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, September 30, 2012

Best laid plans down the drain

Walking into the grocery store the other day, I saw that they have put these pumpkins out on display, a sure sign of fall. A couple of pigeons were wandering through, looking for something to eat. It was on Friday, and I was looking forward to a another weekend of sunshine and activity.

In the middle of the night on Friday I awoke with a sore throat. Uh-oh, I thought. I'm coming down with something. It wasn't too bad, but I had plans to go on the five-mile walk early Saturday morning and then go skydiving on Sunday with my friends. Not too many more beautiful days like we're having right now in the Pacific Northwest, with the rainy season right around the corner.

By the time I got out of bed, I knew I had a cold. Sneezing, aches, dripping nose, and continued sore throat. I grabbed the Zicam and zinc lozenges and figured I might be able to go on the walk after all. But considering the way I felt, it was obvious, even to me, that it would be a mistake, so I reluctantly let it go. Maybe I could simply lay around all day on Saturday and then Sunday I could go skydiving after all.

It's now dark outside on Sunday morning, and I spent a very uncomfortable night, even with Nyquil and Benadryl in my system. No way will I be venturing out of my comfort zone today. I'm really sick, but the sore throat has diminished and my stuffy nose (even with another dose of drugs) is enough to make even me stay down. I'm not very good at being sick, and I know that these things come to all of us now and then... but I fight it until I finally succumb to the inevitable.

So here I sit in the dark, laptop and tea next to me, this morning with the addition of tissues and pill bottles. Thinking of this post, I wondered about why I fight so hard against what any normal person would realize is just a cold, a short setback in an active life. What am I afraid of?

It's obvious that I cherish my active lifestyle and I guess I am fearful that if I let anything get me down, I'll never again be able to jump and play and walk with my friends. That what is happening right now is all I've ever get to experience, now that I'm sick. Advertisements on TV show someone looking like I feel right now taking some magical medicine and then looking perky and bright, no sign of being sick. Maybe that's part of it: I've absorbed the message that it's not okay to lay around letting myself wallow in misery.

I've had my share of illnesses over the years, and you'd think I would realize that nothing ever stays the same. Life is a dynamic process that takes us all from one state to another; nothing in life is static, as much as I'd like to forget that inconvenient truth. Even if I eat right, exercise just the right amount and keep a positive attitude, life's circumstances will just not hold still.

I am aware that there are people who are able to have a full life, even without all the health and vitality I possess in abundance. I'm sure that if I were suddenly housebound, I would find some way to continue to live a full life. But it would not be my first choice. Sometimes we are forced into avenues that cause us to become transformed, and it can be a positive direction.

Do you remember Maggie Kuhn? She founded the Grey Panthers movement in August 1970, after she was forced to retire from the Presbyterian Church. She had just turned 65, and she wanted to show that she was not ready to be put out to pasture. I found a quote from her that says it all: "Old age is not a disease. It is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses." She continued to be an activist for another 25 years or so.

I really like that word, "survivorship." It is an important concept to me, to realize that as I ride the waves, the ups and downs of life, that I am a survivor. I've made it through to old age and need to take the longer view. Pardon me while I blow my nose. Again.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Living my life in public

Terry took this picture of me last week when we went on the hike to Cascade Pass. I like it very much, so I thought well what the heck, I'll just put another picture of myself on the blog post for today. In both of my blogs I've got lots of pictures of myself plastered everywhere. Once in awhile I get a little embarrassed that I am such an extrovert and try to tone down my natural proclivity to attract attention to myself.

As I sit here sipping my tea and thinking about what to compose on this early Sunday morning, that tendency toward living a public life keeps coming up. If someone wanted to know what I've done with myself this past week, I've got two blogs that tell all about it. I follow other people who are even more out there than myself, writing a post every single day about their daily lives, and I look forward to finding out what's on her (or his) mind. Some are gentle compositions interspersed with pictures to illustrate; others are mostly pictures or poems that bring some beauty to my day. It's what a web log (blog) is all about, and it's a new phenomenon in the world today.

Because of the blogosphere, I have virtual friends who mean as much to me as what I think of as my "skin friends," those I visit with and see regularly. Some bloggers are shut-ins with health problems; others are active. Most of the bloggers I follow are females around the same age as me, retired from the world of work, but not all of them are. Some write about the struggles they have in retirement, or the struggle to find a way to retire in relative comfort. The Great Recession we have all had to navigate in the past few years has touched each of us in one way or another, and we share our coping strategies with one another.

But it has occurred to me that I probably have followers, or people who read what I write and don't leave comments, who don't let me know in any way that they are out there. One person wrote me a year or two ago and told me her father reads my blog and never misses it. If she had not told me, I would not have known, but it touched something inside me, knowing that there are people to whom I matter, to whom my life matters, and I know nothing about them, or about why they even care.

When I read a post that I enjoy, I almost always leave a comment, even if it's a short one to thank the person for taking the time to enrich my day. We are joined in a way that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Many people create blogs and find it's not for them; it's not something they either enjoy or find it difficult to keep coming up with "blog fodder." Usually I have no problem thinking about what I want to say, but then again, I'm a cheeky extrovert who figures somebody will enjoy it. If I have a good time writing it, then somebody will also enjoy it, right?

Right. Blogging has given me the opportunity to indulge my desire to expound to a small audience. I am possessive of my group of followers and am always pleased to see when the number increases by one or two and dismayed if somebody leaves for whatever reason. Because Google Reader gives us the opportunity to be alerted when someone writes a new post, it's possible to follow someone anonymously, but I suspect that most of my followers are also people whose blogs I also follow. Once I write a post on Sunday morning, I will then check back often to see what responses it has garnered. The most satisfying comments are when I realize that I've said something that resonates with my reader, and you tell me so, giving me your viewpoint or affirmation.

There are plenty of aspects of my life that I do not share in this public forum. I am married to a very private man who cannot fathom living a public life, but he reads my posts and tells me what he thinks about them. Although I shy away from controversial subjects, I have my own opinions, sometimes strong ones, but I will usually leave comments indicating what I think on posts that bring up those subjects. We probably know many things about each other that is revealed between the lines of our posts, but it only seems courteous to give one another room to disagree without rancor. If someone is snarky or impolite in a comment, I will remove it.

Who could have imagined this universe twenty years ago? We are connected in a way that is immediate and vital. Later today I will find out what you think about all this, if you are so inclined. And in the back of my mind I also think about the silent readers, the ones who don't let me know of their presence, wondering about who else out there in the wide world shares my very public life with me.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Living with pain

Smiling in spite of the pain
This picture was taken this past Thursday when I and sixteen Senior Trailblazers headed up to Skyline Divide, my second hike in one week. With only a day in between, for a total distance of 16-17 miles, I was hurting. My lower back was on fire with pain, and I almost decided not to go on the hike because of it.

This particular pain happens to me occasionally, and it's usually exacerbated by moving in a certain way that causes the sacroiliac (SI) joint to get inflamed. It's almost always in the right section of the sacrum that was damaged in my accident in 2000. As I sit here early on Sunday morning, I can feel the pain, but it's much, much better than it was earlier in the week. I remembered that the last time this happened to me, I wrote about it on my other blog. I was so happy to have found that a chiropractic adjustment would help with the pain. It was a year ago, and the funny thing is, I had forgotten about how much the adjustment helped until I read what I wrote.

The main thing I wanted to write about this morning is how much physical pain alters my experience of daily life. Giving birth to my son many long years ago, I experienced considerable pain and suffering, but I don't recall any of it. Every woman knows that we forget pain when the result is such a reward as our beloved infant. But what do we do with the inevitable pain and suffering that comes with age? Some of us move through it, and others simply get grumpy and crotchety. I had to make several pain-related decisions this past week.

The weather this week couldn't have been better, after a wet and unsettled day last Monday, so the Trailblazers had an extra hike on Tuesday instead. I didn't mention to anybody that my back was bothering me, because someone might suggest that I stay behind. I noticed that because of the trekking poles, I was able to relieve some of the discomfort by leaning rather heavily on them during the downhill sections. By the time we reached the car, I was in serious pain, not only in my back, but spasms were coming and going above my waist. As we drove to the pizza joint for food, I finally complained about the pain and was given some ibuprofen, which helped a great deal.

The next morning, Wednesday, I walked the usual half-mile to the bus stop to take my regular morning class, an hour-long aerobic session that always makes me feel better afterwards. I noticed I was having trouble walking normally and could have used a cane. I slowed down and adjusted my stride to keep my hip from seizing up. The pain in my lower back radiated down into my hip, and I was heading to an exercise class! What was I doing?

Not knowing how to do anything else, I went to class and worked out as usual, and you know what? I did feel better and was in much less pain than before. But we were intending to go on another hike the following day, and I was in a quandary. Any sensible person would not have gone but would have rested instead. But no, I was afraid to stay behind because my friends might have fun without me, and then I would be in a considerable amount of psychic, as well as physical, pain.

So I went on the hike in spite of myself. Again, I noticed that the uphill was not much problem, but the downhill! Ouch! At least it was a shorter hike, but my back pain was a constant companion the entire time. I know I shouldn't have gone, but I did notice that my back didn't bother me quite as much as it had earlier in the week. I also knew I was scheduled for a massage on Friday. I hobbled home on Thursday and climbed into bed very early.

I told my massage therapist about the situation and she spent a long time working those muscles surrounding the source of the pain, which have a tendency to tighten up. When I walked out of her office I felt better than I had in a week. Okay, I'm on the mend, I told myself, and now I need to make a decision about Saturday. I had told my friend Linny that I would join her in a skydiving day.

Well, you probably already know what decision I made: of COURSE I went skydiving yesterday! It was another beautiful day, and if I was in too much pain, I would just turn around and come home. But how would I know if I didn't at least try? I made four skydives in all and found that the only part that hurt at all was packing my chute. After the first jump and the resulting discomfort in packing, I hired a packer, a nice young woman named Katie, and she did the hard work for me. I could get used to this; instead of wrestling my parachute into the bag, I lounged around and chatted with my friends. And these were such good skydives and I had such an excellent time that I couldn't imagine having stayed home and missed the fun.

So here I am now, early Sunday morning, sitting in bed with my laptop as the sun comes up, another sunny day. Yes, I can feel the pain is still there, but I made the decision to live with it, move through it rather than let it dictate my activities. And these were all good activities, ones I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on.

I remember years ago when I got sick with Hepatitis A. I was really, really sick, and the doctor told me in no uncertain terms that I must not try to move through the pain and discomfort, because it would only cause me to end up with chronic hepatic failure. I was forced to lie around and allow my liver to heal. For ten weeks the only exercise I got was walking up eight stairs from my bedroom to the living room, once a day. I couldn't go to work, I couldn't do anything but read, nap and rest.

Our bodies are resilient, but listening to the right way to deal with our pain is completely individual. My stubbornness and unwillingness to miss out on the last week's activities was correct for me, for this week, but it's just not always the case. I hope I have the wisdom to know the difference when the time comes. Because it will come, again and again, as long as I'm alive and kicking.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The power of habit

Me under my beautiful canopy
My life has returned to normal. After a couple of stressful weeks, I was able to hike with my friends on Thursday, as usual, and yesterday I spent at the Drop Zone making four wonderful skydives before heading back to our new apartment. Finally I am sleeping and waking at my usual time, rather than struggling to relax into sleep after being bone tired day after day.

Several times this week I have turned the wrong way to head into the bathroom, or reached for the wrong drawer in which to take out a piece of silverware. You see, our new apartment is exactly the same as our old one (in the same complex), but it's mirror image. Everything is backwards from the way I have become accustomed to it. After almost five years of habit, I am reminded of how much of my life is usually on autopilot. I don't think about where things are supposed to be; my mind is on other things. And when I open a drawer and realize it's the wrong one, I am brought back to the present.

Over the more than twenty years I have been jumping, I've developed several habits that I should examine. I carry a small suitcase with all my skydiving gear in it to the Drop Zone, and I know that everything I need will be in there. My rig (parachute harness and container system) is as familiar to me as my own skin; I've been using the same rig for twelve years now, with only the main parachute being changed several times. It should last me for the rest of my skydiving career.

When I am packing my main after a jump, there are several things that need to be done correctly in order to have the next canopy ride be perfect: I must stow the brakes, un-collapse the slider, and cock the pilot chute (that small thing following behind the canopy). I cannot tell you how many times I have obsessed over those details while riding up to altitude in the plane. It's because of the power of habit: did I REALLY do what I thought I did? If any of those three things were missed because I hurried or wasn't paying close attention, I could really get hurt. Or worse.

What I have done to keep that from happening is to accomplish those three tasks and then look at the parachute lying there ready to be folded up and say it out loud: "Brakes stowed, slider open, pilot chute cocked." Then I can let it go. It takes me about twenty minutes to complete the entire job of packing before I'm ready to go again. Yesterday, my friends stayed after I left and probably made another three skydives before heading home, but I know my limits. I was already tired after four jumps and would have been way too tired to make the 75-mile drive home safely if I had stayed.

At home, I am finding that the process of living in a mirror image of my old habits has been a good wake-up call. It's easy to fall into the same habits I had before without thinking, if everything is exactly the same. Now I have the option of change, of examining what I do and assessing its relevance to my life today. Several things have been altered already, and I suspect there will be much more.

Smart Guy is not one who goes through an unexamined life. His perfectly functioning kitchen is arranged for frequency of access, and many things were pitched when he realized he didn't use them any more. Items used occasionally are tucked away in the back of cabinets. It is amazing to me to see him in action, and I don't interfere with the process. We discussed the mirror image concept and he made some changes that made sense to both of us. It's like being in a better version of our lives, and I am content to have him make these decisions.

We finally have a place for me to set up a meditation area, which I fully intend to begin again. It's been years since I was a daily meditator, but it's been on my radar to get back into the habit. Strangely, the ability to meditate has never left me, and those few times I have meditated have reassured me that it will simply be added into my life, once it becomes a habit. The power of habit will take me to a more serene life.

The incessant sunshine that we have enjoyed here in the Pacific Northwest is gone today. As I sit in my bed with my laptop, facing north instead of south, I can see out the window that the sky is grey and cloudy for the first time in weeks. It is a welcome change. Everything is falling into place as we begin our journey into another season. I hope that life today is satisfying to you, my dear reader.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

High stress week

Judy and I at Manresa Castle in Port Townsend
Last Sunday, when I wrote my last post, I was not looking forward to this week, but it's been actually much more stressful than I anticipated. For one thing, I am almost five years older than I was the last time I moved, and while my blogging buddies reminded me that it's always a stressful time, I expected that I would breeze right through, the way I have in the past. The new places to live seemed more like an adventure than something to dread. Here's how the week has shaped up:
  • Monday I went on a hard hike that lasted thirteen hours from the time I met my hiking friends until I returned home. It was hot and I found I could not go as far as I had hoped. I had to turn around before reaching the summit.
  • The next day I was tired, but Judy and I had already made plans months ago to attend a Senior Center excursion to Port Townsend. It was brutal, as the bus was late and we waited almost two hours to board, and then two hours after the museum visits, lunch, and shopping to get the 50-person bus aboard the return ferry. I didn't get home until another twelve hours after I had left. I was already tired from the previous day's efforts.
  • Then, the move scheduled to begin Wednesday was delayed as the new apartment was not cleaned, so we had to make do with packing in our old apartment, getting ready but not yet able to get the keys to the new place. It's just on the other side of the same apartment complex, but it's about a football field's length away. Lots of trudging to and fro.
  • Finally we gained access and started the ordeal of taking personal items to the new place. Tomorrow two high school seniors will be here to do the heavy lifting. I've been washing windows and packing, packing. How does someone accumulate so much STUFF in just a few years?
  • The internet stopped working this morning instead of tomorrow. I spent hours on the phone with Comcast trying to restore internet and cable for one more day here. The windows sparkle, but I'm so tired and frazzled that I begin one task and start another before it's finished.
  • I've got one more day before I will turn over the keys to this place and am anxious that everything will work as advertised, and that this move is actually a step up. 
Today is Smart Guy's fiftieth anniversary from his first jump ever. He made a static line jump when he was twenty, from a Piper Cub no less, just him and his jumpmaster who was flying the plane. Fifty years ago today! And on September 3, Labor Day this year, it will be twenty-two years from the day I first made a skydive. Mine was a tandem jump. Our move will be accomplished on the day in between. It's a fortuitous juxtaposition, completely missed until now. My friend Trish would call it a synchronicity, and I guess it is. She said to keep my eyes out for them.

There's change in the air, I can feel the crispness in the mornings, and a few leaves are already beginning to turn and fall from the cherry tree in the front yard. Our view will  be different, but my garden will remain the same, and my apartment friends will also be around to help return some normalcy to my life.

I'm going to schedule this to post tomorrow morning, Sunday, although I'm writing it in the afternoon of Saturday when I have internet. Hopefully by next Sunday my life will be back to a semblance of normal. I wish all of my dear blogging friends a very safe and happy Labor Day, or Labour Day if you're in Canada!