IMG_8239Before we can change anything in our life, we have to recognize that this is the way it is meant to be right now. For me, acceptance has become what I call the long sigh of the soul. It’s the closed eyes in prayer, perhaps even the quiet tears. It’s “all right,” as in “All right, You lead, I’ll follow.” And it’s “all right” as in “Everything is going to turn out all right.” This is simply part of the journey.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, from Simple Abundance

I was pretty confident I would be a kind of poster child for hip replacement recovery. I’m relatively young, not overweight, in decent shape for someone who’s been slowed down by advancing osteoarthritis for two years. In all that time, despite encroaching pain, I did my best to keep exercising. I continued my daily yoga practice, albeit a modified practice using blocks and a chair and bolsters. I waited a full year to see a highly recommended surgeon at one of the country’s best orthopedic hospitals. I scheduled my surgeries for 6 weeks apart at the end of 2105, so I could begin the new year with two new hips.

And I figured that if I followed instructions to the letter, did my physical therapy religiously, and didn’t push too far or too fast, I’d soon resume my old, normal life. Some people had warned, “This is major surgery.” But others said, “It’s no big deal.” Those were the ones I chose to believe. I was nervous, of course. But this had already been a long road. (I wrote about that here.) And within a few days of my second surgery, I had myself convinced I would negotiate this little patch of rough ground easily and soon be back on course with my life.

Yes, that’s called an “expectation.” And you’d think I’d know by now that getting attached to an expectation is a good recipe for disappointment. [continue…]

things to love in january

Image-1January is the warrior month,” writes Vivian Swift in her gorgeous hand-lettered book When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put. She continues, “It takes a warrior to soldier through these cold, dark, harsh January days.”

Indeed it does, especially for me this year. Maybe for you, too?

Well, even a peaceful warrior needs to be well armed. Here, a quick round up of my own best defenses.

Knowing I’d be mostly homebound and recuperating from surgery in January, hobbling around on crutches rather than trekking through the woods on my snowshoes, I decided to gird myself for the warrior month by creating a bit of structure for my days. The healing journey requires patience, but it’s also turned out to be an opportunity to enjoy some special treats for both body and soul.

Of course, you may simply be recuperating from the demands of life itself. Reason enough, certainly, to treat yourself! So do come along, and enjoy these simple pleasures with me. [continue…]

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…]

A healing journey

L5 xray
Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to learn

~ Pema Chodron

We looked at the X-rays together, my son Jack and I.

“This is last August,” the orthopedist said, pointing to the image on the left, showing two clear fractures in Jack’s L-5 vertebrae, fractures that, after 6 months, were showing no signs of healing on one side and only a minimal feathering of bone growth on the other.

“And this is now,” he said, indicating the scan from last week. “Completely healed.

“I can tell you,” he said turning to Jack and raising his hand for a high five, “this hardly ever happens.”

I remember my very first glimpse of my younger son: the dark, cool room; the ultrasound wand sliding through the goop on my swollen stomach; my husband peering over me to get a look at the shadowy little curlicue of a person floating deep within my belly. It was, I am suddenly realizing, twenty-one years ago this summer – my son’s entire lifetime ago, and yet still fresh and vivid in my mind’s eye. The technician asked if we wanted to know the sex of our baby. [continue…]

Light, Dark

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image15104502 Light. Last Sunday afternoon. The brief, brilliant sun bedazzling through the high window in the town hall auditorium. The audience arriving, shedding coats, searching for friends; the musicians warming up on stage. Henry in his tux, a quick smile (just for me) as he files past to take his place on the risers, preparing to sing. My neighbor Debbie sitting beside me, sharing her chocolate chip cookies. Familiar faces in the crowd. Christmas trees festooned with white lights, men in holiday sweaters and red neckties, the lady selling homemade baked goods at the table in the back, the rustle of programs, the golden light, the expectant hush that hovers just before the first note of song bursts through the silence and takes flight. My son, who will turn twenty-three this week, standing onstage before a packed house in our home town; his deep, sure tenor filling the room, filling my heart till it pushes against my chest and overflows and I am brushing away happy, astonished tears. All these years, and I’ve never once heard this most private child of mine sing out loud — till now, here, this deeply felt solo performed in a room packed with people who have paid money to come.

Dark. The night before, crowding into the small room at the funeral home, surrounded by family from near and far. The photograph of my uncle as a young man himself, crew-cut earnest and just out of school, gazing toward an unknown future that would hold more than its share of heartbreak. The small urn full of ashes, a fishing scene etched onto the side, and above it that photo I’ve known all my life, the same photo that hung on the parlor wall of my grandmother’s house alongside two more, a triptych of brothers framed in gold and presiding silently there through the long quiet afternoons of my childhood, when I would study every ancestral image, every picture in the crowded gallery of family likenesses.

Reassembling those memories to meet the present: the dear, familiar faces of aunts and uncles and cousins, each one softened and creased by age and time; it has been too long since I last saw them. My cousin’s children, suddenly grown and confronting a new truth: even larger-than-life grandfathers die. (Wasn’t it just yesterday that they were children running wild with my own boys through the frozen November field behind my parents’ house?)

Anecdotes gathered up and shared haltingly. The unaccustomed effort of giving voice to what’s hard and sad and lost. The three brothers who have suddenly become two, oldest and youngest, the one in between gone at seventy-one. An image in my mind from years ago: my brawny uncle with his sideburns and beard and aviator glasses, his inexhaustible supply of stories, holding forth at Thanksgiving dinner, spinning tales from events he remembered that everyone else had long since forgotten. And then, later, the long trip home, fighting to stay awake as my father drives down the empty highway. The odd sensation of being both a fifty-four year old mother of two grown sons and, at the same time, a child again myself, sitting alone in the back seat of my parents car, the backs of their heads as familiar to me as my own two hands.

Light. It is dusk. The only lamp on in the dark, silent house is here, beside the sofa where I sit surrounded by evening shadows. I type these words slowly, from within a small, golden patch of brightness.

Dark. The paragraphs above, written early yesterday morning, so trivial today, as the news from Connecticut settles upon our shoulders like a heavy, black cloak of brutal knowing. Innocent children dead, families ripped apart, the nation shaken once again by tragedy beyond reason or comprehension. Grief and anger, the deep sense of failure and helplessness. Gratitude for a life that is intact intermingled with mourning for lives lost and for lives ruined.

Sun and shadow. Joy and heartache. Life and death. To be human is to become intimate with both darkness and light. It has always been so. Yet on this somber December day, we are asked to do even more: somehow we must carry on with our lives as they are and, too, we must stop in our tracks, and look with clear gaze into the ruins.

How to respond to such a random, meaningless act of violence? How to open ourselves to the grief caused by this rampage of mindless destruction? How to accommodate and embrace both the darkness and the light of today?

Perhaps there is no good answer, other than to honor the sanctity of life by loving more and loving better, whatever that means for each of us. Compassion is the thread that binds us to one another. Compassion is the balm that heals the soul. Compassion is the offering we carry to the altar of regret and anger and grief. Compassion is what clears our vision, so we may begin to see, even in the midst of the darkest and most unspeakable horror, the light of something larger than our own understanding at work. Compassion is what allows us to seek redemption in the midst of tragedy — to reach out a hand and step toward rather than away from, to act rather than to wait for others to act in our stead. Compassion is, perhaps, the point of the journey, both our purpose and our calling, the place where healing and hope for tomorrow resides. A reminder that in all its shadow and its light, this fragile, fleeting life is full of beauty and meaning nonetheless.