Legendary

Spring                                                                      Recovery Moon

IMG_0612

Tom Crane sent me this street poet’s work, found on Maui. I wrote him back after reading it and said we could go for an epic third phase. I meant legendary, but epic appeared anyhow. He wrote back, said he’d like that, too, but didn’t know how. I agreed. Beginner’s Mind, eh? We’d have to redefine epic, Tom replied. Yes.

And, we don’t want to get stuck in the success trap. That trap can consume the second phase, career and family, but it can be set aside in the third. So the question could be, what would a legendary third phase look like? Better than epic. Epic has that Hollywood feel, doesn’t it? Let’s forget I transmuted legendary into epic and go back to the poem.

Sadhu

Sadhu

What does an open spirit look like in the third phase? What risks might we take if we had one? What risks are particular to the third phase? To get an idea of where this might go, I looked up the Hindu sadhu. A sadhu intentionally creates a fourth phase of life.* Of course in a Minnesota winter like the last one the Jain option of wearing nothing would require modification unless the sadhu phase was to be short.

I wonder if other cultures have similar ideas? Don’t know. What I do take from the sadhu is that they have an open spirit, moving toward moksa means getting free from samsara, the worldly enmeshment that the second phase presses upon us with such vigor.

Part of a legendary third phase might involve letting go, leaving the old desires of life, shaped by education, work, and family behind. But, if they’re left behind we might be left wondering, what else is there? Those desires are the ones that motivated us, got us up in the morning, out the door coffee in hand, ready to do. The old finish line model of retirement pretended that this was as easy as buying a set of Pings, selling the house in Kenwood, and moving to a Del Webb village to drive, chip and putt. Or, head out to Margaritaville, collect umbrellas in the sand next to your beach chair. Doesn’t sound like a sadhu approach, does it?

Song dynasty

Song dynasty

Another image, similar to the sadhu, was the Chinese scholar who would retire from the bureaucratic life, paradigmatic of the second phase in that culture, and move into the mountains to write poetry and live amongst wildlife and forests. This is a Taoist vision, one that took over from the Confucian when either work was over or changes in the political life forced a scholar out of the court. I like this one a little better than the sadhu because I like clothes.

Wu wei: “a state of being in which our actions are…effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world” is the Taoist principle these mountain hermits follow. And, a sound one, though as I’ve written before, I’m also a “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them” sort of guy. This may be the key attitude that prevents me from fully letting go of success, of my set of Pings, that beach chair.

I’m not talking here about monastics or hermits who take to those lives, as Thomas Merton did, in the midst of their second phase. These are escapist lives, profound in their way of course, but ones that set aside the second phase much earlier. What I want to consider is the legendary third phase possible after the more traditional transition from work and raising a family.

Look forward to any ideas you might have. This preliminary look suggests some things to me. Let go. Seek spiritual liberation. Attune life to the seasons, to the natural world. Live in some seclusion from the old, second phase world.

 

 

“The sādhu is solely dedicated to achieving mokṣa (liberation), the fourth and final aśrama (stage of life), through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. Sādhus often wear simple clothing, such saffron-coloured clothing in Hinduism, white or nothing in Jainism, symbolising their sannyāsa (renunciation of worldly possessions).” wiki

 

What Will I Do?

Spring                                                                              Recovery Moon

dreamsGo now, the illness has ended. Feeling 95%. Still something in my lungs, not much. So seven weeks after the molasses filled drive back from Denver, I feel able. Still got workouts and stamina to increase, but I enjoy that. Imagine me doing a little dance on the balcony of the loft, a dance of thanksgiving for a strong constitution and a return to the unremarkable state of health.

What’s next? Call a plumber to fix the toilet leaking from its seal to the floor. Get our hair done. An appointment for teeth cleaning. Mail the taxes. Send Mary the letter confirming her part ownership of that oil well in Canadian County, Oklahoma. Finally get to my trainer for a new workout. Follow up on that PSA increase. Kate’s hi-res ct and visit to the pulmonologist. Get back to regular cooking. You know, stuff. Stuff that we do when we’re not occluded by an internal war between our immune system and some inner space invader.

I also have a lunch with Alan Rubin on Wednesday. Slowly getting back to some contact with CBE. It’s been a long while, but I miss those folks. I was still besnotted during the chicken cook soup cook off and not fully there.

If you want, you can insert a youtube video of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” here.

satireRemember the Producers? Zero Mostel? In it was the classic hit, “It’s Springtime for Hitler”. Well, it’s springtime in the Rockies and all of Colorado. Here’s another pirouette for great comedies and a plié with arm extended for the beauty of Black Mountain.

Not to go too far with this but there is a certain element of resurrection here. I used the word occluded, another word could have been buried. During a long and severe illness we turn in on our selves, our world becomes a primal struggle over which we have little if any external control. By primal I mean just that, a fight waged between cellular creatures so small we cannot see them, entities that have more in common with that first molecule that wiggled in the primordial soup than they do with us. During this conflict the body focuses on the struggle, not on errands, to do lists, future dreams, present possibilities. We become buried by the constant back and forth of immune system versus virus, immune system versus bacteria.

Now, sometimes, but only once, our body doesn’t win. That’s true burial or cremation, or going green into the ground, whatever carcass disposal mode suits you or your survivors. However, most of the time we emerge, as if in a Hammer film, from our undead state to once again walk among the tribe of the still living.

abyssAnd, yes, in that state now, I feel resurrected, reborn, renewed. A little shaky perhaps but that fits such a state doesn’t it? What’s next? Not in the quotidian sense I mentioned above, but what’s next in the sense of  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver was the poet of our intimate relationship with mother earth. She listened, saw, felt what it meant to be embodied, to be embodied in this amazing natural state, this gift, this once in a lifetime reality that we are.

This one, my wild and precious life, my one wild and precious life, has been returned to me, or at least that’s how it feels. What, as the city planners say, is its highest and best use? I’ve had ideas before, but this is a chance to consider what that means now: 72, mortality signals falling like rain, yet invigorated and experienced, befriended and befriending, not alone, well read, ready. What will I do?

Ruach. Breath. Wind. Spirit.

Spring                                                                  Recovery Moon

breath ruachHead. Mostly clear. Lungs. Mostly clear. I’m beginning to feel the illness bidding me goodbye. So long, it was good to know ya. Nah, it wasn’t. And don’t come back, please.

Kate continues to show steady, if incremental, gains. She smiles more, laughs more. Until, that is, she opened the letter from Swedish Hospital advising us that our balance with them was $25,000. Oooff. Our insurance provider has not, for some reason, paid them. I get to chase that down today. Being sick in America. If the illness doesn’t get you, the debt collector will.

If we didn’t have resources, didn’t have enough education and chutzpah to front the insurance company about this, we might end up stuck with the bill. Kate’s experience since September has been long, invasive, and expensive. Without insurance we’d be eating away at our IRA. I don’t think this should be too hard to clear up; but the ominous nature of a letter like that creates an unpleasant frisson. To say the least.

I’m debating going to see my doc about o2 sats. They’re below normal, though not in a dangerous range. The high 80’s a good deal of the time. Normal is above 95, though above 90 nobody worries. Since we’ve gotten here, my sats have been around 90 most of the time. As Tom pointed out, we’ve lost 75% of our available oxygen just by being at 8,800 feet. That would make a normal reading 93 if I’m doing my math and physiology right.

breath in outI really don’t want to confuse Kate’s journey right now, especially since we see the same doc, so I may wait a bit, be sure the flight of respiratory illness I sampled over the last two months has actually ended. In time I would like to know if anything in my lungs compromises my breathing. It’s certainly possible. I smoked for 13 years. Not proud of it, but I did. I also worked in a couple of high particulate matter jobs in my younger days, cutting rags at a paper mill and moving completed asbestos ceiling tiles to pallets. And, Dad had severe asthma, using an inhaler virtually his whole life.

Ruach. The Hebrew word for breath, wind, and for spirit. The Greek word is pneuma. God breathed ruach into the lungs of Adam and he lived. Since the traditional test for death was holding a mirror or a hand up to the nostrils, no moisture on the mirror, no felt breath, it’s not a stretch to equate breath and breathing with life. No breath, no life. Many traditions, especially Hindu and Buddhist, have breathing related practices. So do the Sufi as my friend Debra Cope has taught me.

breath dive reflexWhat impedes breathing, impedes life itself. Impedes the spirit of all life that dwells within us. Like health breathing is unremarkable to most of us until its ease experiences an interruption. Water boarding, or extreme interrogation (not torture as our CIA likes to say), is horrific because it emulates drowning. Our body has reflexes built in, the diving reflex, for example, that protect us in the case of sudden immersion in water. This means that our DNA carries a history of dangers to our breathing.

The pulmonologist treats matters related to breathing. But the pulmonologist, no matter how skilled and learned, deals with the physical challenges to breathing, not the spiritual implications. No, that is up to us and our own way of understanding the body/mind/spirit links.

Breath jacob-wrestling-with-the-angelA breathing issue is not, then, solely the province of pulmonology. It is also the province of theology broadly understood. Theology, for me, is the way you identify, organize, and deal with matters of ultimate importance. Life itself is, of course, a matter of ultimate importance to an individual; therefore, life and how it is for us at any particular point is a directly theological matter. Breath, the spirit of life that fills our lungs, provides our cells with oxygen so that they can carry out the physiological functions that are life in the body, is also of ultimate importance.

Here’s a website devoted to breath meditation.* Note in the second sentence that prana, a Sanskrit word, means both breath and life. No breath. No life.

My journey right now forces me to investigate my breathing at both a physiological and a theological level. It’s all o.k., too. None of us get leave this ancientrail alive. Something takes our breath away. That something shows the fragile nature of even the most master of the universe sort of person. Right now I’m going to attend to my breathing, my o2 sats, the spirit and life they make possible within me. An ancientrail of the third phase, no doubt.

 

*Breath is the universal factor of life. We are born the first time we inspire, and we die the last time we expire. Breath is life itself. In Sanskrit the same word–prana–means both breath and life.

All that lives, breathes–even plants and the bacteria that make bread rise. The process of breath is identical in all, consisting of inhalation and exhalation. It is the most immaterial factor of our existence, being a link-manifestation of the mind/spirit that dwells in all. For this reason, the breath is the natural and logical basis for meditation, the attempt to “enter into life.” The breath is the key to the cultivation of pure consciousness.

The Velveteen Rabbit aspect of human identity

Spring                                                                            Recovery Moon

Bat and Moon, 1930s Takahashi Bihō. MIA

Bat and Moon, 1930s
Takahashi Bihō. MIA

The Recovery moon illuminates Black Mountain this morning. The ski runs carved out on the mountain are white strips reflecting back moon shine. A light breeze moves the lodgepoles and a thin dusting of snow covers the solar panels. Early spring in the Rockies.

Kate made a salad last night. We bumped into each other in our galley kitchen for the first time in months. She also tossed her friendship quilt from the Bailey Patchworkers into the washing machine. She’s beginning to emerge from a long time in the chrysalis of illness. Wow.

Since the recovery moon seems to find us both on the uptick, my doctor’s nurse called with lab results, actually a second call due to confusion there occasioned by a weeks long problem with their computer systems. The first call came when I was still pretty sick and I didn’t pay close attention. This time I did. My PSA has moved up from .o1 to .012. Doesn’t seem like much, but when your prostate’s gone, it’s supposed to stay at .1, which is effectively .0. A recurrence is defined, for those of us who had our prostate’s removed, when the PSA hits .2. Concerning, but not yet a problem. Further testing required.

Rabbi Jamie called last night, wondering how we were. We were both steady and frequent attenders of things at CBE up until Kate’s bleed on September 28th. I continued until my own illness which began in early February. Since then, I’ve only been back for the chicken soup cook-off. Our sudden disappearance from the synagogue’s life caused him to say last time he talked with Kate that the schul isn’t the same without us. Kate was on the board and I was teaching religious school. We both attended mussar on Thursdays. We went to services less frequently, but showed up at education and special events, too. We’ve woven ourselves into the fabric that is CBE.

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Chapter House from Notre-Dame-de-Pontaut,12th century French MMA

Community, like friendships, is reciprocal. You put your left foot in, then your right foot, then you shake it all about. With others doing the same thing. Over time we get to know each other, see each other, acknowledge each other. The line between thee and me is both more and less than we usually think. It’s more in that we don’t know our own selves well, our own depths eluding even the most introspective and life examining of us. How could others see into that, then? It’s less in that our perception of ourselves is constantly poked and prodded by interactions with others. In fact, much of our personhood gains definition as we sit down to coffee with someone, engage in critical thought, listen to music, sing with them. In community, in friendships, in family we become who we are.

At CBE, as with the Woolly’s, the docents, the political folks I’ve worked with, and our family, who I am has been in dialectical tension with both individuals and the collective. I’ve had to consider how Frank Broderick’s anti-Catholicism fits into my mostly positive assessment of religious life. I’ve offered ideas at CBE and had them put into action, changing myself and others in the process. As I got to know my fellow docents, I observed how they related to the art, to the art history we learned, to the museum visitors we guided on tours. And, how I was as a docent shaped itself in response.

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

Woolly Mammoths instructed in glass blowing

In the instance of the Presbyterian ministry the two millennia plus history of Christianity was a body of thought and actions within which I had to find my particular place just like the thousands of year old history of art demanded I find a personal patch of ground on which to stand in relation to it. Both interactions shaped me and I, in turn, in small, individual ways reshaped both Christianity and the history of art. Not making a big, hubristic claim here, just observing that the dialectical tension affects both parties though not in equal ways.

This is, I suppose, the Velveteen Rabbit part of human identity formation. We rub ourselves up against people, animals, things and in the process we become real. And, we serve that same role for others. It’s an awesome responsibility. How do I, in my interactions, encourage the best in others? Or, do I? But that’s a question for another day.

Some Improvement

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

January

January

Sun rising on Black Mountain, shining through a gauze of light snow. The solar panels have a dusting, enough to impair their function. The setup is for 6-12 inches here, christening March, often a big snow month. The temperatures will drop over the next few days, not into Minnesota territory, but cold for Colorado. Welcome.

Kate’s got a more upbeat attitude. That’s so good to see. She offered to move to assisted living, so I could stay in the house. “That’s not the way marriage works.” Didn’t say it, but I meant, “Whither thou goest, so do I.” Love is a verb, to quote John Mayer.

The folks at Beth Evergreen continue to ask what they can do. This is a difficult question for us to answer. King Sooper delivers. That’s one regular need solved. I like to cook and Kate’s not eating much. Meals don’t make much sense. We have Sandy who comes to clean every two weeks. We’re good there. Most of the care for Kate is related to things she needs throughout the day and maintenance of the tpn process, not really something others can do. Ted plows us if we get more than 5 inches. In other words most of the day to day chores are either taken care of or too frequent to make them amenable to outside help.

A note to Tara (director of the religious school and a friend) suggested three things: 1. Visits from folks who bring lunch stuff along. We miss seeing and talking to our friends. 2. Help with defrosting freezer. Need a couple more coolers. Don’t know why the damned thing (a non-defrost freezer) chose now to seize up, but it did. 3. If we have to move, a general help Kate and Charlie pack day; then, a general help Kate and Charlie unpack day.

bearing the burden of the otherAt CBE we often hear that the essence of Judaism is bearing the burden of the other. These folks live it. They really want to help. With gladness, with chesed (loving-kindness). I contrast this with the much more abstract Christian version, Love thy neighbor as thyself. Judaism emphasizes practical measures. Doing mitzvahs, deeds of loving-kindness. Accepting responsibility. Honoring the self and the other. Taking up the right amount of space. At least in the instance of CBE these are not formulas; they are the reality of this small community.

middotThis could be a lonely, despairing time in our lives as health demands fluctuate, a possible move is in the mix, and we live away from commercial and medical facilities. It’s not though. Our Minnesota friends continue to show up. CBE loves us. We are not alone, nor in despair. We are part of caring communities and caring family. Jon and the grandkids are coming up this weekend. Joe and SeoAh have been here three times since April (Kate’s shoulder surgery) with SeoAh staying for weeks at a time.

As I wrote a while back, adversity unveils gratitude. We are grateful for each other, our dogs, our house, our medical caregivers, CBE, family, Minnesota friends. Lots more, too. I don’t believe the canard that we’re never given more than we can handle, but I do believe that we can learn to handle what presents itself if we have support. And we do. Thanks to all of you.

Hail a New Creation

Imbolc                                                                         Valentine Moon

My life flows on in endless song;
above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.      “How can I keep from singing?”  Robert Lowry

When I opened this page, Robert Lowry’s hymn came to the surface. I could sing this verse with no pauses for personal editing. The rest of them? Not so much. But, no matter. This one has a powerful, here and now message and it came to me from my unconscious.

third phaseThe woes of the body, our lamentations here on Shadow Mountain, are of the tactile world, the one bound up in life and death; but, they are not of the soul, the spirit, the ohr, the imago dei. No. In my soul (a word I’ve come to use more freely of late, meaning that part of me that bows to the god in you, namaste.) I can hear the sweet, though often very far-off hymn. It hails a new creation coming into existence even now, one shaped by the lamentations, but not determined by them.

That new creation is a new sort of intimacy for Kate and me, one forged not in the upbeat, I did it, achievements of the family and career second phase, but in the existential reality of the third phase. In the third phase the body begins to let go of life, gradually, a bit here, a bit there. At the same time the fruits of a lifetime of meditation, awareness, thought, friendship ripens. The soul begins to unfold, ready.

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, said that September 29th, the Saint’s Day of the Archangel Michael, is the springtime of the soul. (odd coincidence. Kate’s bleed was on September 28th) What I’ve always liked about this idea is that it marks soul growth as occurring best in the fallow time. The fallow time, especially after Samain, Summer’s End, on October 31st, is that point when the growing season ends. An analogy to the third phase seems apt to me. The fallow time is a time for going within, going deep, finding nourishment in the eternal parts of ourselves, our soul.

That is what is happening for us. Our souls are flowering in the decay of the body. That flowering of the soul (I see a lotus.) is the new creation, perhaps not as far off as it seems.

Blessed be.

 

Overcome

Imbolc                                                                              Valentine Moon

A question for the Woolly Mammoth meeting of this Monday: “…think back over time – older and newer – was there a piece of music, a song, or a musical video that had an impact on you, or that shaped your thinking, or who you are in some way, at some important juncture in your life, or time in your life.” Scott Simpson

Here’s my reply:

protestI can still hear the others singing, feel the resonance of my voice joining theirs, marching, marching, marching. So many times. The song was the old spiritual, We Shall Overcome. I sang it in protests again Vietnam, in labor solidarity rallies, on the occasional Sunday morning. I sang it alone, in the shower, driving in the car.
Whenever I hit the line, we shall over come someday, and even writing this, I tear up.
This song could be my heart’s theme song. It’s a musical answer to Shakespeare’s famous query, “To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.” I’ve always been on the take arms side.
 
Though, parenthetically, I’m also a follower of the Tao which suggests wu wei, or non-doing as an answer. Both seem true to me. In the end I cannot just let things happen to me, or to the people and the society that I love.

The Death of Opportunity

Imbolc                                                                        Valentine Moon

Hendrick Andriessen (1607–1655)

Hendrick Andriessen (1607–1655)

So here’s my summary of the last 17 days. I got ill. My doc thought it was influenza A. That lasted 10 days, then I got really sick. The pneumonia is clearing. I have more energy each day, though I’m still weak. Eating and sleeping. Still the main activities.

All these mortality signals keep whizzing by. The third phase is an existentialist phase no matter your theological orientation. Somewhere in the no longer so distant future is a personal and permanent extinction event. Made me read the news of Opportunity with a pang I might not have otherwise felt.

The struggle we have over these deep questions in our own day to day has gotten interlaced with our creations. It seems like taffy or a Chinese finger puzzle. The more we try to answer them the tighter the puzzle grips our finger. And when a plucky, brave, dogged machine just keeps on ticking, year after year, moving and sensing and communicating, all on a planet not our own, we see its slow, but confident progress, its unwillingness to stop until the last trickle of current ran from its batteries, as life itself. Until we say it out loud. Do we put quotations marks around death? What do we do with the emotions we feel for something made of silicon and metal?

death and friend“Our beloved Opportunity remained silent,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said Wednesday… Her power dropped to a trickle, and she was last heard from on June 10…Keri Bean was among those who helped send that last radio signal. Losing Opportunity, she says, is like a death in the family…But at least it was Mars that killed her — it wasn’t the rover failing or something else. It was Mars. And I feel like that’s really the only appropriate death for her at this point.” NPR

It’s possible that we’ve been making a category mistake all along about death. We assume that we are individuals, clothed in an impenetrable skin with a mind mysterious and often hidden even from its self. What if that is too narrow? Way too narrow. What if we are also those things in which we invest our life? That is, I am not only the meat sack that turned 72 yesterday, but I am also Kate, our house, the dogs, even our Rav4. I’m not making a weird boundary issues statement here. I’m trying to point to what Buber calls the I-thou*. Buber saw the I-thou as a relationship with another that is permeable. I love this idea, but want to say that we can extend it, in some instances, even into the realm of what Buber calls I-it relationships.

IMAG0649

Andover

Those instances are not as few as we might think. Yes, family. Yes, friends. Yes, members of a community important to us. Yes. But also the dog who sleeps in your bed. The tree you care for each spring and fall. The flowers that you plant. And, yes, the machines that extend your self into the wider world. These machines, like Opportunity, do function independently from us, are definitely an it in the usual understanding of the term, but perhaps we misunderstand the distance, the separateness. “Our beloved Opportunity remained silent.” “Like a death in the family.”

Opportunity was not only the physical entity on Mars. It was also a literal physical extension of those who made it, those who guided it, interacted with it, and gathered its data. It was like a hand or an eye, an arm or a leg, not separate, though able to operate independently. As such Opportunity’s death was just that, a death, the loss of an I-thou relationship.

How do these relationships happen? I believe this quote says it very well:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”    chewy.com

 

 

*Buber’s main proposition is that we may address existence in two ways:

  1. The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience.
  2. The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

One of the major themes of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. In Buber’s view, all of our relationships bring us ultimately into relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.  wiki

 

 

This ancientrail. Right now. Hard.

Imbolc                                                                         Waxing Moon Wanes

illnessChronic illnesses must have some similarity in their psychological impact. Maybe related to grieving. In the first days of a diagnosis there is confusion, distress, yet also relief that this thing has a name. Searching for a cure becomes a family enterprise, the internet glows red hot with old medical journal articles, new experimental this or that, group therapy by fellow sufferers. This serves to educate everyone, yet it also embeds the illness more and more firmly in daily life. There are no days or nights when the illness isn’t there. It hovers, even on good days or weeks, a known guest, but not a welcome one.

Small victories: a good day, a promising new drug, another imaging study, a procedure, surgery. Yet the illness remains. Perhaps attenuated for a bit. Perhaps not. Often there are cycles to the disease in which it extracts maximum discomfort only to relent and calm down for a bit.

An unspoken conclusion may arise. This is forever. He’s never going to get better. Will this uninvited guest kill him? Stratagems come and go. Certain foods. Nap schedules. Walks. Getting out. Staying in. The internet goes cold, having coughed up what it could and added little, showing the vast abyss between knowledge and useful information.

Perhaps a detente occurs. Everybody does their part. No big improvements, but no big backward steps either. The illness sits down to breakfast with everybody, goes to the grocery store, snores at night.

illnessThis is not the end. The armistice finally crumbles under a sudden resurgence of symptoms. Or, new ones. Or, the failure of a remedy. Despair. Perhaps depression. Maybe it is forever. I just thought that in a moment of exhaustion, but what if it’s true?

Each iteration of this cycle increases the psychological pressure on the afflicted and their caregivers, their loved ones.

You see, we expect problems to have solutions. Sure, there can be some unpleasantness, we know that. For sure. But somewhere in the world of helpers is the one who can fix this. Make it go away. Let us go back to life as it was before. If we can recall what that was like.

Hollywood happy endings may have been imprinted on our neurons, at least here in the U.S., but life knows better. Sure, there is my friend with ovarian cancer, stage 4b, who responded so well to chemo and successful surgery that her doctor is now talking cure. Yes, these instances do occur. When we hear about them, they raise our hope. Maybe. Just maybe.

bitter or betterBetter to suspend hope for results. Better to stay with the day-to-day. Better to focus on spirituality, on matters of the soul. Why this latter in the time of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, flat earth atheists? Because the one thing illness does not touch is our soul, that part of us that links us to the eternal, to the cosmos, to the ongoingness of things.

In our inner world we are not ill, the illness rages in the blood stream, the brain, the heart, the gut, the muscles, but we have our sanctuary where our soul lives on. If we allow the illness to corrupt our soul, to plummet us into despair, then we will be finished. If the illness itself is intractable, and even if it’s not, the souls journey goes on, traveling the ancientrail you have been on since birth. The illness is part of the journey. But only part of the journey.

We are the end of a cycle on Shadow Mountain. Some symptoms have been vanquished, others not. Kate’s continuing misery has taken a brutal toll on her and has been tough for me, too. As I’ve written numerous times over the last couple of weeks, I don’t know where we are. I don’t know what’s next.

I’m finding practices designed to undergird my gratefulness, my joy, my equanimity have their limits. When I’m sick, as I have been since last Wednesday, they seem to slip away, leaving with me only the emotional fragments of my life, many of them painful. I refuse to stay in this place. What I do now is my choice. What do I need to choose?

A seed

Imbolc                                                                                  Waxing Moon

20180828_185716The waxing moon has not brought the weight gain I’d hoped. Maybe next month. We talked yesterday about eating disorders and their relevance to Kate’s situation. Through a combination of aversive conditioning, nausea and cramping triggered by eating, the dry mouth issues of Sjogren’s that can make food unpalatable, a generally depleted musculature that makes it difficult to work up an appetite, and a feeling of malaise we’ve not been able to shake, eating has become problematic. Sounds like an eating disorder. If it quacks…

One sobering reality driven home by my illness (on the way out, but not gone) is how much the two of us depend on me to live in this house. If I got to Kate’s level of dysfunction, we’d have to move. When I was sick, especially Wednesday and Thursday, my body tingled. Arthritis in my left hand, thumb, knuckles, finger joints and the thumb of my right hand got bad enough that I couldn’t unlock the front door or open a package of sliced turkey. My stamina was almost nonexistent and I had no hunger. This lead me to the conclusion that my workouts are now a matter of marital necessity. They keep me strong, agile, healthy. We need to protect my schedule so I can always get them in. I’m sure this moment comes for many couples as they age, where one partner’s fragility makes their mutual independence more at risk.

abyssMuch as I like the dark, the cold, the snow, I also love the growing season. Imbolc, Feb. 1st, (or, as for all Celtic holidays, a full week of markets and dances), marks the turn from winter, the season just past, toward spring, or Ostara, which we celebrate on the spring equinox. That’s what Groundhog Day celebrates, Imbolc, and a European belief that if a furry rodent saw it’s shadow, there would be six more weeks of winter. In Germany it’s the badger that is the predictor. The Pennsylvania Dutch apparently shifted to the groundhog.

Whichever, shadow or not, and usually not accurate, the attention to mother earth while snow’s still on the ground, occurs because the Great Wheel has turned past the Winter Solstice, allowing light to begin it’s slow increase, culminating in the heart of mid-Summer on the Summer Solstice.

Imbolc then, is the first season of a new agricultural year. Imbolc, in the belly, referred to the freshening of ewes whose pregnancies would finally bring some long awaited milk into the family larder. The lambs also add to the flocks. It was a signal that the fallow time that began back in October of the previous year at Samain, summer’s end, would again be followed by a fertile season. The growing season itself doesn’t begin, on the Great Wheel, until Mayday, Beltane. But Imbolc assures us that there will be food produced this year, even if the days are still dreary and cold.

Near Seoul, Kate. April, 2016

Near Seoul, Kate. April, 2016

What is freshening my soul these days? What seed has been fertilized and begun to grow? Imbolc is important;  even when the world seems to have gone fallow for us, we find the Great Wheel still turning, still pushing us toward the next growing season.

Kate’s bleed happened on September 28th, the day before Michaelmas, Steiner’s “springtime of the soul.” The sequelae has lasted through the last of Fall (Mabon), through Samain, through Winter, and now into Imbolc.  Imbolc suggests that somewhere buried in the detritus of ten units of blood, bowl resection, rehab, multiple imaging studies, the stent placement, and continuing insults from Sjogren’s and weight loss lies a lamb, or at least a ewe’s egg. Finding it will not be, hasn’t been easy; but, I believe it’s there, that the Spring Equinox will find us moving forward into a new growing season for Kate’s soul and her body. May it be so.