Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Notes on A New Solitude

Trillium Lake and Mt. Hood

It is Wednesday, my daily journal tells me. Time seems malleable; it morphs from the moment I arise with a peculiar elasticity so that it might be morning or afternoon, sooner or later. And then flattens into a distant horizon I note but move past. The birds wake early, speak out, sing as they take their fill at the feeder, their wings a blur in the light between the trees branches, the cherry blossoms. The everyday dark-eyed juncos, black-cappped chickadees, wrens and robins look more beautiful each time they flit into my view. Deft, inquisitive, efficient, their bodies soft and strong.

*

Sunshine fades into a thin veil, then bursts into a soft fire as clouds scud about then stall out. The hours feel dense, thick as if sultry as the breeze cools. They hang upon the me as if in anticipation of something not always defined. The unknown is a thousand wisps of shadow. I wait. And wait. I move about, attempt to complete tasks well enough.

This time we live with now is about health and economics, also about life being lived in bits and pieces, starts and stops, then swirls into more familiar currents–as if little has changed. I live inside those groups of statistics that accumulate, fluctuate hourly. It can seem like watching from the edge not from inside. It happens like this when one is stunned.

Numbers do not stay apart from one another like we must, but bunch and crunch and spill into virtual atmosphere awhile a virus is carried across the streets, the tables in the plaza, the windows that blink, the swings that stand empty. So time takes on its own weight though I walk in and out and through it. My body takes in this day like it takes in the forest when noting the low huffing of bears: I find my way with squashed fear, heightened senses, with the caution of survival even as I still admire the sky, the trillium, small things that skitter and gobble and mate and seek cover as I pass.

*

It was a gift our parents gave us: freedom. I didn’t know it then, but reveled in it alone or with neighborhood friends.

I sailed about, melded to my rattling blue Schwinn bike, on the sidewalk, around corners of each block, up and down an empty overgrown lot’s narrow path. Into parking lots where I’d practice tricks: balancing torso across the seat, grasping handlebars with taut arms and small hands; crouching on the seat while steering with a wobble; one knee on the seat and one leg sticking out behind me a bit. I was fearless. I knew I could do these things. When I could not, it was only a bleeding knee that would scab over.

Oh, the circus. I wanted to be in one–didn’t every child of my era? I used to envision the weird mathematics of flight called trapeze artistry, and at night would dream of a guy and myself high above the circus ring, our moves enabling us to fly through the air as if we belonged there. As if we had special powers.

But really it was learning how to exert energy, allow physics to work–and let each spare, coiled, tensile person to grasp those other hands or bar. A practiced synchronicity of factors set into motion and completed. As a child, I thought: magic, that’s what it was, and that seemed sensible.

I tasted a kind of sweet power on the bike and in those dreams. But it was easy, harmless, accessible. No thought of failure. A child knows the exhilaration of boundlessness. Until she does not. But it is potent before then. We try to replicate such ease and unfettered living ever after.

I think of all this today, of how movement and precision, spontaneity and vigorous energy impacted times of victory that have been a part of my life. Expectancy of more and better. That thrust toward greater heights. And how small and ground level it has all become, wavering expectancy in the face of growing catastrophe.

But at 69, there is still a burning fire in my soul, with that mysterious nerve center that carries me into and out of each waking day and sleep-seeking night. That keeps me alert to possibility and wonder. One does not need a bonfire to keep needed warmth and energy engaged. It takes a spark well tended to illumine what is needed, what gets and can keep one going,

I must be sure to tend it, feed it with appropriate and worthy fuel. The storm that brews and rages beyond the door, these woods–it could blow it out, leave only smoke.

*

It is not that I am alone.

My husband works at his desk nearby. He takes loosening-up steps about the place, pads around in tawny leather and sheep’s wool slippers. I keep on my red wool felt slippers, the hind end of a black cat outstretched on left slipper and its front half running across right one. Held side by side they make a good whole feline. I look at my slippers more–I am sitting down more than usual and there they are, the cat that’s one or the other part made entire–and on the move only when I am. We schlep around from chore to chore, though I do put on my usual clothing, not too often giving in to lazy stretchy yoga pants which I said I’d never wear for general use–they can make me feel old. Halfway through the day I might leave a dusting of blush, add a slick of sheer lipstick; old habits die hard. It makes no sense. I see no one but the man who took me for better or worse. And vice versa. And it has worked out well enough.

But other than the split cat and peeks of Marc, I am alone. Not counting the daily check-ins with friends and family–those have increased but are from the other side of somewhere else. We know what matters when there is a lack of things to busy and distract us. We see how time leaks away faster some days and then never gets around to wrapping things up nicely. And we don’t want to lose it, these moments that keep us better, fuller.

I mean, though: I am alone with my innermost self. That isn’t such news. But now it is tinged with a deep, conscious solitariness I have not felt in decades. It is the confinement. It is the drastic curtailing of activities, the fast shut down of the country and far beyond. I look out the windows and see no one there, mostly. My neighbor with the shimmering white hair and sunflower yellow pants and bulky white sweater, her chihuahua barking like crazy at the end of its taut leash. A car with an unknown someone who unloads grocery bags at a nearby door, quick quick and gone. It is silent awhile. What about the guy who sells insanely expensive fishing equipment–is he at home dreaming of finally only fishing– some day? He does not meet our eyes. And those delivery trucks come and go, roaring up and down the hills, drivers slack- faced as the package exchanges hands, then they race to the next stop, on overtime but under pressure, at risk themselves.

Meanwhile, the natural world blooms and shivers in a ritual carnival of color and fragrance as we seek the interior life literally and otherwise. I see the bees and they see me, circling, zigzagging onward to their targets of love. I used to be afraid of bees, after a few stings as a barefoot kid. They began to seem more like heroes and heroines–those blooms, that honey. It is apt right now, the terribly frightening stings and yet still gifts of bounty, often side by side.

I stand on our balcony, pull in gulps of piney air. Watch red maple leaf buds swell, a potted geranium release a flower. I am eager to plant lettuce seeds in the rich soil of pots, to order other useful seeds. I want to purchase and care for more flowers but still have patience for the ,long wait. This is who I still am, only a woman who sniffs each new bloom with eyes closed and heart swelling, who is entranced with the elegant work and guessed-at nattering of birds. Hears a cello playing an old hymn or an Elgar concerto, both rich and soothing so that within my chest a vibration hums along and takes me to a kind of ecstasy. Who finds the soles of my feet making quick purchase of earth as my mind bobs about in search of poems, a kite tethered.

And I await the lone owl who hoots in the dark when we are all tucked in. Wait with patience, as if it is a good sign.

But it isn’t too rough, or not yet– this aloneness that holds a big place in life. I have lived essentially alone with webs and mazes of interconnected thoughts, the spiritual and emotional wayfaring for a long, long while. Have had good practice dealing with pressures of sudden crises and a lingering of repeated loss and pain. We mostly all take the brunt and puzzle it out, find ways to endure. These times are not the same as before, no, at closer look more arduous. Clearly uncertain. Yet a solitude of spirit and mind becomes more significant only if I choose.

I am never actually alone within the numinous presence of God. And I am not without kinship all over the world, if I know your names or not. Still, solitude, the living with one’s self deeply has benefits. I know myself well. I can live with who this woman is. And there is room for more in my head and heart.

And so I will these bones and sinew to stay strong as it can as I climb the hills each day. But, everything is a gamble…I say that even though I have never played Rummy much less Black Jack for as much as a penny. Chance does what chance may do.

*

Where is this God?— some are demanding. Why are we nearly abandoned once more?

Are we abandoned? Why is this not the long and dangerous trajectory of intersecting factors?

Regarding God, I have no rational answers to those sorts of questions.

I have never been able to explain what was embedded in my core from the start. At age three or four I sat at my mother’s feet while she sewed by the big window. A pleasant, unremarkable domestic tableau. But she told my sisters and father I talked aloud with Jesus and God…she found it disconcerting, my mother a lifelong believer. A mother who had more than a few foretelling dreams and could size up a person inside two minutes more often than not. Maybe she was worried I would be like her.

Maybe I am. But I don’t really remember the talks she recalled. I straddled two (perhaps more) worlds so easily then, as children are keen to do. I recall dust-filled streams of sunlight cast over her feet and my knees and hands as i p layed with scarps of fabric. And singing to myself, the whir of her machine and the snipping of threads. I recall sheer happiness. Likely God was in the mix a lot. It never surprises me that this is so.

*

I find it startling that people don’t believe God lives and moves within and among us. Here. There. There. In me, you. Outdoors, inside. In darkness and in brightness and flux of in-betweens.

We come into the world quiet or bawling, vulnerable and alone; we will leave it by and with our own selves. In the moments beyond anxiety’s fiddling with us, this surely is not a bad thing. It is the sheen of separateness that is temporary, our singularity proscribed so we might make more of less, make greater from smaller, make complete from fragments. Recognize in our own existence a map of an infinite universe at rest and at work. We are given a momentary chance to practice human creativity, find unity in an onslaught of divisiveness. Or so I have lived long with this idea; it makes more sense to me than most.

Not understanding cosmic mechanisms at work yesterday, today and tomorrow does not diminish, much less negate, the mostly unfathomable realities of the Cosmos. What we do not know, we just do not yet know.

We are separate wherever we may be, but reside in the whole together, every creature and other living thing on a very small planet. The trees know about this; they depend on one another as their roots entwine and reach beneath the teeming surface and also receive one another’s every signal above ground, transmitting helpful chemical information in return. In their great varieties and with steady growth they shelter and nourish, give clean air and life-preserving shade. They watch and know much, survive and revive decade after decade. This is not just a fancy; it is now researched facts.

Science sometimes seems to lag behind what we intuitively know. Why do children run up to trees and hug them? Climb them no matter falls, and set up house in the crooks of branches? It is only natural. They love them, and so do we bigger people. I move among them in all seasons, see, listen, learn, gather joy. My hand upon their rough or smooth bark, my fingers skimming leaves and lichen and mosses. I embrace them gently, thankful. It is a welcome shared entirely without deceit or rancor.

Would that we lived more like trees.

I would rattle my spring leaves and arms right now, let the wind sing me, then settle in with the others who come by.

*

I learn from other people. On the way back from our walk, we saw this on a sign in a neighbor’s window:

“We choose brave love, fierce joy, and active hope for ourselves, others and the planet.”

Worth believing as best we can, even as we wave from behind panes of glass, even as we pass one another with a brief nod, gazes anxiously glancing off one another–and a real half-smile feeling more precious than a handful of precious gold. I feel rather brazen to offer a soft “Good afternoon.”

This new solitude brings solace and succor as well as the ache of separation for us social beings. But I am here, and you are there, and we are not so alone. It is, I think, an illusion, a self-centered error to assume we are that unique and on this trail of our very own. It has been trod for eons by those like us and unlike us.

*

Words, only words, I think. But words are a comfort to me. Words are one way of doing things when other tools do not or cannot. Words can transform and free and uplift. They are part of my life blood, in any case.

Words keep me in place as I, along with the rest, navigate this twilight time and try to survive an invisible power of a virus.

When we think it, speak it, pray it, we are clearer, stronger:

Hope. Courage.

Perseverance. Compassion.

*

*

As a Christian I believe in much that guides me well–and may we all seek strength and wisdom from what we each do believe:

“Be not afraid, for lo, I am with you always….”

Wednesday’s Word on Thursday/Nonfiction: Our Lives Put on Pause

Today during my daily walk through vivid green trees and other burgeoning plant life, under overarching sky that beamed with radiant blueness, my eyes brimmed suddenly. Such beauty and joy juxtaposed with a flash of longing and sadness. I was thinking of the almost one year old twins; I wasn’t able to write yesterday as I was with those glorious grandchildren. And it just hit me as I power walked: it was a good thing I was there enjoying their effervescence, their happy curiosity, the small new accomplishments, as now I will likely not see them– or our local daughters and son and their families– for some time. Of course, I suspected this might happen sooner than later-didn’t we all, in the back of our minds? The coronavirus has now been confirmed in 24 people in Oregon; half are in the county where A., my daughter and mother of those babies, works in city offices. Not even a couple of weeks ago it was “just” 11.

Portland is starting to shut things down and mandate restrictions on large group events, as is more and more of our country. The NBA? The NHL? Sports have likely never looked like this. More primary and secondary schools are closing for a period or going online. Our neighbor, Washington State and the city of Seattle, is hardest hit now and they are taking emergency measures. Many universities are going online (one daughter’s place of work, University of South Carolina, is for a time) and scores of other employees are starting to work from home if at all possible. As so many say that this all feels unreal but there it is, a conglomeration of facts adding up to more challenges than we have seen in a very long while and more to come.

What will our lives look like shortly? How do we cope with the risks and hurdles and not become fatalistic? It is a tall order these days.

A. and I chatted about things at length yesterday when she got home from work: should we now cease meeting up? She worries that she might become a carrier eventually, and even if never that ill, she then could pass it to me. She truly fears for my health and her father’s, of course. It is hardest on older adults, after all, even kills them it appears…not babies or kids or younger adults. She has been talking about this since the first cases here– while I’ve become increasingly hesitant as i decide where to shop or visit. And I conclude today, best to stay out of stores, finally shop online if needed. This is not my way of doing things. But caution and prudence and wash those hands, I have mainly thought and reminded my family: common sense practices help contain any viral spread. We are everywhere and always now inundated with this advice. Hopefully more and more adhere to it. How else to effectively fight against something so miniscule but powerful?

We are up against invisibility, when you think of it. And what a thought that is.

My husband, meanwhile, was travelling from the East Coast to Mexico to home and back the last three months. He finally asked Human Resources and his boss about curtailing work trips. And they have now, despite concerns economically, as with all businesses lately. I have even encouraged him to take off a couple weeks and relax, rest up–he certainly has that time coming and yet he has forever been and is a dedicated nonstop worker.

Meanwhile, I think of my older and only brother who has been on a photography trip to Cuba with a small group. He is used to all sorts of things happening internationally. But the fact that he has a cold now concerns me. Havana is now barring planes from the US to land. He is due back soon.

I can’t think of a time this kind of scenario has happened in my lifetime. No one my age and younger can, I imagine. Sure there have been influenza outbreaks with complications of terrible pneumonia for too many over the years–and bird flu, swine flu, anyone?–and we had SARS to worry about. I long have had to work with clients who had MRSA infections on (bandaged or not) skin and sitting not a foot away from me,and those with serious health issues of all sorts due to addiction, homelessness and poor if any health care. But this particular virus replicates so fast that avoidance and containment has to be much more immediate everywhere.

Well, I am over 65 and have heart disease. I don’t normally feel like a person at high risk; I am healthy, overall, and the cardiologists last looked in my arteries a year ago stated there was no current issue seen–as partners we’ve managed coronary artery disease very well. But I am on that watchful list, anyway, and it is sobering.

I have been terribly ill from a number of causes several times. I have been near death and did not expect to “come back” four times and lived to recall the tales. And I don’t have an insurmountable fear of dying, nor even of becoming very ill. Of course I can worry at 3 a.m., imagine what it would be like to get coronavirus, then play it out in my head…then I do fall asleep. What else to do but go on? Every one of us has worries about health, at times; this one is big. But I believe that whatever is ahead will do what it will and come and I will be able to meet that physical challenge– or I will not. It is that simple. I can do as much as I can to prepare to stay well, but the spectrum of possibility in human life creates and destroys as it does. And if I must leave this world, it will happen, I presume. Yet–I do not feel fatalistic. Only realistic.

No, what bothers me right now is that with more restrictions placed on our movements–for the good of all, yes–I may well not get to see my friends or family for…who knows how long? For their sakes or for mine and Marc’s, we have to determine choices clearly, pragmatically.

One of my dearest friends has been ill for decades with lupus, debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and a patchy liver and many other things as a a result. Brenda has been recovering from pneumonia the past 8 weeks. She is still weakened. She works as a counselor in a prison. I fear for her well being; she is not cavalier about it. When we last checked in she talked about her will, and her desire to make sure her friends know how much she cares. I listened, swallowed hard. I know this virus could kill her but, like me, she has had brushes with death before and so takes it as it comes. There really isn’t any other choice. But I have loved her a long time and I am hoping against hope she will stay safe.

Another friend of decades, Eileen, has been meeting with me for lunch or dinner plus a a movie for years. Or a tool around books stores or garden walks. I so enjoy her ready laughter and sunny spirit, her intelligence and her wit. We have a particular sort of great time together; the lack of it will be sorely missed as we wait this out. But she is to retire and move to Arizona in August. Perhaps sooner now.

It felt good when Marc and I held a family dinner three weeks ago. Even then I was thinking–when will we easily manage this again between time scheduled for other things, work, and this virus concern? Their youngest sister and her family didn’t come, though; now it will be more time apart. But it was good see them convened at the table, to update on work, activities and experiences, future plans as we shared a hearty meal–as ever it is. But I also thought of ones not here–the daughters in Virginia and South Carolina. I wished for a fuller table, a raucous house, but was deeply grateful our grown children enjoy our company, as we do theirs. I looked at them and thought: this is my clan and how lucky.

And now, the pause on meeting, sharing, hugging at will. No longer can I comfortably and spontaneously call my son, say–“Hey, I’m in the neighborhood, what’re you doing for dinner?” A pause… on visiting my only sister (in early stages of dementia) as I have done every 10-14 days, as her retirement community is barring visitors for at least a month. A pause… on getting together with my old work friend, Jim, with whom I enjoyed lunch and laughs only awhile ago.

And another kind of companion: I for the first time am loathe to keep visiting the library, and find that more sad than most changes. All those beautiful, mind-expanding books…and all those germs. Let’s face it: Whatever we touch can seem too much these days. Thank goodness I have many books waiting to be cracked open in my very home. And I am already reading them more.

It will be difficult to not see folks…to not be with grand-babies (who live ten minutes away) I am used to being with three times a week for almost a year –and what of their one year birthday in April now? This separation from family can make me ache from soul to brain and it is just beginning. It is as if we are being asked to put not only activities on hold but the chances of deep loving and living. We humans need to give and accept actual hugs, to study the face of a loved one, to be near enough to hear a soft sputter of delight or exasperation under the breath. Not send heart and flower emojis, those odd, cutesy emblems of emotion that say so little even when they do mean to say so much. Even virtual/video meet-ups don’t come close to meeting face-to-face, not really. Awkward and limiting, I always wonder what all to say. But I guess I can learn how to do it better, with more heart.

So we get ready for “the long pause” as we–individuals that are whole communities, countries–rally to respond to this serious health crisis that reaches its tentacles farther every day. To preserve more and more lives, it is a no-brainer, and social distancing as they call it, begins in earnest. We need to stay friendly, supportive in any small ways we can. So we remember we are in this together; we can pool resources and maintain a problem solving viewpoint with positive attitude to get through it, somehow.

Love, like water, must find its way, its outlet, its home; it wants to find those beloved. Humans are unavoidably interconnected at heart, that is clear. I hope the best for us all, and do pray we reach out to one another in the manner in which we each can. We can’t let fear run us over and hold us down, make us less willing to care. Better to appreciate singular moments, anticipate and plan for healthier, less strained days and nights. To do what we can with our time, talents and our will for good. Call each other on the phone for a change. Send cards and letters. Video chat and send pictures. Let neighbors know we are around, even at an arm’s length if necessary.

Blogging, of course, is a terrific way to be present despite worries, a safe place we can share our creations and ruminations. I will be right here among you all–that is still my plan!

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Finding and Being Heroines and Heroes

Photo by julie aagaard from Pexels

I am almost unable to put down a nonfiction book that I had read about a few weeks ago. It’s a memoir of a woman who at the lissome age of 21 was recruited by the CIA. It is not ordinarily a book I’d be that eager to read–the CIA isn’t such a compelling topic to me (I wonder about its efficacy, actually), though I appreciate good stories (factual and otherwise) of high adventure or tales related to dangerous circumstances and, of course, accounts of bravery. But I was intrigued enough that I went in search of it.

Women (and men) who leap way past usual comfort zones to accomplish their goals are of interest to me–aren’t they to anyone? I wanted to know who she was and why she did what she did, i.e., what makes her tick. I asked the librarian since I hadn’t found it on the shelves or in “New Arrivals.” He looked it up in the system, murmuring, “Is the the real name of the author? Never heard of her–or this.” I had to admit her name was unusual. And if it was such a good book, how come the well-versed librarian in a savvy city didn’t know of it? Maybe it appealed to an obscure readership. I do like to discover off-the-beaten-path writers.

I plunged right in, as her writing grabs me as she gets right to it, her stark content underlain with deeper emotional nuance. Life Under Cover, Coming of Age in the CIA by Amaryllis Fox reveals some of her career in that agency. Quickly I’ve gotten halfway into the thick of it. I use “thick” specifically because it plumbs the depths of her astute thinking and hard choices, how it outlines rigors of her training then steps into fine surprises overlapping with the horrors of her work. She finds the training and assignments fulfilling as well as toughening. Ms. Fox is impassioned about saving human lives and helping make the world we must yet inhabit a safer place to coexist. She urgently wants to understand others, find a common humanity whenever possible even as her sole mission was to gather information to thwart terrorist plans of attack. She seems relentless about goals and mandates from the onset, and engages her considerable intellect at an early age. And I love how she is driven to find and fit together as many pieces as she can to make the picture whole, her mind a wide ranging sieve that keeps only the necessary bits. And then she embarks on more search and find. The number of data she analyzes, then utilizes, is mammoth. And she is tireless.

Did this labor shape her into an altruistic heroine? Or was it work that fulfilled a need of more selfish or ordinary dimensions? When did she know she wanted to do such work? I read on. It is a powerful narrative. Ms. Fox is brilliant but caring, someone who met grave obstacles with fortitude and persistence. That in itself impresses me. The governmental agency named CIA I’m not as clear about but am open to information and insight. I am anxious to see what transpires and how it all winds down to an end–as she is no longer in the CIA. As far as I know…this is what her bio notes.

It has gotten me thinking beyond the book. About why I am engaged by her story, what it means to general humanity that there are people who undertake these risky and difficult challenges. What does it mean that Ms. Fox offers herself to such a powerful agency when she might have helped refugees in Thailand? She changed her mind when she was interviewed by the CIA a second time.

We each might come up with our list of heroines and for different reasons, from the familiar to the famous, and who they are might inform others what matters to us. They inspire us first of all. They lead the way more often than not.

For myself only a few women, alone, would include Harriet Tubman, Madame Curie, Susan B. Anthony, Mother Theresa, Elizabeth Blackwell. There are many men and just altogether too many others to note here and now. And I would also have to name those in the arts who are movers and shakers or were once. (Twyla Tharp and Isadora Duncan, anyone? Leontyne Price, Pete Seeger; Barry Lopez, Joy Harjo; Ansel Adams, Vivian Maier.) The list goes on and on…and that is not mentioning the more obscure of the creators and doers.

But beyond famous people, who can we say deserves to be designated as hero or heroine–someone willing to sacrifice much, to go to extraordinary lengths for the betterment of life, of others– whether it is family or community or the masses around the world? What is the call to serve about? How can we answer it, if and when it comes? Some felt–and many presently do feel– they were or are simply doing their duty–to family, to country, to any greater cause they devote themselves to daily. They’re not even interested in being honored or pegged as “exceptional.” That sort of humility comes from trying and doing despite failing that eventually brings wisdom, I’d think.

“The greatest man or woman is a humble person,” my father intoned when praised for his own musical and educational work. And to many he was worth lauding not only the work but his genuine kindness, added to a dedication of his life to providing youth with musical opportunities that they took far into their lives thereafter. They have shared their thanks to him, even decades later. I grew up with this knowledge and watched my parents give themselves to the community–from teaching to volunteer work to donations to various causes, to their church, neighbors and family. In a sense–as it is for every child and in this case, because my parents were held in deep respect–they were a hero and heroine to me if in a mild mannered way. They had come from poorer upbringings yet made much of their lives. They had such interest in learning and people. So it was natural to think of helping others, of just being of good use. But how?

What I loved was the performing and fine arts–and nature and figure skating. I felt a passion of wanting to make the world a better place, too. I wrote of it, thought of it, read about it from an early age. I watched people engage in their chosen paths with sharp minds and burning hearts, both at home and in the world via television. I listened to Joan Baez and Bob Dylan and their songs triggered a deeper longing to be part of something that added to positive changes. I did not dream of being anyone’s bona fide heroine. To contribute to the greater good in some meaningful manner was a current that ran through me, even the worst of times.

I grew up in the sixties. We were nothing if not mobilized by a momentous desire for change that benefited human beings more inclusively. “Power to the People” was a common (if not so original) slogan and chant and although it has been criticized by some over time, to me it meant that power should be shared, that everyone was born with a basic right to dignity that included shelter, food, equal opportunity, education, justice. I debated, marched, wrote and sang of it.

I have gotten lazy over time. My fire for social justice began to cool as I became entrenched in my private struggles mentally, physically, spiritually. When I had children, I thought teaching them to be compassionate, fair, open minded–to ask “Why” and to critically think things through rather than be blindly led would help them, so I set about doing that even as I worked on my own issues. And they grew up as thinking, feeling people as hoped.

But I was never again involved in a political movement. I was certainly not even dreaming distance from embarking on an international and dangerous mission. I knew people who knew people who knew others…well, that was back then. Time passed. I was in my thirties. Then I stumbled into a career in human services, but instantly latched on to the work. First, working with home-bound elderly or others who suffered from brain injuries or were otherwise disabled; then addicted, usually homeless, mostly already having been incarcerated and/or gang-affiliated male and female youths; then mentally and socially high-risk adults. It suited me, despite not ever considering doing counseling for work (did handwriting analysis count…?).My mission was to create art of some sort, reaching out that way. Writing by then had overtaken all other modalities. So now this different direction pulled me. And it turned out that it required creative brainstorming and action of many sorts.

To be truthful, I can’t say there wasn’t danger involved working with those for whom violence was second nature and the primary defense for survival; who had known little in life but mistreatment; and who had spotty guidance if at all in better ways to be. Every day held a possibility that I might be attacked–it wasn’t a secure jail but a dual diagnosis rehab. Eventually I was a couple of times and police arrived to haul a kid off, to my unhappiness– and there came, still, threats.

Even the quite elderly who suffered from many problems…one never knew what I’d be in for when a door opened during my home visits– a naked ninety year old man standing and grinning in the doorway or a demented woman with hammers in her hands. Completely at odds with what clients called a “Miss Junior League” persona, I had developed a reputation for being unshaken by most anything but not, either, too hard. I sure didn’t know how I did it; I just went by my gut and I wanted to be there, do the work, give an ear to their complaints, be a voice for their needs.

But I sure was not anywhere near becoming a Ms. Fox, a woman who risked life and limb to protect a nation’s security every day–and millions more people beyond. I wasn’t interacting with arms dealers in a dark cafe or weaving in and out of narrowest alleyways to elude someone or protect myself. It was all pretty tame and after about 30 years, it seemed like far too little was accomplished. How many clients–people I had come to know quite well–had relapsed or even died despite how I had tried to help them, to insure they might stay alive? And I don’t mean the frail elderly who were closer each day to their timely end. Far too many over the decades. One feels like too many. One alone sears the heart.

Since all that–I retired several years ago–I know I’ve become more nonchalant. Selfish. I will be in my seventh decade and I could have been volunteering, getting out there to aid a child in reading or writing, or filling food boxes (though I did both years ago). I might be helping via church channels but haven’t found one here with whom I want to share my efforts. I could be engaged in politics–this is the year to do it, of all years–or I could work on a drug hotline or just shelve books, for crying out loud. I look for inspiration, pray for opportunities: what next can I do? I am a long way from being unable to be of good use in this world, even if not anywhere near becoming decent heroine material.

Instead, I do other things, like at last reading a heck of a lot. Learning about CIA undercover agents. Lessons of insects and seasons. My own endurance as life gets harder in some ways when I hoped to experience more ease of joy, peace of mind.

And I write, write, write. That is what I stick with all I’m much good for , it seems. It has been my calling since I was a child, too, and has not quieted within me. But am I yearning to be published more? Not really, not enough to get to it more. Am I coveting a book jacket with my name as the author on it? No, it no longer occurs to me that it is critical. My need is to simply be a writer, and to write what I understand as my truth, then offer it to whoever may read it. That is: persevere against all odds; love despite knowing love can often wound; seek answers even when it appears there are few to none; seek God in the mysteries of nature and humans for God inhabits all. It takes a little courage to share what I do though not all that much, not the sort I admire heartily. But I suppose it has become my kind of activism, nonetheless, just this in my now-quiet way.

It seems to me that we each do what we can do, and that if we find ourselves moved to be helpful in a minor way even that can be enough. It all gathers force and has meaning as intent plus action combines to strengthen–and moves change forward another small step. Our lives can be propelled by energy of life focused on doing good, just as they can be propelled by doing less than what is good. Or becoming inert, opting out of life’s rollicking, vivid stream, becoming aimless.

We have to be our own heroines, at times. We can also remain on the lookout for chances to not walk away, to not avert our eyes, to not say “no, not at the risk of throwing off my well-preserved image” or “no, I don’t have extra time” or “no, that is not for me to do.” Why not? If others are risking their lives for us, why can we not risk our time, alter priorities and do better?

Some people are meant for fancier or bigger or unusual things. I don’t think I could ever have become an Amaryllis Fox “wanna be.” She has had more fire, more boldness of body and mind, and her very special talents have been put to use in such specific ways. According to her book jacket blurb, she now offers analysis for global news outlets and speaks on peacemaking–so she has met changes with more invention. Peacemaking! I would like to hear her speak of this, for how we need peace to be made. I would like to thank her for being a perhaps unsung heroine of a certain unique order, and for writing a book that informs and, beyond this, moves me to care even more for the welfare of others. I, for another, would appreciate if we can agree to be more brave and empathetic in the face of uncertainties and strife. What else will help us find and share answers most needed? That is the sort of everyday heroics I would like to more often count on seeing and doing.

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Revisiting Heart Chronicles #1; i.e., Save Your Life

February is American Heart Month and Go Red for Women. Heart Disease is the number 1 killer of women. We don’t always recognize the symptoms. Many factors increase the risk of heart disease, not just cholesterol or having weight issues. I have heart disease and got it young; I was thin, exercised, ate okay, did not have high cholesterol. Below is the first post of a group of essays called “The Heart Chronicles” that I wrote for my blog starting 2011 about my experience of being ill, getting the right help, the work of ongoing recovery and my gratitude for so much well being. If you even suspect you may have a heart problem, do not delay: seek help, be of good courage and win the battle for greater health.

I am a born walker.  I love the way my arms and legs swing rhythmically and how my breathing deepens, the close up views of place and people from  sidewalks or forested trails. My appreciation of walking likely started when I was a child. I rode my bike often but I walked ten blocks to school and back both alone and with friends. I took leisurely walks around the neighborhood to see friends or just to seek folks on front porches or working in their yards–I wanted to see what was going on. I spent hours in nearby Birch Woods, jumping over roots and navigating leggy plants, around birches, maples, elms, poplars, oaks, along the creek. Sometimes I fancied myself a spy and kept tabs on the crusty old Benfers (and their strawberries and tomatoes and such flowers!) in their sprawling and gorgeous garden in the plot of land by our house, or shadowing Stark Nursery’s customers poking around rows of bushes and trees– where later I ran about, a cowgirl on a wild horse as sunset spread vividly above.

I also recall my mother walking with frightful efficiency and pace, two heavy bags of groceries in her arms, my short steps scurrying to keep up with hers. Freedom was unfettered movement of all kinds–the hallmark of children and those who love to be on the go. But when I became a mother, my children actually nagged me to slow down. Then one of those years I realized they were power walking past me, well-trained.

Now I walk daily unless constrained by intolerable weather or bed-bound by illness. I hike in woods and on numerous trails around the Pacific Northwest, as nature nourishes me. I walk during the day in the city and at night after ten to eleven hour days at my counselling job, and my spouse often joins me. We update each other on day’s events, enjoy beautiful old homes adorned with graceful gardens in our neighborhood. But mostly I walk not to be sociable or to rid myself of stress but because my body loves to move–and my life depends on it.

Almost eleven (note: the heart event was in 2001; this was written in 2012) years ago my husband and I were hiking in the Columbia River Gorge area. We had taken a well-used trail with steep ascending and descending trails that took us deeper into emerald-green of an early September day. I felt sweaty, and a bit breathless but thought little of it. I’d experienced shortness of breath before–and even since I’d quit smoking 9 months prior. I pushed myself harder, not one to shirk at a challenge.  I could hear our destination waterfall in the distance. I would rest then. As we climbed up railroad ties embedded in a hill, my legs began to feel rubbery and to weaken, my chest compressed and breath came hard. I was having trouble getting oxygen in me and it hurt each time I tried. My spouse had moved ahead of me. People passed by with barely a glance as I began to crumple. I willed my legs to carry me up the last bit. Then it landed with a vengeance: the proverbial elephant on my chest. It weighed so much and created such deep aching I could not cry out. I somehow–about on my knees– pulled myself over the top step to where my husband stood. Then fell forward onto the viewing deck as Bridal Veil Fall roared in my ears, then was muted by the physical crisis.

It was a hallucinogenic dream sort of trip through primeval forest as I stumbled, then was half-carried by Marc to the car. Breathing was labored. An odd electric sensation shot through my chest from time to time. I felt nauseous, so exhausted it was as if I might sleep an eternity. But once in the car we did not head to the hospital. I thought only: I’m tired, need to sleep in my own bed, it can wait a night. We went home and I said to Marc that I would make an appointment to get my lungs checked. Was it the start of COPD– or cancer? Damned cigarettes. I knew viscerally I was in serious trouble. Tomorrow, I thought, and fell into a restless, haunted sleep.

When I awakened weary and anxious the next morning I held in my mind one clear thought: Find a heart doctor. Not a lung doctor. It was as though I had been sent a blaring message: my heart was warning me. Rather than look online at my insurance providers list, I oddly–perhaps testament to how bad things were–went through the phone book’s yellow pages and asked each cardiologist’s office closest to my home if they took our insurance. I felt urgency that superseded all. After a half-dozen calls, I found an office that accepted the insurance and had a physician who would see me without a referral. Dr. P. was a new doctor in the large cardiology practice. After I described all my symptoms to a nurse, I was given a slot first thing the next morning but was informed I should call 911 if previous symptoms returned.

I shivered with fear, then calm enveloped me. I had unprecedented faith in forthcoming medical help. This, despite the two doctors I’d sought over the previous year having told me I had “anxiety due to menopause, take a benzodiazapine and relax.” I left disgusted, and without a prescription. I knew there was more to it, but what? I carried on with my life, trying to ignoring the too fast/missed beats, weird pains and general uneasiness–maybe it was just stress symptoms…until a hike in the Coast Mountains, August 2011, where I couldn’t get back up the steep trail without breathlessness with racing heart. Still, I waited another month–the doctors knew better, right?– until that momentous hike in the Columbia Gorge forest. It is amazing how denial can befuddle us.

I could list the tests, share the discussions we had that day but what really happened was that Dr. P. listened. He heard me–my symptoms (which included a worsening rapid heart rate with increasingly less physical exertion, feeling breathless, uncomfortable in my chest–perhaps, yes, as if anxious at times), asked me probing questions– and took immediate action. He believed I’d had a heart attack but it would be hard to discern at that point. I was fifty-one years old and had no risk factors other than having smoked for thirty years until the last seven months. He didn’t believe it was the smoking, though it was perhaps a contributor. Perhaps stress or a genetic link. But I was too healthy, overall, in good shape, and young for such an event. He seemed nearly as shocked as I did but knew my heart was ill.

Dr. P. informed me he was newer to this work but had done over three hundred angiograms–the procedure most used to determine if and how badly an artery is closed or clogged. An attending cardiologist and he would do all they could to help me not only stay alive but become healthier for the long-term. Did I trust him? Was the procedure going to reveal what was needed to help me? I asked myself as I went home to share the news with Marc. As I awaited his arrival, I stared out our big picture window and knew that I did. I was also caught in a strange state, knowing I could have been dead or might yet be, but also felt vibrantly alive, if a bit out of body as well. I also knew I was ready for whatever came next. I thought it all good enough.

On September 17, 2001 I was provided a way back to health with the first stent implant. The tiny device propped open an artery that had narrowed and was more than 90% closed. I was, he said, lucky to be alive. And it wasn’t cholesterol but inflammation that was the culprit. I had been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. It was not the end of it. I would have four angiograms over the next two years and another stent implant as well as changes in heart medications. I returned home each time with wild arrhythmias that sometimes still want to bully me. Tachycardia became an intimate foe, from zero to one hundred and forty until we found the right medication )I was allergic to many).. I learned that if it held at one hundred and twenty I could bear it but if it went on and on, I might still call 911. But medications finally worked better. I went to cardiac rehab. I became brave enough to walk on my own again. Ultimately, with time and exercise and support systems, my heart became much stronger and it beat far more safely so I could inhabit a life worth living.

And so, though always an active person, I began to walk more, first ten minutes and then twenty minutes, in a few weeks forty-five, then finally an hour or two, six days a week, sometimes seven. I had taken time off from work and might have become engaged in swimming or bicycling; I flirted with the idea of flamenco. or something else exotic. But it was simple walking that drew me out of the painful sense of loss and into the world; walking that gave me a little thrill of anticipation; greater encouragement each day as I felt my heart flutter, jump, pause and startle. Walking reunited me with a life of kaleidoscopic wonders. Everything tasted, smelled, looked and felt better. My heart pumped hard, oxygen surged through me so that my mind clarified; my spirit felt more courageous, and lighter.

Oddly, my emotional heart felt more open to everyone and all I care about. I had been a tough woman for many years so that I could survive an assortment of trials, get past loves that had soured. I discovered the path to healing a heart is more challenging but richer than I had imagined. Not a day has passed that I don’t find a reason to laugh for the sheer pleasure of it: my heart became profoundly capable of more living. My emotions were loosened so I felt fully human, closer to who and what I knew as a young child.

And each time Dr. P. tells me: “You’re a star patient. You’ve beaten the odds so far. Your hard work pays off every day.”

I tell him: “You listened to me and saved my life.”

That day I walked my fingers to the yellow pages? They took me to a person who is a fine and committed cardiologist, one who has always cheered me on my journey. Maybe it was a guardian angel who left me the urgent directive that early morning. But I still walk every day out of respect for him, for myself, for this irreplaceable treasure called life. I discovered the power of a mended heart. I intend to use it well.

Still living well–so can you!

GO RED FOR WOMEN:

G: GET YOUR NUMBERS

Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol.

O: OWN YOUR LIFESTYLE

Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise, and eat healthy.

It’s up to you. No one can do it for you.

R: REALIZE YOUR RISK

We think it won’t happen to us, but heart disease kills one of three women.

E: EDUCATE YOUR FAMILY

Make healthy food choices for you and your family.

Teach your kids the importance of staying active.

D: DON’T BE SILENT

Tell every woman you know that heart disease is our No. 1 killer.

Wednesday’s Word/Nonfiction: Something Once Experienced and Done

(Be forewarned: this is real life and not attractive. )

The slate-grey window yawned at me, a near-cavernous thing, a gaping void just beyond which I leaned and teetered, pressed against the cold pane, eyes half-closed. It could have been night or day, either a measure of my sight, my mind, or my disposition. It was 3 a.m., it was 3 p.m., either way it was about to be my undoing, a weak surrender to another gasp of the binding air, a squelched human inhalation/exhalation.

Well, you may ask, how can the very air have binding properties unless filled with smoke or other noxious chemical release of choking minute particulate? But for the time, it felt as if it was, a hazard of living day to day. It was the ponderous curtain of depression, and a deep seeding of unworthiness and powerlessness, and the plaintive sorrow that accompanies it. And it attached itself to me like a second skin that slowly engulfed not only my body but the shrinking core of me. Until a kind of terrible breathlessness came…despite walking, talking, doing as habit bids. Usually. Until an likely imminent failure of purportedly reliable systems.

******

I have never written for a public readership much of the hardest realities of my life in first person, as nonfiction. The details, even a few that resonate and stick to me like powerful sap. I hesitate. I wonder what can be gained for myself, for anyone. I only know a strong desire is suddenly to, decades later, speak of some things in the way it wants to fall onto the page. Call it a shedding, call it a truth telling, call it a writers impulse to confess, even self indulgent–that worst of writing which I tend to think serious, difficult soul-baring writing too often is. Nonetheless, I keep writing. And the black letters leap onto the white expanse like spooked deer running for their lives, or, perhaps, running to better grazing grounds….

“Don’t let the past steal your present or future”: this is taped upon my mirror on a scrap of paper. I meant it back whenever and I still do. Practice it like a mantra, like a psalm. Use it like a life preserver.

******

I have not felt those above difficult sensations nor daily carried such burdens for multiple decades–way back when I was in my late teens, when I finally almost gave up the fight with late-diagnosed PTSD due to damage of unspoken (and ignored by all adults) childhood sexual abuse. Emotional abuse, the kind that lingers as a low drone, unheard perhaps by others but unmistakable. Those times and those stories are not even fit to print, I always think, so terrible was my habitation within them. It went from bad to worse: those many storied, high-ceilinged Gothic buildings with dark, too cold or hot, near-empty common spaces and such tiny sleep cells, one of which I sheltered within at night; the lack of control over any waking or half-sleeping moment, and many patients roaming and muttering or locked and tethered and mostly drugged out of time and thought, and ultimately alone and deeply lost. There were those committed for drunk driving, for drug use. This was not an enlightened place or time. There were no addiction treatment centers, no dual diagnosis help back then.

The absurdity of it, trying to heal within a decrepit mental institution and a system that was a maze of a nightmare, antiquated, more ruinous than imagined at first glance–which was bad enough. The place where I did survive 4 months. But it was so toxic and poorly run that it was closed not long after I exited via power of a court order. True, I had experienced what was called an acute toxic psychosis, brought on by amphetamine and barbiturates with psychedelics tossed in, then subsequent withdrawals and the old PTSD flourishing in the midst of it all. There was more that happened in my young life than anyone ever knew. And I wasn’t soon talking. And a badly run psychiatric hospital would not make me talk, either. I determined to stay alive, endure, day by day, but being there with those issues was like being scalded then nothing but burn and ash, bereft. The body sickened, wounded by being dunked/scrubbed/yanked/detained, magnification of emotional robberies past and present and a team of medical “judges” lined up as I was sat on a small chair on a platform, interrogated, given sentence, told that doing my tasks and trying hard was not enough, I had more time: the internment as I called it felt like being left in far greater peril, with no way out. No one incarcerated thought differently behind high barred windows… unless they no longer could think, at all. One could see why not and crying about it helped nothing.

Then, too late for so many, there it was: that it’s doors and windows had finally to be shuttered was, of course, no surprise to me. That it took that long, too long, stunned.

That sprawling compound where so many had lived for years, not just weeks or months, remained vacant for a long time, perhaps I imagined to be razed to the ground as it needed to have been, or sold for its considerable, pretty acreage. Then, perhaps fifteen years ago, I came across a glossy article about how a resurrection had taken place: that dark castle of horrors had been reconfigured, renovated, reborn as a resort of sorts, a high-end shopping and fancy hotel with spa kind of place. Imagine my astonishment and dismay. To think of people taking pleasure there. It will never be anything other than it was, to me, and I can imagine there roam ghosts of its long and ignominious past. I wish it had been made into a garden or a wooded haven, a nature preserve for birds to fly free, all creatures roaming at will. Space to be, nothing a barrier to what comes easily and with no harm intended.

But I made it through that experience and the grueling times (including before and the aftermath) as I could only hope that others did. I sometimes think of them, recall their faces, the longing and fear. Since I exited through those gates and found greater freedom I learned there were good ways in which to get better, rebuild my life. It required time, stubborn intention and work to leave behind the oddly magnetic pull to give up. To find sturdy “earth legs” again to keep me steadier. But I found despair did not have to commandeer me; there were coping methods that did not involve drugs, either illicit or prescribed. I may have been fortunate, yes, to read the right books, find a few wise therapists, avail myself of friends and other support people along the way. And I had a faith that I did not altogether abandon, a belief that I would prevail with God’s constancy and compassionate guidance one way or another.

That kind of torment, the black well of it, has not revisited me as happened there in that time and place, the late 1960s. And still the impact has not quite left me, though I might think otherwise.

It wasn’t just the provoking illness and addiction, the self loathing and hopelessness that accompanied it. It was those streaked dirty pea green walls and corridors, the cups and needles full of soul-negating “medicines”, heavy thud of steel doors as they slammed tightly shut and even locked, screams and garbled monologues of agonies named and unnamed, the grave mental states so many inmates inhabited–if one can say they inhabited anything but their bones and flesh. Even I felt taking leave of one’s senses was the best prospect for relief, at times. Then there were less mentally or physically impaired individuals who might possibly have thrived if they had lived more safely, been loved well…they so touched my soul. We found each other’s eyes often and spoke less, there was little will for that. But those things I had to do to get by each day, the labors forced upon me since my mind clarified and I was capable before too long. The required mental gymnastics and learned obedience I was put through by people doing what they were paid to do…the rough hands that informed me there was no escaping anything: these can and do haunt. One does not precisely forget. It gets into sinew and cell and those who’ve known the experience keep it hidden in a series of scars, even as the damage is repaired.

One presses on and looks for anything better. For light amid the depths. One scrounges for courage where there is none. Where every breath feels useless and yet one must breathe. This is how human beings are outfitted if we get to be fortunate enough: we are made to persevere beyond all reasonable cause or any evidence supporting hope. We will ourselves to keep on.

How I prayed when crumpled in dank and dirty corners that if God would only release me from that desert of spirit and mind and body, that Gothic nightmare, I would spend my life in service to help others. I wanted to care more for any sort of real life, but was beaten down and beyond caring…and one prays harder when great need presses in, and also strikes bargains. I was entirely committed to such a bargain (and one day would make good on it).

There it is. Words testifying. But I haven’t thought of this story within the greater context of my life nor of that distant past in so long. Perhaps not since my late twenties. So why now?

I have good cause, maybe. The recall may bring me closer to truths needed so I can rally and come back to joy and peace, not mere facsimiles, not only a hope of both. I already know what hell is; I also know what a sort of heaven is that can manifest here and now.

How does one write of shifting shadows and powerful undertow of depression when I still barely understand it in my own life–despite treating others in some way or another for decades as an addictions and mental health counselor? I have easily empathized with others; I have believed their fight valiant and purposeful. I’ve rallied resources, cheered them on, held the line against more loss and for greater renewal. But, really, perhaps I had lost something vital–a conscious knowledge of all that had been placed on a shelf: Something Once Experienced and Done. Like being beaten or or raped, overdosing or having knives thrown at you or being shot but surviving. I have such stories, too, death and life. So it makes sense to me that it was put behind me and I have simply gone on. This is what survivors learn to do, even as we work out the peace we must have.

Not that I haven’t been miserable other times over the decades for a couple hours, for days here and there–quite low, a darker shade of “blue”–even a greater kind of sad for this or that reason, and also wracked with grief for months after losses, but still living in this world better than expected. We cannot escape these repeats the longer we live; it is only human, as it goes. It’s tested me. I’ve felt becalmed, “emotionally inert” for brief times. PTSD affects things a long while and when the triggers arise even briefly I do know what to do. And yes there are the burdens carried about by the wrong decisions made, aching and worn out. But then they are let go.

So—really depressed? More than here and there\ then done with that? I have had no patience for it. I shake my head, say, No, that was back then–this is now. I am so grateful I have not been there again, not like that. Get down? Get back up, it is simple.

But today I tell you: I have over the last few months glimpsed that misshapen, relentless old beast and found it a daunting thing once more. Not as before, no–I am sober and clean of substances. I am not the same age or of the same time, not that same young, mute and bleeding person. I have had years made sweet and sweeter with happy times to encourage, fortify and heal me. I have learned a ton of efficacious coping methods and use them. And I have time on my side, and it teaches and strengthens me each year. At almost 70, I am stronger and better prepared for meeting “life on life’s terms” and more resilient than ever.

But am I? I am re-evaluating a few factors every day and am not so sure sometimes. IT is not the same, it is not even every day I feel run over by the old self abnegation, but it is a fearsome thing, nonetheless.

And the truth is, I don’t sink too low for no reason at all. It is not chemical as far as I can tell, certainly not for eons, if it ever was– not in the classic sense of clinical depression etiology. I tend to feel internally solid, more or less balanced mood-wise and I do know who I am, know what I need and what to do. Sure, I feel and express several emotions in a day, this is h ow I was built for the world my heart a sieve for feelings and impressions. No one ever accused me of not being transparent, either. But my internal barometer reads acceptably warm or cool, or I change it to what works better for the environment.

No, it is always a particular circumstance which I find more demanding and then finally near-impossible to effectively problem solve around, to improve; or a number of those times with weightier cumulative effect. So I have examined many changes in my life and found that they have taken me down without my full knowledge. Little by little. From one sort of confusion or loss or hurt to another. This low time has been 3 or so years in the making. And I have had to look it in the face; I do not like not turning on a light bulb to see what is coming at me, and what I need to work out.

I will not bore you with endless details but will note some major events. (Those who read my posts weekly, please forgive any repetition.).

Six people I loved have died one after the other in a fairly short time, some in a very difficult manner. I’ve had significant health crises and interventions–cardiovascular issues, serious dental problems (dental matters effect heart health, too, FYI), flares of gastrointestinal illness and issues related to inadequate treatment of a previous female health (mis)diagnosis. I had four random injuries due to hiking terrain/missteps as well as a slip and fall; though no broken bones, they suspended my necessary and loved outdoor activities far more than expected. Years of chronic neck pain from an assault at 40 that can steal endurance. and equanimity–I cannot take opioids, nor even ibuprofen (the latter interferes with my heart health). It can get a bit complicated.

My spouse developed a couple of serious and chronic health problems–surprising, scary. Then there were other life crises/financial worries/emotional issues for our children and others at various times, things that have kept me awake at night. And my only remaining sister–an executive director type, a doer and shaker, and one of two siblings left of four–has weirdly developed dementia, perhaps due to concussion from accidents…. but it doesn’t matter how, it just IS. No other members of my birth family now are here excepting this sister. A brother is in Virginia or travelling the world. (Of course, there are three adult children here plus s few grand kids –for that I am grateful beyond measure.)

One dear friend is slowly preparing to move to Arizona in a year; I already see her much less due to our area move. Another has had a major mental health impasse far worse than my current debacle and another (though younger) who is my dearest friend may be dying even as I write this– her medical diagnoses take greater toll week by week.

Where have so many I have loved gone? Of course this is a not even a sensible question. But it is asked. I count them as they fall and still cannot believe it at times. But we age or get ill, and there you have it.

Earlier in 2019, we moved after 25 years in the same abode to an area quite unlike the old one; I still cannot recall my way around all these crisscrossing, winding roads. One of our daughters had twins (after high risk pregnancy) last spring, and then came unexpected postpartum depression/anxiety with many ripple effects. It was overwhelming for me, too, at first. But she rallied with great perseverance, excellent helps. The readjustments remain ongoing though she returned soon to a good if demanding job. Her spouse has not worked outside home, taking on the household duties and daily child tending for eight months, as well. Money is terribly tight. I have helped out 2 times a week or more for the last nine months.

It has been a past year of unforeseen demands as life just presents us, yes. Communications glitches, ongoing stress with tiredness, expectations not met as imagined. We have all learned things about each other that have been surprising and at times difficult. Not to say soul bruising, now and then, requiring more courage, flexibility, ingenuity, patience, compassion–not all of which operate as well as others or often not all at once for us. We each have had our work cut out for us. But the twins are so worth every single bit of labor and devotion. Their magnificence–who cannot embrace and adore new beings given to our care? We so love them. Still, I think it needs to be said that being grandparents and parents and in-laws all at one time is not so easy-breezy as some would have you think, nor an endless happy celebration day in, day out. There are needs coming at the family all the time, and important. But our delight in those two small girl persons is unending and we care for family so much.

I had a major car accident Thanksgiving Day, not so bad, I made it out okay, overall. But it seemed a tipping point. (I’ve had only one other crash, in 1974; it left me unconscious/leaving body, “jaws of life” employed, significant recovery time, etc.) This was a couple months after my husband also had had an accident. My car was totaled, it was a lengthy process with insurance and finally abating. More expenses, injury to address. It took me a month to stop feeling anxious on busy streets, to stop feeling oddly fragile, and it jarred me emotionally–more than I thought it should. It seemed too much at moments, though it was so small an actual thing in the end. It helped hasten a faster descent; I berated myself for my error of judgment, of being in the wrong place, the wrong time. And the loss of money–a “new” used car, higher insurance rates, etc. when it was needed for more important things.

I have to admit that I have spent more time weeping than in decades. I cry over truly sad stories and real human suffering, but I’m not a sniffler over sad songs, fussy people, flat tire in a downpour, one-eyed dogs, bad hair day, etc.–and not a full-on crier even when life hurts. But I have become one the past couple of months. Not every day, but far too often for my comfort. There have been words: I have heard that I am a person with several flaws. I have never pretended otherwise; there have been shocks. More words, regrets and bafflement.

There has been grief. The grief is what moves me to lay on yielding pillow and moan, press my forehead against a tree on my walk and let tears run. For what? For my losses, for the earth’s losses, even for your losses. It can feel like one and the same, all of us paddling or swimming best we can but too many of us sinking, even drowning. I intend to–I must– at the very least float until I swim well once more. What else can done do? I am far too old to quit and start over. I get up and face the day; truly, some are better than others. But it takes work and risking more hope again.

I don’t know if these things are “enough” to create a moderate to significant depressive state. I call it as it is today for me. I tried to clarify events and my responses. For how I react shows me my perspective and deeper feelings. Why have I in other times been quite able to “bounce back as usual”? Why have I felt more alone than before? Why is it tougher to well protect myself from what feel like a bunch of harder knocks? And why are more sleepless nights gaining the upper hand, and heavier days being distracted by ruminations that net too little progress? I have been stopped by the accumulated life happening this time. One can get weary. I find what works and does not, what to seek that will enable greater well being. And thus, to be a better parent, spouse, grandmother, friend, sister.

I am more a “yo-yo” for the first significant period since I drank or used drugs so long ago. So I attend AA meetings. I don’t want to drink or use but I don’t want to be on a “dry drunk”, either. I want to be better than this. I go and I sit and listen to the group’s collective wisdom and experience. I know no one at these new meetings out here but I need to listen in silence for now.

I go to church at times. I read Scripture and other spiritual offerings. I read daily meditations and find meaning that helps. I pray for whatever it is I need to be stronger, be kinder, more adaptable and accepting. The courage to let things be. A lack of acceptance can be a stalling point for me. I have to yield to life more, even as I stand up and keep moving. And that movement daily takes me outdoors, without which I could not locate a deeper peace amid the storms of living.

I write, I draw, I listen to music and sing and dance about. I know the power of creating, its deeply restorative effects. But some days….even that seems hard. And that has scared me some.

For so long I have thought, Oh, I am pretty good at taking care of myself. And I have a spouse who can be here for me, too, in many ways. I know the methods by which to bolster and keep steady myself. And about effective therapy services, which I am willing to use whenever needed, so seek one now. In the end it continues to be a process of learning and experiments, the daily smaller gains and losses. And it will be myself once more who rescues me, along with the durable core and support of my faith. It always has been. I am not a user of psychoactive drugs even for mental health and it isn’t due to not finding them valuable but because I know from experience what else to do, and prefer to do that, as it has worked. I am open to suggestions. Let it not be said that I am unwilling to gain greater understanding. Or to practice that authentic acceptance which comes hard, yes, but can be done if it is the right thing, the best thing.

The good news is that I am not nineteen, nor in the grips of the kind of acute distress that takes me to such terrorizing darker places. I have lived that, and I am done with that. And I am an action taker; I am not paralyzed. I am thankful for all this. But I remain sad and confounded more than I want to be. I am impatient to become a braver and better person still. I got a bit of decent input from my brain as I wrote, more ideas so there is more hope. We all must keep searching, reaching, learning, and not letting go of hope–it is what is available to us in times of trouble.

If these tears must fall and fall again, well drat and damn it and so be it. I must require a true and hearty cleanse. I will not dry up, I will not evaporate. If I feel hollowed out by it for awhile there will be more amazing and tough experiences to occupy those spots. I am just another person, a woman who will not rest until life is ever fully embraced, its variations of light and shadow attended to–its dignity discovered daily… and its steady shining, shining through the murky gloaming, upon this path of dirt, brier, sand, sweet grass, blossom–and humblest rock, which after all, tells stories, holds secret gems.

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Something “once experienced and done” might again shadow your life, my life. It does not have to own it. Take back your unique and inviolable self still deep within you. That is what I still do.