July 20, 2017

July 20, 2017
Mary and Dosey

Friday, May 23, 2014

Aging

Last week for my class in the School of Social Work, I was videotaped doing a practice intake interview with an actor who pretended to be a client. The actor, "Jake," was an attractive African American man in his sixties. He had a remarkably deep voice and a lively demeanor. I enjoyed talking with him.

After the interview, students were given DVDs of the interview so that we could see ourselves and reflect on our performances. I did not see what I expected to see.

My portion of the video begins as I walk into the room, my back to the camera. As I watched myself from the back, a perspective I have seldom seen, I thought, “I look pretty good.” I was surprised that, though I’ve walked with a cane since brain surgery, I still looked like an athlete. This pleased me.

Then the video showed me as I turned around—painfully slowly—placed my cane on the floor, retrieved my notes and said, “Hi. Should we just start?”

“Oh my God,” I said to Ann who watched beside me on the couch, “I look so old!”

Though I suspect that I should have been paying attention to what I said, I only noticed my appearance and my movements. I looked and sounded like an old lady: I wore my glasses too far down on my nose; my neck looked thin and too taught; I moved and spoke ridiculously slowly.

When I asked “Jake” questions, I drew out the words as if I were a 45 on the old turn tables but the speed is set at 33. (Just the analogy makes me sound old.) There are long pauses between “Jake’s” responses and my next questions or comments. Jake’s voice is deep like rivers; in contrast, mine is high and whistling like a breeze in the reeds.

This is not the first time that it has occurred to me that I am aging. In March, I turned fifty, and a couple of friends gave me poems that marked my age:

The Billy Collins poem Lou brought is titled, “Forgetfulness,” and perhaps that’s all you need to know. If you need to know more, one stanza reads:

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
It is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
Not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

Yes, I have struggled with word recall since brain surgery, but it’s hard to tell what struggles are due to the fact that those nice people cut into my brain and what struggles are just the natural struggles of aging.

My friend Marion—whose fiftieth birthday was some years ago—gave me a poem about women at fifty. It begins

These women
These others
who have lost the blossom of youth.
These women who have laugh lines and looser skin….
These women of fifty…

Later in the poem, the poet (Helene Kass?) writes,

Their creative force is no longer present in pert breasts,
rather the well-hung fullness of ripened fruit…

Yep. Well-hung fullness. Looser skin. Granny glasses. Freckles that are pooling together to become age spots. Yep. I’m a woman of fifty.

I’ve always felt old for my age, and with neurosurgery and radiation in my forties, I’ve aged even more. I’ve known my mind has changed, but my looks?! Sure, I walk with a cane and struggle with vision and hearing, but it had never occurred to me that I look older. And yet, I do. Of course.  

I remember previous moments when it has struck me that I am moving into older generations:

When I was first teaching at the age of 22 in Dallas, and my students were reviewing Watergate for an American History test, they catalogued the details dully. Watergate was my first political memory, and I couldn’t believe how dull they made it sound. “Watergate!” I shouted at them. “This is Watergate! Watch the news every night! The president has lied! The president is resigning!” My students bowed their heads back to their notecards and continued studying, and I remained with my passionate memories of a time that had become to them what the Battle of Hastings  was to me:  a date to memorize (1066), full of dry bones and dust.

The second time I noticed that I was aging was in an elevator at Pacific Place, a hip downtown mall in Seattle, as one teenager defined an “album” to another as “a thin, round, black disk that people used to listen to music on.”

More recently, I told my eleven year-old niece Lucie that there were no computers when I was her age. She paused for a long time while she tried to understand what I was saying, and finally she said, “You mean laptops?”

Yes. I have become older. I come from record players and rolling down a car window with a crank and telephones attached to the wall. I walk with a cane; I have low vision; I go to sleep by nine, and I nap in the afternoons; I forget appointments; I cannot figure out how to change the channel on the t.v.; I cannot drive; I am slow.

And yet, oddly—or perhaps not so oddly, I’m happier than I was when I was younger. I no longer rush to get at many things done as possible before breakfast. I no longer think I need to marry a good man (who might be hard to find). I no longer wonder if I am okay.

I love my days. I love a simple dinner on a sunny evening on the deck, the flowers reaching towards the sun and the raspberry buds turning from white to the fruit’s red. I love reading poetry and talking with friends who want the world to be a better place.

Like the poet Max Erhman says in “Desiderata,” my birthday poem from my high school friend Eagle White:

I am a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
I have a right to be here.

What a relief it is to feel that I am okay and that I belong. And as an old lady, I can be odd and it’s quaint, so I visit my “flying box,” my poetry exchange, daily. Today, this gift from a passerby came to me:

Joy is Entering the River. by Ghalib

For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river -

Unbearable pain becomes its own cure.
Travel far enough into sorrow, tears turn to sighing;

In this way we learn how water can die into air.
When, after heavy rain, the stormclouds disperse,

Is it not that they’ve wept themselves clear to the end?
If you want to know the miracle, how wind can polish 
a mirror,

Look: the shining glass grows green in spring.
It’s the rose’s unfolding, Ghalib, that creates the desire to see-

In every color and circumstance, may the eyes be open for what comes.

And so I move through my days: my gait slower and my gaze more strained but open for what comes.





Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Ten Years of Aprils--guest blogger

I'm in an online support group for adults who speak English with ependymomas and those in our lives. Recently, Jeremy shared this powerful post, and he said I could share it with you. (The link at the bottom is to Pearl Jam's performance of "Just Breathe." It's lovely, too.) Here's Jeremy's post:

Friends,

O Fortuna!
It has been ten years. I do not participate often, but I am always watching this list. 

At 19, I was diagnosed; March 23, 2005 with a three inch ependymoma spanning L2-L3 [in his spine] only caught due to symptoms caused by a large cyst constricting nerve endings. I thought I had an apendicitis and went to the ER with severe lower abdominal pain radiating into the legs. They identified gallstones and thought I might be faking it. I had my gallbladder removed (gallstones) and the surgeon, who doubted a connection to the symptoms, sent me for an MRI that identified the ependymoma. I had an excellent neurosurgeon (Martin Lazar at Medical City Dallas) that performed surgery March 25, 2005 followed by 4 days in the ICU and 5 days inpatient care. My birthday is April 9. I have developed a very ambivalent stance on my birth month. It represents both the celebration of my life and stands as a reminder of how finite and fragile that life truly is. Due to the timing, my birthday is a solemn indicator that it is time for my next MRI.

 A scan on April 7, 2007 revealed a 4mm  “area of enhancement” at T3 and and an additional two 2-3mm tumors at L4-L5. This lead to eight months of radiation and one and a half years of Temodar. Doing the math; this year was MRI 31 (full spine and brain ~4hrs in a machine ea.). Thankfully, there have been no changes since the scans pre-treatment 2007. I have two herniated disks (overdoing it after a laminectomy) and three identified tumors. The tumor at T3 was not actually identified until after treatment and was not included in the irradiated area. After all of this, the only thing I can complain about is mild, persistent back pain and lack of surface sensation on a large, and not insignificant, part of my inner right thigh. 

During this spring, April 23, 2010, my mother, who was my only parent and caregiver, was diagnosed with a Cholangiocarcinoma (cancer of the epithelial cells of the bile ducts leading to the liver) that was caught after spreading to the full liver and surrounding lymph nodes. She did well handling aggressive chemo and radiation of associated bone cancer until April 28, 2011 when I checked her into the ER with what was later identified as a staph infection in the circulatory system (she had been on injectable blood thinners for a pulmonary embolism which is the most likely culprit.) She passed away peacefully at home surrounded by loved ones June 10, 2011, three days after being sent home on hospice.

This April ~ 25th. My 89 year old grandfather was admitted with edema caused by kidney malfunction/failure. I have been with him constantly as both a loved one and experienced patient advocate in the weeks since.

To all patients and care givers,

You are not alone.

It is both a burden and a far too heavy badge of courage and fortitude, reserved for a select few that experience what we have. The only way out is through, how ever that plays out, and who ever your are at the end; Know that you are loved and know that we are here with you.

“Adapt yourself to the things among which your lot has been cast,
And love sincerely the fellow creatures with whom destiny has ordained that you shall live”
— Marcus Aurelius


Jeremy at 29yo,
ten years and counting

P.S.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Lucky to be alive!

Today, Seattle is beautifully Spring. It is sunny. The birds are cheerful, and so am I. More often in Spring, Seattle is grey and rainy with the crocuses and daffodils poking cheerfully into the gloom, mocking its seriousness.

But today, there are no clouds. There is no gloom. Today is the day that Perry Como sang about:

"The bluest skies you've ever seen are in Seattle 
And the hills the greenest green, in Seattle…."

It seems to me that Spring is the time for poetry, for its hope, its presence, its music. Though it's true that a lot of my favorite poets are more melancholy poets of autumn, Spring has its music, too. 

You may know that in front of our house, down by the sidewalk, is my Winged Words box, a poetry exchange for neighbors and other passers-by. This was my perfect 50th birthday gift from my partner, Ann. My friend Karen painted it with butterflies, a heron, and feathers, and my friend eL calls it "my flying box." I like that.

Yesterday, as Ann rounded the corner to our front steps, three African-American guys—young teenagers—sat on the steps. They seemed alarmed as she approached:

"Are we on your property, Ma'am?" one asked. 

She replied, "You're fine," and they relaxed.

"We're waiting for a friend," one said.

"While you're waiting, you can reach in that mailbox and pull out a poem if you want to."

One did, and he read the poem aloud to his friends on the steps. When he finished, one of his friends said, "I like that."

Who says my teaching career is over? It's just morphed and doesn't pay in money anymore.

For the past two lovely days, I have been quoting ee cummings: "How Lucky to be Alive while Spring is in the World!" Only Google doesn't think cummings—or anyone else—wrote that. So maybe you can attribute that one to me. 

cummings is my Spring poet. You may argue that Mary Oliver is a Spring poet with her wonder in nature, and I love Mary Oliver, but she has an older soul, like I do. 

cummings is a young soul, but he’s no babe in the woods, no naive lamb. I don’t know what this means, but I know that it is so. Sometimes he dips into the darkness, but mostly his poetry sings of the moment. I love this one:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a far better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for eachother: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

Maybe my man Walt Whitman is a Spring poet, too. Like cummings, he is no babe in the woods--after all he was an ambulance driver in the Civil War and saw too much death--but his spirit is of Spring. What does that mean exactly? He studies the grass and learns from a child, and what he learns is that "Death is different / Than anyone supposed--And luckier." (At least that's how I remember itI'd recommend that you check any quotations from me, as they're often how I remember them and maybe not how they are.) And this from Whitman's young spirit, too :

These I singing in spring collect for lovers,
(For who but I should understand lovers and all their sorrow and joy?
And who but I should be the poet of comrades?)
Collecting I traverse the garden the world, but soon I pass the gates,
Now along the pond-side, now wading in a little, fearing not the wet,
Now by the post-and-rail fences where the old stones thrown there,
pick'd from the fields, have accumulated,
(Wild-flowers and vines and weeds come up through the stones and
partly cover them, beyond these I pass,)
Far, far in the forest, or sauntering later in summer, before I
think where I go,
Solitary, smelling the earthy smell, stopping now and then in the silence,
Alone I had thought, yet soon a troop gathers around me,
Some walk by my side and some behind, and some embrace my arms or neck,
They the spirits of dear friends dead or alive, thicker they come, a
great crowd, and I in the middle,
Collecting, dispensing, singing, there I wander with them,
Plucking something for tokens, tossing toward whoever is near me,
Here, lilac, with a branch of pine,
Here, out of my pocket, some moss which I pull'd off a live-oak in
Florida as it hung trailing down,
Here, some pinks and laurel leaves, and a handful of sage,
And here what I now draw from the water, wading in the pondside,
(O here I last saw him that tenderly loves me, and returns again
never to separate from me,
And this, O this shall henceforth be the token of comrades, this
calamus-root shall,
Interchange it youths with each other! let none render it back!)
And twigs of maple and a bunch of wild orange and chestnut,
And stems of currants and plum-blows, and the aromatic cedar,
These I compass'd around by a thick cloud of spirits,
Wandering, point to or touch as I pass, or throw them loosely from me,
Indicating to each one what he shall have, giving something to each;
But what I drew from the water by the pond-side, that I reserve,
I will give of it, but only to them that love as I myself am capable
of loving.

I am an old soul. You may have guessed that. I'm not sure what that means, but I know that it is so. My mom said so. Also, I'm a Pisces, born at the end of the astrological chart, I hear. Lao Tzu (who was born old) and John Keats ("Ode to Autumn" is my favorite), and Mary Oliver (Check out "Wild Geese") are my soul mates. 

And yet, we old folks love to sit on the bank in the shade with our dark black fit-overs protecting our eyes from the sun and to watch the young ones water skiing in the sound, like my grandmother and her siblings did each summer at the North Carolina beach. 

Sometimes they would eat watermelon, and I imagine that they would taste in its sweetness the yelping joy of spring and all that is young. I don't think they had seed-spitting contests, though. That would have been improper. 




Monday, May 5, 2014

An Ongoing Story

I have always been an avid reader. When I was in third grade, after I was supposed to turn out the light and go to bed, I would turn on the nightlight that was just a few inches above the side of my bed, cover myself in a gold comforter, and read into the night without my light being detected.

On one hot North Carolina summer night after “lights out”, Mom asked, “What are you doing under there?” and snatched the cover off of me, exposing me, my night light, and my book. I thought I might be in trouble, but Mom laughed.

At the end of third grade, our family moved into a larger house, and I had a more private bedroom, so I could generally read as late as I wanted to without being detected. I believe it was in junior high school that I decided to read the whole Bible, but I didn’t want anyone to know, so again I hid my book under the covers just in case someone stopped in.

I’m not sure why I was so secretive. Both of my parents were raised Southern Baptists, and they raised us in a Southern Baptist church. We went to a progressive church, where we were more likely to read The Velveteen Rabbit than the Bible, and from time to time, my dad complained that we knew nothing about the Bible. He complained about this one morning on the way to church, and I argued (as I often did). He said, “I’ll bet not even one of you knows the first Book of the Bible.”

“I do, too,” I said. For some reason, I had a Bible with me on that day, and I flipped to the beginning.

“Genesis,” I tried to say, but I’d never heard the word and pronounced it more like the plural of the Irish beer, Guinnesses.

I didn’t make it far in my first reading of the whole book, though I tried several times. Each time, I got to that long list of “begats,” and gave up. I didn’t see where people found Truth (yes, with a capital T) in this story. The Little House on the Prairie sequence was much more compelling.

I was more interested in church than either of my younger siblings. It mostly raised questions for me. Once, in a small service or discussion of some sort in the Poteat Chapel, my mom and I talked together, as instructed by the leader. We had been told to tell the person we were talking with something we had never told anyone else. I follow teacher’s directions, so I told my mom, “I’m not sure I believe that Jesus was the son of God.”

She whipped back with, “Why not?” This question I did not expect. I had thought she might say, “Why?” and I could explain how it seemed to me that we were all children of God, so Jesus wasn’t really so special.

After that, I kept my truth to myself, though as an adult I visited my childhood church with my partner Ann (like I said, it’s a progressive church), and the minister at the time preached a sermon that was more intellectual and did a lot of interpreting from the Greek, but basically made the same argument that I had made as a child.

The church, a mainstay of Southern life, was a foundation for our family.
Both of my parents grew up in Southern Baptist churches, so some might say I was blessed, and others might say I was doomed. My church, named for a not-too-distant ancestor, comprised an eclectic congregation of hippie Southern Baptists, professors from local colleges and universities, artists, and young parents like mine who wanted to attend a church more liberal than they were. The church took a stand against the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, and had a sister church, a storehouse church with a primarily black congregation when I attended the church in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Scandalous.

When I was in high school, my youth group visited this sister church, Bishop Larsen’s storefront church. We usually wore blue jeans with peace sign patches to our hippie church, but we had been told to dress up for this church visit as a mark of respect, so we knew this church would be different than ours. We sat in a row in the church’s folding chairs, among the thirty or so people, mostly African-Americans but a few white people, too, all struggling through poverty.

Bishop Larsen was a large woman, imposing in her purple headdress and billowing purple robe. She delivered a fiery sermon, and stopped in the middle to point her powerful finger at a small boy, maybe eight years old, in the front row. “Boy,” she intoned. “Come here.” He moved tremulously from his front row seat to stand before Bishop Larsen. She chastised him for laughing, admonishing him to remember that church is not funny and neither is God.

I suspected that Bishop Larsen’s God wouldn’t approve of my friend Ande and me going to the park during the sermons at our church, either. I surmised that this God would have no compassion for our boredom. I wondered if it was fair that these people, having a harder life, had a harder God, too.  I wondered how they would answer the question, “Who are you?” and if their answer would reveal the poverty of their lives or if they saw their poverty as a circumstance separate from the essence of who they were.

I found much to inspire me in this church where the minister preached against the Vietnam War and for integration of blacks and whites. I wanted to understand faith: some people seemed so moved by it and used code words like “saved” as in “Have you been saved?” Faith and God just seemed confusing to me, though.

In college, I wanted so much to be certain about God and such, but the more I learned, the more unsettled I became. On a walk around the town one night, my roommate Angelique and I happened on a tiny church that would hold maybe ten people in its pews. We found the door open, so we let ourselves in. Spontaneously, we began to spoof a church service and made up readings from the Bible. We shouted from the pulpit and banged our fists. I remember feeling that this was probably blasphemy but not caring. I was angry.

I thought of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ poem, “The Collar,” where a minister slaps the board and cries, “No more,” ranting and raving about his doubts until “I heard one calling, ‘Child,’” and he replied, “My Lord.” I wanted to hear that voice call to me, but there was no call, and Angelique and I finished our spoof, finally saying, “We should leave. We’ve been loud. Someone might come and see us.”

Towards the end of college, I continued to struggle with who I was, who I might be, and what life I might lead. One Sunday when I was home for Christmas break, our minister, the good Reverend Siler, asked me, Sister Jen, and his son Mark to share our stories on doubt and faith in place of the sermon the Sunday after Christmas. Doubt was easy for me. Faith was harder, but “Yes,” I told the minister. “I would love to share my story.”

I often felt faint with all of the standing and sitting during a church service, so on that Sunday I did not stand to sing the hymns. I stayed seated on the pew’s golden cushion until it was my turn to speak. While I waited, I held the pages of my words tight, crinkling the paper. When I stood to deliver my piece, I saw purple rings in the darkness and heard the high tone in my ears that usually told me to sit down. I tasted metal. Right then, however, I was to speak to 400 waiting Baptists. This was not a convenient time to sit, so I walked up the five steps to the podium.

I took a deep breath, hoping my head would clear. I knew my mom was in the choir loft, dressed like a bluebird in that long blue gown under the church’s seven stained glass windows. (Christ was in the middle, as usual, wearing his crown and looking like a nice guy with that dove flying around him.) Dad sat in the congregation, in the third row, behind Ande’s parents, who held hands every week. (Thirty years later, I hear they still do.)

As I stepped into the pulpit and up to the microphone, I smoothed the papers in front of me and began reading the words I had written about doubt. I was a college senior who had declined marriage to a suitable boy. I was trying to come to terms with the nuclear arms race and life after college, so doubt was a familiar companion.

In my mini-sermon, I wondered about the three wise men after they left the baby Jesus. Where did they go and what did they do with their experience? I wondered if, like me, the wise men felt a little lost.

As I came to the close of this section on doubt and tried to move to the section on faith, my ears rang shrilly and my vision began to close in, like the darkness that closes Bugs Bunny cartoons. I saw my friend Heather’s mom, and I tried to focus on her and to continue my sermon without my notes, since I could no longer see them.

The ringing got louder; the sanctuary’s blues and purples swirled, and the darkness closed in. I don’t remember the rest. Mom says that I sighed deeply and rested my head on my hand for a moment. Then I fell.

When I returned to consciousness, I was lying on the floor, and my parents were beside me. The good reverend Siler was saying to the congregation, “She’s alright. She’s coming to.”

I was still pale and a little sick to my stomach, and I had twisted my right ankle when I fell and kicked my foot against the podium, so it hurt. Mom and Dad helped me to a seat by the podium, where I sat—a little embarrassed—throughout the rest of the service, and at the end of the service well-wishers formed a long line to tell me that they hoped I was okay. Only one woman said she wanted to hear the rest of the sermon, and I still appreciate her attentiveness to my struggle beneath my dramatic fall.

Though I saw a neurologist and had a CAT scan the following week, the tests detected nothing, so the brain tumor that was partly responsible for my blacking out was not discovered for another twenty years.

However, my tumor was not the only cause of that fall: I felt overwhelmed by doubt and faith and all they meant about who I was and who God was.

When I moved to Dallas after college, I tried seventeen different churches, but never found one that seemed right for me. I had not realized that my church was unusual and did not have the language to look for a church interested in social justice. Most of the churches seemed more like social gatherings than spiritual ones to me.

The church I returned to the most was a Unitarian church that met in a brown room, with a brown carpet and brown drapes. The lectern, not a pulpit, was brown, too. Though the thinking in this space was more compatible than in the other churches I visited, I missed ritual and stained glass windows. This church felt more like college than church to me, and so I finally gave up on church. I was no longer a church-goer, though I was still full of wonder about God and spirit and all that they meant.

During this time, I continued to follow the news on the church of my youth, which my parents still attended. The congregation tussled with questions of rightness, and then decided to ask the minister to perform a gay union ceremony. That was too far. The church was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention and is now an American Baptist Church.

The church’s struggle came after I was an adult and had moved away from Raleigh, and before I came out as a lesbian. The congregation’s thoughtful process, its minister’s wise leadership, and its conclusion that gay people live in God’s love just as straight people do, later helped me and my parents as we struggled with what it meant for me to be gay. I still say a prayer of gratitude for those adults of my youth, an older generation, who have stuck with the church and its vision of God’s radical love. (When I visited as an adult, my partner Ann and I went to the church together. The church had two ministers: a straight man whose intellectual sermons would make many more traditional church-goers cringe and a lesbian who, just by being both a woman and a gay person, may make many of those same folks cringe.)

Though I stopped attending church in Dallas, I continued to explore a spiritual life, and I began reading Buddhist texts. I did not understand the Baghavad Gita with its war metaphor, but Western texts influenced by Buddhism gave me new ways of thinking. I remember learning about the five-fold path to Truth, and loved the idea that there was more than one way. My favorite book in this time was Zen and the Art of Archery, a short book that challenged my thinking and not my reading skills. I also loved Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood, and especially her chapter called “The Present,” which introduced me to the idea of being in the moment rather than in the past or the future or in my analytical brain. How interesting that such a common sense notion would seem so radical to me.

I taught a poetry course at the high school in Dallas, and I learned along with my students to love the poetry that we read together. In particular, the poets John Donne, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickenson took me into new realms of language and self-discovery.

I married a man in Dallas. On Sunday mornings, we did not go to church: we watched “The News Hour with David Brinkley.” We moved to Seattle. Then we divorced, and I came out, first to myself and then to my world. My world spun.

At last, my world came to rights: up seemed up, and down seemed down as I came to know myself as a lesbian. I learned to still myself and to listen to silence in yoga, stretching into a new life.

When I felt ready to try church again, my partner Ann joined me in the search, and we found a small United Methodist Church eager to embrace us a couple.

God no longer seemed so confusing, and church became a place of healing. A decade into our membership, the community supported us when I had one brain tumor and then a few years later a second one. A few years later, Ann and I would participate in a mass wedding, where gay and lesbian couples who had had ceremonies married in unions recognized by our state and, not too long afterward, by our nation.

My forties were fraught with health issues: two brain tumors, the swine flu, food allergies that caused me to lose forty pounds, pneumonia, and a car accident that might have killed me but only bruised my thigh a little.

Before neurosurgery, I wrote a will and power of attorney. I signed organ donor forms. I faced the possibility of my own death, which felt especially real to me after surgery when I started hallucinating and once thought I was in the crematorium.

I was not afraid of death, though I was sad at the thought of dying just yet. I felt deep gratitude for my new life even as I mourned the loss of my life as an athlete, a backroads’ adverturer, and a teacher. I did not swirl, and I thought that I had found a solid place in my faith where I would always know up from down.

Then this fall, I participated in a simulation of loss in death, and in imagining a story being told that was much like my own, I began to swirl again. If you have been reading this blog, you know about my months of intense grief.

I don’t know if I finally settled because of time’s healing salve, a ritual that my therapist recommended, or some combination of those two things and others that I cannot name. Right now, I am reading Phillip Levine’s Waking the Tiger, and in it he describes the body’s experience in trauma and theorizes that, though in surgery we may be under anesthetic, our bodies still experience trauma and must release the energy pent up when we were in danger. Perhaps all that whirling was a part of my healing.

Whatever the reason, I feel grounded again. I know that my sense of God is not conventional, just as it was not conventional when I was a child. I believe that I do not know what God is, just as I do not know what death is. I believe it was the poet Rumi who said, “Do not confuse the finger pointing at the moon with the moon.” To me, this means not to confuse the word God with the reality of God. I believe that there are many names for God and that there have been men and women throughout history, in different traditions, who were unusually close to God. I believe that there is some elemental energy in the universe that Christians may call God or The Holy Spirit, and I believe that in prayer, in breath, and in meditation I connect with that spirit.

With the poet Max Ehrmann, I believe that whether or not it is clear to me, the universe is unfolding as it should: ”With all its drudgery, sham, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. “

I am okay with this partial knowing. I sit and breathe, and I am grounded. Like the lilies of the field, I neither toil nor spin. For now.

This is my story. It is an ongoing story.