Tears

Samain and the Full Gratitude Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: The Geminid Meteor Showers, peaking on Dec. 13th. Kate. Always Kate. The cooling as we move deeper into December. Chickens and their eggs. Seeing, really seeing. Colors. Especially dark blues. Princeton paint brushes. Glass. A wonder on its own. [after finishing this. Lupron.]

As I wrote before, lupron clouds the source of my feelings. Here are three things this week that have moved me to tears.

  1. Most recent. Reading about the North Dakota capital’s county commission voting to continue admitting immigrants. Compassion trumps Trump.
  2. The videos of women singing the rapist is you (see video below) in protests across the world. Claiming your own power makes you powerful.
  3. A dream I had the other night in which my mother hugged me.

People coming down on the side of compassion instead of cruelty. My heart stands with them, wherever and for whatever reason. Right now the North Dakota vote says no to humans in cages, to separated families, to the cold hearts and small minds resident in the White House. When humans act like humans, I’m shaken in a good way.

Empowerment, especially taking back power stolen by the patriarchy or whiteness or greed, reaches deep into me, makes me feel glad. Over againstness in the name of women, of people of color, of the poor is a sacred duty, a holy duty. When an oppressed group faces off against their oppressor, my heart sings, overwhelms me. Bless them all.

My mother died 45 years ago, her yahrzeit is in October. Since then, I can recall no dreams of her. I must have had some, but they disappear on waking. For the first time I remember in those 45 years, I dreamed of her. She was mute, curled in an almost fetal position, but awake and aware. She hugged me, smiled. I felt her warmth and her love. Her physicality.

She lay in a position very like the one in which I last saw her. We rode up together in an elevator for a surgery that failed to save her life. She was on a gurney. Her eyes looked away from me, but I could tell the stroke had made that the way she could see me best. Her lips moved and she said, “Son.” The last word I ever heard from her.

Tears come as I write this. The power of feeling her close to me, of her hug, so long gone. A dream long suppressed or repressed.

It felt to me as if the grief of her death had finally come to resolution, as if she were forgiving me and blessing me. Forgiving me for living on. Blessing me for living on. Breathtaking.

Maybe the lupron does not cloud the source of my feelings. Maybe it opens me, flushes out excuses I give myself for not being moved.

A confusing time for me. But. Not without its merits.

Live Long, and Prosper

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Sunday gratefuls: for the poetry and philosophy contained in the world’s religions. for not having to believe in them. for the intimacy and wonder of holidays. for deep thinkers and their ability to change our minds, to see what we cannot. for the pain and struggles that teach us what’s important and what’s not.

Seoah made a bulgogi soup last night. Delicious. Each time she comes I think, “I’ll cook like that, too.” Then, she leaves. And my cooking returns to its Western, American ways. I’ve added few Korean dishes to my repertoire. Maybe, over time…

Murdoch bounces around, happy and energetic. His teeth still have the pointy sharpness of a young puppy. He discovered the loft the other day, came running in, wagging his tail, rushing around, smelling this, then that. And left. He’s come back. He may join Gertie for longer time periods if he can contain himself.

Stanford University has a recent initiative, A New Map of Life. I like it because it recognizes the three blocks of life I call first, second, third phase: education, family and work, and the third phase. Not retirement, at least not the finish line model, but a new phase of life previously unavailable due to shorter life spans. And, as a result, one without cultural guard rails or guidelines.

Their approach makes so much sense. They want to to redefine, reshape the cultural paradigms for all the phases, not just old age. “Longer lives present us with an opportunity to redesign the way we live. The greatest risk of failure is setting the bar too low.” WP article: We need a major redesign of life. Dec. 8, 2019

Will investigate in greater depth and report back. I’m going through what seems to be an annoyingly long rethink of my own life. This is the fifth year (in 12 days) of our Colorado mountain life. It has peaks and valleys (hah) and they keep on coming.

Old age doesn’t seem to be the real issue for me though it plays a role. What’s more salient is the unpredictable nature of our daily life and the difficulty of getting into a rhythm for creative work. Health span is a key issue. Kate, though much better now than six months ago, still has occasional nausea, occasional fevers and fatigue, occasional heartburn, constant weakness. I have bouts of fatigue, muscle weakness, and general uncertainty added with prostate cancer and COPD.

Not complaining, observing what’s real for us. How do we build a mutual life that reflects and respects these difficult elements without capitulating to them? There is a disparity between us, too. I am younger than Kate by three years and though I have my own serious illnesses I don’t get derailed by them as often as she does from hers.

There’s a question of mutual life and its outlines and our individual lives. I’m admitting here that our answers so far have not been satisfying. It’s a project for both of us and it continues.

Learning and Doing

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Friday gratefuls: The grandmother tree at Congregation Beth Evergreen which just lost a large limb. It’s a large Ponderosa. Looks like it will be fine. The mind of Rabbi Jamie. Filled with knowledge and caring. SeoAh’s energy. She cleaned our whole house yesterday afternoon.

Learned something again. That I seem to have learned again and again only to forget. Hot dogs give me gas. I’ve stopped eating bacon and hot dogs except when I’m out. Bought two CJ’s classics. Vienna all beef wienies with mustard and relish. Oh, my. Desire is often not a good match with need.

A strange and unsettling moment on Wednesday. No, not buying the hot dogs. SeoAh and I went to the post office to mail Annie’s phone back to her. The priority mail box that I chose came flat and needed to be folded. As Kate will tell you, spatial reasoning is not my long suit, not by far.

Anyhow I began to fuss with it. SeoAh’s right beside me. When I couldn’t get it, at first I laughed. Then, I began to become self-conscious. What if she thinks I’m getting senile? Made it harder. Which made me more self-conscious. Finally got it, but the momentary damage had already been done. By me to me.

We went from there to King Sooper. Got out of the car in the parking lot and went to lock it. Nope, keys not in that pocket. Or, that one. Surely… Nope, not that one either. Or, that one. In the jeans? Right side, no. Left side. No. OK. Car started when I got in it at the post office so my keys are here. Somewhere. Check all the pockets again. Nope. Nada.

These two incidents left me a bit shaken. Not because I considered them signs of anything other than my usual self. (the keys had slipped between the seat and the center console. I’ve done it before with glasses and phones.) But because they could have made me look feeble in SeoAh’s eyes. A realization for me about aging. Oh, so this happens to me, too.

Little things. Hard, though. We laughed about it.

Murdoch

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Wednesday gratefuls: Mountain Waste, which takes our trash away. Shirley Septic, which cleans our system. Golden Solar, which installed our solar panels. H2O plumbing ran gas to our generator and pcv piping in our laundry room. Schwabel Electric, for the fan in the bedroom and other projects. Ted of All Trades, who put in new easy open door handles and plows us when the snow’s more than six inches. Sandy, who cleans our house twice a month.

The dance with Murdoch as a year long partner has begun. SeoAh’s still here so she has primary responsibility for him, but the outline of a way of having him here and keeping him safe (from Kepler) has begun to emerge.

When we redid the kitchen, we had a latch installed on the sewing room/kitchen door. That meant we could close off a dog(s) in the sewing room. We do this routinely when guests visit or a repair person comes, Sandy. Now we can hold Kep out there while Murdoch comes downstairs, has time with us, with Gertie and Rigel.

In the morning I’ll still feed our three around 4:30 or so. Murdoch will get his food closer to 7:30 or 8:00, his usual time, and he’ll be fed upstairs. He’ll go outside while the others share our breakfast time. Like a human guest, he will stay in our guest room. That’s where he’s spent most of his time while here with Joe and SeoAh. It’s familiar.

Around 5 pm or so, I’ll give him his second feeding and let him outside again. With Kep in the sewing room he’ll have some time downstairs again.

Before I pill the other dogs, he’ll go upstairs to sleep. Repeat.

We plan to try him with Kepler more than once. If he and Kepler could get along inside, it would make life better for him since he could be out of his room more. Outside I no longer trust Kepler with Gertie and I’m starting out not trusting him outside with Murdoch. Could that change? Maybe, though I doubt it.

Kep is such a sweetheart, soft, serious, kind. Except. When he isn’t. Gertie has many scars. I don’t want Murdoch to have any.

Murdoch’s puppyhood is not over and that means we’ll have a vivifying animal in the house. Our dogs are like us, old and more mellow. Granddog. Here for a while.

Might Be

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: the dog, a tail wagging, face licking bundle of love. the grocery store, especially Tony’s Market. Kate’s successful cataract surgery. Williamsburg oil paints. Princeton brushes. Flovent for the COPD. Landice treadmills. Colorado Natural Gas for bringing natural gas to Shadow Mountain.

Might be the lupron, but when Joseph left yesterday a deep wave of sadness swept over me. Seoah came in and my head was down a bit. Are you o.k.? Just sad that Joseph left. She looked at me. I know how you feel.

Might be the lupron. Might not.

The lupron and the holidays. Might be why I feel so disoriented, so low energy. Trying to read, but find it hard to focus. Trying to paint, but ideas seem stuck somewhere, gluon neuron?

Glad Thanksgiving is over. It was good, but it knocked us out. Could be the lupron. Might not. Hard to know.

The metaphysical or the psychological effects of chemotherapy are tough to define, hard to limn. At least for me. Is the fatigue from preparing and managing a big meal? Staying up with the guests? Am I seeing the world right now as others see it? Not asking the perspectival question, obvious no, but the social consensus question. Is this world the one you know, too?

These are often subtle cracks in my perceptual world, making me question my own assessment of so many things. Can’t say I like this much.

Mark O. and Paul S. both have set learning guitar as a winter activity. Just after Thanksgiving I had decided I would concentrate on painting and justice, justice in this case as a mussar, or character, trait. For a month or more on the painting. Until December 17th when I present my thinking on justice to the mussar vaad practice group.

And, I need to add, reading. I want to up my reading schedule, read more. But I have this strange physical reaction to sitting still, focusing on a book. I want to get up, move around, do something with my hands. Shut off my brain. Sometimes I find a text that wrestles that reaction into submission, sometimes not.

Could be stress from the year plus storm of medical matters. Could be. Could be the lupron. Could be the holiday blues. Could be all of these, probably is, some dark mixture swirling around my consciousness.

Gonna let it be. Be whatever it is. Meanwhile I’ll read as much, paint as much, learn as much as I can.

Shadow Mountain Gratefuls

Samain and the Gratitude Moon

Saturday gratefuls: Everybody got here. 8 of us. Ruth, Jon, Gabe, Joe, Seoah, Annie, Kate and me. Plus a very interested Gertie, Rigel, Kepler, and Murdoch. Our oven thermometer allowed me to calibrate the lower oven since its heat is different from what gets set. Ruth’s pies, pumpkin and pecan, were wonderful. The heated side dishes made the meal easy to prepare. Love around the table. None of my burns were too bad.

The heated capon was ok, as were the side dishes. Hardly gourmet though tasty. We ate downstairs around the Stickley table that largely gets used for folding laundry. The red table cloth was festive as were the Happy Thanksgiving paper plates.

We used a few questions from a set by a company called Vertillis. The intent was to have a conversation that did not feature Trump tirades, one that was, instead, about us. It worked. After the plates of sage stuffing, mashed potatoes, capon, cranberries, and green beans were empty we broke into groups.

The women, with Kate at the head of the table, stayed downstairs talking while us guys put away food, cleared the table. A moment of gender parity. I mentioned it and Jon said, “Yes. And, two male dogs and two female dogs.” True.

Later Annie, Kate, and Ruth went upstairs, Jon sat in the chair and dozed while Joe, SeoAh, and I talked. The spirit of those questions seemed to linger even after the meal. Seoah said Joseph was her first true love. Who was mine?

The question set me back. After three visits to the altar and many women friends/lovers over the years, I wasn’t sure at first. “Kate,” I said. Raeone and Judy were both relationships formed while I was drinking and their dissolution reflected their flawed premises. Kate though was, pardon the not really a pun, my first sober choice. It’s true love because we both want what’s best for each other, will sacrifice for each other, and share convictions, core convictions, about politics, mother earth, dogs, family.

The essence of holidays, these sorts of conversations reinforce family ties, deepen them. We come together out of individual and nuclear family lives to bathe for a moment in the larger, extended field of our relationships. SeoAh said Koreans celebrate a harvest festival with similar themes.

Even though Kate’s going through some kind of disturbance in her force, nausea and fever, it nonetheless felt to me that this holiday put away the old, bad year and began a new one. Next year Joe and Seoah will be in Singapore, so it will be different.

Murdoch will stay with us for a year since Singapore wouldn’t let him in. Means considerable jockeying since both Murdoch and Kepler are male Akitas with the dog on dog aggression that comes with the breed. We’ll work it out, get a routine down.

Dogs, I read recently, like certainty. If we can get a system that works, when to feed, when to let this one out, then that one, keep Murdoch outside while Kep is inside and vice versa, we’ll avoid squabbles. Squabbles being a euphemism for teeth tearing flesh, blood, wounds, squeals of pain, and my forced interventions.

At two years old Murdoch still has a lot of puppy in him. That’s delightful and will warm up our house. He’s also a sweet boy, nice to have around.

1′

Samain and the Gratitude (new) Moon

Tuesday gratefuls: Friends. All the Woollies with a special inflection for the Zoom guys: Mark, Bill, Tom, Paul. My zoompals. At CBE: mussar folk, Alan, Jamie, Rich, Marilyn, Fran in particular. Neighbors: Jude, Holly, Eduardo, Derrek. All the Facebook friends from long ago in Alexandria, Ball State.

Put the yardstick down on the deck this morning at 6 am. 1′ of snow. So far. Overnight. More still coming. The biggest snow event here since a blizzard last March. Ending today, probably AM. Roads will be clear for Thanksgiving travelers on Wednesday. Thankful for that. Seoah, Murdoch, Joe on the road from Warner-Robbins, Georgia.

Put on my Sorel’s, my down vest, my watchcap, my alpaca coat. Warm enough. Shoveled the deck and the small, pallet covered with rubber stall mats deck extension. The plastic push shovel that works so well on the composition decking and the stall mats is not good for throwing or lifting snow. Just bought a poly shovel. These heavy snows are easier to push if I can clear a few inches off the top first. The curved plastic of the push shovel dribbles the snow off as soon as I lift it.

Beautiful outside. The sun is up but Black Mountain is gone behind a pale bluegray curtain. The solar panels look like Korean tombs resting on our roof. The lodgepoles look like flocked Christmas trees.

Kate went to the grocery store to pick up an order and go to the bank which is in the King Sooper. When she got back, her lips were white and her face ashen. Walking to the bank and to the pharmacy (both inside the store) was too much. She’s having a Sjogren’s flare which may account for some of it. Her appearance shocked me, and I feel bad for not having done the trip. She thought she could do it. So did I.

A Holiday Week

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Monday gratefuls: the folks at Weather5280, Ted the snowplower, our mail guy, Greg, our Denver Post most of the time delivery person, the UPS and Fedex drivers who deliver our packages. A small web of people who help us in this isolated, yet hyper connected age.

Yesterday I got up around 6 am, late for me, and Orion already had his boots behind Black Mountain. This morning he stood fully above it, the soles of his boots resting on the peak. He’s hunting Lepus the rabbit who always scoots away, just out of reach. Lucky Lepus.

Saturday included picking up a grocery order and a trip to the Happy Camper in Bailey after the bagel table. Tired.

On Sunday we began a ritual going on in many households around the whole nation. Decluttering. Not a lot to do, but still some. Books piled up on the downstairs table where we’ll eat the meal. Papers of various sorts stacked by my place at the table. There are photographs in boxes in the room Kate’s using for exercise. Some jigsaw puzzles going up to the guest room.

Sandy, our housecleaner, will come on Wednesday. Her usual day was last Friday, but we had a snowstorm that prevented her California raised self from coming up the hill.

The capon and the side dishes I’ll pick up Wednesday morning at Tony’s. I’ll also get pizzas for supper Wednesday night when Joe, Seoah, Murdoch, and Annie will be here.

Last year Kate was recently home from Brookdale Green Mountain rehab. Cooking was not part of the plan. “At 2 pm I drive over to Littleton to Tony’s Market to pick up our Thanksgiving meal, a turkey breast and several sides. We decided putting out a big meal this year was beyond us.” Nov. 21, 2018

Inching our way back to a full meal. I love capon and wanted to cook one, but didn’t want responsibility for the whole meal. Kate suggested we go with the side dish bundle from Tony’s again. No pushback from me. Maybe next year we’ll get back to the full meal. Ruth’s agreed to make the pumpkin pie. She’s a good cook and loves to make pies.

The big storm, thankfully, gratefully, comes tonight and tomorrow, leaving Wednesday and Thursday clear. Joe and Seoah should have clear roads.

Mundane

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Stayed out late Tuesday, for us past 8 pm. Makes the next day slow. Tried to get into the resistance work, couldn’t. Muscles complained. Did thirty minutes on the treadmill.

In to see my ophthalmologist. (spelling gets me every time) Glaucoma check. Every six months for over 20 years. Now every 4 months. The usual. Eye charts. A small glass instrument pressed against the pupil to check pressures, 16 and 14. Scan of the retinal nerve. Mine’s still abnormal. Has been for as long as they’ve been following me.

Stopped by Tony’s market. Picked up a few things. Cooked supper. The end of the day.

Big day. I’m meeting Alan to go over our bagel table plan for Saturday morning. The Dandelion again in Evergreen. Slippery roads this am, freezing drizzle. Driving freezing drizzle down the mountains can be challenging. The Blizzaks went on Ruby last Friday and she has all wheel drive.

At 12:45 we’re meeting Steve and Jamie at the Staples parking lot. We’re going to a CBE tour of the Monet show at the Denver Art Museum, a four hundred object exhibit arranged by a curator at the Denver Art Museum. This is its only stop. Looking forward to it.

This evening we have MVP, the mussar vaad practice group. Had to be moved from Tuesday due to the shiva at Steve and Jamie’s.

That’s a lot of moving parts for us in one day. Good ones, yes, but still a lot.

Our First Shiva Minyan

Samain and the Fallow Moon

Seven p.m. last night. Already well dark. We drove to the Staples parking lot, about 10 minutes away, and picked up Marilyn Saltzman. She got in, put Jamie and Steve’s address in her phone so she could navigate, and we drove toward Bailey on 285, turning on Richmond Hill Road, up toward Lion’s Head.

Driving in the mountains at night has a claustrophic feel, the dark closes around you, the headlights illuminate some of the road, but the curves and the dropoffs make the light useful only right in front of you. A sense of isolation creeps up, too. Without those headlights? A bit like driving in a whiteout. A blackout.

Coming home on familiar roads at night. That’s ok. We do it a lot from Evergreen and Denver and we know the roads. Jamie and Steve’s house though is hard to find in the daylight.

Marilyn navigated well. We arrived to what we thought would be a packed house, but nope. Their long driveway, asphalt, had only a few cars, all parked close to the house.

Jamie and Steve met us at the door. Steve’s brother, Arthur, died a month or so ago. Steve was unshaven, as is Orthodox custom, and he wore a Bronx sweatshirt in honor of Arthur. The shiva minyan* marks the end of mourning when mourners begin to reenter the world. A minyan, as you may know, is at least ten Jews, men only in former days, who together can say communal prayers.

Neither Kate nor I had ever been to a shiva. I expected it to be somber, but when Steve and Jamie showed us into their spacious kitchen, people were chatting in small groups, laughing, talking with friends. A fruitbowl, platters of brownies, nuts, small cupcakes, a raw vegetable plate with dip sat on the island. Marilyn had said usually folks bring food, but there had been no request in the announcement. Yet here was the food anyhow.

This is a big, big house. It has a formal dining room between the kitchen and the living room. We’ve been there for fourth of July parties and their deck, which extends from beyond the kitchen to the end of the living room outside, stretches easily fifty feet and overlooks Pikes Peak in the distance, behind a range of mountains. The living room has a two-story rock fireplace with exposed beam rafters. Big.

When we came in, Jamie asked me what Kate was doing out so late. She was partly serious. Jamie is Kate’s close friend, a quilter in the Bailey Patchworkers and a member of the Needleworkers, too. She’s taken Kate to some of her appointments, brought food, been a mensch.

Judy saw me and grabbed Leslie. We did a group hug. Judy has ovarian cancer, stage 4, and Leslie recently had a second return of her breast cancer. We knew what it meant.

“We’re waiting on the Rabbi,” somebody said. Rabbi Jamie showed up not long after. We went into the living room. Prayer books for a house of mourning, maroon paperbacks, got passed around. The minyan allows the Rabbi to lead the kaddish, or prayers for mourners. They come at the end of the evening service and he lead an abbreviated version of that service.

A lot of singing, mostly in Hebrew. Moments of private prayers. Some standing, some bowing. During the service Rabbi Jamie, in his way, spoke a bit about the tradition behind various parts of the service. His relaxed manner, his shirttail was out, and he sat on the raised stones in front of the fireplace, made the atmosphere serious, but not somber, respectful, but not formal. A difficult feat. He did it easily.

Steve and Jamie told stories about Arthur, about the kind of man he was. Steve’s niece read parts of the service. She read a poem, I don’t recall by whom. Poems in English showed up often in the service, including a favorite of mine, The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry.

We finished and went back into the kitchen, grabbed our paperplates, and, the Yiddish for it, noshed. I’ve included this short quote because it says what I felt. How I wish Methodism had had this sort of sensitivity to mourners. Our family might have turned out very differently.

The shiva minyan–because it occurs in the home, because it is composed of friends and fellow congregants–does more than remind the mourner of membership in a larger community. It creates that community–precisely where it is most needed. By physically entering the isolation of the mourner, the shiva minyan dispels it.” Rabbi Bradley Artson, My Jewish Learning