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"This is my simple philosophy
No need for temples
No need for complicated philosophy
The philosophy is kindness."

14th Dalai Lama

Latest Posts in Cup Half Full

A Close Call

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Prairie Home Companion. One Saturday, probably the summer of 1986, Garrison Keillor concluded his monologue with this thought:

There is a difference between a “close call” and being “called.” “Called,” he said, meant dying. Called to heaven or to god or something. Anything short of that was a “close call” and a cause for celebration. A few months after this, I was driving down Jackson St. in my home town. I know about when this was because Juliana was a toddler in her carseat positioned behind me and I wasn’t yet pregnant with Alice. I was stopped at a light. I didn’t have good sight lines for the traffic coming down the hill on my left. When the light turned green, I pulled out slowly into the intersection. A carful of teenaged boys, busy chatting, ran the light; they didn’t see it had turned red. They bumped into the driver’s front corner of my car, not too hard, no one was hurt. We all drove down to the corner where we could pull into a parking lot to exchange information.

The odd thing is that while driving that tenth of a mile, I heard Garrison in my head: this was a close call. If I had pulled out a little faster, if I were a little further into the intersection, I would have been hit broadside. My beautiful nearly 29 year old daughter might not have made it to age 2. I might not have lived long enough to make her baby sister. We could have been “called,” died, done, kaput, all over, or maimed. But we weren’t. It was a close call. It was a cause for celebration.

By the time I got to talk to the boys, while I was shaking from the adrenaline, I was also nearly giddy with relief, and had to hide that. I needed to be angry and stern. They were all terrified and wildly apologetic. They were scared out of their heads. Good. When I spoke with the parents later that day, they were clearly responsible parents, furious with their son, and grounding him for a long, long time, at least as far as driving privileges.

This all happened about 28 years ago. I continue to hear this notion in my head surprisingly often. My Alice was once injured in an act of random violence. It was a close call. She’s fine. A friend had cancer and survived, even if she lost her breasts. It was a close call. Nearly hitting some god damn idiot on a bicycle who pulled right out in front of me, at night, without warning, without any lights or reflectors, and my brakes worked perfectly. I got to roll down my window and scream bloody murder at the guy. It was a close call. A newbie at a dance recently, in her death grip of nervousness, nearly ripped my thumb off, with a good twist. My thumb hurts, but I am not in a cast like my niece is for having fallen on her thumb. A close call. This all came to mind this week when a dance acquaintance posted that her dear son was brutally attacked on New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn, a random act of violence. He was serious injured, just terrible, but he did not die. He wasn’t called. For as horrible as it was, it was a close call.

Is it fate when something bad happens, or good things, for that matter? Kismet? God’s will? Hell no. Shit happens. What you do with these experiences is what matters. Does the experience break you or teach you something valuable? Do you accept that this terrible thing happened, and find the lessons there, the gratitude, huge overarching gratitude, that he or she wasn’t called, but survived, even if diminished, he or she survived. Nearly 16 years ago I torqued my knee in a dance class and it changed the course of my life. It led me into leading a life of chronic pain and you know what? I have learned a lot. I have learned so much that I almost, not quite but almost, appreciate all that has happened. “Gratitude” is my guiding force. I have many physical limitations but I can go contra dancing and dance every dance, from the first dance to the last waltz, for 3 hours, 2 or 3 times a week. Gratitude?  Big time.

Martha Beck wrote: No part of your experience is wasted. Everything you’ve experienced so far is part of what you were meant to learn. I would say, everything you’ve experienced is an opportunity to learn something.

I always loved this quote, don’t know where it comes from: When we come to the edge of all the light we have, and must take a step into the darkness of the unknown, we must believe one of two things. Either we will find something firm to stand on or we will be taught to fly.

Either way, we must discover what really matters. Was that experience the end of the world as we know it, were we, or he, or she called? Or was it a close call, and a cause for celebration?


What else would I want to do on New Year’s Eve, but dance?

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

What else would I want to do on New Year’s Eve, but dance?

Silly question. However, some weeks back it became apparent that there wasn’t a New Year’s Eve dance planned for the Guiding Star Grange. Not sure how this happened, an oversight,  I guess because it wasn’t on a weekend and falling under the purview of a regular dance organizer, but this had to be remedied. It certainly wasn’t ok with me. The dance-organizer alchemy went into high gear, starting with Will, who knows the bands and callers. He wasn’t even going to be attending, but he put his time in and made the connections that made it possible for us to have first class musicians and caller. The “Friends” board ok’ed it and the events committee (Liz, Christy and I) got into motion.

There are those who hate to organize things and then there are those who love organizing anything and do it effortlessly. That’s we three.  Granted we tend to have our infrequent meetings at wonderful local cafes over a pleasant meal. We are all high-powered women who figure out what needs to be done and do it. It is easy and fun and we come out, in this case, with a New Year’s Eve dance.

What else would I want to be doing on New Year’s Eve?  Absolutely nothing. There is First Night and parties, concerts, gatherings, but all I want to do is dance. I want to be with my dancing community, losing my mind with delight.

While in the planning stages, I was sitting at Midas Muffler waiting for my car to be repaired and wrote this poem. I was feeling a little shy about reading it at midnight, feeling like the words were simply so obvious as to be overly simplistic, but I think it was well-received.

Dance is my religion.

I come to these hallowed halls for communion.

Music, enter me.

Percussion, pulse through my blood, beat in the marrow of my bones.

The dance steps progress from conscious thought to mindlessness, missteps rolled through with easy laughter.

New dancers, starting with deer-in-the-headlights and death-grip, hit that moment when light comes into their eyes and bodies ease and flow…Hey! This is fun! More! More!

I come to dance with you, to move with you, beyond thought, into breath, eyes slipping half-closed, all I can do is grin, gliding my way into transcendence.

Dance with me.

Greet the new year with breath and flow, with peace.

Dance with me. Just dance.

Dance is my religion.


What size is your box?

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

Dance two steps forward, walk one step back.

I want to live on the dance floor. I don’t want to leave, ever. I want to be that healthy glitter-decorated woman every minute and not have to re-enter my ordinary life. The sparkling woman has little or no pain to contend with. It is pure joy. Flowing movement, laughter, smiles, connections with all these other happy smiling people….swirl me around and make me fly! Ok, so don’t turn me under on the right, but turn me under multiple times on the left. Only my close friends know that I am flying on endorphins, that when they wear off, I will be back to living with pain. It sure as hell doesn’t show on the dance floor. It is my secret. I was only able to dance two hours a week when I started back to contra dancing in May. Now I average twice a week, first dance to last, so three-plus hours each blessed night. I only sit out if I can’t find a partner. I don’t want to stop. My dancer’s training says to never sit down, don’t stop and let your muscles get cold; keep going, and I do. I used to leave at the break. No more. This is such progress, my heart sings. Ok, so I can’t dance two nights in a row YET or do any of the longer dances, but maybe next year.

Now, I have to tell you about the “one step back.” I don’t want to. I don’t want to tell you but harder still is to say this to myself. And I sure don’t want to make that call to my client.

I have a handful of lovely clients, mostly middle aged or older women, who need rides or help with organizing their physical space, a listening ear, and always, solid hugs. I don’t have much physical stamina. I need to be alone a lot, and rest on the couch with a cat or two, get out of the way of gravity pulling down on me. I am accustomed to this life style, carefully ordering my day to account for my physical needs. But once in a while, I slam up against a wall. Again. My most dreaded word is not “pain” but “limitations.”  One of my dear clients, yet another woman whom I clicked with instantly, who needs me in ways that I am happy to provide, who is in my heart, needs something I can’t do without causing an overload of pain. It is so damn simple, such an easy task (easy for me, overwhelming for her), but it is repetitive motion using my right arm. All I am doing is helping her to sort out her papers, for goodness sake. I sit carefully, I use both hands, I am as mindful as I can be, and I walk out of her apartment close to tears with pain and frustration. I can’t do this simple act? Really? How can the dancing woman not be able to sort papers for an hour and a half? It doesn’t make sense but there it is. Slam, up against my limitations. Again.  I don’t want to tell her. I don’t want to talk about this. I don’t want this to be happening, but it is.

A few years ago I went to a smart and compassionate orthopedic surgeon. It was a time when I wasn’t able to dance but I could walk. It was good weather, I had the time, and friends who wanted to walk with me every day. I had enough friends to walk with that I was walking twice a day. One walk is usually 2 ½ miles/ 50 minutes. I was walking twice a day, or super long walks, because I could. Because it was delicious. However, my right knee, my good knee, was starting to be painful. This freaked me out and I went to the orthopedist. Like a good witch and a bad witch, I have a good knee and a bad knee. I need to be able to depend on my good knee.

I forget the name of this doctor, so I will just call him George. He needs a name. George did x-rays of both my knees and pronounced even my left knee, the one that had had four surgeries, very healthy. He said there was no arthritis, that especially my right knee was as healthy as a young adult. Then he explained something to me that has stuck, and this is why George is making an appearance here. He drew a square in the air, about 12 or 15 inches on a side and announced that this represented a box. Inside the box were all my abilities; outside of the box were things that were too much for me. George told me that everyone has a box, unique in size according to their abilities and limitations. If you know your box size, and stay within the box, then you will be without pain. If you draw outside the lines, so to speak, you will have pain. I had proudly told him that I was walking 25-plus miles a week. He said that was outside of my box, that I should be happy walking 2 ½ miles a day and leave it at that. I listened.

This brings me to today. All my “todays.” I am thrilled that I can dance 3 hours, twice a week. That is the size of my box now. Working with this dear client is outside of my box and I have to accept that, even if I can only accept it kicking and screaming. I have to have this hard conversation with my client on Monday. I have to put my energy into finding her another assistant who will love her and make her feel safe. This hurts my heart. And, today, I get to dance, first to last dance, in pure and utter joy. I will stay within my box. George’s metaphor is a good one. It is useful to me.

I saw this quote on Facebook today and it is my new mantra, from Osho:

Let this be the criterion always: anything that makes you festive, anything that gives you celebration, anything that makes you dance and sing to such an extent that you disappear in your dancing, in your singing, in your celebration…is the only true religion I know of.


Turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down.

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Turtles, turtles, turtles, all the way down.

Layers and turtles, onions and mythology, on and on, endless, infinite. Nothing is static; there is no moment of arrival. All process, all process. Coming into the light, or sinking into darkness;  the ground feeling stable and then unseen ice under the snow brings a bone crackling fall.

Do you remember the old movie, Cocoon? The aliens, who look like we do, peel off their corporal disguises and dash around as pure brilliant forces of light. That is how I see myself on the dance floor. An exaggeration, I know, but this is the image that flits through my head. While I am using this body, I have shed it and sense myself as pure light, translated into pure joy.

How does this jive with “person living with chronic pain” as well as “woman mourning a terrible ending of a five year relationship?” I carry these, of course, but I am more than that, way more. If I were not managing the pain daily, I would not have the stamina to get to the dances. The anger of being ruthlessly dumped sits in this knot somewhere, my belly or my heart, slowly melting down in size, ever-present but not being attended to.

If you ask me about my days, I am not shy to describe my life with chronic pain and its management. However, when I am dancing, when I am in my light-filled self, it feels like something of a secret. How can this woman with enough wattage to light the Grange and beyond have physical disabilities? Oh, but I do. I own both these lives, and many more.

Five surgeries are in my history. Each one requiring long periods of healing, each time not knowing how far the healing will take me, if I will walk again with ease, if, if, if I will dance ever again. My body is pretty cooperative these days.  My knee works remarkably well, with proper attention to limitations, no pain at all when dancing. Thank god. Unbelievable to me, dancing without even noticing my knee. I do NOT take this for granted. This is part of the joy you see shining through me. My knee works! But my back, my scapula, what appears as a shoulder injury, that draws my attention all the time. I wake, sandwiched between my cats, and feel fine, feel happy to greet each day. This, too, I do not take lightly, the gift of another day. As I start my day, pain meds with my breakfast, something between an ache and a pain starts to speak up. Enter “pain management.”  I manage my days carefully, scheduling my time to allow for rest, for quiet, for eating every three hours to accommodate taking pain meds. I manage my days so that there aren’t too many activities, no two things in a row. If I have a client, it is only for an hour or two, and then I need to regroup, not head off to something else. Balancing stillness with activity. Sitting here at the computer can be brutal, this kind of stillness is painful. Stillness lying on the couch with one or both cats on me or leaning on me, that offers relief. Gentle yoga classes offer relief, unless I am not careful enough with my modifications and bear weight on my right arm too much, too heavily. The motion of nearly daily hour walks, talking animatedly with a friend, offers delight, connection, and nearly total pain relief.

All this careful balancing, often with periods that the pain feels too much, can’t get it down to manageable, can’t allow for the rest or the movement that will bring relief, all this is preparation for the Big Joy.

A woman said to me that while she is always joyful on the dance floor, she loves to come across me in the line. MY joy is so huge, so obvious, so brilliant, that it inspires her to find even higher levels of her own delight. Yup. That’s me. I have been dancing, off and on, for 40 years. This is my home, my community. This is where physical movement merges with music, all these happy people swirling around me, touching me, holding me, with hands and eyes, this is where I can experience transcendence. This is where the trained dancer is me finds purchase. When the magic happens, when the music and the dancers and my mood and the phase of the moon all come together just so, I shed my corporal layers and shine.  The endorphin rush is more powerful than any pain meds. I may hurt the next day, but not while dancing, not if I honor my limitations (please don’t raise my right arm over my head; left one is fine, spin me under 3 or 4 times if the music allows). I know we all come to the dances to leave behind our daytime selves, our other lives. I leave behind my carefully managed days. I count off the days between dances.  I plan my week around dancing. I ache to get to the next dance. Literally. My daytime pains will dissolve. I own this life of pain management but fuck it, I am going to dance. I am going to shed those layers of the onion, I am stepping off the turtles, I am finding more and endless layers to release. Joy is infinite. My joy is infinite. It is all process. There is no end moment of “this is my greatest joy.” Give me more. More joy. I am ready. I am open.

Dance as Breath

Friday, January 4th, 2013

I wrote this little piece during a writing group. I just came upon several pieces I had written around them, and how interesting, they are all about dance.

March 2007

Dance is breath. Without dance, I cannot breathe. I did not breathe—held my breath—stifled, suffocated for a long, long time. I don’t know how—or why—I awoke each day, one lifeless, danceless foot in front of the other—each day actively or passively mourning the stillness of motion. Each day a battle with hope, hope for healing that would, could, must return me to my dancer’s body, or bludgeoned by cold facts of pain and surgeries gone bad.

I write about the breathless time but it washes through as distant fog. Life explodes now out of my very pores—every breath is dance and joy. I am a dancer. I am dance. I am air and light, and I glow. One may see me in this way on the dance floor but I wind and waltz through all my days, whether in dazzling dancing clothes or old blue jeans. Hope is. Dance is. Breath is. I am.

Cracked Wide Open

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

She walked straight into my heart. Didn’t stop to knock on the door or nudge the entrance with a tentative paw. She was 100% trusting from first sight. Like in the “Cat Wings” series of Ursula K. LeGuin that I read with my daughters, she knew she had found her “kind hands.” They were, and are, my hands. But she is gone now.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a smallish gray tiger cat showed up at my door. There are outdoor cats in the neighborhood but this was a stranger. I sat on my stoop and she came right up to me: Pet me, pet me!  So I did. That was when that love thing started. I have never known such a calm cat right off. I wanted to know her sex so I just turned her over, no complaints from her. I could pick her up any and all ways that I wanted to. That first night, I didn’t put out food, didn’t want her to stay with me if she had a home to go to, though she looked too thin. I put out fresh water and went off for the evening. When I came home late that night, she was curled up on my doormat and was still there in the morning.

Well, so much for “never feed a stray.” We she hungry and she wasn’t leaving, so I brought some dry food outside to her. This not-in-any-way-feral cat ate from my hand. Little handfuls, many, many handfuls, her carefully licking my palm clean and then going off to take her bath on the sidewalk. This became our routine, many times a day. She would be waiting for me if I had been away, or it was morning, or would even come when I called. Since she was always sleeping on my doormat, I put out a basket with a fleece throw blanket in it, and unlike all cats I have ever known, who disdain being giving a sleeping spot, she would curl up in her basket to sleep. Since I have two cats, I couldn’t just bring her in. She had to remain outside.

I went into overdrive to care for her, try to find her people (what in the world could have happened that this love of a cat was lost or abandoned??), try to find her a new home. Notices in the paper, on the web, on utility poles, on Facebook. I took her to the vet to see if she had a microchip, but no luck with that. Emails, phone calls, including an appointment at Dakin Animal Shelter. They book several weeks out, so I did that right off. The woman asked if I had named her and I said nooo (as in, of course not, one doesn’t name a stray) but if I had named her, I told her, it would be Molly. Hence, my stray had a name.

On Day 9, there was violent weather predicted overnight and I got frantic. Her sleeping basket was outside, under a small roof, but all sides open to the weather. I had to give her a dry place to sleep but didn’t know how to do it. Wild rains, high wind warnings, lightning, my baby was in danger of more than just being wet. I called the elderly woman who was intending to take her the following weekend, asking if I could bring her over right then. I had so counted on this woman, but she had changed her mind, completely, she really wanted a kitten, not this young cat. I admit that I wasn’t dealing with this calmly, especially after that phone call. Molly had been trusting me to keep her safe and I didn’t know how to do that. I ended up rigging my inside staircase to be a refuge for her, with the door ajar (an old pair of shoes stuffed under the door in order to keep the door partway open), her basket inside but she having access to go outside for kitty-needs. I also didn’t want her howling if I locked her in and freaking out my  two cats who were on the other side of the upstairs door. I set out her water bowl and just a small amount of dry food. I feared having someone uninvited, like a skunk, come in to eat from her bowl. Her preferred way to eat remained for me to sit on the bottom step, she gently walking onto my lap, and eating out of my hand, always licking my hand clean when she was done.

By this time, obviously, if I couldn’t find her humans, I wanted to keep her. I do understand that she was, in her own catty way, a replacement for my boyfriend who had moved out months before. While I love my two cats like crazy, this was new love, and she needed me, and I am a sucker for being needed by someone who curls up in my lap and purrs, holding on with her front paws, gently but securely, her claws latched onto my pants leg. How could I resist? Why should I resist?

Then came the discussions with my landlord. I don’t want to be too public about this. Suffice to say that I am no longer on speaking terms with my landlord, who I thought was also my friend, for 9 years. He drew an arbitrary line in the sand: two cats yes, three cats no.

I got her an appointment at a different shelter, for the next day, instead of waiting another 2 weeks to go to Dakin. I was spent. My heart was being torn out of me, knowing this little love was leaving, and I couldn’t stand making more calls, sending more emails, with hopes and dashed hopes for either owner or adoptive family. My own life had been on hold and I was about to come apart at the seams. Her last night, I brought her bed up to the top of the stairs, to the little landing. I created a makeshift small bed for myself next to hers. We spent most of her last night together, though I admit, when she went for a walk outside at 1:30 AM, I went in to my own bed. I hadn’t actually managed to sleep.

Molly’s half hour drive to the Westfield shelter was, well, loud. My sweetest kitty was put in a cage there, of course, and she was pissed off. I couldn’t hold her to say good bye, not with her actually growling, but I know she had already eaten something; she would be ok. I debated about permanently giving up my couch blanket, the one she had been sleeping on, but yes, I left it with her, in the cage, and it was the right thing to do. This no-kill shelter is an amazing, loving, generous place and Molly will find a good family. I know that. But my heart hurts.

I mentioned this boyfriend who left me a few months back. I am healing, definitely, but healing is a process, it takes time. I have felt like I was healed enough to be open to making new friends, even keeping my eyes open toward flirtation, but the power of the emotions that Molly brought out in me showed me something different. I think, looking back, that my openness was superficial, perhaps intellectual. I had said that the summer had been for mourning and now that it is autumn, I would be moving on. Maybe those were just words. Molly cracked me wide open, for real, no fooling around. She loved me and needed me and trusted me and to tell you the truth, I loved and needed and trusted her. Though I would have been fine if she had taken off of her own accord and maybe found her way home, I would put on the outside light at night and look for her in her basket. She would look up at me from her basket on the doorstep. I was thrilled to come home and have her come charging out from the bushes, meowing her greeting. She had become my cat.

It has been inordinately painful to have her gone. I picture her in a cage and start to cry, even though I try to see her curled up in her blanket in that cage. I had photos printed up and have them around my apartment. It had been hard to take her picture because she kept crawling into my lap. Such a sweetheart. Her pictures are not there to mourn, though. They are there as a celebration. I am celebrating how deeply she made me feel, how deeply she connected me to my own core of feelings again, how, perhaps, she has opened me to love again. Yes, furry four-leggeds are easier to relate to than two-leggeds, especially the male of our species, but this is step in the right direction, furry or otherwise.

I want to add that I met many wonderful pet rescuers along the way. This is from one of them to me:

You did everything in your power to ensure she was fed, sheltered and ultimately protected.

As you know, sometimes the greatest act of love for these wonderful creatures involves letting them go.

You have given her permission to move on towards her new life — even if it meant leaving you behind.

Everyone in rescue has a story about a wonderful animal they loved, but whom they let go, to find their forever home.           ~~from Michele


Run forward,

the way will spring open to you.


Chesterfield Gorge, reclaimed

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Rewriting this after time has passed. Remembering the day that Liz and Joanne and I went to Chesterfield Gorge for the first of many times. It had been a special place with my now long-gone lover and the three of us made it all new and washed clean for me:

Yesterday, Liz and Joanne and I went to Chesterfield Gorge. They had never been there before so I had the fun of introducing them to the cliffs of sheer rocks that look like building slabs turned on their sides, to the places where the rocks are washed, over millennium, into smooth bowls (I found a perfect one to sit in yesterday). I didn’t have to say much; they were sucked into the magic of the place. We picnicked, played in the water, took pictures of each other and the formations, the water swirling, reflecting. We all were entranced by this little swarm of ugly bugs skimming the surface of the water, like small brown oblong blobs. The game was that if you hovered your hand over them, they went into an instant frenzy of movement. Remove your hand or the leaf or whatever we were using to play with, and they settled back down into slow bumping around together. We played this game a strangely long period of time.

We were all happy. It was like a day at the beach, a day outside of our normal days, less than a half hour from town, but a foreign vacation-land. We told stories, shared time and space and light and air and water together. The ride home, I noticed we were all quiet, like after a long hot day at the beach, minus the long drive and hot beach. We even stopped for soft serve on the way home, just about at dinner time, no one there to tell us it would ruin our appetites. Who cares? And a promise to do it again, in the fall, when the colored leaves will decorate the gorge walls and be reflected in the water.

Transformation. Chesterfield Gorge is mine again. My friends and I reclaimed it for me, and introduced it to them. We all needed this day.  This is a sacred space to be shared.

When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.  ~~Chinese proverb

I will stumble again, grieve more again, but I have the autumn winds to urge me forward, and I will go with that, with gladness.

Taking Chances

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Accept that all of us can be hurt, that all of us can—and surely will at times—fail.

I think we should follow a simple rule: if we can take the worst, take the risk.      

 ~~Dr. Joyce Brothers

Necessity is the mother of taking chances.  

~~Mark Twain

I got out of bed this morning. Well, first I sat up a bit and looked to check where the cats were. Cleo was settled into my desk chair across the room and Gabby, at the foot of the bed on the folded afghan. Fair enough, my space was in order. Note, no male in my bed; the cats are both female. Things aren’t quite as I would want them to be, but today, this is fair enough. Take a chance. Get out of bed. What will this day bring me? Or what can I go out and find?

I can tell you that I am sitting outside at Bread Euphoria, my new favorite place, less than ten minutes from my house. I can sit outside, eat something decadent, or not too, feel the comfortably warm air on my skin and see lots of sky. It is the sky that most attracts me here. Some raptor was soaring so high up; I want to be her and look down on the world from that height.

I see my own reflection in the computer screen, right about here on the page is the necklace I bought yesterday at Silverscape. Yesterday, on my way to write in a café, I listened to my body and it told me my back hurt too much to write. Plan B: take a chance. Drive downtown and go to all my favorite beautiful craft stores in search of a token, this token that I now wear around my neck as I type through its reflection.

Five and half years ago I took a big chance, one of those opportunities that don’t occur many times in a lifetime, though I certainly hope it happens again. I fell in love. I fell in the traditional head-over-heels fashion. A dancer, a man filled with laughter, a playmate. A man in pain from his divorce and mourning the loss of his belonging  to a family unit. Skipping ahead through the rough stuff, I will just say that he had bought me a “hamsa” in Venice shortly before we broke up. It was no longer sweet to me. I went on a hunt to find a new one, a gift from me to me.

I went downtown and went from craft store to craft store.  I was on a hamsa hunt. The first store had a pretty pewter one, a local craftswoman I like, but too cute; not what I was looking for, a flower in the center. At the 4th store, there were several to choose from. The first, in gold with a tiny diamond, even on sale for a reasonable price, was just too tiny. Wait, said the saleswoman, did you see the one in this case over here? Aha. White gold, smooth shiny surface, simple hamsa with a star of David in the center, nice size. Part of the summer sale. What made it most lovely was that the other side was a pretty textured gold; I was sold. Found a silver chain that completed it beautifully. I had bought my own hamsa. August 21, I deemed my Liberation Day. I am buying my own good luck. I mourned through the heat of the summer and am refreshed by the late summer breezes and cool nights. It is time to move on.  I give myself a gift of new life, of good luck of my own making. Hamsa: Hand of Miriam, Hand of God. My future is partially constituted of luck, but also courage. Would I take a chance on love again? Absolutely. I would run off a cliff again, ok, looking way more carefully over the edge first, but I would gladly leap.

Have I been through hell this summer? I don’t even want to talk about it. It was “the worst,” and it was worth the risk.  Was I hurt by this relationship, by this man? Yes, horribly. But was it a failure, a mistake? Oh, no. I danced and laughed my way through five years; no regrets at all. Would it be worth the possible hurt to fall in love again, take a chance? I know myself. I am full of love and love is for sharing. And chances are for taking. What will this new season bring me?

Life is like a tornado watch. You can hunker down in the basement, or get up on the roof, let the wind give you rock star hair and yell, ”I knew you were coming. That’s why I didn’t rake the leaves.”  

~~Fireman’s Fund Ad

Life Plan Off Kilter

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

If I am what I have,

 And I lose what I have,

 Who am I then?

–Eric Fromm

                When I was small, what did I dream of becoming? I only remember standard aspirations, like becoming some kind of teacher, but it wasn’t what I dreamed of. My only real wish, and this wasn’t politically correct for a hippie feminist, was to be a mother. This I did. And it, they, are my finest “work.” My masterpieces. I remember thinking that I would be home for a year with my baby and then look for work, of some unknown sort, or just maybe, stay home until I made a second baby, and be at home while she was little. It became abundantly clear to me, though a bone of contention in my marriage, that I would become a full-time mom throughout their childhoods. After Juliana entered toddler-hood, my then husband felt that one baby was enough, that it was too much of a strain on our marriage. I was just talking to my niece about this today, how for many women, there is this powerful inner voice, one of surprising passion and clarity, as to how many babies our bodies are meant to make. Though we certainly know women who are thwarted from fulfilling this need.  I wasn’t done making babies. We went into therapy over this, and I realized that this inner drive was stronger than my marriage. I would have left Ed then and there, but he finally heard me, and we made Alice. And her blessing in our lives has never been questioned. My two beloved daughters were born and thrived. There was time for working part time for a friend and for volunteer work, but At Home Mom is what went on my resume. As a friend once wrote in a poem that she based on me, I had merely “a resume of air.”  And what when the nest is empty?

My other childhood memory is of qualities that I imagined for myself. I always knew I wanted to be of service, to be a help to people, to be loving and giving, even if that didn’t lead to a named occupation. This much I knew was true. My essence is of a giver, a caretaker, and that follows me through my life, with gladness. As my therapist says, I am ever the mama.

I did not, however, plan to grow up to assume the job description of “Chronic Pain Manager.” My own pain.  This was not in my life plan. Unwanted, go away, not me, I am strong and healthy and will dance my way into old age. So I thought.

Shit happens.  May 9 1998, in a moment of inattention, turning the wrong way in dance class, heel planted where it should not have been, torquing my knee, hearing a pop in said knee and all is changed. One of those moments.  Not in the life plan. Taking me down a path that no one invites into their lives, that of chronic pain. Five knee surgeries, one back surgery, 14 years of exploring the land of pain.

Life out of whack.  If life is to be in balance, what gains are there to offset these losses, oh so many losses? The day my dear friend and doctor, Henry, said, “You know, you won’t be able to do modern dance anymore,” how could that get into my psyche? It took years but I got it and knew it was so.  A loss.  Having my children see me as less than able-bodied, an at-home mom who couldn’t even take care of her own house. My children watching me go through surgeries, through therapies, opening the door to hope and then experiencing another setback.  My Alice always berating me for having hope. Hope is a wonderful place to reside but she has seen me hurt too many times, wanting to protect me from yet another crash. Is watching their mom living a roller coaster of pain how I want my children to experience their strong and able mother? A terrible loss.  For me and for my beloveds.  Not working for pay much, too physically limited, too much pain, too easily fatigued;  is this what I grew up to do? Work and play and love, all compromised?  Losses.

In this sea of losses, are there gains? Have I learned anything valuable as a Manager of Chronic Pain? Oddly, I have. Not in overnight insights but in understanding and acceptance that has seeped in over the years. There is a careful balancing act of hope and grounding in no-hope. I “work” at being as functional as I can be. I “work” at being as active and healthy as I can manage. I “work” at being as vibrant and calm and loving and giving as I can be. I don’t have the hectic lifestyle of many of my peers. My days are measured carefully to account for the fatigue, timing meals with pain med schedules, being sure to be with friends every day, to  get exercise daily. As in my childhood dreams, I find ways to be of service at every opportunity for friends or anyone I might encounter. Wonderfully, oddly, this journey does open one’s heart, or it can, if you allow it to happen.  I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself. Except when I do.  Self-pity weasels its way in from time to time and I don’t beat myself up about that.

I no longer look for the nightmare to end. I no longer expect to be free of pain and have full mobility. I get it. I have stopped fighting this sad truth. However, I am alive and living as well as I can, seeking ways to be more active, have less pain, but it isn’t going to end. I have stopped fighting with myself and this truth. It is, in some ways, a relief. Acceptance.

Did you notice the overflowing flower pots downtown today? Did you breathe in the beautiful air, not too hot, not too cold, gentle breezes and bright sunshine? Did you see that the lawn near the high school was mowed today, looking like a neat crew cut, smelling wonderfully of cut grass? Did you taste the heirloom cherry tomatoes at the farm today, popping one in your mouth so that it burst with flavor, nearly to the point of making your eyes water? Have you tried one of my blueberry peach scones? I have. I am busy living. Do I get frustrated? Did I want to grow up to manage pain? Hell no. But here we are. And it is a beauteous summer day. Have you noticed?

When I was leaving acupuncture today, I did feel a sudden shift. For those of you who know me, you know this has been a particularly dark time. That moment, in this moment, I feel life force pushing its way through again, like a perennial sprout in the spring, bursting through the winter’s soggy mulch. It’s always there, the potential for new life. The sprouts don’t forget. I needed to remember the light. Out of darkness, whether grieving a lost love or lost mobility, there is life. I can feel it.

It is not the load that breaks you down, it is the way you carry it.   

Lena Horne

Surrender—deciding to lay down the weapon and walk away from the fight—

was a way to get back all your power.

Gail Caldwell





Finding community….. at the movies!

Friday, March 16th, 2012

Last night was the second night of the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, and my second night of attending and volunteering at the movies. The first night, at the Yiddish Book Center, there were some familiar faces from previous film festivals and from around the area. We were rushed getting out the evaluation cards, my one responsibility, so I went around and handed them out individually. This gave me the chance to say hello and welcome each person. You know, when you smile brightly at someone, the chances are, not always, but often, they will brighten in return. I like that. It is the seed of connection.

Last night, my partner and I were again greeting people and handing out evaluation cards, this time at Amherst College. Different setting, but some of the same people. And new ones! Hello! I am glad you are here! We were chatting about the previous night’s movie, “Restoration,” and reminiscing about movies from years past. Did you see…? Do you remember the one about… oh, what was the name of it…? What other movies are you going to see in the two weeks of this year’s festival? A little more connection. The faces are connecting to their voices.

“Saviors in the Night” was powerful. While it was “just” another Holocaust story, it was nothing like just.Based on a true story of a German family hidden and protected by their neighbors, simple farmers, it packed a wallop. Each person had a story to tell, as we got to see transformations, especially the teen aged girl, who shifted from rote Nazi supporter to a person moved by the horror facing these individual Jews if they were discovered. The impersonal becomes personal, and she matures before our eyes. I don’t know, but I don’t think there was a dry eye at the end of the movie. Then the real punch. After the movie itself had ended, we were introduced to two of the women, now very old ladies, who sat hand in hand with the actors milling around them on the set.  At that point, tissues were a must. The lights came on. I was fumbling in my coat pocket for a Kleenex. The elderly gentleman sitting next to me offered me a crumpled paper napkin from his pocket. It was clean, he said, but definitely was from a  Chinese dinner not long ago. Through tears, through paper napkins, a little connection. He said that this movie moved him more than the one from the night before, and I agreed. I like being touched like that.

About 20 people stayed afterwards for a discussion led by the lovely and warm Christian Rogowski, Amherst College professor of German. There were stories to tell. I didn’t get to hear much of it; I was busy in the lobby collecting the evaluation cards and saying good bye, asking people when I would see them again. Which movie next? The stories being shared with Christian, these I wish could have been collected and written down. Who had a family member who was hidden? Whose family had been destroyed, touched, maimed, restored, survived? Maybe we can get a function on the PVJFF web site for people to record their stories. Especially as the last of the survivors are dying of old age, I hope we can catch every story before it turns to dust.

When will I see you again? We are going to Greenfield tomorrow to see “Foreign Letters.” Are you coming to the “Fiddler on the Roof” sing along? This was the first movie that I knew was a definite for this year’s line up and I have had it on my calendar for months. Sure, I have seen it so many times, in the movies, on the stage in NYC as a child, and even  my daughter played a beautiful Tevye’s wife (hmmm, what is her name?) in a local production. But this time, in community, singing with my kin! I can’t wait. I have a little cold right now, and a sore throat. Definitely have to be better for the 24th so my singing voice is ready and able. My other personal favorite that is coming up is “Carrying the Light.” That is the subject of another blog entry. Just know it is a beauty and see it if you can.

I don’t expect that I am going to form any lasting friendships through this Jewish movie-going community, though you never know. In any case, I am enjoying your faces, your voices, a little bit of your stories and will be happy to see you over the weeks to come!

P.S. If the woman who was talking with me about “Sarah’s Key’ is reading this, the other book by Tatiana de Rosnay that I liked even better was “A Secret Kept.”