Temporary – Dawn of a New Day

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As I get older I am very aware of wanting to hold onto those precious moments of dawn, before the sun begins its journey across the sky. I want to capture those moments as if an image that I hold in my hand will slow down the passage of time, will stop the coming darkness when the sun sinks below the horizon.

Ben Huberman’s Daily Post request to share a photograph depicting “temporary” reminded me of how quickly my life has and is proceeding onward with all its changes.

Transition

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The fading importance of
prior achievements fall golden
from trees once productive.
Catching the soft autumn light to
glimmer their glory or
as a finale to what was.

 

I’ve been doing some reading of books of poetry and some books and blogs on writing poetry. I was excited to read a useful explanation of using metaphors in poetry posted by  in Meeting the Bar: Critique and Craft on the website dVerse – Poets Pub. A couple days later while driving through gently falling yellow leaves catching the soft autumn sunlight I had my inspiration for trying my hand at using metaphors. Not an easy shift for someone who had spent a lifetime doing and teaching technical writing.

 

Listening to the Music of Life

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The wildflowers seem unusually abundant this year so I’ve been focusing on them. They are singing my name, and on this excursion down dirt roads they were beckoning me in unison, like a well rehearsed choir.

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There were some soloists but even they appeared more elegant within their milieu. When I was seven, swaying the swing under the giant oak, I imagined myself teaching the different vegetables in the garden to sing in harmony. On this day, in my seventieth decade, I just listened.

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On this day I drifted between hearing the whole as it worked together and then focusing on the beauty of the individual.

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I listened to the symphony of an inland lake on a summer’s morning, telling its secrets of times untold.

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I listened to the secrets of being free to bloom and age as nature intended, without pretense.

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And I listened to the cords of caution, knowing they need to be respected.

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May we all hear this music and allow its message to grow within our spirits.

Commitment

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The End of the Day

Commitment has been on my mind a lot during the past week or so. Probably because we celebrated our anniversary this week, and being married for 53 years requires a lot of commitment. An acquaintance in his late forties and never married, someone who had been hurt by a failed relationship asked me, when I was writing about being married 50 years, what does it take to maintain a long relationship. I didn’t respond to his e-mail because the answer seemed too complicated. Our marriage took lots of strength and courage, compromise, laughter and tears, anger, hugs and kisses, time together and time apart, physical work, well reasoned decisions, a steady flow of money, personal sacrifice and flexibility, and much more. I probably had to draw on every positive attribute or trait I had and then had to learn a few new ones. But this didn’t seem to be an adequate answer to his question.

I’ve thought about his question over the past three years and seem to have found some clarity. I know the woman he wanted to be in relationship with and from her perspective he was having difficulty committing to their relationship – and that is probably what I should have told him: commitment.

There are a lot of commitments we can make in adulthood; nurturing children, a job, making money, family, sports, hobbies, continuing education, helping others, gaining status, equality, justice, losing weight. I have come to the conclusion, with some hindsight, that the reason JB and I were able to make our relationship work is that we put the commitment to the relationship first, before all other commitments, but not to the exclusion of all the other things we value. I think I have been committed to each of the things on my list at some point in my life; some for brief periods, some intermittently, all at different levels of intensity at different times.  There were many years when I felt like the circus performer with all the plates spinning on top of poles, sometimes I had so many that I feared some were going to fall and smash into mounds of failure. I labored hard to fulfill my commitments, tried to keep all of my plates spinning, but the one commitment, the one plate that I wouldn’t let crash was my relationship to my husband.

This year I have been thinking about how our commitment has evolved with time. As newly weds our commitment needed to focus on learning how to live together, how to merge our unique routines that we had established while growing up but with marriage needed to be compatible with the other. You know, the nitty-gritty of daily life like spending and saving, picking up dirty underwear, bathroom clutter, dusting and dishes, paying the bills. As young adults we needed to be committed to putting the needs of our new family before the needs of our extended family and friends without breaking our old relationships. This was one I struggled with because JB’s mother was pretty dependent on him to help with household tasks she couldn’t do herself (he has been my reliable handy-man for 53 years). She seemed to have something for him to do every weekend and I was really jealous because I wanted his attention. I baked lots of cookies because I found it dissipated my anger. Maybe cookie baking a factor in making a marriage work?  If my memory is accurate, it seems that in those early years the most important commitment was creating a new family unit where the needs of each individual was respected and with both being willing to compromise and sacrifice.

The nature of our commitment seemed to change in our thirties when we had three children and the excitement of being newly weds was extinguished by the heavy cloud of responsibility. As I look back, the third and fourth decades seemed the hardest. We frequently had to tell ourselves that our commitment to each other had to be stronger than our need to escape the stress of all the responsibilities. That was the time when there were so many demands on our time and energy that neither felt the other was pulling his/her weight even though each of us were contributing 150%. I felt like we were business partners more than marriage partners. That was the time when I (we?) no longer experienced the breathless, earth shaking beneath my feet, fireworks going off in my brain emotions of our dating time. During this time commitment meant making time for each other with weekly “date nights” so we wouldn’t forget who each other was. I learned that commitment is a decision, a calculation that involves a cost/benefit analysis. This was when I realized that commitment is a decision made between two people, mutually, and that maybe we would have to honor that commitment by staying together even though one or the other had fallen out of love. Maybe we were able to transfer some of our commitment to nurturing our children into our marriage commitment that had weakened.

Now, after living together for all those years, there is absolutely no question about our commitment to each other. Neither of us is going to leave the marriage for someone else, we both are committed to wanting both of us to thrive, be healthy, and lead a satisfying life. We don’t argue over decisions any more, our squabbles come when we get fatigued (usually me) or anxious (usually JB) and say something hurtful or snarky. We have learned how to live together with joy, laughter and pleasure in each other’s company. We have learned a hundred ways to commit to each other as we have evolved and changed over 5 decades, a half a century. But I wasn’t prepared for the new kind of commitments that aging requires.

When we are settling down for sleep, after catching up on the day’s political news and doing a little reading, before we put on our c-pap masks and turn out the lights, JB will quietly, hopefully say, “See you in the morning?”

“Yes, sweetheart, I’ll be here in the morning. I’m looking forward to spending another day with you.”

This isn’t a commitment to refrain from running away in the middle of the night – its an answer to a plea for reassurance that I won’t die before morning. He is wanting us to commitment to staying alive for a while longer because neither of us wants to face life alone.

What we need now is a mutual commitment that doesn’t seem to have been covered in our marriage vows – the “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish ’till death do us part” vows. We have faced all the threats to a marriage and have persevered – and have now become very aware of the ’till death do us part’ clause.

We have made the commitment to exercising, most days (okay almost every other day). We are committed to eating healthy, getting flu shots and all the other immunizations suggested for people of a certain age. We have committed to doing the bothersome testing to catch problems early. But we know that death is inevitable and that one of us will probably have to adjust to waking up to a new day without the other. Our commitment is to doing what we can to make the inevitable end of our relationship happen in the future – down the road a bit. And we sometimes talk about what conditions will warrant a commitment to allow the other to leave, to die with dignity.

Until that time comes, it seems we need to commit to responding with love and patience, with help and respect as we watch each other decline from the normal aging process, and from chronic conditions of aging that lead to death. It is a commitment to being gentle and understanding as we watch each other decline in strength and endurance. It means repeating things and helping each other remember, without a tone of voice that results in shame. It involves a commitment to look at each other’s bodies that have begun to take on the characteristics of an old person, and still see a lover that makes our heart skip a beat.

I Miss Me, Too – Revised

 

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I received a notice from WordPress yesterday that this is my 5-year anniversary of maintaining this blog. Funny how things come together to shape my thinking and what I feel compelled to write about. A few weeks ago Michael Watson wrote a post about Those in-between Places that spoke to me. I started a post but it didn’t move much – or maybe it moved in too many directions. Then a post I wrote six months after I started blogging came to my attention and I thought about re-posting it. And last night our friends suggested we take a camping trip to South Dakota to see the herding of the buffalo. Jim suggested that we could change our plans to travel to Nova Scotia and combine the buffalo trip with going to the Canadian Rockies. This really surprised me – and I decided this morning to re-blog the earlier post but with some rewrites to make it relevant to all that is happening now.

In 2012 I wrote: It was a long time coming and I’m not sure when it happened. I don’t miss me anymore. This is a strange thing to say but I know the frightening feeling that comes from loosing my sense of who I am. I know the sadness that comes from not believing there is enough of me left because of the changes in my life due to contracting a chronic condition. I really did miss me – but not any more.

My blog was originally named “I Miss Me, Too” because that was what I wanted the title of my book – the one that I’m not writing any more – to be called. Here is what I wrote on my ‘About This Blog’ page when I started blogging. It explains how I came up with the title.

One day during that first year after being diagnosed, I was in the kitchen with my husband of 40 years. He stopped working, looked at me, and said that he knew I couldn’t help it but he missed me. He had tears in his eyes. My eyes welled up and I said, “I miss me, too.” We embraced and cried together.

corners-059.jpgI feel like I turned a corner, from missing me to not missing me. How many times have I said that, about turning a corner? Whenever I started a new computer file for my journals, the first entry begins “I feel like I have turned a corner.” There are 10 files of journals that cover 8 years – so ten times I had turned a corner. I guess you could say I’ve been around the block a few times. This seems to be my way of explaining that I made a leap of progress towards my emotional and physical healing each of those ten times – then eleven in 2012, now twelve in 2017.

Those leaps of emotional healing didn’t happen suddenly. It was more like a long slow, continuous process and what happened was that suddenly I realized that I felt different. Change takes a lot of work. We have to have a vision of what we want, and maybe observe others and think about how we would like to be, and we need to practice actually being like our new vision. Sometimes we need to look at our pasts, confront old ghosts, heal old wounds, let go. Sometimes we need to acknowledge our sadness and anger. It takes conscious effort and courage and perseverance. I have been working on it for nine years so far – taking many small steps and spending lots of time on plateaus where I can prepare for my next step.

I began to feel the shift to feeling more whole when I started my blog and became a part of the blogging community. Focusing on how to use a new camera and learning how to take interesting photographs allowed me to connect with a long neglected part of myself, my artistic self. Blogging gave me a platform for sharing the emotional turmoil of having fibromyalgia by posting rewrites of portions of my never-to-be-published book.

Writing for the blogging community was much more rewarding than writing for publishing and thus brought a dynamic, evolving meaning back into my life. My focus began to shift from sharing my illness to wanting to share the life I was living – through photography and story. I discovered that I could touch people’s lives with my blogs and my life was enriched through the life stories of other bloggers. It feels like I am on a shared journey of life that is being recorded through our blogging.

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Gros Morn World Heritage Site, Newfoundland, Canada

The second event that seemed to give me a new sense of self was the long camping trip to Newfoundland in August of 2012. This trip shifted life for both me and my husband. A while after I was diagnosed (2004), we were talking and he went into that funny mood that says he is thinking about something that needs to be said but he doesn’t want to say it. He finally confessed that he was feeling guilty because he believed I got sick because he “dragged me” on a three-week camping trip to the Canadian Rockies. It is true that I started having symptoms about 6 weeks later – but proximity doesn’t prove causation. He was able to let go of the guilt but still had to live with the fact that our life was changed.

Our trip to the Canadian Rockies 9 years earlier was the last traveling camping trip that we had taken and the planned trip to Newfoundland was similar in length and work. I had some anxiety about doing the trip but I really wanted to go and knew how to prepare. He had a lot of anxiety because he feared I would get really sick a long way from home or wouldn’t be able to participate in our travel activities. After we returned, he told me that he was really surprised that I had done as well as I had. Our eyes connected and he said that it felt really good to have me back.

I guess I am back. I’m not the same because we both know that we had to do things to take care of me – but I was alive and vibrant and involved on the trip. I worked along side of him and carried my half of the work load – almost and most of the time. It was similar to our Canadian Rockies trip, but I was different. We have adjusted to the changes in me so I can be like I used to be – even though I’m not. Maybe we don’t remember what I used to be like, but in many ways he isn’t like he used to be either. In any case, we have found a way to live life fully, together, that is rewarding for both of us.

This triggers silent tears because it was hard and it wasn’t always clear that it would happen. I spent a day or two feeling sorry for myself. Not in a bad way as I would if I felt like a victim. No, I felt sorry for myself as I would feel towards someone who had gone through a really rough time. I felt sympathy and compassion towards myself. I feel compassion and love for my husband who had to endure all that I have been through but didn’t always know how to handle it. But then neither did I. It was scary and hard.

I have read a lot about grief but I have never seen anything written about the grief we feel after going through a time of healing. When I was a therapist I frequently would sit and listen to people express their joy after making changes in how they thought and felt and the big difference it was making in their life. Then they would grow quiet and their eyes would get glassy. I knew at that moment they needed to lick their wounds – they were remembering how hard it had been, how hard they had worked, how much pain they had felt as they went through the healing process. I was feeling that way when I first wrote this post.

At the same time, in a strange way, a hard to define way, I was and have been afraid of stepping into the future. I wrote in 2012 that I had learned how to live with my emotional pain and sadness. I had gotten used to not knowing who I was. I had adjusted to not being able to do a lot and my husband didn’t expect me to be able to do most things. What if he forgets that I have limitations? What if he expects more from me than I can deliver? What if this living life fully, together, doesn’t last?

At this time, in 2017, I am also feeling fear about stepping into the future but for a different reason. At 73 I have realized that I have a limited number of days left and no matter how long I live, my health will never be better than it is right now. I have turned another corner and the path ahead just doesn’t seem very hopeful or bright. No one warned me that this would happen, or if they did I wasn’t able to absorb and understand it. Maybe it is something that people prefer not to talk about because I’m feeling a little guilty for writing about it. It makes me sound like I am in a sour, black, depressing mood.

In 2012 I wondered if I could maintain the new me I’d found – forever? What I have now done is look at forever and decided that I can’t see it through rose-colored glasses. I don’t want to. I’m putting my chips on facing this truth head on and by doing so I will be better prepared to face this time of getting old…   onto death. As a result a funny thing is happening – another surprise that I wasn’t expecting. I am feeling a new energy, a new sense of power. By facing this nasty little fact of getting old, I have lessened my dread of that which I have little control over.

Another surprise is that in 2012 I came to a useful conclusion. I realized that I need to remember that this is a new day – singular. All I have to do is live today. I planned for my tomorrows, but none of my futures were improved by feeling anxious about them. I can plan for tomorrow, but I need to live today.

I am listening to what I wrote five years ago because it still works. On this new day I may experience pain and fatigue and not be able to do much of anything. On this new day I may have lots of energy and be excited about the work and play I have planned. I am still overdoing on good days, and still paying for it with a day or two of not feeling well. I know how to take care of myself and I’m usually satisfied with moderation but also willing to pay the price for pushing the boundaries.

I have found ways to exercise my brain and body. I have found multiple communities in which I can nurture and be nurtured. My husband and I have settled into a fun and comfortable relationship. I can face my God and see her smiling at me. I don’t miss me any more because I have found a way to live that has integrity.