Thursday, April 28, 2011

One Man's Junk

Finally, a lesson out of this has burned through and instead of simply waiting in the path of the next avalanche, I have actually checked on conditions and avoided another disaster that was building up and ready to release furiously.

So simple, so counter to my nature.

Recently, I received a pretty new plastic card for my health insurance. Instead of tucking it into my wallet with the casual observation that the Three Marketeers had renovated the color scheme, a closer look informed me it was a completely new program.

Apparently, through a shift in policy, the data in and the data out, some one or some computer (more likely) judged my income (or lack thereof) justified a switch from a state subsidized program to outright Medicaid. For most, this would make little difference and likely improve their cash flow with food on the kitchen table. After a day or two in the back of my head, however, it dawned on me that I should probably double-check on their coverage to see how this might affect my surgery next month.

Sure enough, ten laborious calls later, it was confirmed that no way, no how would the Massachusetts hospital accept the Vermont payment, even if Vermont was willing to pay for something that could, in theory, be provided here. The clerical detail nearly cost me another year of frustration and discomfort.

Now there are plenty here likely thinking, “Duh!”, wondering why I would be proud not just to discover and act on this, but celebrating the fact I thought of it at all. I got a lot of that last June when the insurance behemoth determined the day before surgery that my condition was pre-existing and would not be covered. All I can say is that living alone and often uncomfortable in body, it is not always easy to see the stain on the back of my shirt when I go to put it on.

Perhaps it bodes more about my deeper confusion in life, but with all the pointless junk and recognizable bills in the mail, I find it difficult to uncover and scrutinize such notices of import. The details easily slip through the fingers as I continue to wrap my wobbly tube around my aching belly and pretend to live a normal life.

A friend who knew of my plight, but had not seen me in thirty years, commented politely when we met again last week that I look normal enough. I have been wondering ever since what “normal” really looks like.

In those same thirty years, a mutual friend was crushed in a wave while playfully body-surfing and leads on the surface today a wonderful normality with a commute to the office, daughters in college and a lasting marriage many of us could envy. Dealing for the rest of his life with more tubes and bags than I will ever suffer, he modestly shrugs his shoulders without complaint.

Often I visit people in decrepit homes, listing precariously on building blocks instead of sturdy foundations, yards strewn with what looks like trash to me, too weary to notice on their big screen TV that a better life could be theirs. Still, they laugh, celebrate, and love their children, happy enough and as normal as long days that end with the night just for another day to follow.

Judgment of another is most inappropriate and likely unfair. We cannot really know what fears and challenges beat at the hearts of our friends, family and neighbors. Acceptance of who they are and help for what they tell us they need are the true gifts we can extend. Pity is more about our own petty fears.

So I go forward towards this surgery regardless of others who have tubes or not, who seem better or worse. Comparisons are about as useless as the pity that some one well-meaning might lay on me. I yam what I yam, eat what I eat, and drive the ugly little Redster because it still works for now.

I could put down this pen and go clean it out properly. Some things are within our grasp.

Every day, there are piles before us that can be moved from here to there. Some piles make a difference and open a path to the doorway beyond. Others are just so many piles of dirty laundry moved around, dishes left in the sink, half-opened envelopes with important messages strewn across my desk.

With eyes wide open occasionally, we can recognize there is more to see than just the change in color.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waves of Gain

Yesterday the sun was shining and today the rain falls hard and solidly. Last week snow still blanketed the North and this week the muddy ruts challenge the biggest of four wheels while swollen rivers wash nearly all of winter away.

Restoration arrives with Easter.
Yesterday, determined to have a great day of insurance sales to shift my dependence upon my father back onto me where it belongs, I drove up the highway warmed by the sun and inspired by my thoughts. Several deep conversations later with no contracts sold but general agreement on the worrisome state of the economy, I despaired to think this may not be the vehicle for me.

Still with no actual date for my surgery and the great dark wall looming ever larger nevertheless, pressure builds to ensure I have done the emotional and spiritual healing before the scalpel breaks the skin. Considering the mind/body connection which seems so evident, I cannot afford to be dulled by depression, complacency or fear—especially when the affected area is the groin.

Root and Second Chakra issues in this case are too obvious to poo-poo or minimize. The very core of my being is unsettled, it seems, and the injury just an outward manifestation of the internal struggle that is raging. No surprise, then, that my ability to support myself seems also in question.

Where I have articulated the degree of acceptance of my plight over these many months, the immediacy of the surgery disrupts that comfort zone. More often, it feels like a kick to the stomach and I squirm with an ache more constant and irritating. The urgency to be done with this chapter grows intensely and fear proportionally hisses more loudly that I might never be.

Like the proverbial ducks, I line up the issues that are in turmoil and quickly grow alarmed and over-whelmed by the volume of gaps and inconsistencies remaining. In three years of writing this blog while rebuilding my life, so much has been learned, yet too much still feels the same. The scaffold collapse, at the time, was excused for being the culmination of uncertainty and a clear answer providentially, even if so painfully, delivered. Now the time since striking out on my own has doubled and I wonder if I am any farther forward.

Certainly, I am encouraged and supported by you, dear readers, who know me well. The response and comments indicate that all is perfect and the process unfolds just as it must.

I see where my own dramatic story is not unfamiliar and dissimilar from so many others. Apparently the planets are aligned and spirit energies are prevalent to deliver the highest lessons to the most people in the advancing times.

Without that universal perspective, I might certainly crumble. The weight is hard to bear, the tube so often too uncomfortable to stoically ignore. It has been suggested the approaching time of anesthesia might be the opportunity to decide if I have, in fact, had enough and no longer want to play the game, just give up my chips and walk away.

This frightens me.

The concept that we create our dis-ease dictates the corollary that we can and should be able to heal ourselves. Despite the solid assurance in my heart that I should and need to be writing, the tube in my belly and the lack of funds in my account suggest otherwise. Perhaps I should be looking harder, healing more in the days to come.

A regimen of long walks and quiet meditation is taking shape. Words are pouring forth onto this page and others. I am trying to rest when weary and stay focused when energetic. A balance of solitude and companionship feels appropriate. I am making no commitments for June and July.

After listening to a frightening statement about the true levels of radiation released into the atmosphere this last month, embedded in the rain that currently falls outside, my surgery seems like a little drop in a vast ocean of health problems, selfish and inconsequential. Perhaps the end of the world (as we know it) really will come true next year. If anyone survives (and I believe there will be many), I fully intend to be one, all the more healthy because of my surgery, wealthy because of my hard work and big heart, and all the wiser for daring to be passionately involved in relationships with myself and others around me, one beautiful soul in particular.

Long life to us all!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

All We Need Is...

Every Saturday and Sunday for nearly five months, both to the Mountain and back, I have driven past a field with a small white flag representing each American soldier killed in Iraq. This winter, another section of the field was dedicated to Afghanistan. Yesterday, with the melted snow, I noticed the total number had been raised by a hundred, impressing dramatically the idea that while I danced on the slopes, lives were torn apart.

Rolling Stone Magazine published this week infuriating evidence that the 2008 bail-out money that was to re-stimulate the devastated economy simply went into the deep pockets of the bankers who created the problem in the first place. Apparently they figured out a way to borrow from the Government at point 25 percent (0.25%) what they could loan back to the Government at 3% to “pay” for the program, profiting 2¾% percent every day since! This comes very hard to me who gave up my home because I could find no solution to the sub-prime mortgage I had been forced to take to finance my business (12 1/2% to those same bankers) or close the door on neighbors who were counting on me.

In Congress, a certain party who lied to us so we would start a war that only seemed to profit the Vice President’s company (he had a “blind” trust we are supposed to believe) now blames the deficit on social programs that spend less in a year than the Pentagon does in an hour. They vote to increase tax cuts to the rich by eliminating a program that takes drop-out drug addicts off the streets, teaches them to use a hammer and lead a productive life that could repay with dollars this very same program that had saved their lives.

Blatant choices, so obviously immoral, make absolutely no sense, but are being made without a pretense of regret or apology, the rich and powerful having as much tea at their party as Marie Antoinette had cake. Long an advocate of Democracy and the balance of our system to check opposite forces against each other, I am appalled and frightened by the lunacy. Moderation having been the result of so many years of argument, I cannot understand how two years after the change of Presidents, we can so seriously be looking at the end of PBS, Planned Parenthood and even Medicare itself.

One hears there is no chance this budget proposal will get through the Senate, yet I am aghast that these issues and concerns are before us at all. The optimism and tears of hope so recently expressed seem lost to the battle cries from the right and drowned out by the helpless (though eloquent) screams of the left who seem unable to do anything about it.

In our personal focus to survive, we seem to drive past the little white flags, like graves on the battlefield, blind to the tragedies unfolding, oblivious to the corruption allowed and the much deeper problems it creates. As we witness revolutions succeed or violently repelled in foreign lands, the unrest at home festers. Unable to find work that suits my talents, or even feed my humble belly, my own anger grows.

The end of the world (as we know it) is predicted for December next year and events on an international scale both natural and unnatural seem to support that momentum. Most of Shakespeare’s work, both comical and tragic, begins with the order of things unbalanced, “unseemly” and out of tune. The screech in our world today, like fingers on a blackboard, is painful and terrifying when we pause to look around and a crash so much larger and devastating than 2008 seems inevitable.

Yet, embracing the people around me, never have I felt more comfortable, protected and cared for than right now. On a human-to-human level, love seems to rule the day and people are reaching out across the fence from the yard next door and around the world over the internet. Impossible barriers of separation like the Berlin Wall are tumbling and a global movement is afoot to think more locally and take care of each other like never before.

Less and less on Facebook are mundane quips about a meal, while more valuable messages are being created and distributed. Likewise, our own individual creative energy has room to blossom and take its humble place in the world. Voices are heard when people speak out and a pure and simple message can proliferate across the universe.

Love does conquer all. There are those accumulating wealth and desperately trying to hold onto their apparent power, but the balance is off and many of those rising the highest will have the farthest to fall.

I should be grateful, therefore, to be in this “lowly” place, but my heartfelt gratitude has nothing to do with circumstance and everything to do with life and love. In many ways I am aching for more in my life, but I feel enough love from the blessed warmth in my heart to make every day seem worth the awakening.

There are sons and daughters, friends and lovers who have touched my heart. Although the world can seem like a cruel and violent place, that my heart has been touched at all wipes out much of the pain of that darkness and chaos. I move toward the brilliant light of love, embracing and acknowledging those around me as best I can.

Despair and uncertainty nibble at my toes, but love shakes them off. My heart so open opens other hearts. I feel energized basking in the warmth of another’s love. There is plenty for everyone, enough to flow into every nook and cranny of fear and resistance, to bathe every soul, rich or poor, Republican, Democrat, American, Iraqi, Libyan or Chinese.

Love, if we truly invite it in, will somehow sustain us all.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Mountains in the Distance

Last week, I met with a prospect who had undergone four hours of surgery and a month later is still limited to short walks around the living room and into the kitchen. Yesterday, another had “simple” rotator cuff surgery six months ago and still cannot raise his arm to shake my hand.

In six to eight weeks, I face a surgery to my precious groin area which, if it goes well, will be ten hours under anesthesia and keep me five days in a hospital in a strange town, a long way from home. The wall looms before me, dark and foreboding, something like the Rocky Mountains must have looked, I imagine, across the Plains to pioneers moving slowly along in their wagons, contemplating for weeks the potential dangers ahead, more and more intimidating with each step forward.

Given that I reached and began to climb this same mountain a year ago only to get pushed aside at the last minute by a bureaucratic decision of the insurance company not to cover it under a technicality, the unreality is even more intense. The time is now to schedule musical dates for June and July, but I have no idea in what kind of shape I will be. The concept of changing jobs is impossible to contemplate needing a month or three for recuperation, so I plod along day after day, knocking on doors and calling people who hear me as a telemarketer (I am not far from it, but I am NOT, I swear).

For some time now, life with a catheter has become quite normal. I barely even notice urinals on my way to the stall to empty the bag, much less feel envious of the guys who can just step up and let it flow. The memory of needing to go is long gone; I just reach down to feel how full is the bag. A good-natured friend lets me know lovingly when the smell is bad and loose clothing has become my style of dress.

The monthly change of the tube has become routine and a strange sort of ritual marking the passing of another moon. Looped on Vicodan, I entertain the staff with jokes and fortitude, their youngest regular patient easily by twenty years. I can tell you which nurse is the best at slipping it out and a fresh tube back in, inflating and draining it with the least amount of discomfort.

Naked at night though, finally unconstrained, I look down and still am astonished by the bizarre turn falling from that scaffold has given my sense of the world. The tube, in or out, strapped to my leg is so unnatural, yet in eighteen months has become such a part of me, a tail I cannot wag, often in the way and inconvenient, needing adjustment or attention, but no less a part of me than an accomplished scuba diver breathing into his apperatus.

Once omnipotent, I approach this surgery from a more precarious perspective, sometimes fearing the scar tissue might not be cleared and the blockage could be permanent. Having been back up on a ladder a few times, my legs are quite wobbly, and I can easily envision another fall. Pulling into the road, I see cars hurtling towards me as objects to be avoided instead of other folks on their various ways. Things, I understand now, can and do go wrong.

In life, living in fear, we can tread so carefully as to cover no ground at all, step by considered step hardly moving forward, but what seems like a mile in the valley is only an inch when viewed from the top of a mountain. Most of those pioneers on the Plains still persevered, survived and eventually thrived because their dreams were stronger than their fears. If I never pee again, I can at least claim to know what it feels like to float serenely at blistering speed over a mogul field or the exquisite release of a woman inside.

More importantly, no matter how badly I feel for myself and grimace with the spasms alone in my room, the most amazing lesson that never fails to restore balance to my soul is the idea that so many are worse off than I. Love still embraces my heart. I can move freely and breathe with laughter every day. The sun has never shown so brightly and will--no matter the hardships or even the end of the world as we know it (December 2012)--always rise again.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kick in the Pen

For the past two days, I have been in Connecticut immersed in a workshop about marketing. Expensive enough to make me seriously wonder how I can pay for it, the process challenges and inspires me to come home and earn my way to their next conference in September…in Miami.

Nearly thirty years ago, so young and overwhelmed by the family responsibilities for which I had naively volunteered, a famous weekend retreat asked me if I “got it,” but far from that, I came away troubled by the realization that my only problem might be thinking I actually had no problems. I spent the next twenty years trying to figure out what they might be and blaming lots of other things and people around me for the tensions I myself was allowing in my life.

In 2007, I was initiated as a New Warrior of the Mankind Project, a group of conscious men fiercely determined to look at their own “stuff” and hold each other accountable. In the following year, as a result of opening that doorway, I ended my second marriage and began to close down the construction business that had never served me well.

Largely we limp through life choosing what is right before us and coping with what else comes along, not often sitting squarely with hands firmly on the wheel, navigating with assurance and clear direction. A gathering like this offers a boost of adrenalin and insight that makes the trip home boil with a mixture of fear, determination, wonder and exhaustion.

As much about the heart of the entrepreneur as the mechanics of the business, the intensive lessons created moments of discovery and optimism like fireworks over the faces of the audience, illuminating and celebrating the spirit that dares to risk everything for a dream. Between the formal sessions, the mix and mingle of participants allowed strong bonds so bright in a few hours that could normally fade rapidly, but now might smolder longer with regular breaths through facebook and emails, encouraging and supporting.

The stimulation is invaluable, but the challenge this morning is to awaken in the same dusty bedroom of these past three years and make it a different day. Tomorrow and the next will be here shortly to grind this sharp edge ever duller if I am not able to find a way to keep these sparks lit from within.

This morning, the voices that were loud in affirmation yesterday are lost in the clamor of the rent payment due and kids in college needing help. Dependent on my own father to get me through this time of transition, it seems impossibly selfish to heed the call to follow my dreams and focus on what I love. All the promises of abundance sound like so many fateful sirens as I stand tied to the mast, working my hands loose, yearning, pulling and stretching.

Awakening though, to my yellow pad I run anyway. Before breakfast, shaving, or even a cup of old coffee reheated (just a taste before the fresh is brewed), my pen is drawn to scribble. A resupply of business cards is printed, a poster produced to send back to Connecticut to promote a show there in three weeks, thinking ahead with fingertips on the tiller, broken free of the mast for a moment.

Our dreams rouse us in the night and enliven conversations in the day. So often we sigh blissfully about how nice it could all be “if only...”. We talk about tomorrows but cope with todays, one after the other until suddenly none are left and all the tomorrows vanished with them.

I have to put food on the table and some dollars in my own children’s banks. That my father can still help me is an amazing gift. The workshop has taught me ways I can better market and package my writing and music to bring in a few more dollars to pay for the trip to Miami, if not the lessons of life, drops in the bucket one at a time, only possible if I write one word at a time.

The heart of this conference is that we each have our own gifts and it is our duty to share them as best we can. Shyness is not an option. Humility is appropriate and more attractive than ego. Authenticity and integrity are required. We are applauded and even celebrated for just showing up, but it is the daily implementation—not just today and tomorrow, but six months and six years from now—that really lands us on the beach we seek.

I can live with the dust in my room one more day. The words in my heart, the driving forces in my soul, must come out, let them settle where they may: we only have each other.

The love that cherishes and supports us must be proclaimed whenever and however possible. No matter how many times and ways it has been said, sung and danced before, by myself and so many others, I gratefully offer the words up again, one voice among many, welcoming another day and the chance to embrace life and each other once more.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring Sprung

Another season of Skatter Monkey frolics has come to a close and I must celebrate my son's leaving for college.

For the first Saturday in months, I am not rushing to the Mountain at the break of dawn, nor casting myself in exhaustion on the couch at the end of the day. With the time to choose comes sunshine and warmer weather, perfect for a leisurely walk to contemplate horizons before and behind.

Several weeks have passed between essays lately; the pattern seems to have settled in to fits and spurts, words tossed down to articulate a particular window here and there, while a skyscraper of thought and action looms without description.

A biographer fully absorbed in his subject must get overwhelmed by the tiny details that move, sway and dissuade someone towards their ultimate accomplishments. So much more so the autobiographer who has the deeper details, but the clouded vision that inevitably distorts it. For myself, the mere peon with little facts actually accomplished to invite documentation, but plenty of joy, misery and opinion to express, I dance around the details willy nilly and imagine fancifully that somewhere in this mass of words blogged (sometimes ad nauseum as a sister described it), there are little glimmers that illuminate for others a tiny window into their own tall building.

Change of season is always a time of transition. The parents of my monkeys with rolling eyes express no time to rest before soccer and baseball seasons get going and the house at the Cape needs dusting. Others I know simply carry on with their deliveries, just happy to wear shorts instead of face masks.

In Vermont, after months of holding your body tight against the cold, I like to think we have earned our spring. Taking young African refugees to play soccer indoors one winter when it was minus twenty outside, I found no words to reassure their shivering smiles that life would get better, but we certainly danced when that first ball sailed into the high corner of a full-sized net. When I lived in a climate where you had to think if we were headed towards Christmas or away, I felt no where near this kind of ebullience to unzip my jacket.

Little things.

In the light of Japanese devastation and bombs dropping on Libya, my problems seem so small indeed. Someone close has just been diagnosed with cancer and no matter how good the prognosis and fiercely determined he is to fight, my heart aches for the battle he must face. My own surgery looms and takes a toll on my optimism, but all-in-all, life is sweet. The sun is shining. Crocuses are poking out of the rubble that winter has left. The air is bright with promise.

Japan’s disaster has re-enforced the knowledge that it could all change in an instant. The heart-wrenching images of husbands searching then grieving for their wives swept away makes one reach out and pull close those important in our lives. The heroic stories of strangers helping strangers make every down-turned eye on a morning’s walk an opportunity to say hello.

Life is also short.

Right in front of us are things we take for granted. More importantly, beside us are people who give us love and make us mad, but who are still beside us hand-in-hand. Acknowledgement and appreciation go a long, long way. In my life, there are too many to name here, but face-to-face, voice-to-voice, text-to-text, I am trying to be better about letting them know how much they mean to me and how much I care.

Sometimes love is pain. We question if we get enough back for what we give. Because life is so busy and our dreams are so strong, we can miss out. The little flower in our footpath gets crushed before we ever knew it was there.

On this sweet morning (day, evening, night), I invite us all to look around.

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