Beating the Heat

As I write this the heat index has reached 110 degrees. That’s hot! In fact, Satan called and wants his weather back. It’s so hot my books are trying to get out of their jackets, and you could not only fry an egg on the sidewalk, but you could also fry the person frying the egg.

I don’t have a particular fondness for winter once it is here, but when the weather is this hot I begin to wax nostalgic for the bite of a cold, northerly wind. Of course, when December rolls around, the heat of July looks pretty good, proving just how difficult I am to please. But I have discovered a positive side effect of this heat. I’m getting a little more aerobic exercise dashing from the air-conditioned comfort of my house to the air-conditioned comfort of my car. And I swear as I walk across a paved parking lot I can feel the fat on my body melting away. Of course, I can feel the bottoms of my shoes doing the same thing. 

It makes me wish I worked in a locker plant or ice house. I don’t really want to work there. I just want to stand around in the sub-zero freezers.

I have tried everything to keep cool. Filling my pockets with ice worked for awhile, but after it melted I had large, conspicuous wet spots to try to explain. One friend was so bold as to bring up the benefits of wearing adult diapers in that situation. It is a pretty strange conversation between two adults with no children when one can casually slip a reference to diapers into it. At that point you are probably less than two minutes away from swapping knock-knock jokes.

I tried carrying frozen foods in my clothes for awhile, but that didn’t work so well. As the veggies thawed they left a whole new category of odd things I had to attempt to explain. One benefit of the frozen food solution was that on a really hot day, if I was outside most of the morning, by noon my lunch was defrosted and simmering in my shorts.

My animals also are looking for creative solutions to this heat. Whenever I open the refrigerator they race to press their faces into the crack of cool that comes rushing out. We all stand there, smiling our species’ unique smiles, our faces glowing with relief. At that moment we are one, my animals and I, like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The moment is bittersweet though, because we know it must end. The door will eventually have to be closed.

One of the best escapes from this heat is going to an air-conditioned museum, although it may be difficult to focus on the art after frying your brain in 100-degree-plus heat indices on the way in from the parking lot.

This is your brain:

“The Impressionist artists are my favorites.”

This is your brain in the Kansas heat:

“Would you please rub that Slushee all over me?”

       

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Just for fun, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What do you know for sure?

When my friend Angela recently asked me “What do you know for sure?” the Smart Ass in me joyfully began rattling off a stream of consciousness list that was easily observable, barely debatable and ultimately tossed out on the technicality that none were “for sure”.         

 “The sky is blue. The grass is green,” I gleefully offered. But then, with a grimace of realization, Smart Ass added, “And neither of those are always true.” 

As I searched for tidbits of wisdom I was certain I had accumulated through a few decades of living well, I found little of import to share. The few items that did surface didn’t fit the criteria of being “for sure” either.

So that’s the first thing on my list: I know for sure there are few things that I know for sure. Those decades well-lived have indeed taught me that everything can, and likely will, change.  Even what we believe, or know, or think we know will change with new information, with growth, with living. We change, it’s part of the human experience, and so everything around us changes, or appears to as it reflects our own evolution.

But the question, “What do I know for sure?” has stuck with me. Maybe it is an indication of age calling me to keep unearthing possible answers, to stake my claim on what I know. I will attempt to do so, however, in the interest of the above comment regarding change, as always, I reserve the right to move my stake.

First of all, I know that we all want similar things. Except for a few…well, misdirected or highly damaged assholes…we all want to love and be loved, to be happy and to feel safe. And we like to give attention to, as well as to receive attention from, the people we love. We like to feel heard. To be seen. To be known. I think that’s a “for sure”. 

Another “for sure” is that it’s impossible to love someone else if you haven’t learned to love yourself. That sounds trite these days. We hear a lot about self-love, but that’s because it’s that important. We honestly cannot love another if we don’t first love ourselves. Love and forgive yourself. NOW. And then keep doing it. It’ll make a difference. That’s for sure.

Animals are good models for how to live without guilt, shame or a lack of forgiveness for self or others. My animals are completely comfortable asking for, often demanding, what they want and then assuming whatever they get is what they need. And an animal can help fill a void left by people who promise us love, but slip away before we can remind them of it. People are rarely able to fill the void left by a beloved animal. And that says all I know for sure about both people and animals. 

Since this list stems from years of living, I openly admit that these days my “feels like” age fluctuates between my Forties to Dead. On good days I can still lean down to pick up the keys I dropped without feeling as though I’m causing internal bleeding. On other days, dropping my keys means I apparently didn’t really need them.

Also in that same “looking in the mirror and saying ‘how did this happen?’” category, I know for sure that our bodies hang on to past grievances, hurts and ignores from our youth in order to exact paybacks later in life. Everything we didn’t take care of when we were young, everything we did that we shouldn’t have, and every abuse we entertained will come back to haunt us. That little toe you rearranged your bed with after a long night out in your twenties? It has lain dormant all these years waiting to get revenge. Which it will do some day when you’re going on an innocent walk and step down on a rock or stick. You’ll feel it and the memory of that night will come rushing back and linger for several days along with a distinct limp. Every bruise, sprain, broken or worn part will show up at some point. It might be when you first stand in the morning, rise from a sitting position or wearily eye a long staircase. Our body never forgets. I wish someone had told me that while I was young. Although it’s possible someone tried, but I had the music turned up too loud to hear them. 

Hearing is an ironic twist to what I know for sure in that just when we have the time to listen to our loved ones telling us of their dreams or demons, we can’t hear a word they say. Which sometimes isn’t a bad thing, since we also can’t always remember their names.

Another item on my rather short list of “What I Know for Sure” is I believe miracles happen and magic exists. I do. I’ve benefited from and witnessed both. I have no doubt magic and miracles are all around us. The key is to keep our eyes and hearts open – open to possibility, to connection, to dreams and dreaming. 

Trying to answer my friend’s question, “What do you know for sure?” has led me to the realization that really the only thing I know for sure is that I don’t know anything – for sure. 

And maybe that’s not only okay, but also perfect. 

Posted in Aging, As I see it, Finding my way, Health and Well Being, Transitions | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Lessons Learned

Maybe it’s a thankfulness hangover from Thanksgiving, but I’m feeling particularly grateful for the lessons my parents, teachers and Spiritual leaders taught me as a young sprout.

The adults in my life were, for the most part, all on the same page. They carefully and clearly taught, as well as modeled, values like “do unto others”, all rights come with responsibilities, and those responsibilities stretch way beyond myself or even my immediate family. I was taught it was a function of our shared humanity to look out for each other, to do whatever we could to keep each other safe, and to do our best to do no harm.  It was a lesson of “we’re all in this together”.     

As I witness the number of Covid-19 infections soar ever higher and watched as families still gathered in large numbers over the recent holiday, I wonder if what I thought was an ordinary upbringing of shared values, was instead something rare and extraordinary. At the time, I assumed everyone was receiving similar messages of how to function as a contributing member of society, but now I’m not so sure everyone got the memo.

I was taught there was an honoring of the others with whom we are sharing this earth space.  Whether those teachings came through home, school or church it was clear we had a responsibility to cooperate with each other, as active participants in the advancement of humankind for the common good of all.    

Behaviors such as wearing a mask, not gathering in numbers and maintaining safe distance are such simple and easy things to do and these practices could actually save lives. They might save the life of someone you love, or even your life, or mine. Now, that might not matter to you. I understand if it doesn’t. But my life matters to me – a lot. And, honestly, your life matters to me too. That’s why I wear a mask, keep a safe distance from others and follow other guidance for how to live responsibly and safely while helping others do the same.

It has never been more important that we understand although personal freedom is a right, I hope your parents, teachers and clergy also taught you, that professing your rights without acknowledging your responsibilities is a reflection of an immature stance of selfishness, ignorance and potential harm.

We are so close to crawling out of this time of isolation and unimaginable loss. We are so close! But we will only find success and true freedom if we move through the next several months with a clear mindset and intention that whatever we can do to help each other navigate this, we will do. 

 It’s time we demonstrated we learned those valuable lessons from our childhood and, as adults, that we have the integrity to live them.

Posted in As I see it, Finding my way, Health and Well Being, Help and helpers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Color of Human

I’m white.

Even if you haven’t ever met me, you likely assumed that. Most of us here in the middle of the rectangular states are. However, if I slipped out of my skin, you wouldn’t have any idea of what color I was. I would simply be human.

But, my skin is white. And that provides me with some definite advantages that those of different hues don’t just get handed to them. For example, I don’t have to be concerned that if I loiter a bit while shopping it will raise suspicion that I’m shoplifting. My friend, Eric, does have to be aware of this and tries to be focused and deliberate, getting in and out quickly, when shopping. Eric is black.

I’m white. Which means when I get pulled over for a broken taillight I’m concerned about the fine that will likely be a result of my negligence. My friend, Will, knows as soon as he sees the flashing red lights that anything interpreted as a wrong move, word or expression could be disastrous for him, possibly even resulting in death. Will is black.

I’m white so I have no idea what it’s like to send a son, any child, out into the world – to school, to play, to jog, or shop – and worry that they might not make it back home. My friend, Kimtri, tells me that every time her 12-year-old son leaves the house they make sure to hug and tell each other “I love you.” I imagine many mothers send off sons with that reminder, but Kimtri does it because she’s black and she fears someone will determine her son’s skin color makes him “less than” or someone to fear.

I’m white. I’ve always been white and I grew up in a community and culture that was nearly exclusively so. It wasn’t until college that my world began to enlarge as it became more diverse. Honestly, at first, I wasn’t that comfortable being around people different than me. But when I took the time to get to know those from different backgrounds and cultures, and who were different colors, I quickly realized where we come from and the color of our outer covering has nothing to do with our value or our humanity. On the inside the same blood flows through the same human tissue. 

But, I’m white. And because of that I now understand that I can never fully know what the lived experience of being Black, or any other color, is like. However, white as I am, that does not mean that I can’t learn more about the racism that, despite our past efforts, is still rampant in this country.  

I’m white but the history of this nation was built, in large part, on the backs of enslaved black human beings. So it isn’t surprising there remains remnants of prejudice, bias and even the evil toxicity of white supremacy. But we have more than remnants. It appears we have large swaths of racism still running rampant. Despite the progress we may have made during the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s, we never had the hard conversations. Instead, we buried our history, or clung tightly to the white wash of it, never bothering to correct it so generations behind us might learn the truth. And by burying whatever residual racism and misunderstanding that lingered, we ended up planting its seeds so more grew. Looks like we may have a bumper crop, huh? 

I’m white and it’s time. It’s time we looked at this country, and ourselves, had the difficult, often heart-wrenching conversations about race and racism and began to understand, no matter the color of our outer wrapping, we want the same things – to feel safe, to find comfort, to be valued, to love and be loved.

I’m white and I pledge to learn more about the black experience, how racism harms those who have been marginalized and prevented from the freedoms, justice and equality that I often take for granted. I’m white but I am determined to be a better ally. I’m white, but my eyes and ears are open and I’m ready to be shown and to listen to what it’s like to live as a person of color. I’m white but I will show up however I can. If I can help counter, in even the smallest way, the hatred and violence against those seen as “other” or “less than” that still lives in this country, then I will and I must.

I’m white, but, please, color me human.

Note: Here are a couple of links that have helpful information on how we can all educate ourselves about racism and how we might better understand the experience of living as a person of color.

This is a link to Ibram X. Kendi’s recommended reading list. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/books/review/antiracist-reading-list-ibram-x-kendi.html?fbclid=IwAR1o4s5SNt0z8ja_RoJV1OssI96FZNo2d8VE63gjbDUzUijqCh0prhr3xSI

And here’s an excellent organization that, among other things, offers lists of everything from recommended films to Instagram accounts to follow: https://fortune.com/2020/06/05/antiracist-books-donations-black-owned-businesses-resources/

Posted in As I see it, Finding my way, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conversation with Mabel

“Lou Ann! Wake up!”

What the… What’s going on?

“Come on!! Wake up! I want to talk to you.”

Who ARE you?  And how did you get in here?

“You know me by many names, but most people call me God. I know you don’t care for that name because many humans have made it so patriarchal. But I am also Goddess, as well as LoveBeautyJoy, Spirit, Inner Being, but you can just call me Mabel, if you’d like.”

Really? God/Goddess – Mabel? You’re here? Talking to me? 

“Of course, I am. But the really surprising thing is that you are finally listening.”

Well, you did yell loud enough to wake me up.

“Yeah, I know you’ve been dealing with a lot these days and I have some time so thought I’d check in and see what’s on your mind.”

What isn’t on my mind? But this virus, this Covid-19, is always somewhere in my head or heart. I’m concerned about what’s going to happen with all of this. We’ve never been through anything like this and no one has any idea what might be ahead. And even when it’s over, if it ever is, how do we move forward? There is just so much we don’t know and can’t even imagine. The uncertainty is overwhelming and so worrisome and scary. I feel paralyzed a lot of the time. Stuck in the muck of fear, sadness, isolation, and loss.

“So you believed before this virus created a global pandemic that you knew what was going to happen in the future? You honestly believed you had control over future events? If this is true, I feel as though I’ve failed you somehow.”

Well, I usually felt like I had a general idea about what was coming and that, if I nurtered positive thoughts, kept an optimistic outlook and held my mouth just so, that things would work out. But this is showing me otherwise.

“Good! You humans need to loosen your belief that you are in control. You aren’t. The only things you have any control over are your own reactions and responses to what unfolds around you. However, the majority of you appear to not be interested in controlling that which you can and prefer to focus on the things that are completely out of your control – like the weather. How many floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural ‘disasters’ do I need to create before you realize most of life outside your physical costume is also outside of your control.”

So, I’m just supposed to trust that everything’s going to be okay? That I won’t get sick? That my heart won’t give out? That our economy won’t completely crumble? That all of those unemployed will find safe shelter and sustenance? I’m suppose to trust that we’ll all make it through the isolation, the risks and the fear that often feels like it is so enormous I can’t hold it in any longer.

“Then let it out! Let it out!  Let the fear out, because it’s only smoke and mirrors. You can believe in illness or you can believe in well-being. It’s really your choice. You get to decide what F.E.A.R. means in your life. Does it stand for Face Everything And Rise or Fuck Everything and Run? That’s one of the lessons with this. You get to determine how you navigate this unknown territory. But, remember, no matter how this plays out for you personally, you will grow and you will go through it all with me at your back. There are always lessons to be learned. Why else would you have created all this chaos?

Wait? I created this situation, this disruption to our lives?

“Well, not you personally. You had help. Honestly I don’t find many of you humans very gracious houseguests. You do realize, don’t you, that you are basically my guests here on this planet? It’s time to acknowledge that and return to the days when your species practiced gratitude and respect for the land and her creatures, including other humans. It is the long history of taking your quarters and blessings for granted that altered the DNA, if you will, of cooperation I originally created in the Universe. You all have behaved like spoiled children who have grown into vagrants and ingrates. I had to do something drastic to get your attention, so I put you all on “Pause” so you could think about what you’ve done. It’s time to realize how much you have in your lives that you take for granted, how irreverently you treat each other, and how disrespectful you are to everything around you. Do you not realize that every thing – EVERY THING – on your life path is a gift placed there for you? Why do you not treat it so? My hope is whatever lessons you may be experiencing, will help each of you make some serious changes before you destroy yourselves along with everything else good and beautiful.”

That’s a lot to take in, but I know in my core what you say is true. But, I still find it difficult to trust that we will be okay in this. It’s too much. Too scary. And you just admitted that this is to teach us a lesson. How can I trust that that lesson won’t be too difficult for any of us to pass?

“I assure you, you can indeed trust that whatever happens you will not be alone. Okay, I saw you roll your eyes when I said that. But, just think about it, you’ve not only survived every lesson, every challenge you’ve been given so far, but you have truly thrived as a result of the process of doing so. Even in the times when you felt most fearful and alone, you found strength inside of you and helpers beside you, didn’t you?”

Yes. That’s true. When I was quiet enough, or scared and confused enough, to reach into the space inside of me or to pull up adequate courage and humility to ask for help, I did find whatever I needed to navigate whatever I was facing. But all these lessons! Why do they always feel so big, so overwhelming and require so much from us?

“Maybe because you don’t learn from the easy times when everything is going your way? Even in your personal relationships the real growth, the times when the relationship moves forward, when you learn something about yourself, someone else or humans in general, are when things aren’t going so smoothly. You learn most when challenged. These times require you to look inward, to find your center and to define the kind of person you wish to be and the kind of relationships in which you are willing to invest your value. This also is a good time to evaluate and improve the relationship you have with the natural world. Even the isolation of this time is useful. You are missing your loved ones and appreciating them more. You are realizing how much freedom you had and how you took that for granted. You understand how much sound, texture, touch and even love you missed by creating such busy lifestyles with overflowing calendars and to-do lists. Taking some forced stillness has opened you so you can hear, not only my voice, but also yours. This is a time to discover, and become, the human you most wish to be.”

Sounds like this is a turning point in our shared humanity.

“I think that’s an accurate conclusion, with emphasis on “shared”. This is a time when individual decisions will add up to Global change and that change can go either way, so choose wisely. There has never been a time when individuals had so much responsibility for each other, and therefore for the world.”

I hope I’m up to the task.

“You are. I believe in you. But you might want to get a little more sleep. You’re looking rather old and haggard these days.”

Funny.

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Nature | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Appreciating it all – before it’s gone

We humans are a funny lot. I make this judgment based on my personal experience as a human. And, I admit, I am a pretty quirky one. One of my more ridiculous human traits is to not fully appreciate something until it’s gone. 

Many instances of this revolve around my health. There was a cancer diagnosis 21 years ago that first opened my eyes to how poorly I treated my body and how little I appreciated all that made my life full and fun. The disease woke me up and I started appreciating everything more – including this physical vessel in which I have the pleasure of navigating life.

The cancer made me understand on a new level how fleeting health, and therefore life, can be. And I was doing little to make myself healthier, so I made some changes. I lost a lot of weight, became more active, ate better and felt great. But over time, old habits crept back in and old beliefs returned. My diet became less healthy, stress kept me feeling too burned out to exercise and I started to not feel the same surge of excitement and appreciation for each morning to which I awoke. I might still notice a hawk riding the thermals over the river valley, but I no longer made a point of stopping whatever else I was doing to watch it. 

Then, about a month ago, when I was falling behind in a fight against the respiratory crud that was going around, I went to the doctor and learned that a heart murmur, discovered a couple years ago, appeared to be getting worse. My general physician wanted me to do further tests to determine the extent of the murmur, which I did. With each test and procedure I became more and more alarmed, because each one seemed to be indicating I had something pretty serious going on. Eventually I was sent to a cardiologist and began learning about heart valve replacements and open-heart surgery. And with each piece of information I became more frightened and regretful that I had dropped the ball on taking good care of my body vehicle. I knew that if my body failed, I would fail and I once again took serious stock of my priorities and behaviors. I mean, I take better care of my car than I do my body. I tend my shoes better than I do my body! 

I was afraid I had let myself down. I had not only neglected my body, but I had regularly fed it poorly, under exercised it and rarely ever said a good thing about it. So when my heart health became a question, I began to freak out. We only have one heart and we are completely dependent upon it. Okay, yes, some people do get heart transplants, but even then they only have one heart at a time. And the truth is for all of us that if the heart goes bizarr-o, then life will inevitably change and usually not for the better. I was scared! 

But, the cardiologist had a nagging feeling that the echocardiogram that had indicated the aortic valve being severely jeopardized, might not be completely accurate, so she ordered a Trans Esophageal Echo And thank goodness she did because it indicated I have a bicuspid aortal valve, which basically means instead of three functioning flaps on that valve, I have only two. This is usually genetic, so it is likely I’ve had it since birth, but has grown more discernible with time. And since no one in my family has been diagnosed with it or has had heart issues, I never knew I had a wonky heart valve. 

Now I do and so, once again, I am waking up. Eventually that valve will have to be replaced, but it’s not to the point where that needs to happen now. I will see my cardiologist every six months unless I begin to have symptoms before then. Really the only limitation I have is I am not allowed to run marathons, which isn’t an issue for me. In fact, if you see me running know that it means someone is chasing me or I am chasing them.  I will also take a baby aspirin every day since having a bicuspid valve makes me more prone to a stroke. But that’s it.

Well, that’s it, as far as this medically applies to my heart. But that’s far from it when it comes to my awakening, or re-awakening. The morning after I learned what was really happening with my heart, I awoke for the first time in a month not worried about it or afraid. And, once again, I am finding a deeper, more appreciative connection with…well, everything, especially my body.

I don’t buy into the generally accepted belief that our bodies must degenerate with age. I can’t deny the long-term affects of gravity on a human body – I mean, my breasts and my thighs are inching ever closer to overtaking my knees – but I refuse to believe we have to suffer, even during our later stages of wisdom gathering. I know too many people who are healthy, vibrant and running circles around others decades younger than them to believe in a planned obsolescence of our bodies.  Okay. Yes, I know. They won’t last forever. All I’m hoping is that mine lasts, in as healthy a condition as possible, a little longer. For that to happen I must make my body a priority and take the best care I can of it.

 I have a lot more fun planned and I intend to show up for every minute of it.  There is a lot more laughter to experience, more hugs to enjoy, more kisses to return, more walks and deep to silly talks with friends, more exquisite meals and bottles of wine to share, and a lot more play time ahead. And I have a much deeper appreciation for every one of those things, including thousands of others from tiny to huge.

I’m also hoping that I don’t need another health crisis to wake me up to appreciating all that I have. It’s my intention to not forget just how fortunate I am and how beautiful every minute can be if I fully show up for it. I plan to appreciate it all as it comes and feel each moment as a grand gift that needs cherishing.

Learning that I am not facing immediate open-heart surgery tastes like freedom and I intend to eat it all up!!

Posted in Aging, As I see it, Finding my way, Health and Well Being, Transitions | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Twinkle in Time

I remember the first time I looked down and saw my mother’s hand at the end of my arm. It was unsettling and I felt old. That was 20 years ago! Twenty years ago!

What a young whippersnapper I was back then, although you would not have ever convinced me of that at the time. No, I was middle aged. And that was old. Then. It’s funny, isn’t it? How when we were younger, what we thought of as old isn’t that old now that we’re old?  But there was no denying I was aging. I tried to make it funny, if not always fun, but that lasted only briefly and soon I was asking friends, “Does my hair look grayer to you?” Most quickly looked at my “do” and changed the subject. But I already knew it was.

I noticed aging first in people my age. They started to look old and making that old person’s sound when they stood up. You know the one. It starts with what might be interpreted as a heavy sigh and is followed by a sound like someone causing internal bleeding. It most often occurs when attempting to free a body from whatever sitting position in which it now finds itself frozen.  I also noticed my peers pace had slowed some and they began to tilt a little more toward the earth as they walked. I thought, “Lucky me. I’m not that old,” completely ignoring the fact we were the same age.  And just when I thought maybe, possibly, could it be, that I was immune to aging dust? Or to turning into dust? I learned the truth. Which was, “No.”

I was “showing signs of age.” That’s how we say it when we aren’t really accepting we are actually doing it. We’re “showing signs”. Mine included more wrinkles appearing around my lips, eyes and, good God the neck! What happens to a woman’s neck as she ages? What have we done to deserve such a thing? I began comparing myself to the wild turkeys that roam the pasture north of my house but soon I wasn’t winning that comparison, so stopped. And there is nothing I could wear to cover it up. Turtlenecks actually made me look like a turtle; a really old and layered one. Open collars drew attention to the multiple chins now dangling under my jaw. There was nothing I could do short of tying a bandana around my face. Which by the way only draws unfavorable attention when entering a bank or retail establishment. Just trying to save you some unneeded embarrassment, because showing a couple of chins is more pleasant than a strip search!

Oh, yes, back to the hands. Since that first realization that I was becoming my mother, or at least her hands, they have only become more so. Now they are looking more and more like my mother’s hands looked when she got old. They have become more creased and the fingers have developed a slight permanent bend like I remember my mother’s doing. The veins and tendons are more pronounced and they’ve lost some of their grip.

But the face! Oh my, the face! I remember when it was once tight and a smile didn’t remind me of a topographical map of southern Utah. My entire body of skin is now in rolling hills mode. The whole damn body is “showing signs” and I can’t stop it. It appears to be a natural part of life. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this when I was young? What? You tried? I wouldn’t listen?

Well, maybe that’s the true gift of youth. When young, we rarely listen to old people, especially when they talk about being old, which they do a lot. But I like having had all those early years when I didn’t worry much about getting old. Sure, I could have taken better care of myself. But, I’d still be old. If I was lucky, anyway. That’s where I see my luck now manifesting. I’m feeling lucky to be able to grow old. And I’m still growing too. I’m learning more about myself all the time and sinking deeper into whom that is. I like that. And I’m learning I like who I am in this skin and this body. This wrinkly, baggy, costume for my eccentric soul has served me well.

That’s why I’m no longer accepting that what is happening to me are “signs of aging”. Yes, I know, they really are. Wrinkles, bent bodies and groans are happening and it’s not likely this process with stop. And I honestly I hope it doesn’t for a while. So I’ve set out to make peace with it. To make peace with aging. It’s real. I am growing old and older. Damn it! But there is such harmony and groundedness in settling into my body and accepting its natural unfolding and becoming. I love my body more than I ever have because I know it better and more intimately than I know anything else. It has been with me my entire life. We grew up together. I know that sounds a little silly. But it really is true. If we make friends with our bodies we have a friend for life.

I’m working on learning how to love, care for and nurture my body. It’s a process and a practice. When I ask it what it wants, assuming it will respond it wants a salad or a walk, I am often surprised when I hear it say, “Just love me. Love me as I am.” I’m working on that. One of the first steps has been to stop looking at the growing miles of wrinkles as a sign of “old”. I now call my life, love and laugh lines my “Twinkles” knowing that I earned every last one of them so should wear them like gold stars!

My face – my entire body really – is a map of my life. The bumps, the blemishes, the scars and wounds – many still healing – are all reminders of my passage through this life. And I’m grateful to still be moving forward. May this trip continue to be one of laughter, love and learning. And may my Twinkles become bright reflections of a life well lived and long remembered!

Posted in Aging, As I see it, Finding my way, Health and Well Being, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How did this happen?

I have no idea how any of this happened. Just a few months ago I was boasting to a friend about how healthy I was. Oh sure, I was diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago, but that was 20 years ago and, as far as I know, I’m cancer free today. And, yes, I need to have a shoulder replaced, and, of course, I have aches, pains and stiffness. I’m not denying the effects of gravity on a human body over time, but overall I was good with no big issues and no big complaints about my body vehicle.

Then, the wheels started falling off my chassis. I had to have minor surgery on a foot. Before that completely healed I had my gallbladder removed, and being a bit of a problem child, there were of course complications with that surgery which resulted in a longer recovery. I was almost back to good a few weeks ago.  No, I was actually feeling better than I had in a long time when my right knee went wonky. It did so because things were out of place causing pressure on the meniscus. Everything was put back into order and I was again feeling frisky and free. That lasted about 10 hours before I threw the other knee out. At some point during the knee issues a tooth started causing me fits.  Turns out, that tooth is split in two and is coming out tomorrow. Eventually, in a few months when the mouth tissues and bones heal, it will need an implant. So my sorry saga is not over yet.

And it does feel like a sorry saga sometimes, but I am working hard to not believe it is so. I refuse to see this as my body falling apart, or my “getting to that age” – even though I am at that age. I know this because my friends and I now share notes on all kinds of topics that I remember my parents talking about with their friends. I tried to ignore those conversations about new aches and pains then and I am trying to ignore them now. I just refuse to believe that this housing for my eccentric soul is required to rust and decay. My body has been a dependable vehicle for a long time so it’s going to show some wear and tear. I’ve used it well and abused it often, and honestly, until the last decade or so, I didn’t really keep up on regular maintenance that well. And yet this ride has continued to serve me admirably.

So I want to believe it will continue to do so for however long I get to be in it.  But it is obviously demanding some attention and work these days- a touch up here and there, some new parts, a brush and buff – all understandable. Even though we’re not suppose to turn these bodies back in at the end of our ride like we do with rental cars – no dents or dings and with a full tank of gas – we are charged with caring for them and keeping them in the best working order we can. Yes, we’re supposed to use them up, enjoy the ride and turn them in well used, but also hopefully indicating they were cared for and appreciated.

It would be easy to blame age and the thought that all of this is a sign of my wearing out and the slippery slope of things going wrong, falling off, being removed and conversations filled with names of new medications and updates on the “Pain of the Week”. It would be easy to see this as my life winding down and the deterioration of a finite soul vehicle.  And maybe it is.

But maybe it isn’t. Maybe instead of my body telling me it’s starting to wear out it is instead telling me it needs some TLC to get spiffed up and road worthy for all the new and fun adventures ahead. Maybe this isn’t the way my story ends – with hardship and hurt – but rather this is how the next chapters of my story begin. Maybe my body isn’t falling apart, but is instead asking for my help to get it where it needs to be to enjoy the best yet to come.

Even if that’s not true, believing it is sure is a lot more fun than not!

 

Posted in Aging, As I see it, Health and Well Being, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Calling all angels

“Wondering how many angels you have?

All of them.

They insisted.”  

~ Mike Dooley, Notes from the Universe

            I believe in angels. Whether in the form of a feeling, a thought, an impulse, a kind word from a friend or a helpful person appearing just when I need it, I believe there are angels among us. I’ve been touched by angels and benefited from them in my life. When my house was destroyed by a flood an army of angels showed up every day to help me clear it out, clean it up and eventually rebuild. I also believe there are times when I have been called to become an angel for someone else.

That was the case recently when my friend Gavin and I were on a day trip to Lucas. We were heading back when as we drove down the highway I glanced to my left and saw an older man trying to shovel his old, beat up gray Buick out of six inches of snow covering a couple inches of ice. That quick glance was all it took for me to see that he was in trouble. His footing was wobbly and with frigid temperatures, combined with his obvious exhaustion from working for who knows how long to free his car he was in big trouble. I mentioned to Gavin that the guy we had just passed in his driveway looked like he needed help, and Gavin’s response was an immediate, “Then let’s help.”

I didn’t even bother turning around, but threw the car into reverse and backed down the highway to pull into the top of his driveway. As we got out we asked the gentleman, Morey, if he could use a hand. His response, as he leaned over the hood of his car, was also an immediate, but weak, “Yes. Yes I sure could.” As Gavin shoveled the snow that rose above the car frame and buried half the wheels, I helped steady its owner who was gasping for every breath. I put my arm through his for stability – for us both, and could feel his heart pounding a wild and scary rhythm in his chest. He was indeed in trouble, but we were determined to help. I talked to him calmly, asking him to breathe consciously and slowly with me and told him we would get him out of this mess – somehow. At the time, I thought I might be lying to him, because I didn’t see any way we would be able to free his car, but sometimes you do what you have to do to convince someone else as well as yourself.

Gavin and I took turns shoveling and eventually we were able to clear enough of the icy mess to push and rock his car forward so that it gained some traction and was free.  Morey got out of his car once it was safely beyond the ruts, ice and snow and started thanking us profusely. He kept calling us his angels and maybe we were, but we didn’t help Morey to earn our wings. We just knew he needed help and we were able to give him some.

Someone else had their hands on the wheel at that moment. Something made me look in Morey’s direction and it was immediately apparent that he was in trouble. We didn’t discuss whether to go back and help or not. We didn’t even think about it, we just did it. But after we did and both Morey and we were on our separate ways I realized that helping Morey had done a whole lot for me. It felt so good to help him. I felt more positive, more optimistic. My heart felt open and much of my usual defensiveness and guardedness had fallen away. Ever since I’ve felt a deeper connection with everyone whose path has crossed mine and I’ve been much lighter in spirit and mood.

As I’ve pondered this experience of helping Morey and what I gained from it, I feel less like his angel and more like maybe Morey was my angel. Maybe it’s not the ones who have – the time, the money, the strength, the means, whatever – who are the angels to those who have not, but rather those who have less are the angels who open the rest of us to our shared humanity and whatever is the best in us.

Maybe instead of feeling like we’re the heroes for dropping a dollar or two in the can held out by the homeless person, or for contributing to a food bank, or stopping to help an older gentleman shovel his car out of a snow bank, we should recognize the Morey’s of the world may be the real heroes. Maybe they are placed along or even sometimes put in the middle of our paths to shake us out of ourselves and offer us the opportunity to grow, to reach, to open our hearts and to remind us of the goodness that is within us all. To be able to feel helpful we all need someone who needs our help, so how can those courageous souls not be real heroes? They are the ones taking the risk. Their risk is that we will stop, acknowledge them, reach out and respond.  If we don’t, we all lose, but they may pay with their well-being, even their lives.

Or maybe even more accurate, I, Gavin and Morey are all angels. In fact, maybe we ALL are angels. That would mean every one of us have the capacity to respond, to show up, to reach out to each other and to be someone’s helper.

Which means there are not just angels among us, but also angels all around us. They are all of us and they are us.

 

Posted in As I see it, Health and Well Being, Help and helpers, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

A Heart Remembers

My heart remembers things my head tries to forget. At least that’s the way it felt this morning when I woke up remembering today marks ten years since I got the call that my mother was failing fast and I needed to get to her quickly.

I made the dash to the care facility where I had moved her just 10 days earlier to find her barely conscious. But as I walked into her room she looked up, managed a weak, but grateful, smile and in her last act shakily stretched her hand out to me. I took that hand and rarely let go of it through the next 18 hours or so that I sat by her bedside listening to her struggle for every breath she took.

Below are the two columns I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal during this time. The first I was working on the morning of that call. I hastily finished it and raced to my Mom’s side. The second ran the next week, right after her funeral.  I share them as a way of honoring my memories of my mother.

What I’ve Not Said

I want to tell you what I’ve not been telling you. In the last few weeks my mother’s health has taken a serious downward turn. Mom has been fighting lung cancer in her left lung for the last five years. That would be bad news for anyone, but for Mom it is even worse. At age 92, this is her second battle with this disease. She had her right lung and three ribs removed because of cancer 19 years ago. With only one lung, and it compromised with cancer, it was only a matter of time until the disease would grow stronger than my mother.

It appears the tide of her fight has turned. The cancer is winning. But I’ve learned through the years to never count my mother out. She may not win this battle, but she will be the one to decide when it’s her time to throw in the towel.

Over the last several weeks her pain has increased and she is becoming frailer, but still she gets up every morning and dresses for the day. She greets visitors with as much enthusiasm as she can muster and she hates, even now, asking for help. Mom has told me several times over the last week that this is not the way she ever wanted to live. I can only nod and fight back tears as I say, “I know Mom. I know.” And I do know how much she dislikes feeling so helpless and being in so much pain that even to breathe takes enormous effort and will.

I do know it’s hard, yet I don’t know squat about how this really feels for her. I’ve never felt that kind of pain. I’ve never been 92 and looking at the end of my life. I have been in situations where I had to ask for help, and I didn’t like doing it either.

What I do know are my wishes for my dear mother. I wish her happiness, joy, peace, painlessness, and to feel completely worthy and deserving of love and goodness. But I also know the only way for her to have those things is for her to leave her physical body and make her transition to whatever awaits beyond it.

So, I’m stuck between a rock and hard place. The rock is wanting what’s best for my mother. The hard place is I must let her go in order for her to have those things. But, this is her journey and I can’t slow it down, speed it up, or stop it. All I can do is stand as a caring witness and love my mother through whatever lies ahead.

When she was told the cancer had returned to her remaining lung, just six months after my father died, I promised her she would not go through this alone. I told her I would be there, through it all.

She, after all, was there for my first breath, and I intend to be there for her last.

My Mom, My Angel

There was no way of knowing when I wrote last week’s column that my mother would make her transition from this life to whatever awaited beyond it in a matter of hours. My mother, Loreen A. Thomas, took her last breath April 17, and I was blessed to have been there to wish her well and to love her on to her next great adventure. I like to think she was met with a big, joyous party, complete with balloons, streamers, a Kelley Hunt CD playing, and with my dad waiting to again dance the night away with her.

And when that celebration wound down, I’m quite certain my mother got busy cleaning up the party residue and doing whatever she could to make Heaven more organized than it was before her arrival.

That was my mom. She never wasted a minute. Whether it was keeping the books for the family farm, creating a tidy home, teaching 4-H sewing and cooking, helping with the field work, or contributing to one of the many community organizations in which she was involved Mom was rarely idle.

My mother was one of the most gracious, courageous and bright women I have ever known. Hearing stories from family and friends as we prepared her life celebration I learned that my mother was even more of those things than I previously knew. I never knew that my mother drew up the plans for our house, which was built in the mid-50’s. I didn’t know that Mom had baked the county champion angel food cake for several years running. Mom never talked about those things. In addition to being one of the brightest and most talented women I knew, she was also the most humble.

Reverend Susan Montgomery, pastor of the Belvue United Methodist Church, said at Mom’s services, Mom never thought of herself as anything special. But to me, and her many friends, she was indeed very special, and provided a shining example of a life well lived.

My mom and I shared a love of books, especially well-written biographies. Mom was always more interested in other people’s stories than her own. She loved a good conversation and was not only articulate, but was also a good listener. When she asked about you she wasn’t doing so to be polite or pass the time, she really cared about your answers.

Mom instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife. She knew the names of every plant and tree, and fed any critter that wandered into her yard. Mom loved picnics and would use any excuse to eat alfresco, which she thought was a rather high falootin’ word to use for enjoying a good meal outdoors. There was nothing pretentious about my mother. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a compassionate and kind woman who dearly loved her family and friends.

Mom was my rock and I feel untethered without her. She was always my hero. Now, she is my angel.

Posted in As I see it, Transitions, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments