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.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: After the Party, a Respite and Rewind

(Photo by Maksim Goncharenok on Pexels.com)

It was not a restful night. I awakened fuzzy, trailed by difficult dreams. So I spent more than enough time reading a fashion magazine, the sort you don’t have to absorb so much as scan–the words and pictures. The greater emphasis is on pictures. (A few fashion magazines highlight essays, interviews of powerful women, the latest socioeconomic or political info, and health and beauty.) But I am not so intellectually or ethically elevated an individual (well, in my fantasies, likely) that I can’t enjoy a fabulous fashion shoot.

I have always liked aspects of fashion–its visual abundance; the process of transforming inspiration into an array of materials and designs; the performance aspect, no matter where it is shown to the world. It’s ordinary or glamourous impact counts; it’s startling at its best, an accessible sort of theater. It ventures into experiences that most only observe and consider, not engage with beyond the looking. But it somehow can matter a bit. Maybe it gives a jolt to creatives in odd ways. Like the designers whose work reminded me of old Lily Pulitzer designs plus the artist Miro’s paintings. It made me want to get out my own box of paints or collage scraps. It made me, decidely not domestically skilled, want to sew a bit more.

Let’s face it, though: a fashion mag is brazen escapism. I imdulge in this recreation as needed, a simple prescription for discouragment, physical unwellness, worry, even anger. It’s one little coping skill learned as an adolescent. After crying/praying/working hard/helping others, or heavy speculation about a future so like a maze, I take twenty minutes and go through a breezy fashion portal. Fashion also interprets and broadcasts societal goings-on–but from a distance that is safer. Me, I go straight to the easier stuff first.

I read more challenging magazines. I enjoy piles of physical books, delving into a chapters each day and night of fiction, poetry and nonfiction. I study coffee table tomes at my leisure–dragonflies? Pottery? Old maps? Check. I can be enchanted and frustrated by the smorgasboard of materials, the time factor. And then: choose stimulation of mind and spirit or of the eyes, perhaps the heart? Today has been a day for perking up weary eyes and brain cells. A leisurely taking in color and texture and style. And what about the photographer’s interesting ideas? (Oh, uh, I can name admired fashion photographers, old and new. I’ve read these mags for decades, you know.) I dive right in and float awhile in those inventive tableaus.

Of course I enjoy clothes, the looking and wearing of comfy, fun or classy ensembles, and unique, handmade jewelry, a brilliant scarf. But that’s another sort of personal essay, me and how I use or disuse things–closets I have known and choices made. (Did mention I also just enjoy clothing? Or at times, these days. So I wore velveteen emerald green pants and an apple green sweater on Christmas Eve… and a fuschia cashmere with navy pants Christmas Day. And navy wool felt slippers both times. In case you wondered.)

But today I fell into the shiny pages because I am still–after nights of decent sleep (also poor)– sluggish following kaleidoscopic activity of the holidays. The time passed feels a long way away in some regard. I mean Christmas, really. (We watched a show on house renovation New Year’s Eve, then read, then to bed. I heard fireworks going off: 2022 and I lay awake a long time.) The leading up to the Season, then various experiences of the Eve and Day. And a daughter and her partner staying a few more days since they had flown quite a distance. Four out of five adult kids, their honeys and children! I have video of some of the happiness I can replay now and then.

Then at the end of it all closing the door against a wintry mix of weather, turning on the new electric fireplace from our son, sitting and sighing. Imagining how those adults were once kids in other houses with fragrant trees chopped down and decorated to the max. On January 1st we began the tear down and clean up. Which took three days. There are still two boxes that need to be stacked up somewhere in the garage.

How is it that the weeks leading up to Christmas were such fun and now I am still feeling the aftereffects of socializing and eating and gift wrapping and exchanging and ….well, the whole lovely, blurry, fast-action experience. I had shopped like personal shopping was my full time job, a smart and happy shopper, rooting out items on lists, triumphantly spotting options. It felt good to know that the money was there this year, as it was not so much last year after my husband’s lay-off. I headed out on foot but also online, family members square in mind as I got to it. Because this year we planned on as muich family gathering as possible at our home. (Only one daughter was not, and her son, our grandson; she is a minister far away, he works in another state, too.) Between testing, vaccinations and masking, we could make it happen.

And we did, thankfully. It was amazing to have most children and grandchildren at our table, then circled about glimmering, gift-laden tree. But at times I felt as it was a dream. Being much more isolated for nearly two years, it was a rare experience to be in the middle of such abundance. Our unique, adored family. Overwhelming at moments, perhaps, joyful for the time we shared. Love disseminated with words, looks, laughs. It seemed almost too good to be true since life has been defined so often by turmoil, unease and sorrow. One can become leery when so much has been torn from normalcy; foreboding can creep right in. But we seemed to vibrate with pleasure, nonetheless.

Christmas was a mixture of secular and religious/spiritual energy. It has been for a few decades. Sometimes I think it’d be better to separate the two experiences. Or skip gifts altogether. (But: toddler granddaughters…) Or set aside greater time for faith traditions–much harder to do when in a pandemic. No candle lighting service in a sanctuary stilled by respect and full darkness, believers with hands raising brilliant candles aflame in that dome of darkness. The singing of hymns and carols.

Well, no actual church for us but we had family, and cause to cautiously celebrate completion of a difficult year. Though I admit: I forgot the prayer at dinner, our hands holding each others’ hands. No, the truth: I was afraid I would break down due to the invisible but real empty chair…our oldest granddaughter suddenly died in April. How do you pray with gratitude when someone has fast exited the circle? Everyone would weep, there would be tears covering us, grief’s mask with its heaviness. I thought her mother, our daughter, would no longer be able to embrace beauty of this Christmas, only heartache cracking it into pieces. But she had tried and she had done it, enough. So I let that prayer go and proceeded with my husband into the wonders of the time. We wept later.

All that. All the good a tonic, a reprieve, a break in many onerous days and nights… until even coping seemed barely enough. So each moment together was necessary for me, for us all. It wasn’t perfection. We are not all in accordance about everything, not at all, and are opinionated and expressive and smart. It was great human hope and a penchant for more goodness that brought us closer again, and it was seen, heard and held. We wanted to be normal. More caring. And it was further shaped by the eternal presence of Divinity; no matter how people practice their beliefs, everyone knows it, acknowledges it. At our old oak dining table, God has the best seat, the one in the center of the show. And we are family forever, amen.

Now the days go on in their pedestrian manner. Catch up on chores. Catch up with a few not here. More time to read, write, walk, consider creative projects and stat one, call friends, other family (my remaining sister, who has dementia, did not join us but I saw her a few days before).

But, too, harder news: one member who came on Christmas Eve became infected (via an acquaintance) with Covid-19 several days following our gathering. She was vaccinated. She is slowly recovering after 5 days. A daughter that visited from the east coast is now in Colorado with her partner, trying to cancel her flight back. Because she got shingles. And major airports are madness, short staffed, and there are many cancellations with travellers stuck. Snow may complicate things. That Omicron variant is speeding its way across America every moment. It is strange–science but still strange–that something invisible to the naked eye has made us captive to it…

It is back to living more like a solitary soul, with greater cautions– despite being vaccinated and boosted. A virus has its ways. I am suddenly ordering food and essentials for delivery again. No more fun outings unless outdoors and apart from people or picking through a bright mound of tomatos. It is not so bad; I deal with it, as we all must. Being a daily walker and a hiker when I can do that works magic. I can get through most things with a decent walk and a prayer.

The point that came to me after Christmas was how holidays bring an avalanche of real-time love, a release of pent-up energy, the sudden waterfall of happiness. And then the possibility of so much loss. It is enough to make my heart swell and skip too many beats.

How long shall we plod on?–who knows? We have held on, have practiced acceptance, and those of us who’ve been able to have gone on day by day–with courage and adaptability. We gain from greater introspection, become more self-reliant. Are we stalwart enough to keep on fighting discouragement, perhaps loneliness? There have been good dashes of hope; it has been enough for me. Now it’s the wait and wonder part– whatever time will reveal.

And so, then, moving into 2022 from one hard year to another made of primarily unknown qualities. I could tell you how many years have been that way in some iteration. Much if not most of my life. So one more can be looked in the eye.

And hence, the fashion magazines. Not The Seven Lamps of Architecture by John Ruskin that awaits me a mere five inches away. I admit that more frivolous diversions seem so frothy that it is embaraasing to mention but, hey, we do what we can do to alleviate the odd mental dizziness tensions can create these days. And I have done more foolish or worse, that’s for sure. It’s not a drink or a drug or, goodness forbid, a man captivating eye or mind. It’s just good ole Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren; The Row; Dior, Chanel. It’s Bulgari or Van Cleef and Arpels or Paloma Picasso. It’s glossy pages, fast reads. I soak it all up with a flick of the pages, chocolate and strawberries in a time of so many radishes and turnips.

In the midst of challenges that lack few certain answers, problems that want for full resolutions I can find random moments of respite, even insignificant and fleeting. The mundane has its curious nature; a simple thing can offer an illumined moment. It doesn’t all need to be more lofty, though that may be a preference. A fabulous fashion photo by Annie Leibovitz or David LaChapelle interests me immediately, as does a Vivian Maier or Paul Nicklen photo. Then my attention flits to other matters. After all, these are not deep clues to more purposeful questions. Not the core of peace I build upon.

So I stand up, stretch, and discover a refreshed, jauntier viewpoint. I have had a break from a pressing immediacy of reality. I spin around, arms opening to whatever comes. The dryer stops so gather a warm bundle of clean laundry. Then send a quick check-in to two daughters. I’m up to more substantial business, creative explorations. Like a little song writing, power walking, poem making. Blogging my way into 2022. It takes everything–the tinsel and the constancy of the North Star.

Wednesday’s Words: Nonfiction/Christmas Celebrations and Strength of Enduring Hope

I haven’t set foot into a church sanctuary since the pandemic shut things down. The above photo was taken at a church we attended a couple of years– First Presybyterian Church, solid but exquisite, built in 1887. A city center church community, it is lovely architecturally. And I miss it at times. Though some restrictions are eased, I’m not so sure about singing and praying wiith densely grouped humanity just yet. The Season naturally beckons me to join in and sing out from heart and soul.

Still, I am waiting. Even if safety seems more relative than ever. Marc and I can choose–have over the past two and a half years, ocasionally–attending online services. We share our own spiritual inquiry and read Scripture aloud to one another sometimes. I have a daily practice of reading the Bible and other sources of wisdom. The truth, is my faith is not tied to a building or a congregation. I have been a praying person since I was a tiny child, and God is to me both omnipresent and personal. However, I grew up in the First United Methodist Church in Michigan. My family was engaged in education classes, music and fellowship. I played an angel in the Nativity story, sang countless carols and hymns during this season, and harmonized with my family enscounced in (left side) the pews. Our sanctuary was decorated to add to the gentle beauty; the sacred music was transporting. And there were sweetly tantalizing cinnamon buns made in the big church kitchen by a work force of cheerful youths and adults.

But that was my childhood and youth. Since then, I have attended many churches (and other places of spiritual sustenance–including AA and NA). I have had a few painful crises of faith when life seemed unendurable. I have left more churches than I have stayed with…yet the traditions stay with me as well as the belief. I respected my childhood church, counted on its constancy. I was accepted despite any rebellions, my struggles, though it wasn’t easy to feel often prayerd for, to stick out at times. I still think it was exceptional, mostly helmed by good men and women. I have yet to discover another I love half as much. Much music that imbues my adult life was rooted in classical (and sacred) music as well as old familiar hymns that dominated services. (Our father led the adult choir for years, oversaw music programming.) They brought tears to my eyes as I sang, even as deep joy rose up. I still cannot sing those songs, even at home, without feeling a bit weepy; it is part of my experience. They speak to a more gracious life filled with a greater puprose. And illustrate a courageous, kinder humanity who can be more deeply aligned with the Divine Creator.

Today as I write, however, I am listening to Sting. His atmospheric, almost melancholic album playing is “If on a Winter’s Night”, a collection of traditional songs, lullabies and carols from the British Isles. It takes me to much older times and places, to valleys and mountains that have existed foreever, and the moors Sting must know well…to shadows and drifting light, to silent midnights and slow, solitary sunrises. It harkens back to an elemental part of my humaness, the spiritual energy that lives throughout time. I am very moved. Maybe it’s my maternal grandparents’ Scottish-Irish-English bood in my veins, but I lean into this music. And tonight this music pulls me into winter’s delights and mysteries even more.

A time of turning inward, more often resting, seeking clarity of mind in the increasing cold, and sorting out things–literal and otherwise– as life-giving rain pours down on tall firs and bony trees outside my door in the Northwest. As Christmas nears, I seek more coziness and ponder the ways and means that have brought me to this time. A quieter, softer state.

No matter what is going on, I instinctively look up as I move with expectancy in daily life. I don;t want to miss what is about me, what is coming, But I have no hesitancy of bending my knees, seeking God’s succor and guidance. Perhaps I tend toward being an idealist, even a romantic–I don’t regret it–but I’m willing and able to face reality’s stunning trials, its insistent lessons. As a person who follows Christ’s teachings, I believe in the healing and liberating powers of a revolutionary compassion; authentic engagement with others; and the possibilites of hope which strives to do whatever good is needed. To forgive, to be generous despite my failures and flaws. To humbly accept a small place in the universal design.

It is, though, difficult to claim my faith openly at times. In this part of the country–which I so admire and defend as well as can take issue with–the act of stating I am Christian can seem like stepping into a fight ring. Or being almost shunned, derided. I am not who those folks instantly decide I am: “judgmental, hypocritical, closed minded, far right wing, uneducated in world religions or tolerant of t hose who do not believe in a God.” It is strange to be made to fit a preconceived notion.

So I know what it is to be stereotyped as other groups are. I don’t argue. If my behavior and manner are not enough to offset those prejudices in the end, I need to work on these. But then so be it, I can change no one–nor they, me. I am on my own path to improvement with alot of help from others–and wisdom and strength of my faith. We each will follow our own calling, attach to beliefs we choose. I, then, study a true social and cultural radical’s teachings that includes acknowledging and practicing a higher love, first and last–and wonder how much of what was actually taught was lost or destroyed– and his name is Jesus the Christ.

I admit that institutionalized religions are more a strange puzzle to me than not. I do not understand formal religions’ power struggles and wars, the historical political maneuverings, the various social restrictions. Sexism. (Jesus welcomed women to praise God and seek truth along with him.) The horrific genocides. (Jesus spoke angrily about those who hated others unlike themselves.) I am breathless when I think how, at times, religion’s greed and condemnations can harm us, too. What can it mean to profess compassion–but then harm others? This world is dangerous and harsh as it is, scarred by outrage, hopelessness and suffering. We need more care and courage. We need to rise up in Light.

I go about my quiet search for truths. I keep it fairly simple and to the point. I sense God, seek to discover God– and God finds me in everyday life, in nature, through people of every sort. And this is the source of any courage, strength and hope that has centered and deepened me in all the ways I need it.

I didn;t grow up wearing a cross or seeing crosses in our rooms. But I’m pleased I don’t have to hide my Celtic cross in public. For decades I worked in places it was deemed unacceptable to note one’s religion or politics, especially if they happened to just be unpopular. So today I wore my cross out on my sweater as I ran errands–as I do more often since retirement. Plus, it is the Advent Season so it has meaning to me. (Even though I don’t necessarily think Jesus was born this time of year. Sources indicate it was likely June since it is said his parents, Joseph and Mary, were going to register to be taxed in Bethlehem.) I value it; it was also given to me long ago by my husband. It speaks of a welcome to God, meant to offer peace, wholeness and universal, everlasting love. At least, that is how I see it. It gives inspiration to meditate when I see it. I remember I am part of God; God is part of me. And you. I wear it respectfully as a Christian symbol, as others wear symbols of their faith or other beliefs.

We can each become wiser, I am certain of that. Or we can try to act as if we have decent insight and see if we gain smarter, better ones. We can be more charitable, that is for sure–whoever we are, wherever we live. Motivation for acts of consideration are within our grasp, as are the good outcomes. Charity, the seed of which lives within us, is a celebratory act any day of the year, I remind myself. I lately think of it more as I searchg for unique gifts for those I know well– or donate money or needed items to those I don’t know and likely will never meet. We all do our bit and how easy to give to another.

Well, Sting’s CD has ended. I am appreciative of his creative wealth shared; I’ve listened to him for years. But now traditional Celtic Christmas music plays on. Carols of another place delight me. It is that sort of night, one of shdaow and light. A touch of mystery in the air. I study our small fake tree–we will not cut down a real one, anymore, it seems. I may miss the pungent piney scent. But this is pleasing, too, as it’s now decorated with white lights twinkling and decades-old ornaments, some of which I decoupaged at 24.

I sure hope–there’s hope again, carrying worries, dreams, my whole messy self–our family can come Christimas Eve and/or Day. I keep acting like it will happen. No matter what we do, I’m here and grateful for that. Ready for more joy. We have missed some holidays, just being together. I think most people desire good times with beloved families.

I can’t wait to sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” though “Jingle Bells” is our twin granddaughters’ favorite right now. Sugar cookies and more. Gift swap. Dinner, brunch and laughter. To gaze at their faces, hear their voices more.

May you and yours enjoy–or create–meaningful traditions during the coming holidays.

Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: What Now? The Shuttering of a Mall and its Ice Rink

(Above photos: 2017 at Lloyd Center Mall rink; granddaughter, Avery, and me; just me; daughter, Naomi, and me being silly)

I read yesterday that Lloyd Center Mall–covering 23 acres and at one time the largest shopping center anywhere–is closing. And may be torn down. Built in 1960, it was a whole new shopping experience; thousands attended the ribbon cutting as the then-Governor did the honors. Big stores moved in, restaurants. A food court was built later that overlooked the fun below. A huge draw was the indoor ice skating rink. Originally an open air mall, it was beautifully glass-roofed when I moved to Portland in 1993. Generations have long enjoyed its convenience and offerings, but over the years there has been a downturn in numbers of shoppers, as new malls have sprung up and small businesses have continued to flourish the last 30 years. With the devastation and restrictions brought by the pandemic, it appears to have finally come to a full stop and must be sold or demolished.

It’s a sad moment as I reflect upon this older local hub of activities. Many events took place there over the decades, from Clydesdale horses to gardening/flower shows to fashion shows to wildly popular midnight sales. I wonder what else went on that I missed those years before.

The mall was a primary stop for my family when we lived in NE Portland. We walked over (a few blocks from our old neighborhood) for a quick pick up of a necessary item, or to find a gift for a special occasion. Or we stopped by a couple of hours to just browse on a rainy day, grabbing a bite to eat and watching skaters below in the center of it all. Just taking a curious appraisal of milling crowds can be entertaining. And when we met family, say at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, for coffee, a scone and a new book, that was pleasant, too. Everywhere there was chatter, activity. Youthful friends often met their cohorts there to shop or while away time or attend a movie in the indoor movie theaters. It was a safe place for even young teens to be on their own, overall, though in the last years there was some illegal activity in and about the mall. And that likely contributed to its demise. A nearby corner park also became known for drug activity.

But when I had time, I certainly spent a fair share of money there. Sometimes it was a small and distracting getaway between work and other life business, or to distract myself if disgruntled or confounded by some issue. I’d get exercise walking there; I could meander a bit, get a drink, a treat. But mainly I was glad to have last minute shopping options so handy.

And then there was the ice rink. I have long been an ice skater seeking good ice.

Just thinking of that oval of slick stuff no longer existing there brings a small lump to my throat. For where else will I –and so many other ice lovers–end up with skates in hand? I can think of no place, at all. There once was a bigger ice rink at a newer mall (Tonya Harding used to practice there), but that rink closed due to less interest. Lloyd Mall rink was popular with area residents and those who came from a distance to enjoy family recreation–or just singular skating. There were classes for all ages, different kinds of skating events. It met a demand for our greater community. What pleasure to witness fathers or mothers and their children, older and younger friends with linked arms, kids zooming about on their own, littler ones teetering, trying to regain balance amid forward motion. You saw happiness out there. I felt my own. And there were hard falls, sliding off course, then skating on. There are always failed moments, mine included as I executed a barest half of a waltz jump that was easy at 30, but not so much at 60. But I tried to improve as well as just speed skate some, weaving betwen others, backwards and forwards. It got my heart thumping hard and that was good– my body sang.

Now that the mall is closing, I realize I should have skated there more. I was 43 when I moved to my first Oregon home and I quickly seized the opportunity to try the rink. And was delighted despite it being smallish. Yet I might have skated there only four times a year, to my regret. Between family obligations and long hours at work, it was a lower priority to me. When I retired from working in the mental health field, I planned to skate more but instead I wrote more….and saw more family and friends amd explored other interests. I never rekindled the habit I cultivated as a younger person.

Indoor ice skating was a bit odd, in a way. There were no biting, sleety, snowy winds as I raced around the rink. Far less layers of clothing; not even gloves were required. Of course, I’d readily adapted to northern weather vagaries growing up in Michigan. But I learned to skate at a well maintained outdoor rink, took figure skating lessons from early childhood. It was one passion of several I nurtured and though I did well, my daily disciplined study and practice began to fade by my late teens. I had skated for the joy of it as well as for competitive sport– and it was a blast. And a winter activity that was a rejuventator, one which saved me from the weight of despair many times.

Then I went to college, got married and my children were born. It was up to us to find a pond or lake frozen over each winter, which we often did. And what antics there were out there, the family gliding and falling and rushing over the rough ice nature afforded us. My first husband was a decent skater and enjoyed outdoor sports as much as did I. When married a second time we lived for years in Rochester, Michigan. Just two houses down from ours was sprawling Rochester Park with a rushing brook– and a pond. In winter it froze, thick and safe. There was a rustic warming house; we changed into our skates, took breaks to heat up hands and feet and sip cocoa. Every one of five children skated, though some were more enthusiastic than others. Marc was less enthralled but willing to try a bit, then watch and cheer us on. I was full of happiness, helping the children step and push onto ice, then find their own power and glide; to skate backwards; to stand with feet placed just so, then draw in arms quickly to create a spin. Despite the generally poor condition of snow-skimmed (or encrusted) ice–and excited hockey and speed skaters that gouged the surface and interrupted our trajectories–it was an outing always worth our time. The cold left our cheeks reddened, noses dripping and fingers tingling.

I was a skating nut, an outdoors lover way back, and grateful for all of it. And my blades on ice felt special. Thrilling.

So, now I wonder what to do with no rink. Of course I desire to skate even more now that the old standby is closing. And I long to teach the toddler grand-twins how to skate. I suppose I may have taken the rink–and the mall–for granted. Now I’ll have to search for a new ice rink. Hopefully, within an hour’s drive.

Thanksgiving is next week, then… Christmas. I for years looked forward to gawking at gaudy holiday decorations strung about Lloyd Mall, bright reds and greens with gold and silver accents, sometimes huge snowflakes and maybe icicles sparkling in the lights. It was a noisy, crowded, festive place, a spot where we shared energy of a loose community. Where groups merged briefly then separated. There was something for everyone if you looked long enough. I do feel a shopping mall is never the best place to authentically socialize. I am not supporting the idea of anyone becoming a “mall rat.” Though for soem folks this may be a safe place, the pause from a wearying or harsh life, a kind of comfort. Lots of older people could be seen sitting with coffee, eating a cheaper lunch, at the edge of such bustling life yet within the group of humankind.

I came to malls late and never missed them. There were none (other than small and ugly strip malls) in my hometown as a kid. Nonetheless, it is a place that is public, like parks, and available to all (in theory, usually in practice), offering a modicum of shelter and food. And Lloyd Mall was meant to be a people’s mall, and there are trains and buses about the area; it is close to Portland’s city center. The mall had begun to look a bit run down but it was spruced up a few years ago. Yet I had a fondness for that faded luster–it had been well used, enjoyed so long by thousands.

Not that I don’t have other choices for shopping and meet-ups. It’s a big metro area; there are multiple destinations to meet needs. My more local downtown is pretty–overlooks a lake–but small and very high-priced. There are other “downtowns” out my way, streets lined with a mix of shops and other businesses, but it is mostly so suburban. I also live a few minutes from an attractive shopping center designed like a large village square, with good restaurants and other businesses on narrow streets, with lamposts and flowers everywhere. It is a bit chi chi, or tries to be with fancier fittings, higher end stores, But I go, anyway. It suits me well enough for now–until I get more time in Portland’s unique shops, when the pandemic wanes…if and when it does.

This week I noticed a huge Doug fir tree up on the faux village mall corner, decked out in a festive spirit with shiny things. I saw more people shopping, and they looked cheerier than they have for awhile. We all want life to behave more normally, so even if it isn’t yet we pretend it is and seek ordinary but improved experiences, and the bit of lightness we bring to this more superficial activity creates a ripple effect. Who doesn’t love holiday candles? Bought one. Who doesn’t like peppermint mochas? Well, I do. Who wouldn’t want to purchase a wonderful book or ten for their family? I did so.

The pandemic has thus far impacted many businesses. Stores have been shuttered all over that could not make ends meet without daily foot traffic, a steady flow of buying and selling. We need to support small businesses, especially. And keep finding ways to get together, to safely mingle, to exchange greetings and news, to share our love and appreciation. I am counting on more of this to come, even in smaller doses, far fewer people. As far as the old mall goes: the Lloyd Center Mall real estate will be revamped, utilized for mixed residential-business spaces. I suppose we get used to new architecture, the unknowns accompanying redevelopment. At least I do hope I am not in complete shock when I drive by the palce again one day. Until then I will be elsehwere, living beyond the density and action of the big city.

But I’ll also look for another ice skating rink… I so wish for a new place. May it come true so I can glide and spin, skid and play with grandkids, adult kids or alone for years to come. I want to feel the chill air whip my hair as I skate, then come to a spetacular T-stop that discharges snowy spray into bright air.

(Naomi; daughter, Alexandra, behind her niece, Avery; Avery and Grandma/me.)

Wednesday’s Words/ Nonfiction: Learning to Relent

I had a whole other topic developing in my mind the last couple of days for this post, but I am a bit waylaid. Literally. I can’t sit at my computer desk that long today, certainly not without getting up and moving about some. The other, more involving topic will have to wait. I considered not writing, at all, but it’s a habit I love so I will give a whirl.

I live with chronic pain and have ever since my teens. Most people can’t or won’t see it, not even my husband or other family members. There are days it yanks me off a more livable plateau and won’t release its strangling grip. I know large numbers of people have this problem. Pain relieving prescriptions are a gigantic business, as are other interventions/treatment systems. And if a person suffers the complex ramifications of a severe injury or lifelong debilitating disease–well, all the bearing up, the seeking solutions, the gritting of teeth, the prayers for aid…it goes on and on. I’ve known some of those people and don’t know how they get on with life. Everyone is unique in their tolerance and self-care plan. Many finally do not get on much, at all, and become addicted to pain pills or end up couch-bound. Or worse.

I have for decades pushed against or sought detours around the most negative outcomes and still do. I mean, to live a decent life, one must often push forward, right? I tend to view my health challenges as that picture of the tunnel above: it gets so dark but I can still see the light out there–there is always some way through the strictures of suffering. You come to it, it is gotten through, perhaps even alleviated as well as it can be. Then, fresh air and sunlight are hailed once more. Until the next time. If there are no long term solutions, there are temporary stays from the worst–usually. I need to get creative, at times.

One thing I shy away from is pain medication. If deemed medically critical, the lightest type of prescription pain reliever is used at lowest milligram, in smallest doses and for a day or a night. I am in recovery from alcohol and drug dependence that began as a young woman (partly due to serious digestion issues that remain) so I am not about to go back down a more miserable path. I feel so strongly about this that when in the hospital for chest pain and my cardiologist insisted I take the IV Demerol I was adamant I would not. In frustration, he gave me something else, he didn’t explain his choice. But it was just enough until the tests were completed. On the other hand, as he has informed me assertively, pain control is important for worsening inflammatory responses and increased blood pressure– and my heart health. I got hit with heart disease fairly young, at 51. So I try to ignore it less and treat it the best I can. I don’t want to ruin all the work he and I have done.

It’s not always easy for me to even pinpoint the cause of pain, and that can complicate things. It might be a big surprise and then it can move about, am I right? Last night I had a creeping headache with sudden worsening back-of-neck pain that spread into my back. I took an OTC pain pill, then another in an hour. But it plagued me, anyway. I had to make inventory of all I had done the last few days to solve the “What” of it. I had been reading a good hour at the dining room table, which meant the bad discs in my neck got irritated as I hunched over to read, elbows on table, head bowed down. I also had half-picked up my toddler granddaughters earlier and carried fairly heavy grocery bags up stairs and into our place. And done some cleaning. All these create more stress on an already tricky backbone and spine. So I hypothesized that was it. But even as the headache decreased, it hurt when I took deep breaths. This was a little alarming, but I had no other symptoms; my actual breathing was alright, I felt fine except for pain. In time it seemed to lessen with a heating pad against the back of my good chair, a short neck massage by Marc, and one low dose muscle relaxant. In the morning I felt much improved with barest pain, then none. But after sitting, reading and then typing, there is more pain in my upper back and neck. It is kind of hollering at me so I will pause…

I am sharing this because those who have pain–or worsening pain attacks– understand this process of attention, examination, tentative conclusions, plan of action. It can be time intensive and certainly can interfere with the usual rhythms of life. How does one diagnose the source of acute or lingering pain? I have to carefully check in with my biological systems to tick various boxes: is it coming from stomach pain or gut (GERD/gastritis/colitis)? Is it those crunched or bulging discs in neck and the spinal stenosis getting worse? Is it the tricky behaviors of my heart (coronary artery disease and arrhythmias)? Is it an overreaction to my body’s cues?

Likely not the last. If anything, I have been told I underreact and under-treat. Why?

So many have been taught to be stoic. I know I was. My mother got kicked by a horse as a teen and had no professional medical treatment, and all her life she endured nearly unremitting back pain. I can still see her with an arm tucked behind her back, her fist pressed against the throbbing spot. Sometimes she lay down to rest but she always popped up and got busy again and rarely said a thing about it. She could be washing floors or dressing in brocade for the opera all the while in pain, but she kept on. My father simply ignored health matters as long as possible and loathed doctors. (They both lived into their 80s and 90s my mother longer, but may have lived longer…). A child learns by watching; I learned to minimize my physical discomforts, carry on with a smile. A good attitude could make a difference, in fact; l I had witnessed it, found it often true. Besides which, it was embarrassing to admit to weakness. Who wants to feel weak? Not me, no then, and often, not now.

I was a natural athlete as a child and teen and craved physical activity. I wasn’t into team sports–it was figure skating, cycling, running, diving, swimming, water skiing, softball, volleyball, dancing and so on. And these obviously required vigorous engagement. Even singing and playing cello required sustained output of energy and concerted efforts for long periods. One thing expected was a consistent effort to push through aches and bruises. (“No pain, no gain”–right? The American sports mantra. But it isn’t useful for some of us, at times.) It stuck with me into adulthood when ailments became more intractable, yet I still loved being active outdoors. I also began weight training and body building a few years. Plus I had five kids–so who had time to sit around? I told my kids to get up when they fell, wipe the blood off and keep going; I was naturally doing the same. Or was that such a “natural” response? My children, now adults, have significantly followed suit–they like to think they’re tough. Maybe they are–but at what cost in the end?)

Maybe it’s time to take a look at all these ingrained beliefs again. Progress has definitely occurred since I went off the rails as a teen and other major dips in my late 30s into early 40s. I had to learn to stop forever charging into life. That extended to needing to slow down my well-known hard driving stride upon all surfaces whether with my boots, high heels, hiking boots or bare feet. Take a break, I had to tell myself, not every second is critical to anything or anyone... Undue or persistent stress, one’s life pressures mismanaged creates more aches and pains, thus worsening one’s health status. Seems simple.

My life is no longer all work, too much tiredness and minimal play. Well, I am retired now but believe me, early retirement was still lots of work at home. I still keep an daily agenda book filled with tasks and goals… But perfection is unnecessary, for one thing. Suffering is not always part of the deal, either. My body needs loving care as much as my mind and spirit. I finally got it by age 45, that lightbulb coming on full wattage after another divorce, more years of sobriety, fascinating work and better friendships, more frequent outdoor activities, reading for fun and not always education. Oh, and the board games and cards. I rediscovered the simple pleasure of quietly playing a few again– not to win but to…play!

Still, here I am typing away when my upper back and neck are cringing like mad. (At some point, I remind myself I also was in a bad car accident two months ago, with whiplash and other jolts that may still impact nerves and tissues.) I have gotten up and down a half dozen times as I’ve written. Had a cheddar cheese and cracker snack, made more delicious tea, threw another two wet loads into the dryer. I have stretched, shaken it all out, turned up the heat as a cold rain splatters the ground. Marc will be home soon and I think he will make dinner…it relaxes him, aggravates me too often.

Earlier I took a hilly 45 minute walk even though it hurt some. I fully believe in walking for whole health, perhaps especially for pain management of body and mind. But when I got home I called my cardiologist to set up a check up appointment soon–I usually see him once a year now but it seems a good time before holidays– took another acetaminophen, and got my cozy blanket to wrap about as I write. I may get that heating pad going next and read a bit in my best chair. Despite it being daylight and thinking I really have more to do. Must I still fight against feeling I will be giving in to getting older?

Well, Cynthia, you are getting older; the body takes a beating as it moves closer to that point. Repeat after me: it is alright to practice regular self-care and time outs.

I do know what to do now that I have learned hard lessons over time–including getting medical help when needed. So now I must end this post: I do relent. It is fine to relent. In fact, it is important to stop struggling at times, rest the painful places, allow more of nature’s healing to happen. And to ask for more help from Divine Love. There is that light at the end of the tunnel; I am going for that once more. Always.

I will check in Friday with a poem. I hope you all take care of your bodies, hearts, minds, as well.