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, April 28, 2013

Sickness in the rear view mirror

Do you see the star? It marks the trail.
When I wrote this post last week, I was in the throes of a bad cold. It was uppermost in my mind, as I sneezed and doctored myself with drugs. I got some good tips from my commenters; I tried some new things, all of which seemed to help. Of course, we do get over the common cold within a few days anyway, but while we're sick, everything else slips into the background. That's the way it goes for me, anyway.

We had a patch of beautiful sunny days right in the middle of the week. Although I wasn't feeling all that well, I went out into my garden patch and pulled weeds. I noticed that my throat was much more sore than it should have been, nagging at me. After an hour or two, I went back inside and pulled out a flashlight to inspect my tonsils in the mirror. Red and swollen, they didn't look right to me. When I was a kid I got tonsillitis all the time; the memory of how it felt began to resurface. By the next day, Wednesday, I called my doctor to see if he could see me. I was given an appointment with a doctor in the clinic who was new to me, but by this time I really didn't care. I knew I was sick when I should have been getting better.

He told me that a strain of streptococcus is going around our town and that he's seen more cases than usual lately, and apparently I had picked it up. He gave me a prescription for antibiotics. It's been more than a year since I last took any; I really hate to take them, but my compromised immune system must have allowed me to get a bacterial infection after recovering from the cold. I took them gladly, because by this time I had not only lost my voice but could barely stand to eat because of my sore throat. Not to mention I felt miserable. I took the first dose while still at the pharmacy.

By the next morning, Thursday, I was already feeling better. Not well by any means, but the day dawned beautiful and clear, with sun pouring in the windows. It was my hiking day with the Trailblazers, and I knew I had absolutely no business going. I thought to myself that I would act as if I were going, pack my backpack and head to the Senior Center but not actually go. Who was I kidding? When I showed up and saw that ten others were there, I decided to join them. They all knew I was sick and wondered about the wisdom of my attempting a rather hard nine-mile hike. Steve said that if I became too sick to continue, he would be glad to bring me back. That gave me the incentive to give it a try.

Although I was  hiking more slowly than usual and had lost my voice completely by this time, I was glad I went because I felt better for the exercise and being outdoors in the sunshine. It was risky, but then again I've never been known to let that stop me. We were close to town and the consequences seemed minimal. I slept like a log Thursday night and woke on Friday feeling much, much better. Of course, the antibiotics helped too. Yesterday, Saturday, was the first day that I felt like myself again, although I still have a residual cough which is almost gone.

When I am sick, everything I love begins to recede into the background, and I become grumpy and short-tempered. I am not a good patient and tend to forget to appreciate the good food my partner fixes for me and how hard it must be for him. My world shrinks down to the size of my misery, and the blinders of illness make me forget how fortunate I am. And then I begin to recover, the blinders come off, and the world looks bright again. I begin to pay attention to something other than myself. The spring returns to my step. All's right with the world again.

And now I am well, or almost so. I am looking at illness in the rear-view mirror and marching off into my day. Sunday, my Eye on the Edge day, finds me here thinking about the past week and what I might have learned. One lesson is that my mood, my attitude towards life, is very dependent on my own physical health. When I am ill, the world looks quite different. If this is true for me, I wonder if it is true for most of us. Would I become accustomed to ill health and return to my baseline optimism eventually? Since growing older brings more and more physical limitations, perhaps there is some tipping point where it becomes the norm to see oneself as being frail and weak.

I say that, but then I feel the surge of wellness coursing through my veins and can hardly hold myself back from going out and enjoying life to the fullest. In my exercise class, there are some people (we are almost all women) who are more than a decade older than me and are still vigorous and healthy. They inspire me to continue for as long as I can, and I hope that some younger women will find inspiration from my own example.

The sun is rising earlier and earlier, and although it's only 6:00am, there is light in the sky, the birds are singing, all's right with the world. My partner is sleeping next to me; I drank my tea already, and my post is almost done. Today I'll work some more in the garden if the weather permits and doesn't rain. I've got a couple of new books to read, and two of my favorite TV shows are on tonight (Call the Midwife and Mad Men) for me to look forward to. I hope you have a wonderful week, and I'll be right here, God willing, next Sunday morning.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New friends and a bad cold

WSOS (Women Skydivers Over Sixty) members:
Sandra, Dana, me, Hollis
I just re-read my post from last week, which was written in the early morning hours of Sunday, the second day of four possible days of skydiving in southern California. Although I made four skydives the day before I wrote it, I didn't get to make even one more jump, since low clouds moved in during the night and didn't leave until Wednesday, when I headed back home. I don't even want to think how much those four skydives cost.

It was worth it, though. I made so many new friends and connected with people who are my peers, making me feel much more normal. When I first began skydiving, I couldn't wait to tell a new acquaintance about my passion; today I keep it under wraps and sometimes never even mention it. Of course, once the word gets out, people find it so unusual that they ask me about it, and I pull out my iPad and show them pictures of my parachute, me landing, and answer any questions they have.

Wednesday during my two plane flights and bus trip, I must have come into contact with some cold germs. The petri dish environment of airplane travel, as well as the unavoidable touching of handles, makes it almost impossible for me to keep from getting sick. I was already vulnerable from the stress of the week, and now I'm sneezing, have a runny nose, and sounding very croaky. But it's only a cold, and I've started taking extra vitamins and will keep a low profile until I'm feeling better. That doesn't mean I will miss my exercise commitments, because I always feel better afterwards. I've learned that if I don't have a fever, it won't hurt me but will help me recover faster. Plus I'm addicted, ya know.

When I think back on the past week, I keep remembering my new friends whose lives I now care about and will cherish as we continue to keep in touch. That's one really good thing about Facebook; almost everyone I met is on it, and we "friended" each other. I've gone on their pages and learned about their lives outside of skydiving. In the picture above, Sandra is the only one who is not on it, but I know she is a real-estate agent and works part time. Dana has a fifteen-year-old disabled son on whom she dotes, as well as a beautiful motorcycle that matches her skydiving rig. Hollis is married to a skydiver and only started skydiving within the past few years. She was intimidated about jumping with all of us who have thousands of skydives to her hundreds, but she is very competent in the air. We dubbed her "Skypup," and I look forward to watching her progress.

I've spent more time on Facebook since I returned home than I have during the entire rest of the year. Being able to see pictures of the families and pursuits of new acquaintances is invaluable. Before now, I only got on there to see what is going on with my family and people in Boulder I haven't seen for awhile. But now I can send messages to my new friends and feel involved in their lives, even if only as an observer.

The larger reason for the gathering of SOS was to set a new record for the most SOS skydivers in a formation. Since only a few of us are women and of the six of us who set a new women's record were not interested in the larger formation, almost every one of the 72 who are attempting it are male. I've been following their progress on line, at skydivingphotography.com. They were winded out on the first day, and so far they haven't gotten the record. I don't know whether most of them will be there today, Sunday, or whether it's a day for traveling back home. The record right now is 60, and they were trying for 72. When you think about it, the pressure to perform is enormous, and I myself never do better when I'm feeling anxious. I do hope they get it.

When I was at the health food store yesterday, I was talked into trying a homeopathic remedy. I don't know about you, but I just don't understand how it works: by diluting something until it's almost not there and then taking minuscule amounts in a tablet? But I'm trying it, and who knows? Maybe it will work, along with the Wellness capsules I'm taking. I really don't like to take over-the-counter stuff, but since I'm not feeling well, I'm open to new treatments. What do you take for a cold?

Well, that's the news from my corner of the world. Now it's on to reading the blogs I follow, looking at the Astronomy Picture of the Day, reading the Sunday comics, and drinking lots of liquids to help this cold germ pass right on through. I hope you are enjoying your Sunday; I'm determined to do the same.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Pushing myself to the limit

Packing area at Skydive Elsinore
As I mentioned last Sunday, I said I would be writing this post from my hotel room in Lake Elsinore, California. My laptop is the only light in the room, while Frankie, my roommate, is sleeping in the bed next to mine. The fan on the air conditioning unit is providing some white noise so she won't be disturbed by the sound of my fingers tapping the keyboard. I miss my regular situation with my partner, and my tea, but otherwise I'm pretty comfortable.

And tired. Yesterday I made four skydives with the Masters Skills Camp to help bring me up to speed for the record attempts we will make tomorrow, Monday. Actually, though, yesterday we already set a couple of records for women SOS (Skydivers Over Sixty), which I wrote about on my other blog. Here, I can talk about how I'm feeling, what I'm learning.

First of all, it's really wonderful to be in an environment of other skydivers from all over the world who are over sixty. It makes me realize that what I do is not THAT extreme, and that there are advantages to being older and wiser. Most of the people I've met are retired from their work careers and have either returned to an old flame (skydiving) or have taken up the sport at an advanced age. I credit tandem skydiving for the latter. Many people who overcome their fears by making a tandem jump realize that they are not too old to capture a dream and run with it. As one SOS woman said to me in an email, "I am 65 and it has finally sunk in, now with an urgency that both inspires and terrifies me, that I better do what makes me happy. Mortality does offer freedom does it not?"

Yes, it does indeed. I am reluctant to look ahead too far into the future, when my eyesight has failed (it's happening gradually but inexorably), my hearing has gone south, and my body will no longer take the pounding to which I subject it on a regular basis. I've got a couple of bruises and bangs from yesterday's jumps, a few sore muscles, but otherwise I feel confident that, unless something untoward happens, I will return home on Wednesday tired and happy. I didn't feel that confidence last Sunday when I was writing my post. I was afraid of the travel, thinking of all that could go wrong, and that perhaps I had become too rusty in my skydiving skills to do this. And I am definitely showing in the freefall videos that I have plenty of work to do in that department. But I'm doing it, and I will return to my home Drop Zone ready to go, all tuned up for the summer season.

There are many inspiring characters for me to hang out with. Yesterday I sat down between skydives and visited with John, a man from somewhere on the East Coast. He was on the record last year, so he is working with larger groups, making his jumps with 8 to 15 others. He was tired, too, and ready for the day to end so he could relax with a glass of wine. I felt the same way, but we both had one more skydive scheduled before we could call it a day. I caught up with him afterwards, while he was waiting for the dinner to be served. He said that the time change made it rather difficult for him to wait until 7:30pm to eat (it's three hours later for him), so he was having a snack of some gouda cheese, which he shared with me. He's a very interesting guy, and perhaps today I can find out what else he does with his life. I headed back to the hotel room, skipping the dinner.

My roommate is the other SOS woman who is seventy. She had just returned from a family vacation in Mexico, catching a plane from there directly to Los Angeles, renting a car and getting here late Friday night. Since she shipped her skydiving gear to Elsinore, she had very little baggage with her. If I ever do this again, I might do the same thing. It makes much more sense than wrestling with it through the airlines. I remember the days when traveling by air was luxurious, but not any more. A small carry-on bag is what I prefer to travel with, not a huge suitcase filled with skydiving gear, which of course must be checked through.

Although I am enjoying this adventure, I miss my partner at home, and I miss my daily routine. Next week when I write this post, it will be another cherished memory. Until then, I'll take it one day, one jump, and one step at a time. I hope that you too are enjoying your life and seizing the moment.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Visitation and adventure

Daddy, me as an infant, and Mama
The night before last, I had a very vivid dream about my parents. They were young and vibrant, laughing so hard they kept me laughing, too. Daddy was attempting to repair an old TV, and Mama was his assistant. Other people were around, as if it were an impromptu party, and I was so thrilled to see them having so much fun that I ran to get my camera. As I was hunting for it, I remember thinking how fortunate I was to be enjoying my parents so much when I was... seventy. And the confusion of that thought woke me up. Just for a moment as I lay in bed, I basked in the presence of my parents, who still seemed close enough for me to touch.

It really felt like a visitation, and I still to this moment feel like I had dropped by to spend some time with them. Even though I know in my head that it was an event manufactured from my brain, my heart just doesn't care. It was as real to me as this laptop. My son Chris sometimes appears to me in my dreams, too, always as a teenager, but he hasn't visited me lately, and I miss him.

Time softens my memories of my loved ones who have gone ahead; it's been twenty years since Mama died, and thirty-some years since Daddy left. I am older right now than either of them, since Daddy was 62 and Mama was 69 when they died. I remember talking with her on the phone about her seventieth birthday, which was coming up. (She died in March and would have been 70 in July.) She didn't want to think about it. She had suffered so many heart attacks but was stable and seemed to bounce back from each one. After the final one, she didn't. She knew she was dying and all her children came to see her. She didn't even look sick, but she was confined to bed and sat propped up with pillows, much like a queen holding court, while we listened to her pronouncements about which of her possessions would go to each.

She fell into a coma and we all thought it was the end. My sister Markee is an RN, and she and my sister Fia stayed with her as the rest of us returned to our lives. Then I got a call at work that she woke up from the coma and asked for a milk shake! I got on the phone and spoke with her, and she said that God had told her she could return for a short while to say goodbye to us, but when she closed her eyes, she would be gone for good. That night she fell back into a coma. Smart Guy and I got in our car and drove without haste to Texas, a journey of a little more than a day, thinking she would be gone before we arrived. But she wasn't. She had waited for me, and that night I gave my sisters a break from caring for her and slept in her room. Around midnight, I woke to give her a shot of morphine, and I noticed that her breathing had changed. I took her pulse and could barely find it. I called everyone into the room, and we were all with her as she took her last peaceful breath. We surrounded her head with the flowers that filled the room, and we stayed with her as the coroner was summoned to take her body away.

And now I remember those moments, which happened and still live in my memory, but that recent dream, those memories, feel just as real as the others. Nobody knows for sure what happens to us, if anything, after we die, but does it really matter? When I move to a new place, the location I left becomes a memory, subject to revision as time passes. The immediacy of my life makes the old place become distant. It's no different for any of us, and I hope that if there is an afterlife, I will be able to take some memories along with me. Who knows? Maybe Mama and Daddy really ARE together, laughing and carrying on with each other. It's a comforting thought.

On another note altogether, I am going to be traveling to southern California on Friday for a five-day stay. I'll be writing my next post on Sunday morning from a hotel room with a roommate I've never met, another skydiver. There is a gathering of SOS members (Skydivers Over Sixty) who will be trying to set a record for the largest formation ever attempted by SOS. I let myself get pulled into it, because they are looking for women who qualify to attempt to make a formation of just SOS women, and there aren't many of us! I'll be posting on my other blog about the daily trials and tribulations of me making four jumps a day for three days! And then I'll come home tired and (hopefully) a record holder.

My sister PJ is doing well in a rehab facility, in good spirits and learning how to cope with her weakened heart. Apparently she will be going on disability and probably getting around on a scooter, which means her home will need to be modified before she can return there. Today she will get to spend some time with her two dogs, as her husband is allowed to bring them to the courtyard where she is staying. I know she is looking forward to that.

So, all in all, life is good here in my part of the world, and I am also in good spirits and looking forward to the adventure of traveling south to join my skydiving sisterhood. If all goes as planned, nine of us will make a successful formation. Until next week, stay well and enjoy yourselves!