor. She accurately deducted I was raised by white, middle-to-upper middle class, educated parents who provided privledges most of our young charges in treatment had never known. The truth, though, was that I had left that external security with its sense of assumed–if superficial–worth long, long ago. (The nice nice clothes were from old jobs; an articulate way of speaking was taught to me early on, then practiced for moving through the world; my reserve arose from introspection and distrust. My armor and shields.) My new co-workers just didn’t know it, and they likely never would. But they did know I was in recovery from substance dependence, and since I met that job requirement I was included, more or less. If they’d known I had married (for a long year) but was plotting to leave (if I kept the job) a man who was clean and sober, too, but still not kind nor finished with criminalality, they’d have been stunned. I dtill had much to learn about men and being a woman.

But even the kids accepted me based on my addiction and sobriety, alone–in time. Some thought it was a ruse. They had no idea who I was, found me a rule keeper and quiet but with a tad rough edges that began to show up now and then. I could hold a line, was not intimidated by fist fights as well as explosive emotional disturbances. I figured out ways to engage them in learning (like poetry writing); show them new ways to enjoy life’s offerings. In time the greater circles gave me access. I learned how to use my counseling skills with teenagers who believed anything positive or different was another demand they had to resist on principle. Or because it was stupid and irrelevant. They had no reason to believe what I offered was worthwhile. I had to prove it. I was determined to take them to the opera and ballet, museums and nature parks–not just play an explosive game of volleyball outside the facility.

I was naive, perhaps, but I had few qualms so just did it, calling sports event arenas and arts organizations and persuading them to give us free tickets, And no copping out by the kids was allowed. To everyone’s surprise the clients were curious, gradually more open, interested, sometimes well impressed and said so. (Opera became a big hit as was pro basketball.) Most all learned to appreciate experiences outside of former comfort zones, and to reconsider a few suppositions about the world and others in it. They found that something weirdly foreign could be exciting, even pleasurable–while staying sober and clean. They discovered they liked learning, after all–at least at times, under certain conditions. I was relieved to see that. But never let them see it could make me cry a little.

Some counselors shared personal life stories to try to bridge wide gaps between them and clients. I didn’t have that urge. First, I was an intensely private person (back then) and perceived as reserved. Calm in demanding situations, I came to be called upon for crisis intervention. But I also just believed that work was work, my personal life was my own, “and never the twain shall meet.” Let the youth interpret my words and silences. I tried to share some of myself obliquely, responding in ways that said more than language, I thought.

If I had been willing to share my own adolescent troubles with them, they might not have believed any of it. Or perhaps they saw through me in a short time. I caught some looking at me as if they “got it”– that looking and speaking in certain ways didn’t ever mean there wasn’t major hardships. (Though in time I dressed way down, let speech lapse into easier rhythms and it was better to be less conspicuous.) Kids are remarkable in their ability to percieve what we think hidden. They sense things, and those who survive what my clients had also know when you are lying or telling it straight, if you are phony or for real. It’s survival to get the lay of the land right and fast. We managed together moment by moment, even if they sneered at me behind my back or acted out with violence in word and deed as they pushed back at my growing authority. But there were plenty of clients who slowly connected with me–and others–as well.

I stayed in that position for about five years, long after other staff left. It was not the job for anyone who had stars in their eyes or were arrogant about personal power to salvage human lives. It was tough work to just keep the kids going, staying alive, open to change of any sort; it took long days and nights. I loved those lost and sometimes found youths; I liked the work far better than I’d expected. I think my attitude and behaviors spoke enough; I just wasn’t an open book or a bleeding wound with the kids–or adults. I felt that either was unseemly, uncalled for and even unethical. And not so helpful. Sure, I felt my heart open to those kids but lost any naivete fast–it was demanding work shaped by a droning background of impulsivity, resistance, loud eruptions of rage. I was humbled. I became committed to a persistent compassion put to work.

But if they had known any of my truth….For what they had within those simple spaces full of enriching treatment was exactly what I did not have when I needed it.

By age fifteen I was placed in a psychiatric facility in a big city for self harm behaviors. And signs and symptoms of drug use. There were no drug and alcohol treament centers or dual diagnosis programs in the 1960s and 70s. There were psychiatric units for everyone, no matter what the issue was. (Mine, I learned not then, but some years later: PTSD– and, of course, obvious substance dependence.) After that I was to have been placed into a halfway house for youth in Detroit so I could attend a fine performing arts high school and continue therapy. I was thrilled and anxious about such a change. If my parents agreed. They did not. So back home I went, then later was placed in temporary foster care a few months, then got kicked out (smoking pot, not vacuuming or washing dishes enough) of that upright home which I couldn’t bear–put with strangers against my will again. By the time I was almost 17 and still in high school, I was set up in an apartment by a well-meaning or perhaps incompetent psychologist I saw once every two weeks–with a young woman, aged twenty-one, who was deemed responsible and willing to look after me. (I discovered later she was a child of my parents’ friends.) I liked her but we happily seldom saw each other. That lasted until parties I threw included illicit drugs–and police came to our door, took me to the station for interrogation for nine hours. I never made that phone call you are supposed to make. I was terrified and was dropped back off by a narcotics detective at my parents. They stood in the doorway and stared at me, eyes filled with sorrow and heated by anger, their bodies looking as defeated as they felt. Well, so was I. So they let me in again.

They could think of little to nothing else to do with me. I can imagine they did all they could in their way and in those times. They did not avail themselves of family counseling; that was not popular where I grew up. In fact, it was all an embarrassment. I was the source of their embarassment. Deeply held secrets damage people but that was not their view. It was put the best face forward and arry on with denial. But they knew very little of my reality, and seemingly didn’t want to know. They were public people; thy were respected and loved by many. They had talents they shared generously in the community as well as t me and money. I by then understood what becoming mute meant, the essential necessity to all including the threatening perpetrator, even though he had left years before. His threats of family harm, even death, were believed from age 7. (He finally ended up in prison with multiple child sex abuse convictions.) But I loved my parents; they were good people who knew little of things beyond their scope. And beneath that current of frustration and despair, they did so love me. But I didn’t believe it then.

I barely made it through high school-not that my grades weren’t good, somehow I managed–but I profoundly resented having to be there. Except for English class and all arts opportunities. I wanted to pursue my passions in the arts, learn about nature and engage in many outdoor adventures. I was bored to tears. And angry, wounded by the earlier abuse, plus a foiled rape at 14 as I walked one afternboon along city railroad tracks, and fought for what felt like my scarred and yet still valuable life. Someone had to and I beat off the strong teen, who had followed me for blocks, with every ounce of fierceness I had. That took its toll despite my basic enthusiasm for life’s wonders and the goodness still to be found. One begins to think: is there truly any left?

I inhabited a state of clasutrophobic loneliness despite having many friends (and smart, well brought up boyfriends, a requirement of my parents before I brought them by–what irony that was to me). If only I could get out of that restrictive house, away from my provincial hometown. I wrote everything I could, huddling over notebooks or typewriter into the night; read books beyond my depth that were enthralling and wise or confusing; played and created music. Prayed alot, daily, for help. Weeping and praying, singing away at the baby grand as I dreamed of being a composer. Hoping for rescue. What a strange life. The outdoors and and trusted friends helped, not therapy though I did gain a few insights. I held onto nibs of hope for one more day, one more night– with the aid of substances, the lovely escape they provided a time. (I didn’t, surprisingly, drink those years; that came later.) After all, I had a ready pipeline to prescriptions from our family doctor.That’s how they helped people then. It was the time of the tranquilizing, addictive valium; big barbituates for sleep; and dexamyl to wake up. I knew how to get other drugs I wanted. (I also knew I’d figure out how to survive on the street if really neccessary. But I felt I would never do that–until years later, I had to awhile.)

I knew about many coping skills. Study, drugs of various sorts, creative projects in dance, music, art and theater, being outdoors; good friends and falling in love and prayer as I always believed in God, sometimes without seeming reason. (I entirely shied away from sex.) Then, after the foster care and apartment experiments failed, my parents gave me a one way plane ticket to Seattle at 18. My sister and a friend lived in a rusic cabin on Lake Washington. She was happy to have me stay a year and see how it went. I didn’t know her well; she is five years older. But I could hardly believe my good fortune. A geographical salvation, a way to find independence!

Freedom! As soon as I arrived, I believed I’d left the torments of my past and found paradise. Or had I? That year was wonderful with the Northwest’s vast natural marvels and some good times with my sister…then it became a repeat of the past I’d run from: violations, regrets, loss. Falling “in love” with a much older drug dealer who took me places and did things unknown before, and who also gave me lots of drugs. And then a fun but reckless motorcycle guy. Realizing my big sister, a teacher who also smoked pot heavily, was not in such great shape, either. But the dense forests and shimmering, undulating waters of the lake outside our door saved me by virtue of constancy and beauty. I would sit and stare and try to think things through–how to get better, to grow up into a whole human being and at last liberated from negative experiences? How, how, how. But I did learn the value of working at a busy local A and W drive-in, making cash while having a good time. Seattle was a fantastic city to explore. I grabbed a bus ride for the first time, roaming the streets with friends. I also vowed to move back to the Pacific Northwest one day to hike more mountains, make it my home.

It was not the very worst of years but it was a bold departure in a way. But I was too clueless in a much wider world of “regular” life with its temptations and perplexities. I revelled in options at first. Except they didn’t differ enough to improve my life…at all. Freedom suddenly unlocked is akin to releasing a devilish genie out, at long last. It all finally defeated me when a young man, charming and friendly saw and followed me on the road fall the way home. Then he later broke into the cabin when I slept alone. Afterwards, I felt it a miracle I ended up only a little harmed. But it was the final straw.

I returned to my parents determined to begin college. That went well–I was good at learning from books– except…I had over the years become addicted to barbituates and speed, knew pleasures and perils of smoking peyote and opium, had farily often dropped mescaline and LSD. I could not stay clean that year. I could not control the damages of addiction. In time I ended up in a huge, gothic, ugly, prison-like institution for four and a half months. I turned 20 there, and deeply wished I might die.

There were others of us there who were able to think much straighter after goping trhough withdrawals and staying clean of drugs (except for thwta they pumped into us). There were also pot smokers placed by angry, distraught parents. Alongside us were severely mentally ill people who’d been there for years, decades–whose empty presence brought me to tears as I tried to talk with them. Some of the most nighmarish experiences I’ve ever had happened there. The stay consisted of a kind of slave labor provided by lucid patients, surprise harsh treatments and various humilations every day. (I still cannot share those specifics, as well as other things from the trying strangeness of my past.) But treatment for PTSD? Compassionate aid? Those months compounded pain and fear, were felt as punishments every moment. I learned to leave my body, and my imagination flew me to scenarios that could make my life sweeter someday. I could close my eyes any time to see the Northwest mountains, and breathe again. And I learned to ally myself with others who could still walk, talk, speak and make sense–when we were rarely allowed to gather and speak. I held on.

I maintain that no person should have to endure such a place. It was closed a few years after I left. I wept in gratitude for all who avoided its terrible power, a hell of badly treated souls, the imprisoned who had lost all bearings, their eyes empty, their mouths slack, silenced forever.

Yet it was there, in a small corner of a dark room, that I prayed with fervor for God–wherever God was–to help me survive it all and leave one day intact somehow. To be miraculously released. I was afraid I would never walk out, nor stay quite alive any more time there. So I made a bargain: someday when I was able to do so, I would help others, anyone God guided me to help with courage and compassion–if God would only get me out of there. And I felt a little peace stir, lifting my spirits just enough. I wasn’t certain, but I thought for the first time it was possible to survive, to escape.

It happened within two weeks. I didn’t know my parents were working with a lawyer. I was put on a chair, upon a raised platform and questioned at length by a half dozen “experts” for what seemed many hours but must have been a mushc shorter time. I kept my wits about me; I spoke out clearly and thoughtfully. Whatever it took I was going to persuade those who’d offered me nothing of help, nothing of simple respect or kindness. And it was decided I was fit to leave. I got sprung, and the world seemed bright, fresh–and intense and changed. It was I who had changed, had lost more, but I would recover. It was enough to be able to walk in the world at liberty, to not live in constant fear and loathing. To be among bees and flowers, to warm under the glow of sunlight. I had been placed there in mid- April. It was early August and the summer sang out. I stopped taking any medication and felt finally awake, aware and coherent, my mind clicking along again. I behaved reasonably and felt more at ease than I had in aeons though it took awhile to get in sync with society and other people.

I went on and lived a life that became more and more ordinary, with no drugs in my system, though trials still came as they do (and had to conquer late onset drinking later, by a simple surrender to God’s direction again). I had returned to college, worked some, had surprising children and after more time welcomed stepchildren. I had married, divorced, married and so on. Relationships are not a fluid thing, not so comfortable at first for abuse survivors, yet they are possible. I kept trying. I would say well, I liked being married so I did it alot… (I’ve now been married for decades to the same guy.)

But I was restless as my children grew up; I missed the old dreams of a more creative life, apart from mothering. I felt useless in the old, deeper way– so I relapsed after many years sober. A wise therapist told me in no uncertain terms to stop whining and get a job, preferably helping others–to get out of my hothouse of a brain. It made no sense at first–what could I do?– but was fired the same day I applied to work at a large, bustling senior services center in Adult day Care. In months I was promoted to the Home Care department manager for elderly and disabled folks. I provided services to 350 clients at the center and in the community; I enjoyed training and hiring about 150 home care workers. My liquid nutrition program for the very ill homebound garnered a Presidential Point of Light Award, It was a surprise that such work fit me and I, it –that I enjoyed it so much. I kept at it until I left Michigan once more, after another divorce, and planned to return to the Pacific Northwest. I had gained health and confidence, but I was still not able to enjoy a well-rounded, solid marriage.

I had almost forgotten about the bargain I’d made at the end of my teen years. It was going to come back to me soon.

It wasn’t until I was truly sober for more time that things changed completely, and for the long haul. I moved with two teenaged children to Oregon at 42 and applied for a position working with youth at a mental health and addictions treatment facility. At first I thought it absurd to even try, but I could find no job comparable to the one I had left in Michigan. I had minimal qualifications for Recreation Coordinator/Teaching Assistant. Still, it struck me: this may be it, this might be what I promised God to do with my life decades ago…. Though I emotionally resisted it even after I started work, that job got me going in a career that was stimulating, challenging, creative, satisfying. I’d found my calling in service to others alright, to those lost in ways I intimately understood.

But did I really want to do it? I hadn’t once longed to work in counseling services and certainly not with the addicted, homeless, criminal and traumatized. I had had quite enough of all that, I told myself, and the messiness of human struggling, the breathtaking heartbreaks. But, of course, too, the heroics of those who had to choose between grueling emotional work and giving up. I took a leao oif faith.

It has always been a rich if arduous process. I have been allowed to be a witness to many hundreds of tender and tough lives. It was the right thing to engage in a profound give and take between human beings searching for spiritual wholness, emotional health. And God, I have no doubt, was there watching over me and all others, just as is true now. I didn’t ever save one person. But I have to say: I have felt God’s mercy, God’s light moving through me as the young people there and elsewhere (and later, scores of adults) learned how to save themselves bit by bit. If they did not make it, then their valiant attempts still counted for something good in my estimation. Those hearts and souls–what an immense risk taken. What a dangerous thing to dare to have hope. And yet people do it every day, taking a chance on life. On themselves.

If I could have shared anything with those youthful clients of mine, what would it be? I’d have said I undertand some of who you are but even if you do not believe my story, the main thing is to just fight for your freedom–from abuse and from fear, rage and pain, from long shadows of sorrow. The fight is really a smart surrender; it goes far easier if you let love in to walk with you, if you put fists and bitter words down. Anything can be endured in this life if you learn that love is everything, the only thing. You then are never entirely alone; it reveals a path out of the ruinous maze. It will guide you in all work and play and connections.

And some of those kids tool the new ideas into them enough that their whole way of being started to alter. Did it last beyond treatment? I’ve lost many who tried but could not stay alive or avoid old ways. I’ve run into clients who remember and who have gone forward. In most cases, I will never know. But that was not for me to worry over. I could only do what I could do. I have been given the gift of journeying with each, in any case.

Was I actually caring for my own youthful self when I took that job? Perhaps, in part, that is what pople do when they suffer through something–they might help heal others of similar wounds. But at the center of my committment was fulfilling a promise made all those years before in a corner of a terrible place and time. Freedom informed by compassion requires patience and accountability; it is a responsibility. I was still learning how to live well. And it continues. We can never stop trying, will never stop growing when we take chances to break open our minds, hearts and spirits and discover greater possibilites.

This is part of the story of an abused and addicted life. I claim it but there are countless others out there who have lived or still endure these sorts of travails. But it is not the end of my story. Much good came to me incrementally and also in generous amounts. I write about those times and the present peace I enjoy, too.

I bet you wonder about my old co-worker readied for barbed exchanges–the one who nicknamed me “Miss Junior League”. She’s still around, feisty and outspoken and funny. That mane of hair still waves about her like a brazen flag in the breeze as she walks and talks with me. She became and remains one of my closest friends. Thirty years of us learning and living through stuff. Though I retired at 64, she’s ten years younger and continues to work even with health issues and other demands–in a women’s prison treatment program. I continue to admire her insights and courage, her golden soul shared with the unloved, weary and lost. She has become alot softer. I have become much happier. We still butt heads at times, and share hugs and tumbling laughter. As she would say, we’re not amateurs, we’ve got this, all and all–and it’s always worth it no matter what seems to be coming at you.