We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Incognitum

Fall                                                                     Healing Moon

Exhumation of the Mastodon: Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827.

Exhumation of the Mastodon: Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827.

Another of life’s inflection points. I want to consider it, honor it, respond to it, but I’m having a hard time. Just too tired. And, I feel guilty about that. Like somehow I should be able to just power my way through and get back to the usual. Which is unrealistic. Certainly for the next few weeks, maybe on an ongoing basis. Need to know what the new normal might be like. Too soon. I know it. So I’m trying to hold back, not speculate, not project. The fact of trying though suggests I’m not always successful.

Here’s an analogy I discovered in the High Country News, my favorite source of information about the West. In reviewing a novel called West there’s a quote from a widowed farmer on his way to the land beyond the Mississippi. He says, to a Dutch land agent he encounters on a river boat, “I am seeking a creature entirely unknown, an animal incognitum.” Apparently Thomas Jefferson also sought the animal incognitum, probably a Mastodon.

Humanity has always wondered what's on the far shore -- even if our guesses sometimes miss the mark.

Humanity has always wondered what’s on the far shore

Right now, I’m on the riverboat, looking at the western shore of the Great River, wondering what lies on the land which spreads out from there to the Pacific Ocean. It contains, I know, a life incognitum, a life so far unknown. Not entirely unknown, certainly. There will be familiar elements in familiar places, but the rhythm, the demands, the joys? Will change. That farmer and I share a desire to explore the land, to find the incognitums, to embrace them, and find our way anew.

It’s a source of energy. I love the unknown, the strange. Vive la difference! More news as this pilgrim sets foot on the shore, buys an oxen or two and loads up the Conestoga with supplies.

 

On Her Way Home

Fall                                                                                   Healing Moon

Kepler, a serious dog

Kepler, a serious dog

Took Kepler in to see Kate yesterday. We sat on the large front porch at Brookdale, enjoying the mid-sixties sunshine and blue Colorado sky. Kep nuzzled her, sat down, then looked back, yep, still here, and settled down in front of her. Guarding.

United Health Care has said our benefits stop on Sunday. Having an insurance company determine the end to this incident rather than medical professionals is annoying, but it’s felt close to time for a while. The weight gain is the primary issue at this point and we can work on that from atop Shadow Mountain.

Joe and SeoAh are on their way with Murdoch, planning to arrive Sunday. Perfect timing. Joe turns 37 on Wednesday, too. 37!

Life will change again, of course, when Kate comes home. We’ll have to see how much, probably quite a bit in the beginning, though not sure what will change. I’ll have to assess  the rest of my life in relation to it, whatever it is. She’s first.

suncityKate and I have had our first brush with the skilled nursing, assisted living world. We visited Merton at the Forum in Phoenix and I’ve visited congregants in various nursing homes, but this is the first time for one of us. As a rehab place, I would rate Brookdale as excellent. It’s clean and well-maintained. The staff are friendly and attentive. The rehab crew has kept Kate moving forward.

But. God, I wouldn’t want to be there too long. No matter how good the food (according to Kate, pretty good) or friendly and professional the staff, no matter how clean the carpets and fresh the paint, it’s a context of despair and desperation. Folks with their heads down shuffle along behind walkers, a demented patient screams at night, people move around in motorized recliners, wheel chairs. The rooms (apartments they’re called) are generic, similar to a modest upscale motel chain with white popcorn plaster, large but antiseptic bathrooms, no comfortable chairs for lounging.

happyThey share, too, a primary problem visible in the Del Webb communities like Sun City. That is, they’re age homogeneous. No toddlers. No teens. No mid-life adults except for staff. Just older folks and not only older folks, but older folks with serious medical or mental issues, or both. This is not a real place. It’s a concentration of maladies. Not a healthy, diverse environment.

Home. Better. She’s coming back.

 

 

 

Stop the Squirrel Cage

Fall                                                                     Healing Moon

stressWent to mussar yesterday for the first time in three weeks. Lots of hugs. Lots of obvious caring for Kate.  One of the ironies of this whole situation is that three weeks ago yesterday Kate and I co-taught a mussar session on compassion, rachamim. The next morning at 6 a.m. she was in the E.R. at Swedish. She’s been gone from home ever since.

Yesterday’s mussar was a sort of going away party for Rabbi Jamie who starts a three-month sabbatical on Sunday. Lot of folks brought sweet thangs. My first buffet in memory with snickers bars on the table.

Since I’d had a tough day at CBE on Wednesday, I wondered how I’d react in this setting. At first I was uncomfortable, both with the attention and with the fact that it was Kate who was ailing, not me, yet I was the focus. That lasted awhile. Roughly until we got into the discussion about emet, truth.

emet-truthIt was not the content of the discussion, but its nature that finally lifted my stress. Considering the meaning of truth, identifying the Jewish take on it, relating the search for truth to loving-kindness all stimulated my thinking, made me go deep. And that was the solace. Leaving the squirrel-in-a-cage stressors behind for a while, I went into that realm of memory and creativity where old ideas and new conditions meet, changing each other.

Rabbi Jamie is a great interlocutor. I learn from him, but mostly with him.

talmudThere is, I’m coming to understand, a unique Jewish epistemology, one which places a possible truth on the table and passes it around to the many gathered in its presence. Each one comments, shares the part of the elephant that they can see. The process iterates since commentators will comment on others reactions. It does not mean that there is no truth, this is the key move, but that truth itself is multi-perspectival. It takes a village to know a truth.

This has similarities to pragmatism which recognizes that truth with a capital T is not within our grasp, but that our search for it can identify useful approximations, their usefulness identifying their degree of truth.

So now I know a great stress reducer for me. Challenge the mind. Make it work. Let go of the present troubles in a search for new ideas, new ways of grasping what it means to be human.

Just Say No to Despair

Fall                                                                            Healing Moon

DyingA guy could be forgiven for feeling despair. Climate change has turned the dial up on danger. In so many ways already and bound to worsen. Fascism is not just for Europe anymore. The Proud Boys, as one article I read the other day pointed out, are brown shirts. Thugs for a narrow and dangerous political perspective.

And, of course. Well, you know who he is. He’s trying to shut down protest around the White House among other despicable things. The backlash against identity politics grows more vicious and more widespread, surfacing especially as a wedge issue for right-wingers. Women, in particular, have had a constant barrage of insults since 2016, misogynists emboldened by the same evil that courses through Congress, down Pennsylvania Avenue and spills into the air over the whole country.

fascism proud boysWe’re fighting so many conflicts in so many places. There’s a trade war underway. Immigration policy and environmental policy and policy for public lands, to mention only a few, are being made by people against immigrants, pro-coal and oil, and advocates for mining and pumping on Federal land.

I’m not feeling despair. I’ve not gone over to the dark ecology side even though I agree with their projections for our future. I’m not jettisoning political life in spite of the steady rhythm of awful policies and values spewing forth from Washington. I know years of progress have been shredded and actively reversed. Yes, I know all of that.

20181004_082605However. Life is not lived in some grim future contaminated by and doomed by the present. No, it is lived now. Today. Here. Loving Kate and the dogs, relating to friends from Minnesota, from Congregation Beth Evergreen. Being with family like Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Joe, SeoAh. I pay our bills, cook lunch, feed the dogs, visit Kate, teach religious school, write this blog. All now. Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but now.

None of the rays of darkness trying to blot out decency and hope prevent me from living my life now. This life, this one right now, right here on Shadow Mountain is good. You might think that Kate’s medical issues make it otherwise. You would be wrong. The current medical matters and all the others that have kept us occupied over the four years since we moved here are life itself. As is Jon’s divorce and the sequelae from that, still rolling over us. Also life itself is the care and love between Kate and me and the dogs, between us all and our friends, family. Life goes on until it doesn’t. That’s not news; that’s the oldest ancientrail there is.

expectThrownness has deposited us all in these times. Could have been pharaonic Egypt, Song Dynasty China, the Jalisco era in Mexico, but it wasn’t. It’s now. YOLO. Or reincarnate Or shift off to heaven or bardo. No matter. It won’t change that fact.

A guy could be forgiven for feeling despair; yet, I don’t feel it. Instead I feel love, joy, delight. I relish the cold, the snow, the mountains. I live for living for friends and family. Doesn’t matter the context of awful. Doesn’t change that. I’m not putting on blinders, not ignoring the world. I’m saying that no matter what happens it will not sway me from the only life I’ve been given, one with the humans and animals and plants and rocks and streams, the stars and weather and climate with which I interact directly.

 

 

Day 19

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

Kate on the morning of her retirement, 2011

Kate on the morning of her retirement, 2011

Day 19 and the first day I’ll not go in to see Kate. I’m back to my religious school class this afternoon at 3 p.m., then there’s a teacher’s staff meeting afterward. I told her yesterday I’d feel guilty if I didn’t go in and see her. “I give you my permission to skip tomorrow.” This is a landmark moment. She’s feeling good and I don’t feel a necessity for going in save for continuing presence. That last is enough motivation any day, but it feels great to know she’s not in crisis anymore. (I’ll probably feel a little guilty anyhow.) Yes, in two days this incident will reach its three week mark. Wow.

 

 

Day 18

Fall                                                                           Healing Moon

most of Gertie

most of Gertie

Kate’s taking full advantage of the power of the waxing healing moon. She’s gained weight, had several p.t./o.t. sessions, has a brighter outlook and has begun to have visitors. I took Gertie in to see her on Sunday so she could report back to the pack that mama was still alive. It was a sweet meeting and as we pulled away toward home Gertie looked back at Brookdale, obviously expecting that Kate was coming home with us.

When it rains…

Fall                                                                                     Healing Moon

Two days ago

Two days ago

9 degrees here on Shadow Mountain with snow blowing in the air. A bit unusual since snow most often comes straight down up here, like rain. The storm has underperformed for us, but it’s here and I like it. Black Mountain is gone, disappeared by the gray blue clouds.

Without going into details that shouldn’t be in writing yet, Jon is in trouble again. To say that this is bad timing colossally understates the case. Kate’s in a delicate moment of her recovery. The stakes this time, as they were last, are very high: custody of his kids, his job, his ability to pay his mortgage and therefore to keep his house. He and the kids were up here yesterday when he got a call from the Denver Police and had to return home.

Not sure what to do, not sure there’s anything I can or should do other than support him emotionally. I’m not making any assumptions about the situation, about his “guilt” or innocence. I don’t understand it very well and it’s intricately complicated. I do know that the implications are dire.

punta arenas

punta arenas

Spoke with Kate yesterday afternoon and her heartburn/nausea from a breakfast without ativan prior to eating has passed. She and her body are trying to figure out a new way to live together, to become healthy again. Not easy after the insults of the last couple of weeks. She’s determined, stubborn and this last trait will mostly serve her well right now.

A mutual friend from CBE, Rick Levine, will bring a meal to Brookdale today at 4:30 p.m. I’m sure that’s well beyond whatever traffic difficulties the current storm will bring.

New snow tires, Blizzaks, purchased last month, sit in the garage still bound together from shipping. I mean, it’s mid-October! I’m not unhappy about that. It’s unlikely this presages the full on beginning of snow season. November, even late November, makes more sense as a time to have them installed. The reason I buy snow tires, even though good all-seasons would probably suffice in this milder winter climate, is that Kate and I are older drivers and need all the extra advantages we can get. I leave the lights on during the day for the same reason, that additional clue to others that we’re coming.

 

 

A Fortnight Ago

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

moon waxingAs I drove home yesterday from Brookdale Green Mountain Rehab, the healing moon was a sickle in the evening sky with gaseous Jupiter a planetary pendant sparkling beneath. This morning as I walked up to the loft Orion stood tall in the southern sky, guarding the entrance to winter, to the fallow time.

All this week we’ve had fog, sometimes up here on Shadow Mountain, more often after Aspen Park on the way down the hill on 285. Fog presents the mountains like a fan dancer, revealing this patch of rock and ponderosa pine, only to conceal it and reveal a gulch filled with a lower down cloud. The interplay of climate, weather and mountains. Beautiful.

at Brookdale

at Brookdale

A new phase of Kate’s ordeal has begun, a more upbeat one, but one that will demand a lot, too. In the first phase she had to endure, now she will have to act. Eat. Exercise. Eat. Exercise. Sleep. Repeat. She’s ready, but also tired, drained. Down to 80 pounds.

I’m putting my toe back in the water at CBE. Alan Rubin and I will visit Kate this morning at 9:30, then have some time together to plan next week’s religious school session. I feel a need to get myself out of the drive in, drive back, take care of the dogs, sleep cycle I’ve felt necessary for the past two weeks. Not all the way out, just far enough to reengage, to connect with both my commitments and folks I care about who care about Kate and me.

Don’t know how long Kate will be at Green Mountain, but I imagine it will be longer than I assumed. She looked frail, but determined when I saw her in her new spot. She’ll need that. A new cycle will probably emerge from this new living situation for her.

 

A Fool on the Hill

Fall                                                                                        Healing Moon

Ode and me

I will not be attending the Woolly Mammoth’s centennial retreat (just kidding, 31 0r 32, something like that). But Charlie Haislet has proposed the Parsifal legend, the Grail quest, as a theme in the paragraph below. I’m going to write my answer here.

Rosseti Percival

Rosseti Percival

Parsifal and the Grail quest – it still works for me but now I am at a different place in the story. I am not now just stepping into the woods in a dark place where no one has gone before. I am at the end not the beginning of that quest, I either found the Grail or I didn’t. How does that feel, what does that mean? And as Judy, our visiting memoirist says, we have lived that story, now is the time to tell it.

dante canto oneCharlie has conflated two important stories here. The first is the Arthurian story of the grail quest, seen by Jungian analyst Robert Johnson as the quintessential story of masculine development. Note, by the way, that both men and women have a masculine development story.

The second is Dante’s Inferno. Canto 1 begins, famously:

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

In our forties or so, in midlife, we tend to find both Percival and Dante as exemplars for the path forward. We go out into life, now grown and in touch with our powers, but find ourselves lost. What was I supposed to be doing here, anyhow? Is medicine right? Is architecture? Engineering? Banking? The ministry?

At forty-two I answered this question, no. The ministry is no longer where I need or want to be. Perhaps I never belonged there in the first place. Kate, like a medieval patronness, came into my life and said, in essence, “If no is your answer, try something else.”

pape_de_abraham-a_hermit_writing_in_his_book

pape de abraham-a hermit writing in his book

Ironically, right at that moment I was writing my Doctor of Ministry thesis. As I worked on it, what I wrote kept coming out as fiction. Also ironically, the title of the story, the novel on which I’d written several thousand words, maybe 40 or so, was “Even the Gods Must Die.” Hmm. See a connection there?

In my Percival naivete I set out on my writing quest. I planned a certain amount of money I wanted to earn each year. About $40,000 if I recall correctly. Hah. In terms of writing itself, I have succeeded. I have written nine novels, thirty or forty short stories, and literally, by this time, millions of words here on Ancientrails.

In terms of publishing my work I’ve failed. Big time. Consistently. A big lump of zero. At first I submitted my work, but I allowed rejections to stoke my fear, rather than my persistence. (which is, I should add, odd, since persistence has otherwise been a strong suit) I stopped submitting. I even stopped writing at one point and spent a year reading the classics, starting with Dante’s Divine Comedy. All of it.

FisherKingPt1Perhaps, in fact I think almost certainly, publishing was my Fisher King wound. Note, not the Grail, but the wound that could be healed by Percival’s question, the question of a fool, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Of course, that begs the question of the nature of the Grail itself. Johnson says that the question heals the Fisher King’s wound because its answer, “You My Lord, the Grail King.” reveals masculine development’s purpose: to serve a cause larger than your Self.

Dante’s quest leads him down into the darkest parts of himself, the layers of hell we each carry in our souls, up through the realm of Purgatory where those hells fall away, purged by coming closer to God, until the Self’s full glory is realized, like Percival, in submission to the Godhead.

Would I prefer to have sold novels and short stories, made money from my writing? Of course. And, at last, I’m in the process of a year long goal to achieve 100 rejections. I’m up to 10 right now. The strange part is that when I achieve publication, and I believe (hope) I will, it will mean little. I’ve already done the writing, I’ve lived the writing life for almost 30 years now and have done so with no encouragement from the business side.

1514204356436So who or what was the thing larger than myself that I have served in the meantime? I have several answers. The first one, love. Kate. Our marriage. The second one, family. Our family and its extensions, principally through Jon and Joseph, but including our nuclear families. The third, religion, small r religion. A life pushed forward by deep questions, ones of meaning and purpose. The fourth, justice. Seeking in the political realm an answer to the dilemmas of poverty, racism, and capitalism. The fifth, mother earth. Seeking in the political and personal realms a close tie to life as it is, life in its plural forms and the inanimate that carries us through space, provides for our needs, the sun and mother earth in particular.

There is another, too, different from the rest. Art. Painting, sculpture, drawing, prints, music, dance, theater. Always there. From the Wagner operas I bought on 331/3 l.p.s and listened to in my room at 419 N. Canal in Alexandria to the time as a docent at the MIA and through many plays and concerts. Literature. Around the time I bought the Wagner operas with my paper route money, I read War and Peace. So many books, poems. Over so many years. And my own writing, my attempt to add to our cultural deposit.

Did I drink from the cup drained at the Last Supper, the last celebration of Passover by that band of Jews in first century Palestine? Yes, I believe I did. Did it change me? Not in the usual theological sense. But, in the psychological sense, it affirmed my journey, my pilgrimage. Not as someone else, not as someone others hoped I’d be, not as a someone even I hoped I might be, but as mySelf, this one unique, irreplaceable guy, both unimportant and ultimately important. Like each Woolly, like each family member, like each tree and snake, like each planet and moon and star.

 

 

Day 13

Fall                                                                                   Healing Moon

brookdale-green-mountain-heroFeeling much lighter today. Kate’s headed off to Brookdale Green Mountain Rehab, probably after lunch. Bleeding stopped. Other markers like hemoglobin stabilized. Moving better, but not quite well enough to come home.

She’s also eating, having found that ativan prior to eating avoids nausea. This is big because it means she may finally be able to gain back some of her weight. More weight can mean more muscle mass, more muscle mass, less fatigue. Sjogrens has played a definite negative role all along, perhaps being the primary culprit behind her weight loss and fatigue. We might be able to fight back against at least some of it with ativan and marinol.

marinolWe both hoped that a positive from all this would be a way to attack her persistent nausea. May have found it. If we have, it will make for something upbeat other than survival. Which was, of course, the first and most necessary result.

Even my exhaustion seems less this morning. All along I’ve gotten reasonable, most times good, sleep. I’ve eaten. Trying to stay in shape for whatever Kate might need. Got back to my workout yesterday. That felt great.

There is, too, modest snow cover and the stage 1 fire ban has been lifted. Less to think about for now.

Of course, Trump’s still in office, but, hey, everything can’t be looking up.

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