We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

The Mortal Yet

Spring                                                                Passover Moon

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Ruth in the middle, red makeup

Snow yesterday and last night. Not a lot, maybe 2 inches. At most. But, all moisture is welcome. More rain and snow in the forecast for next week, too. Go, sky.

This week saw lab results and imaging results coming in over the threshold. Like getting final grades at the end of term though these matter, especially at this age, much more. All good for both of us, mostly. My kidney disease has actually improved some. No real trouble. Of course, there’s always the mortal yet that needs to be added here. But for now, still above ground and likely to stay that way for a while.

The weekend is grandkids. Ruth and her Destination Imagination team, the Jaw Dropping Crunchy Brains, compete in the statewide event tomorrow. We’ll be in attendance.

SamsMenuCOVER-621x1024Tomorrow, Earth Day, April 22nd, is Gabe’s 9th birthday. He wants to eat at Sam’s #3 and so we will. A good day to celebrate the grandkids.

Today I’m off to the Lego store to get a gift certificate for Gabe, then I’ll head all the way south on Hwy. 470 to Ikea. I’m picking up a chair frame and two stools. The chair frame is for a reading chair like mine. With it Ruth and I can read together in the loft.

Finally, I’ll swing by Dairy Queen for an ice cream cake for Gabe’s birthday celebration up here on Shadow Mountain. That should be enough for today.

Of course, all this driving will be in full view of the Front Range, making it seem like I’m really out here on vacation. Which is what it still feels like most of the time.

 

 

A Mighty Fortress is Our Family

Spring                                                                       Passover Moon

kogenateThis weekend focused in part on grandson Gabe though he was absent from it. Gabe has hemophilia.

Many diseases have their own subcultures. Think HIV/aids, Hepatitis B, breast cancer, MS, cystic fibrosis. Hemophilia has its own. On Friday and Saturday Kate and I attended a hemophilia education event in Lone Tree.

A notable defining characteristic of the bleeding disorder subculture is how misunderstood the disease itself is, and how much others don’t appreciate the demands on both those with the disease and their family. I imagine other disease focused groups share this general attitude. While it is certainly true that most folks have never heard of the clotting cascade or what can go wrong with it and we don’t live with the day-to-day strain of possible bleeds or other serious complications, these attitudes create an us against them mentality.

Physicians don’t understand. Friends don’t understand. Grandparents don’t understand. The only ones who get it are those of us directly affected.

FactorTrack3And, ironically, Big Pharma. One of the oddities of the bleeding disorder community is its relationship with big drug companies. In most, perhaps all, other instances, the choice of medication for a particular condition or illness is the physician’s responsibility, often in consultation with the patient, yes, but just as often not. The physician’s job is to understand the patient and, if needed, the application of a certain pharmaceutical to their situation.

Not so in bleeding disorders. Parents of afflicted children and adults with a bleeding disorder have a personal relationship with drug representatives from companies like Bayer or Shire or CHS Behring and Octapharma. They have to learn about how molecular structure impacts the efficacy of a factor product. Factor is short for clotting factors which are missing or weakened in bleeding disorders.  There’s also the issue of half-life. In recent time the choice about whether to use a product produced from human plasma or a synthetic product has tilted now toward the synthetic, recombinant, because human plasma derived products too often carried HIV-but they were all that was available. This necessity to choose among the various factors offered, taking on a role normally filled by a physician, no doubt empowers parents and afflicted adults, but it also makes the circle draw closer, tighter.

All of this reinforces a cult-like insularity. One couple spoke about their children’s grandparents as “clueless.” The laughter in the room indicated that most of those there shared that opinion. How could grandparents possibly understand? Now, you might imagine that didn’t sit well with me, Kate or Barb Bandel, Jen’s mother. There were other ageist moments when our commentary in group discussions were either ignored or diminished. We raised these very children who now see us as unable to understand issues that affect children. This is not only ironic, it’s damaging.

When the nuclear family becomes the stronghold against uninformed outsiders, a whole panoply of possible resources wither up. Parents don’t take time for themselves, at least at first, because who else could know what to do? Children don’t go away for the night, even to grandparents. The strength of the extended family is cut off to the detriment of all parties.

 

 

The Gulf of All Souls

Spring                                                                           Passover Moon

Under the full passover moon Kate and I drove over to Mt. Vernon Country Club for a community seder. There were about 60 people there, sitting in groups of 8 around circular tables. The dining room looked out to the south and east. As the sun set, the lights of Denver began to sparkle around Table Mesa in the distance.

Passover

The tables had platters of oblong chunks of gefilte fish, a bowl of haroset (a sweet mixture that symbolizes the mortar used by Hebrew slaves in Egypt), a small bowl of pink grated horseradish, a stack of matzo covered in a linen napkin, and a seder plate with the traditional passover items: lamb shank, boiled egg seared over a flame, parsley, haroset and maror (horseradish). And an orange. The orange is a recent addition to the passover plate-at least for Reconstructionists-and it symbolizes the fruitfulness of women’s contributions in Jewish history and in the present.passover-seder-plate-cropped-430x245

The haggadah, the telling of the story, contains all the prayers, readings, songs and explanations for the evening. The seder (order) of the passover celebration has 15 steps, symbolizing the 15 steps that led up to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple passover celebration had two priest on each of the fifteen steps and they sang the passover ritual as worshippers brought up their lamb for sacrifice.

The evening followed this ancient ritual, commemorated in Christian churches as the last supper and ritualized among them as communion or the eucharist.

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

Dirk-Bouts-The-Feast-of-the-Passover

As Kate and I got out of the car at Mt Vernon, a young woman asked, “Is this the place for the seder?” It was, I said. Her name was Leah. We walked in together, past the slightly ridiculous pretension of the lobby, its fireplace and the sitting room with the observation deck like windows. Down a set of stairs was a lower level under the sitting room.

We chatted casually with Leah. The room was almost empty then, not many had come. We were early. I went out on the big deck that overlooked Table Mesa and Leah followed. She knew Rabbi Jamie in the synagogue he served previously in Buffalo, New York.

“I’m bi-polar and I went on a road trip, trying to find someplace new. I went to Florida, drove all over and came this way but decided I couldn’t cross the mountains in the winter, so I ended up working in Boulder.”

Oh. I have bipolar illness in my family. Two aunts hospitalized, one died in the state hospital, another came out, but under heavy medication. “Oh. That’s good. Well, I mean it’s not good that you have bipolar in the family, but it’s good you understand.”

And I do. It was as if this ancient ritual, one that gathers the tribe across the world to honor its release from bondage, had found a member of that tribe who also belonged to mine. Leah sat next to me and we dipped our little fingers in the wine, the parsley in the salty water, the tears of those in bondage, ate our matzo with haroset and made our Hillel sandwiches, haroset and maror between two slices of matzo.

river-lb

The ways the universe conspires with us: it lets us paddle along the river of time for a bit, then puts us through some rapids, lets us drift into a clear pool, but always moves us forward through the Grand Canyon of our life, and sometimes helps us to land on shore for awhile, perhaps in a spot that looks familiar, yet is always new. At 70 the river which carries me is much closer to the Gulf of All Souls than it was in my twenties, but unlike then, I can see through the translucent canyon walls to the canoes of my friends, family and new acquaintances.

There are even moments, like an April passover meal in the Rocky Mountains, when we come together on the strand of our common journey, our lives and our rivers joined for a moment. We travel apart but we are not alone.

Wildgame

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

20170408_142512The birthday girl is here. 11 years old now, officially (I learned yesterday.) a tween. She’s a reader, an artist who now works a lot with wire, a double black diamond level skier, a gifted student, a good friend, a thespian and our granddaughter. Ruth.

She’s now only 2 years away from her Bat Mitzvah. This is about the time for her to get her preparation underway. Lots of Hebrew to learn.

Divorce has been tough on the kids, Ruth and Gabe both. Things do seem to be settling down right now, so I hope the two of them can begin to get on with their elementary school lives. Gabe turns 9 on the 22nd of this month.

20170408_142335We took them both to Wildgame, a restaurant and entertainment place in Evergreen. They have an arcade (see picture), a bowling alley, a pool table, bocce ball court, ping pong tables and a stage for live music. The counter guy told Kate to come before 5 pm because, “It gets pretty crazy after that.”

Had we been prescient the divorce alone would have been enough reason for us to move out here. We weren’t, but we’re certainly glad we’ve been here for the whole family. Even Jen. Divorce with young kids, a reality both Kate and I have known, is just plain hard. I’m sad Ruth and Gabe have had to experience it.

Dogs and kids. I never want to have a life without either of them.

Ratzon

Spring                                                                     Passover Moon

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall,  1933

“Solitude” by Marc Chagall, 1933

On the art regret. (see post below) Realized that to solve this problem I need an intention, a purpose. I have an intention with writing Superior Wolf. I have one with translating Ovid. I’m developing one at Beth Evergreen, what Rabbi David Jaffe calls a ratzon, a deep motivation. I don’t know what my ratzon for art is, not yet, but I’m searching for it.

I’m reading Rabbi Jaffe’s book, Changing the World from the Inside Out. He’s coming to Beth Evergreen at the end of this month. His book is a mussar focused way of considering social change, utilizing this Jewish method of character strengthening to undergird work for social justice. A worthwhile read even for those who are not Jewish. Mussar, like kabbalah, looks at the world from a human perspective but through a Jewish lens.

625448_164319917056179_937468223_nMy ratzon for political work, which I critiqued in a past post, needs sharpening, focus. Part of my problem with Fighting Trump, my previous title for articles I saved in Evernote, was, I realized, that being against something is a weak ratzon for me. I need to be for something and the Trump resistance tends to focus on opposing him. He demands opposition and resistance, no question about that, but I need to be working toward a just society, an equitable society, a sustainable society, a compassionate society, not only, not even primarily, saying NO.

As I do for art, I need a clear ratzon. Don’t have it right now, for either politics or art.

Two Masks

Spring                                                                          Passover Moon

Due to the mechanics of posting the post below precedes this one conceptually. Just sayin.

1012718_3234944448291_1047543642_n

first row, second from the right

I’ve discovered two more masks: the unhappy 10 year old bucket schlepper and the 17 year old grieving his dead mother and trying to manage his fear of the future.

Here’s how I discovered the first mask. As I’m trying to go to sleep, my mind serves up memories and feelings designed (I think.) to prevent sleep’s arrival, a habit of some years. No notion as to why. Anyhow the other night a stream of memories crossed my going to sleep threshold and tightened my gut, gave me a small ping in the lower left abdomen and tensed up my legs. I’m familiar, very familiar, with this particular sequence of muscle contractions, but this time I decided to suss out the mask I wear when they appear.

It didn’t take me long to find it. This was the 17 year old boy who lost his mother suddenly over a period of 7 days. A stroke. After her death, with no real help in grasping what it meant and how it could be coped with in a healthy way, he began to scan the future, to look for other catastrophes. Perhaps if he was very, very careful he could spot them in advance and prevent them. After developing fully, this defensive strategy would become a generalized anxiety disorder. Not hard to see why.

second row, second from the right. 17

second row, second from the right. 17 note the hair

Now I know that the onset of anxiety symptoms, even the jaw muscles that grip harder than they need to on occasion, carry that 17 year old’s deep uncertainties and fears right into the present. If I looked in a mirror, I’d probably see a kid with deep brown eyes, a full head of hair and a queasy look on his face. Perhaps now I can take off this mask, give the 17 year old back to his own time and put on the mask of the experienced adult who knows this, whatever it is, will not last, the experienced adult who knows death is not the enemy, but our friend, a part of every life.

What’s behind mask number two? Yesterday afternoon I sat down in my leather chair and realized I was tired, real tired. Exhausted. Yet the exhaustion seemed far out of proportion to the demands of the day. Was I wearing a mask that might explain the exhaustion? I felt my way inside and there it was.

Grandpa mask

Grandpa mask

Mask number two is the face of a twelve year old boy carrying buckets of water up from a basement, tossing them out the backdoor, and going back down for another one. When we moved to Canal Street in Alexandria, a bigger house, one we owned, Dad didn’t know that the basement flooded. Indiana is in the humid east, not the arid west. Big storms and heavy rains were common. When they came, our basement would fill up with water and I had to help Dad bail it out. This was often late at night. I was tired and wanted to sleep, but no. I had to carry buckets.

Dad was not happy about it either and took it out on me, grousing about my unwillingness, my reluctance. I know this sounds like whining, but I’ve long ago moved past this in almost all aspects of my life though it did occur to me later that Dad could have invested in a sump pump.

Copper piping here had sprung another leak. My exhaustion was not from finding a plumber, or from diagnosing the leak, not even from the hassle all this entails up here in the mountains. No, the exhaustion was my body revisiting those nights of carrying water up from the basement and throwing it out the backdoor while I was sleepy.

This was a leak. It involved water and our basement. The result? A twelve year old’s frustration and powerlessness returned for a visit. Once I realized this, named it, saw the mask for what it was, my exhaustion lifted.

Shifts and Changes

Spring                                                                      New (Passover) Moon

2010 01 19_3454Writing can lay bare something hidden, perhaps something that needed excavation or something attached to a thread, even a flimsy thread, by which it can be pulled from the inner world. Things get lost in there, pushed behind stacks of unused memories or stored with a faulty label. Sometimes ideas once full and vibrant get partially severed from their context, crucial links of thought go missing and the idea fades away.

“I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions.” March 21, 2017 This sentence is an example, a recent example. It stares back at me, rather baldly. Oh. Well, that’s right, isn’t it?

I love to read, follow an idea through its growth and changes, learn about something in depth, wonder about it, tease out of it new implications or old truths.

I love to write. I don’t know why. Might be an inheritance from my newspaperman father. Might just be long established habit. Whatever the reason writing is my painting, my sculpture, my photography. I have to do it to feel whole.

2010 01 19_3455Which, speaking of ideas, then links to the idea of the third phase. That quote comes from recent thoughts on the third phase. A primary wondering for me, I think for all third phasers, is this: what am I about in this last phase of my life?

The Trump catastrophe, a miserable wound of our country’s own making, pulled on the 60’s radical thread always near the surface for me. I’ve been trying to put that mask back on, to become the political activist I once was. I felt obligated. You know, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

But it hasn’t been happening. I just haven’t connected with other activists. I haven’t been doing much more than writing about it. (a clue here, by the way) Grousing and complaining, yes, sure. But not acting.

Writing and study. Third phase. Beth Evergreen. With Kate I’ve found a community that cherishes study, scholarship, a community that finds writing an understandable vocation. Right now I’m thinking, wondering. Should I lean into my primary passions? Stay with them. Dig deeper. That feels right.

Here’s a confession, too. I’ve never liked politics. The person I become, the masks I put on then, feel far away from my core Self. Why then have I spent so much of my life in one political arena after another?

611333-ancient-roman-wall-with-street-nameboardPart duty. For whatever reason I came out of Alexandria with fully formed political ideas about justice, equality, fairness. They were strong, rooted in the powerful union movement among my friend’s parents who worked for General Motors, reinforced by the liberal politics of my Roosevelt Democrat parents and then pushed toward action in the turmoil of the 60’s.

Part ego. It feels good to lead, to have people hang on my ideas, to see change occur when something I’ve helped shape makes things happen. But this is part of what feels far away from my core, introverted Self. That ego drive also presses forward an angry, demanding, often insensitive persona. A persona I dislike.

Part religious conviction. The almost random way in which I ended up in seminary, then the ministry came from following political conviction away from graduate academics and toward an institution willing to pay me to organize, to act politically. There was a merger of political passion and the prophetic line of a certain strain of liberal Christianity, even radical Christianity.

No conclusions here. Not yet. Just more of the shifts and changes, movements in my soul. Something will come out of all this. Not sure what. Not right now.

 

 

The Divorce: An Update

Spring                                                                                        Anniversary Moon

Not as much snow as we’d hoped, but enough to drive away the red flag warnings for a while. More coming, hopefully we’ll have a wetter April, a setup for a less dangerous summer. This was the wet, heavy sort of snow, lots of moisture so the inches may not have been there but the water content was. That’s what we needed.

The rising sun is just now illuminating the peak of Black Mountain, a beautiful sight, one I get to see often.

Jon at Dazzle

Jon at Dazzle

The divorce and its aftermath, I’ve not written a lot about it recently. Things have settled into something of a routine. The kids come up here for the weekend 3 times a month. Jon commutes into Aurora to Montview Elementary where he works and gets home later in the evening. He sees Ruth and Gabe on Wednesday evenings for a meal, has classes on Thursday night, mandated by his dv conviction. What this means from his perspective is that he spends a lot of time on the road, works 5 days a week, then has intense parenting 3 consecutive weeks out of 4. That’s a lot.

With the sale of the house and the distribution of funds from the sale Jon will reapply for a mortgage. He had a guaranteed mortgage until he had to start paying lawyers. The proceeds from the sale have brought solvency, so he can apply again soon. He wants to find a new home in Aurora, somewhere within biking distance of Montview. Once he has a house and gets his stuff out of storage and out of our garage his life will become calmer. The custody settlement becomes 50/50 then. A more normal rhythm will ensue.

Gabe, Jon and me at Ruth's Destination Imagination performance

Gabe, Jon and me at Ruth’s Destination Imagination performance

Unfortunately the Aurora school district has experienced declining enrollment and anticipates a fall-off in property tax revenue. The school district last month decided on a reduction in the number of teachers overall. Jon’s been with them for 17 years which helps though seniority does not assure him of his job. He also learned recently that they will cut specials, that is folks who teach art, music, physical education, too. To confound the matter Jen works for the  same school district. If either one of them lose their jobs, the financial structure of the divorce will careen into a wall. Hopefully clarity about this will come soon.

Meanwhile we do what we can, try to sort out our medical issues and attend Beth Evergreen. It’s a full life and that’s good at 70.

Blessing

Spring                                                                   Anniversary Moon

soul1There are shifts and changes going on, movement in my soul. When we moved here, I left behind relationships precious beyond words. Not entirely, no. I’ve stayed in contact through facebook, e-mails, occasional visits, especially from the Woollies, but the day-to-day, go to lunch chances for nourishing those relationships has disappeared. I was lonely here atop Shadow Mountain.

This in no way denigrates the most special relationship of my life with Kate. I couldn’t have, wouldn’t have made this move without the strong anchor of our marriage. That anchor has only gone deeper into the oceans of my inner world as we’ve been out here.

Neither does it denigrate the wonder and majesty of living in the Rocky Mountains, nor does it denigrate my introverted path, so happy in its loft, this library. That loneliness did not diminish these important parts of my life.

Soul_SpiritBut it was real and significant. It manifested as a sense of yearning, a desire for companionship like what I’ve had with the Woollies and the docent corps at the MIA. I think, had it continued, that it would have become corrosive, perhaps even damaging to those core aspects of my life that remained solid.

Over the last couple of weeks though, perhaps a month or more, our engagement with Beth Evergreen has made that loneliness recede. In both the afternoon and evening mussar groups I’ve found a place to open myself up, to be vulnerable. To be seen. The study of kabbalah that will commence in May will deepen this experience, I’m sure of it.

To be in a religious community and have no professional responsibility for it is unusually freeing for me. Contra to the Dawkins and Hitchens of the world I find religion inspiring, most religions. I guess engagement with religion is a core facet of my self, too. Probably obvious to others, but only becoming so to me now. Beth Evergreen is the most authentic religious community I’ve had the privilege of knowing. In being part of it I’ve found a deep well to nourish the roots of my soul. A blessing.

Delights and Horrors

Spring                                                                  Anniversary Moon

rumiThe third phase, that phase after the career and nuclear family focused portion of our life has come to an end or is winding down, has its own delights and horrors. Auto-didacts, those with pleasurable, but challenging hobbies, those with adequate funds, those with a close network of friends and family have a good chance of enjoying the third phase more than any other part of their life. It’s a time when the pressures of achievement and child-rearing recede. They may not disappear, but their initially critical significance shifts to the margins.

This leaves the possibility of centering on who you truly are, expressing the soul/Self, the unique you created when sperm hit egg all those years ago. A rich time, filled with creativity and exploration, can be the result. It certainly has been that way for Kate and me. We’ve traveled, gotten closer to our kids and grandkids, gardened, raised dogs, moved to the mountains. She’s quilted, sewn, cooked and finally taken up the spiritual journey she started so long ago with her conversion to Judaism. I’ve continued to write and study, my primary passions. We’ve both nourished friendships from our Minnesota life and begun to develop friendships here in Jefferson County, Colorado.

It is also in the third phase, however, when the body begins to signal its eventual end. Even if there are no presenting issues of the moment, the third phase, by its very definition occurs as our age passes into the mid-60’s and beyond. The implications of this becomes clear when we make the calculation about doubling our life span so far. At 50 it’s just possible to conceive 100; but at 60, 120 is a stretch. At 70 the notion of reaching 140 is ridiculous.

will-testament_audible-wisdom-org_CCWith prostate cancer two years ago and a total knee replacement last year my body has given notice that its sell-by date is approaching. Yes, both of those have resolved well, at least so far, but they are concrete proof that I will not live forever. Something, sometime. Now it seems to be Kate’s turn to face her mortality. She has a cluster of medical issues that are challenging, making her low energy and too thin.

The horrors I mentioned above are not these, these are normal, though disconcerting. We age. Our bodies break down, then stop. Hundreds of thousands of years worth of hominid deaths makes this all too common.

20170310_174900The horrors are the loss of the one you love, the person whose life has become so entwined with your own, not enmeshed, I don’t mean here a situation where life going on without the other is inconceivable, but the loss of a person whose life has been a comfortable and comforting fit with your own, a bond of mutual affection. Imagining life without Kate leaves me with a hollow feeling.

This loss, too, is common. Just read the obituaries and see the list of “survived by.” It is different from your own death because your life goes on with a big hole. I know this feeling too well. My mother died when I was 17. This is horror. Is it survivable? Of course. But life after the death of a spouse is a change none of us who are happily married seek. Yet, it seeks us. It is the nature of two finite creatures bonded through love. One leaves first.

These matters are on my mind today as we try to hunt down and fix what’s ailing Kate. I’m not ready, will never be ready, for life without her. May it be far in the future if it happens for me at all.

 

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