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, August 25, 2013

Pretty in pink

Dahlia from yesterday's market
I have to tell you right up front that I am a little bit self conscious about following up last week's post. So many of you told me how eloquent it was and when I went back and read it, I wondered how in the world I might approach today's post. It's never easy to decide what to write about, and when you've got such an appreciative audience, it can be just a bit daunting. Performance anxiety, I guess. So, be forewarned: great posts are few and far between. I'm just gonna lift the lid and see what comes out.

The baby was born in the apartment below us on Thursday. I was on a hike all day long and heard from Smart Guy about the strange sounds emanating from their apartment. I knew the baby would be born at home, because they had hired a midwife. Midwives don't get to work in hospitals, unfortunately. Our next-door neighbor filled me in that it was to be a "water birth" and was apparently quite successful. I saw pictures on Facebook after the birth and learned that a little baby girl was born at 7:15pm, so all was quiet by the time we went to bed on Thursday night. I'm so glad it was a girl; I'm not at all sure why. There was a picture of the baby showing four generations of women; all three mothers were wearing exactly the same smile.

I was present at a home birth once, many years ago in Boulder. My friends had invited me to attend, and I was a little nervous but glad to be invited. By the time I arrived, their doctor was present who was a friend of the family. They already had a three-year-old boy, Lev, with whom I had spent a great deal of time, babysitting and the like. He had been born in a hospital, and the parents decided that a home birth might be less traumatic this time around.

Although I had no actual duties to perform for the birthing, I was able to help with Lev until the time came for the actual event. It was an amazing sight, to see this infant emerge into the world. He was blue and didn't cry out at first, since the cord was wrapped around his head. The doctor cleared his nasal passages and he began to cry, much to the relief of everyone present, and he turned pink immediately. He looked huge to my eyes, and it turned out that he weighed almost ten pounds! The mother, Rochelle, was a tiny thing who didn't weigh much more than a hundred pounds herself. But once it was over and mother and baby were cleaned up and wrapped in warm dry clothes, the radiance on Rochelle's face was what I remember the most. It was a transformative moment, experiencing the presence of a new life in the world.

We humans have been giving birth in various fashions since, well, since the beginning. As I wrote about my own experience last week, the fifties and sixties in the United States were among some of the more unsettling occasions, where the mother was removed from the event as much as possible, turning it over to doctors and nurses. I suppose it was thought that this would be better for all concerned, but I sure don't think so. When I think of the difference between coming into the world in a warm nurturing environment and the bright lights and sterile environment of a hospital operating room, there is simply no comparison. Our first moments of life separate from our mother should be sacred and cherished. I never even got to see my son for several hours after he was born, much less hold him.


Yesterday's weather didn't allow for any skydiving, so I went on the Saturday walk and enjoyed a cup of coffee with the ladies afterwards. The weather today is a little better, and I've looked at the web cam a couple of times wondering what is in store for me today. My week is always better when I've been able to get in a skydive or two, since it's an activity that I enjoy so much and know that the days are numbered for us to get up in the air. By the end of October, the season has shut down in this part of the world, and September is right around the corner. I saw a maple tree yesterday that has flame-red leaves already. So soon? It seems so quick, the summer season winding down. In October I will travel to Lake Elsinore in California for one last flurry of skydiving for the season, and then I'll decide whether or not I will continue the activity in 2014. You know I probably will, but I'm reaching the time when I need to carefully consider whether it makes sense.

Now I realize that those of you who never had made a skydive might think it NEVER makes sense, but that's because it's not familiar to you. Being in freefall and flying my canopy are events that are as commonplace to me as driving a car is to most of you. Remember when you were first learning to drive? It was terrifying, at least it was to me. Until I learned how to navigate that powerful machine and became accustomed to highway speeds, I was in a state of hyper-awareness whenever I was driving a car. I still feel that when I need to get on the interstate and travel at speeds higher than my comfortable around-town pace. It's easy to become complacent when we are behind the wheel of a car, and that's dangerous. I spend three hours on the highway when I travel to and from Snohomish, probably the most hazardous part of my day. Really.

Okay, that's it. I lifted the lid and that's what came out. Now I can begin the rest of my Sunday, as my tea is finished and my partner continues to snore softly next to me. My laptop will bring me the news and the blogs that my friends have written since I last checked. Then I'll read the Sunday funnies online and continue with the rest of my day. My morning meditation is complete, and my thoughts are turning to other things. At this point, I always offer a quick prayer to the universe to give us all another wonderful day on this beautiful blue globe we call home.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Happily ever after

Yesterday's ripe tomatoes
I remember when I was little and learned that fairy tales always started with "Once upon a time" and ended with "...and they lived happily ever after." After suffering through wicked stepsisters and unjust servitude, Cinderella found her prince and... When did I learn that there is no such thing as a "happily ever after"? Life isn't like that at all. It doesn't stand still; anything living is dynamic, not static. Those beautiful tomatoes in the picture taken yesterday will be overripe in a few day's time.

My sister Fia was married (for the second time) a week ago, and I smiled at the pictures she posted on Facebook of their honeymoon. Her face is filled with happiness and her eyes are shining in a way I haven't seen in a long, long time. She's experiencing the bliss of beginning a new life. Of course she knows that they will have to return to the real world of work and strife sometime in the future, but not now.

The woman who lives downstairs from me is nine months pregnant. I saw her yesterday with her mother, and I was absolutely shocked at how big her stomach has become. It can't be more than a few days or a week now. When I was pregnant, I'm sure I was that big, too, but we wore smocks that made a tent over our tummies, and now women wear form-fitting clothing that doesn't hide anything.

The sight brought back memories from long ago of my own firstborn and the fear I had of going through the experience of childbirth. That was in the early sixties, and it was a different time then. There were no Lamaze classes, no internet that I could peruse to allay my fears. I was living in a small town in Puerto Rico, the dependent wife of an airman who was stationed at the nearby Air Force base. Nobody in the surrounding dwellings spoke any English, and my only companions, other than my husband, were other Air Force wives who lived nearby. We didn't have a car, so we made arrangements with a fellow airman who would drive us to the base hospital when the time came.

Inevitably, it began in the middle of the night, contractions that wouldn't be ignored. We rushed to the hospital and I was given over to a nurse who shaved me and gave me an enema. Do they still do those things? And then the doctor took over. I wasn't allowed to participate in the birth at all. They gave me a caudal anesthetic to deaden the entire pelvic area, strapped my legs into elevated stirrups, and tied my hands to the bed. I remember a mask with ether being forced onto my face and that was the last thing I knew until I came to. I had given birth to a son.

I wasn't allowed to see him until I had recovered from the anesthetic, which had filled me with lingering nausea. My memories are hazy, but I remember being in a ward with six other women when they brought him to me. I wanted to nurse him, but I wasn't helped in any way, as they expected I would bottle feed my baby. Breastfeeding was simply not encouraged back then. They even tried to give me pills to dry up the milk, but I didn't take them. I was the only one in the ward who breastfed her baby. Fortunately I was released from the hospital the next day, and the three of us went home to begin our new life. A memory I have of the two of us, Derald and me, leaning over the crib and looking at that beautiful new life, so tiny, so sweet. It lives on in my memory, in my heart.

But that was so very long ago. We didn't live happily ever after. Although we had a decent life, I thought I deserved a better one. I wrote about that time when I first began this blog, and I titled it "Trapped," because that was how I felt. Derald and Chris have now been gone a long time, but I am still here, still living on. There's no "happily ever after" in my story, but then again, I don't think it's even a real thing. I found this quote online by Joshua Loth Liebman:
“And they lived happily ever after” is one of the most tragic sentences in literature. It is tragic because it tells a falsehood about life and has led countless generations of people to expect something from human existence which is not possible on this fragile, imperfect earth. The “happy ending” obsession of Western culture is both a romantic illusion and a psychological handicap.
I was one of those people who thought that if I didn't have romance in my relationship with my husband, it must be because he wasn't the right one for me. I didn't know that love changes as time passes, that as it matures it changes. I pinned all my unhappiness on my poor husband; I now know that he was a good man, and that if I had been able to see that, we would probably have stayed married. Instead, we had two sons and were divorced before five years had passed.

Now I have the wisdom that comes from a lifetime of having been through all the ups and downs, the incredible highs and the devastating lows that anyone who has lived long enough goes through. Maybe I've had more than my share of loss, but nobody who lives for any length of time escapes the loss of loved ones. It's part of life. As I said at the beginning, life is dynamic, always moving and changing. That baby downstairs is getting ready to change the lives of its parents in ways they cannot even imagine. The drama continues. Life continues.

The seasons are only three months long, and the long days of summer are beginning to shorten. The first whiff of fall is in the air. My garden is getting ready to go dormant, and there are even a few leaves that are just beginning to change from the green of summer to the reds of fall. And then the trees will be bare again, and we'll enter into the dark days of winter. The cycle of the seasons, the cycle of life, will continue long after I'm gone from this planet. But for right now, I'm living the dash. (A reference to a life, written as 1942— .) There is no second number... yet. All I can say is that although I've already lived a very full life, I'm looking forward to what comes next.

My cyber friends (that means you) occupy a certain space in my heart, and as I think of all of YOU living your own dash, I wish you well. Let's go out and fill our day with love and light, what do you say?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Middle of August already

Seagull at the bus stop
Every weekday morning I walk about a half mile to the bus stop. This seagull was there three days this past week, and I finally decided to capture a picture of him. He can fly, but he must have figured out this is a good place to watch for food prospects. The lady sitting next to me on the bench started to eat her bagel and he inched forward, interested. We shooed him away, but he kept coming back. I was surprised to see him there, day after day.

I also noticed when I downloaded the picture how long the morning shadows have become. It was taken about 7:30am, and it reminded me that we have passed Lammas, the day between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox. We are losing more than three minutes of daylight every day now, which adds up to almost a half an hour each week! And the weather has been hot, by Pacific Northwest standards anyway. We almost reached 80 degrees F here in Bellingham a couple times this week. The weather on our hike last Thursday was terribly hot, as we trudged upwards in full sun. My little thermometer read 88 degrees; I was carrying almost two liters of water and drank every drop.

I also pushed myself pretty hard to get to the top of the peak, along with several of the other hikers. Whenever I get lightheaded and cannot eat my lunch when I stop, I know I'm dangerously close to heat exhaustion, so I drank as much as I could hold, which eventually helped. Next week I will carry some electrolytes to boost my energy levels, which I did for a long time but never seemed to need them. Last week I really did wish I had some.

Perhaps it explains my current feeling of enervation. Although yesterday (Saturday) I woke feeling great, I noticed a bit of scratchiness in my throat and wondered if I might be coming down with something. Although I went on the five-mile walk with the Fairhaven group in the morning and felt fine, it was becoming obvious as the day wore on that I might be in danger of catching something. Today I woke with the same scratchy throat, but it is no worse and there's no congestion, so I'm hoping that, if the weather cooperates, I'll be able to join my friends in Snohomish today for a skydive or two.

Tomorrow is another hard hike, the second in our "extra" hikes of the summer, but I'm beginning to think it might be smart for me to skip it and let myself rest. That's hard for me to admit, so I'll see how today goes before I make any rash decisions one way or the other. It's not much fun to realize that you're sick and have no energy when you're in the middle of the wilderness with your friends. And that there's nothing to do but soldier on until you get home. The older I get, the more I realize it's important to listen to my body and what it tries to tell me BEFORE I become indisposed.

My baby sister Fia married her beau, Russ, this past Friday. I call her my baby sister, but she's fifty now, but since I'm seventy, I can call her that. She looks radiant in her pictures, posted on her daughter's Facebook page. It's hard for me to realize that Fia is a grandmother already; Aiden was the ring bearer (he carried them on his little fire truck). A joyous celebration. I'm so glad for her to begin this new chapter in her life.

Yesterday I went to see a movie with my friend Judy, The Way Way Back, which I enjoyed very much. It's a coming-of-age movie about a 14-year-old boy who is forced to spend the summer at his mother's new boyfriend's beach house. Steve Carrell plays the despicable boyfriend; he is so good that I hated him throughout the entire movie. We are so fortunate to have an independent theater here in Bellingham, the Pickford. We get to see lots of movies that don't make it to the regular theaters. Another one that I enjoyed tremendously was a documentary about backup singers, 20 Feet From Stardom. I don't see many movies that earn a 99% "freshness" rating on Rotten Tomatoes (check out the link), but this one did and deserves it, too. It's about women, mostly black women, who are as talented as the main singers they back up (or more so), but for one reason or another they don't make it big. If you get a chance to see either of these movies, I'd love to hear what you think.

Well, that's pretty much all I've got in me this morning. The sun is finally beginning to lighten the sky at 6:30am, and I'll be checking the weather obsessively for a while until I figure out whether it makes sense for me to drive for an hour and a half down to Snohomish. Of course it was sunny and beautiful until the weekend, and then a front moved in. It did clear out early yesterday, though, and I almost changed my plans, but decided to hope for another good day today.

My partner is still sleeping next to me, my tea is finished, and the day beckons. The time I spend here every Sunday morning has become precious to me. I have a chance to think about what's on my mind, where I am right this minute, and think about my dear friends out there in Blogland. I hope you are all well or trending in that direction, and I hope the same for myself. Until next Sunday...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Can anybody become mean and cruel?

I've been watching the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, about a woman who ends up going to a women's prison for fifteen months for something she did a decade earlier. The series is based on a book written by Piper Kerman, who spent a year in prison for much the same reason as the character in the series. I'll have to read the book after I finish watching the 13 episodes. From everything I've been able to ascertain, it follows the book pretty closely. An excerpt about the book:
From her first strip search to her final release, Kerman learns to navigate this strange world with its strictly enforced codes of behavior and arbitrary rules. She meets women from all walks of life, who surprise her with small tokens of generosity, hard words of wisdom, and simple acts of acceptance. 
It's hard to tear myself away from binge-watching one episode after another. This morning as I sit here thinking about what I want to write about this morning, I feel the turmoil I'm experiencing about the cruelty of the prison guards towards the women in their care. Is it simply because the act of giving people complete and utter control over others would cause anybody to become so cruel and unfeeling? I remember reading a while back about an experiment that recruited ordinary people (college students) and put them in a setting where half were prisoners and half were wardens. It was supposed to last two weeks but had to be terminated early because the "wardens" became abusive and the "prisoners" had nervous breakdowns, within a few days! (I just found the website for the experiment, which was held at Stanford University in 1971.)

It must be something inherent in all of us, to either be kind or cruel to others. There must be a reason for the rise in reality shows (which I don't watch) that give the watchers a chance to relate to these emotions without actually putting oneself in the position of being cruel. Somebody watches that awful wrestling show, which I immediately turn off when it comes on. Maybe these shows provide an outlet for feelings that everybody has. I wonder.

Or is this true at all? I know I've done things in my life that I'm not proud of, but I truly cannot recall a time when I inflicted pain on anybody or anything on purpose. I remember a young playmate when I was a kid who loved to torture little animals. I couldn't understand it then and I don't understand it now. But I do remember once, a long time ago, when I was playing with my little sister, I held her down and tickled her until she screamed in terror. It must have been traumatic to both of us, for me to remember the incident all these years later.

Maybe I am being naive, but I don't think that cruelty is something that everybody develops in such circumstances. During the Holocaust, there were people who were able to find joy and happiness in concentration camps, in spite of the most horrendous circumstances. I remember a book that still resonates after many decades; in fact, I recently re-read it to see if it was as powerful as I remembered, called Man's Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl. He was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II and not only managed to endure it, but he developed a theory to explain why some people are able to survive such atrocities, while others died. The book was different for me to read after all these years, but it still resonated deeply. He felt that there are decent and indecent people, whether they are guards or prisoners.

Oh boy, this is definitely not turning out to be a very uplifting post. It's filled with all the turmoil I've been experiencing as I have reacted viscerally to the awful injustices I've related to while watching that show. I guess I've answered my own question (the title of this post): no, I don't think we all have a mean and cruel streak. Some people have the ability to be mean, I believe, but they fight against it, while others embrace it totally. Maybe it comes down to the age-old question of good and evil. Are we really fighting against two strong tendencies in our nature, and sometimes one wins and sometimes the other wins?

No, I don't think so. I believe we get to choose which way we go in life. Perhaps it's a series of choices, and as we get stronger in being kind to one another, it becomes less likely we will be seduced towards the dark side. What do you think?