Homer

My friend, Mark Cassity, is a good man who should share his writing more. He wrote this for the Triad Health Project (THP link) newsletter. He is the Director of Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.And, yes, he said I could put this on my blog.

Years ago, we were minding my neighbor’s dog, Homer, when he had what amounted to a stroke during the night. Homer was about 140 years old so no big surprises, and I carried him out to the yard so he could use the facilities before I took him to the vet. He made no complaint. He didn’t show signs of pain or even surprise; he simply stumbled about in ever-tightening circles, diving his head under one leg and then falling over before I would right him and he could try it again. Homer did not cry out that anything had gone terribly wrong with the world but rather simply carried on with what the world gave him that day. His eyes suggested, I suppose this is what today is like. At least every time I fall over I get to see the sky. And the grass smells so sweet. It was one of the noblest things I’ve ever seen.

Homer held up to me the times I’ve caught the flu or my car wouldn’t start or I got a crick in my neck or bleach spilled onto my favorite sweater and I’ve wanted the world to stop. I somehow think this just isn’t right, it’s not correct, something must be done to set the universe back in proper order because this-won’t-do! With Homer’s help, I hear God reminding me that nothing’s gone wrong in the least. Tuck and roll. Why not smell the good grass I made for you? What if you needed help to use the facilities one day? Growing old, getting sick, these are merely parts of life, too; and when you finally fall down, perhaps you will notice the sky like you used to. Perhaps someone will come by and pick you up and carry you home.

Published in: on March 17, 2015 at 12:01 pm  Comments (3)  
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I Want to Flourish!

I saw the sun today.  Once the fog burned off.

Let me say this before I start whining: I live in central North Carolina, not Boston or Minneapolis. I know it could be worse. But NC is where I am.

We haven’t had much sun lately.  According to our local newspaper, a string of 14 consecutive days with precipitation ended Saturday. Only 4 days in February didn’t record any precipitation. That’s a lot of gray sky.

We’ve seen rain, sleet, snow, freezing rain and various mixtures of any or all of those.  And record cold, just like all the people I love in other places.

The joke is, if you live in NC and don’t like today’s weather, hold on–it’ll change.  Our forecast for this week is nuts. Partly cloudy Monday high 55, Tuesday is high 42 with rain, Wednesday is rain and 65 (!!), then Thursday high 37 and wintry mix.

My best Robin hibernates in January and February of any year. This January, I decided to meditate on the words “vigor” and “flourish” instead of making resolutions for 2015. I’m waiting for the meditation to work. Maybe I need to meditate every day instead of every so often.

I think it’s the lack of sun that gets me.  Lethargy: the quality or state of being drowsy and dull, listless and un-energetic, or indifferent and lazy; apathetic or sluggish inactivity. Lethargy is not vigor.

Lethargy is me.

Too much trouble to meditate. Lethargy. I sit to read the newspaper after lunch and fall asleep in my chair. Lethargy. Sometimes laundry gets into the washer, but not the dryer. Lethargy.  I watch old episodes of The Good Wife on Hulu Plus and Scandal on Netflix. Lethargy. I look at the exercise bike and say, “maybe later.” Lethargy.

Perhaps “lethargy” is just a kind word for “lazy.”

I need a vigor infusion.  I want to flourish. Hook me up to an IV and let’s get started.

Maybe Medicare will cover it.

 

 

 

Published in: on March 2, 2015 at 3:20 pm  Comments (4)  
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What’s Your Story?

Everybody has a story. I love to hear and be surprised by those stories.

I spent 3 days last week with 6 other people at an annual spiritual retreat on the NC coast. We spent some of the retreat time in silence. (Yes, we like that.) We gathered several times for group contemplative prayer (website).  We also ate Girl Scout cookies and talked and laughed a lot when we weren’t in silence.

I might not have picked these people off SpiritualFriend.com (an actual website!), but God brought us together through the programs of Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation (website). I think God chuckles about that.

We all share an awareness of God’s presence. We recognize our need to be still enough and quiet enough to be led and guided by God. We pray for each other. And we enjoy our time together.

We learned more about each other as we shared our stories.  I get to hang out with some interesting people.

One woman was once a weather girl for 3 months in DC until, in her own words, “I was fired for being awful and wearing no make-up.”  She also worked for quite a while in the trust department of a major bank until she got MS. Now she has her own business selling handmade cards and posters. (Cheap Therapy, handcrafted paper art that celebrates life)

Another woman has her Ph.D in American Studies. She taught classes like Women in the Arts and Literature and Ecology at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL.  Now, in retirement, she is a published poet and passionate about our Earth and its health.

One of the men is a Southern Baptist minister who serves as an interim pastor for churches who are searching for a new minister.  That means he learns about and helps to mediate all the opinions and factions that exist in any church and leads them (hopefully) to consensus about who they are and what they need in a pastor.  Can you imagine?  He also is a photographer.  He shared a magnificent sunrise photograph for us to sit with and ponder during our silent time.

One woman worked for a number of years in a Catholic parish, leading groups and formation classes. She recently retired. She has 9 grown children so she has always been a busy person. She is still figuring out just what to do with her free time. She started with de-cluttering in her house.  I need to follow her example.

The other man, African American, told us he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Nashville, Tennessee, when he was 13.  He was once a long-distance truck driver and a Marine. When he left the Marines he went to seminary and is now an Episcopal priest. He led us in Holy Eucharist sitting on a hearth and wearing well-worn jeans and biker boots. I think God liked that.

In her younger days, another woman was a street performer in California.  She is a Unitarian Universalist minister. She is comfortable doing liturgical dance (a definition), which uptight me can’t imagine.  She and her husband started and run Plenty Fresh Food Bank (website), Neighbors Growing and Sharing Food, which is on Elephant Curve Rd. (best street name ever!) in southwest Virginia..

So, what stories do your friends have?

Ask them. You might be surprised.

Published in: on February 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm  Comments (9)  
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A Confession, Some Questions, and Maybe Some Answers

1.  I am a terrible gift-picker-outer.  My biggest challenge is the retired man I live with.  He needs nothing, absolutely nothing.  And anything he wants, he gets for himself when he wants it.  He doesn’t do delayed gratification.  So Valentine’s Day paralyzed me.  All creativity left my brain.  And I had nothing.

Well, I did offer to make him stuffed cabbage for dinner, but he said, “Oh no, that’s too much trouble. You don’t need to do that.  I’ll fix something.”  Sigh.

To make this worse, he’s good at gifts.  For Valentine’s Day, he gave me a box of Chapel Hill toffee/dark chocolate candy from Whole Foods.  Let me explain: We met and fell in love in Chapel Hill while we were both in school at UNC.  And Heath Bar is my all-time favorite candy and Ben and Jerry’s flavor.  His gift makes you go “Awww”, doesn’t it?  I know–I’m a lucky woman.

2.  Do you worry about wrinkles from smiling?  This is from a blog, “The Daily Round”, that I read:

…a British woman, now 50, who has avoided smiling “for the last 40 years…to ward off wrinkles.” She says she didn’t smile when her child was born, nor at family celebrations or gatherings with friends, insisting her lack of facial wrinkles has made these efforts worthwhile.

Do I read this right? She stopped smiling at 10 YEARS OLD to prevent wrinkles? How do you even do that–not smile?  Does she have any friends? Does her family come around her?  I need more information.  This story has been stuck in my brain for days.

3.  Someone at church Sunday told me I have “fortitude.”  She said I just keep going no matter what.  I googled “fortitude.”  The definition is “strength of mind that allows one to endure pain or adversity with courage.”

I’ve wondered about “resilience” lately, too.  I found 2 definitions.  (1) The ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune.  (2) The property of a material that enables it to resume its original shape or position after being bent, stretched, or compressed.  The second describes how I feel some days.

Where do fortitude and resilience come from?

4.  We talked about the Celtic term “thin places” in Sunday School last week.  They are locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine.  My favorite thin place is beside the ocean, one of those places where spirituality and science overlap.

The ocean generates negative ions.

According to mounting research, there really is something in the air at the beach. Because of the constant crashing and movement of the waves, the beach contains high levels of negative ions. Negative ions appear to have a positive effect on health and mood. They are produced when moving water, wind, and radiation break apart air molecules. What’s left is an oxygen molecule with an extra electron.

High concentrations of negatively charged ions have long been thought to affect the way you feel and there’s now supporting evidence they can boost mood, ease depression, and even improve physical health. Negative ions can also be found in high concentrations at waterfalls, in the mountains, and immediately after a summer rain storm. Even your shower or the fountain in the park produces negative ions.

These special air particles are actually biologically active when they enter the body, yet how they work is still unknown.

Indoor environments tend to have very low levels of negative ions. Our modern lifestyle is to thank for that. Computers, electrical appliances, and air conditioning all contribute to negative ion depletion.

So do negative ions create thin places?  Is God in that extra electron on the oxygen molecule we breathe in?

5.  Asked by a man named Jim in a group with people who are HIV positive:

What if you woke up tomorrow and all you had was what you thanked God for today?

 

Women and Clothes

Where were you in 1966-67?

I was a freshman at Centerville (Ohio) High School, just south of Dayton. The fashion of the day was short skirts with pantihose or knee socks. No pants allowed for girls.

The high school had two buildings–the old junior high (they built a new middle school) and the newer high school building. The football stadium was in between the buildings. I don’t remember how long we had between classes, but it was barely enough for those of us who had classes in both buildings. Long enough for our legs to freeze in the winter!

I read a book recently called Women and Clothes, a collection of essays and responses to a long questionnaire. It was surprisingly interesting.

It triggered memories like our ridiculous short skirts.  Why were we not allowed to wear pants? Short skirts blowing in the cold winter wind surely weren’t more lady-like.  I remember one English class where our desks were in two sections, facing each other.  I am sure many a boy was distracted staring straight at our short skirts.  I finally got to wear pants to school in the spring of my senior year in high school, 1970.  Yay for Women’s Liberation and the power of petitions!

When I went to UNC-Chapel Hill in the fall of 1970, I wore nothing but blue jeans.  I had a maroon turtleneck bodysuit (remember the shirts that snapped in the crotch like baby clothes?) that I wore constantly one winter with a pair of bell bottoms embellished with crochet trim at the hem and some flowers I embroidered on the legs with yarn.  I held onto those jeans for a long, long time.  When my girls got old enough to want to wear them, I couldn’t find them.

At some point in the late 1990’s, I bought a black two-piece dress–my first grownup little black dress. It was lined and made of crepe with a slightly flared black skirt and a matching sleeveless shell top.  It fit.  It was the right length.  It could go a lot of places. I wore it several times to go out to nice restaurants when my daughter was in college in Washington, DC, and I always felt good in it.  Then I gained enough weight that the dress was a size too small.  I gave it away.  I still miss that dress and how I felt when I wore it.

I can only wear skirts and dresses in warm weather now.  I can’t pull up tights anymore because of the arthritis in my hands.  I love the way skirts and tights look.  And I liked how tights made my legs and butt feel firm.  I miss that feeling.

My daughters came of age in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.  My older daughter and I clashed for weeks over Guess jeans when she was in middle school.  I refused to pay what I considered an absurd price for that red and white triangle on the back pocket (see it here).  I never did.  These days, she’s Maggie’s mom and buys designer holiday dresses at consignment stores and then resells them when she’s done with them.

When my younger daughter was in kindergarten, she decided she needed a pair of hot pink Chuck Taylor high top (click here) shoes.  Why??  I found imitation ones at Kmart and bought a hot pink pair and a turquoise pair.  She would wear one of each.  I would never wear anything that out of the norm, then or now, but I loved that she did! These days, she is Adaline’s mom and delights in picking out funky outfits for her to wear to school.  I buy Adaline crazy patterned leggings. Her mom sends me pictures of Adaline’s outfits.

Women and Clothes asked women about having “a style.” I wondered–do I have a style? A lot of days I dress like I did in college: jeans, a t-shirt, a sweater, and clogs. Is that an appropriate style for a woman about to turn 63?  I do consistently like clothes from Jjill (click here for their website). They are casually chic, I guess, made from soft, natural fabrics. They have good sales!

I don’t think about clothes much anymore. I know what I like.  I know what I feel good in.  I know what’s flattering. I want to be comfortable.  And I’m not really trying to attract attention anymore.

I just don’t want to be a frump!

 

Published in: on February 4, 2015 at 4:39 pm  Comments (10)  
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Be Careful, She’s Old

I warned my daughters about drivers like me.

When we moved into our home 24 years ago, our girls were 13 and 11.  It’s a neighborhood of houses built in the 1950’s. In 1991, original owners lived in many of them.  I was 40, they were in their 60’s and 70’s and often drove a Buick or a Mercury.

One of the worst tasks of parenting is riding with a 15-year-old who is quite sure she can drive just fine but really she can’t. She never starts braking soon enough for a stop light and the imaginary brake on your side does nothing to help. Neither does yelling, but it feels like it helps.  As the girls got their learner’s permits and began driving, I consistently warned them about cars where you could barely see the driver’s head over the headrest or drivers with grey hair. “They can be kind of unpredictable,” I’d say.  “They don’t always drive at a steady speed and sometimes they stop way far behind the car in front of them.”

Yesterday, I got the OK from my neurosurgeon to drive for the 1st time since my neck fusion surgery Dec 2.  I was thrilled.  He did suggest a co-pilot until I got used to not being able to turn my head like I used to.  I skipped that step and drove on not-busy streets yesterday and today.  The only problem I can see is when I back out of a parking place.  My car has a backup camera that helps a lot, but it’s still hard to tell if a car is coming.  Maybe you should be careful around bright blue Prius’s in parking lots for a while.

I used to be 5’3” tall.  Not tall, I know, but not totally shrimpy, either.  Unfortunately, I shrank to barely 5’1” at my last measuring.  I hope my neck fusion stretched me back up some, but I don’t know yet.  I doubt you can see the top of my head if you drive behind me.

So here I am: the driver I warned my daughters about.  Short. Grey hair. Driving real carefully. With a foam collar around my neck.  (I don’t stop way back from the person in front of me and I don’t drive a Buick.  I guess for baby boomers, it’s a hybrid. We have 2–a Prius or a Camry.)

So, you young whippersnappers, someday you, too, will become the old people you warn your kids about.

You won’t feel old, though.

It helps if you can laugh about it.

Published in: on January 21, 2015 at 5:34 pm  Comments (4)  
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And I Have Good Coverage…

I’m not the first.

I won’t be the last.

I’m going to vent about the medical insurance situation in this country.

I have good coverage–AARP Medicare Complete issued through United Health Care.

Yesterday I spent 1 hour and 48 minutes with my cell phone connected to my medical insurance customer service number.  A lot of that time was spent on hold. My battery went down from 72% to 33%.

I ended up as frustrated at the end as I was after the initial 20 minutes on hold before I talked to a live person.  I eventually yelled at that live person.  I never do that. I’m not proud of myself.

I’m not going to try to explain to you what the issue was.  I could, but I’d just relive the anger from yesterday and you don’t really care anyway.  I wouldn’t if you were telling me the story.

Here’s my take on this:

1.  Customer service people are doing the best they can with the training they have.  I get that. But they are not medically trained.  They are trained to follow the directions on a computer screen.  They need pieces of information to fill in the blanks on their screens.  Many of us don’t have short answers that fit in the blanks on their screens.

2.  So they keep asking the same questions and we keep giving them the same answers that don’t fit.  Then we get put on hold “for a few minutes.” I asked my live person to please come back to me. He said he would.  He did.

3.  Then came another set of questions.  My answers still didn’t really fit in the blanks.  They were about the same as my original answers.  Then I went on hold again.

4.  Next, I got “conferenced-in” with another live person.  Three of us were on the line together.  More questions.  More time on hold.

5.  The second live person came back and told me they would be contacting the doctor’s office and would approve or disapprove within 72 hours.

6.  Approval or disapproval wouldn’t answer my original question.  For that, we wait for the claim to be filed and for the insurance to pay their part.  Then we can appeal the part we’re required to pay.  That should be easy to resolve.   And why couldn’t they just tell me that at the beginning?

I am a liberal Democrat.  I am glad people can get insurance now, thanks to Obamacare.

But the same screwball insurance companies are making decisions about my medical care, not my highly-qualified doctors.

AND THIS IS NOT WORKING!!

Okay, thanks.  I needed to get that out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on January 17, 2015 at 8:40 am  Comments (4)  

And I Have Good Coverage

I’m not the first.

I won’t be the last.

I’m going to vent about the medical insurance situation in this country.

I have good coverage–AARP Medicare Complete issued through United Health Care.

Yesterday I spent 1 hour and 48 minutes with my cell phone connected to my medical insurance customer service number.  A lot of that time was spent on hold. My battery went down from 72% to 33%.

I ended up as frustrated at the end as I was after the initial 20 minutes on hold before I talked to a live person.  I eventually yelled at that live person.  I never do that. I’m not proud of myself.

I’m not going to try to explain to you what the issue was.  I could, but I’d just relive the anger from yesterday and you don’t really care anyway.  I wouldn’t if you were telling me the story.

Here’s my take on this:

1.  Customer service people are doing the best they can with the training they have.  I get that. But they are not medically trained.  They are trained to follow the directions on a computer screen.  They need pieces of information to fill in the blanks on their screens.  Many of us don’t have short answers that fit in the blanks on their screens.

2.  So they keep asking the same questions and we keep giving them the same answers that don’t fit.  Then we get put on hold “for a few minutes.” I asked my live person to please come back to me. He said he would.  He did.

3.  Then came another set of questions.  My answers still didn’t really fit in the blanks.  They were about the same as my original answers.  Then I went on hold again.

4.  Next, I got “conferenced-in” with another live person.  Three of us were on the line together.  More questions.  More time on hold.

5.  The second live person came back and told me they would be contacting the doctor’s office and would approve or disapprove within 72 hours.

6.  Approval or disapproval wouldn’t answer my original question.  For that, we wait for the claim to be filed and for the insurance to pay their part.  Then we can appeal the part we’re required to pay.  That should be easy to resolve.   And why couldn’t they just tell me that at the beginning?

I am a liberal Democrat.  I am glad people can get insurance now, thanks to Obamacare.

But the same screwball insurance companies are making decisions about my medical care, not my highly-qualified doctors.

AND THIS IS NOT WORKING!!

Okay, thanks.  I needed to get that out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on January 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Turtle Creates a Village

God, I offer myself to You–

to build with me and to do with me as You will.

Relieve me of the bondage of self,

that I may better do Your will.

Take away my difficulties, that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Your power, Your love, and Your way of life.

May I do Your will always.

(3rd Step Prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous)

I sat quietly with this prayer daily, starting in January, 2005.  It took the place of resolutions.

In late February, 2005, I found an odd lump in my groin.

On April 15, 2005, I was diagnosed with cancer–non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

I had 2 malignant lymph nodes, but no symptoms and I felt fine.  After tests, the treatment plan was “watch and wait.” That took a while to accept. God and the doctor and I have “watched and waited” for almost 10 years.  Still no symptoms and no treatments. Dr Sherrill says at each checkup, “It’s still in remission.”

Go back and read that prayer again.  I’ll wait.

I started writing emails to a group of spiritual friends shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer.  I didn’t want to talk about it much, but I wanted people to pray for me and I felt compelled to share what happened and how I dealt with it, including my faith journey.

I’ve written before about being an introvert and a turtle.  When things get hard, I pull into my shell.  I’ve learned, though, that I can invite people in through my writing.  And I often feel pushed to write for this blog by a powerful and irresistible force.  I can resist for a while, but God starts writing in my head and it doesn’t go away.

This piece started forming in my head a couple of weeks ago.  I had cervical fusion surgery on December 2, 2014, to correct a place at the top of my spine that moved to a dangerous position because of damage from my rheumatoid arthritis.  A piece of my spine was impinging on my spinal column at the very top.  A fall or car accident could have ended my ability to breathe.

I’ve had several other surgeries, including a total knee, in the past 10 years, but nothing scared me like this one. It was “a big surgery,” Dr. Pool, the neurosurgeon told us. I asked the retired man I live with the morning of the surgery not to let them keep me alive on a ventilator if things went wrong.

The first couple of weeks after this surgery were very hard–lots of pain. I was grateful to be whole and breathing and alive.

Before the surgery, I started another email list of pray-ers.  And once again I could feel the power of the prayers. I don’t know how to explain that, but I know it’s real. I felt surrounded and encircled by God.

I try to tell God that I’ve fulfilled my 3rd Step Prayer obligations.  10 years is enough of this “take away my difficulties so I can show how God works in my life” stuff.  But more challenges come.

With each surgery, each setback, each test of patience and hope, I learn again that things will change.  And it’s all a bit easier when I remember God is with me. Not everything can be fixed completely. Sometimes it’s just different. Then I figure out how to live with it and keep going as best I can.

If I ever write a memoir, I think I’ll title it “Okay, God, Now What?”

 

 

 

Today Is World AIDS Day

Did you know that?

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.  Here is a link to Triad Health Project in Greensboro: http://www.winterwalkforaids.kintera.org/faf/home/default.asp?ievent=1116511

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

(I wrote this December 1, 2010.  It is still all true.)

Published in: on December 1, 2014 at 9:38 am  Comments (3)  
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