Pain That Was Not Mine-The Sequel

Ah, my husband.  He came out of his procedure rosy cheeked and doped up so he was his very most winsome, funny self. He had the little nurse who had to walk with us to the car just whooshed.  Both of them were in stitches all the way down the hall, into the elevator, down three floors, out the foyer, past the old, old lady in a wheel chair smoking a cigarette just outside the main entrance, and out into the parking lot.

Me, not so much.  In fact, I got more cranky-pants with every step I took.  I wasn’t on drugs.  I  was the one who was going to have to drive his daggummed truck (did I ever mention, I HATE driving that truck) through the spaghetti junction between the Turnpike and 595 in almost blinding rain and wind.  I was the one who sat and watched several people who went in after of him come back out way before he did.  My imagination had been relentless with that, images of a medical team desperately coding him because something had gone horribly awry while everyone else came through just fine. It was almost 4 hours of desperate vigil I kept yesterday.  So I was not the least bit amused by His Cuteness Made Flesh and that sweet young thing. Not one little bit.

We had plenty else to tend to in the afternoon so I basically had no choice but to get over my snit.  Sherod was feeling too fine to react.  At some point I was able to step back from myself enough to acknowledge how deep the fear runs below that particular kind of anger.

Today, someone shared a link with me related to the Buddhist understanding of pain and life.  Somewhere in the first few lines, I was suddenly aware that  life has become most meaningful for me in these past few years in the experience of hosting my own grief, my own pain.  My spirit no longer goes rigid and and spastic. In a strange sort of way, my long walks allow me to open spaces to welcome the grief, not because I am a masochist who seeks out suffering, but because I accept that grief is now a real part of me.  The grief does not well up every time—in fact, I basically cannot ever predict when it will.  But out walking, somehow, I am both riverbed and river, of joy, of surprise, especially of wonder, but also of an ocean of sorrow.  Over time, it seems like the riverbed gets deeper, the stones smoother, maybe the river itself gets wider.  I don’t know—pushing the metaphor too far can get to feeling cloying and hokey.

But there is this little bit of new insight, or at least mindfulness, about yesterday.  I sat in that office and paid no attention to my breathing.  The chair was uncomfortable and I never once stood up.  I was aware enough to post about the experience but not aware enough to see how stuck I was.  The truth is my husband is 67 and there will be more pain in his life and I will need to be able to allow it through my life without making it my life. Otherwise, I will drown in it.

For Better or Worse

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Sherod has had awful back pain for years now. The cause and the cure are complicated. The pain has been life-diminishing, really for both of us, but especially for Sherod. I am sitting in a waiting room while he gets yet another Lumbar Epidural Steroid Injection, which doctors keep insisting should help. I am along because I will need to drive him home after the procedure.

To say this is hellish doesn’t quite convey what it’s like. These procedures always run late and sitting in waiting rooms has taken up a whole lot of time in my life. I can’t help but hear ca-ching each time another patient comes in–and lots come in. I wonder about the snake oil factor. And then, there is my experience of painful medical procedures as a child that combines with an overactive imagination and my struggle with boundaries. Because the thought of either my child or my husband having to undergo any procedure that will cause them pain elicits in me the most primitive, protective and stressed out response imaginable. I want to go in and yank that catheter out of the Dr’s hand, beat him up, and then sit and sob. It is all out of proportion to the situation, I know. And being married to someone means you do the tough stuff. I just really am hating watching my strong, beautiful husband deal with the realities of aging. I keep wanting to turn back the clock. Say a little prayer for us.

Words That Crumble

Words don’t seem to count for much these days.  I try stringing some together and it feels like dry clay that crumbles under its own weight.  There are truly terrible things happening in our country.  It isn’t just about a 17 year old boy who is dead and now blamed for his own death, his family told in no uncertain terms he asked for it.  I listen to the conversation in Texas, watch the machinations in North Carolina that rob women of the kinds of wrenching decisions we never want to make but sometimes must.  I look at the rich, white old men who run so much of our country, say ugly things to each other.   I walked out of the room where Sherod was watching a program about the devastation caused by fracking.  I haven’t been able to get rid of the bronchitis all the way.  I literally feel ill much of the time right now.

Yesterday after church, a 92-year old woman came up to me.  She was visiting and comes from a Pentecostal tradition.  As I greeted her, she began to shake and pray.  She clung fiercely to me and said she had felt close to God during the service, that she would pray for me because there are such horrible times coming.   I thought to myself, it isn’t that they are coming, it is that those horrible times are here.  Now.  I wanted to cling just as fiercely to her and instead did my usual thank you and greeted the next person in line.  How can we bear to allow so much suffering to continue to unfold, wringing our hands and writing pretty lines, but still, holding to the old familiar order no matter who pays the cost?

A Night at the Ritz

First, some facts.  The Mallowman and I, though certainly far more privileged than most people in the rest of the world, are not part of the 1%.  In fact, we are just this side of country bumpkins.  And the only reason I can write about the Ritz “experience” is because this is the bottom of the bottom of the season for luxury hotels in Fort Lauderdale so their prices go way, way down.  That means with some stretch, Sherod and I could afford one night –and only one night–of indulgence to celebrate our anniversary.

So, wow.

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ImageWhen I made the reservation online, there was a little field where you could put the reason for your visit.  I indicated we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary.  When I checked us in, the person at the front desk said, “Ah Mrs. Lindahl–we were waiting for you. Congratulations on your anniversary.  You will be staying in one of our oceanfront suites, courtesy of the house.”  The suite was beautiful–living room, bedroom, 1/2 bath, a full bath with a tub our whole extended family could fit in, a shower with that rainforest shower head that’s so popular these days, what seemed like miles of marble.

We went down to the little bar by the pool where we had a lovely time visiting with Richard, a most French bartender.  Next thing you know, he is bringing over a pair of complimentary Moët Ice Imperial Champagne cocktails and congratulating us.  We got up to our room after dinner, and there was another bottle of champagne with chocolate dipped strawberries and a lovely little congratulations note waiting for us.  The graciousness of the staff and the attention to detail gets almost overwhelming, except it is always charming.  Even the flowers are about understated beauty.

But mainly, what I was aware of was spaciousness.  Everything around us conveyed an absence of stress or rush or scarcity or constraint or smallness. It was lovely to have a brief immersion in this kind of grace bought by money.  Especially, I loved the time it gave my spouseman and me to laugh and talk and simply look out at the ocean together without having much else to deal with.   I wonder, too, if it is possible to adopt more of an attitude of spaciousness about our lives as they are–not in heterotopias like the Ritz–but in the messiness of every day.  After all, that is where I live.

What Love Looked Like

Outing With Nils, Picture by Sherod

Outing With Nils, Picture by Sherod

The hair was enormous.  And oh, Good Lord, I was in love.  It led to this

Gunnar, Ann, Rosa, Sherod, Juanita, July 9, 1988

Gunnar, Ann, Rosa, Sherod, Juanita, July 9, 1988

Twenty five years later, it has taken many more choices to hang in with each other, some of them through gritted teeth, or exhaustion, or out of sheer perseverance.  God only knows what lies ahead. Today, just this.  Yes.

God In All Things-Part 2

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Today, in the 31 Days With St Ignatius, the topic is the Daily Examen–a most worthy, noble and important part of the spirituality of St Ignatius. In fact, he would say it is the indispensable component of a life of disciplined prayer. It’s just that I’m still sorting through yesterday’s post.

Let me explain. Yesterday evening, I was lying in bed, having gone home from work early. Still woozy and slightly nauseated from all the coughing, all I wanted to do was sleep. Then María called and the Mallowman, who is a great dad, went and got her so she could eat dinner with us. In the meantime, my doctor’s assistant called to let me know I had a cough medicine script waiting at the pharmacy. From there, it was easy to offer to take my girl back to BARC after dinner. I would pick up my meds (though in the opposite direction from BARC), jump on 595 and drop her off. We laughed and giggled in Walgreens. We kept cracking up all the way to BARC and if it was brutally hard, again, leaving her, I have learned how to soldier on and not surrender to helpless grief. I even decided to skip getting off on 441 to meander up Riverland to my house. No, I took the more adventuresome route, and stayed on 595 to I-95.

There’s always a street person holding up a sign at the light when you make the exit off 95 onto Davie. One annoys me–he holds a sign that says, “what the heck, just give me money for a beer.” Last night it was a young woman, in her 20’s, black pony tail, cleaner and more carefully groomed than I’m used to seeing, standing right next to where I came to a stop. I looked at her and as soon as I made eye contact, her eyes welled with tears. I rolled down my window, buck in hand. When she came up to me she said, “I’m so sorry to need your money, I am so sorry. This is so hard” I don’t even know what I said to her, but it was something about the fact that I could see what a beautiful person she was and how sorry I was that life had gotten so bad. I told her I would pray for her. I paused and then I found a larger bill in my wallet, leaned back out, took her hand, gave her the money and told her to stay strong. She told me she was trying so hard to stay out of trouble. We both started crying, the light changed and I drove on.

I was priest or levite, but certainly not a good samaritan–just someone with all her reasons not to get involved, who just barely got to see a small speck of a person in the larger scope of things. Driving away, I was deeply haunted by the vulnerability, fear and sadness I saw in the young woman’s eyes. I considered getting back on 95, to come back through the exit, pick her up to bring home with me. With regret and lots of rationalizations, I told myself I simply couldn’t. But what we have seen we cannot un-see, including what we see about ourselves and our carefully measured generosity. Today I read an article that a FB friend had linked on her page, a fine article, well worth the time it takes to read. Especially, I loved the ee cummings poem, one I had never read before.

a man who had fallen among thieves by e. e. cummings

a man who had fallen among thieves
lay by the roadside on his back
dressed in fifteenthrate ideas
wearing a round jeer for a hat

fate per a somewhat more than less
emancipated evening
had in return for consciousness
endowed him with a changeless grin

whereon a dozen staunch and leal
citizens did graze at pause
then fired by hypercivic zeal
sought newer pastures or because

swaddled with a frozen brook
of pinkest vomit out of eyes
which noticed nobody he looked
as if he did not care to rise

one hand did nothing on the vest
its wideflung friend clenched weakly dirt
while the mute trouserfly
confessed a button solemnly inert.

Brushing from whom the stiffened puke
i put him all into my arms
and staggered banged with terror through
a million billion trillion stars.

When I read it, I knew that’s what it would have been like, giving that girl shelter, I would have staggered with terror through a million billion trillion stars. That moment of seeing her broken heart: it was the universe I wished I could have given her.

31 Days With St Ignatius

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St Ignatius by Maria Laughlin

The 31st of July marks the birthday of Ignatius of Loyola. One of the blogs I follow has a pretty cool set of suggestions for mindfulness shaped by the spirituality of this man whose light continues to help many find their way.  There’s even a nice widget I would add to by sidebar if I could figure out how to make it work (and if you know how I can, please, please let me know!).  For right now, I will content myself with borrowing shamelessly from my friend Robin and Maria Laughlin at http://www.marialaughlin.blogspot.com for the graphic and telling you the link to the 31 activities is here.

The first day of my first Ignatian retreat, I was told,”during your time with us, endeavor to find God in all things”.  Fortunately, my friend Robin had encouraged me to bring a camera along with me.  My father and brothers are all marvelous photographers and as with lots of other things, I sidestepped my own competitiveness by not even trying. I can make absolutely no claims to quality or art in my photography  but it is the most playful, freeing way I have discovered of looking for God.  It has been a source of endless revelation and joy. In a strange way, even going out for my evening walk with my iPhone, it seems like the world is always made new, always opening to reveal something more about God’s ways.  I have been changed by this discipline.

I was trying to think what has most moved me in these past few weeks and realized it had to do with the reflections of abundance and scarcity.  On Riverland Road there are some enormous old oak trees with graceful limbs that curve down close to eyesight for even a height challenged person like me.  In the deep shade of the subtropical canopy I walk under, they are covered with tiny ferns that are usually totally wilted and shriveled up.  Especially in the dry months, I look at all those little ferns and all I see is death and decay.

Image 1But just one good rain and I realize all is not what it seemed and life was waiting to burst forth.  It takes so little of God’s grace though we think we need an ocean…

ImageGod in all things…