A Blessing and Blooming

The pavement rose bushes are in full bloom and the waft of rose scent in the air feels like an intake of blessing on each breath. I missed the peonies as rain hit hard on their opening. The lilies are in bloom with splashes of color everywhere.

The last couple of weeks have simply been hard labor with scooping a few ton of rock into our landscaping around the back of the house. What seemed insurmountable in the beginning is now two thirds complete, one shovel of rock at a time. My body still holds a few aches from the job but also pride in accomplishment while realizing the enjoyment of sweaty dirty focused labor. The job was made fun with two grandkids to help us, keeping us focused and laughing in the midst of it all.

During the week, I called Margie, a newly bereaved late 70’s woman whose husband died a month ago and has been told she needs to vacate her rental as fast as possible as it is being sold. Distress, tears, disbelief, stuff to be sold or given away, no time to grieve, panic, all this I heard as I visualized Margie trying to move a ton of rock with very little support. I remember those first weeks of deep grief and the fog we move through as we try to find our bearings with a brain not functioning well as we forget things, have a hard time focusing, and find ourselves melting in tears at the small reminders of our loss. We can feel buried under an insurmountable weight.

For many of us it is the people surrounding us who help us with each shovel load, helping to ease the burden, keeping us focused, and we are grateful. At other times we find ourselves alone in our grief, sadness, and confusion. Whether we are alone or surrounded by loved ones, we ultimately find we must look within to our own resources, that which guides us daily. Finding in our own stillness the quiet moment releasing the waft of roses arising from our own heart, that which is connected to all life and loving and living and that which draws us forward to live and grow into the only thing to which we can become, ourselves in full bloom. Our own wholeness of being.

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Reflections From The North Shore

Leo and I set out to snowshoe on the north shore of Lake Superior near the mouth of the Caribou River. It had begun to thaw a bit and we sank up to our knees in places, got off the trail and made our way to the road and then back on another trail closer to the river. In some ways a deer trail although we had to bail on that as their path headed down a cliff to the water and then across and up the other side.

Leo was hoping for window pane ice flows to the shore and his wish was granted yesterday as we listened in awe to the crashing of the ice flows into each other and to the shore. Each morning, each day, Lake Superior is a different lake on the surface as it thaws, flows in different directions, refreezes and delights us with unexpected formations.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life consists in what a man(woman) is thinking of all day. ” We feel this truth as we contemplate the water each day; I lived this truth as I walked the Camino in Spain for three and a half weeks. With vast open space, contemplating the beauty before us, we open and feel united to that which we contemplate. The day is the water, the field bathed in the morning sun, the splash of color on the wisteria as I turned the last corner.

We can drive through beauty at 60 miles an hour every day and not see it nor experience that which is before us as we plan our day, reflect on how to approach our boss, review the argument of last night. We create a habit of not seeing until we are removed from our day to day habits and are faced with little else to contemplate but what is before us. That is the gift of retreat, we leave something behind, we withdraw from enemy forces, and in the act of retreat we review and re center. The enemy being that within us which we struggle against to be present. Seeing beauty is an act of will and honing that skill is an exercise of a muscle allowing us to hold a strong and steady gaze.

Allowing beauty in to the center of our being changes us in ways that allows us to be one with the constant beauty which lies below the surface. Beauty reflects the beauty of our own true nature. As Lake Superior changes throughout the day, all the while being its’ constant true self below the surface, so do we flow in and out of myriad emotions, thoughts, and movements in our day and beneath it all are each a spark of God, pure love, unity.

An Embodied Journey

This appeared as my morning reflection (by Jon Kabat-Zinn):

     The rehabilitation of the body, in the sense of fully inhabiting it and cultivating intimacy with it is, however it is, is a universal attribute of mindfulness practice… Since it is of limited value to speak of the body as separate from the mind, or of mind separated from body, we are inevitably talking about the rehabilitation of our whole being, and the realization of our wholeness moment by moment, step by step, and breath by breath, starting as always, with where we are now.

This spoke to me this morning as three events of the week came together in this quote. I enjoyed a spirited discussion yesterday with friends over lunch about the body/mind relationship as it relates to our compassion and caring as individuals and the gun violence which we live with in our culture. I watched the 2010 movie “Temple Grandin” this week and I have been learning about contour drawing and how to fully enter that experience.

In my early years, as for many of us, we received distorted information and education about the body from our churches and therefore handed down through parents and educators. The body being an “occassion for sin”, “the body is the devil’s playground.” Women in particular learned that they are the temptress, the vehicle for men to loose control of their reason. We learned of saints, who we were told to emulate, who used self flagellation to punish their bodies in an attempt to keep themselves in control. We were taught fear and left in ignorance about our bodies and believed that it is best to be disconnected from this physical home, ignore this body, and be more holy for the leaving of it behind.

This belief system belies our own experience when we are more fully present with ourselves with awareness of our physical selves. There was a time when I was experiencing anxiety attacks. The release of the anxiety came when I could learn to trust and breathe into my body and be present with each breath, bringing mind and body together and sitting in that awareness. Temple Grandin was born with autism in a time when this condition was greatly misunderstood. As she observed her world, she found peace, comfort and an ability to navigate this world as she learned how to be more fully present in her body thereby increasing her ability to understand compassion, caring, and kindness. Compassion is the ability to feel another’s pain and bear that pain with them. Temple learned this through her witness of the pain of animals and bringing that to a level of understanding through her own body. Rather than further disconnecting from her body, she went more fully into her body and revolutionized animal husbandry and opened a door into greater understanding of autism for future generations. Her work in the world was through her body/mind connection, the wholeness of her being. As is ours.

In my art class, one of the first things we were taught was contour drawing. Drawing slowly, with each breath, as if you are touching the edge of the object which you are observing. This has been a challenge for me as I have a quick, sharp mind and I do things quickly and efficiently. I tend to see things whole first and am quick to get to completion. I have had to greatly, consciously, slow down. It is painfully slow and yet there comes the moment when I am with the breath and the sense of time and space change and dissolve in the now.

It seems the conflict lies in our identification with our body, mind, emotions, and thoughts. We are not any of these. We live in a day to day sense of false identity; I am fat, I love this, I hate that, I am sad, I am happy, I am bad, I am good. We hold the body, emotions, and thoughts as who we are rather than a vehicle that requires good care, maintenance, and respect. Within that awareness we can let go of identifying with what we think, feel, and look like as these are merely energies of mind and emotions passing through. We are spirit born into this body, this mind, these emotions, moving through life seeking our true selves. A grieving individual will ask me, how can I grieve and be done with these feelings? There is no circumventing our grief or our lives. We can only go through, honestly feeling what we are feeling, not believing every thought that goes through our head, not identifying ourselves with every emotion that runs through us, not holding firm to what we perceive as absolute truth.

It is by fully being in our being that we then transcend into a more full sense of self as Self, a spark of God, Atman, Nirvana, however we name that which is wholeness. When we are fully aware of ourselves in our experience, a door opens to a more expansive understanding, realization, freedom. We live the compassion we seek. We breathe in the love that is boundless.

Love yourself. Then forget it. Then, love the world. Mary Oliver

Labyrinth in Tuscon AZ 2017

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Our Daily Work

It feels as if spring is arriving and we are being nudged out of hibernation. We are enjoying the warmth of the sun on our skin, if not a bit cool. We saw two young men in shorts. Maybe my brain will thaw as well and I will be able to write again or maybe it is just that life has been a bit too full and disjointed to get thoughts to line up.

I have been thinking of our travel trailer in storage and some work that needs to be done when we pull her out in early April, and planning a trip to Chicago with two of the oldest grandchildren which happens also in early April, and our family trip to the UP in June and other summer events. My body and spirit want to move more even though I exercise every morning. A bit of adventure thrown in would be welcome. I have been a student for five weeks and already I feel ready for spring break.

Since adding a class to my life, writing has had to be pushed aside for time and I miss the writing and reflection. As I sat in meditation this morning, I remembered that whether I am writing, drawing, painting, meditating, playing with the children, or sitting with a bereaved, it is all the same when I am present. Each activity when I am present allows me to see, feel, experience life in a moment. When I take a seat or stance or walk in the present moment I am alive and connected to life. It may feel like my time is torn between one thing and another but it is not, as at the core it is all the same exercise and as Jon Kabat-Zinn states, it is all “taking your seat in and in relationship to the present moment.” It is our relationship to this moment that is our life. Usually what keeps us out of the present moment is anxiety and regret, one for the future and one for the past. We live in our constant inner chatter about one or the other.

This is my life and it can all seem trite and mundane when we hear reports of yet another school shooting and the loss of so many beautiful lives and this awareness too becomes the practice of focus and staying present. We sit with our caring, our anger, our concern, our activism but not by loosing ourselves in a future or a past but by continuing to live in the moment that is ours in each breath. We connect to the source of each moment as best we are able to be open to grace, spirit, love, compassion and then we bring these out into this world we inhabit.

As Kabat- Zinn states in his book, Arriving at Your Own Door, “Now is already the future and it is already here. Now is the future of the previous moment just past, and the future of all those moments that were before that one.” We live with anxiety worried about the future and if we are where we “should be” in life. Are we where we thought we would be when we looked forward at age 21? And yet, we are our future in this very moment.  We create worry and anxiety about some untold future not realizing our tomorrow is built on today. As we re-center in this one moment, the only one we have, we build a center for tomorrow. We build peace on peace, joy on joy, compassion on compassion. At the center of my being I do know why I am here and why I am drawing and writing and I trust in where it is all taking me. I believe all of this when I hold a steady attention, some days, some moments, being harder than others. By holding a steady attention, holding a focus, we can rest in the focus. There is no anxiety. There is only space, breath, and presence; all grounding for a full life.

Seventeen lovely children and adults were in the midst of a day, in the midst of a breath, and it was the last. We sit in that awareness and feel the pain of those who have been left behind, who grieve their loss, who feel confused and uncertain of their future and wish, with every breath, they could change this past. As we sit in this awareness, we enter this moment with them through each breath in and through each breath out, transforming in each breath hate for love, anger for peace, doubt for faith, despair for hope. We hold steady in the strength we have today and make this our offering, this our daily work toward an untold future, this a promise for a more compassionate loving tomorrow.

The dawning of a new day, a new moment, at Morning Sun.

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A Video Presentation

Since my return from El Camino, I have been gathering photos and creating a video of our journey to share with all of you. It is complete and my son assisted in making it available on Vimeo. Copy and paste the link to view. It is a delight for me to see it each time and breathe in the gentle air and feel it again on my skin. I remember the dear people we met, the food, the feel of the paths walked, the laughter shared, and the countless ways of being supported.

http://vimeopro.com/cineomatic/el-camino-2017

Enjoy!

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Taking the Empty Chair

Oh God! make me busy with Thee, that they may not make me busy with them. Rabia

Ha! This showed up as this mornings reflection from Blue Mountain Meditation Center. I burst out laughing. It is so true in so many ways.

Whether it is in meditation or sitting for prayer, the mind is going through its endless lists and planning, running commentary regarding work, situations that have brought conflict, dreaming about something in the future, regretting something in the past. It gets so busy in the mind, we find ourselves arguing with ourselves because there certainly isn’t anyone else in there. Meditation is most likely the situation Rabia was speaking of in his declaration but we can all identify in countless ways. Enough already. There are only so many ways we can spread ourselves out with invitations to be more involved in civic organizations, political, Facebook, holiday events. Who are the “them” that are calling us to show up?

What Rabia calls for is focus. Let me be so focused that nothing else intrudes, nothing distracts. In today’s language, the call is for recharging, rebooting. Somewhat crass language for sitting in mindful awareness but it is language familiar to us. If we do not recharge our computer or phone or iPad we have an instrument without any power. We are the same. We need focused time for recharging or we are running around without any juice.

When we are depleted we get short tempered, make mistakes, make errors in judgment, at times succumb to illness or injury, and we loose our connection to the Self within. We hurt those we love including ourselves. It hardly seems worth it but we get so sucked in to tasks we don’t know when to step back.

It is as simple and as hard as setting time for ourselves, committing to it, and showing up to ourselves. Getting recharged can feel compelling when we get used to sitting in quiet with ourselves. We want more. We find ourselves looking forward to siting in the empty chair or cushion and simply and profoundly being engaged in the act of  being. Not busy doing. Simply being. Feeling the connection to all life in all forms. Breathing in beauty, joy, and relaxation.

The chair for the weary traveler. El Camino 2017   Take it, it’s yours!

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A Healing Balm

The Christmas and seasonal decorations are on display in our home and it feels peaceful and festive. I am aware, as I place items, that it is like dressing. Choosing the outfit, the jewelry, telling a story with the choices made and the colors displayed, all symbols of how we are feeling in the day or the season. The outer display of the inner journey.

This phenomenon is alive in many forms in the month of December which honors many special days in the Christian and Jewish traditions as well as including spiritually significant days for Muslims, Buddhists, Pagans and Zoroastrians as well as African-American Kwanzaa. Each rich and alive with tradition in its many forms.

Leo’s family has a tradition of stopping at people’s homes to see their tree. That was a tradition foreign to me but with his large family and extended family all in the same area, off they would go to see a decorated tree. Each tree in each home designed by a family or family member reflecting beliefs, personality, style, taste, likes and dislikes. We each year tell a story with our ornamentation or lack there of, whether we are Christian, or secular and choosing to celebrate Christmas or any other faith or tradition honoring a tradition of celebration.

In the spring season of the Christian Easter, I have attended Jewish Passover in different locations and found this true in the way the stories are told, the seder plate, the personal tastes imbued in the foods. I have celebrated the winter solstice for many years with different friends which was a new creation each year with some elements honored and held. Some with a party, others with burning a traditional oak log, gathering water for the new year, drumming, meditation, and connecting to the earth.

Each celebration in any season brings in light, love, and that which is larger than our singular life on earth, holding all that we hand down, to be used or not, with variations of the next generations additions and subtractions.

I turn to the altar I redesigned on returning from the Camino. I enjoy altars. I have made them many times over the years. A place to honor the Divine in whatever form, adding items from nature, candles, maybe a photo of one who has left this world, or one who needs prayers at this time. As with decorating a house at a holiday, it draws our attention, gives a place to focus and center, being aware of the story told with an outward reflection of the inward journey. It offers a place to ground and is as simple as one candle and as elaborate as one can imagine.

A personal altar offers a quiet reflective place to be in a busy season. Even places of worship are busy drawing one out of the inward reflective space. We live in an extroverted, busy, talkative society. Creating a space where one can take a seat in conscious awareness is a personal gift to the self, now and any time of the year. It tells a story, reflects our inward journey, might include objects and beliefs handed down or might be inclusive of an entirely different spiritual direction. Each year we have many opportunities for ritual, many ways of tradition, as well as space for expressing the beauty and the story of this moment.

Marilyn is 80. Her husband died shortly after last year’s Christmas. This year she is emotionally revisiting those days and states that while she is a person who will decorate every room at Christmas she desires nothing this year as she sits in deep sadness, loneliness, and loss. As we sat and entered the story, she expressed that while the decorating was her delight, she and her husband found their Christmas connection in the manger scene. They always set it up together and it was a connecting piece for them in this season. As Marilyn talked of how the kids would come and bring down all the decorations from the attic, I asked if maybe this year they could just bring down the manger scene, the connecting piece for her and her beloved. I saw Marilyn’s heart open with a smile and a feeling of relief pour over her body. “Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, that is just enough.” The manger scene is enough to tell her story, this year. An altar for her gaze and reflection. A connecting piece to something larger than self. This year a healing balm.

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Opening a Heart

In these days of celebrating Thanksgiving, we have been attuned to our gratitudes, all that has manifested in our life, continues to bless us with its presence, and for those who have left the world we honor them with our thankfulness. Thanksgiving has a lovely placement after the Fall cleansing of body, clearing out of home, and readying us for the dark days of winter.

It is mostly easy to name all that we hold dear. We hear each other around the table at Thanksgiving and think, Oh, yes, I am grateful for that too. We look at the children laughing at everything, hearts open, finding humor and inspiration for play in everything that presents itself. Naming what we are grateful for brings peace to our heart. We feel connected to each other in our heart opening.

And yet, in that day and in every other day we realize how fickle our heart is in its opening and closing. Throughout a day we see a beautiful sunrise and our heart opens in joy, our partner says something at breakfast that nicks our ego and our heart closes in resentment, our boss compliments us when we get to work and our heart opens with pride, a colleague mentions something we should have taken care of and we feel criticized and our heart closes, we hear a song on the radio and our heart opens,with joy and enthusiasm, or during our Thanksgiving dinner Uncle Otto starts to complain about the other political party or Grandpa starts in on sexual orientation and confusion and the discussion gets heated and our heart constricts, and on and on it goes, day after day.

The ancient texts teach us that our heart is meant to remain open. The heart center is an energy center that is meant to flow bountiful unlimited energy through us at all times. As we move through life, through our childhoods when between the laughter and play we are feeling wounds that get lodged in the heart, and into adulthood where the tucking away of hurt and pain that has not been addressed and released gets stored, our heart center gets encrusted with these wounds. And, our critical judging mind picks away at things helping us in the closing of the heart. It is not good or bad, it is what we all live with in this body we call home. When our heart is open we allow for the flow of boundless energy, when it is closed, our heart center constricts the flow and our heart closes in fear and discomfort.

The task is to release that which closes us and allow the heart to accept abundant energy and let it flow through us. It all sounds so simple until we notice throughout the day the complicated journey within which we live. Michael Singer in The Untethered Soul has written well of this as have others. He states that even clinging to that which brings us joy shuts off our hearts as we cling so tightly with the fear that we will loose this wonderful feeling, the new energy flow cannot enter. By freeing ourselves from the attachment to these beliefs, both our pain and our joys, and allowing them to flow through us, we can find freedom.

There are teachings in all traditions which speak to this phenomena.There are many paths offered to live in the world and maintain a peaceful heart. I find this journey with a rich variety of paths heartwarming and comforting. From the Hebrew texts and Christian Bible we read:

Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.

Psalm 51:10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world does. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

We are not meant to guard ourselves to feel protected but to guard being taken over by our mind and emotions and that which causes our heart to close.

From the Buddhist tradition (Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Author of Open Heart, Open Mind) we learn that we all have three qualities: boundless wisdom,  infinite capability, and immeasurable loving-kindness and compassion. All we have to do is open our heart and remember our intrinsic nature and rid ourselves of fear and self doubt.

The Bhagavad Gita through Lord Krishna assures the sincere aspirants “To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.” (10.10-11)

Again from the Gita we find: “The one I love who is incapable of ill will, who is friendly and compassionate, living beyond the reach of I and mine and of pleasure and pain, patient, contented, self-controlled, firm in faith, with all their heart and all their mind given to me – with such as these I am in love. Not agitating the world or by it agitated, they stand above the sway of elation, competition and fear; the one is my beloved.” (trans Eknath Easwaran)

From our Muslim brothers and sisters we read, “So have they not traveled through the earth and have hearts by which to reason and ears by which to hear? For indeed, it is not eyes that are blinded but blinded are the hearts which are within the breasts.” [Quran 22:46]

“Verily Allah does not look to your bodies nor to your faces but He looks to your hearts.”[Muslim]

‘Tis the season for us to look to our heart and to be mindful daily as to what opens and what closes our heart center, to finding a daily practice like mediation or prayer that helps us keep our heart open and to finding the days and the ways that, like the children, we might know an open heart that celebrates life with laughter and song, curiosity, and openness to learning and loving. In this way, rather than judging each others ways we bring an inquisitive mind and heart that delights in the variety of ways of searching for that which we journey toward: Nirvana, Heaven, Self, however we name that state of pure awareness that arrives either in life or after death. That which touches a heart and calls the pilgrim forward, inward, and outward with service. Guiding them to abiding peace.

Do not let anything that happens in life be important enough that you’re willing to close your heart over it.  Michael Singer, The Untethered Soul

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Authoring a Life

We are probably all familiar with a Health Care Directive whether we have written one or not. The lists of what I don’t want when I can’t speak for myself. Today might be a good day to create a health care directive about how I want to direct my life. What now, today, does direct my life? What motivates me? What gets me up each day to enter life’s joys and challenges. Saying what we want might be harder than saying what we don’t want but that is the challenge. To discover what we value and questioning ourselves as to whether or not we are living that value.

At the end of a patients life, I hear in our team discussion: “If Kathy can’t go to the casino anymore, she is done.”, “When he can’t walk to the bathroom and take care of his own needs, he is through.”, “When Joe’s dog dies, he has nothing to live for.”, “Mary just wants to make it long enough to hold her new grand baby.”, “If he has to give up driving…”  From the grieving widow or widower, I might hear, “I don’t want to go on without…”; “I now have no purpose to my life”, “I have absolutely no interest in living without…” Each person in this list has something that holds purpose for them, holds a value to living.

Knowing that the time for our life is coming to an end focuses our priorities. We begin to name the driving energy that pushes our will. As Atul Gawande in Being Mortal suggests, it makes a big difference to the caregivers when the loved one is able to name that which is quality of life when tough decisions need to be made.

My mother said many times during the latter part of her life that she never wanted to live in a nursing home. On the day of a massive stroke that a week later took her life, her last words to my sister and me were,”If anything should happen to me, please don’t put me in a nursing home.” That was her end point. She named what she did not want to happen to her quality of life, she named a value. In the hours following, when the tough decisions needed to be made, as her Health Care Agent, I held to her statement. In the end, after her last breath, we as a family held to the statement. In the weeks and months that followed when as grievers we start second guessing, I held on to that final directive statement with deep gratitude and knowing that this value of our mother’s included us as a family in her community of loving care.

In the naming, my mother also named her biggest fear. For years I have asked my grieving clients the same question, “What do you fear, what concerns you as you grieve your loss and learn to live without….?” Early on it might be a task but it is helpful to sit long enough with the question as over time I then hear a person begin to name a value, a quality of life that holds meaning for them.

Maybe in the midst of life, taking the time to name what drives us could also be useful and life-giving. Shantam Zohar is Co-founder and Director of the Mindfulness Based Therapy Program at Tel Aviv Bar Ilan University in Israel. When I first met Shantam about 20 years ago he was an astrologer and a student at Naropa University where our daughter was a student. He has since become a family friend. I was challenged by him at that time to understand that I could author my life. I get to write the script regarding my spiritual/religious beliefs, the roles I fulfill as wife and mother, and so on. For so many years I felt directed, sometimes like walking through a smorgasbord line. What a concept to be inventing, creating the life I was living. Not that I wasn’t already doing that as I am pretty independent minded and creative but now I could own it and be mindful and conscious of the process. I was seeing Maggie my Spiritual Director who one day said the same thing, “You are authoring your life.” I felt affirmed. Listening deep within myself to hear how I was being internally directed by Self, Spirt, God, Higher Consciousness, however we name that which is larger than our being.

When we author, we are making choices. As when I paint a painting, I choose, is it watercolor or acrylic, which colors, what am I trying to say, what moves me, am I balancing the darks and lights, is it a high key piece or low? It is worth noting that authoring does not mean I am thinking only of myself. The direction and the decision making comes within the context of the whole, the community, how each individual or even element of a painting effects each other which makes it all the more challenging as well as exciting.

Atul Gawande offers us four questions to ask at the end of life: “What are the biggest fears and concerns? What goals are most important? What trade offs are we willing to make? What trade offs are we not willing to make?” Whether I am painting a work of art, authoring my life, or facing the end of my life or the life of a loved one, I am faced with the same questions. Why wait until I am pushed by disease to answer these questions? Maybe today is a good day to know what I value and to assess if I am living that value in a way that is authentic to my life.

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Life Is An Adventure

We had dinner last night with friends, Andy and Joan. Andy is 69, very active in backpacking, fishing, many adventures. Just last year he climbed to 14,000 ft. This year he had a simple fall off a stool on wheels that eventually led into deeper investigation to the diagnosis of Multiple Myeloma. Andy is a Vietnam vet serving 1967 to 1968 in country and being exposed to Agent Orange. As Andy explains it, “I know guys who have died, lost limbs, lost parts of themselves to PTSD or alcohol, and I thought I was a Vietnam survivor.” At 19 years old his own government whom he served placed him in the position to be exposed to Agent Orange. It is like having a delayed hit by friendly fire.

Andy refuses to call his experience of cancer a battle. He does not feel at war. He is calling this experience another adventure in his life of many adventures. In Andy’s words, “Life is an adventure, and death is so much a part of that.” Andy is the kind of guy who goes all in wanting to know everything about his disease, the process, and his choices. Andy is authoring his life.

Last year he and Joan traveled to Vietnam as he wanted a different memory of this country. He was not disappointed. The warmth and hospitality they received and the beauty they experienced was healing. He and Joan met a man from what was then North Vietnam and who was a soldier on the Ho Chi Minh Trail at the same time Andy was in country; they shared a drink and a toast together.

It was a privilege for Leo and I to sit with Andy and Joan for three and a half hours talking about his current journey into the medical realm, decisions that have been made and will be frequently made, the uncertainties of the future, concerns about talking to their adult children and grandchildren, looking at a probable move to a smaller home, pain issues, medications, and the challenges of doing normal everyday tasks, not being able to drive, the desire to keep living, and the meaning of quality of life for Andy. A very rich discussion not without humor and shared laughter. And, it was all very poignant being Veterans Day weekend and Andy now knowing he has not escaped the “negative effects of being in that war.”

I have always felt conflicted about Veteran’s Day. My father enlisted and served in WWII and kept in touch with his close Army buddies until he died. He was buried with colors  and a full military guard and it was very moving. He was proud of that part of his life as was his country proud of him. My father in law was also in the Army in WWII and was one of the first Americans to enter Dachau after the war ended. That experience was what he came home with and sought emotional support for to help him make it through. He rarely spoke of the war.

I came of age during the 60’s in a conflicted country and a war that tore a country apart. I had friends who marched against the war as did I and I dated and married a man who escaped the draft and being sent to the front lines by learning to be a pilot in the Marine Corps which took most of the rest of the Vietnam years except his term doing mine sweeping in Haiphong Harbor and occasional mail runs in country. I lived the life of a military wife which left us on the outside of some of my college friendships. Most of the young men in the Vietnam war were drafted and fighting not by choice but the “luck” of the draw. Andy told us he felt proud to help his country but when he returned and watched four more years happen in Vietnam he also began to doubt and question what we were doing there.  Andy states, “in excess of 11 million gallons of Agent Orange were sprayed during the war, from 1961 to 1972, to eliminate and deny forest and jungle cover to the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, and to destroy crops which might be used to feed them. Well in excess of 2 million U.S. Military Personnel served in Vietnam during that period.” The Vietnamese people have lived through and continue to live through generations of severe birth defects in their children.

These are Andy’s words on Veterans Day:

“This year, however, Veterans Day has taken on new and different meaning for me. Now, it is me who is working through those after-effects as I undergo chemotherapy and other treatments for multiple myeloma. One persistent thought is that previously I believed that I had escaped the negative effects of being in that war. Now I know that I have not.

At the same time, it has given me a new appreciation for those friends and relatives who have been dealing with these things for years. I envy the strength they have shown in addressing whatever effects they have experienced.

Yesterday, someone asked me what the appropriate greeting was to use in responding to veterans on Veterans Day; he thought that “Happy” Veterans Day simply didn’t sound right.

We veterans will sometimes hear people thank us for our service. I always appreciate that acknowledgement but find that I don’t know how to respond to it.

More recently, I read a suggestion from someone that we should thank veterans for their “sacrifice.” I’m still thinking about that one.”

How we experience war and its aftermath is unique to each of us as to our perspective, our past experiences, our spiritual and religious beliefs. May we honor and hold sacred each others opinions and experiences even if they feel foreign to us. And, may we find a way, as people living on shared limited real estate on this evolving planet, to be people of peace, abiding peace.

I am giving Andy the last word:  “A person I know, in remarking about adventures, says that it isn’t an adventure until “shit” happens. Well, apparently the “shit” has happened, so I’m off on my …. LATEST ADVENTURE! “

Amen and so it is..