Friday, April 30, 2010

Hand Holding

Since leaving the doctor’s office 48 hours ago, my head has swirled with ugly scenarios and my body aches with new pains. Writing that has come so easily in the past year is now a struggle.

My mind races with the implications of my injury on the quality of my life and makes connections to the issues and circumstances, but it seems so difficult to translate it all into a story people might find of interest. In some regard I wonder how I dare to presume; other moods convince me the story has valuable lessons but is too gross. With every sentence I write tonight, I pause to weigh the worth, yet still feel motivated to share the ugly details.

Every story has its share of joys and pains. Each of us weaves our way through similar trials, tribulations and triumphs. Some of us remain quiet and modestly withdrawn, while others celebrate or agonize for all to see. No one is wiser or braver for the telling or the with-holding. Individual comfort levels are dictated by many variables, and although subject to the judgment of others, can never be right or wrong.

Often I joke about how public my privates have become, but except while unconscious at the hospital the day after my fall when my damage was the subject of medical and masculine speculation in the staff rooms, it is my choice to expose myself so openly. I have freely spoken about the wounded condition of my groin. For those who cannot help but wonder, I volunteer the information.

The facts of the matter are that after six months of recuperation, I have healed enough to risk the surgery which should repair my plumbing. Predicted to take ten hours and require a five day stay in the hospital, the doctor described it as one of the most delicate and difficult surgeries of its kind.

Particular care must be taken not to damage nerves that could destroy my sexual functioning. If all goes well, I should still not expect to be normal for a year or more. The risk of permanent damage is small at the hands of a practiced surgeon, but real enough that I have to face the possibility of losing the expression of a need some would say is as basic as food, clothing or shelter.

Never mind that I have not been able to function much since the accident. Never mind that the lack of a partner has made it not much of an issue for a long time before that. The potential loss of the ability to be sexual strikes fear in the heart and makes my groin ache more severely than it has throughout this ordeal. This may be ugly, but it is my reality today.

Now here is the place where I tread lightly and wonder what use my words, my story, have to contribute. What emotions and details are better left hidden. Modesty and decorum, conventional wisdom, usually dictates that we refrain from openly addressing such issues. But when moved to share with a friend or stranger, I find they are wondering regardless and seem grateful to know. Being truthful and honest about my situation provides some sort of comfort to myself and others, alleviates concerns and questions, and creates a deeper bond between us.

We are compassionate creatures after all, and learning of suffering, it is our natural inclination as human beings to want to soothe. Having never been seriously injured before, I am grateful to learn that my condition can be fixed and so much more compassionate to know that others with severed nerves can never walk again, do not know of the amazing serenity of feeling their child asleep in their lap, or the bliss of knowing they have years yet to live.

In these days following the appointment that determined my surgery will be fast-approaching and not easy, I feel the rush of many emotions. The physical pain of entering the hospital healthy and awakening to nausea, pain and the second tube re-inserted is fearsome. The vision of being strong and vital with no tubes a year from now fills me with hope and excitement.

Father of three and lover of women, I have planted my seed and have learned there are many ways to give and receive pleasure. Even now, in spite of my injury and incapacitation, I am experiencing deep love and sweet companionship. My heart learns every day both how to laugh and weep with joy.

If required to make a list of terrible events, if they could conceive of such a loss at all, sexuality would be near the top of terrors for so many of us. Yet here I sit, contemplating a future stretching away into the vast unknown, and although shrouded with fear, I feel mostly grateful for the hands of others I have to hold.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Apples a Day

It concerns me that in these last few weeks I feel so much less compelled to write essays for this blog. Having made such an open declaration that I am changing my life to become a more serious writer, it does not bode well that inspiration should so quickly leave me.

Consistent with the multi-tasking distractions of my entire life, I simultaneously announced my commitment to playing music much more seriously, inviting back into my life the creative energies so silenced by the stresses of failing business and marriage. That I am “in the studio” and “on the road” feels like no compensation for the few words posted to date this spring.

In fact, my health provides a great excuse, and a new part-time job doubles the distraction. All week, I have been pre-occupied with the approaching appointment that should translate the results of an MRI into a plan for the coming months to repair my urethra and remove this friggin tube affecting my every step forward, sideways and backwards.

While we’ve been waiting for the damaged tissue to not only heal but become healthy and thriving enough to withstand the trauma of another surgery and reconnection of vital cells to vital cells, I have lived in a sort of cocoon of introspection, a limbo of optimistic dreams and rotten moods of self-pity. Lives have raced on around me, but I have settled onto my couch and often into a stupor.

Medications, pain, healing wisdom and supporting friends and family have enabled me to nurse myself into a deep meditation. Most often alone, regularly embattled with exhaustion, constantly amazed to see a rubber tube coming out of my belly and running to a bag strapped to my leg, never before have I experienced such a dis-association from life and a more convenient excuse to lounge around and do nothing.

The approach of today’s doctor appointment I treated casually, holding it in my mind as a mid-week event to be checked off as quickly as the co-pay check could be written. I failed to notify my doctor best friend, thinking he has suspended his patients enough times to accompany me; I did not want to impose on him again. Nor, when she offered, could I accept the same from another dear friend, thinking precious time together would be better spent on a walk or over dinner, not holding my shaking hand in the waiting room.

As it turned out, in the hours creeping towards the appointment, my hand did begin to tremble, my eyes, so dryly determined, grew blurry with tears. Not wanting to give any energy to the fear of a negative outcome, still I wondered if he might say too much scar tissue prohibits any kind of fix; I am doomed to be bagged and blocked for the rest of my life.

Alone and afraid, my couch provided no comfort, but was prickly with spurts of ugly possibilities. Too late, I now wished I had asked and accepted the help that had been available to me. Stoically foregoing it had seemed the right manly path I have always taken. How different it feels to literally cry with anguish and call for help.

Survival of this appointment has never been in question. The discomfort of replacing the tube is easily assuaged by a few vicodin. The dullness in the brain from the drugs is not enough to impede my hearing the information, taking notes and asking questions. I have the stamina to go it on my own.

Accepting the comfort of a companion, the support of a good friend, receiving a gift of love, so incredibly powerful, is, however, virtually new to me. On the phone from 3000 miles away, my sister Lane suggested it may be that learning this seemingly simple revelation is the sweet soul purpose of this whole ordeal.

I have lived my life relentlessly available to help others (whether they wanted and needed it or not), but am very unskilled at accepting the gift in kind. It is easier, safer, to extend myself outwards, to contribute, donate and volunteer; far more difficult to be vulnerable, helpless, needy and asking for something some one may or may not be able or willing to give. It is far easier to sing a song, stand on a stage, hide behind a guitar, than to put real words, exact definitions and characterizations of personal emotions on this paper in plain sight, for everyone to see, consider and judge.

Too late this morning, I recognized I needed the help. I understood at last the comfort of the embrace I might receive. Prepared, willing and able, I wiped away my tears, swallowed the vicodin and went off to hear the verdict, only to discover I had confused the date, over anticipated, and was given the chance ironically to make different choices tomorrow.

Please share with your friends

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Prayer for Normalcy

Even in my journal writing I am compelled to tell a story. If days or weeks are missed between entries—as has happened in this blog—there is a strong urge to make a full account of the time passed, clearly a result of that obsessive trait in my family that insists on always being productive and accountable.

A blog or journal is especially challenging for me precisely because there are dates and progressions so easily identifiable. Gaps stand out like a bulls eye, drawing my attention as tautly as a bow string and sighting down the shaft.

What happened there? What have I done in these last weeks that I could not scribble on these pages? My days are a blur, unfocused, slow-motion movement, unable to find that target of a story to tell, a moral flaw to expose, or a precious moment worth celebrating at the top of my lungs. In regular discomfort, I hold my belly tightly, trying to cushion the sensations instead of projecting outwards the joy that could resonate so freely.

Having written words that have inspired flattering compliments, I notice my approach to this blank page has a greater sense of purpose and responsibility, a splash of pressure to write profoundly. Appreciating that I have gained a few faithful readers, the desire grows to make new words worthwhile or, failing that, remain quiet.

Understanding that a good portion of you are friends and family who would remain so whether I write or not, I recognize this pressure is entirely from within. My internal critic is much more harsh than any reader pausing for a moment for a small distraction from their busy day.

The self-censoring voice is strong in so many of us. Conventional wisdom raises us to be modest, blend into the crowd, take risk so cautiously we may never gain the speed necessary to leap ahead. For so many, we believe it is far better (safer) to fit in than to stand out.

In these last two years, so many have acknowledged with kind and sympathetic compliments my bravery for exposing myself so openly , admitting they could never be so open themselves. I think I am not so radically different from anyone else, certainly no better or worse; these are value judgments far too subjective to support any weight.

In fact, what I have learned is that such exposure invites a compassion that wraps me like a blanket. Being so open reveals friends and strangers willing to reach out and share a little of themselves as well. The fear that holds us back is eased by the welcoming, embracing arms of others, loosening their own grip on themselves.

These essays may begin with an idea in mind, a story to tell, a moment to celebrate, but often surprise me by venturing down a path I had not anticipated, teaching me things I had not realized I needed to learn. Writing grounds me. The flow of words, in an anxious and unsettled moment, calms me. Within the count of 750, my perspective can be changed, anxiety dispelled. What felt at first confusing or frightening, becomes just another stone in my path to support my steps from here to there. Once again, I see the destination matters less than the process.

My challenge in these months of injury and physical suffering has been to sit quietly with patience, without judgment of the silence or lack of production in words or action. I have been forced to sit, to ponder the tube in my belly, to learn to be grateful for each breath, experience chronic pain in the most sensitive and intimate part of my body and learn to accept each moment as somehow still precious.

I am not yet good at it. I moan and groan, whimper in despair to select friends who have the patience to hold me squirming. My frustration leaps tall thoughts and drives me deep into the folds of my couch from where I fear I may never rise again.

Bills pile up, people live their lives outside of my little dark cave with its view of the woods, car wash and those people rushing by. Opportunities have come and gone. I have pushed myself to be normal and collapsed, and I have embraced the silence to learn how sweetly other voices can sing.

This month of March, grey wet and cold, is fecund with life bursting. In this part of the world no buds show, crocuses have poked out, but flaunt no colors, settling back into the mud, frozen. New life is about to burst forth, but tantilizes. Tomorrow may be completely different.

For me, so used to kicking a soccer ball in the bursting of spring, taking long walks or short bike rides, digging a foundation, fully participating in the busy-ness of life, I sit here now one step removed, reconciled that this summer for me—requiring surgery—will be like no other I have experienced.

Still, stepping onto the porch, the fresh air is lustrous. I am grateful that I can walk at all, that music has come back to my voice and a pen scribbles thoughts at the tip of my fingers. I experience love in many forms, impoverished in my pocket, broken physically, but so very rich in my soul.

Please share with your friends