I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter solstice

Still lots to buy on the last day of the Farmers' Market yesterday
It was a little poignant to see the last Farmers' Market of the year close yesterday. I didn't have anything particular to buy, as I've finally finished all the small bits of shopping I do every year. Without any kids to buy for, and staying home from visiting family, I only buy a few things for Smart Guy and a few things for myself. I ended up with a pair of earrings from my favorite jewelry vendor yesterday. They feel festive, so I'll probably end up wearing them every day during the coming week. I do give gift certificates to the three children in the apartment complex, but that hardly qualifies as shopping.

Today marks the Winter Solstice (3:03pm PST) in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year. The sun doesn't rise here until 8:00am and sets at 4:15pm. That's only eight hours and fifteen minutes of sunlight, that is IF it's not continuing to rain all day long. Yesterday we had a half-inch of rain on top of the half-inch we got the day before. It's soggy out there, not to mention warm. We've been having a really warm spell and all the snow that fell in the mountains has melted under the rain. The ski areas are not happy, since Christmas break is usually a big money maker for them. Mt. Baker usually has lots of snow by this time. It's an odd weather year over the entire country.

One nice thing about keeping a blog is being able to go back and look at the same time in previous years. We got just a small dusting of snow last year, but it wasn't until February, so it's not unusual for us to be deprived of a white Christmas. They'll have more of it than they want on the East Coast, it seems. I'll take this scenario, thank you very much. But rain? We've had plenty of it, it goes with the territory.

Have you ever heard the phrase "right as rain"? I was thinking about it the other day and wondered where it came from. I found this information on The Word Detective, which gives a humorous explanation for different idioms. I read the entire thing and learned that it's been around in print since the late 19th century, meaning "everything is great." I would think that unless you have too much of it all at once as they did in California last week, rain brings all kinds of good things, including rainbows. I am now the proud owner of four different raincoats and a rain poncho, rain pants, and a waterproof cover for my pack. The only time I find rain to be problematic these days is if it's cold and windy and blowing the rain sideways. Then it's definitely time to spend some time inside.

You may have noticed by now that I'm rambling a little, with nothing much on my mind to mull over and write about as I usually do on Sunday mornings. Of course, everything else is just as usual: partner asleep next to me, my tea within reach, and plenty of quiet time before the day begins. Last week was emotional and I needed to write about that, but this week is calm. And Christmas Day comes on a Thursday this year, meaning there will be no more Senior Trailblazer hikes until next year! We also won't go on New Years Day, but I'll have a nice celebration with the Fairhaven walkers that day, so I will get some exercise. The gym is also closed both days. Sigh.

I realize that I am very much a creature of habit, and that is only getting more pronounced during my years in retirement. Some of my readers have commented on it, usually with humor, but it's funny that I didn't realize that about myself. I always thought I was a spontaneous person, wanting little to do with routines and familiarity. Boy, how untrue that is! I realize now that I really really need things not to change too much every day, or it causes me to get stressed out. It's probably that as I've gotten older, I need to conserve my energy and spend it in ways that I prefer, since it's no longer boundless. By early evening after dinner, I'm ready to settle in and am almost embarrassed at how early I will sometimes go to bed. There are times when I'm in bed four or five hours before my Other Half! But he's a night owl and I'm an early bird: he gets much of his sleep while I'm writing (like right now). It works just fine for the two of us. I will sometimes wake in the middle of the night and reach over, realizing that I was so fast asleep when he came to bed that I didn't wake up at all. It's always reassuring to know that he's there.

On Christmas Day, we will have a really nice dinner together, with salmon from my fisherman friend Gene, some winter squash and a hearty salad. It's a change from the usual steamed veggies that we eat almost every day, but I've realized that my usual diet has kept me healthy. Last week I went to two parties in one day, and I ended up eating way more sugar than usual. I figured that since I had eaten a good deal of excellent foods, eating a couple of the desserts wouldn't hurt me much. Boy, was I wrong about that! By the time we left, I felt horrible, a stomach ache and felt downright ill. It didn't go away quickly, either. All the next day I felt like I had been on a bender, with no energy or appetite and just feeling miserable. Of course I went to the gym and worked out anyway, which made me feel somewhat better, but it wasn't until after a good dinner of steamed veggies and rice that I began to feel normal again.

Diabetes runs in my family, and that's basically why my sister PJ died last February at the age of 63. From the reaction I have to concentrated sugar, I have no doubt that if I ate a normal American diet of processed foods and little to no fresh veggies, I'd have it by now. Something about the pancreas and insulin uptake, I guess. Whatever it is, I'm once again reminded that staying on the straight and narrow food path is a much better idea for me. The cost is too great, and now even the thought of that pecan pie that tasted so good when I ate it is unpleasant. And fortunately for me, I have a husband who makes sure I always have good food to eat already prepared. Yes, I am definitely a lucky person, and I give thanks for him and my life every day.

I've got to finish this up and go answer a FaceTime chat with a friend, who wants to talk. I told him he could call me any time after 6:45 and he just rang. He lives alone and will be having double knee replacement surgery first thing tomorrow. I am anxious for him, and want to be there in whatever way I can. Listening to him is one thing I know how to do. So I'm going to get out of bed and start my day with my post written and virtually hold John's hand. Until next week, dear friends, have a wonderful Christmas holiday!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A different kind of volunteer

Bridge and reflection at Bagley Lake
It's taking me awhile to get started this morning, since the subject that's on my mind is not an easy one to write about. As I mentioned on my other blog yesterday, I attended the memorial for my friend Beth in the morning and have been thinking about it ever since. I learned some interesting facts about the dying process that have changed tremendously in the past few years, and it's really got me thinking.

We all have different ways of dealing with the fact that death comes to us all, some with religious beliefs, and others with just as firm a belief that there is nothing beyond this short life on Earth. The fact is, none of us will ever know with certainty, until we have passed through that veil. Either there will be life after death, or there won't. For some people, it makes a difference in the way they live their lives, thinking that a good life will be rewarded with heaven and an evil life will be punished with hell.

I listened to a podcast yesterday that was titled "Regrets," and two people were interviewed who talked about regrets they have had during their lives. One guy really amused me, and even though he was a bit rough around the edges, I could feel the person as being someone I'd like to know. He had made lots of mistakes in his early life and spent more than a decade in prison. He had had a tattoo of a question mark on his arm, and during his time in prison got it covered up with a swastika. He said the tattoo meant nothing to him, other than a sign of white supremacy. He knew nothing of the Holocaust, but after his release he happened to read an obituary of a Jewish man who had survived the extermination camps and described them. In horror, he realized that he was wearing the Nazi symbol and wanted to get it off, or covered up somehow.

He explained that now that he is getting older, he was worried that he might die with that tattoo intact. He said, "I don't want to die and have God see it." I smiled at the thought of what he might think about the afterlife. Whatever he might think, it's very different from my own ideas about how the universe works. The thought that somehow our bodies survive death seems very foreign to me, but I know that many people refuse to be cremated because of a belief that the body will be resurrected.

When my mother died, we (my siblings) were with her, and I remember being struck by how peaceful she looked right after she stopped breathing. We surrounded her head with flowers from the many bouquets she had received, and the memory of that scene will live forever inside my heart. But it wasn't more than an hour later that she no longer looked like my mom, but instead like an old shell that had been discarded. Shrunken and inert, the husk left behind, Mama was gone. I felt oddly comforted by all that, although I'm not sure exactly why. She was there, and then she wasn't, but that's just what I experienced from my own limited point of view. Today my memories of her are nothing like that, but of her being vibrant and beautiful.

Although it's always hard to lose a loved one, we almost always make it through, and time softens the edges of the grief so that looking back is no longer so painful. I've had plenty of chances to learn how that works, and I realize that even though the thought of my own demise isn't pleasant, it's no longer foreign to me. I figure that by the time I get there I'll be ready. For two years I volunteered in Boulder's Hospice program, and I learned so much and spent time with people whom I will never forget. And yesterday I found that yet another kind of program has come out of the Hospice movement: death doulas. Beth had one, and now that I know of them, I am amazed that it's taken so long for the idea to come to fruition.

The word "doula" comes from the Greek, meaning "woman who serves." I have always thought of one as a helper to a midwife, since birth doulas are common. It only makes sense that we have someone to help us through the end of life, as well as its beginning. A death doula helps the family members come to grips with the situation, as well as offer comfort and companionship to the dying person. I had thought that I might become a Hospice volunteer again, but now I'm thinking that I'm ready for the next step: to become a death doula. I'll let you know what I learn.

I found that right here in Bellingham we have a Death Café that gives people a chance to meet monthly and discuss whatever those who attend want to talk about regarding death and dying. The next meeting is on January 21st, and I will find out more then. From that link above:
Death Cafés are part of a global movement to challenge attitudes and raise awareness of how talking about death can enrich our lives. In the U.S., Lizzy Miles was the first person to offer Death Café in Columbus, Ohio, and the idea is spreading rapidly to other cities and towns across the country. 
I know it might seem a bit ghoulish to some of my readers to think about becoming a death doula, but for some reason I find myself drawn to it. I've been pondering for awhile what I might find to occupy my desire to take risks once I stop skydiving. This might be it.

It's taken so long for me to get this written that my partner has already left the bed and is making his own cup of tea in the kitchen. Mine is long gone, and although the nights are so long at this time of year that the sun is still a half hour away from rising, it's time to finish and get the day started. I hope that all this talk about death and dying hasn't been too depressing to my readers. I wish you all a wonderful week until we meet again.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A week of ups and downs

Snow and berries
It's almost impossible for me to get used to how quickly time is passing this fall. It was a week ago that I was getting ready to celebrate my birthday, last Saturday when I went for that hike in the cold and wind with a few friends. The blink of an eye and another week is gone into the past.

I'm struggling here to get started on this post, because although I know what I want to write about, it's not easy. First of all, on our hike last week I was walking along behind Al, and we were talking about how I celebrated my big day. As I've begun to explore other ways to celebrate than sitting down to a big meal, I decided to schedule a massage for my birthday, and it was wonderful. Al mentioned that his massage therapist had recently died, and I suddenly realized he was talking about Beth!

A couple of years ago when my regular massage therapist was temporarily unavailable, I asked for some recommendations from friends, and Al suggested I try Beth. She was not only a massage therapist, but also an accomplished Rolfer, so for three months I saw her regularly, and then afterwards I received three Rolfing sessions with her. We became friends, if only in a client/therapist sense, and two months ago she called me and asked me to have tea with her. She had recently been diagnosed with IBC (inflammatory breast cancer), and she remembered that I told her my mother had it, too.

She was in the midst of some aggressive chemo treatments and suggested that we wait until she was feeling a little better before our tea date. After two weeks had passed, I sent her a text and asked if she was ready for that tea, but she said she'd let me know, as she was pretty sick. Well, as things happen, I didn't hear from her again for the next few weeks, and then Al told me she had died. I was devastated, as I felt that I had let her down. I should have been more insistent, if only so that I could see her once again before the end. But she was relatively young and certainly healthy when I last saw her.

I learned that the cancer was well advanced when she learned of it, and that there was really no hope of recovery, and by the time we would have had our visit, she was already in Hospice care and knew she would not be leaving. Her memorial service will be next Saturday, and I will attend, as we know that these are for those of us left behind, and I need to have some closure. I spoke with her last on October 31st, and within a month she was gone. It was so quick!

When you don't see someone very often, you almost always picture them being the way they were when you saw them last, but as we all know, that's not always true. As I have thought of Beth this past week, I remember the feeling of her fingers pressing into my back. She helped me with some annoyingly persistent pain, and told me that she believed damaged nerves can regenerate. And my own pain was much relieved after a few sessions with her.

Last night I had an intense dream. In the dream, I saw little puffs of smoke coming from tiny holes in the wall of my apartment (although it was a different place than this one), and I called the manager to tell her I thought there might be a fire inside the wall. She ignored me, but I kept insisting she pay attention to my concerns. And then suddenly there was fire everywhere! I went to the bedroom to rouse my son Chris, who was still sleeping, and I pushed him out of the room. I remember throwing books and possessions from the window onto the ground below. And then there were the firemen, coming through the window with equipment to fight the fire. That's when I woke up, my heart hammering from the fear and excitement.

As I lay in my bed thinking about the dream, which seemed very real even after I woke up, I wondered if it was related to my anxiety about Beth having been unaware of the danger in her body as it was being destroyed by cancer. That if she had paid attention to the signs, maybe she would have been able to be saved. IBC is an insidious and aggressive cancer, because it doesn't form a lump and can travel through your entire system before it's detected, as happened to Beth. My mother was one of the lucky ones, since only a small percentage of people diagnosed with it survive more than a few years. The treatment, however, was what caused my mother to develop heart disease, which eventually did contribute to her early death.

Yesterday I attended a wonderful concert, the annual Christmas concert of the Bellingham Chamber Chorale singers. Al is one of the singers, and he had mentioned the concert in one of his emails. I really enjoy hearing the wonderful sound of voices raised in song, especially when they are so good. As I listened I felt a sense of peace and well-being in the room, with the audience as well as the singers engaged in a moment of grace. It's the season of dark days, but the wonderful twinkling lights everywhere, and the gathering of people together to share in such beauty for a little while, helps us to remember that the darkness is always followed by the dawn.

I don't know why I have been given the gift of long life, but I am reminded once again that it is not granted to everyone. Some of us live to a ripe old age, and others are taken early. But no matter whether it's a long or short life, it's important to cherish and appreciate every single moment. I do hope that you, my dear readers, will take some time to give thanks during this holiday season. I will be thinking of you while I am smiling into my teacup, thinking of that tea date that is waiting for me on the other side.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How I deal with difficulty

Cold and windy Samish Bay
I took this picture yesterday afternoon on a very cold and windy hike with three friends. If you enlarge it, you can see the whitecaps on the water, as the wind was blowing hard, dropping the already low temperature even lower. In no time at all, my formerly warm self (from climbing up to this spot) was so cold it was scary. We hustled back down into the trees as quickly as we could, but for the rest of the hike I was unable to get really warm again. After I came home, I drank warm tea and sat in my recliner with a blanket over me, until finally I felt the chill of the day leave me.

Last night I had a strange dream. I was in a familiar place which had gone through renovations since I last visited. Although I knew where everything was, it was slightly out of place from what I felt was normal. I kept trying to deal with it, and there was a man who took delight in tormenting me and trying to make me feel bad about my discomfiture. This morning I can still feel the uncomfortable feelings he raised in me. I remember in the dream having to make a decision about how to respond to him: to treat him the same way, fight back, or stand up for myself in some other way.

Although it was only a dream, it stays with me this morning. Partly I think it's because the way I decided to respond was to calmly ask my spirit guide to help me; in other words, I turned the predicament over to my higher self. And even though this morning I cannot remember what I said to him, I remember my feeling of serenity and a look that appeared in his eyes, almost of fear. What he had tried to do didn't work, and he didn't know how to act in response.

What this dream reminds me is that fighting conflict with more conflict is counterproductive in my life. It's always been that way, even though my initial response to someone trying to harm me is to retaliate in kind. But that is not the only way, as many of our sages have told us through millennia. And meekly turning one's belly to the sky like dogs do, as a way to placate a stronger foe, is not the way either.

I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of feeling bad about myself when someone makes fun of me, what happens when I feel ridiculed. When I was young, moving from place to place with my parents, I learned some coping mechanisms for being the "new girl" for much of my early life. It was easy to be enigmatic and mysterious when nobody knew who I was. But eventually there would be some bully who would try to make me lose my composure, and it almost always worked. I would make an effort to placate him or her, and that never turned out well. As an extrovert, I would usually make new friends and avoid the bully, but inside I always believed that I had been found out as being somehow defective.

As I grew older, I began to realize that the people that I surrounded myself with made more difference than anything else I could do. Knowing that I would never be one of the cool kids and hanging out with people more like me made all the difference. It also helped that we never stayed anywhere more than a few years, and I would have the chance to make new friends again. But always underlying my interaction with my peers was a vague sense that I had to hide my true self in order to fit in with them.

What is my true self? What is that part of myself that I call my Higher Self? Who is that spirit guide I call on in times of need? I'm not really sure I can put it into words, but I know it is there. When I have been at my lowest and most distraught, there is a presence that makes itself known to me, and I realize that I've learned to access it through calling that presence my spirit guide. The hardest part, for me, is realizing that I am not really in control, that I go astray when I think I myself, my ego, can figure out how to carry on. Surrounding myself with good counsel, whether external or internal, is how I've learned to cope with difficulty.

Being uncomfortable and in conflict with others, or our environment, is part of life. How one learns to cope with it makes us each unique and valuable. The main thing I've learned is that nothing stays the same, nothing and nobody is permanent in this world. Everything changes. Maybe that's one of the blessings of growing older: one's trajectory of life contains both magnificence and despair, and all those peaks and valleys begin to even out as the years pass.

Yesterday when I was coldest, with my fingers like blocks of ice, I knew that if I kept going, I would soon feel differently. And it was true; I've learned that nothing stays the same. When I was up there in the icy wind, I felt its incredible power and knew that if I had stayed there, it would take my life from me. But I didn't stay and moved back into the trees where we were sheltered from the wind. We kept on going until we were warm again. And I was not alone.

The sun is still not up, but my tea is gone, and my partner still sleeps next to me (that's for you, Friko). The day is filled with promise and the wind has died down. It will be sunny and cold here for the next few days, and I'll enjoy them to the fullest, no matter what they bring. I hope that you will do the same, and remember, you're not alone, either. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanksgiving week

Foxglove in midsummer
Yesterday I was looking for some pictures to send to a friend who is creating a blog and asked for some of my pictures of flowers. I came across this one and for some reason I really like it. The pink against the soft green just delights me. It was taken on one of our Thursday hikes a few years ago, and it sure doesn't look anything like that today. The flowers are all gone, and the green, while still there, is muted with lots of brown. But come spring, it will all pop back up again.

But it's not ever quite the same from year to year, I notice. I've looked for this spot and haven't been able to find it again. I'm not sure what the green plant is, and I'm sure it only looked like this for a short while before changing its appearance. In any event, this picture reminds me of one of the reasons I love to go into the High Country once a week during the summer months.

We have already begun our winter hikes around the Chuckanuts in town. Although we'll take a few trips south to Baker Lake and Whidbey Island, for the most part we'll get in cars and drive a very short distance to the trailhead. That is in contrast to more than an hour's drive up the Mt. Baker Highway in the summer, through the little towns of Maple Falls and Glacier. And then there is usually another half hour from Glacier to the actual trailhead. It's a good thing the days are long, because we spend three hours on average in the cars, getting there and coming back home. Plus five or six hours on the trails.

It might sound like I'm complaining here, but I'm not, not at all. It's time well spent, and even the time together in the cars is pleasant, as I find out what's going on in the lives of the others. I rarely drive myself, since my car is small and not happy about navigating rough logging roads. But the biggest reason is that after the long hike, I don't feel quite up to driving back with a full load of people. Fortunately, we have several regular hikers who don't mind driving and have SUVs designed for the back country. And who can stay alert for the long drive home.

This week we will not be hiking, since it's Thanksgiving. And because Christmas and New Years fall on a Thursday this year, we are going to miss three regular hikes. Just thinking about that makes me sad, since it's part of my life to spend the day outdoors, rain or shine, on Thursdays. Plus, the buses won't be running and many stores will be closed to allow their employees to enjoy the holiday, too. I don't really mind that part; I'm glad that there are days when we lay down our usual activities and take the time to celebrate friends and family.

Unfortunately, in many homes it will be an excuse to overindulge with food and watch football games and whatnot on TV. It seems like these days many people are interacting with their devices and spend less and less time communicating with each other. When I'm on the bus, there are moments when I'm the only person not looking down at a screen. Or with earbuds listening to music; sometimes it's so loud coming from their earbuds that I can hear the raucous din. What must it be like inside at full volume, I can only imagine.

Our world has changed so much in just a few decades. I myself have lots of devices, and I enjoy reading books on them, getting caught up on the news, reading posts from my blogging friends, and streaming videos. In some ways, I realize that I'm no different from everybody else, but somehow it seems wrong to spend one's life connected to a little screen and not to notice what's happening in the world around you. It wasn't that long ago that we walked out of our homes and into the wider world, rather than bringing our micro-worlds along with us. There was a time, not so long ago, when our phones were connected to the wall!

Oh, dear. Now I'm sounding like my parents, who would often say, "what is the world coming to?" Yes, I am old enough to remember a time when we didn't even have a TV in the home, and we would gather around the big old radio and listen to Fibber McGee and Molly. And the telephone looked like this one. I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon, and I figured it might lighten up my mood. As I was writing this and thinking about what the world is coming to, I realized I was losing my sense of humor.

I will enjoy my Thanksgiving this year, with my partner, and we'll probably go for a nice walk together, nothing long and taxing, but something pleasant around town. We live in a place that has so many options for exercise, with lots of green parks and trails within walking distance. Or just a short ride to other parks, it won't be a problem enjoying the outdoors.

However, I'm also thankful that Christmas and New Years falling on a Thursday won't happen again for awhile. I hope that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving week, celebrating it in whatever way gives you pleasure. If by some chance you are alone on Thanksgiving, thanks to technology, you can still call your loved ones, or even say hello by video chat. It's one of the best parts of the new world.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The state of my state

The bridge at Whatcom Falls
Here I am again, sitting in the dark in my bedroom, drinking tea and pondering what in the world I will write about this morning. I took that picture on one of my walks with the ladies on Saturday morning. It was miserably cold yesterday, but still more than a dozen of us showed up to walk together, since it's a wonderful way to begin the weekend and have coffee with friends afterwards. We only waited a few minutes for latecomers to arrive, because we knew that once we began to move in the cold we would warm up. It was in the mid-twenties (-4C) and my hands were frozen, even with heavy gloves. Yesterday's walk was on trails that would take us up some elevation quickly, and I knew that by the time I had gone a mile, I would be warm. But what a hard mile that was! My toes finally warmed, but my hands took quite awhile.

But then, suddenly, I realized that I was no longer cold anywhere and was toasty warm inside and out. My metabolism had been revved up by the walk, and for the rest of the outing I chatted with friends and enjoyed myself. We covered more than five miles before returning to our starting place. Cindy (the leader of the group) lives nearby and knows the trails intimately. Several of us commented that we had no idea where we were during much of the walk, although it's one of our usual ones. I've gone to the same area by myself and can never figure out the maze of trails and usually just stay on the ones I know so I won't get lost. My skill as a route finder is extremely low, which is one reason I like to have someone else lead me.

I feel very grateful that I am still able to walk briskly and hike every Thursday. My classes at the gym are simply habits to me now; they don't push me at all, but I need them to raise my spirits and give my day some structure. I'm sure that most of the people whom I see at the bus stop every day at 7:30am have no idea that I am actually going downtown for exercise and not going to work, as they are. I see the same people every day during the week, and I know those who go to the university by their absence when school is closed. It's a habit I cherish, and I will continue as long as my body holds up.

That's just it. After having read the book I mentioned last week, I realize that I need to appreciate every single day that I have the ability to continue my activities. Yesterday I woke with a pain in my back that defies by ability to ignore it. I get these every once in awhile, but this one, located between my shoulder blades, hurts like the dickens when I turn my head sharply to the right. Ouch! It's still there, today, a little better, but I never know when something will not get better. My knee that I hurt last year has gradually, a little at a time, gotten less painful, and now I don't need the brace all the time. It's returned to its pre-injury condition.

A couple of months ago I started getting a pain in the back of my right heel, with a hard lump right under the surface. It's worse after a hard Thursday hike, so I thought maybe it's my boots and got another pair to alternate them. I looked online and the symptoms fit something called "Haglund's Deformity," which is caused by irritation and will get better if you wear soft shoes. Well, there was no way I was going to be able to hike in those, so I just kept on treating it with ice afterwards and taking ibuprofen. It's gotten better, but it's still there and usually a bit on the sore side on Friday. It doesn't hurt at all in the soft running shoes I wear for the walks around town. It's progressing in the direction I want it to go: away.

All this is a prelude to my biggest dilemma of all: whether I have actually made my last skydive or not. Since October was a pretty wet and dismal month around here, I was only able to make it out to the Drop Zone once, and now the season is over. My gear will be out of date at the end of this month, and I have to make a decision about whether or not to get it inspected and repacked or not. I simply cannot reconcile myself to never ever having another chance to get under my wonderful canopy and fly it around in the sky. But now that my knee is better, should I take the chance of hurting it again on landing? Not to mention all the other parts of my body that are wearing out. You don't have to be an athlete to skydive, but it sure helps to be in good shape and able to recover from the inevitable bumps and bruises that one gets from the activity.

When I was in my fifties and sixties, I would make as many as a dozen skydives on the weekend, most of them teaching students and having someone else pack up my chute for me. But now I'm past that, no longer teaching, only jumping for the fun of it. And it's definitely true that it takes me much longer to recover from things these days. I'm almost positive I'll take my rig to the Drop Zone and get it ready to skydive, whether I use it or not. I've got to stop sometime, and it was so much easier to think of that last jump as being somewhere in the future, rather than having already done it. The whole activity occupied such a huge part of my life for so long, it's hard to consider myself finished.

Not to mention I have Facebook friends who are busy encouraging me to sign up for the SOS (Skydivers Over Sixty) women's record attempts in southern California that will be held in April. And I find myself considering it. That's where I hurt my knee in the first place, but I went back again and made another dozen skydives there, wearing a brace, and it didn't hurt it at all. Decisions, decisions! I know some of my followers are probably smiling right now, thinking "I told you so," and they were right. I will let you know what happens, but for now it's a moot point. I'm done for the season and will need to make that decision in the spring, not before.

Sitting here and writing on my laptop, I can feel various aches and pains reminding me that I am an elder, no longer a spring chicken but an old bird, probably not even fit for the soup pot. But even old birds like to feel the wind beneath their wings, lifting them up, up into the air. As long as they work, shouldn't one flex one's wings?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What matters to me today

Mt. Shuksan and cloud
I am very tired this morning, but I slept like a log and feel more rested than I thought I would. A creature of habit, I deviated quite a bit from my usual Saturday activity yesterday. I got up an hour early in order to make it to the meeting spot before dawn and start a trip up into the High Country. I took that picture yesterday. Because the weather has been so warm, the snow hasn't begun to cover the trails to make them inaccessible, so five of us decided to give one of our summer favorites a try. It was a wonderful day, but after the almost-nine miles we covered on Thursday, with only a day in between, I knew I would be pushing it if I went.

We piled into Fred's large SUV, and I sat in the middle seat in back, with Steve on one side, and Al's daughter Lisa on the other. Most people think it's no fun to sit in the middle, but I prefer it. I have a perfect view through the front window as well as nice warm bodies on either side. Whenever we must use that seat, I beg for it. But then again, I'm strange that way.

Hiking along in the alternating sunshine and clouds, I had plenty of time to think about the book I'm reading right now: Atul Gawande's Being Mortal. It's a book that lingers in my mind, thinking about life and loss. I have saved the last chapter for today. Not a long book, you could read it quickly and forget about all the issues he raises, or you could, as I have, take your time and consider what he has to say. It's a very personal book; as a physician he says he learned many things in medical school, but nowhere was he taught how to deal with death and the dying process with his patients. And, of course, we all have that to look forward to, not only with our parents and friends, but also with ourselves.

Since I have lost both of my children, people often use the phrase "no one should have to bury a child" or something similar when they learn of it. And then they will often retreat from the conversation because they don't want to consider how they might one day have to go through that same ordeal. "I don't think I could go on if that happened to me." I hear that one, too.

What does that mean? How does one NOT go on with life? I remember well when Stephen died I was a young mother of 22. I couldn't fathom how I would go on. Although I had another child, four-year-old Chris, my world had shattered around me and I fell into a deep depression. I can still remember weeping uncontrollably and Chris coming to put his arms around me. He said, "I'll go up to heaven and get Stephen so you will be okay again, all right Mom?" He couldn't think what to do to keep his own world together. That moment must have reached through my anguish, because I can still remember it after more than half a century. And it still hurts.

One doesn't really pass through such a fire without being permanently changed. Within a few short months, my then-husband Derald and I had divorced. We were both hurting and couldn't help the other. Even though I survived those awful years, I managed to add to the pain and suffering of those I loved, but I didn't care because I couldn't see past my own suffering. There are many, many things I would do differently today. There was no such thing as a bereavement group for me to attend back then, and I made many mistakes in my effort to cope. I know that if I had known anyone else who had gone through something similar, it would have helped. But although there were certainly others, we all endured our agonies alone, as if we were the only people who had ever gone through such situations.

But it happens all the time, you know. Not everybody lives to be old, like I am now. And now that I am old, I have my own decline to look forward to. We laugh about it, make jokes about it, but the truth of it is that, as Atul has pointed out in his book, it's going to happen to everyone, and making some rational decisions about our options, thinking about what's really important to us, is essential to having a good life and a good death.

As I read in his book about people who struggled between the decision to stop or continue treatment even though the outcome of their illness was certain, I realized that there are some upsides to having heart disease being the agent that took my parents from me. No long-drawn-out dying process for my dad: he was vigorous and active right up to the heart attack that caused him to die three days later. Long enough for us all to come home and say goodbye, to be surrounded by my other family members. But he was only 62 when he died, and my mother was angry at him for not having been willing to endure bypass surgery so he could have lived another decade or so.

My son Chris was jogging when he was felled by sudden cardiac arrest at the age of forty. He also lived a good life, was happily married and loved his job. He had hobbies that fulfilled him, and he was well respected by those who knew him. When I went to Germany for his funeral, I learned many positive things about my son that I didn't know. It made me very glad to learn more about him, but I still suffered plenty of pain and agony during that time, as well as the months and years that followed. But when I compare the two losses of my children, the first was much, much harder. It was my first loss and I was completely unprepared for it. When Chris died, I was sixty and had lost both parents by then.

And the truth of it is that the young woman who mourned the loss of her beautiful, healthy infant was not the same woman who lost her grown son. The loss of our loved ones changes everybody; it's part of life. It's like everything else that happens to us: we have choices to make all along the way. Becoming inured to it with drugs and attempt to escape is one option; the other is to let it have its way with us. Going through the pain and suffering means that you come out the other side with a renewed sense of the brevity and beauty of every day. That's what it means to me, anyway.

As I put one foot in front of the other on my journey to the pass yesterday, I felt the sun on my face and looked around at the incredible beauty I was privileged to see. I can still travel many miles with a pack on my back, go to places that fill my heart with joy, and enjoy it all in the company of others who share this journey with me. Although one day I will no longer be able to do what I did yesterday, I will still be able to decide what's important to me. And I know that as long as I can feel the sun on my face and experience the beautiful outdoors, I'll be fine. I won't always have to hike to the top of mountains to appreciate the beauty all around me, but for now, I'm enjoying it.