We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

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.

Let Down

Fall                                                                                 Healing Moon

I missed seeing Kate yesterday for the first time since that Friday when we went to the Swedish Hospital’s E.R. And, I missed seeing Kate.

20181016_091641Odd experience yesterday. I led an exercise that involved body outlines I made from this template. (they actually looked better than this picture might suggest.) The kids responded to several prompts, among them: first school memory, early friends, where were you born, childhood hobby, childhood dream, then illustrated them on their body outline. The results are beautiful in many cases, revealing in all of them.

They were into it, using markers and crayons and stickers. The latter many of them used to decorate their faces as well. It felt energetic and engaged, the exercise, but I couldn’t get a conversation going about the results, so it felt like a failure to me. Alan, on the other hand, thought it was a great success. So did all the teachers who looked at the results.

The idea was to get the kids thinking about their childhood as they shift from childhood to being a teen. And, in that sense, yes, it worked. Where it failed was in having a discussion about commonalities and differences among the results.

Afterward, like the first two times I taught, all I wanted to do was sit down. Like a hard workout. Exhaustion. Attending to the little sprays of emotion, provocations of other students, even their eagerness and desire to do a wonderful job (which most of them had) was difficult. At least for me. Very difficult.

At the staff meeting afterwards exhaustion and an attendant lability found me looking out at the others: Rabbi Jamie, Alan, Tara, Debra, Karen, Tal from inside. Hard to describe. I was there, listening, understanding, but it was as if there was an invisible barrier of weariness between the watcher within and the physical circumstance he inhabited in that moment. I spoke very little, in spite of a fascinating introduction to the method of studying torah that resulted in the talmud.

In another instance I might have said I was depressed. The physical sensations were very similar: subdued, a feeling of distance, limited affect, low energy. That led me to my refrain over the last almost three weeks. I’m ok. No, I’m not anxious. Yes, I’m in the moment, responding to now, not imagining the future or regretting the past. I have believed that of myself, believed it was my experience, but was it?

As far as anxiety goes, I’m exquisitely sensitive. Generalized anxiety disorder will do that to you. I am, at least I think I am, an expert on my own anxious responses, what they feel like, how they manifest. As long as the ambit was Kate, her medical care, the dogs and their needs, my own needs, I felt fine. No, of course, I wasn’t joyous, nor was I unconcerned, but at no time did the usual stomach flutters, sweaty palms, shallow breathing signal an OMG moment. Was I repressing them? I really don’t think so.

But, there was a high stress level. That’s undeniable. It was a fraught situation, especially the first two weeks with Kate bombarded by tests, procedures, transfusions, and finally the bowel resection. Even so, the stress did not trigger anxiety. It did, however, exact a price and that price was exhaustion, depletion. As long as I was only handling the temporarily  resectioned world I described in an earlier post, I was fine. Being alone with all this was not a difficulty for me, in fact, I prefer it.

When, however, I took this still existing high stress level-Kate’s still gone from home, driving in and out takes a toll, for example-into a social setting, I believe it surfaced the stress in a much different way. I was no longer in my temporarily resectioned world but in that ongoing life that is the world, the ongoingness that seems so strange from within a bubble of stress or grief. Yet, it is not strange, it’s the usual, the normal, the everyday, it was my stress that was unusual.

I was not able to fully enter into the casual flow, the ordinary ongoingness. I wanted to, but the effort required was just beyond me. This doesn’t seem aberrant to me, but it did make me realize the degree of stress, of the energy required to cope that I’ve been experiencing.

Final note here: People want to help and I truly appreciate that. But, I’m not real good at knowing what kind of help I need, what would be useful. I’ve always been a very private person, one inclined to handle my life on my own terms with my own energy. I know the pitfalls in that, but it’s a lifelong habit. And, one I generally admire. Right now I think it might be in my way, but I’m not sure what to do about it.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Fall                                                                              Healing Moon

Hard freeze. 23 this morning with some snow, mostly ice. A neighbor reported on Next Door Shadow Mountain that Shadow Mountain, 285 and even 470 were icy and in thick fog. Bad driving. But, poor conditions for a wildfire. That’s something.

Ode's portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Ode’s portrait. At Blue Sky Abbey, some years ago

Feeling a bit down this morning. Nothing 12 days of Kate’s hospitalization + general exhaustion doesn’t explain. We’ve both been thinking about death. She told me yesterday if things go south that her friend (and mine) Jamie Bernstein can take care of all her sewing stuff. I handled that poorly. “I don’t want to hear that. That’s not what you want is it?” “No,” she said. But she had breached that barrier and I pushed it away, out of my own fear, I suppose. Gonna rectify that today.

I’ve slept in our bed now for 12 nights without her there. She’s gone from the house and her absence is palpable, a thing in itself. She’s not on the bench in the morning. Not in her chair in the evening. Her sewing machine is back from the repair folks, but sits still in its rolling container. No hugs. No I love you’s before leaving and on return. Nothing can, in fact, be something.

Thoughts of a permanent absence, death, come easily in this situation. I don’t shove them away, I don’t embrace them. I acknowledge them as the mind running scenarios, what ifs, based on current reality. I also imagine her return, negotiating the steps, setting up the bedroom and the downstairs for her. All part of the I don’t like surprises part of the mind. A survival tool that can seem cold, unfeeling. It’s not. Just stuff that needs consideration, not rejecting.

Yamantanka

Yamantanka

Yamantaka teaches us that considering our own death in an unblinking way can cure our fear of it. I both believe that and believe I have reached that point in my own soul. I suppose there’s an analog here about Kate’s death. Hers is as inevitable as mine. And, considering it doesn’t make it more or less likely. It simply means that I’ve accepted an assured reality though the timing is, as always, unknown.

OK. That’s out in the open. Not an obsession. What’s happening occasionally.

Another hard part right now is odd. On Friday we’ll be at two weeks since Kate went into the E.R. Am I supposed to collect myself, get back in the groove, accept this bifurcated existence, her in medical care, me at home? I definitely have to spend time tomorrow sorting through the bills and starting to pay them. Something she does.

I’ve been cooking, doing laundry, keeping the house picked up, feeding the dogs, playing with them, driving in to see Kate, trying to keep up with the medical information. But, I’ve set aside working out. Gonna pick that back up today or tomorrow. I’ve set aside teaching in the religious school, attending mussar or the adult ed committee. I canceled the first Jewish Studies Sunday Sampler.

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

Vanitas by Jan Sanders van Hemessen

I’m struggling with what’s a normal response in an abnormal situation. Is it ok to just focus on the domestic, on Kate and on home? Or, do I rob myself of the emotional support I’d get from being back in the mix at CBE? What about the things I’ve agreed to do?

Or, am I too soon in thinking about any of this? How will I know? A sort of strange twilight right now, matters shrunk down to the nub, life at its most basic with questions of health, the future, even death in every moment.

Let me finish with this. I am not depressed. Even my slight down feeling I mentioned earlier has lifted somewhat as I’ve written myself into my current reality, leaving it all out there, not hiding. This is my life and unless my health changes it will be my life until clarity declares itself either toward Kate’s recovery or a continued decline, perhaps even death.

uncertaintyEnd note. I realized as I wrote that last paragraph that a key sticking point right now is uncertainty. Will Kate’s various medical issues resolve? That is, will she get well enough to leave for rehab? If so, when? If she’s in rehab, how long? How much care will she need when she comes home? I’m not wracked by any of these questions, but they illustrate the fundamental issues in play right now, with no clarity about any of them available. That’s what makes knowing how I might react so difficult right now.

 

 

E.R.

Fall                                                                                 Harvest Moon

20180928_070937

ER Sign

Took Kate into the E.R. this morning. Unexplained blood loss, enough to make her woozy. May have exceeded the speed limit occasionally. When she got there, a good team took care of her and her color brightened. Nobody seems especially worried. Something to deal with. She’ll be in the hospital at least one night. Getting a blood transfusion right now.

This is getting old, she said. Yeah. More than that even. My hope is that this will result in enough investigation to finally nail down what’s been causing her nausea. She’s very thin and has little stamina.

ER Signs

ER Signs

On the upside we did our mussar session on rachamim. It was a glorious blue Colorado day so we were in the sukkah. Lots of examples of compassion, a lot of tears. It was a heartfelt time together. Some us really needed it.

Kate and I had our usual Vienna beef sandwiches from the Chicago joint in downtown Evergreen. This is a Thursday after mussar dinner for us. Something she can eat; something I really like.

Back home now. Fed the dogs, will wait until I get word from Kate as to where she’ll be. When I find out more, I’ll post it here. Right now, we know very little.

 

Palletable

Fall                                                                      Harvest Moon

A full day without nausea yesterday. A glimmer of what can yet be. Kate in Kate mode. Maybe a little slower, but still off to Trader Joe’s for figs, getting stuff done around the house. Good to see.

mind the gap

mind the gap

We have a problem. The space between the house and the garage. Fine during late spring, summer and fall. Not so fine when snow falls. The ground becomes icy and uneven making it problematic for Kate who has peripheral neuropathy in her feet. Various bids have just seemed too high for a deck extension.

Kate had an idea. Use wooden pallets to make a sort of floating, temporary extension. If it works, it’s cheap and we can remove it in when the snow stops, return it the next winter. Seems worth a shot. Lucky break. Beth Evergreen got new chairs for the sanctuary and a shed in which to store the overflow chairs. Result: six pallets that would be broken up for firewood.

I told Leah I’d get rid of them for her. Jon agreed to come up last weekend with his trailer (0ne we gave him a good while back). He got as far as El Rancho at the intersection of Hwy 74 and I-70. Something bad happened to his engine. As a result, I ended up taking him back to Aurora. Result: trouble for him, no pallets for us.

Try again. Texted Mike Vanhee, the guy who built our fence under some pressure. We needed it done between closing and winter. We closed on Samain and getting the post holes dug before the ground froze was the issue. He got it finished. Whew. He also said he could get the pallets. They come this morning. Next up. How to make it work. Stay tuned to this innovative home project channel.

Amarillo to S.A.

Amarillo to S.A.

Brother Mark’s visa has cleared. He’ll be leaving the friendly confines of Amarillo, Texas for the mostly empty Arab peninsula soon. English is a commodity still in demand around the world, giving employment and travel opportunities to thousands of expats like Mark and Mary.

Rigel. Sigh. Two expensive dog beds have gone under her tooth and claw. Internal matter never supposed to see day light spread all over the sewing room floor. Two! On to plan C or D. Probably back to blankets, using the gutted dog bed as a sort of frame. Dogs, eh?

Today in religious school the 6th and 7th graders present three objects that express who they are now. Next week: three that represent who they want to become. Also implementing some of Tara’s ideas on classroom management. Again, as so often for me at CBE, steep learning curve.

marty-robbins-a-white-sport-coat-and-a-pink-carnation-1957-78-sTomorrow Kate and I present a mussar session on compassion, rachamim, in the sukkah, weather permitting. We’re passing out pink carnations, according to the language of flowers a symbol of compassion, and having finger food made from some of the seven sacred species: figs, dates, pomegranates for example. We’re using the same material for a session with the Mussar Vaad Practice group on Oct. 4th. A twofer.

When that’s finished, I have to make sure the tech side of the Jewish Studies Sampler Sundays is sound. And, watch the two first lectures to develop discussion questions. That’s Oct. 7th.

Sukkot, 2018

Fall                                                               Harvest Moon

20180922_152340The sukkah went up last Thursday. Sukkot, a seven day harvest festival that began on the 23rd, Sunday, commemorates the temporary structures built during the exodus. The Tabernacle, a moveable temple with the ark of the covenant in its holy of holies, was the main religious structure during the long trek from Egypt to the promised land.

Sukkot is one of three pilgrimage festivals, Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost in Greek) being the others, festivals when Jews who could traveled to Jerusalem to participate in Temple sacrifices. Before the destruction of the second temple sukkahs where only erected in Jerusalem. After 70 a.c.e., when there was no longer a temple, many facets of Jewish religious life changed. This was the time period when rabbi’s took over the main religious leadership role previously held by the Temple priests. Synagogues became the regular gathering place and the sacrifices were replaced with prayers and holidays celebrated in new ways.

Sukkot_facebook_banner-1080x675When we lived on Edgcumbe in St. Paul, our neighbor, a Hasidic rebbe, always built a sukkah in his driveway. I wish now that we’d gotten to know him better. Joseph and some of his kids were friends.

There are lots of interesting aspects to Sukkot, among them the kabbalist lore of the Ushpizin, the visitors. On successive days Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David are said to come to the sukkah. It resonates with me most as a harvest festival and there are many food related traditions which include eating meals in the sukkah.

Tomorrow our religious school class will meet in the sukkah for half an hour and on Thursday, when Kate and I present our mussar session on rachamim, compassion, we’ll do it in the sukkah.

 

Mostly Musical

Fall                                                                         Harvest Moon

Wow. Had a lot on my mind yesterday. Sorry about the length. More yet, too.

Alan, Jamie, Tara

Alan, Jamie, Tara

Anyhow. Met with Tara yesterday. Director of Education at Beth Evergreen. I said, Help. She gave me lots of ideas on classroom management, help. She’s delightful. Bright. Straightforward. Open. An example. How you arrange the classroom is very important. Oh yeah? Where the kids sit, what’s on the table when they come in. Having a separate table for attendance. A close by table for snacks. OK. Would never have occurred to me.

Later in the day Kate and I went to see Funny Girl. It was interesting, very, comparing the tech rehearsal we saw a week ago Wednesday with the full production. The show yesterday had none of the rough edges we saw then. Props ended up in their places. And there were a lot of prop changes. Lines were crisp and the dancing, singing were good, too. It went on about an hour too long for me, but I’m not a fan of musicals. The first act had energy, pop. The second act had some, but to my tired butt, not as much.

Stage ready for act II

Stage ready for act II

Musicals are the cotton candy of the theater world, at least most of them. Lots of sugar, easy to consume, then all that’s left is sticky fingers. I came out humming People Who Need People, so there’s that. I guess I’m more of a drama guy. Beckett. Friel. O’Neill. Wilson. Kushner. Still, it was a nice change up.

Also, it was community theater. Not the high production values of the Guthrie, for example, but pretty good. And the casting depends on a limited pool of volunteers though in spite of that the voices and acting abilities were even better than pretty good.

Fanny Brice

Fanny Brice

The director had some great ideas about staging, including opening and closing scenes that showed the cast playing to backstage on which was painted a theater. We were back stage ourselves, watching them perform. That meant the entire story took place between opening and closing of one of Fanny’s shows. A show between shows about show business. A bit of a fun house mirror effect.

One especially nice piece of staging was a solo by Fanny, leaning on the piano. Behind Fanny and the piano, in half light, a couple danced. It was a view (at least I saw it this way.) inside her mind as she sang. The effect was wonderful.

FannyBrice1c.jpg2We knew people in the cast, saw folks we knew in the lobby, and were greeted by the costumer as we left. He remembered us from our visit to the tech rehearsal. In other words this was also a moment of immersion in community, our community. That’s not the same as a visit to the Guthrie or to Broadway, but has lots of other, ancillary benefits.

Back home at 6:30 (it started at 3:00!) I made Kate a fatty meal for her gall bladder ultrasound today. Oh, boy, another procedure.

Finished the Netflix limited series Maniac last night. You have to have a quirky aesthetic to like it, but I did. It may bear watching a second time. Lots in it and a great cast: Jonah Hill, Emma Stone, Gabriel Byrne, Sally Field, for example.

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