I’ve been an active Mom for less than two months shy of 30 years. When I say active I mean getting up to fix breakfast, driving kids everywhere, getting those phone calls from the school that mean you have to problem solve NOW, no matter how crunched you are for time. Working my vacations around school breaks, dealing with sick kids and doctor appointments. Making choices between house cleaning, bill paying, grocery shopping, or hiking, sleep and relaxation. The whole ball of wax that motherhood demands.
For the last ten years I’ve been a single mom, although truly the big difference for me has been a full time job. I was pretty much single before. Not to bag on anyone, but when someone was talking to me the other day they said, “You know how when you were married and your husband would get your kid dressed?” I focused back on that time period and no such memory existed. It was always me, on my own, raising my children.
So, how to wish me a mother’s day as I reach my 30th year of raising children? First of all appreciate my childless friends. They helped raise me. I value my friends who give me good common sense advice so highly. I know they are truly mothers. Respect them as such. I have a child who was born outside of my body. My understanding of what it means to be a mother is very profound—and very liberal—like the rest of me. Appreciate the fact that women who nurture and love and bring that element of, “You need to hear this and I’m going to say it,” are the essence of motherhood.
Second of all, understand the very reality of motherhood, which is absolute imperfection. The other day I had two of my children needling each other. It was a Friday, aka, “My week has worn me out” and it was early, meaning I was rushed, and I wanted peace and quiet.
As they continued to fight I told them sternly, “I do not want my day starting with negativity and anger, so knock it off.” After more bickering I repeated myself—a little louder. Yet in a minute I was being dragged into the fight to decide who was right and who was wrong. Like I really cared? I just wanted everyone to shut up. Suddenly I found myself screaming in the way that gives me a sore throat, “I DO NOT WANT TO START MY DAY WITH ANGER AND NEGATIVITY, SO YOU HAD BETTER KNOCK IT OFF NOW!!!!!” I understood I had lost the battle as I was screaming. It is just my priorities had switched. I wanted people to shut up. Screw the kind and gentle beginning of the day. And that, my friends is genuine motherhood.
Also, you can wish me Happy Mother’s day all year long instead of just today. I don’t want to get a chocolate bar, or a flower, at church in May. That is very nice, but what I really want is a little more compassion. For example I won’t be in church today–which some see as the way to be a good mom.
But yesterday the brakes on my car started screeching. I knew I needed to replace them. Now push has come to shove. And the day before my son told me the other car, I’m getting ready for him, had a flat tire. I knew it needed new tires, but I was busy paying to get it smogged and registered.
So on Mother’s day I will be going to Walmart to get a portable air compressor, then I will be going to Auto Zone or Nappa to get the things I need for the auto mechanic to fix the brakes. Then we will be cleaning the house, grocery shopping and organizing the week. Tomorrow I will pump up the tire on one car, take it in and get two new tires, after which I will take in the other car to the mechanic, hopefully with the right items. And I will be grateful that tomorrow happens to be a day off for me and I can do this. I will also be grateful that if I budget my money carefully it will last until next paycheck. Because I know a lot of other mom’s would be pulling out an already taxed credit card, unable to afford those things.
So wish me—and all mom’s—a Happy Mother’s Day by not worrying to much about our imperfections. But giving us compassion all year long as we raise our children in our own unique and imperfect way while (mostly) maintaining our balancing act. Wish us a Happy Mother’s Day by appreciating our friends who helped us. And most of all, wish us a great day by accepting us as we are, regardless of how we choose to be a mom.
When I begin to work as a social worker I was very idealistic. I still am. The brand new shiny idealism is broken in. Bumped, scratched and dented. But retained inside of me and always trying break out and do something. As I struggle to do my job and stay true to my goals it sure does not feel like many people retain their idealism. And once they lose it they can cross over into many places. The,“That’s not my job” place. The, “nothing is going to help, but I will follow the script until we prove that” place. The territory of “top priority is to cover my ass” (and any other goals are not really worth my effort).
If stats were possible, which I do not think they are, I don’t know how they would break down; how many social service workers stay idealistic, versus how many enter other mind modes. I do know when a person retains their idealism the most wearing factor on it can be, not the people one helps, but one’s co-workers.
I’m sure we all start out with the best intentions in mind. But the reality is that trying to help people who appear not to want to help themselves is exhausting. And we humans have this weird thought process. We believe people should live their lives our way, not theirs. The message sent by this perspective? “You are lacking.” “In your character, your ability, in your being.” That message breeds failure.
Every time I hear a clinician talking about how they are “going to set a client straight,” or how the client “has to do things the right way” I know most likely they have lost that person’s trust and won’t be making much progress. Maybe they will force them into a rehab or applying for food stamps. Maybe they will get a roof over their head. But they have lost their chance to connect with another human being and help them pull themselves out of the hole they are in.
Because what really creates change is finding out what the client wants, what they value, what they are good at, and then, even though many of their ideas and plans are not going to work, picking out what can, holding those things up and saying, “This is wise, this is smart, this is a good piece of you. What can we do with it?” Progress comes from shared vision. Balanced right at the juncture where idealism meets reality.
I am questioning if the people around me want to balance on that edge? Or maybe they are elsewhere, in another mind mode? I know one minor person will never even understand that juncture. White privilege personified, bending down to help the masses –but hey, truly it’s about the retirement. I often cringe at the actions of that person. The jury is out on other players, higher up players who really decide the direction of our program.
I took a hike today. This summer I’m going hiking in Colorado. I want to be ready so I have been industriously working on my very boring treadmill. My day rarely holds enough time to go hiking. A million demands exist and at the end of long days that treadmill is ten feet away. But today I have managed to pull off more than the hamster wheel of a treadmill. My choice is one of the hardest pieces of the PCT trails that surround my home. The first mile is a steady ascent. When I get to the trailhead I go to retrieve a bottle of water and find Steven has taken every single bottle of water in the case I keep in my car. Leaving only the plastic that had held them together. My car is almost out of gas—not enough for the 20-minute drive back and forth. If I drive back to get water it will start with getting gas and I will get ensnared in the ticking clock and the piled up responsibilities. I throw things around in my car hoping I can find a bottle that hid somewhere, but no. He has scooped up everything. I look at the mountain in front of me and understand that to go back is to leave. To go up is to have to turn back much more quickly than I had planned. Disappointment and anger flood through me. I made time for myself. I took time from the million demands on me to do something I wanted to do. And it wasn’t going to happen.
I locate a bottle up front, by my seat, with about four ounces of water. And I start up. The air feels amazing, a slight chill that will burn off soon Green and yellow and purple is blooming around me, in between rocks, up from burnt areas. I walk upwards, my heart pounding, my breath getting increasingly labored, small stops to regroup and then start again. There is no one around so my hard breathing is not embarrassing and this I appreciate. Something inside of me keeps weighing out why I find this at all pleasurable. No answer. But I do. The incline grows steeper as I walk and my treadmill work has paid off. Very few stops are necessary. I look in several spots for evidence of PCT Angels, people, who of their own good will keep a supply of jugs of water, or coolers of snacks along the trail. Nothing. No water to replenish my bottle.
After about a mile of climbing up I sit on a rock to weigh out the fact that my path will flatten out soon. The hike will become immensely pleasurable to me. And I don’t have enough water to keep going. I have lived this before. I was upset and without thinking hiked out four miles without water, at which point I saw clearly how foolish I’d been. Back then James, my oldest walked out two miles, meeting me halfway back, and giving me a bottle of water that I gulped down. Today, no James. Today I am going to have to turn back. Because foolish choices make dead or hurt hikers.
But before turning back I want to enjoy the view. I want to enjoy the perfect solitude and quiet. I want to enjoy being on the trail. I find a flattish rock and sit. My thoughts drift to work and what to do. I want to stay and build a work home where my passion for my job makes it a better place. Where we manage the discouragement when our efforts result in small changes, instead of the big glorious ones we had hoped for. Where to regroup means learning those small changes are what life is about. Where our struggles teach us that to seek a story book ending results in burn out. And we feel the contentment of knowing we participated in a better outcome for another human. An outcome that would not have happened if we hadn’t been there with ability to balance on the edge of idealism and reality—and pull them to it also.
I think all of this as I sit on a rock looking out at a panoramic view of the high desert. I did pretty good with my four ounces of water. Now I have to go back. Don’t I? I look up the path and think about continuing upward. I still have a tiny bit of water. Two mouthfuls. I could go a bit further.
I look backward. The path is all downhill. Piece of cake. I could almost run it except I’m not coordinated and I would end up on my face in the dirt,or more likely, tumbling down the edge of mountain. I look back at the opposite direction with its continuing climb. I have to turn back today. That is my reality. My thoughts take that path and those choices and align them with my thoughts about work. Do I choose the downward path of staying where I am and trying not to question the status quo? Or do I seek to find out what the powers at top are aiming for? And continue up the path if their goals are contradictive to mine? My head turns as I look at the downwards path, back to the upwards path. I start laughing because I know exactly who I am and what I’ll do. It strikes me as hilarious that I ever thought there was a question to be answered. As I get up and start down I hit random play on spotify. The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Tear” wafts through the air,
“Seems to me like all the world gets high when you take a dare.
Let it rise before you.
This is my crime.
All in all I’m loving every rise and fall.
The sun will make
And I will take breath to be sure of this.
In the end all will be forgiven when surrender rises high
And I gave what I came to give.”
Apparently, there is a big difference between surgery where a surgeon plots a course, goes straight in and removes parts of my body, and a surgery where someone uses tiny knives to search around inside of me. Waking up after the second surgery I realized there was a lot more pain. Not that I would have ever said that out loud—the hospital doesn’t want people in a lot of pain leaving. And the more I hurt, the more I want to be in my own bed without lights, noise and people bugging me. The pre-surgery nurse had asked me for a surgical goal. I suspect that is to provide patients motivation. Because my attitude towards another surgery was very grumpy I politely told her my goal was to wake up and get out of there. When I woke up the second nurse went to town—she took me seriously. And Linda, my friend was right there helping me get home and tumble into bed.
The weeks after my surgery were hard. My side, where they took out the lymph nodes, was incredibly painful. And it was the side I sleep on. But I couldn’t. I have lots of pillows on my bed that helped. There were days when I couldn’t stay awake more than a few hours at a time. Weeks of moving around like I was 90 years old. My progress was slow and I resented this giant hand of fate, that now had twice picked me up, and set me backwards, each time the progress that I had worked hard for obliterated. My normal kept getting taken, and this time I wondered if I had a new and lesser normal.
Three weeks after my surgery I dragged back to work. My surgeon was unhappy, but I have to tell you, week after week of focusing on Alice and her ouchy’s gets really, really, old. I needed other people’s ouchy’s to focus on. I was listing to the side, and moving slowly, but my world had expanded outside of myself.
That week my painful left side erupted into a visible infection, forcing me to find three hours worth of energy to go to a doctor’s appointment. She looked at the incision, prescribed antibiotics and gave me directions on cleaning it. I have wondered why the surgeon ignored the fact I have a total of ten incisions, every other one which had healed, or was healing, and yet she never even considered why one incision was a dreadful and disgusting mess.
My daughter, a burgeoning vet tech kept looking at it, shaking her head and telling me she would have numbed the area and cleaned it out. A week and a half later when everything the doctor has said failed, my pain and lack of energy were still present, and the growing mess made me feel queasy when I looked at it, I did what my daughter had been telling me to do. Which led to a nasty little blob of sutures exiting my body and leaving a bed-sore like hole. But a corner had been turned, and that hole has steadily grown new tissue and marched towards becoming one of my ugliest scars. And my energy returned. Now I move on with my life because I don’t have cancer in my body anymore and none of the lymph nodes tested positive.
I have my life back. With the problems, shortcomings, goals, dreams and hopes. This morning in front of me is a house filled with things to clean; kitchen, bathroom, laundry, etc. Tasks like grocery shopping and cooking lurk. But I am so grateful that I have the energy to do these things. First though, I go for my coffee. And since the dishwasher hasn’t been set off I scrounge for a coffee cup. When I find one I think, ‘I hate these cups.’
It is one that my ex-husband’s wife gave our children in a sign of loving support to show she has their back and cares for them and is their mother also. They have my children’s names on them, with the meaning of those names. And she actually found my daughter’s name, which is unusual. I respect that. I don’t hate my ex and his wife. I hate these coffee cups because they are a symbol of what I have found to be true as a single mom. Another parent, joined by his spouse, who has no clue of how hard it is to raise children, how hard it is to be there for adult children, but pays lip service to the idea they absolutely do, and they absolutely are. While I do the work.
I have thought many times about breaking those cups. Accidentally of course. I am unable to stoop that low. But my cups, the ones I picked out, they are dwindling as repeated use breaks them. Standing in my cold kitchen, at 6 AM, my negative moment of thought gets an appraisal and I chide myself into trying to be a better person. I realize that I can get new coffee cups. Coffee cups that I love. Something pretty and elegant. After which I can push these coffee cups to the very dark recesses of my cupboards. Where no one will ever see them except on the days the dishwasher is filled with dirty dishes and we find ourselves scrounging in the dark recesses where the disliked mugs hide. For those mornings I will concede to my use of those coffee cups, as the highest priority is my coffee. I think that is fair. A compromise between the mean Alice, and the evolving Alice.
Oh my gosh, I’m so glad she is back. Being miserable changes a person. And there is no menopausal monster. I watch anxiously for signs. When my electric mattress pad warmed me up too much one night I woke up thinking, “Oh no, is this a hot flash?” One day of a depressed mood had me wondering; “Is it beginning? Is this how I will be from now on?” My brain isn’t giving any signs of fogging. In fact I am finding myself more assertive and analytical. Bad news for those whom I already drive crazy. My energy is really high. I blame the exercise but I wonder if that huge cyst on my ovary had been holding me down.
And the really good question is, what do I want my life to be? There is an endless list. I have a very advanced new treadmill I am using so that I can go hiking in Colorado this summer. My vacation time was wiped out, but I will take unpaid time off if necessary. I am in the process of applying for a volunteer position on the state council on homelessness. I’ve submitted applications for two positions that would bring a promotion at work. If they fail I will keep trying. I have been working on an idea to reduce some of the prejudice I see directed towards the population we work with, and I’ve asked a key person about talking to her. I feel like being Don Quixote. Because why not?
I got my life back. In many ways. But I don’t know how long that lasts. Also, my clock is not ticking, it is spinning. I want to live life at 10000 miles an hour, because that is the only way I can get even a portion of my wish list done. A bucket list is pointless. It would take precious time and never be anywhere close to finished. I find actions spawn a desire for new directions. I want to wander and learn and do. I want to climb higher, be better, tackle my weaknesses and conquer them, so they do not hold me back.
Kierkegaard said; Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” Other people think that “he with the most toys win.” The scriptures tell us to “not lay up for ourselves treasures which will rust and be destroyed.” Everyone has to make the choice of what to listen to, what to follow. I think I most love Kierkegaard. But to some extent I really want to prove him wrong.
It’s 2018. A New Year. I love the beginning of a New Year. I can’t imagine why people would ever want to sleep through that precious moment in time, when one door closes and another opens. Surrounded by people you care about, happy and optimistic. Clinking glasses, making noise, watching everyone’s sense of fresh hope. This year we had one tiny guest sleep through midnight. I was expecting his parents to wake him up at midnight because my children were never allowed to sleep through the beginning of the new year. They probably have recessed trauma from me grabbing them and demanding they wake up when midnight approached. James’ first new year was in Germany. He was six months old and we carried him up a ladder to the roof so he could see the fireworks going off all around him. A new year brings hope. It brings plans, it is a fresh start.
I expected to start this year healthy and on the road on the road to my next step in life. I am healthy. But I have medical issues to deal with. I also have plans and goals in place. New Year’s goals are much maligned. What should be maligned is the impulsive wishing that a person could want something and just have it happen. The biggest problem with New Year’s goals is the lack of a solid plan on how to follow through. That changes ideas from impulsive wishing to steps forward. Having no plan is like buying the paint for a house without purchasing brushes, cloths, etc., never painting and saying, “Oh yeah, painting a house never works.”
Hello? You gotta have a plan for those goals! And, word to the wise. I am currently listening to Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.” That man knows how to achieve personal and business goals and has broken it down in incremental steps with advice along the way, all the while explaining how our principles focus us. It’s a wonderful book that puts me in the steamroller mode, which I’ve been known to do all on my own.
My first goal is to be cancer free. I’m not sure what this will entail. As I was getting ready to go to the oncologist on the 28th I had a thought that flashed through my head several times; how we often think one step will give us our answers, then we take the step, and we only find more steps. Cue to the oncologist, who explains, yes, my ovary does have to come out. Dammit. And the cat scan found a suspicious lymph gland. Which could be suspicious for multiple reasons, but one possible reason is cancer. So, I scheduled another surgery. But first I cried. And cried. And cried. I don’t want cancer. I don’t want surgery. I don’t want ambiguity. I want a cancer-free tidy conclusion. Maybe I will get that with my next steps.
After I cried I got mad and then I got organized. I called up work and disability to plan my next chunk of time off, hopefully followed by a quick return to work. I called the doctor’s office and solidified the surgery date, asked about what tests were needed, when pre-op was—now that I’ve done this I know the routine. I called my older children and my friend who will have to help me. I blithely lied to my mother who doesn’t believe people should have multiple surgeries because that is letting doctors cut you up needlessly. That kind of support, no one needs. I also felt she did not need an extra dose of anxiety about her only sane daughter—even if said daughter is a despicable liberal. I thought out how to prepare physically for another surgery and recovery. In other words, I made plans to kick cancer’s ass.
When Steven was diagnosed with diabetes he was very young and I was told by many people how it would change his life; how many things he would never be able to do, all of the limitations he would now have. I would look at people and think, ‘**** you, I don’t raise my children that way.’ Actually back then I was a good Mormon, so the first word was probably different. But I did explain that diabetes would not define my child’s life. And cancer will not define my life. These things interrupt our lives, change our lives, but should not be our defining descriptions. Those words should be more of an afterthought, and only that much when necessary. And this is how I begin this portion of my fight. Which is hopefully short battle, not an extended war. We shall see.
My big lesson of my year seems to have become about the importance of rebalancing. During serious moments in our lives, especially when they are accompanied by the start of a new year, something weird can happen. We can find ourselves creating our own out-of-body experience. Watching as the pictures of our lives flip through our minds, then float down onto each other in a messy pile. As this happened I could see pictures that I didn’t like, places where I had been off balance—though at the time I thought I was balancing well.
Of course my take-away was to work at being more balanced. Defined by me as being less selfish, and more compassionate and kind. Because of that take-away I gave what felt like a large portion of one day to a friend who is caught in one of those self-destructive loops that we humans get caught in. Where we really, really, want something to work that never will. So, we ignore all the facts and live in a magical world, where we can make the same bad choices we already made, but not have the same bad results. I had already cycled with my friend twice in the last month. Through the; “this will work,” “this isn’t working,” “I’m falling apart, help me.” Followed by, “No I was wrong, I think I can make this work,” and back to “this will work.” Very tiring process. I didn’t want to do it again. But this is the new and improved Alice, right? Brought to an awareness of her flaws and ready to be more patient and do a better job.
We ended that day with me exhausted, and my friend successfully starting the cycle over again. I felt like we had de-gressed. The friend felt great—at the beginning of new cycle, where there is always the (delusional) hope that “this will work.” I felt angry and resentful at the pointless expenditure of my energy. I thought, ‘Ummm, not a compassionate or kind response Alice.’ ‘And, PS, being a doormat is not compassionate or kind either.’
New lesson here. I don’t need a pile of postcards to tell me one thing. ‘You don’t take care of yourself so well Alice.’ And, how many women do? How many women are self sacrificing at a high cost to themselves? Short answer is, LOTS OF US. And that does not allow others to be unselfish or independent or strong. Nor is it being a good friend.
In contrast to that I found another rebalancing need in my pile of pictures. It was in bold. ‘You do not have enough fun.’ You do not relax enough. You do not enjoy time with loved ones enough.’ And granted, this is very, very, difficult. Americans work more than any other country. We work longer hours, we work through our lunch times and breaks, we work after the day should have ended. We do not take vacation and when we do, we often work on vacation. Truth.
Why do we do this? We think it’s the right thing to do. And we have a lot of debt. We want nice stuff. Our puritan background is still influencing us. When I was growing up my always honest mother had us lie if she took a nap. We were supposed to say she “was busy,” if anyone called. And coming from this orientation I have already planned a huge number of things to get done after this next surgery. They come from this non-stop list in my head titled “Things that prove I’m not working hard enough.” And here is the rebalancing that has come to the forefront of my mind and life. ‘You need to enjoy life more and work less.’ Fact is I enjoy working. Fact is, sometimes I forget to enjoy other important things because I keep thinking the work will be completed. It won’t. I need to work on not working.
And lastly the rebalancing shows me the importance of friendship. Not me being a friend. Me having friends who are balanced. There are many types of friends. We all have the ones who will blow off our problems and seek our help for theirs. We have the friends we rarely get to see—the ones we should make time to see more. We have the ones who are there for us through the thick and thin. The ones we can tell anything and receive empathy, not an analysis of how we created our own problems—even when we did. I have the doctor that stands out in my mind as someone who cares. Not a friend, but absolutely of high value in my life. There are the work friends and bosses who show their solidarity in tough times, instead of penciling us out of our schedule because we are not being useful to them. There are the family members who have not faded away over the years, and check in on us. A pile of pictures of people whom I love and need to enjoy more.
Rebalancing is about seeing where you are off balance. Our lives need rebalancing, our pile of pictures need closer scrutiny. The new year presents an excellent point to rebalance from. We can look back. We can look forward. We can look at how we are balancing those moments, days and years. I don’t dislike my pile of pictures, I just want some different pictures to round out the overall theme. I want to tweak the theme of my life. Which is exactly why I needed to see my pile of pictures. All together in one messy pile, making up one big picture of my life.
My surgery went well. I had worked so hard to wrap up things up at work that I kept joking the surgeon would not need anesthesia because all she had to do was tell me to sleep and Poof! I would be out like a light. When I woke up from surgery it felt like that is what had happened. I could remember the nurse saying it was time, and then my next awareness was of waking up; in pain, anti nausea patch making me desperate for water (but no nausea), and wanting out of there. No matter how hard I have searched inside my head there are no memories of anything else.
The surgery had a few complications, but the bright side was that I got to keep one ovary. The flash test for cancer was negative. Had it been positive it would have been bye-bye ovaries, hello insta-menopause. Only one ovary had a huge cyst on it, about three times the size the ovary itself, and so I had to bid that one goodbye, leaving one ovary to stay with me and protect me from a possibly evolvement into super bitch.
I drove to Cayucos on the 11th, five days later, feeling like I was doing well. And on December 12, the day I take every year to celebrate my efforts in this life I was feeling pretty happy. It’s been a year, to say the least. But the previous night, standing on the balcony, watching the waves I had felt almost euphoric. So many tough things dealt with this year, and now for the future.
We should be careful with thoughts like that. About nine in the morning my doctor called and asked how I was feeling, and then told that despite the initial testing, further testing showed stage 1 endometrial cancer. And quickly on the heels of that mind-reeling-diagnosis came the next steps. Kaiser knows how to do excellent health care. I have an oncologist appointment set up for the 28th. I did my lab tests two days later, I had a cat scan in the next week. Stage 1 has a high survival rate. The cat scan is to look for any further spread, any problem areas. The treatment may be what has happened already and nothing more. I don’t know.
It’s the ambiguity that is the scary thing you know. Not knowing the outcome. The thoughts of “what if I had . . . ” and “what if it is . . . ” that constantly flash through the mind. And part of me was thinking, ‘Thank the Lord they didn’t know sooner,’ because for now I have an ovary. What does the oncologist say about that? Rip it out?
It took me a few days to tell anyone. I didn’t want to hold it inside, but those words, they keep going through your head in a chunk, and you twist and turn parts of them, as if the whole thing was a rubix cube that you could force to align into something that fits better for you. Then when you try to verbalize them they get stuck in your mouth. And on that first day, when I was absorbing my new reality, I happened to be alone in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Just myself, my thoughts, and plenty of time.
I spent the day walking along the beach, driving the coast, watching the tide rise and fall, watching the sunset over ocean waves, and wondering what my next chapter is. Clean bill of health? New problems elsewhere? My eyes would fill up with water every now and then as my mind hit upon something particularly scary or sad. Not that much—not enough to call attention to me, few enough I could wipe them away easily. And I guess because I was by myself and didn’t speak past a few phone calls, it added to my tendency to be quiet about big things, and my silence grew.
For the next week the secret hovered in my head like its own little cancer, spreading negative thoughts throughout. I felt like my older two children needed to be told, but they were gone a lot. The one night everyone was home by eight, they were laughing and talking and so happy about their own things I looked at them and thought, “And you want to dump this on them? Wait a few days, let them enjoy their lives.” I stayed alone with the thoughts that hung in my head like windchimes, banging against each other, one a little nosier than another for a while, then quieting when my mind changed direction and caught a different thought.
And, because we tend to accept almost anything over time no matter how much we don’t like it I became use to the idea that I had gone from being pre-cancerous to cancerous. I hate that term. It’s ugly. When I was growing up it was a death sentence. Nowadays it usually leads to declaration of war on something that has invaded our bodies. Because that is what humans do don’t we? We fight. When something in our life challenges us, and knocks us off our feet, we get back up and we fight.
During that fight we get contemplative about our lives and decisions. Our bad habits, our wishes about who we want to be. What we value. How we have been wrong in some things. It is kind of the same process that growing older brings (hopefully), but it is accelerated. For example, I am not an outgoing person in a new situation. I’m polite, but I have no interest in small talk. Which can be defined as standoffish. So? If that is who I am why should I let the opinions of others matter, or make me feel like I’m doing something wrong? To refuse to focus on how others define me frees me from trying to act “right” and allows me to just act.
Yesterday I got my cat scan. It gave me a chance to observe myself. I can be separated from the entire world by some invisible barrier I don’t really understand, but still be kind and gracious. Why have I always thought it was wrong not to not chat and share with strangers when I’m so busy inside my own head and feel so removed? Oh, yes, because I’ve been told I should act differently.
My appointment was late in the day, and having surgery brings a loss of energy that I’m not use to. In that day I had cleaned, made bread, cooked dinner, done some shopping, and taken a loaf of bread to someone. By the end of the day I was worn out because budgeting my energy had not occurred to me. The traffic was dreadful and then I parked in the wrong area and had to walk forever to get to the right building. And I was so, so, worn out I wanted to lean up against a wall for a minute and just stand there. It felt like I was 90 years old.
Meanwhile no one had explained the procedure to me. So when they handed me this huge Styrofoam cup of water that tasted “off” and told me to drink it I was, “Who Me? All of it?” I gulped it down to get this entire experience over with and then someone else was handed the same thing and told they had an hour. Would have been nice to know.
When my name was finally called, long after I had begun wishing for a pee break, I went to get an IV started. What? No one had told me that I had to have an IV. I’m tired of needles. And IV needles are the pits, the big ones. Fortunately, the guy was a very good poker. I hardly felt it go in. And, then it was finally time for the cat scan, which was actually the easiest and quickest part of the experience. A microphoned voice told me when to breathe and when to hold my breath while the table slid back and forth. They had trees and sky painted on the ceiling.
And afterwards when the technician told me to sit up I realized I could not. See, having your gut cut up makes it difficult to go from flat-on-your-back to a sitting position. It hurts. A lot. I was embarrassed as soon as I realized I couldn’t do it. But the technician got the idea quickly and held his hand out after a few seconds. I felt the need to explain I’d just had surgery because I didn’t want him to think I was normally that weak.
So hopefully I have good clean lab tests and nice clear pictures of my insides and the doctor can see everything that is going on in my body and give me good news. And during the entire cat scan experience I was kind and gracious and very quiet. Sorry, no cheerleader pom-poms, no rah-rahs for me. No small talk with others. Although the IV guy made me laugh several times. But extroversion in a new and difficult experience is not how I cope. That is okay, isn’t it?
I’ve always loved that phrase from Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” In my top ten list of what I want to be when I grow up, that closes in one number one. I’m not sure what number one is though. Bears thinking about.
This week, as I hurtled through my third consecutive day of believing if I moved fast enough I could somehow get through all the tasks in front of me—despite everything taking longer than expected, and new things continually being thrown in, I realized something. There was a fast forward button on my life and some evil person had hit it. I needed a pause button. One that pauses the clock so I can get everything done before I leave work for a month.
My days are ticking down. Yesterday was pre-op which included a visit to payroll to arrange for a long absence. Thank the Lord that payroll knows what I am doing. I feel like a child who is being told, “write this here, this is how things will work, we can take care of this for you.” Besides the health insurance that will allow me to get out of this relatively undamaged financially, payroll will have my back on things I knew nothing about. Once again I am grateful for my job.
Elsewhere several of my clients have decided to move into crisis mode, proving to me that there is no good time to take a break from life. Two weeks ago I was telling the clinician who will be in charge of my clients, that everyone was doing well, my case load was slim, and dealing with my clients plus hers should pose no special problems. This Tuesday I will be telling her, “I’m so sorry to leave you with all of this,” and giving her details that will have her asking me if I am sure that I need this surgery.
In the middle of my rushing yesterday the worthy man’s girlfriend came up to me. She wants to know if I can help her. I was at a food bank with a client who was getting food. My pre-op scheduler had just called. And the worthy man’s girlfriend popped up and told me she needed help, and could we help her? And would I be the one who helped her? She was so fearful of even asking, and so hopeful it would be me. I couldn’t tell her, “So sorry . . . leaving for a month, so probably not.” Plus the pre-op lady was still waiting on the phone. I gave her a card and encouraged her to call the office and talk to the lady who answered. And I said “let’s see where we get.” Later, when I had the time to reflect I had to think about how I truly never know where my actions are going to take me. My basic fail with the worthy man still led somewhere, but certainly not to anywhere I anticipated. And will that lead anywhere?
I also had time to think about the questions from the pre-op lady, who asked about religious preference. I had multiple immediate thoughts when she asked, including, ‘Wow, we have no time for me to figure out how to explain that.’ My reply to her therefore was, “no preference,” and she said, “None?”
Since that was what I had time for I confirmed, “None.” Our society needs a term for those who are bi-religious, just as we have the terms bi-sexual or transgender. Then of course we bi-religious people can be afforded the same skepticism, and suggestions that we figure ourselves out that the other groups are faced with.
I have been kind of mentally preparing for surgery this week. So many negative aspects to accept. Being cut open. Losing of part of your body. Being unconscious and naked in front of everyone. That nasty breathing tube and general anesthesia. The possibility of the complications that you are told about multiple times. And the realization of the fact that I have to be a grown up and get this done in order to prevent a greater harm to myself. And during the week as I faced up to this, I had several clients who were extremely upset with me because I pushed them into hard decisions for their greater good. The pain filled outcomes of my exerting power over another’s life, it has caused me some thought. It feels like I’ve played God.
One client has been provided for by a family member who is severely taxed in their trying to provide for this person. Unfortunately, this person has become a devotee of “prosperity theology,” which many tele-evangelists use. The idea preaches that if a godly person tithes (to the tele-evangelist) God will send the tither a heavenly lottery and they will become rich and prosperous, and all of their financial dreams will be met.
So poor people, in tiny broke down houses, with tiny broke down lives, send money they cannot afford to people who tell them they love them and personally pray for them. And those preachers spend the money on multi-million dollar homes, planes, cars, designer clothes and so on. Because this proves that God does what they promise He will do. They have workers making calls to donors, praying “powerful prayers of Gods promise,” telling people how much they are loved, and how God will fulfill their dreams very soon. Oh, and by the way, can the person help with the spreading of God’s word by giving another donation?
The biggest problem here is that when I am working with a person who is literally expecting that at any moment God will make them rich, and I am saying “Can we look at this grocery ad and see how your food stamps can get you through the month?” the person sees no point in doing this. Because they are going to be rich. Ever compete with a fantasy before? Damn hard. I wonder what happens when the inevitable crisis in faith hits. How does one say, “That wasn’t God you believed in, that was a con artist posing as God.”
That was the easy challenge of my week. The harder one was taking away a person’s freedom because their psychosis has reached such an extreme that the person was putting themselves in danger. I would like to never do that again. But I probably will. Because I will fight for my client’s. But I had sleepless nights over the way I choose to fight. When I had to walk away and leave a person who trusted me in a lock down facility I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay and be there for that person. My heart was tearful. My head was saying, ‘I sure hope you made the right choice because you just did something horrible. My sleeplessness was because I was examining every step of my work to make sure there was nothing different I could have done. Still can’t see anything.
Then there is the second phase. The family and friends who were not there for the person are horrified at how “she has been treated” and Boom! I’m the bad evil person and they will hero my client out of this disaster. The disaster that they don’t have the ability to help with. The disaster a support group could have helped with before it grew to such proportions. And now a war has begun for the right to help a human being. On one side we have the professionals who want to help. On the other side we have people who care, but don’t have skills and do not realize that the role of a hero is one that exists best in fantasy. Human beings, who have not worked to create strenth, generally bail from the demands made on a hero, typically leaving the person they are rescuing in a freefall.
I don’t know who wins. I know that I am now only a few hours away from surgery and for me this story stops so that another can get underway.
And the motto of these stories, for me, for all of us, is “Don’t live in the world you want, live in the world you have.” It is how to make a life you want.
It’s been forever since I wrote. I did not have anything worthwhile to say. I had a lot of things going on, a lot of thoughts, but just not impressed with my conclusions. And writing takes time, which I just haven’t had much of in this last month. Until Thanksgiving weekend.
During the weeks I have been trying to process an event that created a dilemma for me. I think a person has to know when to keep their mouth shut and for me, keeping my mouth shut is one of the biggest tasks in my spiritual development. It’s amazing how frequently we know how others should live their lives, and ignore two basic facts; it’s not our choice, and we could be wrong. I excel at trying to tell others the right way to act. My spiritual development often goes to war with my impulses and tells me to focus on changing me. And we are all in this life together. When we hold criticisms or negatives towards others, it diminishes them. It diminishes us. It diminishes the strength we all have.
For months my attendance at the church I take Steven to has been slipping. I could list many things I respect and admire about the people at this church. I truly wish I fit. But I don’t because I struggle with the judgement I frequently hear towards people who do not believe as they do. My personal path of growth is contrary to what I hear in church.
Meaning my efforts to go to church has dwindled as my uncomfortableness with teachings that oppose my beliefs have increased. A few weeks ago the nursery leader explained to me that if I couldn’t go to church regularly and stay the entire time, I couldn’t help in Nursery. I did not know how to tell her that I couldn’t stay because I got upset at what I heard. Or that I was struggling to respect their right to believe as they wished. Plus, how does one respond to the idea that she should not be around little children unless her church attendance is regular? Does poor attendance make me unworthy? Not religious enough? Not leading my life correctly?
Being told you are not . . . (what was I not? . . .) being told you are not “whatever” enough has the impact of making a person feel they are wrong. And, of course, I felt like a failure at this Christian thing. . . again. Trying to resolve my feelings and thoughts led me to thinking that the church has the right to make rules, and if I am not willing to abide by those rules I need to accept the consequences. Aka, if I’m not a team player, I shouldn’t get too butt-hurt if the team ousts me.
Today I did what I expect will be my last day ever in nursery. The Pastor’s preaching can be heard in the Nursery. He talked about the thanksgiving dinner for homeless, which I thought was awesome. He talked quite a lot about freedom. The only way to have freedom is from the Lord. Very familiar idea to me. I grew up being taught that freedom depends on righteousness. If you do not follow the Lord than you are in chains of sin. You may not feel the chains, but you will. Obedience to the Lord is the only way to have freedom. Of course as I grew up I had no idea how many, many, definitions of “freedom” exist.
There are basic rules to life that can help us have freedom. Education, taking care of one’s body, how we treat others. But they don’t do it all. We can be educated and stupid, or poor. We can take care of our body and die. We can treat others like Christ would and have problems because of it. And if we are talking eternal freedom? It’s probably more like growing up. We will find things are not as we had expected.
It would seem, on a daily basis our interpretation of the world is our path to freedom, or lack of. A common Christian saying is “Not of this world.” I know that is an important idea to a lot of people, to feel they are in this world, but not of it. Once again, this is an idea I grew up with. But I do not feel good about that separation. I am of this world. Not always comfortably, but always whole heartedly. I feel sadness when I see anger and division, but my list of “what is evil” is very small. Hate is evil. Actions that emanate from hate are evil. And human mistakes are human mistakes. I like being in the thick of it, and feeling part of it. I do not find diversity to be evil. It can make me uncomfortable, but it also is what allows humans to advance. Accepting the diversity of humanity gives me a lot of freedom to move around in my world. It also reflects a key difference between my Buddhist beliefs and my Christian beliefs.
Christians believe men (and women) are innately sinners. Carnal beings who must tame their drive towards wickedness. Buddhism believes that all people are innately good beings. Poor choices and actions are slip-ups, mistakes that detract from them, but are not who they are. Patience and empathy towards the mistakes of others, honoring their right to choose their path, these are key teachings because we are all basically good and trying to get better.
The biggest chains I ever felt was not thinking for myself, not being myself because it was more important to follow the rules others made. There are always, always, tons of people who are willing to tell you how to live your life. I could easily gather a group of people who would dictate my time on Sunday’s. One would say, “forget church, your house is disgusting, spend the day cleaning.” One would say, “You are overweight and getting older, spend time exercising.” One would say, “Go to church, it is the highest priority.” Another would talk about focus on Steven, another on about the importance of going to the “right” church. And so on. It’s when you start living your life based on your thoughts, experiences and conclusions that you create freedom!
Do bad choices provide some kind of chain? Sure. But making bad choices based on another’s idea of right choices make much stronger chains. Because you have no faith in self, no strength to think and act on your own, so you sit there until someone can tell you how to get out. Or you don’t get out.
The day after Thanksgiving my sons and I took a hike. I got up at 4 AM to get out to a remote area and hike while the sun rose. We just barely missed the sunrise. Then our path was dead stopped by two things. A cliff and a swamp. The cliff was insurmountable, so we tried to pick our way carefully through the swamp. We made it about 2/3’s of the way before it got to where every step was getting harder and more difficult to find footing instead of sinking into swamp. When I hit a point where I could see no sure footing ahead of me I said, “Done. Not going through this swampy area anymore.” Because I have made this kind of choice before with poor results. So we picked our way back out, trying to retrace our footsteps. Just when I got to the last few feet I got careless and took a misstep and fell. And then my legs were scratched up and I smelled of the swamp mud that was on me. My oldest son asked if I wanted to give up for the day. Despite feeling quite grumpy I accept my reality. I can be physically uncoordinated and ungraceful. It doesn’t mean that I want to get up at 4 AM, drive an hour and a half and only to hike for 30 minutes before calling it quits.
So, we backtracked and found a train trestle bridge made up of train tracks and metal slats that were seemingly thin strips of metal forming diamond shapes. Lots and lots of holes that allowed me to see how far below us the ground was. I was proceeding cautiously, despite my fear of heights, until Steven had to say, “I don’t like this, what if we fall? We should go back.” And I just froze. It was as if he flipped a switch that turned on terror. My whole perspective changed and all I could think about was those flimsy, anything but solid, metal sheets suddenly caving in and me falling 20 to 30 feet. (Never mind the rational thought that if they could hold a train they could hold me.) After that I literally inched along, watching every step, feeling every shift in metal, afraid of each gap and with non-stop visions of disaster. It was such a relief when I stepped onto solid ground. And then I could lift my head up and look around me. I could see the beautiful canyons and the riverbed and the mountains. I could see the curves in the road that are so enticing to me, because the unknown lays ahead and hidden, and I can’t wait to find out what it is.
We continued walking along the train tracks and eventually I found out that train ties were perfectly spaced for my gait. It was complete enjoyment to spend time enjoying walking faster and faster on cement ties that seemed to be placed there just so Alice could glide along. I felt like I could walk forever in the bright sun and cool air, the miles of tracks stretching out in front of me.
When I began to work in the church nursery it was a favor for someone. But truly, that nursery is the one place I did fit. I could contribute—always important to me. I could talk to others about positive things—their children, worship. That last day the pastor’s daughter ran to me when I came in. It surprised me because she is the popular child and I haven’t interacted with her much because everyone else wants her. In the nursery I had fit. But now in the nursery I am the one who is breaking the rules. I am a problem. I no longer know what makes me acceptable. Do I come three Sunday’s out of every four to be good enough? If I stay through the entire church session twice a month, am I good enough? Or must it be four out of four, but partial time? Probably a mix of the above, right? And who will be watching me for correct action? The pastor? The nursery leader? Both?
Freedom is what we make, step by step. Freedom is good choices—or backtracking from bad choices and dealing with the missteps. Freedom is built by the individual. No Godly parent, no God who is good God, would ever expect automatons, without thought, carefully walking through life, looking only at their steps, missing everything in order to follow rigid rules because they are so afraid of falling to their destruction. Imperfect humans are who expect that. And the words of others can have a surprising impact on us as we walk. We must be mindful of this fact least we reduce our freedom by what we pay attention too.
The Buddhist lean towards acceptance and tolerance of good humans making best efforts simply appears to be the best path for me. I don’t see life as a cookie cutter where I can make the same choices and have the same results as the Nursery leader. But I can respect her right to make her life the best one possible for her. For me life is free form art and I want to be able to create. I take after my Father-in-Heaven in that respect. Know the basic rules, then soar!
I’m very grateful to Him for that. But his kids sure do puzzle me at times.