four lessons I learned from surgery

FullSizeRender 2It’s been two and a half weeks since my second hip replacement, a bit more than two months since the first. And I’m finally approaching the moment when I can look back and say, “It was worth it.” As of a few days ago, I’m getting around the house on one crutch, which leaves a hand free for pouring tea or emptying the dishwasher. I can pull on my own compression socks and cut my toenails and drive downtown. Best of all, I can press up from all fours into a downward-facing dog.

What I didn’t expect yesterday, as I spread my palms wide on my yoga mat and lifted my tailbone to the sky, were the tears. Moving from crutches into my first post-op yoga pose was a bit like coming home after a long journey to another land. Things are the same, but different. After twenty years of yoga practice, I arrive on my mat a beginner again, feeling my way forward tenderly. These two prosthetic hips? They are my new teachers. And I am a willing, humbled student.

There have been so many times over the last two years, when I found myself thinking, “I want my old life back.” This morning, sitting once again at my writing spot in the kitchen, healing and breathing, I find myself writing different words: “This is my life.” And every moment? Another opportunity to practice. Here, four lessons I’ve learned so far.

Some day your body will surprise you.

No matter what you see on the x-ray, no matter what the lab results show, no matter what the doctor has just diagnosed, no matter what operation you’ve just found out is in your future, one thing is for certain: the disturbing thing going on deep inside your body wasn’t part of your plan. Perhaps we all presume, in our secret hearts, invincibility. I certainly did. But my body has begun to teach me that there’s no special protection from pain, from aging, from death.

The moment my orthopedist flipped the switch on the light box and brought up the ghostly X-ray images of my two arthritic hips was the first time it hit me: I’m not indestructible after all. In fact, I’m not even in charge here. I’d done everything “right” — exercised regularly, eaten well, practiced yoga for years, bought well-cushioned new sneakers every spring. I was pretty sure all that good living was buying me both time and health.

And yet, the pain I’d been believed for months to be a groin pull was suddenly revealed to be something else entirely. And with that my illusions were shattered. [continue…]

best books for mindful parents
— and a give-away

 

FullSizeRenderTwenty-five years ago, as a new mother trying to figure out what kind of mom I wanted to be, I went in search of books to guide me. I hoped to find some wise mothering mentors who could shine a light on the path at my feet and say, “Here, follow me, come this way.”

Looking back on those days now, I realize how much things have changed. Back then, there were no cell phones, the word “text” referred to print on a paper page, and news of the world arrived via the newspaper that landed on our doorstep each morning.

We bought our first computer in 1990, when Henry was three months old, so I could begin working from home at my new job editing The Best American Short Stories. My Apple IICX could run two programs at once, Clarisworks and Filemaker Pro, which meant I could do word-processing (an outdated phrase if every there was!) and keep a database of my two hundred-plus magazine subscriptions. I dialed in for an internet connection, kept all my reading notes on file cards, and corresponded with authors and friends through the mail.

There were no blogs to read or online parenting forums to join, there was no Amazon to browse nor any algorithm recommending books for me to buy, there was no Facebook. My husband took photos of our new baby boy with his 3-pound Nikon, we dropped the rolls of film off at CVS, and then carefully placed our 4 x 6 prints into a photo album, sending dupes off to the grandparents.

It all seems pretty quaint in retrospect, so innocent and simple. But at the time, working and raising children and trying to do it all and have it all and give it all to them, I still sensed that life was moving too fast. Much as I yearned for less pressure and more fun, my days were spent juggling: too much stuff, too many choices, too many obligations, never enough time. [continue…]

dear old(er):
my best apple cake
and the beauty of lying fallow

IMG_7589

This is the fourth in a series of letters between me and my friend, author Margaret Roach, on the challenges (and joys!) of aging. I’m Old (just 56) and she’s Older (by 5 years). And since we’re surely not the only ones buying wrinkle creams, we decided to share our exchange with you, too. Be sure to read Margaret’s letter to me here.  (Our earlier letters are here.)

Dear Margaret (my oldER friend),

There is something about these shorter days and longer, darker, colder nights. I’m wondering if you’re feeling it, too: the urge to hunker, to shut off the computer and read print on a page instead of a screen, to sip hot tea from a mug, to dress in layers of soft, comfy clothes, fashion be damned.

I’m turning lights on in my kitchen most days by three in the afternoon. And although I’m able now to drive my car, the truth is I’d rather be inside, cozied up on the loveseat with some pillows under my knees and my new favorite book in my lap. The impulse to stay put, safe and warm at home, is as strong as any pull to be out and about shopping for groceries or visiting friends.

This place I’m in now – mostly homebound, healing from one hip replacement and preparing my mind and body for another in a few short weeks – is definitely an in-between kind of territory, what a psychologist might call a “liminal space.”

I’ve always loved that word, liminal, so evocative and poetic. But I looked it up just now to make sure I’m using it correctly. Turns out, it derives from the Latin word limens, which means threshold – and it refers quite specifically to a discomfiting time of ambiguity, of not knowing, of disorientation.

So, yes! Liminal it is. And holing up at home here between surgeries, I do feel as if I’m being taken apart and put back together again, physically and spiritually. No wonder I feel so bare and vulnerable, so uncertain of the future and so hesitant to make any firm plans – even for next week. My body is busy with its cellular healing, but I seem to be doing some quiet, private, emotional work as well, absorbing the recent loss of my beloved friend, of my own worn-out body parts, and even of my old way of being in the world. [continue…]

oasis

IMG_7556-4The surgeon was running a little late. I was right on time. I had followed every pre-op instruction to the letter: donated a unit of my own blood to receive back during surgery, had an MRI and new X-rays, taken my liquid iron and B vitamins and blood thinner and Celebrex, met with an anesthesiologist, a physical therapist, a pharmacist. I’d given up coffee and my evening glass of wine days ago, had my teeth cleaned (from now on, that will involve a precautionary dose of antibiotics), tidied up the house and paid the bills, and scrubbed my right hip twice a day for three days with Hibiclense. I even got my hair cut.

Through it all, I worried and wondered. Was I doing the right thing? Would I be better off to accept my lot, buck up, and carry on with my own two painfully arthritic hips? Was I trying too hard to hold on to youth? Being greedy to want to hike or do triangle pose or ride a bike again? Or would I look back, as a few hip-replacement veterans predicted, and wonder why I waited so long to get new parts?

By the time I climbed into my assigned bed in a small pre-op cubicle at New England Baptist Hospital last Friday, there was nothing more for me to do. And there was certainly no point to any more mental dithering and debating. A curious, unexpected calm descended.

[continue…]

beautiful things

photo 1This quiet morning. My friend asleep in her bed, snuggled deep in a nest of pillows, her faithful terrier molded to the curve of her back. The gentle rise and fall of the covers, her breath coming slow and steady when I peek in to check on her.

Six a.m. My shift. The house is still but for the steady tick of the kitchen clock, empty but for the two of us. What twists and turns of fate have brought us to this moment? One woman engaged in the deep inner work of letting go of life. And the other, me, still here, striving to see this world as perfect, to love it as it is.

I pour coffee, slice a peach, and carry my breakfast to the back deck where the two of us have spent so many companionable, peaceful hours over the last year. The dark trees are still silhouetted against the sky. Clouds at the horizon melt to shades of rose. The sky lightens. In the new light, dragonflies stitch invisible seams through the morning. A blue heron wings by, heading from one secret pond to another.

photo 6My notebook is open before me, the lovely white page. I tip my full heart over and pour myself out. A list takes shape: all the hard, sad things. It doesn’t take long to write them down. Just putting words to these feelings brings a swift, unexpected relief, like setting down a bag full of rocks. Tears come. This, too, is a relief.

And then, as I read through my list, one thing is suddenly, startlingly clear. [continue…]