Respect in Purple and Gray

image:communitycaringcouncil

image:communitycaringcouncil

We had an appointment at the DMV today to get Mother an ID card.  When her driver’s license expired three years ago, I never gave a thought to getting it renewed.  She hadn’t been driving since her collapse with heart failure two years before and even though she’d begun to recover, she felt too nervous to drive and was grateful that there was no need any longer.

I could do all the driving, which was fine by me.  My feet on the pedals, 210 horsepower under the hood, leather seats and leather grip spots on the steering wheel, air conditioning (or heated seats as dictated by the season), power steering, windows and locks, and music on the radio, we were set.  Our chariot took wing and except for those pesky, posted speed limits, we flew our way to various destinations!

Ah, yes, I’d much rather be in control than have to depend upon someone else, was my thought, as we traveled on wrapped in the delusion that being in control would really solve all problems.  Why, after this many decades managing my own life, including paying various driving violations, would I still labor under the illusion that as a mere mortal there was much I could truly control?

So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise a couple of gift weeks ago when we needed Mother’s signature notarized on her Trust Agreement that the Notary refused to use her stop expired license.  That was just plain irritating.  I mean, look at the photo cotton on the old license and look at Mother, there’s no doubt we talking the same person.

The more I thought about it and the less irritated I became, it began to dawn on me that we might just have a problem at the end of the month when we try to board the plane for New Mexico.  Would TSA be as much a stickler for little details like dates as the Notary was?  Wouldn’t put it past them.  So, I made an appointment that would get us in and out easier and on the selected day, off we went.

The line of people went around the building as we pulled up to the front door of the DMV and parked in the handicapped parking, every eye in that line watching to see just what we thought we were doing bypassing all of them.  Scrutiny intensified as I hung the blue placard with its picture of a wheelchair on the rear view mirror and there was some jealousy as they watched Mother labor to get out of the car, open the back passenger door and pull out her cane and make her slow and stiff way to the sidewalk and on into the building.  Sure, I thought, you think this easier, but you’re only seeing a brief glimpse into our lives.  Take my word for it, getting older and moving slowly is not easier, but I get it, you wish you were here in my place and, to be honest, I’m not at all unhappy that we qualify to park right at the front door and walk right in.

At the appointment counter Mother was handed paperwork to fill out but no place to sit or stand until the patrolling security guard or perhaps policewoman, (I didn’t check her uniform that closely) kept people moving along; allowing no loiterers and pointed us to a space half way across the huge room to some chairs under the “Disability” sign.

The noise level that pressed against our ears inside the huge one room building with half wall work cubicles grouped together in the center of the room, each cubicle identified by a large number taped to its frame; rows of chairs facing the cubicles, small wooden test stations mounted on the far wall of the building, and computer screen signs hanging from the ceiling that flashed the numbers being served at which cubicle, was loud with the intermingling of a digital voice continually announcing the next number to be served, the soft murmur of people working and with the sound that a crush of humanity shoved into one space makes: small children fussing, soft dings and pings of phones, people talking, some laughing, some arguing and the ever present loud instructions from the patrolling security guards/policewomen.

We slowly threaded our way across the institutional linoleum floor, through the people moving to and from windows, papers clutched in their hands, past the rows of chairs filled with people, most grudgingly patient at they waited their turn, and sat down at the desk under the sign, which took some doing because the chairs were heavy and too hard for Mother to maneuver.  Clearly, management had followed some California law requiring a space for the handicapped to be able to sit but the regulation hadn’t gone so far as to stipulate easily movable chairs, so whatever was on hand or had been purchased to match the décor when furniture was purchased at some point in the last ten years was stuck in the spot for the disabled.

It didn’t take long for me to read the questions to Mother and fill in the answers, which I could have done without reading them to her, but she might as well know what’s going on.  In case they ask her about “her” answers.

“Why isn’t anyone coming?  It doesn’t look like we’re going to get help sitting here.”  Mother said.

“The woman at the counter said to fill these out and come back.”  I said, getting up and helping Mother and we were back up and moving back across the room to the appointment counter where we were handed our number to wait in line.

I spotted an empty seat in a row near us and pointed Mother in that direction.  She didn’t want to sit between a middle-aged Hispanic man dressed for construction work or yard work and a pretty, late twenties, black woman in office attire.

“Move the chair here.”  Mother gestured to the spot where she stood in the path behind the chairs.

“I can’t, they’re all attached.”

She moved slowly around and sat down.  The young woman smiled at her and the man offered me his chair.

“Thanks.  I’m good.”  I smiled at him.

The young woman’s number was called and she was up and moving and I sat down.  Just in time as the patrolwoman was moving people out of the space where I’d just been standing.

Eventually our number was called and I went half way around the room to our numbered cubicle and told the young woman there that my elderly mother was coming.  I watched Mother slowly moving our way in her purple slacks, short sleeved silk blouse with its profusion of purple and pink flowers, small yellow dots at the center of each flower and trailing green leaves.  Her graying hair was combed perfectly and her purplish-pink lipstick matched her blouse.  People moved aside for her as she slowly threaded her way through the maze of people and cubicles.  Once she arrived, the woman behind the counter treated Mother with deference and gentleness, calling her “sweetie.”

We moved on from there all the way back around the maze of cubicles to stand in line to have Mother’s picture taken for her new ID.  The woman behind that counter called her “honey” and smiled softly at her.  When that was finished, Mother thanked her and turned away and I leaned around the front and thanked her as well.  The look on the woman’s face changed from soft and patient and kind that she’d used with Mother to all business with me.

“You’re welcome.”  She said.

We made our way slowly outside, Mother’s cane thunking down ahead of her, her steps a half slide, a half small lift of each foot, out the door, down the sidewalk, along the passenger side of the car, the cane stowed in the back seat and eventually, Mother collapsed into the front seat.

“I’m so glad we had an appointment.”  She said.  “What would we have done without one?”

“We’d still be in that line.”  I pointed to the end of the building where the last person in line waited on the sidewalk.

“It really wasn’t too bad, was it?”  She said.

“No, it really wasn’t.”  Especially since total strangers from every walk of life, every age and every style of dress, had treated Mother with respect.  Daily we hear and read news about stressed out people, random violence and planned terrorism, but there’s hope for us as a people, when the elderly are still respected and given patient regard.  And believe me, as I inhabit the same space as the elderly, I know how important it is to look outside myself and think about the need of that person who has aged beyond the vibrancy and strength of youth and is in the stage of pushing through, going on with life, even though life has become tough.  Today I saw some of the good in us as humans: and it was given to a small, elderly woman in purple with graying hair.

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To caf or decaf, that is the question…..

image:voice.yahoo

image:voice.yahoo

The house is quiet and still cool from the night air that gets trapped inside until the day starts to heat up.  Outside the window behind the desk, the birds in the backyard flit around singing in the sunshine while the breeze moves through the leaves on the apricot tree.  It’s peaceful and green and lovely.

And orderly, which is more than I can say for the office.  The desk is overflowing with paperwork for repairs on the house and loan papers to reduce the interest rate on one of my rentals; Writer’s Digest magazines that I’ve yet to read; a paperback LIFE OF PI that Sharon loaned me and that keeps getting buried on the desk; a folder with our travel plans for next month to have Daddy’s remains interred in New Mexico; minutes to transcribe from the last church business meeting, and the Trust document we just had notarized for Mother’s trust.  At least those are items that I can see. I’m sure there’s more buried.

Stacked on the floor are boxes and piles of things that I know will sell on ebay if I ever get them listed and since the house is ninety years old and electrical outlets are scarce, there are extension cords connected to surge protectors connected to other surge protectors connected to the power cords of the paper shredder, the laptop, the printer, the back-up storage, the modem, the WiFi router, the voip phone system, the dustbuster and a small fan; and the computer table is just as covered with stuff – mostly notes I’ve written or pages I’ve downloaded and printed, but all important information that I’m sure I’ll put it to good use once I actually dig through it all.

The room is bright in the morning and early afternoon with light from the double windows on two walls as well as from the open doors to both the dining room and the kitchen but it’s the colors of book bindings and dust covers on books on the shelves that cover every space not taken by doors and windows that always makes the room seem alive.  The trailing sound of classical music as it weaves around the shelves and bounces off the books and sings along with the birds outside normally soothes and caresses, but not today.

Today’s state of chaos in the room is a good reflection of my thoughts at the moment.  I have to decide how far I will go in making decisions about how Mother eats.  Where does my responsibility end and hers begin?  How do I balance respect for her wishes with doing what I believe is best for her?  Do I just let her do what she wants, even if it’s dangerous?  I know the potential for danger is there, but just as big a motivation is that the whole thing is disgusting and irritating.  But, is that reason to make choices for her?

Sounds at the other end of the house tells me that Mother has gotten out of bed and made her way slowly to the hall bathroom.  Then all is quiet once again and will be for an hour or more while she reads her Bible, writes in her diary and generally gets awake enough to get herself together at which point she will emerge from the bathroom, fully dressed, face and teeth washed and hair combed and sprayed.

Now’s the time; I have to decide.  If I’m going to do it, I need this hour’s window by myself to execute the next plan in getting Mother to fight GERD.  Not that she knows she fighting GERD and not that she wants to fight GERD. In fact, she’d rather just go on like she is, eating whatever strikes her fancy, then coughing, hiccuping  struggling to swallow when nothing wants to go down and hacking up saliva that her body makes as it tries to cleanse the esophagus.  She has a disgustingly horrible case of acid reflux disease, or GERD.

image:teavana

image:teavana

I move from the window to the kitchen and collect the tea tin where Mother stores the loose leaf tea she uses to brew a pitcher of sweetened tea, the two boxes of decaffeinated Tea Bags, the stainless steel tea pot and get myself settled at the desk in the office, the farthest room from the bathroom so she won’t hear me or happen to open the bathroom door and see me as I get all the decaffeinated Tea Bags opened up and into the tea tin.

We’ve been talking about decaf tea for days or weeks probably.  I thought I had bought some last week, but I had my ear bud in and was talking to Julienne, so wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing and it was after I’d left the store that I realized the tea I bought wasn’t decaf.

“Take it back.” Julienne said.

“I can’t. It’s loose leaf tea that you bag up in the bulk section of Sprouts health food store, so they won’t take it back, or at least If I worked there I wouldn’t accept anything back that the customer had bagged themselves.  Who knows?  I might be one of those crazies that taints the product with something dangerous and then tries to put it back on the store shelf.”

No, I’m just the crazy who is trying to help Mother deal with this serious case of GERD.  After all, people do aspirate in their sleep when it gets this bad.  And what about the embarrassment of eating out in a nice restaurant and suddenly nothing else she eats will go down and then the saliva starts and before we’re able to leave, most of what she’s eaten has come back up; all discretely into the restaurant’s napkin, of course.  In my book, when it’s that bad, something needs to change.

“I’m eighty-five and I’ll eat what I want!” is what she started out saying five months ago when her symptoms like a spotlight finally lit up the problem of GERD.

Even if what she eats is slowly making her life miserable.  It should be a no brainer, right?  You change your diet if you want to feel better, and sure, it’s a challenge at first to think about how to change what you eat and to find new items that will work, but once you do it, and get in the groove, it goes ok and becomes habit and you start to feel better and it’s all worth it.  At least that’s been my experience over the last thirty years of my life as I’ve had to adjust to various health issues.

I remember Mother being on a no sugar diet and a no fat diet years ago.  Starvation diet is what she called it.  She was about fifty and all of us kids were gone from home when she and Daddy moved to the California desert from the Reno area and had to find a new doctor.  The guy they found stopped the hormones she’d been on since her hysterectomy seven years before and didn’t seem the least bit concerned that she might still need them when she spiraled into a deep depression and her behavior became erratic.  Eventually her system evened out some, but it was years before another doctor gave her hormones and even then she said she cried every day for probably twenty years.  Now see, I don’t get that.  When I’m a wreck, I find the doctor who will help and I take the medications and supplements that get me functioning again.  Maybe that’s the difference in our generations.

Anyway, at that same time, her blood sugar was also out of whack and that doctor put her on a very strict diet.  She lost weight and I guess it helped with some of her other issues, but eventually she went back to eating what she called “normal”, all the butter, milk, salad dressing, ice cream and sugar she wanted and lots and lots of spicy hot foods, so that by the time I moved back into the house five plus years ago, not only was she having trouble getting food down because of the acid reflux, she’d had diarrhea for five years before that and the doctors couldn’t find the cause.  It’s a mystery to me why the doctors didn’t talk to her about diet and identify the GERD.

I had intended to replace the decaf tea for the regular loose leaf tea from the tin before she ran out of tea in the pitcher, but I was a day late and she’d already made a whole pitcher full before I discovered that none of the local stores carry bulk tea or loose leaf tea that is decaffeinated.  So here I was with two boxes of decaffeinated tea bags. It took the hour, but I made it.  The tin had been filled with Decaffeinated Tea, the brewed tea Mother’d made two days ago had been poured out, a fresh pot of decaf tea had been brewed and the pitcher was in the refrigerator to cool.

image:dreamstime

image:dreamstime

Mother emerged from the bathroom and made it to the kitchen where she fixed her breakfast of poached egg in butter, blueberry muffins with butter, and a glass of milk and took it all to the dining room.  I was still in the office, doing paperwork and searching online and writing a journal entry.  Soon she was coughing and hiccuping as she tried to eat and to take her vitamins and supplements I give her.  This is a regular occurrence and when I’m also at the dining room table I either comment or I raise my eyebrows at her.

“I don’t want to hear it.”  She says through the hiccuping and coughing and hacking.

I’ve said it so many times it should be burned on her eyelids when she closes her eyes.  Fats, spices, caffeine, citrus, red meat, tomatoes; they all aggravate the GERD. Cut them out and give the body a chance to heal.

But, she wasn’t willing to make any changes so we tried acid reflux medicine.  It didn’t take long and her digestive system was messed up again and the severe diarrhea, which we had finally overcome in the last year, was back with a vengeance.

I thought the cure should be her decision; one that she understood and accepted and embraced because she wanted to actually make it to bathroom without having to clean up herself and the floor; one that meant she could swallow food easily and wouldn’t have that choking feeling and the lump in her chest when the food gets stuck and won’t go any further.  One that meant she no longer had oceans of saliva building up in her mouth and throat because her body was trying to cleanse the esophagus.

But it seemed she alternated between not believing me to not caring, the logical reasoning of her elderly brain moving slower and slower each day just as she walked slower and slower with her footed cane.

So, one item at a time, I started changing what I bought, regardless of what she said and she was forced to switch to low fat milk and low fat butter and because I, too, had started having acid reflux by the time we’d figured out what was going on, she quit cooking with spices.  She was very gracious to do that for me, I know that, but as for herself, she wasn’t giving up anything else she wanted and she was angry at me with each change I made.  I had held out hope that as changes were made and she was still enjoying her food that she would see the benefit and would give up caffeine, but it became apparent that was a choice she was not going to make, so I decided I’d have to make the switch for her.

I can see now that for her, changes are monumental.  They’re hard and confusing and in her mind, unnecessary.  The funny thing is, when I hid all the butter (she never uses margarine) and gave her a buttery tasting butter substitute at 1/3 the fat, she couldn’t tell the difference and she now says 1% milk tastes good.  So, the salad dressing was next; her current favorite is Hidden Valley Ranch Style Creamy Dressing.  Yesterday I bought Hidden Valley Fat Free Ranch Style and she used it last night without comment.  My guess is, she will drink the decaf iced tea without comment.

I’ll tell her eventually that I’ve made another change and she’ll be mad for a while and then she’ll be ok with it all.  It’s a dilemma and I get confused knowing what things she should still be able to do and decide at eighty-five and which things I have to take control of and when I have to be the adult making the decisions.  It doesn’t help that it’s a changing target as she ages.

So here’s my hope and my request, God, that all this changing of what she eats and drinks will make a significant difference.  She’s had GERD for so long.  The doctors didn’t find it and it took me years of seeing it every day until I was so desperate that I pleaded for your help God, which was what led me to the computer with the list of symptoms and there it was: GERD.  I’m grateful for that answer, God.

But what I don’t know is, will just changing most of the foods that irritate the esophagus be enough to let it heal?  Perhaps that’s the point.  We don’t know; we can’t see all the solutions or the causes or the answers.  We have to trust.  You’re the Creator, so the real healing is up to you, God.

And if I’m honest, maybe I’m really asking if the fight is worth it.  Why stress us both out when I could make life easier by just leaving her alone?  I could take the easy road and let her do what she wants.  But is that true love?  Is that respecting my Mother?  Watching her suffer and knowing if she aggravates the condition, it could end her life and yet just ignoring it all?

Give me wisdom, God, to know when to take control, when to let go and the stamina to care enough to do the right thing.  And for Mother, give her ease and enjoyment of these years that are hard for her.  Take this fight between us and make it a battle we fight together.

Hardwoods and Hard Heads

image:depositphotos

image:depositphotos

I had about decided this floor was going to be the end of me.  Or, Mother was going to be the end of me because she was so frustrated with my efforts to deal with the floor as they only seemed to make life harder for her.

It didn’t seem that big a deal in the beginning.  I thought about all the steps for weeks and decided I had worked through all the issues and had a good and a not too difficult solution.  First, pack up all the knick-knacks and books and stuff that cover every surface and stack all the boxes in my bedroom.  Second, hire some teens from the church to rip up the thirty plus year’s old, red carpeting, hack up the underlying pad and cart it all out to the street where the garbage trucks would pick it up.  And third, clean up the dust and dirt and put down a layer or two of MinWax Refresher for wood floors and, voila, pretty, shiny hardwoods!  Granted, the floors are as old as the ninety year old house, so a little stained and marked up here and there, but hardwoods, after all, and that was worth the work it might take.  Right?

I talked to Mother about the plan for several weeks before it was time to put it in place.  She would need that amount of time to get adjusted as she does not like change or surprises.  She never has.  The only times I ever heard her and Daddy fight were when he brought some traveling minister or missionary home without giving Mother weeks of notice.  Her stress level went through the roof and his frustration went right with it.  Shouldn’t we be gracious and share what we have with others?  That was Daddy’s take.  Mother’s was, I am worn out and now I have to cook extra and make sure the house is clean and that I look my best and you’re just now telling me, while your guest is sitting in the other room?

For Daddy, giving of himself and his home was never about what it looked like or how someone was dressed.  It was about sharing his love of God with someone else who loved God and who needed a meal or a place to stay.  For Mother, routine and space and time were the things she needed to be prepared to let in the world.  I saw Daddy learn what it took to have peace at home and he didn’t bring people home after that.  It didn’t stop him from going where the people were, though, as he poured out his life in loving people who needed Jesus.  And Mother joined in willingly, in the routine of Sundays and Wednesday nights and the occasional extra meeting at church.  As long as she had notice ahead of time.

image:expodirect

image:expodirect

So, a change as big as pulling up the carpet and pad in a house she and Daddy bought nearly thirty years ago, red carpet included, was big.  Not that she liked the carpeting.  She frequently tells the story of how when they were house shopping and found this one, she hated the red carpeting and all the dark mahogany colored ten inch baseboards and wide window casings and door frames and open beams across the ceiling of the living room and dining room.  But she loved the big yard and the garden and the quiet neighborhood, so she finally said yes and their years of enjoyment and hard work began; and not once in all the years of seeing the red carpet expanse across the dining and living room, did she or I ever think of how the red carpet is rolled out for royalty or celebrities.  After all, this was a simple home, not a hot spot for important people and so the red carpeting seemed strange, not exotic, and was a color to be tolerated and a grateful warmth underfoot on cold nights.

Now, all this time later, as I take Daddy’s place in maintaining this life and this house, I look around and see the things that need attention and beyond the clutter and dust and cobwebs, I see the potential beauty of a 1930’s craftsman style interior to this little Spanish style house and I think, why not uncover all that beauty?  Why not let it shine?  Isn’t that worth the effort?

Of course, any project sounds easier that it actually is, particularly when you uncover a 4’ x 5’ section of the hardwoods under the dining room carpet that have been badly stained and are covered with some thick, hard, crusty layer of what appears to be carpet glue or underlying pad that got wet and ground into the floorboards.  The area rug I purchased didn’t cover it all and all the smaller rugs I tried didn’t work in the space, so the only thing left to do was to clean and re-stain that spot; much easier said than done, of course.  After lots of thought and research to determine the best plan, stripper was poured on, scraped off, the wood scoured, bleached, then vinegar added to stop the bleaching effect, wood soap to clean it all, then new stain, then MinWax finisher.  The stain was too dark so, once again, stripper was poured on, scraped off, scoured, and mopped, then a lighter stain.  Cherry wood stain.  Who knew the original floor stain was cherry?  I don’t even know what kind of wood the hardwoods are, but the Cherry stain comes closest to matching and, God willing, we’re on our last round of MinWax and then it will be done.  Whew!  This has been going on since last November when those kids showed up and made quick work of getting rid of the carpet and pad.  That part really did turn out to be the easiest.

I struggled with getting it right and getting it done.  The vision in my mind of a fresh, cozy palate of warm golden floors and tones of teal and light blue, beige and chocolate in the new area rugs and décor of the transformed living room pulling me on.  Mother struggled with feeling out of control, her familiar, comfortable world turned upside down, her path to the bathroom, kitchen and dining room all obstructed and difficult.  She erupted, more than once, with a fevered pitch to her voice as she demanded to know why I couldn’t wait until she was dead to change everything!  Why I thought it necessary to disrupt everything!

We’ve come to a new understanding of each other.  I understand now that just because she said ok to the changes, that didn’t mean she really wanted them done or understood why I thought they needed to happen.  And, I understand now that what I was really saying was that her style of life, her decorations were ugly and dated, which really meant I was disrespecting her.  I’ve apologized for that and she agreed we had to go forward; we’ve come too far to go back.  What she’s come to understand about me, I’m not sure, other than she’s had to remind herself that she’s grateful I’m here, because it means she continues to live in her own home.

We’re in that tug of war between the middle-aged and the elderly with a sometime energy and resolve and drive on my part to transform the space that surrounds me and a sometime energy and resolve and drive on Mother’s part to just keep on living through the pain and slowness and difficulty that is old age.  It is said, iron sharpens iron, and I find that to be true with Mother and me.  She’s a tough, old bird and I’m just as tough.  I don’t know that I knew that about either of us before, but now it’s as clear as that shine on the hardwood floors.  Neither of us will give up on making it through this journey.  Thank God for that because it means we’ll survive and be the better for it at the end.  And that end will be with hardwoods, not old red carpeting.

Trailing Clouds of Glory

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

image:google:fineartamerica-semmick

Health, smealth.  There’s always something, right?  You’d think I was getting older, know what I mean?  The simple things, like bending over just aren’t so simple any more, if you catch my drift.  Oh wait, that’s me drifting over to one side trying to get my foot inside my jeans.  And what’s with that third toe?  That little jolt, like an electric shock when my feet hit the floor in the morning?  Seriously, that toenail that always wants to be in-grown, it’s gone its wayward route and will need rescuing, again.

Rescuing billows of stamina and strength are what’s needed for my friends who wear the badge of diabetes and must be vigilant warriors against the onslaught of their own body’s attack.  They fight the battle against sugar as it masquerades, innocent looking; its luscious aromas wafting; its delirium inducing sugar hiding in bread and vegetables, not to mention candies, cakes, pies and donuts.  It’s a choice you have to make, if you have any ailment.

Do you want to feel look or do you want to eat that thing you think you can’t live without?  Green it’s worse that than.  It’s do you want to live by eating the right things bracelets or do you want to lose your toes to gangrene or your eyesight or…?  You pick the worst case, because when the body fails F it gets ugly.

image:google:btccgl

image:google:btccgl

Those years you felt invincible, those years you felt unstoppable, those years you craved excitement, those years have flown and left in their wake: reality.  The reality of lowered expectations; reality of acceptance of limitations; reality of gratefulness for any movement, any progress, any staunching of the drag of gravity that pulls, moment by moment, towards that dust to dust, towards that ashes to ashes.

On the other hand, if the media is to be believed, you don’t have to grow old, you can wave away those wrinkles, those brown spots, that double chin, those sagging jowls.  It only costs money.  And what’s money after all?  Can’t take it with you, right?  While that may make sense for the beautiful people, those stars and celebrities whose persona requires only the best and who have the money it takes to stay beautiful, what about the rest of us?  The common folk, the regular people, the average of us who aren’t living on the street by any means, but who have to budget and conserve for the future and can only splurge once in a while?  What about us?

image:google:makebeautysimple

image:google:make
beautysimple

Shouldn’t there be a beauty to the art of growing old gracefully?  I’ve seen that grace.  Think about Mother Theresa.  She gave her time, her energy, her life to help the less fortunate and the lines on her face were like a map of her devotion.  They grew heavier and deeper and spread until the whole surface was covered.

I saw that grace in my own father, who loved God first and that love spilled out into how he treated my Mother and his kids and grand kids and great and great-great-grand kids – all his progeny.  He wasn’t afraid to love us unconditionally and he kept on doing the right thing as he grew old and knew there would be a limit to what he could do and how long he would be here, yet, even as he accepted that old dried age and dying were a part of life, he never gave in either.  He counted calories and had a goal runner of where he wanted his weight to stay and up until late dark in his eighty-eighth year, he walked three miles a day, lugged the edger and lawn mower around the yard, climbed ladders and hefted power tools and saw weeded the garden.

image:google:nytimes

image:google:nytimes

What about me?  Will I choose to see the value of acceptance balanced against the task of staying fit and on the move?  I tell Mother that if she only sits and never moves, her bones will calcify, she’ll be stuck in one position.  Easy for me to say, but when I’m in pain as she is, will I keep moving?  How long will I buy the best wrinkle creams and do what it takes to keep my hair looking its best?

How can it be that my worth, my value, my importance are tied up in this world when it’s the soul that longs to soar and fly the heights of eternity, free of the shell of wrinkles and pain and limitations?  How can I not see that it is life, it is breath that is important and it is the real interior me that is destined for never dying?  Not this shell, not my hands with spots here and there and veins that stand up where once they were smooth; not the widows peaks under the hair I pull forward on my face to hide my receding hairline, and the spot above my right ear where the hair is not only turning white, it’s so thin I have to cut it just right to camouflage that increasingly bald spot; and not my funky endocrine system with its thyroid disease, its fatigued adrenals and malfunctioning hormones.  These don’t define who I am.  They will all fall away and my eyes will for once and ever clearly see the truth.

image:google-flickr

image:google-flickr

Then I will sing out in chorus with William Wordsworth:      “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: the soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar.  Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home.”

Siren Call

I’m transfixed by the sight.  They loom over me.  I want to reach out to them but I’m tiny and insignificant with arms too short to traverse the space between us.  They rise over the horizon tall and majestic, varied in hue and shape and size.  There’s an imperiousness to their grandeur and their heft.  They are immobile yet changeable with the shifting cloud’s caress.  Some reflect the dawn’s pale pallet and the end of day’s bright glare while others remain dense and stark, unfazed by any movement of light.

I envision hope and determination and purpose swirling around them not unlike multiple lanes of traffic crisscrossing over and under and around on elevated highway exchanges.  And I’m drawn to them, my spirit and soul pulled closer and closer, wanting to join in, to let the swirling wash over me until I am one with the flow.

My spirit rises with anticipation of their mystery and I feel alive just to be in their shadow.  They call to me with some indefinable promise of unknown adventures; unknown paths to take and challenges to be conquered.

When I see them at night, they confuse the senses.  Their shapes are both intensified and vaguely indefinite against the night’s backdrop.  A backdrop punctuated by neon, taillights, headlights, lamps on tall streetlight poles and the erratic checkerboard of interior lights left burning after the five p.m. exodus has left those tall structures empty.

My memory takes me back to the days I did touch them; the days I stood in their halls and breathed their air; the days I braved the frantic pace that engulfed them in life each morning and the weary escape that left them behind each evening.

I had been drawn in by their promise and it was a full life that took strength and verve if I wanted to scale their heights.  Eventually, though, it all became not much more than office politics.  I felt no further promise there and tired of the heights, I merely wanted to emerge whole.  I left those highrises behind and set out to discover the me I would be apart from them; apart from the siren call of big city living.

image:discoverlosangeles

image:discoverlosangeles

These days my life’s tasks generally take me speeding past those behemoths, those skyscrapers that appear to me to be like sentinels guarding the way.  But I never pass without thinking, I know how you feel, those of you who enter their domain daily; I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there, I’ve lived that life.  I know what it’s like.

The intervening years between then and now have taken me other places and on a different journey and while I wasn’t looking, time ebbed away and now there’s a part of me that feels incapable of scaling their heights once more.  That is, until I see them again and then the old flame ignites.  There’s life here, it signals to me.  There’s excitement and purpose here, it whispers in the rush of air flowing past my speeding car.

But I don’t detour.  I continue along the concrete path that winds past downtown and the business centers, past the shopping centers and the factories and industrial areas and off the freeway’s paved canyon into suburbia’s land of houses and gas stations, churches, schools and grocers on the corner.  Into the land that was my Father and Mother’s life; into the alley behind their house and into their garage and on into their house I go, closing the door behind me.  This is my life now and I determine to continue here, to engage in this journey, this challenge.  But down inside, the flame is still lit and its warmth reminds me that I can be in both worlds.  The choice is mine.  There will be time once this task with Mother ends.  There’s a journey still ahead.

“You made it safe?”  Mother calls from her island of sameness at the dining room table, surrounded by familiar things, some treasured and some worthless yet hoarded rather than tossed out.

“Yes, Mother.  I’m here.”

Sight Calling

dandelion sky

image:wallpapersforest

Mortar and pestle soothe in their tempo
Peace

leave angst for rest            call
the
tap
tap
tap

of the jiggle
Rough smoothed
scattered            Collected              fractured           Reduced
what’s left is revealed but dressed.         Wait – But naked?                Old             new
comes the realization and the breath
Flows
Until up ratchet the old man on old trails of old pains
Wait! I’ll not stay
t he spell is broken yet choices remain
A journey = continual spiral   up   DOWN   UP   down
Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies
the music floats
The spirit joins
DOWN up down UP and on and on and on in what seems
Re dundant
For the sight is short
Ah, how sweet is that?
The needed sight is beyond this sight.
The huge sight reaching, drawing, calling Yes, we can. Together

free in the full void

Discordant beauty stems swiftly buying trails Feathers brush hard knocks inside                                                                           lulling tiny feet closer to their sort of original disarray re minding lost hearts                                    lost souls                             lost grips Swinging once ethereal sank      drank    stank Oh, to be free Oh, to be me No, to be thee       […]

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Exercise those trite sayings…

image:chorltonrefurb

image:chorltonrefurb

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?  Yeah, but what’s a girl supposed to do when the stupid HVAC is wigging out?  Oh, yeah, they say it’s working  all right, but man, can you believe what they think is right?  I mean, come on, just because warm air finally comes out and eventually the house warms up, I mean, seriously, am I supposed to believe the thing is fixed?  What’s a fix anyway?  That thing that makes you feel good or at least makes you forget why you felt bad? 

Bad, smad.  It’s all relative, right?  I mean we’ve all got those relatives that make us crazy.  Pull your hair out time, because if you don’t do it first, they’ll sure do it for you.  And where does that get you?  Bald patches, that’s where.  Of course with bald patches, you might maybe feel the warm air more and then maybe you won’t feel cold.

So, anyway, like I was saying, if they think the way the heater’s working now is right, what happens when we switch to A/C?  Will the thing run non-stop but never do the job?  Oh sure, it’s easy for you people on the West Side where the temps don’t do much moving up or down.  Try living somewhere else.  Like further out the 10 freeway where you get to colder nights and hotter days.  Hey, no jive, I’m telling it like it is.  We’re out there in the desert.  Although, I must confess, not as far out in the desert as say, Palm Springs, or Needles.  Needles.  Now that’s hot.  Drove across the Mojave to the Painted Desert and Monument Valley in Arizona, and on to New Mexico.  110 degrees in the shade.  If I’m lying I’m dying.  Dying for an ice cream cone or a chocolate shake while trying to find some shade under the arms of a Saguaro Cactus.  That’s like trying to stay out of the rain under a scarecrow.  Ain’t gonna happen, my friend.

image:chumpysclipart

image:chumpysclipart

When Dad’s got the car running again and the four of us kids and Mom are back inside, roaring down HWY 66 at sixty miles an hour, the windows all rolled down to keep all of us from melting, now that’s a scene, everybody’s hair is standing on end and all arms are up at an angle, anything to dry out those pits, anything to keep one part of your body from touching another part of your body.  At least it’s dry air, right?  Thought that was nuts?  You ain’t seen nothing yet.  Just keep pointing that car east until you get to real heat.  ‘Cause ain’t nothing hot like good ol’ humidity.

If I’m lying, I’m dying.  Oh yeah, you think you’re dying.  Try breathing when it’s 95 degrees out and at least 90% humidity.  Might as well just forget taking a shower and putting on clean clothes.  Did you know Atlanta didn’t even become a serious city until the 1960’s when air conditioning became the thing to do?  They put A/C in all those offices and voila!  No more mid-day siestas.  What do you know, a banking center, a business center, an up and coming city bursts into life.

image:sodahead

image:sodahead

I mean, you’ve seen “Gone With the Wind”, right?  Why do you think those big old plantations had shutters on all the windows with heavy drapes and genteel ladies spent the heat of the day in their crinolines and wore out their delicate wrists moving their tiny fans back and forth.

You can dig it, right?  You gotta do what it takes to breath, man.  Gotta keep the outside looking good.  Keep the sweat dried off and the smiling face painted on.  I mean, who’s your daddy?  The one who takes care of you, right?  And who wants to take care of you when you’re looking all bedraggled and wilted?  Who’s gonna trust you as their Realtor when the A/C in your car dies and you have to excuse yourself to go dry off and put on the dry clothes on that you left hanging in the office, because you knew the things you’d worn from home would be totally ruined by the humidity by the time you got to the office?

But I digress; it’s the heater we’re talking about.  And hey, this is April.  Shouldn’t be too long and we won’t need the heater till next fall, right?  Ha!  You wish!  I’m not alone in this predicament.  There’s my 85-year-old mother who’s cold unless it’s at least 75 degrees inside the house.  And the absolute rub?  Live long enough in the same space as the elderly and your own body temp changes and what do you know?  You’re cold too, unless it’s 75 degrees inside.  Now that’s irritating, my friend.  Just plain irritating.  Know what I mean, jellybean?

and the “Bizarre Doctor Award” goes to….

image:silverdoctors

image:silverdoctors

Have you seen the British show “Doc Martin”?  It airs on public television and Mother and I watch it without fail, even though we’ve seen all five seasons several times.  We keep hoping that just maybe this Thursday night will be the night they’ll tell us when we can expect to see season six.  It’s set in rural England and is about a surgeon who because of his new aversion to blood becomes a general practitioner.  He’s uptight, tactless, socially challenged and doesn’t necessarily set out to torture his patients but he never fails to offend several people per episode.  While miraculously solving several health problems, of course.

It’s fun to watch the mayhem that occurs in the small town as the big city surgeon tries to fit his superior skills to the need of the local common folk.  And it’s harmless because we are the viewers are not affected by Doc Martin’s behavior.

What’s not as much fun are doctors in real life who are tactless or less than efficient or caring; or just plain bizarre.  I bet you’ve met one or two.  Am I right?

There was the ophthalmologist who tried to talk me out of contact lenses when I was twenty-seven and was fed up with glasses.  He was sure I was too old to make the change.  In the thirty-five years since, my contacts and I have been best friends.

How about the gynecologist who wanted to know if I was a nervous person?

“Only when I have to come here and put my feet up in stirrups.”  I answered.

Then there was the allergist who needed to draw some of my blood and the only way I could bare my arm was to pull my dress over my head because the sleeves were too tight to pull up my arm.  He went beet red in the face.  What was the big deal?  He was a doctor after all.  I wondered when I heard later than he committed suicide by jumping off a building what had really been going on inside his head.

image:bps-research-digest

image:bps-research-digest

And of course, the one that takes the cake (or at least is in the running for first prize) occurred on my first visit to a new gynecologist.  In the year or so prior to my visit I’d had a small patch of very painful shingles on the back of my upper thigh.  I got treatment and was told the scar would take a long time, if ever, to fade.  So there I was in the new doctor’s exam room, up on the table, and he has me lie back and put my feet in the stirrups.  I get in position and he and the nurse move to the end of the exam table and he says, LOUDLY, with shock in his voice,

“What is that?”

As I was younger in those days and had a brain that worked lightning fast, I immediately ran through all the possibilities of what he could possibly be seeing, as well as the idiocy of a medical professional asking a rude question at such a delicate time and decided to not panic or be rude back.

“You mean my shingles scar?”  I said.

Those are all harmless incidences that make good party stories but the ones that are not so funny are the ones that border on the incompetent.  Two of my favorite doctors who were taking good care of me decided to rearrange their practices and so I had to find a new endocrinologist to manage the challenges that I have with the triangle of health that is the endocrine system: thyroid, hormones and adrenals.  In balance with each other, they function wonderfully and I enjoy health.  Let one get out of balance and the whole triangle falls apart and misery ensues.

image:paulsjourneytolife

image:paulsjourneytolife

My new endocrinologist took one look at my medications (that had been working just fine for me) and kept saying,

“A normal person does not need all this medication.”

So, of course, he would only write prescriptions as he saw fit and did not take into account how the changes would affect that delicate balance that allowed me to enjoy life.  When my system crashed and I was distraught, his advice was that I seek out a counselor to help me with my mental and emotional issues.  I found help, all right.  From another medical professional who understood how to treat all my physical issues, not just one.

But the strangest doctor I’ve come across just might be the Urologist who treated Daddy for his prostate cancer.  The man never came closer than three feet to Daddy in the exam room.  He knew his stuff and gave responsible advice and care, but he asked me to help Daddy get on the table and to loosen his clothes.  He sent his nurse in to check Daddy’s catheter and on another visit, to remove the catheter.  The doctor never touched Daddy.  Never shook his hand.  Never came close to either of us physically.  Come to think of it, he fits the Doc Martin mold pretty well.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the Bizarre Doctor Award goes to….?   Which one would you choose?  Or, perhaps you have a better candidate?

Stretching Roots

I sit at the computer desk with its gauzy view out of the windows through the white sheers that hang there.  The world looks softer and maybe the sheers will hide all the tasks that need doing.  I can block them out and just think, and try to write.image:fiskars.org

Not that I can really forget them, because Mother keeps a list and she never forgets.  She forgets, at 85 that I did buy sugar and filled the large canister at the back of the counter.  In fact, when I got home from the writing workshop last night, she looked at me with that piercing look and said,

“I thought you were going to buy sugar?”

“I did.”  I said, “Remember, you stood right there when I filled the large canister?”

“Oh.”  That look of puzzled defiance she gets when she’s sure of something and I’m sure of just the opposite, “Well,” she said, “I used the sugar in the small Sugar canister.  I had to ration how much I put in the apples I cooked to put up in the freezer.”

The apples arrived on the front porch yesterday morning in a plastic grocery bag.  From one of the neighbors across the street?  Probably.  We take them some of our excess and they share their’s with us.

The cooked apples were still in the pan.  Sitting on top of the stove.  I taste them and say, “They’re perfect.  The ones you made last time were too sweet for me.”

image: justhungry.orgThat gets Mother out of her padded chair in the dining room, in front of the TV, and she heads for the kitchen.  Her footed cane is where she left in the kitchen.  She probably had something in both hands when she left the kitchen for the dining room.

I meet her halfway with the cane and she comes to taste the apples, too.  We agree they are delicious and I tell her that it’s nice living with someone who cooks these tasty things.

So, now she’s happy.  I’m back home and appreciating her hard labor.  And it is hard labor for her.  It’s hard for her to stand with her scoliosis and she tires easily.

But does she forget the things she wants done?  Of course not.  And that list just doesn’t ever seem to get any smaller.

Wash the windows.  Prune the grape vines.  Soak the vegetable garden.  Weed the vegetable garden.  Water the newly planted apple tree.  And why is that round spot in the back yard looking dead when everything else looks green?  Did you find some chives seeds?  Did you water that new flower that you planted?

And on, and on, and on.

She loved working in the gardens.  So did Daddy.  He did all the big tasks and even collected up the weeds she picked out of the gardens.  They took pride in their yard and loved growing fruits and vegetables and flowers.  With her curved back she really can’t do that anymore.  Oh, she tries and then is in pain and we head off to the chiropractor.

I never thought I’d be Farmer Dean.  Dirt on my hands?  No way.  But, I came back because they were both sick and when Daddy was dying, I told him I’d be here for Mother.  He always said he would live forever and bury all of us so it was hard on him to let go when Mother was still here.  But, I think he took comfort knowing I would be here.  I could see him relax at the end when I said I’d stay.

Of course, at that point I had no idea I’d take his place in doing the outside work, but Mother and her lists!  The only way to keep her somewhat mollified is to work on the items on the list.  And which is more important?  All the inside tasks or the outside tasks?  It’s the stress of juggling of all the things that have to fit into each day’s schedule that threatens to take me to the brink of losing it.

There’s a lot to do outside.  Grapefruit, peaches, nectarines, apricots, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, grapes.  All I can say, is, thank you, God, that the apricot tree is huge and getting old and the crop is far less than it was in the last thirty years that Mother and Daddy picked and froze and canned and gave away and ate until they thought they might pop.  image: google images

A small crop from any of the trees or grapevines or the vegetable garden is just fine with me, because I get to do all the heavy lifting; which actually isn’t nearly as hard as listening to Mother worry about what she will do with all the fruit and how disappointed she is that the crop is so small and why did we only get a few squash on the vine, and on, and on, and on.

This year she wanted herbs, so of to the nursery we went and I had to find time to get all the plants and seeds in the gardens.  Now, each evening before dinner, we’re picking lettuce, arugula, chives, dill, cilantro and nasturtiums for the table.

And the flowers.  The California Poppies, the Evening Primrose and the Bougainvillea, I love those.  The huge camellia outside my bedroom window covered with perfect pink blooms.  And the geraniums and the Gerbera daisies and the chocolate mint that I just found at the nursery and planted.  Yum!

I guess the joke’s on me, because after three plus years of working in the gardens, watering, convincing Mother she really could afford and should get, a sprinkler system, I find myself enjoying the digging and the work and the fruits of the labor.

So, yes, the joke is on me, God.  I thought I was just here to ease Mother’s last years and I’m the one whose roots are getting stretched and planted in new soil.  Thank you that I’m here, God, and that you can give me ears to listen to the lists and not go mad.  I feel you smiling, God.