A couple of days ago I woke up with a searing pain that started in my lower back and traveled down my right leg. I knew instantly that my sciatic nerve was being pinched; it had happened before. As a result I spent the weekend lying around with a heating pad, watching movies and moving very carefully.
Pain is a powerful teacher. It has an extraordinary capacity for focusing the attention. When you’re in pain you don’t think much about the past and what your parents did or didn’t do, or project into the future and what you want and when. When you’re in pain you’re just trying to deal with the present.
When I first became ill with rheumatoid arthritis, I tried a lot of natural remedies, herbs, fasting, juicing and other alternatives. When that didn’t affect my condition, I set to clearing my psychological closets of regret, guilt, remorse, anger, shame, anxiety, depression and other health-draining thoughts and emotions.
After many months I had to admit that I could not medicate or psychoanalyze my way to health. So I called out the big guns and called upon God to intervene. I asked Him to help me understand why this was happening, so I could then change it.
Why – the ultimate question of the mind/ego. If I can only ‘understand why’ this is happening I can accept it, I told myself. What a waste of time. It didn’t matter whether the cause of my illness was genetic, karmic, dietary, emotional, psychological, or whatever, it didn’t change the fact that I was chronically ill and likely to stay that way.
And even more important, that “I” – meaning my will, my ego, my mind – could do nothing about it. That part of my self, my life, my consciousness that I had thought pre-eminent was really helpless. I couldn’t make myself healthy and I couldn’t manipulate God to do it for me.
Life and its direction, its current, its momentum was vastly larger and more powerful than I was. There was nothing I could do to mold it to my own desires. I had free will and that free will gave me one choice. I could continue to fight or I could surrender.
I chose to surrender.
It didn’t happen all at once by throwing one big mental switch. It happened little by little. When you’re in a ‘bad place’ you are afraid to surrender and accept what is because you believe that if you do, it will perpetuate that bad situation. But what you are really accepting is the situation as it is right now – not what it might be later today or tomorrow or next month or next year. Just right now.
When I accepted the present I stopped suffering. I still had physical pain but I was no longer in psychological pain. I untied the thought that says things could be or should be different than what they were. When I stopped trying to change the condition of my life/health/body I was able to appreciate my life just the way it was. I stopped struggling. I know it sounds counter intuitive but it is true.
I am now grateful for the lessons that pain taught me. I was such a stubborn person I doubt I could have learned them any other way. God was wise enough not to grant me a miracle. Undoubtedly, I would have taken the credit myself.
So I look on the discomfort I felt this weekend as a little tune-up, a reminder to keep my priorities straight. First is gratitude for life. The rest takes care of itself.
Part of a poem written during The Struggle…
Bargaining with God that if He but grant
A glimpse of the higher truths
I will accept these tortures of my body.
Trying the tricks of the marketplace
I am willing to suffer, I say, if only You give me ….
But God has not sent nor brought this suffering to me
And He sees not this broken body with His eternal eyes.
Tuesday, March 20, marked the Spring Equinox, the day of the year when dark and light forces are in perfect balance. That balance was short-lived, however, for on Wednesday the scale started to tip slightly toward the sun and our subsequent days are getting longer and longer … until the Summer Solstice in June. At that point, at the apex of our light-giving days, the dark will start its journey to ascendancy.
The period of the Equinox is a time of personal reflection for me as it marks the anniversaries of the passing of my older son and before that my mother. My heart remembers what things were done and not-done; what words were said and not-said; what knots tied and untied.
Regret stands near my left shoulder, longing near my right. I will take as truth the words of wiser people than I and believe that on the other side of the door, all is revealed, all is forgiven and only love remains.
I also consider the Equinox as the beginning of my personal New Year for it marks my birthday and the time for new beginnings. I used to make plans and set goals but I don’t have the desire or need to anymore. Life is good as it is and doesn’t need me to interject opinions or directions.
I have now taken 66 rides on the merry-go-round the sun. This will be my 67th solar revolution. The fact that this is a prime number makes me at once nervous and excited. The power of this year cannot be divided by anything other than itself.
When I moved to Sacramento last fall I wanted to become involved in the community so when a friend asked me to volunteer some time at a local Alzheimer’s Center I agreed. Once a week I would visit and start a discussion with the ladies on a topic such as “What do you remember about a pet you had as a child?” or “Tell me about your first boyfriend,” or “What did you house look like?”The topics were always about things of their childhood as I thought those memories might be more accessible than what happened two years ago. As they talked I wrote down their ‘stories’ and the following week would give them a typewritten version to keep and share with their families.
It was a very poignant experience. One lady could remember the dog she had as a child but not her husband. Another had little recall of young friends but remembered her childhood home. At the same time their minds were slowly crumbling away, I would sometimes see a deep kindness. If someone would start fretting because they couldn’t recall something, one of the ladies might give her a hug and say, “Don’t worry. I can’t remember some things either.”
In my own life, I now have to acknowledge that I sometimes have difficulty recalling a name or event or even the ‘right word.’ When I read some of the essays I wrote ten years ago I think I was much wittier then, could make more outrageous connections, walk a thinner tightrope. But at the same time my mind has become rustier, the hinges of my heart are better oiled.
Anyway, in looking through some past poetry I came upon this one that reminded me (pun intended) of these sweet ladies I met last fall.
Memories Slip Away
Memories slip away unnoticed from my mind
Like honey sliding off a silver spoon:
Five hundred and three forgotten
With a black sock in an old suitcase;
Along with a letter and brown creased photograph;
One hundred and twenty-seven left behind
In an unfinished book;
Sixteen wedged at the back of a dusty drawer
Beside a postcard of Niagara Falls.
If only I could remember one day, one moment,
I would know if I had learned to love,
I would remember if his kiss was sweet,
The color of the child’s eyes,
The shape of the mother’s face.
If only I could remember now,
I might remember who I am.
I might remember what it was I came to learn.
How can I escape this Wheel
When I have been so careless
And misplaced the memories of my life.
How can I be forgiven
If I do not remember my sins –
By commission and omission –
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
So how now shall I remember
Without a touch, a taste, a smell to anchor me.
It only I could remember,
If only I,
Picture: “Niobe by the River” ink on rice paper, Marie Taylor
I missed two in 2001, one in 2007 and one in 2011. To what (which, who) am I referring? Why the I-volutions! In 2001 there were I-pods and I-tunes. In 2007, the big news was I-phones and last year it was the I-pad. And here I-am, I-less in Sacramento.
Yes, with some degree of embarrassment, I reluctantly admit that I have none of these icons of the cultural and digital revolution. I still have the CD player that looks like a small black pizza – complete with clunky headphones that wrap over my head – that I used to take to the gym. Said player was always stuffed in a nylon fanny pack (remember those? like I needed extra width on my hips) with a handful of the latest CDs. There were no I-tunes on my music shelf!
As the decade marched on, the I-phone debuted. Other people threw away their land lines, answering machines and portable phones while I adamantly stuck by my old silver all-in-one. When I finally stepped up my game and added a hands-free mike headset (which also went over my head – do you see a pattern here too?) I felt like I was cruising in the fast lane.
Last fall I reluctantly stuck my toe into deeper digital waters when I eliminated all but my cell phone. It was the most basic of communicators and, in fact, did not take a picture, send a text or surf the web. It was not hooked into a GPS or Yelp pages; it did not talk back when I asked a question. When I turned it sideways, it did not change its format and my index finger on its face just left smudges. My phone only rang – and usually when I was on the freeway being followed by a highway patrol car.
It was these unexpected and unwanted calls to answer (along with the high cost of minutes) that finally unnerved me. Every time that digital demon rang I would pull out the phone, try to make out who was calling while changing lanes, curse when caller ID was blocked, drop the phone which skittered under the seat, and finally pull over to calm my heart.
After about a month of flopping about and gasping, I struggled back to more familiar shores and coughed up the dough to get a land line. My little silver fox of a phone is chained to the wall, takes messages and rings occasionally. But I still keep my cell – usually off and in my purse.
Which leaves only the last revolution to leave me behind, the I-pad. A friend bought one of the first releases and waxed rhapsodic – endlessly. When I finally saw it in person I admit to being less than impressed. What could it do that my laptop could not? Was it not like an e-reader on steroids (which is a whole other revolution to be discussed at a later date) without the chops?
The other day I noticed my son smirking when I mentioned I might get a tape recorder to do some live interviews. Those twitching lips immediately alerted me that I was becoming an anachronism – which is like being anchored to the past only without the religious connotations.
So here I am – I-less in Sacramento – which is like being clueless but dumber. I have decided to withhold my support for the next soon-to-be launched revolution. I figure in a few years people will start viewing me as a Retro Chick – and you know that is just a step away from being Really Cool.
This last weekend I volunteered to cover a poetry reading for the Sacramento Press, a local online newspaper. The event was titled Crossroadsand was the first of a six-part series featuring local poets. It was held in an art gallery to cross-pollinate the arts.
I got there a little early to talk to the organizers of the event and silently wondered if the 30+ seats lined up in neat rows would be filled on this gray and rainy afternoon. I was surprised and delighted when more and more people arrived and more and more chairs had to be brought in. By the time the program began it was standing room only for more than 60 attendees.
Two area poets, Julia Connor and Victoria Dalkey, read some of their poems which were by turn reflective, picturesque, imaginative and profound. After listening to them speak I wanted to attend some of the local venues and read my own stuff aloud. But more than that, what I took away from the event was a sense of recognition that I had found another ‘tribe,’ other people who are similar to me, not only in interests and abilities but in demeanor, appearance and, of all things, age!
Several years ago I had visited a local café that hosted a poetry night every week. It felt very French and Left Bank, a place were in the 50’s and 60’s the Beats and the hippies would hang out. The place was always packed, the noise level high and the poets – well, in general they were either young males fueled by testosterone and activism, or old males wearing leather bomber jackets. I know I over generalize but ….
The poetry read, to my mind, was usually aggressive and always heavily cadenced with a sing song beat which smote the ears ( I think that is the first time I have ever used the word smote in a real sentence) like a hammer on an anvil. Outside the café young men stood in small groups smoking cigarettes and drinking from paper bags. It was not a venue in which I felt comfortable or particularly welcomed.
But last Saturday, as I sat waiting for the program to begin and the seats to be filled, I overhead conversations, such as the one by the tall-standing, gray-haired woman who was saying how she had moved to senior housing and had simplified her life enough to have time for the arts. She was joined in conversation by a gentleman/poet sans leather who related his experience in downsizing and who I later learned would be featured in an upcoming program.
As I looked around the room I saw most people were middle aged or older, at least 50% were women and nobody was drinking out of a paper bag. Even the readers were sporting crow’s feet and wrinkles. But it was not just the maturity of the audience, it was their respectful presence and receptive listening. It was the quiet “oh’s” of appreciation when a poem was finished. The readers did not pound out pentameters and didactic phrasing – it was more conversational and lyric.
At the end of the program, I hung around to take a picture of the poet/readers. Both engaged me in conversation when I expressed my appreciation of their work. They asked my name and listened without impatience. The gallery owner and the co-hosts were equally cordial. A member of the audience announced free wine and appetizers at her home for all those interested and available.
On my drive back home I was delighted with my afternoon. Here were other birds of my feather; the possibility of new acquaintances, even friends, arose.The pleasures of the spirit are paid in the currency of time, rather than coin. Even though I have to live very simply and frugally, I have extraordinary opportunities to do as I please.
My only New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to attend more live music venues. Little did I know that baby step – the noon time free concerts – would snowball into art exhibitions and poetry readings. Now that I have found my tribe, my calendar should be very busy in the coming months and provide lots of fuel for creative fires.