Friday’s Passing Fancy/Poem: We All Die of Something

Ruby red, small fisted, dauntless royal heart,

heart that has born me up, loaned me a life.

This heart that runs of its own accord,

with daily rescues, with my will as cohort.

How it keeps thumping, pushing,

sweet talking despite time or errors, passions

wearing out me out, the cumulative years

like sand falling, driven against stone,

and wind gnarling the once green tree.

 

I call out to it even as it labors,

don’t let me down, dance me just so,

grow old at home behind the light armor

of ribs with a proprietary peace.

And still it heeds my pleas.

I carry it into the ruins of the world,

into dangers of ordinary living,

and tentative runs with silver hair flying, on walks

with legs that push until my breath shortens,

squeezes me to a stop. I count the seconds,

eyes widely watering, back to passersby

until we can go on, panting,

dash through tender or cutting rains,

under sun’s umbrella, in moonlight’s whisper

and the trees, who know everything.

You feel with me as they wave, rivers flash,

and other creatures call.

You feel because I feel. Or is it

the other way around, my friend?

 

The rest we manage, too, madcap

mysteries and random muttering spiked

with bolts of anger and deep weeping wells,

sorts of things few might admit but we cannot deny.

We are comrades, more than this,

confessor and confessed,

body and soul.

 

So today when the one (who 20 years ago

salvaged us) intones with smile and handshake

doing well once more, keep up the great work,

stop worrying because you know

we all die of something-

I lift you, my heart, out into the world

feeling more brave and sturdy but this, too:

five more years, ten more years. Please.

When all that exists for us is this moment,

old heart, so let us know the glory of it.

the golden romance of another reprieve.

Good heart, it only comes to this, 

that we shall live and live and pass as one

 

Friday’s Quick Pick: Farewell to Heart Concerns (for now!) and Beck’s Tree Farm

 

Well, I came through the heart angiogram just fine and am about back on my feet, after a fine conclusion: the third stent implant is not needed! Now I happily turn my attention to the Season’s preparations once more and must think about where we will get our fresh tree this year.

Beck’s Tree Farm was visited over the years as it was our favorite place to get a tree. It was bought later in life by a charming and friendly couple who finally retired from the business; now new owners apparently have other plans. We quite enjoyed the woolly sheep, our endless walks across muddy fields to discover the very best tree which we (or, if our son wasn’t there, a helper) cut down. Such panoramic views were beheld, including glimpses of Mt. Hood. The air was crisp and sweet. It was fun, felt magical to us.

Here are a few pictures from 2013 and 2015 of the annual trip out there with our son, Joshua and his children, Asher and Avery. Happy memories, indeed! (Now Asher is 13; Avery is 16, soon to graduate early from high school.) You will note Joshua is wearing a more  typical Northwest attire even in winter: shorts (if at all possible) with a heavy fleece-lined flannel and sneakers (or hiking shoes). Of course, the Santa hat is required for these Christmas forays!

No matter where we discover our next and best piney tree, then decorate and light it  up, it will be more good times shared. I can’t imagine anything better. Though I may have a less than perfect heart, it is beating strong and true, overflowing with love for my family and friends as we gather around table and tree.

Friday’s Quick Pick/Poem: A Heart for Life

Photo by Alexandra Richardson

The heart takes it all in, the tender and piquant,
pings of sadness that stop us in the street,
messages of death carved on the walls,
yesterday’s certainties strewn at your knees,
empires treacherous, unknown or golden
and sound of dew gathering, incense of ancient wood.

The heart gathers secrets: pearls of light to part gloaming,
the wildness of fighting and loving, sleepwalking fears,
shadows of scavengers perched upon pinnacles,
shouts of joy flying on a warm west wind,
your victories and beatings entwined as twins,
betrayals like rust in your mouth. Hope abloom in your belly.

The heart knows and bears and intuits all things.
It is a marthoner, meant to service you without fail,
a constancy overlooked as the air you breathe,
it’s precision a mysterious matrix, sinew and blood.
It doesn’t beg attention nor keep track of favors
nor run you ragged–until it’s become too late.

Within its inner chambers reigns a holiness.

Feel the prayerful music and dance? It lives for you.
Shelter and adore it, rescue and honor it
as it starts and finishes every single moment with you.


February is American Heart Month–this is why I am wearing red today and holding up a stone heart I found–and feeling gratitude. Diagnosed with heart disease at 51 a couple of days after suffering a suspected heart attack while hiking, it changed my life. But this year is my 17th still alive, thanks to medical interventions I’ve received and ongoing management of symptoms. I work at staying well, as 1 out of 3 women (and 1 of every 4 men) in this country die of heart disease. Learn the symptoms and signs of heat attack and stroke as they are not always obvious! Care for yourself enough to preserve this wonderful powerhouse that keeps us going. Check it out: http://www.americanheartassociation.com

 

My Heart, My Queen

My Heart, My Queen via Discover Challenge: The Greatest _______ in the World

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It’s the happily blood thirsty and nutrient-carrying, industrious and curiously adaptable heart, when all is said and done–isn’t it? That would qualify as the greatest of something worth noting, this being the organ in the human vehicle that propels us into the world. The one that gets us up and at ’em, then transports us through velvety caves of thought and architecture of sleep and even blurred somnambulance.

I know a little something of hearts, of working ones and failing ones. How mine leaps, thrums and flails, at least. It alerts me sometimes late and sometimes early to what is to be reckoned with: it is an organ that has its own intuition and its own mutable barometer. It shimmers like a rich scarlet light inside the brazen frame of my ribs. I am part of a small percentage of those who literally feel its responses daily and nightly, as if I am its default keeper (am I?) and not the other way around, as if it means to accompany me on every tiny turn of earthly or other pathways I skim and trod. This is a blessing. It can seem to be a curse. Having a heart that whispers and sings, then shakes it fisted mass at me–it is a thing that cannot be ignored for long.

As a child it was quieter. That is, it was in the same league as the rest of my functioning pieces, neither brighter or dimmer than the other parts as I blithely used the body I was given. I could do all things, I thought. I might well have done if there was time, who knows? My heart wanted so much. That I felt early.To care for it meant to live, simply put, and my heart obliged, letting me love it as much as feet and belly and head and fingertips and teeth that fell out and grew in and tiny hairs on arms that prickled in sudden delight. Or, later, fear.

And the heart grew with me, or so it felt. It seemed bigger in my chest, as if the one who commanded and filled me up. I noticed it took up more of my life. It started to flinch a little and toss about and lie low when uncertainty hit. It often generated poetry of the moment and prayers that had no succinct words. It rocked with the wisdom of ages and stole away into shadows during our brazen escapes. We were partners, co-conspirators. I knew my heart was a thunderous engine that kept my life humming and reaching but even let it make mistakes.

It didn’t show signs of weakening as I grew, changed and became that adult that had once seemed like a distant dream or a warning of likely hardship to come. Yet, wait, that is a lie. It surely wanted to back down, even collapse on bent knee in its autonomic muscular manner; there were times it held back or lurched, but it was incapable of retracting its grand intent way back when. Because it is a heart. It has its duty, its job. It was and is meant to work, to shift and seem to fly easily like silken wings or groan like rusty gears. To draw attention, then harbor itself in its inner sanctum, deep into its chambers so the rest of the body can go about its business.

I had to abuse it some, ignore it more, pretend it mattered less than what I accepted. I had to be a bit heedless of its messages, reckon with its temperament, which well reflected mine too often. I was an amateur trying to live like a pro. My trusty heart waited and gathered intelligence for our future.

We forget about its greater meanings. Its multiple uses. How it is not a paper heart, not a clay or stone or ever actually a smiley heart. It is a serious and unequaled creation of sinew and electrical impulses and valves and rich blood flowing in and out, up and down, without which we cannot live one more mundane or extraordinary moment. It is the Queen/King of our private territory, our fleshly boundaries, our brain’s acrobatics and investigations and musings by candle light or sunrise or at our desks when all else is just ticking about us. It pumps and pumps and we go forth and ignore it if possible, do we not? Until it aches or adores or grieves or exalts. That sort of a greatest thing is part of what it is.

Nonetheless, my companion heart, my devoted and tough and touching heart walloped me hard at 51. Yes, this heart that reflects my greater peace, creative passion and upsurges of soul-inspired kindness and love; despite random terrors survived and frequent conundrums; that thrives on my adoration of its workings and mysteries. It just took me down at the base of a riotous waterfall in the Columbia Gorge forest.

Now, it said, hear me well. Alter your life choices further. Respect your particular genes. Reappraise your forgotten dreams and arduous agendas. Revere the miracles of science as I signal an SOS to keep you sentient.

I obeyed. I found a way to stay alive. Would you not obey a heart that cried out and desperately wanted to rally, strictly on your behalf? I am telling you the truth, you would listen and you would follow that decree and if you had the will and the fortune, you would somehow walk out of that forest to find salvation.

And so, I know that the heart is the greatest. I yet live. It beats its own alternating rhythms and even when shocking or cranky it yet keeps its agreements with me and with God, if unknown in full to me. I follow its lead. We manage to embrace each day with thanksgiving. It knows far, far more than do I and that makes me a willing student. This heart–our hearts–they are given to us as guides, lest we forget we are profoundly, maddeningly human, lest we forget we are here this minor but powerful time. It is a body of light wrapped in sinew that we have been gifted–lest we forget we may even be angels in the making, carrying beacons for this day and beyond time.

Heart, Light, Snow

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You never know what a new morning will bring. I awakened with what can be all too familiar: that clutch of pain in my neck and head, but then as I moved across the room, an increased heart rate that gathered steam, then thundered its way through morning preparations. A shower was not a good idea, at all; it ended fast. I was confounded. Often my myriad heart issues settle and improve with time but no. I felt breathless, not a good sign.

Once dressed, the question was: do I call 911? My cardiologist or my husband or both? I managed the blood pressure cuff and found the vitals alarming– very high blood pressure and heart rate still unstable. My chest felt better sitting. I didn’t identify any other sign of heart attack yet felt unwell.

I sat and thought about what had entered my mind when I had been awakened off and on by the creeping neck pain and various heart arrhythmias. I had said one prayer in the thick, long darkness: Lord, please let me know what I need to do about this. By morning I was getting the directive to not ignore things. I monitored my heart and tried to drink my tea and eat a little. Heart rate was falling; that was good. But I did not feel okay yet. I felt…stunned, unstable, faint at moments.

The night before had been wonderful. A grandson turned eleven and his dad–he is my son’s son–had made chili and I made the cake and added potato rolls. Their family came plus an aunt, an other “adult child” of ours. The food was good, the gathering even better as we lolled about the living room; the spaces warmed and filled with laughter and random stories. My son and his girlfriend just returned from Hawaii so shared videos and pictures. Young Asher was happy with his gifts–fancy iridescent silly putty being one of the best. His older sister smiled and chatted easily. I felt very happy to be a mother and grandmother.

In the morning it was so bitterly cold that when the snow came it lingered, heated up from all the traffic on roads and then got icy. In the Oregon valley, snow is not welcome, it is difficult, dangerous.I felt exhausted and shaky and uncertain. As a woman living with heart disease for 15 years, I have made countless trips in an ambulance. I always want to avoid it.

Doctor was called: come in, I heard. Husband was summoned and he soon arrived.

It is a mystery, how this pattern has emerged, a sudden shifting of heart rhythms and rates. How blood pressure has skyrocketed when it was not a problem for many years. I would likely only know the latter because I have the blood pressure cuff to take my own vitals–I generally have no discernable symptoms of that. The majority usually do not. I know what is not safe when I read those numbers.

My cardiologist, good Dr. P.– exuding compassion and intelligence while seemingly ignorant he is movie star good-looking—has never steered me wrong. He is the hoped-for combination of attentive listener, brilliant strategist and swift decision maker. I trust him with my life because he has saved it often. I have watched him get older as he has, me, and it is clear he is only mortal, after all. So we always put our heads together; he does the best he is capable of doing.

It wasn’t heart attack symptoms, which an EKG verified. It turns out it is likely the intense chronic pain I have had increasingly over the past few months. The idea is not so surprising; it is clear it has impacted me though I’ve become used to varying degrees of chronic pain throughout my life due to a different health issues. I guess I’ve learned to ignore it mostly, even believe it will not win the battle. I avoid taking OTC pain medicine. (As a person with coronary artery disease I can’t safely use ibuprofen much, though this helps most; it affects heart patients in negative ways as well as health of the stomach.) I do not take opiate medication as I’ve been in recovery from substance abuse for over 25 years. I am anxious even about the drug Dr. P. mentioned, which is not an opiate but perhaps a second or third “cousin”. It targets the same receptors in the brain as do narcotics. I was never an opiate addict, but being recovery means being cautious of all we put in our bodies. And I also know from experience pain can be managed in many holistic ways.

I might have ended up in a bit of a corner now, though. Being stubborn is not so good. I desire to–choose to–live a healthy life each day. I want to stay on the go, enjoy all I can every second. I have a hunger for the wonders and curiosities of life. And sometimes I choose to ignore a difficult need of my own rather than own up and relent. This is not helping me.

“It is time you take something to get the pain under control or you will likely continue to have high blood pressure and tachycardia. The body always reverts to alarm mode with daily pain. And you must find out what you can do next about those old disc issues. Let’s increase your heart medication for now, as well.”

I propped up my aching head on my hand, felt relief but also new fear. What would come of all this?

“I want another really good ten years, Dr. P. Can I do that? I have a lot to do.”

He took my other cold hand in his warm one. “Let’s work at doubling those numbers. Take even better care of yourself–you’ve done such a good job for son long and you can do more. Take your new medicine, too. And if this doesn’t do the trick, back to the drawing board we’ll go.”

Dr. P. remains a crucial light in my life. From the start when no one believed I had heart disease at such a young age (by 50, likely even earlier but diagnosed at 51 during an emergency) he believed me. He made fast and right choices to save me from death or at least serious impairment.

By the time my husband and I left the office, it was snowing mightily. I felt quiet watching the whitening air swirl about us. How much I loved the snow as a kid and even now, how it draws me–its softness and freshness, all those intricately patterned flakes, how it transforms the gritty world for awhile. I expressed my desire to take a slow, short walk when I got home. My husband shut down the idea fast.

So I took my medicine and I have been lounging around feeling like a very unproductive person. Yet resting when rest is needed is a wise thing to do. I will try the pain medicine tonight. I want to sleep long and well for once, and I  need to experience far less misery in this restless, hurting body.

So I decided to share this day with you. If you are a person who has heart disease, first stay as well as you can; the work and fun will still be waiting. And if you are in need of more assistance for any reason at all in your life, don’t hesitate– reach out, find and use it.

My gratitude for every moment runs deep. And even for this trying day–for all human and Godly light that illumine my way. The fiercely exquisite snow. This tough, resilient, tenderly beating heart.