A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brother Matt

Brother Matt is kind and funny. He's got swag, especially with his bicycle onesie. He is a good athlete, a good dancer, and (as far as I can tell) a good father. Today he is diving into his forties instead of just perching on the rim. Welcome to the deep end of the pool, Brother Matt.

Brother Matt is six years younger than I am, so I remember when he was born. This is how I remember it: Sister Jenn and I went to my parents' friends, the Ellis's, home. When Dad called to say I now had a baby brother, I got to talk to Dad on the phone. I said, "I bet I know his name. His name is Matthew." Though this statement shows no particular brilliance or talent for language, for some reason I remember that this is exactly what I said. After the phone conversation, Sister Jenn and I went to the field with the Ellis children, and Dirk ran over Jenn's dainty leg, breaking it.

All three children in our home had our own bedrooms, lined up down the jetway that Mom called "the zoo." Matt was assigned the back bedroom down a long hallway in our home deep in the woods. It was scary back there. For the first years of his life, Brother Matt crawled out of his bed during the dark of the night and into the hall and slept in a sleeping bag on the blue shag carpet in the hallway next to Jenn's and my rooms every night. So that Brother Matt could not drag himself and his sleeping bag into her room, Jenn started locking her door, the closest one to his room. He crawled his way onto the yellow shag carpet in my room. Mornings when I awoke, he was often there, but before being scolded, he snuck his way back into the hall. I once told Mom that she should have given Matt the first room on the hall, since he was the youngest. My room was not so scary. She started packing my suitcase and told me that if I didn't like the home, I could just leave. I laughed. I don't think that was the right response, but I stayed home in my yellow room.

I liked to dress Brother Matt up when he was young. I must have thought of him as a large doll. Once, he was Santa Claus. Once he was an elf. Another time, he was a very pretty young lady. I took pictures of him each time, but lost track of the roll of Matt the pretty young lady. Mom later found the film and had it developed. As she was looking at the pictures, she showed me one of the photos of young Matt and said, "Now who is this pretty girl?" I told her, "Look closely." She shook her head. Nope, she didn't know this girl. "Look again," I told her. Nope. "That's your son." Mom went ashen.

Matt played a lot of soccer, so Mom and the other moms did a lot of carpooling. When he was in junior high school, Matt, three of his soccer buddies, and one mom were in a car collision with a truck. When Mom and I arrived at the intersection, not far from our house, Matt and the others were still in the car, which was in the ditch. Matt was okay as it turned out, but he had a laceration over his eye and quite the gory waterfall trickling down his face. He was trapped inside the car, but when I walked up to the window, he gave me his trademark thumbs up. He was okay.

Brother Matt lives a charmed life. Every other potential close call turned out fine, too. When he spun out the Camero on the beltline, no semi-truck was coming. Thumbs up. When he decided to brave the New York City winter and sleep outside one night when he got mad at Sister Jenn, she went to get him. Though he was a very pretty little girl, he's all boy.

When I came out as a lesbian, and my parents welcomed me home but not my partner, Brother Matt talked with them, telling them that if they really wanted me to be in their lives, my partner would be, too. His advocacy invited me into the family as a full member once again.

Matt and his girlfriend at the time, Kristin, now his wife, came to visit Ann and me in Seattle. At the end of the visit, they had an intense argument about whether or not he would join Krisitn in the trip to North Carolina to adopt their dog, Stella. As they argued in the back room, Ann said, "They're getting married. There's no way this would be such a big argument otherwise. They're practicing for children." Now they re married and have three children. Sadly, their chocolate lab Stella Blue passed last year.

After my brain surgery, Brother Matt came from New York City to Seattle to stay with me one week-end. I think he liked the naps, as he doesn't seem to get a lot of rest at home. I liked having him here.

Brother Matt has a blond-haired, blue-eyed wife and three blond-haired and blue-eyed children. He loves his family, and his family adores him. He is, to tell you the truth, easy to adore. Imagine Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump only cooler, groovier or filthier (depending on your age). Adorable.

I love you, Brother Matt. Happy forty-one. Sister Mary

Monday, February 21, 2011


My Auntie (pronounced "On'tee) Myra says that my dad had planned his life by the age of seven and that he has followed that plan for his life. Though I believe him when he tells me that he decided to become a doctor after he went face first through the car windshield as a teenager and the doctors put him, like Humpty Dumpty, back together again, I suspect there's  a lot of truth to Auntie Myra's observation.

Dad is a planner. He succeeded in schools, went to Duke Medical School, married my mother ("the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen"), went to Wichita Falls, Texas, instead of Vietnam, and had three lovely children. He a had a successful pediatric practice, taught medical interns, lobbied for health care for all children, and became president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. All my life, he worked two more than full time jobs, and now that he's retired, I had been concerned that he might get bored, but retirement seems to have been part of the plan. He travels across the ocean and around the country to see his children and his grandchildren. On pretty days, he plays golf. On not-so-pretty days, he plays competitive bridge. He seems busy and seems to be having a great time.

I suppose having kids was part of Dad's plan but also challenged his life plan. He says that having kids keeps him humble. He also says, "It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am."

I'm pretty sure that my decision to come out as a lesbian and my two brain tumors were not part of my dad's life plan. I have to give him credit, though. He's adjusted admirably to the challenges. He struggled mightily with both, but now he loves me and my partner, and he's been a great support to both of us throughout my treatments for brain tumors. Like the Access van direction-finder whose driver seldom heeds oral directions, my dad has recalculated.

For a long time, I followed what I believed was Dad's plan for me. I played Dad's sports, did homework like him, and went to his alma mater for college. I believed that he had a life plan for me, born before I was born, and that it was a good plan as it was crafted by someone who loved me and wanted the best for me, so I needed to follow that plan.

As I began to grow up, however, I began to deviate from that plan. First, I did not go to medical school though I believed that was part of his plan. I did not even become a lawyer or an engineer. Instead, I went into teaching high school English. Though I did not believe that teaching English was part of his plan for me, I did immediately find joy in the teaching profession and came to believe that sometimes I would need to deviate from his plan. This was my life, after all.

After high school, I dated two tall, dark, reasonably handsome and remarkably smart guys of good pedigree. This, too, was part of the plan. I was to marry one of them until death do us part. That part of the plan didn't work out. Seeking joy, I again deviated from Dad's plan for me, came out as a lesbian, and married the woman I love. Perhaps recalculating, finding my own plan instead of what I perceived to be my father's plan, was part of growing up.

My tumors have required me to recalculate again in so many ways. I now ride a trike instead of a bike. I read on my Kindle instead of on the page. I hike on level, paved paths with help.

Now in my work life I'm trying to follow in my father's footsteps again and again recalculate. Because of disabilities from tumors, I do not think that I can follow my earlier plan to be a public school administrator, and I do not think that I can continue along my teaching path.

In my work, I have recalculated once already since the tumors and have been a literacy coach, working with teachers who want my help improving their teaching practice. I love this job, as I get to work with teachers and their students in a way that I am now able and in a way that seems helpful to both teachers and students. Now, however, all of these budget cuts may leave me again needing to recalculate. This week I'm exploring how to publish and market my book and am also exploring the world of teaching English to adults, generally immigrants to the United States.

Much of my life since brain tumors--and much of this blog--has been about re-envisioning my life as it unfolds, about recalculating. My life has been about learning that I am not in control, and seeking the grace and the faith to live a life meaningful to me and to others by finding ways to live still in the joy that is life's miracle. My challenge, as I have attempted to relate it here, has been to see still the amazing beauty, the amazing grace, in the fragility of it all.

Though unlike wiser souls, I am still not grateful for these tumors, I am grateful for the compulsion to recalculate, for the gift of continuing to participate in this life, in this world, and for the grace of seeing now that, even as I must recalculate and must learn that I am not in control, still this is a beautiful world. Still, I strive to be happy.

As a teenager, like so many teenagers, I loved Max Ehrman's poem, the poem that exhorts us to "strive to be happy," and perhaps I sensed as a youth that the only possible plan is a plan of the spirit, a plan that Ehrman so gracefully penned. For years, the poem hung on the bulletin board of the desk where I never studied as I was growing up, then in my college dorm room, and then on the walls of my classrooms. I have pasted the poem below in case you do not know it.

The poem invites me to "go placidly amid the noise and haste," to "speak [my] truth quietly and clearly," to "be gentle with [my]self," to remember that I am "a child of the universe," and that "With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, / it is still a beautiful world." For all the career planning that business gurus would have us do these days, it has been the love in my life and the poems of my life that have lead me in this time of great change, this time of recalculating.


-- by Max Ehrmann--

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
or always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mary wept.

Ever since I saw that episode of "The Waltons" where kids had to memorize a Bible verse, and one slacker memorized John 11:35, "Jesus wept," I have loved this verse. Partly, probably, because it's one of the only Bible verses I can remember in its entirety.

I read in a commentary that in its original languages, this verse would not have been the shortest in the Bible. I also read that the Greek word for "wept" means to shed silent tears instead of earlier weeping, where the Greek work used means something closer to wailing (Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary cited at http://bible.cc/john/11-35.htm)

I can identify with the quietness of Jesus's tear. That's how I cry, too. Last Thursday, I cried. I was working with a talented teacher, Todd, and a challenging high school freshman class that I am getting to know, a group that I am quite fond of. Todd and I had planned together, and I was to start the day's lesson, modelling how to begin a lesson crisply. I know from watching these students on other days and from teaching them and similar groups of freshmen that directions need to be clear and crisp.

With my current disabilities, however, clear and crisp is hard. I have to concentrate in order to stand, and concentrate to look from the left to the right or, especially, to look from a page of writing up to a group of students. On this day, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't move crisply enough to keep them engaged. Once again, I couldn't do what I used to do.

Teacher Todd regained the responsibility of working with the group as a whole, and I worked with smaller groups. After the class, as always, Todd and I discussed what we had learned about the students, what we wondered, and what his next steps with these students might be. After that discussion, I confessed to him how hard it had been to re-experience what I cannot now do. It was in this moment of quiet reflection and confession that I wept.

A few weeks ago, at a naturopathic appointment about my tremors, the doctor asked me if I was experiencing chronic grief. According to my naturopath's tome, chronic grief can cause tremors. I wept then, too.

To understand my emotions a little better, I did a little bit (not a lot) of research on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler's Five Stages of Grief. Stage One: Denial. Stage Two: Anger. Stage Three: Bargaining. Stage Four: Depression. Stage Five: Acceptance.

I'm definitely not in denial, but I wonder if I'm experiencing all of the other stages of grief at once, or at least in rapid succession.  For me, it seems, the process of grieving this loss is more like a washing machine than a conveyer-belt, more turbulent than tidy.

Mostly, I know that I am lucky to be alive and lucky to get to live this life. Sometimes, however, I am just mad, bargaining and unhappy about my disabilities. Having the tumors and their treatments was one thing, but the fun of all that is over now, and I'm ready to return to my days of teaching and running and looking straight ahead with two eyes.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Baby it's cold inside...

Our furnace went out last week, and it was cold in here. Just before the furnace died, we had it cleaned, so it's probably gone to furance heaven and is sitting at the right hand of God, since cleanliness is next to godliness. We spent a cold five days, but now we have a new furnace.

Last month we had electrical work done, sealing off the gas pipes that were used for lighting earlier in the last century. Then we had insulation put in, apparently not something that was done in 1895 and hadn't been done since. This summer, it's time (past time) to have the house painted. We're thinking yellow with white trim.


We've also made other changes to the house. We made the dowstairs bathroom disability-friendly and had a bathroom put in upstairs (that makes it middle-of-the-night friendly, as there was no bathroom on the floor where the bedrooms are). We put an electric door opener on our second garage just before reducing from two cars to one. We removed the upstairs carpet and had the floors refinished. We rebuilt the front steps and replaced the wraught iron grating on the top and bottom porches with period-appropriate columns (especially appropriate if we were living in ancient Greece.)

We put gas logs in the fireplace, which before was covered with a large sheet of plastic and the chimney opened on top to the crows, who made regular chicken-bone offerings. We had french drains dug around the garage, so that the water would not come in. We had the backyard bulldozed and replanted, with a nice level path so that I can walk without falling and we can still grow tomotoes in the summer. We had the deck rebuilt.

Actually, we paid others to do most of these things, but we've done some things ourselves. We replaced the ugly boards and boxes that framed the windows with trim. We did a pretty good job of it. The new trim is gingerly nailed into lathe and plaster, so it looks good but don't swing on the trim unless you want to pull the whole wall down. We also painted the inside of the house. (You should see what a fine job I did on the texturing. The plaster swoops look a lot like frosting on a cake.) Previously, the kitchen was brown, then smoot-covered after I set a plastic tray on the pilot light. Now the kitchen's a lively pink, blue, yellow and grey: no threat of falling asleep while you cook (I say "you" because I do nothing around open flames since I've lost depth perception.) One of our first home projects was to dig a french drain in the front yard. Ann brought home a bunch of pcp pipe one afternoon and started digging. A french drain seemed to her an afternoon's work. We dug that french drain all summer and finally finished that french drain several months later.
As we finished the insullation (or as Wayne and his guys finished it while we ate bon-bons), Ann told our friend Pea that she couldn't think of another thing we needed to do to upgrade the house. I counted aloud, "One. Two. Three," marking the seconds until she thought of another thing. She obliged, "Oh. Except for build a little garage in front for our recycling bins. And re-doing the terracing in the front while we're at it. After that, I can't think of anything."
Give her time.


Monday, February 14, 2011

More Tumor Humor

Bruce, our ependymoma support group leader, had more that was funny to say today:
I don't think the brain tumor affected me...You tell me...

I decide to water my garden.
As I turn on the hose in the driveway,
I look over at my car and decide it needs washing.
As I start toward the garage,
I notice mail on the porch table that
I brought up from the mail box earlier.
I decide to go through the mail before I wash the car.
I lay my car keys on the table,
put the junk mail in the garbage can under the table,
and notice that the can is full.
So, I decide to put the mail back
on the table and take out the garbage first.

But then I think,
since I'm going to be near the mailbox
when I take out the garbage anyway,
I may as well pay the bills first.
I take my check book off the table,
and see that there is only one check left.
My extra checks are in my desk in the study,
so I go inside the house to my desk where
I find the can of Coke I'd been drinking.
I'm going to look for my checks,
but first I need to push the Coke aside
so that I don't accidentally knock it over.
The Coke is getting warm,
and I decide to put it in the refrigerator to keep it cold.

As I head toward the kitchen with the Coke,
a vase of flowers on the counter
catches my eye--they need water.
I put the Coke on the counter and
discover my reading glasses that
I've been searching for all morning.
I decide I better put them back on my desk,
but first I'm going to water the flowers.

I set the glasses back down on the counter,
fill a container with water and suddenly spot the TV remote.
Someone left it on the kitchen table.
I realize that tonight when we go to watch TV,
I'll be looking for the remote,
but I won't remember that it's on the kitchen table,
so I decide to put it back in the den where it belongs,
but first I'll water the flowers.
I pour some water in the flowers,
but quite a bit of it spills on the floor.
So, I set the remote back on the table,
get some towels and wipe up the spill.
Then, I head down the hall trying to
remember what I was planning to do.

At the end of the day:
the car isn't washed
the bills aren't paid
there is a warm can of Coke sitting on the counter
the flowers don't have enough water,
there is still only one check in my check book,
I can't find the remote,
I can't find my glasses,
and I don't remember what I did with the car keys.

Then, when I try to figure out why nothing got done today,
I'm really baffled because I know I was busy all day,
and I'm really tired.

I realize this is a serious problem,
and I'll try to get some help for it,
but first I'll check my e-mail.

Bruce, 4th ventricle surgery & radiation, '95

Another member of the group, Steve, replied: When you find your car keys, please tell me where you found them. Maybe it will help me find mine. Steve, 4th ventricle nightmare

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Quint of Luuuv

Ann's colleague Adina celerates  "the quint of love."  She pronounces it "luv" with an extended soft "u": "luuuuv." Since the this time period includes Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday, President's Day (depending on the president), and Valentine's Day, the designation seems just right.

Unsure asbout what a quint might be? Is it A) an era: we had the quint of Bush and now we are in the quint of luuuv B) a metaphor from science fiction literature where time is a substance to be measured in "quints": It was a time of love, a quint of romance. C) (we all know C's the most common answer, so it won't be this): Is it a fifth of a school year, so that we have semesters, trimesters, quarters and quints D) Perhaps it's an age, as in the Quint of Acquarius or E) a very naughty word in Jamaican culture. The correct answers are C, a grading period which is a fifth of a school year, and E)  very naughty word in Jamaican culture. (Adina told me about the Jamaican meaning, and I confirmed it on the innernets.. I wonder if that's why their school, which has lots of students from Asian countries, has no students from Jamaica.) As a good reader, you can use your context clues to be assured that in this instance we are discussing a grading period.

In last Sunday's church service, the reading came from the sexy Song of Songs: "Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love" (New International Version (©1984) cited on http://bible.cc/songs/2-5.htm). For sure, it must be the quint of love: The Bible tells me so, and so does Adina.

On the radio last week, I heard a remarkable love story, a husband's retelling of the joyous moments of his wife's last days. She was home from cancer treatments, weak, in a wheelchair, and unable to speak. The day before she died, he noticed again how beautiful she was, and he asked her to marry him again. Though weak, she kissed him vigorously and repeatedly on his cheek.

Last summer Ann and I got married in a commitment ceremony at our church. I had survived brain surgery for a tumor and could no longer walk or dance as I used to. I could no longer smile with both sides of my face. My eyes were somewhat crossed. I can no longer hike up mountains or travel in developing countries. Still, she said she loved me. Still, she spends her days with me. Still, she asked me to marry her.

We had a great time. We practiced dancing to Exile's "She's a Miracle" for weeks so that we could dance, and I would not fall. Our families and friends celebrated with us. We shared photos of our lives together: from hiking up Lalibellas's mountainsides to watching waves crash on North Carolina's shores: if you look closely you can see not only that I am affectionately holding Ann's arm, but that she is holding me up. We said our vows and our siblings made toasts.

On this Valentine's Day, as on all days, I am so thankful for all of the love in my life: for friends and family, an astonishing world, our communities of faith and fun and work, and especially for Ann. My heart is full, as is my life.

All my love. Mary

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Sister Jenn

Today is my sister Jenn's birthday, so this entry is for and about her. This is her birthday present. I think she'll love it, though such a gift may be the adult version of making a straw necklace for Mom for Mother's Day. The thought's kind of nice, and pretty cute, but you wouldn't want to wear that necklace out of the house. As I remember, sister Jenn made such a necklace for our mother. To visualize this necklace, do not think of the kind of straw that's like hay that was in the baby Jesus's manger. Think about those red, white and blue straws you get with a soda at the old school soda fountain. The straw necklace sister Jenn made for mom was a patriotic straw necklace, and Mom dubbed it her "kitchen necklace," a necklace she would wear in the kitchen. Sister Jenn was thrilled that her gift had such a special appellation, and Mom never had to wear the necklace out of the house. Brilliant.

Sister Jenn was born about a month before my third birthday, so though there are picture of me before she was in my life, I only remember life with her. I was always aware, of course, that she was my younger sister, that I was the oldest, and that I was therefore responsible for her. I think she's turned out pretty well, so I'll take the credit.

Even though Jenn was younger than I, she was in many ways my mentor. When I was in high school and wore no make-up, Jenn noted that her friend had similar blue eyes to mine, and yet everyone remarked on her friend's blue eyes whereas mine went unnoticed. Jenn convinced me to wear eye make-up. In another moment, when I agonized about where to go to college, Jenn said she'd always thought I'd go to Davidson as it seemed a good fit, so that's where I went, and I wore my eye make-up there.

My Sister Jenn has always been exceptionally beautiful. People liked to compare her to Brooke Shields in the days of The Blue Lagoon, but I always thought Jenn was prettier. When I was first teaching in Dallas, a male student stole my purse, and when the purse was found in the boys' bathroom trashcan, everything was still there except my cash and a photo of Sister Jenn. Creepy.

Jenn's one of those beautiful people who is also smart, so I'm guessing she's inspired some jealousy in her time. As the older sister growing up in my younger sister's shadow, I might have been bitter, but because she was always so loving to me, I just felt proud of her. I still do.

About six years ago, Jenn had brain surgery--a couple of years before I did. Hers was for a traumatic accident, a fall from a golf cart, whereas mine was for a tumor, but still she could advise me: "Whenever they say morphine," she instructed, "you say yes." She also gave me the tip to keep a list of those people who say, "Let me know if I can do anything." That way, when you need a casserole or a car wash sometime down the line when not so many people are offering, you'll have a list to draw from. Maybe she learned such brillliance from our mom of the kitchen necklace.

After my brain surgery, Sister Jenn came to stay with me for a week. One day, when my headache was especially bad, she drove me to the emergency room, but she couldn't figure out how to fold up my wheelchair, so she shared the front seat with the wheelchair rammed in, and I sat in the back. It has just occurred to me that the hospital probably had wheelchairs I could borrow, and we needn't have risked life and limb. Since we've both had brain surgeries, though, we have built in excuses for such oversights.

Sister Jenn loves her four children and truly enjoys them, even though sometimes she says that they drive her to distraction. Her children, now aged ten through 14, used to be younger. One Christmas quite a few years back, Sister Jenn put a special trophy in her own stocking, and seemed delighted when she found that Santa had left her a trophy for the World's Worst Mom. That trophy she still displays proudly on the mantle beside the kids' tennis trophies.

I'm not sure sister Jenn knows how much we love her. When she had her brain surgery, we were afraid she might not live. I burned a candle to protect her spirit. Our brother Matt, in an outburst of love, slammed down his toilet seat and broke it. (I think this remains my sister's favorite story about him--or maybe about anyone.)

Sister Jenn is is alive and funny and having a birthday that is a multiple of eleven. What you can't see now is that she has some unresolved physical issues from the surgery: she cannot put a flip flop on her left foot without using her hand, and she cannot raise her right eyebrow. For that, she is going to physical therapy, but I don't think she has a caringbridge site yet.

Happy birthday to my dear little sister. Mary

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fear Itself

Apologies to FDR, but there is a lot to fear other than fear itself. From the recent news, for example, there is the crazy gun-toting teen, the overwhelmed gun-toting mother and the depressed gun-toting grandmother. In our bodies, there might be high cholesterol, diabetes, or brain tumors.

In my life, there have only been a few moments of real fear: a Grand Canyon hike with "exposure" (that means a cliff with a shallow ledge to step on, where if you miss you fall acres to a rocky death); Ann's near miss with a hunting lioness in the Serengeti; a sweating and overweight Costa Rican pilot banking his small plane sharply to dodge the mountain looming before us; a chat-chewing, gun-toting "guard" in the Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia; streaking rain and lightening as I climbed across steel girders of an unfinished bridge over a raging river in rural Michoacan; an adolescent bear with bad breath that stepped into my path on Crystal Mountain. And brain surgery.

I have lived a relatively low-risk life. This caution is not because I am good but because I am chicken. I have never smoked; I drink in moderation; I drive close to the speed limit (sometimes below it); actually, I do everything slowly; I eat fruits and veggies and exercise regularly (and slowly). Still, low-risk is not no-risk. With all my caution, I've still had brain tumors. Being alive itself is risky. Chances are good that one day I'll die. I've heard it happens to the best of us.

In some ways, fear and brain tumors have similar effects on folks. Both can make a person "not right in the head." Both might make a person cry or hit something. Both can be blinding.

Still, there is more to fear in fear than in brain tumors. For one thing, fear results in actions like wars that kill lots of people at once and over a long period of time. Brain tumors go for one person at a time and work at that person as long as they can. Brain tumors are not contagious, but fear seems to spread. Fear makes some people violent, whereas for me anyway, brain tumors just make me sleepy.

Off to nap now. Mary

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Peeps

Years ago, my friend Rene tried to convince her partner Alex something about community health care for Latinas. Alex, Alejandra, is Chicana and replied, "No, Ren. I know my peeps." I wondered at the time who my peeps were: Southern expatriate lesbians?

Now I know. In some ways, I love to go to the hospitals because I see so many of my peeps there. If it weren't for the doctors, a visit to the hospital would be like a reunion of lots of relatives I"ve never known. My peeps are in wheelchairs. They walk with walkers and canes. They cover their coughs with cotton masks and have tubes in their arms (or wherever). Some are young, and many are old.

When a peep and I pass one another in the hallways, we generally nod to one another. Our nods mean, "Hey. I see you. I know part of your story, and you know part of mine. We have each been through something hard, and we have each experienced loss. We are doing the best we can right now."

In the basement of the hospital that I frequent, there is a long, narrow underground walkway from one building to another. The hall is tiled with those hospital white one square foot linoleum pieces and has low florescent lights. There are no windows. When I'm there, I feel like I'm escaping from East Berlin in the days of the wall. When there are two of us in this path heading towards one another, we have no choice but to watch one another's progress for a very long time. This watching is somewhat awkward, especially since I am very slow, and often the person walking towards me is, too, so we approach one another for what seems a very long time. One of us often attempts humor. Last week, the elderly man heading towards me said, "I hear they're putting in a speed limit." The humor is more an attempt to be friendly than funny. Friendly is important to me and my peeps. So is humor.

A few years ago, I worked at a school that had a program for students with severe disabilities, and my office was near their room, so I saw these students quite often. I was wearing a patch on one eye and walking with a walker at the time. One student, a boy named Jason, stopped each time he saw me and stared hard at my face. He was unable to communicate through speech, but sometimes he would try. Once, when I was walking with the principal and some others, Jason stopped to stare, his face a few inches from mine, and gently touched my face, moving aside my eye-patch. "Hurt," he said. I said, "Yes," and he continued to stare. The principal, who was clearly nervous about this, had him stop, and we went on our way. I explained to her that I thought the attention was appropriate, that it was possible that in all of his years of schooling he had not encountered another adult with disabilities and that he was reaching out to the one adult who might, in some small way, understand his life. We were peeps.

Tomorrow I'm going to the hospital. Supposedly, I'm going to see my neurologist because I've been having headaches, but really I'm going to see my peeps.