14 October, 2011

The Spirit Giveth Life and Other Incredulous Tales of Life


Since last spring, I have optimistically anticipated attending my 35th high school class reunion at the Wheeler School.  Wheeler figured too large in my life story not to go back and see the girls, now women, who populate my memories and shaped my life.
The class of ’76 was not untouched by tragedy.  In my junior year, I was assigned the role of “Big Sister” to an incoming freshman.  I remember her as exceptionally quiet and unexpressive girl.  Standing against a wall, she would disappear.  She wore a cloak of invisibility.  She seemed to disappear among us.  Her aunt, Miss Rowe, taught at Wheeler, so I checked in with her to see if I was doing something wrong. She assured me it was not me, her niece was having a hard time adjusting to some big changes in her life.  When I came back to school after Thanksgiving break, Miss Rowe took me aside before morning assembly.  I listened numbly as she told me my that “little sister” had committed suicide. Rumors were bruited about school later that day, that week, about how she did it.  I removed myself from all discussions. I remember feeling stunned, almost shell-shocked.  Today, counseling would have been provided for any of us whose lives had intersected with her’s.  At that time, we were on our own to figure it out.   I found myself asking what I could have done differently. Suicide always leaves the survivors wondering. 
Kris Kersch was an eighth grade Wheeler student who did not make it to freshmen year.  I did not know her, but I admired the story of her valiant fight against leukemia.  Early one September morning, the entire student body assembled in the courtyard to plant a tree in her memory.  The song, “I Can See Clearly Now,” which forever has her face attached, was part of the service.  Another rather public tragedy was the loss of Jeanie Goulder’s good friend, Billy Boots.  It seemed obscene that he was killed by a n automobile while he was jogging. Deaths and grave illnesses touched many of the families of our classmates.  We students resolutely carried on.  However, these untimely losses delivered an indelible lesson; life is capricious and we are all at risk.  There would be times when a group of us would be studying and I would look around the table and wonder which of us might not make it to middle-age. Even now, I am tempted to whisper, I don’t want the powers to be to hear me, I don’t want to tempt fate.  To my knowledge, the Class of ’76 has lost three classmates   -- Jane Sheridan, Amy Kalberer Sullivan and Lisa Aronson Wyland.  Each death leaves a hole in the fabric that binds us.  Lately,  I find myself  flipping to the page of obituaries in the Now and Then at Wheeler Magazine to see if any more of our contingent have joined the departed. 
In a state borne of ignorance and youth, I never considered there were fates other than death that can profoundly alter a life. In 1976, I am not sure I even considered disability as a circumstance that had any real bearing on any of us.   Neither the literature I read, nor the life I enjoyed, predisposed me to consider that disability could unhinge one of us or alter our paths.  Furthermore, I would never have had the imagination to believe it would be me.  Nor could I have imagined how often I would come back to the Wheeler principle that “”the Spirit Giveth Life.”  When your body does not always cooperate, your must rely on something more.  I have derived strength from those words repeatedly over recent years.  This summer,  I turned in both of my hips for models built of titanium and porcelain hoping to improve pain and functionality.   Afterward, I spent six weeks in Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston doing hours of physical therapy and occupational therapy daily.  My post-surgical days were part providence, part torture. I learned that the road to better is steeply inclined and the terrain is rugged.  However, it is not without surprises.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    At Spaulding Hospital, the fabric curtain walls that separate patient from patient in two-bed rooms afford little privacy.  I was listening (despite politely putting on my Bose sound-canceling headphones) to the hospital intake drill as my third roommate in a month was being admitted.   Her name was June.  Or Judy.  A man hovered nearby… a spouse?   My new roommate lived outside of Boston.  I didn’t hear her birthday, nor did I dare guess her age.  A former roommate was 93, but looked not a day over 85.  I gleaned that June/Judy had hip surgery after a particularly nasty fall at her summer home in New Hampshire.  I was able to block out much of the remainder of the interviews.   However, one word, above all others, yanked my attention back to the mysterious, and, as yet, unseen woman on the other side of the curtain.  She had uttered the word, “Wheeler.”
I confess to clicking the power button on the headphones to “off” for this part of the conversation.
Judy, as I had learned was her name, described having boarded at Wheeler for high school in the sixties.  Her mother placed her in an all-girl boarding school after the premature death of her father.  This solitary piece of information reshaped my impression of my roommate instantly.  Right or wrong, I felt drawn to her immediately; she walked the halls of Wheeler, had dined on Wheeler soups, watched the musicals, been to the Farm and shared a life that I, too, had lived.  That piece of knowledge unlocked something.  I felt a kinship I had not felt when all we shared was osteoporosis and unhappy hips.
Having Judy for a roommate was like being hospitalized with a close friend.  Her wisdom, humor and intelligence were a source of solace to me --  and the stuff on which our friendship blossomed.  I could talk to Judy about how hard Madam Erlenmeyer pushed me and she understood.   We speculated that when Madam was teaching Judy to conjugate etre, she probably was in her fifties.  To think, she had seemed like an elegant old woman.  How years can change one’s perspective.  Judy and I reflected on the fundamental values that, day-by-day, were inculcated into our thinking.  She was there during the heyday of the Women’s Revolution. I was there after Elizabeth Curley Brown had made her mark on our society.  Nevertheless, we were branded Wheeler girls.  A label we would never freely exchange. 
As I recuperated last summer, I had an inordinate amount of time to reflect upon how I define myself.  Three years ago, I was diagnosed with a congenital collagen disorder.  I have struggled with its symptoms for my entire life.  Only recently have we had a label for it.  Unfortunately, age accelerates the effect that the syndrome has on me.  Slowly, in bite-sized increment, it has disabled me. My diagnosis came about as a result of my daughter receiving a diagnosis. When the geneticist and cardiologist cast about for the gene donor that brought about her disorder, it was a little like spin-the-bottle.  The bottle stopped.... pointing at me.  A lifetime riddled with illness, injury and miscarriages suddenly snapped into focus, I had Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome.
Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) comes about as a result of a collagen disorder.  Collagen is the ‘glue” that holds the body together; it is distributed all through the body.  The symptoms may be mild to severe. There are six sub-categories. I was diagnosed with Type III, Hypermobile.  In the 1 out of 5000 people with EDS, their collagen is flawed leaving it too flexible and stretchy to work properly.  This translates to ligaments that don’t do their work and in muscles that do not sustain mass.   Skin may be stretchy, often there are gastrointestinal problems, as well.  As a group, we bleed easily, become cold easily, and have a high tolerance for pain.  For me, it means my joints are easily unhinged--  my knees dislocated, my spine broke and my vertebrae are deteriorating, my hips wore out and I am hobbled by pain.  It affects my heart because the collagen that makes up the aortic root stretches over time. Both my daughter and I have changes in our hearts that are typical in patients with this disorder.  Fortunately, I have the class of EDS that generally does not result in sudden, cardiac events.  All of which brings me back to my Wheeler days.  In my youth, I never considered there would be those among us whose paths would be altered by anything less than death.  Imagine my surprise and my lack of grace in accepting the news that I had a disorder that I unwittingly passed on to my child.  Imagine my overwhelming sense of gratitude that I would have a child who accepts the cards that life has dealt her and goes about the business of living as fully as possible.
My days spent with Judy at Spaulding helped bring to mind one of the most important pieces of my Wheeler education.  When I was younger, I believed Wheeler, as an all-girl school,  was responsible for imbuing me with a sense of self-esteem.  I have, in ensuing years, discovered Wheeler helped contribute to more than my self-esteem.  Some kind of transformation was gradually wrought over my years at Wheeler.  It was the resilience of spirit under any condition or circumstance.  It was precisely because of the losses we observed at Wheeler that I was christened to life’s hardships.  When I was faced with my own trials, I grew stronger.  Over a summer when I felt untethered and alone, I found that my Wheeler connections were a lifeline.  Thirty-five years after graduating, I had friends from Wheeler willing to help me weather life’s storms.  Ellen Pinkos was a regular correspondent, advocate and friend.  Jan Fierman Weiner reentered my life as a loyal friend, ever a comedienne.  And, of course, the universe delivered up my new Wheeeler friend, Judy.  
I will not be at my 35th reunion. At this juncture of time, I can’t travel comfortably. However,  Skypping brings me face to face with friends.   I spend inordinate hours on my computer traveling unfettered by my body.  I write my blog.  I write magazine articles, continue to look for an agent for my literary novel (here’s the plug; I accept all leads and track down all suggestions to get me an agent and my book published) and I manage my family life from bed.
I am constantly bumping up against what I desire to accomplish with what my body allows me to do.  However, my fingers and my Mac give me an open-ended ticket to travel.  My spirit remains indomitable.  And, as Wheeler taught me, “The Spirit Giveth Life.”
My blog may be found at http://dawnings-anewdawn.blogspot.com/
For more information about Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome go to www.ednf.org.

04 September, 2011

Line-Dried

 
          My dryer broke about four weeks ago.  I was standing at the kitchen counter when I heard a tremendous CLUNK sound emanate from the laundry room.  No scent of smoke, no horribly abrasive sound ensued.  I went on with making dinner.  About two hours later, I reached into the dryer expecting to pull out a dry load, and discovered a soggy mass, tightly coiled in on itself.  All the wash was bound together by the stretchy amorphous legs of my daughter’ tights.
            I turned to my helpmate, my husband.  He is abundantly more talented in understanding the machinations of inanimate items than am I.  Half an hour later, he rendered his verdict.  Call the repairman.
            It took three phone calls to locate a serviceman who would do repairs on a thirty- year old gas dryer.  His name was Bob.  Bob was as helpful and friendly as could be.  He identified the problem and told me he’d order the part.  I explained that I couldn’t go very long without a drier with three children under five – the baby just six months old.  He was sympathetic and left.  The next day, he called me with a good news, bad news story.  He couldn’t get the part, but he had “tinkered” in his shop at home and had managed to get the old one working.  He returned to install it.  I jokingly asked if there was any risk of fire, explosions or gas-related accidents.  He reassured me that there wasn’t by demonstrating how the part was tooled.  When the burner started right up, I was wildly enthusiastic about his demonstration.  Bob kept cautioning me, “I can’t tell you how long this will work…”
            It worked for three loads.
            The gauntlet flung down, my husband decided to really roll up his sleeves.  He puttered and tinkered with staccato commands emitting from the laundry room floor, “Flashlight,” “Screwdriver,” “Turn it on,” “Quick, turn it off!”
The upshot of his ministrations came as a swift whack on the dryer’s side, and the dryer worked.  He showed me exactly where, and how hard, my palm must strike.  I didn’t have the knack.  I tried with my fist, my foot, the palm of first my right, then, my left hand.  Nothing worked.
            We talked about buying a new drier.  We looked at flyers, read reports, all very scientific.  The purchase of a new drier would be an unexpected expense, but not a prohibitive one.  Surprisingly, there was something else going on. Something undefined caused our reluctance.  I was in no hurry to buy a new machine.
            The laundry continued to be generated at an alarming rate  -- the natural consequence of a cleanly family of five.  Since I happen to do the bulk of that household duty, and because I would have to wait for my husband to be available to give the machine a wallop, I resorted to line-drying.  Now I have a friend (who gave us the dryer fifteen years ago) who will only use a dryer under dire circumstances…even when all four of her sons, and mother lived at home with husband and her.  I remember shaking my head in disbelief.  “But Joanne,” I would lament, “You spend all your time centered around washing, hanging, picking, folding, ironing, and putting away laundry – all while keeping an eye on the weather.  How can you manage to fit in your job, the boys’ activities, shopping and meal preparations?”  She would never answer me directly, instead, she would smile knowingly. Rather like the initiated might smile at the uninitiated. 
            I have since joined the ranks of the initiated. 
            At 6:30 in the morning, when I bundle up my son, plop him in the stroller under the clothesline and begin hanging laundry.  I enjoy a stillness and expansiveness people pay therapists to achieve.  At noon, when I pick that first load, and hang the next, I escape from my desk or my household chores for some mid-day sun. The baby likes to be placed directly under the clothes so he can reach for them as the breeze flutters them just beyond his reach.  My young daughters race back and forth in a game of their own imagination.  At 5:50 pm, while I go outside to bring in the last load, I escape from the madness of a hungry family who are nipping at my heels for food.  I am alone among a colorful population that never resists my ministrations.  Later, after dinner, the radio blares the daily news that I completely disregard .  However, I can recite verbatim the forecast for the next day’s weather.  Just before bed, I enter the laundry room to inhale deeply of that wonderful clean, outdoor scent that was so hard-earned.  The fragrance seeps into the fibers of the fabrics of those line-dried sheets and towels.  The box of “outdoor fresh” Bounce fabric softeners sheets lays unused on top of the dryer.
            The downsides do exist in this way of life; chapped fingers, unexpected rain showers, stiff, unforgiving blue jeans.  But for a while, it’s a nice way to slow down life.  I recognize that this step back in time is drawing to a close.  I ordered a dryer and it is due to be delivered today.   I am hoping to salvage the best from my new dryer – fluffed and tossed convenience as well as an occasional visit to a line-dried way of life.
                                                                                                Reprisal of essay
                                                                                                     May, 1995

01 September, 2011

Irreproducible Love

                                                


                 1974      Sally                   Dawn                           Chicki       


Chicki was the first person to love me for who I was rather than due to a genetic imperative.  As I grew up, she was an ally and a friend; she helped me weather the battles of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. Chicki took me as I was, without forethought or deliberation.  She doled out life lessons like the candies on a candy necklace.   In later life, distance and circumstance separated us, but I never doubted that she would help me if I needed her.  It was kind of like going through life with a parachute.  Just knowing Chicki was in the world allowed me to believe that, not matter what life threw at me, I would land on my feet. 
            The origin of Chicki’s name was never explained to me, nor did it matter.  She was my mother’s younger sister by twelve years.  When I was a child, she was called a “change-of-life baby.” Chicki was born well after her siblings; my grandmother was 39 when she delivered her.  Shortly thereafter, my grandfather died.  My grandmother had two children in college and one entering grade school. Since my grandmother had to work, she enrolled Chicki in a nearby parochial school.  The nuns were regimented and had little patience with Chicki’s antics and imperfection (Chicki had a severe hearing loss in early childhood, due to a high fever). She wore hearing aids that were large, fell out often and would emit ear-splitting squeals that would disrupt class. She was reprimanded for turning them off.  When asked why she did this, she said, “It’s easier to daydream.” Perhaps the final straw for the nuns was when they found Chicki, a Protestant in a Catholic school, raiding their third floor living quarters. The secret she whispered to me may now, fifty years later, be divulged.  Nuns’ panties and bras are sometimes dressed with frilly lace.  My version of that take-away moment was that all women are entitled to secrets.
I do not remember a time before Chicki came to live with us; she was simply the reason my sister and I shared a bedroom.  Later, I understood there were “problems” between my grandmother and aunt so my parents took her into our family.  Chicki’s bright future was briefly dimmed by a man named John to whom she was briefly engaged.  All I remember about him is his name and the effect he had on her psyche when their engagement was broken.  On Wednesdays, my mother would escort Chicki to see a special doctor that would help her with her mind.  Chicki would see the doctor for precisely fifty minutes; I knew this because it was how long I had to read the HIGHLIGHTS magazines that were strewn about in the waiting room. I asked Chicki what she did with that doctor for all that time.  She told me they talked.   “Sometimes you need someone other than your family and friends to help you understand yourself,” she told me. “It’s okay to ask for help.”
Another lesson Chicki taught me was the value of omission.  She had borrowed a friend’s new, red mustang. When she offered to take me for a ride in it, I jumped at the chance. We cruised along unfamiliar streets and neighborhoods.  Eventually, we drove between rows and rows of army barracks.  Chicki declared that it was time to go home.  With her foot bearing down on the gas, we raced down the avenue.  At the instant she meant to take a right, she misjudged the corner.  The car lurched over the curb, with its tail wigwagging behind.  The mustang came off the curb with an earsplitting jolt.  Chicki’s right arm, a precursor to seatbelts, stretched across my chest to secure me in my seat.  When we resumed our ride home, she strictly observed the speed limits and traffic signals.  Just before we got home, Chicki stopped the car and turned to me, “Dawn, there are going to be times when it doesn’t make sense to report every detail of an adventure.  Please don’t tell your parents about this little mistake.” Thrilled to be taken into her confidence, I willingly agreed.  It was the first time I understood that there could be parts of my life to which my parents were not privy. 
In a move that surprised and delighted all of us, my grandmother and Chicki wanted an adventure together.  They found jobs and rented an apartment on Martha’s Vineyard Island for a year.  Unknowingly, they opened a door that led us home; the Island, its beauty and its people drew us in.  My parents ended up buying a summer cottage there.  The Vineyard became central to our life stories.  
When Chicki returned to our nest, she worked to save money so she could rent her own nearby apartment. The morning she left, I was twelve.  She found me kneeling at the foot of my bed in front of an altar I had assembled; there were the doll Chicki brought me from Amish country, a flickering candle, and my Sunday school bible, open to the 100th psalm. Prayed earnestly, I knew that our closely woven friendship was about to change forever.  Later, she told me she cried all the way to her apartment because the last thing I asked her was, “How can you leave me this way?”
We entered a new phase of our relationship as marriage and motherhood took more and more of her time and school took mine.  Chicki’s life underwent a shift with the birth of her daughter, a divorce, a remarriage, and another new baby.  In the midst of all that, she recognized that my home life had grown untenable.  She urged me to escape my parents and come live with her. I chose to stay the course for a short time, but then moved to live in solititude in my family’s Island cottage.
  Life proved to be generous with me.  I met a Vineyard man who made me imagine a future brighter and better, simply because I was in it.  As our relationship became committed, we exchanged visits with Chicki and her growing family. I loved watching the kindness her girls would show their mother even when there were disputes.  They would never yell from another room.  They would run back, plant their feet in front of their mother and make sure she could read their lips when they shouted, “No, I WON’T!”
Chicki’s husband hailed from Texas. His native family pulled his new family pulled west and into a world apart from us. Chicki and I wrote letters but the phone was always a challenge with her hearing.  One day, she called me unexpectedly, shouting with her pitch a bit off, “Dawn, I came out of a building today and I dove for the ground.” “What do you mean?”  “I have new hearing aids and a plane flew directly overhead.  It was the first time I ever heard a plane!!”  My eyes welled up. “That,” I thought, “That is Chicki.”
As the years passed, we each became more mired in our lives, children, and jobs.  My mother, who now lived on Martha’s Vineyard, became a conduit of news and updates because she and Chicki wrote weekly postcards to each other.  When the time came to call hospice for my mother, I called Chicki.  I heard her voice and broke.  I cried and hiccouped and she couldn’t understand a thing I said.  Slowly, slowly, I pulled myself together so she could understand the sad news I was sharing with her. My mother held Chicki closely under her wing right until her death; she sent Chicki the last postcard from the hospital.  
            Eighteen months later, it was Chicki’s daughter, Rachel, contacting me.  She and her sister knew I would want to know their mother was in the ICU.  The girls –now women, were sweet to send me daily updates.  They called me shortly after Chicki died.  They were sitting outside the hospital in their car feeling numb and full of disbelief that they were going home without their mother.  We managed to laugh through our tears as we talked about their mother.  We plotted to commingle Chicki’s ashes with my mother’s on Martha’s Vineyard. We all agreed that there was a symmetry to that closure. 
            Chicki’s love for me was a gift of immeasurable value; it had its own breadth and width and depth. She filled in the edges of my life, fortifying, teaching and always, always believing in my worth. She lived her life by loving, giving herself to others without condition, and looking for humor wherever she could find it. The peculiar lilt that her speech had as a result of her hearing impediment branded her love for me.   Her “I love you’s” , with their unique intonation were unique and irreproducible.  As unique and irreproducible as she was to me.     

24 July, 2011

I Can Not Be Thrown Away



      On the day before my discharge from Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, a clergyman came to call on me.  I recalled
agreeing to his visit three weeks earlier, when I was first
admitted.  Now, after a particular arduous stay, it seemed, well, irrelevant.  I had found my way without the particular religious salves he might offer: I was fine.  However, I did not banish him from my bedside.  We chatted about the fine work of the Rabbi who had called upon me when my first hip was replaced and I was rehabilitated at Spaulding.  The clergyman explained he was a Baptist, that
he and the Rabbi and the priest who served the hospital had a deep appreciation for each others’ work.  The message that God is present and moving in our lives, even in our darkest hours, is non-denominational.  It was a brief visit, and I felt I had weathered it politely without revealing some of the profound questions that have surfaced in my life recently.
As he was leaving, I saw how tightly the minister was clutching his clipboard – I thought he was clutching the list of faith-seeking patients he might locate by room number.  Instead, he pulled out a sheet from all of the others.  As he did so, he said, “I find we have a lot to learn from each others’ religions.  The Rabbi came to my church to address my parishioners last year.  I would like to leave you with a few words written by a Catholic Cardinal.  Please, when you have a moment, read this over and see if they mean something to you.” I folded the page in thirds and placed it on my blanket before shaking his hand goodbye.  
      As the minster was leaving the room, he paused to talk to my roommate.  The “privacy” curtain was half drawn between our beds; neither of them could see me. Without much thought, I reached for the paper on my bed and unfolded it.  My first thought was that the page-long prayer he left me was like an overly-adorned woman.  The ornate, ritualistic language typical of Catholicism almost managed to obscure the simple, beautiful and powerful message therein. I had no forewarning of my reaction. When I read Cardinal Newman’s prayer and translated it into a language I use myself in praying to God, something broke inside of me. I wept. I tried to do so silently.  I simply couldn’t imagine what was happening. With no Kleenex at hand, I buried my face in my blankets. I tried to restrain the shudders of grief and relief that passed through me. The whole time, I kept my face turned toward the window while I struggled to regain my composure. The message that I am not disposable and that I have a role to play was a powerful one at this time in my life.  I know that I must thank John Henry Cardinal Newman for starting this particular conversation with God.


I am created to reflect God’s glory. The design for me is to serve mankind in a way that is uniquely suited to me and my God-given gifts.  This is my life’s work.  I am uniquely created to do something or to be someone to serve others. My place in the world is one no one else can serve; whether I am rich or poor, despised, or esteemed by others, God knows my heart. I may not understand the role I serve. I listen to the quiet, inner voice that guides me and speak my truth, I can be certain that I am playing my part in God’s world. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between others.

I will trust God.  Whatever, wherever I am,
        I can never be thrown away.
God is with me. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him: in confusion, my confusion may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, confusion, or sorrow may be stopping points on the path toward an end I can not imagine, but is part of God’s plan. God may prolong my life or shorten my life. He may take away my friends, throw me into unfamiliar circumstances, or leave my future clouded and uncertain. I may feel abandoned, desolate and alone.  Yet, despite these heart-wrenching trials, I hold fast to my faith in God’s presence in my life.

No matter my purpose or my work, I will trust in God, who affords all goodness, love, life and light. 

~John Henry Cardinal Newman as paraphrased by Dawn Elise Evans


17 June, 2011

The Secret

If what we read feeds our thoughts, it is pretty clear what I have been thinking lately.  I have books strewn about the house.  In a whirlwind blast to tidy up the house this morning, I gathered up some of the books I am reading currently.  When I saw the stack, I laughed out loud.  The pattern that emerged was pretty clear.  
One Day My Soul Just Opened Up  by Iyanda Vanzant
Mind Power into the 21st Century by John Kehoe
The Healing Power of Mind  Simple mediation Exercises for Health Well-Being and Enlightenment
              Tulku Thondup
The books have been dropped in the bathtub (where I often fall asleep reading them), highlighted and their pages dog-earred and torn.  These book have been well-worn and well-loved.

In a few days, I am going into the hospital for my second hip replacement in three months.  I have been working hard to harness the infinite power of my mind to bring about the best outcome.  For that reason, I must have pulled these books off my library shelf at different points of times.  These books are instruction manuals for enlightened thought; using different words, describing varied examples, their messages are all the same.
You are GREAT. You can do this!
I encourage anyone who is trying to find their way through a physically, emotionally or spiritually challenging period in their lives to seek out and read any one of these books. I will tell you honestly, however, that it's not about the books you read.  What I have discovered is that it is about the willingness to ask the questions.  The answers you seek will not be found in a single book nor in a single teacher.  If you are determined to find an answer and are willing to ask for help,  you will ultimately find the answer within yourself.  Just ask Dorothy ~ you don't even need ruby slippers.   The  answer  may not be the answer you want, nor even the one you imagined, but the answer is already within your reach.  So, that's The Secret.  Picture my hand cupped and curled as I lean close to you and quietly whisper,        "Pass it on..."

31 May, 2011

Living with Grief


May was Ehler’s-Danlos Awareness Month
For me, every month is Ehler’s-Danlos Month.  Living with Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome*, I mourn daily.  I mourn the future I had envisioned before I had major medical issues.  I mourn the freedom to live each day without physical pain.  I mourn the many things I can no longer do.  I mourn the freedom to choose my activities without limitations imposed upon me due to issues of health. 
I believe that it was 1976 when I met Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross at a seminar conducted for the newly- formed hospice agency on Martha’s Vineyard.  She introduced us to the idea that there were five stages of grief.  Originally, these stages applied to people facing terminal illnesses.  However, she realized that grief is laid bare whenever there is a catastrophic personal loss. This may also include significant life events such as the death of a loved one, divorce and the onset of a disease or chronic illness.


From Elizabeth Kubler Ross,The Five Stages of Grief
  1. Denial — "I feel fine."; "This can't be happening, not to me."
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the personal. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of the  possessions and  the people that will be left behind.
  2. Anger — "Why me? It's not fair!"; "How can this happen to me?"; '"Who is to blame for this happening to me?"
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy toward others.
  3. Bargaining — "Just let me live to see my children graduate."; "I'll do anything for a few more years."; "I will give my life savings if..."
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay the loss. Usually, the negotiation for an extension is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, "I understand loss in inevitable, but if I could just have more time as it was..."
  4. Depression — "I'm so sad, why bother with anything?"; "I'm going to die... What's the point?"; "My life, as I knew it is over, so why go on?"
    During the fourth stage, the person begins to understand the certainty of loss. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visits from friends and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the person to disconnect from things that offer love and affection.  It  is an important time for grieving; these feelings must be processed.
  5. Acceptance — "It's going to be okay."; "I can't fight it, I may as well prepare for it."
    In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with the impending loss or death.  They find peace.
Each new day presents me with an opportunity to move closer to Acceptance.  The funny thing is that, just when I am confident that I am at peace with my life and my diagnosis, I
rebel.  I plant the geraniums, paint the trim, go out to dinner.  The next day, I find myself in bed angry at myself and bargaining with the Powers that Be. I resent the price I pay for the simple pleasures of daily living.  It’s all up to me, however.   When I successfully break this cycle, I know I will be closer to achieving a state of grace. 


to learn more about Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome.. 

19 May, 2011

The Cottage on the Vineyard

The first time I remember being in the Cottage was 1963.  The Johnsruds stayed there and my sister and I stayed with our parents down the street in the pink house behind the Wesley House.  That was the summer my Mom cut her foot so badly on the beach.  My sister and I were enchanted with the floor grates in our second floor bedroom -- they afforded us the ability to eavesdrop on the adults downstairs.
Mary K. guarded the Cottage with all of the possessiveness of a mother lion protecting her cubs.  The Johnsruds were careful to observe all of her rules and the Campground’s regulations.  Of issue was how to enjoy alcohol on the porch.  Cousin D and I were excited to be allowed an overnight in the room that later became my bedroom.  For lighting effects, he draped a cloth over the lampshade and nearly started a fire.  That was the summer of “The Cousin’s Photo” – the five of us lined up in Martha’s Vineyard sweatshirts. It is an enduring icon of our family history.
The Cottage became my lynchpin: while our family moved, uprooted and began again, to meet my Dad’s career moves, the Cottage was home.  When life in Rhode Island became overridden with conflict at home in April, 1976,  I escaped to the Cottage. I was seventeen. It was no coincidence that I married an Islander.  Six weeks after our first child, H, was born, I took her to the Cottage to begin to earn her status as a ”sort-of Island girl”.  Our daughter, K,was captivated by a place where her creative expression was rewarded; she won first place in the All-Island Art Show in the Children's Division.  C, my third baby was tagged our Beach Baby Beach Bum after spending day after day under an umbrella at the Beach Club.   
As our family contemplates plans for my father's long term medical care, the piece of the equation that is difficult to resolve is the future of The Cottage.  It is his asset, it is my heritage.  The Cottage and the Island represent family, home and tradition to me.  In the days ahead, I will do what I can to preserve it....for my parents, for my children and for their children.   

30 April, 2011

The Power of Forgiveness

 

It has taken over fifty years for me to begin to discover the power of forgiveness. A surprising corollary to that understanding has been that, whenever I stop assigning power to the person or event that hurt me, I am a happier person.  Every time I find the strength to forgive someone, something good rushes in to fill the space my resentment once occupied.  It’s as if condemnation, with its far-reaching and evil tentacles, tries to stifle goodness.  It takes persistence, desire and vigilance to achieve forgiveness.

Since Sunday-school teachers drilled it, grade-school teachers recited it, and high-school teachers demanded it, I have tried to live by the Golden Rule to “do unto others as you would have the do unto you.” I have done a fair-to-middling job in that practice.  Where I have been most deficient is in tearing up the list of misdeeds I have suffered. In self-indulgent moments, I imagine a long-robed judge sitting through my recitation of the wrongs I have endured.  Her head nods in silent encouragement as I pour forth with my sorry tales.  Finally, she sets forth her judgment, proclaiming as justified and warranted my feelings of anger and resentment. Her legitimization leaves me righteous and satisfied.   I am left with a twinge of disappointment when my fabricated Goddess fades from view.

                When we suffer an injustice or hurt by another, we rush to judge them and condemn them for having made us suffer.  That anger is pernicious.  Before long, it becomes the dye in which our world is colored.  Hard-earned experience has taught me that forgiveness is like an invisible contract we have to make between ourselves and the ghost of the person who hurt us.

To break it down, there are seven steps to practicing forgiveness.                                                                                                                                    
                                                
Seven Steps to Forgiveness
1.     Acknowledge your feelings of anger and resentment.

2.     Identify why you have these emotions.

3.     Allow yourself time to experience these feelings.

4.     Desire the release that forgiveness offers.

5.     Picture how things would be without this negativity in your life.
Practice blame-free living in short bursts.
Dig deep and offer light and goodness to the person or people who hurt you.  Repeat    “I forgive you, I release you, I am letting you go.”

6.     Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until you feel detached from the person or people that hurt you.
     
      7.  Accept that forgiveness is a process. Expect to go three steps forward and two steps back. Blame and resentment can resurface without warning.  Be prepared to renew your efforts.   


Forgiveness is an act that demands that we let go our sense of the injustice we have suffered.  When we release our judgments and seek understanding instead, we are giving
to others what we would ask for ourselves.  We must not forgive once, twice nor even seventeen times.  We must forgive until we find only love in our hearts; be assured that love comes back to us and multiplies.  Through forgiveness, there is redemption. In forgiveness, we are made whole.

24 April, 2011

Why Easter Means More Than Chocolate Bunnies

           Easter’s origins are sacred to those whose practice Christianity.  The holiday is sacred to me for wholly different reasons.  As a young child, Easter promised a litany of traditions that were strictly observed in our family:  a new dress, a new slip, white gloves, bobby socks, and shiny new
patent-leather shoes.  The most cherished addition to the Easter outfit was a “bonnet”; I was often able to choose a pert new hat to set off my dress.  There were Easter baskets filled with small gifts and chocolate bunnies that
helped the hour or so before church pass quickly.  Holding my mother’s hand, I loved stepping into the nave of the church buffeted by the triumphant musical offerings that heralded the Good News. Easter Sundays forced the minister to truncate his sermon in order to make room for the choir director’s choral arrangements. In my Protestant church, timeliness was never violated; the notion of running more than the prescribed hour for a service was anathema to the congregation.  Contrary to other Sunday services, I did not doze or scribble or play mindless games such as counting the number of bricks in the ceiling.  Instead, on Easters, I nibbled every so slowly on the one, foil-wrapped chocolate bunny I was allowed to tuck into my little purse along side my white hankie bearing the letter “D and a quarter for the offertory plate.

         When I was twelve, my knees frequently dislocated when I walked.  A renowned orthopedic surgeon in New Jersey advised us that I needed to have my knees repaired as soon as possible; beside the painful nature of this problem, I was doing irreparable damage to the cartilage. We would start with the right knee during Easter vacation.  In addition, I would miss another week or ten days of school.  Three to six months later, he would repair the left knee. 

My surgeon’s schedule dictated I arrive at the hospital the day before the surgery. I underwent lots of blood work and x-rays and a thorough scrubbing before being wheeled down to the operating room at 6a.m. the next morning.  The post-surgical week was filled with pain, glimpses of my parents and sister, morphine delirium and friendly bunnies hopping off the walls.  By Easter morning, my doctor deemed me fit for a daytime-leave from the hospital.  I was to be back in my hospital bed by 6 p.m..  Our traditions for the day were put aside to accommodate my condition.  For example, for my Easter outfit, my mother delighted me by making me a pair of flowing palazzo pants in a psychedelic pink fabric that I had admired.  The pants fit easily over my thigh to ankle cast. My flip-flops were the only shoes that fit my swollen foot. Our family had dinner in a dark, crowded restaurant.  Its wooden dance floor still haunts me as I remember crutching back from the Ladies Room and taking a clumsy spill on the somewhat forgiving surface. Fortunately, I more bounced than fell.  I was publicly mortified when my father scooped me up and placed back in my wheelchair.  However, those splendid palazzo pants gave me the confidence to be wheeled back to the car under the curious eyes of the other restaurant guests.

     I turned very quiet on the car ride back to the hospital.  I was faced with another painful week of physical therapy.   My mind was desperately trying to reconcile the meaning of Easter with the idea of spiritual resurrection and with the daunting tasks ahead.  I was faced with having to recuperate from the right knee surgery then return to repeat the entire process on my left knee. I remember the thrill when I had first had a glimmer of an insight; the only way through these challenges was going to be with the help of my family, my friends, and my faith.   
        
         Easter was all about the impossible. Easter that year had not included most of our traditional observances.  We didn’t attend church or enjoy the familiar music that always lifted my spirits.  The flowers, oh the flowers – lily’s and hyacinths and tulips and daffodils – all so integral in proclaiming Easter—were not in sight.  There was no Easter egg hunt.    However, a cataclysmic shift took place in my understanding of Easter.  The resurrection of hope could not be confined to one oft-told tale of of a young man’s sojourn to death and back again.  For me, Easter had come to have an enormous significance for anyone who believed in the possibility of new beginnings. Anyone who wished to could lay down the burden of their past and, instead, pick up the promise of the future. 
        
         In the last gasp of pre-teen awareness, I understood that Easter was not about the new hat, the new dress or the chocolate Easter bunny.  Easter was about the crocuses pushing their way up through the cool, dark soil to bring a spot of color to a spring day.  Easter was about the sunrise when the fingers of first light promised the dawn of a new day. 

          In the forty years since that Easter, nothing has diminished my belief that Easter serves to remind us that hope is a certainty; it is among God’s greatest gifts to mankind.   Darkened skies and  defeated spirits can not withstand the restorative power of hope….Hope, buoyed by love and a positive attitude,  always brings with it a better, brighter tomorrow.  

17 April, 2011

Charles Frank Film

This is a link to Charles Frank's trailer for a short he is entering in a film contest in Easthampton, MA.

http://www.youtube.com/user/charlesfrankfilm

While there, check out his film called, "Tag."  He won a prize for it last year.  This is a proud mother.

08 April, 2011

Chestnut Mountain View




            Years ago, the cover of a newsstand magazine caught my attention.  Headlined in the August edition was the 1996 Better Homes and Gardens Home of the Year.  Ever since then, I have kept that magazine preserved in a manila envelope covered with large bold words in red ink; SAVE, SAVE, SAVE.  The plans in that magazine changed my life.
            Back in August, 1996, my husband, three children, two cats and one bird were pushing out the boundaries of our 2200sq. foot restored farmhouse.  We were at a cross-road; we needed to expand our living quarters, build or purchase a new home.  The plans in Better Homes and Gardens captivated our attention and claimed out hearts.  I mailed a check for the architectural plans and we allowed our dreams to blossom.  We searched six months for an appropriate lot that would meet our budget and construction requirements.  Our efforts were not fruitful.  Reluctantly, we shelved our desire to build the 1996 Better Homes and Gardens Home of the Year.  We put our one hundred year old home on stilts, dug a full basement, constructed a solid foundation and added a family room and a library.  We loved the property we rebuilt.  We had a comfortable home, an in-ground pool and over a acre of land for privacy. And yet…
            From a box, under our bed, in an envelope labeled SAVE, SAVE, SAVE our future whispered to us.  By tacit, unspoken agreement, we kept a six-year vigil for the hillside property that might accommodate our house.  My husband stumbled upon it in a casual conversation with an insurance client.  The property had proven difficult to develop and he wanted to sell it.             
            Together, my husband and I hiked up the remnants of a logging road that disappeared into an overgrown tangle of thicket .  After climbing 400 feet up Chestnut Mountain, we took to trails left by deer and other fauna of western Massachusetts.  My husband gained purchase of the view by shimmying up a tree.  I climbed on until I reached a rock-roped ridge with a stream of water trickling down it.  My heart beat loud and fast, whether from exhilaration or exertion, I was not concerned.  I had a strong, sure sense of coming home.  Unfolding below us was the wide, expansive vista of the rolling hills and mountains that lend the geographic identity to this region.  The Connecticut River Valley coursed through it, threading its way south toward Springfield, toward the sea. 
            The land purchase was readily accomplished.  What followed was anything but easy.  We endured a two-year legal wrangle with the local Zoning Board who were invested in flexing their muscles on our project.  Less committed dreamers may have abandoned their dreams, but we had a secret inspiration.  We had a magazine with a full photo-shoot of our dream house as it would rise from the end of a 1200 foot long mountainous driveway.  
            We moved in December, 2005.  Numerous projects are still underway, including:  landscaping, constructing the wrap-around porch, finishing the first floor space.  Time, energy and resources have been at a premium.  These facts in no way diminish our deep sense of gratitude that we live on ten acres in a home that can only be described as a hallowed place: we live perched between earth and sky in a spacious and light-filled home once featured in Better Homes and Gardens.
 March 2010

An Homage to Emily; When love comes to call.



When love comes to call, it sends no couriers.
It oft arrives without preamble, forewarning or thought.
It becomes incarnate in its hosts for time without measure.
Its duration, the eternity stored between the rollicking beats of two
Loving hearts.

When love lays its claim,
It rushes to secure its newly gained ground –
Its geography and landscape ripe with new promise.
It basks in the rich pleasure of each stolen moment
Converting the vanquished to victor anew.

When love loses luster
Habit and pattern oft times linger as glue.
The dizzying pulse of new love untethered
As events, sometimes capricious, pry lovers
Apart.  Love’s glossy coat may be worn and tattered
But steady the metronome of two beating hearts.

When love, resurrected, endures decades
Embattled, its old magic echoes in harmonic
Refrain.
The half-lift of a brow, the brush of a palm, a ghost
Of a smile, a language its own. 
When love comes to call, it lingers a lifetime until,
At last, its labored breath exhales as one.

d.evans    April 8, 2011

13 March, 2011

The Untold Story

There are three dates of supreme significance in my daughter’s life. Hannah was conceived on 25 July, 1989. She was delivered on 4 May, 1990. We celebrate the role that medical technology and surgical finesse played in her rebirth on 17 March, 2005. When it comes to Hannah, there is much to celebrate. When it comes to Hannah, so much has been joyous, but nothing has been easy.
Hannah did not take that first instinctual gasp of air when she was born. The drama took place in that instant of what didn’t happen. It took the efforts of a pediatrician and several nurses to coax her to breathe. She was a nine-pound baby whose lungs were filled with melconium. By the time Hannah was seven, we knew that something was not altogether right about her breathing. Our active, bright child was petite – she did even make the height and weight percentiles on the growth curves in every pediatrician’s office; her place in the front row, center, of every class picture was assured. Despite her size, she was reading by three, calculating volumes of spheres by the time she was five. Hannah had exceptional strength, coordination and flexibility. She was recruited to compete on an elite gymnastic team when she was seven. But the simple act of breathing challenged Hannah. She struggled with asthma, chronic respiratory infections and recurrent pneumonia.
Summers were the best for her. Winters stopped her in her tracks. She rarely complained about the cancelled plans, abandoned vacations and interrupted efforts on performances and competitions. Over time, Hannah developed allergies to all antibiotics. In order to take an antibiotic, she first has to go through a desensitization process under the care of an immunologist in Boston. Rather than bemoan her circumstances, she channeled her energy into academics and pushed herself to the limit. In high school, we discovered she had needlessly suffered for years due to a misdiagnosis of a congenital lung abnormality. By the time it was detected, her condition had deteriorated into a life-threatening situation. After a radical lung reconstruction and ensuing drug therapy for aspergillus, Hannah reclaimed her life. It took a year for Hannah to fully recover from her surgery and treatment. She did more than simply recover. She pushed beyond the physical limits she had always known. The young woman she has become is filled with grace.
Sometimes a story is told in terms of what we can’t see. In Hannah’s transcripts, we can’t see how self-directed much of her education has been. We can’t see the times she was overlooked and forgotten socially because she was unable to attend school. We can’t see her unique ability to make lemonade out of lemons – in three languages! On my bureau rests an empty picture frame; it is surrounded by photographs of my three children, a favorite quote and a picture of my husband. I keep the small glass frame empty for one reason. It holds all the possibility of a thousand untold stories. Hannah is like that empty frame. She rarely looks back at what might have been. Rather, her eyes are fixed on the future and focused on all the bright magic of the stories she will tell.

September, 2008


I wrote this essay to attach as the parents’ statement on Hannah’s application to Georgetown University. Fast forward three years – Hannah is a junior at Georgetown. I could never have guessed that Hannah would have to take a medical leave of absence in spring of her junior year. Her lungs, once again, have raised havoc with her plans. She intended to spend four months studying in Tokyo. Hannah withdrew less than a week before the recent devastating earthquake hit Japan. My departed mother would have offered her wry wisdom, sotto voce, “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Hannah at 7

March, 2011

10 March, 2011

Prayer Works

I have every reason to believe in prayer. My first prayers were memorized and recited by rote; they were part of the ritual of mealtime, bedtime and church. The prayers were not my own, but I laid claim to them. “Now I lay me down to sleep. The Lord is good, the Lord is great. Our Father who art in heaven.” I recited these words with the confidence that only a child has that God is listening. Prayer continued to be an integral part of my life as I entered middle school. Growing up, my mother’s younger sister lived with us. She was twelve years older than me and twelve years younger than my mother. My aunt tells the story of how she found me, on the day of her departure to her own apartment, kneeling, bible in hand, before a lighted candle. The thing is, I can remember just how I felt. How I was imploring God to look after this person I loved even if she did have to leave me. I wanted to pray that she would stay, but I knew, even then, that such a selfish request would go unheeded. Just about the same time, I changed schools. I met a whole new world of friends. On our walks to school and home again, we would talk about our teachers, school lunches and whether God existed. I listened, with interest, to a boy – a self-declared agnostic – explain his doubts whether God existed. I made the mistake of asking a devout Catholic boy how he had such utter certainty that God was real. I wasn’t intending to challenge him;I really wanted to know. I paid for that question with a fist to my solar plexus. I went down like a rock. I didn’t have theological debates with that crew again.
Over the interceding forty years, life has presented ample opportunities for me to pray. Driven by circumstance, I have turned to prayer over and over again. The numbers are impressive. A serious car accident, five miscarriages, one Alzheimer afflicted father-in-law in-residence, my husband’s resignation from his job on the day my first viable pregnancy was confirmed, a placenta previa, six months on bed-rest while caring for my one-year old baby. There were the many pneumonias and respiratory infections that plagued my first-born. There was the debilitating illness that wracked my second child for a year before her grossly inflamed appendix was removed. I fought the inexplicable degeneration of my joints that led to chronic pain and surgical repairs and my son’s struggle with demons we didn’t always understand. I used prayer through my eldest child’s lung surgery and battle with the fungi aspergillus and, my second child’s struggle with Ehler’s-Danlos Syndrome alongside the discovery that she had inherited this pernicious disorder from me. I prayed as I stood alongside my mother from cancer’s grasp to its defeat of her. Prayer has been a constant through the years of what my parents once tagged as my “many trials of Job.” My prayers were always answered. I simply did not always recognize the answers that were delivered for what they were.

Each decade has brought with it its own formula for successful prayer; how I pray, the exact mechanics of what prayer is, has changed with time. When I was a child, I would pray to God by calling out his name, then politely making a request. I prayed aloud for understanding and help. It seemed that I was successful using this approach; I began to think that this was a lot like a magic act I’d seen at a church fundraiser. A magician was hired to say the magic words, repeat our heart’s desires and AbracadabraShazaam, a rabbit, peanut butter sandwich or scarf appeared!! It was imperative that we limit our heart’s desires to items displayed directly on the table in front of us. I believed that I should never pray for something I couldn’t imagine.

High school brought its own set of worries and concerns. I noticed that when I turned to the same God I had prayed to in elementary school, I got similar results….despite the odds, things turned out for the best. . “God, please let the boy in eighth grade math notice me despite my leg braces and crutches.” He called that week. However, it was easy to read on the faces of the cool kids that it wasn’t cool to pray in public and definitely not in school. I decided to go underground with my prayer and call it meditation, instead. In tenth grade, I took some lessons in Transcendental Meditation (TM) and learned how to ohhmmm with the best of them. I went from being geeky to being hippie with little more than a mantra. Meanwhile, despite hardships, goodness - godliness – continued to be spill into my life.

In my twenties, my prayer methods evolved to asking for the highest good for all involved. I gave up the notion that I could know what would be the best resolution to a problem. I gave up believing I had any idea of what was on the table. I left it up to God to determine the outcome that would best serve everyone involved. I arrived at this acceptance by way of a funeral I attended for a young man who was killed in a car accident. His death left his wife and two young children disconsolate. The priest presiding over the service declared that humans have a restricted view of God’s will. He likened our knowledge of God’s intentions to a view of a parade -- seen through a knothole in a picket fence. Prayer was a way to make the view a little larger and bring us more perspective about our place in that parade.
My thirties brought a profound awareness that the best I could do was to let go and let God take over. It was a relief to know that I was never going to be cast adrift; in moments of despair, panic or loneliness, I could take a break to ask for God’s presence in my life. If I was quiet and still, God found me.
What served as a resort of last measure in my thirties was my go- to strategy as the mother of three children in my forties. I had enough sense to realize that life was too big, too complex, too much for me to tackle on my own. A little divine intervention was necessary. I decided moving meditations might be an adjunct to those long-ago thirty-minute TM sessions. I found myself asleep in five minutes when I tried long, recumbent meditative trances. (I have seen discovered that I can sleep sitting up -- an highly evolved skill, I might add.) I found a new way to pray. My mantra– heard as a buzzing in my ears-- was a short, staccato sound, repeated over and over……..GodGodGodGodGod. Though somewhat frenetic, this method kept me in touch with my greater power and it worked for me.
It was in this decade that I discovered for myself the indisputable power of sharing prayer. My cousin, Alison, always, upon hearing of my challenges would say, “I will pray for you.” I was touched that she would think of me. Finally, I was feeling so overwhelmed and full of despair that I submitted a prayer request and a ten-dollar bill to Unity Village. Within a week or so, the tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders. Cause and effect? I will never know for sure, but I do know that I drew comfort knowing my child’s life was not solely in my hands. As reluctant as I was to draw anyone else into my personal conversations with God, I discovered that when friends, family and well-wishers raised my prayers with their voices, my small, quiet voice was lifted. Whenever more than one person brings their clear intentions to inviting God’s presence in another person’s life, it is prayer. The whisper of thanks, the surrender to God, these are simple prayers of beneficence. Now. when my.sister-in-law says, “ Good-bye, I will pray for you.” I say, “Please do.”
In my fifties, I have, once again, devised a different approach to prayer that combines the magic of childhood, the quiet, stillness of my twenties, the letting go of my thirties and the prayer in motion of my forties. Prayer is more than desire; it is intention. The prayer of my fifties starts with mindfulness. I hold an awareness of that moment, letting it expand into my total consciousness. Gradually, I let thoughts and concerns drift through without latching too hard onto them. They come, they go with each breath. A refrain of GodGodGodGod taps out in a whisper at the edge of my awareness. The last part involves being aware of what follows. Expect and look for good things and they arrive. Ask for help, it comes. Sometimes in a form or in a manner I could never imagined or considered. Most often in a time frame that I find frustrating. However, with patience and time, I see order in all that transpires. I understand I am one small part of a much larger mosaic. Prayer lifts me and brings me joy even when I have lagging faith. I have learned that faith is a rugged weed and not easily exterminated. Even for an experienced gardener.

October 2010

08 March, 2011

One Week in the Pages of a Magazine

Possibilities are limitless with imagination as a guide. How else can you explain the thread that links Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (Harper Collins, 1964), Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts (Warner Books, 1998) and The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs (Simon and Schuster, 2007)? I arrived at this commonality during a convalescence after recent surgery. During long hours of solitude, when reading was still a challenge for me, I let my mind drift through book titles I had read in the past. I did mental calesthenics – I challenged myself to list authors, settings, characters. I grouped them by topic, by publication date, by the date I first read the book. By now, it must be more than evident than I am a literary geek. Let’s simply acknowledge that fact and move on.
I started formulating a thesis that the books we read as children shape our dreams and mold our futures. Some of my favorite childhood books were T.H. White’s Mistress Masham’s Repose, Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, The Borrowers, and E.L.Kinigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I looked for adventure, a world within another world, a strong, moral protagonist and a satisfying conclusion. Every book that claimed my attention successfully drew me into its pages, lifting me out of my seat into its plot. Escape.
One of my earliest chapter books, Flat Stanley, recounts Stanley’s conundrum when a bulletin board lands on his bed, flattening him to a record four feet tall, a foot wide, and half an inch thick. At first, the novelty of his situation offers many distractions and numerous escapades. Stanley even solves an art heist. His condition eventually wears on him. His creative brother uses a bicycle pump to restore Stanley to his former stature. My daydreams allowed me to accompany Stanley on his high-flying adventures as a kite, down a sidewalk grate below the street and into the U.S. postal service. I catalogued and stored those pleasurable thoughts for future reference.
Thirty years later, I was, unconsciously seeking the same kind of thrill. Case in point, the book Where the Heart Is. This novel is almost entirely played out in a Walmart. The main character finds herself pregnant and trapped by circumstance and finances inside this giant big-box store. She shows resourcefulness and ingenuity in creating a comfortable world. Drawing from house wares, electronics, and the grocery section, she creates a comfortable environment to live in after hours. Despite all expectations to the contrary, she develops a real friendship with a man who, ultimately, changes and improves her life.
Another vault of mind and I arrive in the pages of A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically. I gleaned what I know about this book from a lengthy New York Times Book Review and a Barnes and Noble research expedition. A comfortable leather chair, a decaf. vanilla latte and a Sunday afternoon spent speed reading the book at Barnes and Noble. The crux of the book is that a less than religious Jewish man undertakes the challenge of observing his faith’s most cited biblical laws for a year. Much like Stanley and __LOOKUP NAME_________, the narrator lives in a world of his own making. He comes out subtly changed, but I will let him tell you about that. Suffice it to say that I was intrigued by the discipline and curiosity that inspired him to follow this path. Would I have the psychological muscle to commit to living so stringently? I completed a one-year Course in Miracles (in sixteen months). Does that serve as a predictor of probable success?
With all this hop-skip-and-jumping, I finally hit upon a thoroughly engaging idea. Last week, I was standing in the checkout aisle of Stop and Shop when it struck me. What would I do if, like Flat Stanley, I found myself compressed and flattened? With the scads of displayed magazines on my right, it was a no-brainer that I would like to enter the pages of a magazine featuring food as its theme. Trapped in an interior world with different rules, how would I do? Would I make friends, adapt, experience an epiphany of sorts? To challenge the notion, I pictured a miniaturized version of “me” hopping through the pages of Cooking Light magazine. For one week, I would eat and serve only recipes wrung from the 78 colorfully displayed recipes displayed therein. Twenty-one meals. On a mission, I visited Forbes Library to pick up a back issue of Cooking Light. I pulled out April, 2007, flipped through its pages, and began to digest my future.


MARCH 2008