Monday, February 28, 2011

Lessons Learned

Forced bed rest and extended periods of inactivity due to spinal surgery leave one with time to think, sometimes on topics that are best left unrecorded. However, I'm improving each day and I am moved tonight to write about specific and intentional acts of kindness – and the power of such deliberate experiences. This wasn’t my first rodeo, as they say, having had both knees replaced in the past four years, so I knew to expect pain and immobility for a time. I simply had no idea of how limited I would be, how absolutely unable to care for myself, and how, when the pain is greatest, nothing seems as important as relieving it. Ah yes, better living through chemistry! I am having a lucid moment and it won’t last long, so before I descend into my happy place, I want to say a heartfelt and resounding thank you to the family and friends who have extended, and continue to extend, such kindness and selfless assistance over the past few weeks.

My daughter Laura and her daughter Katie (a mom-to-be!) took over my house, my kitchen and my need to run the world and gave me the gift of nothing to plan, organize or execute. Best of all, they made sure that Tom was taken care of and a routine maintained as close to normal as possible. And, while shopping and cooking delicious meals, they threw in foot massages, back rubs and long talks that made us laugh and cry with equal warmth. As I said goodbye to Laura on Saturday, I whispered into her ear that this had been such a gift to me. Her response was “Mom, the gift was you asking me to come help you!” Now, son David is here, cooking more fine food and fixing the many things, electrical and other, long neglected, hanging pictures, etc. etc. etc! (I recall my first knee surgery and how son Scott came to help me, often anticipating things I needed before I even knew it myself!) And I’m getting used to being waited on...if it just weren’t for the pain in the neck (literally) this might be classified as fun! Still, time with my kids is so precious and I’m soaking it up with all the love it involves. They all lead such busy lives and yet, when possible, they are here when I need them. And it has offered me a chance to ask for and receive the help that I have rarely experienced with such generosity. Maybe some day I can find the grace to ask without having to go under the knife!

This year’s Oscars I found disappointing, bland and better watched, as I did, while on pain medication. But one thing, one brief flash across the screen stuck in my mind. It was the tribute to Lena Horne and the quote attributed to her: "It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it." That was what I took away from the 3.5 hours of minor entertainment. Maybe worth the whole evening!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Looking for the Lesson

Tomorrow I will be having surgery on my cervical spine, a procedure to decompress the vertebrae (I think a bit like scraping the barnacles from the hull of a ship!) and hopefully restore the use and strength in my hands and arms. It is not something I would have chosen, but it is astonishing that the skill and expertise exists to fix such annoying problems of aging. I have great confidence in my surgeon, though I will send him my wishes for a good night's sleep and a steady hand.
Always looking for the lesson, I suspect that it is easily identified here. I am not accustomed to asking for help or to being taken care of. But I am trying to accept with grace the importance of allowing others to assist and to show their love in that way. I do need help at the moment. Daughter Laura is here doing just that and it feels nice. Tom is always trying to find ways to help. So I am relaxing into the lesson, appreciating the love and not hesitating to ask for help. Starting tomorrow, it won't be so much a choice as an imperative. I'm hopeful for a successful outcome and a quick recovery. All good thoughts and prayers will be most appreciated.

Until further notice...

so this is how it will be
not what I would have chosen
to be sure, but until further notice

the music will continue, all the more
lively and boisterous, the songs rich
as ruby wine in a crystal stem

the grass will grow, greenest in July
when the monsoons flourish
and the dry creeks spill their banks

hummingbirds will flock to the vine
driving their tiny drill bits down
the narrow bell to cull the nectar cache

children will rescue us from cynicism
inspire better versions of our ordinary selves
hold the mirror before us with expectant eyes

life and death and life will persist,
lovers will ignite, weather storms, forgive,
learn to trust, fall and rise again and yet again

                               from Dance on a Dirt Road

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Why I Write

As you might imagine, I'm excited about the completion and publication of my new book, "Dance On A Dirt Road." The discovery of my love for poetry has changed my life in just a few years and some have asked me why I started writing. That's a fair question given that, all my life,  my creative expression had been through music, the passion that nearly consumed me from the time I was a small child. I loved singing more than I can say, and performing as a soloist was always a joy to me. It did, however, often create painful conflict in my life. It is difficult, if not impossible, to be a performing artist as a "hobby." Besides, sopranos can't go on forever!
Writing, though, is nothing but sheer pleasure. It indulges several real loves for me. First, the love of language. I've always been a "word collector", sometimes turning a particular word over and over in my head and on my tongue just because I loved the sound of it. Language has such power and beauty. The ability to shape a thought or a feeling into a metaphor by painting word pictures is exhilarating. My goal in creating a poem is to express something that is deeply personal but often profoundly universal. It has been my therapy for dealing with Tom's devastating illness, my own health issues and the problems that each of us encounters in the course of living our lives. They look different for everyone, but we all deal with fears of aging and illness, family, love...connectedness to our past, present and future...the human condition. Language expresses our commonalities and helps us to know we are not alone. Since man learned to speak, write and print we have found comfort in knowing what other people experience...that we are not alone when we suffer or rejoice.
Poetry has also provided me a sense of accomplishment, achievement on a whole new level that has been quite unexpected at this point in my life. As Maya Angelou expresses in her poem "And Still I Rise", I'm still here, still contributing something to the planet, still finding pure joy in creating. I didn't begin writing because I want to be famous...I did it because I want to be HERE, balanced and alive, surprising myself each day. It is, in a real way, my gift to the people I husband, my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren (a very large group, I might add!), all of whom I admire and respect so much.
Occasionally I write something deep and provocative, but the poem below is not. It is just a light-hearted memory that makes me smile. Maybe you will too!

Friday, February 4, 2011


I called them flying nights
when the air was warm and the wind
a lifting matrix of whirling leaves.
At the top of the hill I would spread
my arms, run a few steps, barely feeling
my feet skim the pavement until
in my mind I achieved loft, effortless
as the glide of a hawk on a thermal,
where there was no sound, but for the song
of the long moon, spreading her shadow
on my silent flight.