Friday’s Poem on Sunday: Return to the Falls

For wind which carries rain and sun on its breath,

and secret messages from sea and valley

I give thanks.

For trees and ferns in green garments

which dance, shelter and bend,

which break, fall and sustain

I give thanks.

For fragrant trails hewn of rock and dirt

so feet can trod up the mountain

I give thanks.

For waters that race and slink,

that house fishes, stones and newts

I give thanks.

For shadow creatures passing by,

and bright flip of wings and tails

I give thanks.

For song of beak and river,

rhythm of hoof and paw,

ancient tales of the mountains

I give thanks.

For this seeking life that was half-lost

in forest magic of the Gorge

and rescued there again

I give thanks.

For my soul passing through

holy ways of the Creator,

this woman- a shard of the design,

one day joining sand, air-

I offer most humble thanks.

The picture of me on the crook of the tree is a tradition. Every autumn for 19 years I have hiked the trail to Bridal Veil Falls in the Columbia Gorge, where a heart attack felled me at age 51. Gratitude does not enough express what I feel every single day –and never more than when partaking of nature’s wonders. Anyone recovering from heart disease–please do not give up hope.

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.

Your Life Reset in Motion

Father's Day, beach, other 154

Over the past six decades, I have been adversarial towards my body as well as its greatest ally. Especially since I have so far outlived the prognosis given me at age fifty-one. I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of coronary artery disease and I get check-ups every year–and as needed.

So I recently had my yearly treadmill stress test with an EKG and heart ultrasound plus a new one (to examine carotid arteries along the neck) two weeks ago. I got the results Monday. My brilliant, effusive heart doctor arrived with his usual intense focus. Technical language rolls off his tongue like a romantic foreign language. He quickly but carefully explained each test result, the whys and wherefores of a couple of anomalies and the improvements. The results were encouraging–over fifteen years, I have had mostly good news. Despite two carotids in my neck starting to clog up a bit, one moderately so at 50-70%.

Wait a minute. I sat forward. What did he say?

But he wasn’t particularly alarmed.

“There are six of them feeding the brain– a great delivery system God provided. You can manage fine with a couple not entirely in prime shape for much longer. Plaque builds up gradually in everyone’s carotids as we age, not just yours. We’ll check next year unless you call me first with any complaints. Something will be done when it is necessary, but not that soon.”

And that one stiffening valve noted the last two years?

“Gone. I see no evidence of it now.”

But what about the slight enlargement of one heart chamber noted last year?

“I almost suspect it only looked a bit larger for a number of reasons…it’s showing nothing more, it operates beautifully, and you have a small rib cage so parts of your heart can appear bigger at different angles. In short, I make note of all but nothing concerns me about this, either. I will keep an eye on everything, of course.”

We talked a bit more; I am a patient who asks many questions. But since he had been up since four  in the morning and he was in scrubs (hospital conveniently next door), I went easy on him.

“So. I’m holding my own, still–I will just keep on keeping on. Live with the arrhythmias as best as I can, as before.”

“Cynthia, in truth, you somehow have the strong, hard-working heart of a fifty year old woman, rather than a sixty-six year old, despite coronary artery disease. But the heart disease is still a reality. You have done amazing things by staying nicotine-free, exercising so much daily, eating healthily, taking great care of yourself. You know you’ve outlived life expectancy–and you’ve even reversed a few things! You look fantastic.”

I think he really meant my heart, but I blushed a little, anyway. I had gotten up way before my usual time to get to an early appointment and felt bleary, more so due to feeling some anxiety about these visits. But now: relief. He extended  open hands to me with a warm smile and I reached back. We are a partnership and he is just as responsible, no doubt about this, that I still stand and well enough. He listens and he takes excellent action at the right time–so far so good.

“How much do you exercise now?” he asked reaching for the doorknob.

“Still about 2-4 miles  a day; I tend to power walk those. On week-ends, I hike up to two hours or so at a time. I love both. One recent fun time I walked through a nature refuge for nine miles. I could have gone more–I was not that tired–but I was hungry and my husband felt done long before then.”

“That’s great work, Cynthia. You’re a star patient, as ever.”

As I exit, out flows a long fast breath, tension ebbing once more.

It significantly delineates my life, this yearly meeting. It is a marker, tells me if I succeeded in staving off further damage one more year, keeping the disease from progressing, maybe making it recede a bit. But right after I underwent the first medical intervention, I was terrified to walk more than a block by myself. I envisioned my glaring lack of health and nearly sabotaged my progress. Then I thought: I will either die on the sidewalk as I walk around the block or I will go on living and my heart will get stronger again. I better get going.

Dr. P. had been the only cardiologist able to see me the day after my heart event. It had happened on a hike in the Columbia Gorge; I was brought to my knees by chest pressure and pain. After Dr. P saw me, the hospital and stent implants to prop open an artery 95% occluded. I came out of recovery and thought: At barely fifty-one, what will I need to do to get back? 

So when I got out of this week’s appointment was I more than relieved? One finds happiness comes with a dose of caution regarding heart disease. I found myself thinking of that carotid artery being more than 50% closed. Then I just let it go. I trust him. And I trust my own body to tell me when I need to get help.

I didn’t always trust it. I tried to ignored it. Too often took poor care of it, even disrespected it. I thought it tricked me, perhaps hated me many times. And this was long before I was fifty and headed for a fatal heart attack. It has been a long run of challenges. Yet, truly, I remind myself how fortunate I am every day, even the hardest days. I know my life could have been another tale told, one that was far more intolerable and ended early.

In the illustrious and checkered annals of history, no one will note much less recall this woman’s tiresome battle with and burgeoning love for her own body. For one thing, we all have body concerns and issues, beginning perhaps from that initial burst and flow of oxygen into lungs at birth. How easy is that, to be expected to step forth and embrace another sphere? We are built for it,  and yet it seems an uncertain thing desired since infants often require encouragement. The new body is smacked, the breath is sharply taken in and a cry erupts, the arms and legs tremble and tight fists punch the air. Bigger arms of newly appointed guides reach to embrace. Welcome to life on earth.

Unless, possibly, one is born as my youngest daughter, via the LeBoyer Method, quietly. Into a large basin of room temperature water, in a bedroom, with classical music flowing about our ears. She doesn’t remember this but she was an unusually happy, peaceable baby. I do. She made her way up my abdomen and chest like a part-water creature, making friends with air and gravity. But neither do I have memory of my birth; I am sure it was quite ordinary.

But the following complicated times shared with a cantankerous, wise and spirited physical body? I recall them well. So do you, I am sure. We inhabit this compact gateway to life that carries most all we need to operate (I suggest spirit or soul, whichever you prefer, also has mighty input). Such a marvelous system of sensory information. The mind incorporates diverse bits and pieces to create a comprehensive understanding of what is happening at any given moment. Chemicals, hormones, neural pathways–our brains thrive when given what it needs. And we are meant to get up and go. To set ourselves into motion, no matter shape or size or gender.

But it gets more complicated. Our flesh, muscle and bone do not just comprise a convenient vehicle with which to roam and interact. Our bodies are part and parcel of our identities. Which, I have often wondered, comes first? Most all parents are powerfully drawn to their new creation, such wondrous flesh of their flesh, blood of their blood. Beyond basic nourishment, the manner in which they react and engage with that infant goes a long way toward determining how the infant grows–and grows up. Our personhood appears to develop the moments we are cradled or not, picked up or not, spoken to and sung to, or not. We are born with all essential equipment–if we are fortunate. And then we have to figure out how to live comfortably within its confines, with and without our caretakers’ adequate assistance.

And that has been an undertaking frequently felt as defeating when I got started on my journey, before getting anywhere close to halfway along the path. The other side can look like the same place as where you started if you have chronic fear or stubborn self-doubt, combat spiritual, emotional and physical pain. Because I think it can be helpful to others who’ve suffered, I haven’t kept it a secret here that as a child I was sexually abused for a few years by a man (not of my blood family). And then lived through attempted rape and beating along a railroad tracks beside a park as a young teen, an actual rape five years later, and more abuse as I became an adult. I began to feel like a target for anger or hate by then.

These leave a deep imprint on body and soul; they can go a long way in defining who you think– then believe–you must be. Or are no longer. It spreads in your being, stealthy, silenced, potentially deadly.

It took some years to face the damage squarely, to bit by bit heal the gaping rawness of those hidden wounds. But if there was one thing that motivated me, it was first an angry resolve that nothing and no one would stop me from living more of the life I wanted. There would not be lasting defeat. I would not give up rightful ownership of my own true self due to crimes committed against me. The past would not dictate my present or future. Even when I was on my knees praying through tears, body aching, mind spinning, my soul overcome, I believed I would get through it all because the alternative was not part of my deepest desire: death or sentenced to lifelong pain and misery. I needed to live a rich life with optimistic curiosity. Fearlessness again. I could feel this stirring, still.

But before that could come about I experienced adolescent breakdowns–due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder undiagnosed until age twenty–abused alcohol and drugs, and developed dangerous alliances. Teetered on the thin edge of a lifestyle that eventually cost me dearly. It becomes easier to live recklessly when you are not longer clear about how to live and stay safe.

I gave up high academic goals (though I attended university later), lost opportunities, including a possibility of becoming a professional singer. My dreams fell apart. Moment by moment, I sought any minute flickering light within darkness. It seemed each time I got to it there was something else to blot it out for some years. I began to suspect this was going to be life as I knew it, with no more good chances.

And yet there remained a soul-deep longing for a fulfilling life and so I held on to what hope could be mustered. It was centered on God, Whom I had still known and loved. God was yet moving in my life despite my sneering, my new hardness and that subterranean despair. But it was also the person I still yearned to be, calling me forward out of the muck and disarray and a long-buried outrage against merciless perpetrators who had derailed my life. How to recapture what I once knew? There remained, somehow, a slim belief that I might deserve more. That I was born into this mean and beautiful world both worthy and cared about.

That I would one day not be–or feel–so unsafe. That I could rest without nightmares awakening me from the moment I closed my eyes. That I could walk on a busy street or quiet forest trail and not be readied for a fight every other moment. That every man did not seem an enemy in disguise–I had brothers and a father who were honorable, trustworthy, so why did it all have to come to this?

That I could count on body, mind and soul to hold my life up like a colorful flying flag, not a pathetically broken thing.

I recount these times for a good reason so bear with me. I found some excellent, useful solutions, alternatives to a cheerless life.

I have always thought these were at the core of my earlier childhood: vivacious engagement physically, a happy abandon to the many offerings of daily life, fearless exploration of my communities, (neighborhood, church, school). I was not afraid for many years. I was cared about, for I had family and friends who were there day in, day out. But I think, too, during my growing up, that my own physicality had a hand in my survival and process of healing.

Since being very small I felt strong and confident inhabiting my body. I felt sturdy on my feet, felt free within my skin. There was perpetual delight in movement: dancing, climbing trees, riding my bike and doing tricks with it, ice skating, tobogganing, playing Kick the Can and Red Rover, badminton and volleyball, swimming, track and field games/competitions, softball, water and snow skiing, a bit of boating and sailing…well, the list goes on. There was little I did not have an interest in at least trying out, then practicing if I liked it. If it involved the body in motion, count me in. There was such excitement and satisfaction in it. Heart pumping, I was off . I got right out there and played some pick up football with the boys, prided myself on outrunning them. I wasn’t much conscious of any gender divisions. At home we were all encouraged to be in sports.

It wasn’t that I was only an active girl. I was able to be still, was introspective. Books enthralled me for hours and I liked to study for the most part. The passion for story and poem making started by age seven; I could focus for long periods. I loved making art, making up plays with neighbor kids, sharing music with family and at school. So there was a variety of activity I enjoyed.

But the allure of physical activity was magnetic no matter where or with whom I lived, or what was happening in my life. If for some reason my choices were seriously curtailed, I would find boring cleaning to do and, with music, I could dance about as I worked. Anything to get blood coursing, limbs reaching. There would be a car to wash, a closet to organize, a dog to walk, a yard to mow, loads of laundry, wood to split for wood stoves and fireplaces I’ve enjoyed (and sometimes relied on for heat). Sitting and doing nothing did not and still does not agree with me–unless reading, which is, arguably, activity of another sort even when mostly sedentary. But body and mind in a better balance has translated into greater well-being.

Years later while counseling others affected by addictions and the traumas that fed them, I increasingly observed something interesting: if they had little to do, they stayed sicker longer, and often more helpless about getting better. It’s tricky, as depression and fear can paralyze. But with strong support and ample ideas, a person can learn skills to overcome paralysis. Having one small goal accomplished, an activity explored, an ordinary hobby taken up–these can rouse a person enough to enable them to begin to perceive differently. Then they can reconsider more matters. As this positive momentum increases, it can trigger real changes for the better. After all, the human brain–that lively master planner and doer–manufactures chemicals and hormones that it needs, even if they seem to be flagging. We, ourselves, can trigger dopamine, serotonin, endorphin and Adrenalin production to heartily aid in a good fight for health–by taking more and vigorous action. We can begin to slowly reprogram our brains, our very neurology, how we respond to stimuli within and without us. How we determine our lives this very moment. It is nothing short of miraculous once you experience it and find it holds up time after time.

Personal experience certainly does show me this works out very well. I have had options to engage me at any given time; I have a variety of interests and am glad to seek more. Many require little to no financial investment so that is no excuse. And I know the longer I participate in them, the more well-rounded a person I become. More relaxed and present. Open to others. This has a ripple effect in all my doing and being.

Once when I was in residential treatment for a hidden and damaging alcohol problem, my therapist suggested two things:

1) that I get back to paid work, any work I could find, 2) that  I become more physically active again.

I was flabbergasted. Wasn’t I moving all the time? I was raising five children, ages ten to sixteen. I was running all day long and into night, my husband was often gone with a career that required long hours and travel. Plus, I was still under-qualified for much more than what I did, I thought. Still, she asked, weren’t these the two things that had not been put into full-throttle action? For just myself, no one else, by the way. They might make the difference. It rang a bright bell within me, as if being reminded of what was already known as truth. I prayed it was so. Little did I know.

First I found a bare bones gym. I was short on weight and energy. I ignored the muscle-bound men and phenomenal women. I just tried all machines, then asked for suggestions. In a couple of weeks I felt some improved. And gradually I discovered more serious weight training. Several times a week, I worked with free weights as well as machines with guidance from a good trainer. The regimen revved me up yet relieved stress. I started to eat better with more protein. The work outs challenged me, bolstered stamina and I developed more bulk. I was too thin most of my early adulthood, and now I gained weight with the muscle, looked better. Was actually stronger.

More than this, I felt more confident. Less skittish in the world. More self-possessed. All senses became even more responsive but in a calmer way; my attention was focused more clearly. I observed pleasant alterations emotionally, mentally and even spiritually. I found the workouts meditative as well as invigorating. It was a perfect combination for me at the right time in my life.

We bought weights to put in our basement so I could train there; my husband joined in as he could but cheered me on. My children were impressed and even, hilariously, liked to show off my significant biceps to their friends. I have to admit my abdominal muscles were excellent while my legs powered me better than ever. I was fitter than I had been for years, ate better and had more sustainable energy. And I felt satisfaction that I had regained some coping skills and this had improved all.

I stayed with weight training for about four years but when I felt I was getting too muscular, I backed off and then eased out of it and got into other exercise options. But after two decades, I still have free weights and I use them from time to time when to doing other exercise.

And I found it wasn’t nearly so hard to refuse a drink. I wanted to maintain better health. Then to my surprise I was hired to do what I found fulfilling– helping the frail elderly and disabled, and a new human services career took off well, leading to a managerial position. My life was back on track in a way that it hadn’t been for too long. Taking action worked; I worked harder because of that.

Remember the recent visit to Dr. P? And that he informed me I was to keep on doing what I was doing because it has worked so well? I stay alive by doing what works. If I find something with helpful results, I am persistent about the practicing part. I don’t like to lose out on good things. I don’t really like to lose, period. But most of all, ever since childhood, I have appreciated the thrills as well as practical benefits received due to being in motion, actively engaged in a silly game or a serious goal. This coming year I want to take dance classes again (tried and loved flamenco last time). And investigate kayaking. Ice skate more. Swim–how I used to love to dive! Who knows what is next? The choices are mine to make.

So let me move and count the miracles of sinew and bone. My body has lived many tales. We have had an adversarial relationship in the past. It has at times been bitterly betrayed. But it is forgiving. It is resilient. Mighty in its healing capacity. Its natural wisdom guides me, takes care of me, tells me things my intellect sometimes misses and that my soul can forget. It is braver than I ever imagined it to be, rallying when it falters. It is my home on earth. I am thankful for this shelter in which I reside. For the opportunities it provides as my heart keeps pumping,  carries me forward into the next moment. May I ever tend to it with respect and gratitude. Praise its Divine Creator. Eventually, though I hope not soon, this vital and repaired beating drum of my life will slow, pause, be silent, and I will take my leave. Until then, I am staying in motion as best I can, celebrating all the years left.

A letter of thanks (and fixing a glitch)

DSCF3728Dear readers:

I so appreciate each of you as you follow and read “Tales for Life” posts. There are untold numbers of excellent bloggers, scads of fascinating information and ideas to ingest. I know you all live demanding, at times tiring, lives. And I remain faithful to my weekly posts not only because I am passionate about writing but because you come back for more. It is humbling to see the “like” button clicked. I encourage you to leave a comment so I know what struck you and what you’d like to share otherwise. I follow many of your great blogs, as well.

But writing hurdles certainly occur for me, generally related to the computer. The post just published on 1/2/14 had many formatting glitches–my computer was having a fit, or the site was. It was a very lengthy process to get it posted, and even then, imperfectly. I’m not sure what happened to its title but now it’s in place: “Afternoons at the Ice Palace”.

This short story is based in part on my lifelong love of ice skating. It was one of the saving graces of my childhood and youth and continues to bring me pleasure and fitness. Although I have lost some figure skating skills, the ice still calls me. I plan on going to my local indoor rink soon. I do miss wintry blasts of wind and snow swirling around the rink. But joy will embrace me as soon as I hit that slick surface and pick up speed. It takes  my breath away.

Well being is more important each passing year–spiritual, emotional, and physical. My coronary artery disease is being managed well overall even as I accept my life will likely be shortened by its presence. So please don’t put off any concerns you have about your own health; early interventions can save us from much suffering.

I care about people, their struggles and breakthroughs, the complex questions and epiphanies that arouse wonder. Seeing and encouraging Divine Love in others is a priority. The most important thing to me is the knowledge of God being here, now, close to each of us. We are never abandoned; we digress and move away of our own accord. I have wandered down some twisty, tangled paths of my own and made unwise decisions.

I notice that atheism is getting more press. And there continues to be violent verbal and actual attacks on various religions. The world never wearies of dissent. I am Christian although my writing is about many topics and imaginings. My beliefs may not match yours or yours, mine. But we each can vow to improve our work or play, carry out actions enlivened by healthy risk and extra effort if they are informed by a faith that grants us stamina, inspiration and peace. May your own spirits and minds be so strengthened.

So may your coming days and weeks of 2014 be fruitful and active, buoyed by contentment and love. Thank you for making my past year one of good steps forward. I have gained more readers weekly, in large part to being Freshly Pressed. You have kindly supported my efforts. It makes a difference as I scribble away, seeking the words that convey a few worthy tales about living a life on earth.

Tell me: what tales do you want to design and live today?

Regards,
Cynthia

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Attending to the Essence

DSCF7871There are surprises that occur while living with a disease that may have exclusive rights to my final demise. One is that life is still a great open stage and I can do with it what I want. And I am still granted opportunities to decide what stories to direct and participate in. This is noted despite the fact that I realize I can be struck down any moment.

I had begun to think I was a bit of a puppet, as we can at times suspect. It seemed I was not infrequently subject to the unreliable winds of life, the whims of confounding, surly natured, occasionally dangerous people who crossed my path. It appeared I shared these experiences with many others. But I wondered if I was purposely situated in poorly designed scenarios despite my goal to explore only the very best. By my late teens I decided I had been duped. Too many hard things occurred, and not only to me, to convince me otherwise. What was this being human?

Victoria Trip 7-12 398But, then, I grew up in a world of culture and classical music, Sunday dinners generally shared with intelligent, kindly people. Duly civilized and all. There was much to love. But it was also like being a hothouse flower (with a few toxic influences thrown in) and then set outdoors, exposed to the rawness of real atmospheric influences. My first visits to Detroit and Chicago were terrifying and fabulous. I suspected there was much more to learn and wanted to get to it. And gradually I figured out bits and pieces, some useful and others discarded. Then I started to lose power along the way. I misplaced that critical, pervasive sense of a life-sustaining essence. The thing that gave me both gravity and joy. One can come to doubt enough that rescue has to occur; a decision must be made to stay alive. The years seemed full of exigencies and I did not understand as much as I believed.

Not everyone is fortunate to have more than a couple of cracks at life. But people who cared, along with a few angels (reader, you know I claim them), dragged me to my feet before I went down for good. God waited until I found a better foothold so transformation could begin. I gathered clues to better living long before that forest hike commandeered my heart and took me down to the dirt. It’s a good thing I had helpful life skills because employing any victim stance again required more energy than I could squander. But it shook me up, that ton of pressure on my chest that left me reeling. I barely, with my husband’s help, made it out of the trees. I have decent intuition, sometimes very good, but it took me until the next morning to understand my heart was getting ready to kill me. And I needed a lot of mental and physical stamina to devise a new game plan. When I cold-called cardiology offices and found Dr. P., who listened and knew exactly what to do, I found liberation. A damaged heart, yes, but freedom was in the making.

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My scheme included full-on healing. Not the sort that exercise, heart medication and diet support. All very good, but not enough. I took three years off work and began to re-learn how to be fully present in my body, in the moment, in my life. Dare I say it? Prayer and surrender. Expectation of health. Call it meditation if you like, call it conscious development of an awareness of Spirit. Call it Step 3 if you attend AA. But I needed a reminder and I had gotten it: personal power begins with surrendering stupidity. Well, perhaps more accurately the tyrannical ego that is constructed from lifelong illusions. What a mess it can make.

So, if my heart was to become strong, harmonious organ, didn’t it make sense to heal it from the inside out? The bitter words still echoing in the night, regrets that soured more with time? What is the value of vilification in the end? How about the lost passionate teen-aged love that was just that–a love that served adolescence, not this time, this person? Or the worst of the lot: nightmarish assaults and a legacy of addiction that hurt my family, my several failures to thrive and achieve, the grief that bound me still to the burden of living, not the sheer joy of it. The list of things that haunt and damn us. In truth, we are missing the ancient campfire to swap our troubles and then sing it all away.

Still, you wouldn’t have seen this at a glance. You would have found a woman competent and quick, hard-working and accessible. You could count on me. Yet I was a woman also driven to exhaustion, bruised to the marrow though a believer in hope–which was given to others, not so often to myself. I had to unclench my hands and let my own tears flood them, then fall away. I had to make a nest in mercy. Room was needed for the purity of wonder left behind in childhood. Space big enough for the essence, for life-giving light. I did not want a life lived and coming undone, like ruined skin peeling off. Impotence did not appeal.

I had to change, fast, before there would be three, not just two, stent implants or worse. Work began in earnest, because that is the only way I have ever known how to live. Intensely. Now. The panoramic experiences that wanted my embrace lay before me. I felt I was asked to take a step into, at best, intriguing but hazy possibilities. And because I have always needed to see what is around the next bend, I stepped forward despite becoming unmoored from my known life. Oh, the beauty I found. The way life insinuates the fibers of our being with its beneficent force. The elegance of faith that will not shake loose despite setbacks. When in mid-stream and the water keeps rising, float. What I have found is that there is no end to what we can manage and discover and in the process of discovery, act upon and give.

I did go back to my chosen field, counseling the mentally ill and addicted. Some folks advised against it–too stressful, they said. But the truth is, it has always been a calling. It was a fulfillment of a promise made long ago to be of good use to those with too little hope and resources. After more years I stopped working and threw caution to the wind again. This time to write every day. Stories were intruding on work, or perhaps it was the other way around.

Our hearts know us first and last, beat to cavernous beat. It knows us best although we try to hide. It will remind us important things we have forgotten, secrets we thought we might never know, avenues to God and ways to live on earth in full, unadulterated color. Every moment has potential magic. I feel this in its primal rhythm as I rest, sweat, play, ponder. So when I awaken, I do wonder what scenario will unfold today. What will I bring to the fore and let recede? Maybe directing is not so much the need but narrating the story is. As a child I wrote plays and poems. I rounded up a motley neighborhood cast and crew and we threw it all together for ticketed performances, all in the name of fun. It was so easy to create and share the pleasure. So now, here, I will hold on to this recaptured essence that infuses my living, without hoarding the wonder.

Let me traverse the path with eyes wide open, unflinching; look for the whole truth which can be perfected only with compassion. I want to hold an ongoing conversation with humanity as well as the starry canopy and beyond. I care to live within the transducing power of life, its wild center, until the very last moment here. Let me not hold back one good thing.

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