A Photograph of me without me in it

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

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Still Asking Questions

Monday morning, my partner Ann and I returned to Seattle from Black Mountain, NC, where I attended The National Poetry Therapy Conference, and she hiked. I had known very little about poetry therapy when I signed up: a year ago my college friend Susan sent me a one-page article about poetry therapy, so I had looked up the organization and discovered the conference. I knew that I loved poetry and was planning to go into therapy with people with life-changing health conditions, so I figured poetry therapy would be a good thing to learn about. It was.
Attending The National Poetry Therapy Conference was much like our recent trip to Cuba: I have more questions as I leave, but they are better questions than I came with. (Our Cuba guide Yeraldine told us to expect this at the beginning of our trip to Cuba, but perhaps this is true in any learning experience. If I were still a high school Language Arts teacher, I would include Yeraldine’s wisdom with another admonition that I used to post on the wall for the first day of class…and all year long: “Do the right thing even if no one is watching.” I would now add: “You will come in with questions. You will leave with more questions, but they will be smarter questions.”)
Before I went to both Cuba and the poetry conference, I expected to be enraptured, so my questions were about how: In Cuba, my big question was, “How do we change the American society so that we have no homeless people?” I came home with that question rather than having it answered, but the question became more nuanced. More aware of the economic shortcomings of the Cuban system, I began to wonder, “How can we have more equity in our economic system and still have a hearty economy?”
My questions after the poetry therapy conference also became deeper, informed by what I had learned. I went to the conference with one essential question: “What is poetry therapy and how do I do it?” After the conference, on the plane from Charlotte, NC, to Seattle, WA, Monday morning, I read a book that I had seen on two presenters’ bibliographies, Transformative Language Arts in Action, and I am leaving the conference and the book with a more informed question: “What is the purpose of reading and writing poetry, and how do I stay true to that purpose as I use it in healing?”
In my first session, a pre-conference session called “Journals Quick and Easy,” facilitator Kay Adams invited us to respond to six increasingly complex journal prompts she uses with clients. In response to one prompt, I wrote:
My arm hurts. Not a lot. Just a little. But today I feel tired of this tennis elbow. Today I feel tired in general. I feel impatient with myself and my limitations. I am tired of this fatigue that leads me to skim over directions, to prepare partially, to be part of the way in my life. I want to be here wholly. All the time. But I’m not. I know that’s not new to my post-brain tumor life. I know that I’ve never been consistently wholly present. I’ve always rushed and tried to do more than I can do. I have been more present since I’ve slowed down after my brain tumors forced me to, and that’s been a gift. But what if there are things I want to do that if I’m going to do them I’m going to have to overdo it? Cuba…this conference… Do I just decide not to do things that are hard? What about that?

This writing moved me so quickly to asking a hard question, so hard that I often look at it on the periphery but do not look at it straight on. I know that I will keep trying to do things that are hard if they feel life-giving to me, but I do wonder if—as my 95 year-old neighbor Annabella often tells me—I am overdoing it: more aware than I was before surgery but still participating in this form of contemporary violence, as Thomas Merton described it:

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence.
To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is to succumb to violence.
The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace, because it kills the root of the inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
The writing gave me this moment to ask myself a question I generally prefer to avoid as I set out to prove to myself and others how much I can still do. The question doesn’t neutralize my activism. Perhaps it re-grounds me in peace.
         Throughout the conference, leaders offered prompts that deepened my thinking about healing. I often wished that I had experienced this conference when I was still teaching high school. Saturday morning, for example, I participated in Nancy Scherlong’s Session on Wellness Metaphors. Early in the session, Nancy used the term “post-traumatic learning,” a play on post-traumatic stress and one that I could identify with. Nancy invited us into many strategies that she uses. I especially appreciated a time when she posted seven quotations on the wall and invited each of us to read them. We were to stand with a quotation that resonated with us. No quotation could have fewer than two people or more than four, so there was some negotiation before each of us stood in a group by our quotation and talked about the quotation together.
         Several quotations tempted me, such as Rumi’s

If Light is in your heart,
you will find your way Home.

And Eleanor Roosevelt’s, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

In the end I stood with two other women who chose a poem from the Japanese poet Masahide, a poem I have loved since my friend Ellen sent it to me long ago:

Barn burned down.
Now I can see the moon.

After the activity, I wrote, “The structures of my world went away, burned completely down, with radiation. And what a surprising gift that has been. Now I see—and live—differently.”

This wasn’t Pollyanna speaking. This was true, another element of my life since brain tumors and no less real than the doubts. I could have spent the whole weekend with Nancy and learned more that helped me and would help others.
         I found three other sessions particularly powerful. The three were sample beginning, middle and ends of a poetry therapy group. Like in the other sessions, my deepest learning was about myself, and the structures helped me imagine leading groups like this. We met the first two mornings at 7 am (4 am Seattle time—uggh—The last morning we met at 9 am, still early—6 am Seattle time—still early but closer to humane.) A group of sixteen people met together in a large group and then divided into two smaller groups, each with a facilitator.
         On the first day, my favorite, we read together George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m From,” a poem that I used in my high school English classes after discovering it in one of Linda Christenson’s books. In this group, we all talked about where we are from, and a few people cried as they noted the difficulty of separation from that place. The depth of the sharing helped us grow amazingly quickly together: I had found this effect with high school students, too, but I was surprised by the effect on this diverse group of grown-up professionals from various American regions and England.
         On the flight home this morning, I read the book, Transformative Language Arts in Action. Some of the chapters weren’t helpful to me, like chapters on the brain effects of storytelling (I’m already a believer), and chapters on the “how to’s” of this kind of group. (They felt like beginning teacher pedagogical tips that probably would have been more helpful if I hadn’t worked in secondary education for 27 years.)
         There were, however, pieces and lines that spoke to me. One line, quoted in Ruth Farmer and Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s introduction, was from Paulo Friere, an educator and philosopher whose writing is often too abstruse for me to follow. Friere wrote,  “To speak a true word is to transform the world.” As one who witnesses the power of previously unspoken truths in my own life—hinted at in the shadows, in the periphery of my awareness—but brought into the light of awareness thirty (I am a lesbian) or forty-three (I have a big nasty brain tumor), years into living, I believe in the healing, even the revolutionary power of the spoken truth. Perhaps, I begin to think, working with others in healing and in truth will be my contribution to creating a better world.
         In another piece, in a snapshot of the poet and writer Seema Reza, who worked at the time of publication with veterans in Bathesda, Maryland, Reza writes, “I began a search for new answers, and in my search I have come to accept the search itself as a way of life.” This brings me back to Yeraldine’s comment, which I quoted at the beginning: “You will come in with questions. You will leave with more questions, but they will be smarter questions.” I though, at the beginning of this writing, that such a truth informs all educational experiences. Now I am thinking that my greatest educational experience includes classrooms but is not limited to them: it is my life. Perhaps Reza leads me not to an answer but to embrace a way of living as a search, perhaps not for answers but for more nuanced questions.
         So what did I learn at the National Poetry Therapy Conference? A lot, though I’m not sure exactly what. I learned something about what poetry therapy is and how a person might do it, but my most profound learning went much deeper as I deepened a question that I have had for as long as I can remember: “Who am I, and how will I serve?”
         I still don’t know, but I suspect that poetry and community-building and seeking for kindness for all people and asking questions will continue to be part of my life.
         As I do so often, I return to the poet Mary Oliver:
Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?
Perhaps, Mary, I will just keep asking questions and breathe the beauty in asking.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Last Friday morning, a card waited at my breakfast place. On the envelope was Ann’s unmistakable script: “Sweet Mary.” That’s what she calls me. The card announced “Another Year of ‘Damn! I’m lucky.’”  At the bottom, she had written, “So true.”

It was the perfect card for marking the twentieth anniversary of our decision to move in together, which included each of us committing to living together so long as we could be true to ourselves and to each other and me writing everyone I knew—my immediate family on one day and other friends and family two days later—coming out to all of them.

Our most common comment to one another through the years has been about how lucky we feel to have found one another, to have found someone who understands and loves us like we never imagined anyone else could. Indeed, our nightly dinner blessing is, “O God, remind me that all of life is grace. Let me respond in gratitude.”

In the beginning, it seemed that rough waters lay ahead. Having divorced my husband and become aware that I had allowed myself to misunderstand myself in such a fundamental way for so many years, I was depressed. To add to that frustration of not having known myself, the superintendent in the district where I taught was harassing me, threatening to take my job and my career. (Fortunately for me, not for his wife, the superintendent was already under investigation for harassing his lover’s husband. There was a restraining order because his lover’s children were in district schools, so he was not allowed to enter some of the schools in the district he was responsible for leading. Great guy. Before long, he was found guilty in court of harassing his lover’s husband, and the district bought out his contract, so he left before I did, though he left with a chunk of cash. I stayed in the district four more years more just to show that I wouldn’t be intimidated.)

Ann and I traveled down the west coast to Monterrey, California, our first summer. We drove her Dodge Caravan and camped along the way, visiting coastal parks on the way down and interior national parks on the way back north. At the end of the three week trip, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon, where we stayed with our friends Joe and Stephanie. I remember feeling filthy from the weeks of camping when I stepped out of the van and into a very white house: white carpet, white bedspread, white towels. In the shower, there was a wall vase with a single flower. I felt too dirty even to get in the shower. (I did anyway. I think it was the best shower I ever took.)

On the way down the coast, we hiked along a grassy bluff over bright blue waters one sunny day, and during the hike, Ann asked me, “Why aren’t you talking to me?”

I was shocked. The voices of rebuke and arguments in my own defense were such a loud jumble in my mind that I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t talking. We committed on that trip to talk to one another about whatever was on our minds, and for years we had “Saturday morning talks,” where we lazed in bed on Saturday mornings, reviewed the week, and talked about what was going on in our hearts.

The ritual established the habit of talking with one another, a habit that has undergirded our relationship through these decades. I had been so quiet for so long, locked in a closet that I had willingly, though unconsciously, climbed into, that this learning to know what was in my heart and to speak it aloud has been fundamental not only to our relationship but also to my mental health. How strange that some people think we need to be cured from the essence of who we are. As Shug said to Celie in The Color Purple, “God don’t make no junk.” With Ann, I have over the years come to trust that I am God’s child, made perfectly as I am.

Sometimes people say to us, “I know that a lasting relationship takes a lot of work.” We have talked about this, and agree that there’s been surprising ease all along. Though the relationship hasn’t been a struggle, we’ve certainly had our struggles, two of which were my brain tumors and all that accompanied them: neurosurgery, hallucinations, learning to walk again, a second tumor, radiation, the swine flu, food allergies, pneumonia, double vision, a car accident, a pendulum swing of plus and minus forty pounds… a new sense of vulnerability.

Our lives have changed over these decades. In many ways, life seems so much simpler now that it was in the beginning. We therefore celebrated the day simply, seeing the movie Selma and having pizza and local beer for dinner.

(Celebrating the decades was more elaborate, with a two-week trip to Cuba.)

Many cultural attitudes towards us and laws concerning our relationship have also changed. (If you have been part of this movement, either publicly or in your own heart, I thank you.) We now celebrate three anniversaries: this, our first; the anniversary of our commitment ceremony in church six years ago; and our state sanctioned marriage two years ago.

Though my tumors have brought gifts—slowing down, an awareness of mortality and an appreciation for the grace that is life—neither of us sees the tumors as lucky. We both agree, however, that it’s lucky that I got the tumors and the disabilities instead of Ann. Ann’s better at taking care of me and of business than I would have been: she does all of the cooking and shopping, all of the gardening, and oversees our finances. We agree that I am more patient with my limitations than she would have been. Of course, I miss hiking and biking and teaching, but slowing down and not working have given me time to pursue my own writing, something I didn’t have much time or energy for when I was teaching and grading all those papers. Besides, napping is in my genes. Looking out for the food pyramid is Ann’s genetic heritage.

We live now with a daily awareness that we are lucky, that all of life is grace. And we respond in gratitude for the abundance of our lives.

Yep. I’m lucky.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fantasy Island

Before our recent trip to Cuba, I had a fairly idealized image of the Socialist Island nation. I imagined that there would be no homeless people (there weren't) and few if any class differences like we see in the states. I imagined that all people would have health care (they do, but it's more complicated than that) and that everyone would have meaningful work (everyone has work, but not everyone has meaningful work.) I imagined the quaintness of all those old American cars on the roads. (They were there, but these cars were hobbies, too, often taxis for tourists. There were newer cars and buses--especially tourist buses--and old square Russian cars along with the grander old American ones.)

My Cuba education started in Little Havana, in Miami, the day before flying to Cuba. A group of us was on a city tour and had stopped in Little Havana for Cuban coffee. I was the slowest one of the group, so Ann and I were the last to leave the coffee shop window. As we started to walk away, a man in his sixties (I would guess), ran out of the shop, and--red-faced and sweating--screamed at us, "Are you going to  Cuba?" I said that we were, and he screamed, "I hope your boat sinks, and you all die." I thought about mentioning that we would be taking an airplane, not a boat, but thought better of it. Of course, our mode of transportation was beside the point.

I had known before our trip that many Miami Cubans hate Castro for capturing their wealth and taking over their homeland and their way of life. Before going, I thought perhaps their involuntary sacrifices were necessary and insignificant in light of a more just society. This red-faced man humanized their losses for me, and although he had wished me dead, I was glad he didn't have a heart attack.

Before our flight to Cuba, the 24 of us on the Road Scholar educational tour met our Miami guide. We would meet our Cuban guide in Cuba. Both were extraordinary people and guides. Our Miami guide told us, "You are going to Cuba with questions, and you will return with more questions than you came with, but these questions will be smarter." I think she was right.

I found much that was compelling in our two weeks traveling from Santiago de Cuba in eastern Cuba to Havana, about 90 miles from Miami: indeed, I did not see one homeless person in those two weeks, I met many artists whose work the culture honored; the people I met seemed to embrace the Revolution's values of equality. 

But much seemed broken in Cuba, and this surprised me. For starters, in addition to the Cuban flag there are memorials to war everywhere. Of course, I already knew that the Cuban hero Che Guevara was a fighter. (I had read an extensive biography about him years ago when his image was appearing on so many t-shirts, and I wondered if he might be my hero, too. I'm a peacenik, so he isn't, and I've never worn his likeness.) There were endless cannons and fortresses, endless buildings still pockmarked with holes from the Revolution's gunfire. 

There were also statues everywhere of Jose Marti, another Cuban hero but of the War of Independence from Spain in the late 1800s. Marti was an intellectual and a writer (even a poet!), and I had first learned about him as an inspiration for freedom in El Salvador. I find more to celebrate in Marti than in Che, and his story feels more complicated to me. When, if ever, is violence the right response to injustice? I don't know. My friendships with people in rural El Salvador have raised this question, too, and this question remains with me as I reflect on my Cuba experience now. 

In addition to being pockmarked, many of the buildings, like the infrastructure, are crumbling. (We learned from an architect that an average of three buildings a day collapse in Havana. Sometimes they've been abandoned, and sometimes people are in them.) There was the "Special Period," the decade of the 1990s after the Soviet Union's collapse, when people were so hungry that pets--presumably eaten in desperation--started disappearing from households. 

The narrow sidewalks were impossible for Ann to help me navigate with my disabilities, and I asked some "lively elders" how they get around. Graciela burst into a litany of falls and pointed to bruises and cuts on her right elbow, left shoulder, and right cheekbone: a recorded history of broken sidewalks and unmarked drop-offs. (Though other than the fact that the sidewalks were narrow with a steep drop off, they were in better shape than Seattle's sidewalks.) 

I remember seeing two curb cuts, both in Havana, the whole time I was in Cuba, and several times I went on my rear down long uneven staircases without railings . (Fortunately, pride about such things isn't a big issue for me.) Cuba is no place for people with disabilities, though of course there are lots of people with disabilities there. When I asked where they were, I was told that maybe they "prefer" to stay indoors. I'm guessing they don't really have a choice.

My biggest surprise was probably in the differences in socio-economic classes. I had guessed that I would see little differences, and though it's true that many people were living frugally--to be euphemistic--it was clear that people--generally with light skin, who received remittances from relatives in the United States were doing better financially and had more options than those without U.S. relatives. The color difference surprised me: like in the U.S., people of African decent in Cuba have a rougher time economically than those of European decent. People with connections, most of them light-skinned, have a higher likelihood of benefitting from Raul Castro's more open economic system than their darker country men and women. Though everyone has health care, people with connections are more likely to see the specialists they need to see. 

So for me, reality has confronted fantasy on this Socialist Island. As Raul and Barrack shook hands at The Summit of the Americas last week, I hope that Cuba and the U.S. will both gain from the connection, though I fear for Cuba's values, imperfect though they may be. Maybe we in the US could learn to eliminate homelessness and respect our artists. And maybe Cubans could live a more prosperous life with more choices. 

That would be ideal. Maybe that's just another fantasy. Only time will tell, I suppose. 

I'm still hoping that guy in Little Havana is okay.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Life and Death in Cuba

Monday night, Ann and I returned from two weeks in Cuba, a place we have both wanted to visit for a long time but had supposed might be off-limits to me since my neurosurgery and disabilities. With this trip, we celebrated our twenty year anniversary of committing to live our lives together so long as we could both live in truth to who we are. (Well, we opened our present early: April 17 will be the actual date.) 

It's been an amazing--and sometimes intense (i.e. the brain tumors)--twenty years, and the trip was amazing and intense, too. This was just our second international journey since my neurosurgery eight years ago. On our first trip, we went to Puerto Escondido in Oaxaca, Mexico, with a group of good friends who understand my disabilities. (Susan actually revels in my need for naps and adopts them as her own). This group helped support me and gave Ann a break from time to time, so that she could go for a fast walk along the beach while I napped in a hammock. (Susan was in another hammock.) That's a win-win-win.

This time we went to Cuba with 22 strangers from across the country, part of a Road Scholar trip. (I highly recommend them.) Like Blanche du Bois in Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire, I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers. In this vulnerability, strangers often become friends, as happened along the ride from Santiago de Cuba in the East to Havanna, further west. 

The trip was intense in terms of what we saw and learned about Cuba and in terms of the group's connections with one another. 

On the flight from Seattle to Miami, I began reading Atul Gawande's book Being Mortal. I would have read more of Road Scholar's recommendation, Everything You Need to Know about Cuba, because at that point I'd only read half of what I needed to know, but Ann was reading about Russian cooking on her Kindle where Everything I Needed to Know was, so I went to a book that I keep hearing people talk about. As it turned out, Being Mortal set the stage for our Cuba journey.

The book's subtitle is Medicine and What Matters in the End, but I think Gawande could have left it at Medicine and What Matters. In the beginning, Gawande reviews the history of aging and the unnaturalness of so many people living to be so old as we do now in the United States. (One statistic that sticks with me is that in Ancient Rome, the average life spanned 28 years.)

Having noted our unnatural tendency to live long lives in the industrialized 21st century, Gawande describes the ways we do not care for people who are aging. The medical paradigm, he says, is to cure, not necessarily to improve, a person's lot who is on a predictably downward trajectory.

So here I was traveling in a developing country with 23 others on a predictably downward trajectory. (My friends Marcia and Terry would have dubbed this trip "the upside of downhill.") Gawande's observations about cultural attitudes towards those who are aging resonated with me as a person who has disabilities that will not be cured. Gawande writes, "It seems we've succumbed to a belief that, once you lose your physical independence, a life of freedom and worth is simply not possible." He implies of course that a life of worth is still important, and I embrace his idea.

I argue daily against this cultural assumption that life on the downward trajectory is not worth much: I argue in this blog and in the way I live my life that my life is still worthwhile. In this insistence, some of the quotations from older people resonated with me. One said, "I want to be helpful, play a role." Yep, that's me. In describing another, Gawande says, "She expected more from life than safety." This conjured for me the the film, The Right to Risk, and again I thought, "Yep, that's me. And here I am going to Cuba. I've done my research, and this isn't a frivolous risk, but I am taking a chance on coming to a place where there are few curb cuts or handrails (or--as it turned out--toilet seats.)" This right to take a risk is part of life's meaning: the right to live for meaning as Thoreau articulated it so beautifully at the beginning of Walden

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.

Replace "woods" with Cuba, and there you have my story, perhaps the story of each of us on this journey: I went to Cuba because I wished to live deliberately…fully…joyfully--not that Cuba is the only place I want to live in this way, but this is the spirit in which I want to live my life. 

To cite another source in order to put it a different way (and as an excuse to share another writer on this topic), in Breakfast with Buddha, Buddha responds to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" by saying, "The point of life is life" (Thanks, Sue!). He does not say, "The point of life is to keep on living." There's an important difference. 

So here were 24 of us on the upside of downhill, me the youngest at 51, and most others I'd guess in their 60s and 70s. We soon learned about one another that we had lived enough of life to be hurt by it: me with my disabilities, one woman traveling for the first time after her husband's sudden death, another confiding in me that she was a breast cancer survivor, another celebrated the life of a friend who had planned to take this journey with us but had passed a couple of weeks before, each of us with untold stories.

And on the journey we would meet others whose stories we only glimpsed: two friends of friends that Ann and I had dinner with were struggling with early diagnosis and health problems; also, we Road Scholars met with a "lively group of seniors," and over lunch I asked how people who are aging manage to get around the city with its narrow walkways and uneven terrain. Graciela, a woman I grew quickly fond of, rattled off a litany of bruises from her many falls. 

On our third night in Cuba, the Road Scholar Anitra came to sit by me during dinner. Anitra was funny and intense in that New-Yorker-grabs-life-by-the-throat (or wherever) kind of way, and she seemed to connect intensely with me, though I didn't know why. (This has happened to me from time to time since neurosurgery. Perhaps these intense connections are another aspect of the upside of downhill.) 

Anitra and I shared parts of our stories--my brain tumors and her breast cancer--until it was time to go. The conversation wasn't at all depressing. Such conversations never are. Those of us who have had serious health conditions understand one another in ways that others don't. We are peeps. Maybe it's like a secret society. There is grace in the connection, the feeling that someone understands me in an important way that I cannot articulate.

On the fourth day, we Road Scholars were visiting something old, and Ann and I had gone to the bathroom before touring. Going to the bathroom in Cuba is not a quick and easy pit stop: there's paying the Cuban quarters to the woman at the door who would hand us each two squares of toilet paper, the fishing around in my backpack for more soft paper, perching precariously on the toilet bowl sans seat, maneuvering the used paper into a can, not losing or dropping my cane, washing hands with soap or using hand sanitizer, and watching for all the uneven steps, big and small. 

As Ann and I emerged from the bathroom, Anitra--who had been behind us--came out laughing hilariously. "I dropped my sunglasses in the toilet!" she hee-hawed, and held up her dropped glasses. 

This would be the last time I would see Anitra. Later that day, she stayed back from the group because she wasn't feeling well. There she suffered a stroke and was taken to a hospital for emergency surgery that didn't go as hoped. Our guides were clearly shaken as they told us her prognosis. She would never wake again, and when Ann and I traveled home, our first email would be a link to Anitra's obituary.

Our guides was clearly upset--maybe even angry--that Anitra had taken such a chance on her life by traveling in this developing country, but in the end, one guide gave a lovely eulogy: "Anitra was an audacious woman. ['Audacious' was part of a group vocabulary and had none of its sometimes negative tint. It simply meant that one was sucking the marrow out of life.] Our guide continued: "She lived her life fully to the end."

As I finished reading Being Mortal on the long plane ride home, I continued to think of Anitra. Gawande writes, "For human beings, life is meaningful because it's a story. A story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, the ones where something happens." For Anitra, it seemed that something was always happening, and that's because she seemed to live her life that way. For me, Anitra is now part of my story. 

The end of Anitra's story is especially important to me. As Gawande writes, "Endings matter, not just for the person but, perhaps even more, for the ones left behind."

In the wake of my brain tumors and in this life with disabilities, I am determined to continue living a life that matters. I am even more determined to live every moment fully than I was before I experienced my own vulnerability. 

In this way of living and dying, Anitra has been a guide who has gone before. I don't know the way once the dark comes, but I am not afraid of it. I am more wary of not living than I am of dying. 

I continue to see Anitra as my mentor, like my guardian angel (with a lively sense of humor). From her and from the whole trip, I gained so much more than I expected in Cuba. 

For me, this is how life goes: gift after gift after surprising gift.