Friday, March 24, 2017

Strength out of fragility

My posts here recently, have described loss, primarily of mobility, and temporary in nature. I find myself immured in loss, though I have much about which to be thankful. My blessings include a wonderful spouse, a caring family, work that I love, and a very comfortable life, even with a busted kneecap. Having been unable to be up, about, and active over the last four weeks, I have had time to be reflective, and this is a good thing. How often do we rush about in our own lives, and devote too little time to considering both the minutia, and the bigger picture.

During this period, the mind takes turns through areas that are uncomfortable. I ponder situations that perplex me, and find that I am still perplexed. The loss of mobility, and the dependence on others, leaves me feeling helpless, and prone to tears. The tears come so easily because there are situations that present themselves at this time of life that leave me somewhat fragile. The loss of mobility can be an analogy for deeper losses in that they are both visceral. I cannot clean up the mess five feet away because I cannot get down to it. I know that both adversity and loss are character building, and I am mostly grateful for it. How often now can I speak to someone else’s pain and fear because I have experienced and addressed my own. While there are no answers to some situations, there is solidarity in shared experience. I met a new friend several months ago, through a shared experience, and found that I can cry for her, as often as I cry for myself. Tears in this context are shared in so many ways, and I hope to join in the tears of others to help them bear their burden.

I listened to Leonard Cohen’s song, Allelujah, sung by Rufus Wainwright, this morning. It is so beautiful in so many ways, that tears were flowing long before the end. This release of emotion means to be that I can continue to work through my own pain, contribute to comforting others, and at least leave my temporary injury behind in the next month or two. Other losses can be seen through a different lens, at least temporarily, and for that I am thankful.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Comparison across the age spectrum

While having all the time available to recover from an injury, I am feeling compelled to think back to previous injuries. When I was seven, I broke one of my arm bones while ice skating. This mishap occurred in summer, and the only real inconvenience for a seven year old, was not being able to go to summer camp at the prescribed time. I got my cast off prior to beginning third grade, and promptly forgot the incident once the pain and cast were gone.

Since then, I have had the normal bumps and bruises, until over a decade ago, when I fell and broke my left wrist. This occurred at the onset of a week of fieldwork between quarters when I was working on my undergraduate degree. We were at the fieldwork site, the incident was painful, embarrassing (as so many people saw me in my nightgown), and I had to be delivered to a local emergency room by one of my professors, again in my nightgown. As happened this time, my husband arrived at the emergency room a few hours later to rescue me and dry my tears. The next few weeks were filled with doctor appointments, a cast, followup appointments, another cast, physical therapy, and the amazing experiences presented by riding the bus carrying a backpack full of books and only one functional arm. Injuries of this magnitude, and not very significant from a wider perspective, do not seem to heal as quickly as they did when I was seven. I do not have full range of motion in the injured wrist, all these years later. The point of these reminiscences is that at some point vulnerability sets in, and while I expect to be up and about my usual business within a month or two from my injury date, I will again be fearful of falling. What will it be that helps me to slam the door on that fear? Perhaps it is best to maintain a small quantity of that fear, in terms of caution rather than incapacitation from it, but it does seem a shame to have to deal with it at all.

A cost for me with this injury that I am feeling sorely, is that I am not walking the neighborhood as usual, as spring begins to arrive. I have been walking my neighborhood, along with others, for over a decade, and am missing the plants, houses, and dogs, that I am used to seeing. I always plan to walk past a tulip tree a few blocks over when it blooms, several times, because it is stunningly beautiful. I want to stand and gaze at it, but feel that anyone who noticed me would think I am creepy. So many plants needing to be admired, and I cannot do it for another month or two. Thinking about seeing the daffodils, tulips, primroses, rhododendrons, azaleas, along with the flowering trees that will soon be bursting into color and splendor, makes me so sad to think I might miss them. I have my own as well, and will try to satisfy my extreme need to see color and beauty with them. I am sure that our dogs will be happy to accompany me into the side-yard to sit and gaze for a while. Ah, the pleasures of life, whether injured or not.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

From Injury to recovery and beyond

From injury to recovery and beyond:

What does injury do to the body and mind? For me, it means that in a heart beat I am on the floor having broken my kneecap. There is no getting up to dust one’s self off, and continue on with the day. Instead it meant calling 911 and being rescued and taken to the local emergency room. The fact that I have been working toward a healthy middle age for decades seems to make little difference. It seems to not matter that I am fit with strong bones; the body breaks down when presented with a concrete floor.  There are many perspectives from which to view an injury, including physical, professional, relationship, and emotional.

From the physical standpoint of injury, It is intuitive to understand the physical pain, tremendous inconvenience, and the burden for others’, whether they are happy to help or not. Suddenly, it is no longer a simple matter to visit the bathroom, but an ordeal that begins painfully, and progresses to inconvenient and irritating. Bathroom breaks have to be planned for.  Bathing becomes a tremendous ordeal because at all cost the injured member must be kept dry. Vulnerability is another product of injury. In trying to get around the house and take some of the burden off my amazing caregiver, I fell again, further injuring myself, but not my broken bones, thankfully. What this means to me is that I can no longer feel confident when walking on the floor, moving quickly down a set of stairs, and walking outside in the rain. Having fallen, and broken a limb before, it took me years to regain my confidence and lose my fear of falling. Now I get to start that all over again.

Professionally, my injury means that my students will have to have a different pathway to the end of the quarter. It means that one of my colleagues steps in to help fill the gap in class time and access, and subsequent quarters will need to be rearranged. The good news is that my injury is fully covered, and includes time to recover

There is the sentiment that when you are down you find out who your friends are. This is both true, and not true. True, friends and co-workers have rallied around with delicious prepared food, cards and flowers, phone calls and visits. What injury and home-stay does in the absence of these things is isolate me from my usual social contact. While I am very fond of silence, when you can hear the silence, it feels like too much.

Thankfully, I am one of the most fortunate people on the planet in that I have an amazing and loving spouse who has been my constant caretaker. I also have fully paid sick leave, access to quick and outstanding medical care, wonderful family and friends, and lots of time with my pets.

Feeling so fortunate to live in an era when quality healthcare solutions (surgery, braces, and support for recovery) are available to me, I have been pondering how my injury to recovery would look so different without these benefits. What if I were single without home-support? It would be much more difficult to take care of daily living activities. And, without home support, the opportunity for re-injury or setbacks, additional injuries, would be much more likely. I have someone to provide a steady hand to help me get around, and take me to appointments. What if I had no health insurance? This is true for so many people, both locally and especially on the global level. What if I had not received the surgical procedure in a timely manner to stitch me back together? My injury would have healed after a fashion, but walking normally and without pain would not be assured.

The take-home message for me is that even on a bad day, my life is much easier than it is for many others who have not suffered an incapacitating injury. All because of my resources, for which I am very grateful.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fall walks, spiders, trash, and construction workers

Again today, I took my unruly dogs walking in the neighborhood. I love to walk at this time of year because of the color and the many feasts for my eyes, also for the cooler weather and still not having to wear any kind of a coat. This last benefit will be over soon. Another of the wonders of walking in the neighborhood at this time of year are the beautiful displays of spider webs. Today is foggy, and when there is fog in the Fall, the spider webs are visible in abundance. These webs are master creations of skill and exquisiteness that I love to see. Not far into our walk there is a row of juniper hedge that features about 20 plants. In between each plant there are two to three magnificent spider webs. It would be my pleasure to stay and feast my eyes on this bounty of artwork, and feel like I am cheating myself by needing to walk by. I do wonder what the owners of the house would think if I were to station myself outside their dwelling and gaze upon the webs to my heart's content. I suspect that they would not be appreciative. Another major treat at this time of year is a house on our walk route that has three magnificent maple trees that bloom bright crimson. It is my practice to walk/drive by there as often as possible during their morph from green leaves to red, and then their ultimate fall to the ground. At present, this annual spectacle is almost entire crimson, but with one section that is still greenish and a little behind the other leaves. The contrast is magnificent. All too soon, this display will be gone until next year. Again, I wonder if the inhabitants of the house would mind if I stood and admired for a period of time, rather than walking briskly by.

Today was our first day walking since last Friday. Over the weekend, and many if not every weekend, trash begins to accumulate at bus stops, in the park that we pass, and everywhere else. The bane of trash collectors like me is that once an area has been picked up, a few days later it needs to be done again. While this does not keep me from making my rounds to pick up trash, it does make me wonder about the thought process that is, or is not, taking place when humans drop trash. Suspecting that I will never know how such decisions are made, or not, it does keep me busy. By the end of our walks, I almost always have a full plastic bag of trash to sort and dispose of. At this time of year when Halloween candy is being sold and consumed everywhere, a plethora of 'fun size' candy wrappers are in evidence. Following Halloween, we will move on to the next variety of seasonal trash. That makes it sound like there are seasons of trash, and perhaps there are. Here's to feeling compelled to pick up trash!

Another feature of our walks, is meeting construction workers. Our maniacal dogs gave up spending energy barking and lunging at construction workers long ago. We meet many of the same flaggers while a construction job is in progress, and many of them are confirmed dog-lovers. Perhaps that is a prerequisite (unspoken and unacknowledged) for the job. I find it a pleasure to meet others who love dogs, and are happy to share a few words and smiles. There is something of a community when people can interact, pet dogs, and share a few minutes with each other. For someone who used to be very shy indeed, it is a pleasure to meet others who want to connect in this way.

Who would have thought that walking dogs in my neighborhood could be so rewarding; I would not have, until it happened to me.

Friday, October 3, 2014

From News Reporting to Fall Roses

Two days ago, I ended a long hiatus from listening to NPR while I am working at home. I had unplugged due to increasing frustration with the inability of the press, public or otherwise, to report actual news, rather than the topic du jour, or science that is not really new, but becoming more and more important and relevant while not spurring action. I do support public radio, and will continue to do so because at least there, there is a desire to report fully and objectively whatever is going on locally, nationally, regionally, and globally.

Having said all that, I turned to my local NPR station only to find that endless time slots appear to be devoted to the lapse of security that is the Secret Service. I think we can all agree (most of us surely), that our President, his family, and those who work with and for him/them, need to be protected from those that would seek to do them harm. However, does that mean that most, if not all, business has to grind to a halt to analyze the issue/lapse down to its minutiae? I think not. Is bold action called for? Yes, the head of that service resigned amid calls for her to do so. A shake-up, or at least a review of procedures and policies for securing the First Family, and their entourage is reasonable. Now that that has been undertaken, may we get back to the real business of the American people? I saw/heard at least as many reports about the Secret Service debacle, as compared to the Ebola epidemic that is building on itself. Surely, there are many other issues needing to be considered and/or acted upon now that a security lapse has been discovered, and a serious one at that, and the remedy begun.

On another, and totally unrelated topic, Fall has moved in, in a big way in our neck of the woods. Walking dogs through the neighborhood not only promotes health, tired dogs, and the prevention of insomnia, but also fills my eyes with boutiful color and beautifully shaped leaves. What would we do without this yearly smorgasbord of color and shape that is uniquely autumnal? So soothing to see the inexorable transition from warm summer days and nights, to the cooler and reminiscent days of autumn. Another benefit, for me, to fall is that I bring budding roses into the house when cooler temperatures begin to prevail. Generally speaking, I prefer to see my flowers in bloom in the yard, but there is something about salvaging a rose that might not be able to bloom fully due to damp and cooler temperatures. It is a ritual that I look forward to that brings in the color of summer along with its fragrance. Just another benefit of changing seasons that is so pleasing to the senses, giving an opportunity to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Does anyone else need a pensive?

Thank heaven for J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books. Not only are they so entertaining and engaging, so many words and situations are now very familiar to me. An example: the 'pensive', which represents a place to put excess thoughts when you are feeling mentally stretched. How I would benefit from such a device/process! I have a plethora of memories that I would love to offload. Or, how about having a house elf? Never do housework again! Wouldn't that be wonderful? Or, how about entering a dark room and murmuring 'lumose'? So many applications that I am forever thinking about them.

The most important analogy for me is the wish for a pensive in which to unload my overloaded brain. As an educator, a full-time student, along with the very heartbreaking need to help aged and dying parents, I need to clear my mind in order to be productive. I chose to begin a degree program in the midst of everything else because I need to have assurance of employment, or at least have a better chance of it. The last few years have proven that during an economic downturn, and slow recovery, that college instructors like me are a dime a dozen, and the work can stop, dry up, and/or cease, over night. I am a person who enjoys college, its courses, and rewards, but have been unable to immerse myself in the enjoyment that should go along with learning something new, as it has in the past. I find myself having difficulty concentrating on my coursework which then leads to panic. I have to get this done, and there is only one way to accomplish it; just do it! Other advice that works here is that offered by Douglas Adams in the "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", that features a book of the same title, and which offers readers the advice to "...DON'T PANIC inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover.". Perhaps I should take that advice, and also the advice that I give others who are currently overwhelmed as I am, which is to "breathe deeply", and that chocolate can only help (in the Harry Potter books, chocolate is a restorative). I could also use the advice given somewhere in the Bible wherein a sage person comforts a reader with: "this too shall pass". While there is no stopping in sight, it may be time to come up for air, smell some roses. and endeavor to 'not panic'.  

Monday, January 6, 2014

In a Coffee Shop

I am in a coffee shop waiting for an appointment time to draw near, and am watching a situation. As usual, when I have the need to hang out where there is wireless connectivity, to make the best use of my time in between engagements, I marvel at all of the life occurring around me. A job interview has just occurred to my left, and there are a few business meetings all around. This particular coffee shop is abuzz with activity. It is loud in here! The situation that draws my interest the most, is that of a window washer, who in this cold weather is dressed in a skirt with tights and a sweater. No coat. It's cold outside. They have just moved in to clean the inside windows, so no coat necessary here. This person, appears to me to be a transgender individual who is emaciated (all the more reason for needing a coat). While they are working their way across the windows, they pass close to where I am sitting. I am one of those people who takes any opportunity to talk with strangers, but this individual does not meet my eye. I don't want to push, and I am reluctant to shout over the noise of the shop.

This situation causes me to reflect on why the window washer will not look around them. Is it because they are intent on their task, or because they are used to being ignored, or because they are too fragile in their transition from one gender to the one in which they are most comfortable to acknowledge and meet the eye of someone else? If it is the latter reason, it strikes me as true loneliness, and there is such sadness there. The song "One is the loneliest number" comes to mind, because we as humans are meant to live in groups and provide society for each other. How is it that we still isolate our fellow man. Is it " us vs. them", or does the window washer just want to finish up and move on to their next job, or perhaps home from here? I wonder.