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, 2019

Turbulent week ahead

Front porch flowers
My beautiful flowers are looking good for the last week in August. I didn't realize how much I would enjoy pink, but everything that is flourishing seems to be that color. It wasn't intentional: sometime in late June I realized I had some gaps in my flower beds, and I bought a few petunias to fill them in, and they have not only thrived, but in some cases taken over. I'm not at all unhappy with the results.

When I write in here next week, it will be September, ushering in my favorite time of the year. Well, fall doesn't actually begin until the end of the month, but the weather changes from our usual cloudless skies to more variety, sun mixed with gentle rain and lots of pretty fluffy clouds. I think clouds are fascinating and lovely. I'm one of the few people who can say that they know what it feels like to be inside one. When I was a skydiver, although it isn't actually legal to jump through them, it happens occasionally. There are perhaps a dozen cloud jumps that I will never forget. When you are above the cloud, you can't see the ground or what might be underneath (such as an airplane), but once you're in freefall, there's not much you can do about it, so you just go right on through. Sometimes they look solid, but they feel soft and cool in relation to the surrounding air. I love clouds.

The coming week will be rather disruptive, for several reasons. The first one, most on my mind, is a long-scheduled colonoscopy. Most of my readers will have been through at least one of these procedures. It's not the event itself that is difficult, but the preparation. Sitting on my desk are all the ingredients to get my bowels completely cleaned out: laxative pills, some kind of awful liquid that I must drink, and magnesium citrate on top of it all. And for the whole day before, I can only consume liquids, no milk in my coffee (but at least I can have coffee) until after the procedure on Wednesday morning.

It all starts with the consumption of laxative pills at 11:00am Tuesday, and from there I take a break until 5:00pm with the first drink of the mixture, then another at 8:00pm, and last of all, 4:30am the following morning. I don't expect I'll get much sleep, since I'll be up and down going from the bed to the throne. I had one of these in Colorado maybe fifteen years ago, and I thought I'd not have to have another one of these, but I actually requested it from my doctor when I went in to see her for my wellness visit. I've been having some changes in bowel habits, and figured it would be a good idea to have this uncomfortable examination one last time. At my age, unless they find some suspicious growths, it should be my final time enduring this.

And to top it off, the YMCA gym, where I've been going almost daily for the entire time I've lived in Bellingham, will be closed for the whole week, opening up again on September 3 after the Labor Day holiday closure. They will be resurfacing all the floors and making some other changes that are more easily done when the users of the facility are not there. It's a real nuisance for me, but once it's done, we should be happy with the results. Other than the smell that bothers some, the resin they coat the wood floors with, it will be nice to have it all done at once.

I decided to sign up for a week at a nearby athletic club, which cost me about as much as a nice dinner out. Other than probably not using the facility on Wednesday, I'll make use of it the rest of the time. Some friends frequent it instead of the Y, and some prefer it, but I've been going to the my favorite gym for so long that it will be a disruption. They have exercise classes, too, which I might try out, and before I know it, this turbulent week will be behind me and things will return to normal. At least I hope so. I have not been looking forward to it at all. Next week when I write my post, the colonoscopy will be a memory, but I still won't have returned to the gym. That won't happen until a week from Tuesday.

A week from this coming Monday is Labor Day, which is the unofficial end of summer in the United States. It was another Labor Day, back in 1990, when I made my first skydive, not knowing what a change it would bring to my life. It changed the entire trajectory of my life, right up to this day. My dear partner came to me through the sport; we met in 1992 and married in 1994 (in freefall), and the sheer volume of jumps I made every year after add up to more than 4,000. One year (1998) I made 401 skydives, the pinnacle of my skydiving career. That's more than one a day on average!

I just looked up that year in my logbooks, which I still keep on a nearby shelf. Every single jump is chronicled, and looking at the one covering that time period, I remembered that I also kept track of what I did on each one. Once I became an instructor, instead of paying for skydives, I made a small amount ($30) as well as the jump itself. The extra money meant that I could afford to play with my friends in the sky quite often, when I was not working as an instructor. That was more than twenty years ago now, but that period of my life is still alive in my memory. I'm glad to have the logbooks, too.

When we moved to Bellingham in 2008, I managed to keep skydiving a little, not as an instructor, but an hour-long drive to Snohomish gave me a chance to still "get my knees in the breeze." Gradually I jumped less and less, until in 2015 I made my last skydive and sold my gear. For more than 25 years, it was the center of my universe, but like almost every other part of life, one day it became time to move on.

Sometimes I miss it, but having moved to the Pacific Northwest from Colorado was the beginning of learning about wonderful hikes and trails, and the enjoyment of being outdoors in the wilderness has not yet worn off. It was an old skydiving injury in 2000 that still reverberates through to today, and I am still in recovery from a fall I took more than a month ago. One day I will have to stop my current level of activity, but I feel quite confident that I will find a way to enjoy every single day until then. And the next phase will open up. Who knows what the future holds? It's an exciting prospect to consider.
Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it. —Oprah Winfrey
I remember when I was learning to skydive, and then to teach, that I felt I would never achieve my goals. And now here I am, looking for the next thing to attempt and conquer. I've been on the high wire, and I have survived to this day. My dear partner still sleeps next to me, and I know my day today will take me out into the world to find new adventures, and I will hopefully be with you, my dear readers, again next week. Until then, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, August 18, 2019


Lily and Lynn
Yesterday afternoon, my friends and I met on Lynn's front porch to share food and drink wine together. That wasn't the original plan for the day; I had gone early to the coffee shop and was going to walk with the ladies, but my knee simply isn't good enough right now to do more than carry me from place to place. Brisk walks are hopefully in my near future, but not at the moment.

Right about the time that my lower back injury began to stop giving me so much pain, my right knee, for no apparent reason, gave out on me. My acupuncturist said he thought it is related to my earlier injury, but I'm not willing to give up my active lifestyle just yet. In the meantime, I'll continue to read and enjoy more sedate activities, such as eating and drinking wine.

My friend John was waiting at the coffee shop yesterday when I arrived, and he bought me breakfast, and said, "Harry is gone." Harry is his cat, who has his own cat door and comes and goes as he pleases. I was confused by what he meant, so he told me that he didn't come home for two nights, and John thinks he was probably eaten by a coyote. He had been attacked by one a few years ago, but he escaped and, although injured, made a full recovery. Apparently not this time. I am always distressed by the loss of our dear animal companions, for whatever reason. As his friend, I offered my sincere condolences; there is nothing else I could do.

I also lost another friend this past week. I learned that one of my old friends from skydiving was found dead in his home. His neighbors called the police after he had not been seen for several days. He always took an early morning walk and the neighbors were concerned. I was very sad to think of him taking that final journey alone. Apparently a week or so before, he had been in a car accident and had been treated at the hospital and released. I wonder if something happened that wasn't discovered at the time. We'll never know.

The downside to having lots of friends and acquaintances who matter to me is the inevitable having to say goodbye, as the days and years pass. I've lost so many friends and family by now, and it never gets any easier, just different. My heart aches for all the loss we humans must endure. Suffering is just as much a part of life as joy and happiness.
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. —Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Some people find comfort in a strong religious conviction. Although I am a believer, I'm not at all sure that organized religion is for me. I've gone through many phases of belief, but I no longer attend any church. However, I do pray, and often when I am in distress I'll go for a solitary walk and have a conversation with myself. Whether there is anybody else listening is not for me to know, but it doesn't matter: I always feel better after some tears and those talks.

I was only twenty-two when I lost my son to a bout of meningitis. That was my first loss, and it took me close to a decade of life to make my way back to a new normal. These days, I find it takes much less time, because my heart is already tender and soft just from living. I think many people feel they can harden one's heart and not feel things quite so deeply, but for me, it's the opposite. I can be reduced to tears in an instant, and I'm glad for the ability to share someone's grief. I wonder if it's a choice one makes, or whether life circumstances are what makes some of us feel things so deeply. It's a mystery to me.

One thing I know for sure: the longer I live, the more loved ones I will lose. My remedy for that is to stop often and take stock of what my life and my day contains right at this moment. My life partner, still sleeping next to me at this moment, is so precious to me, and I cannot think how I would survive that loss. But I know that I would. We have talked about it, and I know he will also be able to carry on without me. It's not easy, never easy, but it's part of life.

We are both in our twilight years, those years when we are hale and happy without major illness. Yet the path ahead for us all is towards infirmity, and we can face it with equanimity if we choose. Our way out of our loss and hurt is in and through. It doesn't make me miss my loved ones any less, but remembering them with love in my heart feels so much better than becoming bitter and wishing things were different.

As I write these words, I am sitting in my bed with my laptop, the sun has just risen on a new day, and my sleeping partner will be with me for awhile longer. My dear friends at the coffee shop, all my friends, including you, dear reader, enrich my life and fill my days with happiness. These words from a psalm just popped into my head: my cup runneth over. How can anyone be grumpy on a day like this?

My tea is gone, and I can feel the day pulling me towards whatever lies ahead for me today. Perhaps I'll lay my tired head down at the end of a good day, and I hope I will remember to give thanks for another exciting and precious adventure in the world. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will find some person somewhere who will leave your presence with a smile on his or her face. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Reveling in my humanity

Beautiful sky at Lake Padden
Yesterday I was able to walk with the ladies and complete the entire thing with little to no discomfort in my back. So, finally, I am able to take up my usual exercise-filled days and walk like I normally do. It took more than a month for my tailbone/sacrum area to heal. There are still a few movements that are a bit painful, but considering what I started with, I am thrilled to be so much better.

Today I have considered what I want to discuss, what is on my mind. After last week's mass shootings, I was on edge when I went out in public, but even after a short week, I am feeling much more normal. It's important to be aware of one's surroundings, being situationally aware, but it's also important to carry on and not let yourself get bogged down by fear. Life is fragile in any case, but more so once you become truly old. I want to enjoy every day of those I have left to me.

I'm reading three books at once: a Dave Barry book about the lessons he's learned from his dog Lucy, a book about aging well, and Pete Buttegieg's new book about who he is and why he decided to run for president. Aging Well is on my Kindle, and again I'm wishing I had it in hard copy so I could go back and forth in its pages more easily. And the book by Mayor Pete was sitting on a shelf at the local bookstore, so it was easy to peruse. Writing a memoir when you're in your mid-thirties seems odd, so I was intrigued, picked it up and ended up buying Shortest Way Home. My sister Norma Jean suggested the Dave Barry book, Lessons from Lucy, so I put a hold on it through the library website, and it (of course) showed up right as I had these other two books to read.

They are all very different from one another. I don't want the Dave Barry book to end, so I'm savoring it and reading it slowly. He's such a good writer, and he sure knows how to make me laugh out loud. He and Lucy are "of an age," with Lucy turning ten (seventy in dog years) and Dave turning seventy. He says that this time of life is comparable to the two-minute warning toward the end of a football game, and I ruefully agree. You know you've got less time than ever when you pass that milestone. And for me, that milestone is in the rear-view mirror.
Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes  —Anonymous
It seems like it was just yesterday that I turned seventy, but now I'm past the halfway mark to eighty. Eighty! Not very many people make it to that age without aches and pains and even debility. I'm hoping that I will still be able to carry out some semblance of the life I have today. As I get older, I realize how much of what I thought was essential in everyday activity needs to be modified in order to continue to work properly. "Adapt" is my watchword these days.

I am grateful to be alive during this particular moment in time, when so much has changed to make life more interesting. I mentioned the books I'm reading at the present time, how much they give me and help to keep my brain active. There is also another aspect of life that didn't exist when I was young: computers and the blogosphere. I love to write, and blogging gives me an instant outlet. Not only that, I follow several people around the globe who give me a glimpse into their lives and their own coping mechanisms when things go amiss. Many of my readers use their own method of knowing when a fellow blogger has written a new post. I use The Old Reader, and part of my morning routine is to log in and see what's new. Since I follow close to a hundred different blogs, I'm glad that not everyone writes something new every day, or I'd never be able to keep up. But seeing a new post from someone I consider to be an old friend is a real delight. I get some sort of contentment from learning about the everyday life of others. Plus I often learn something valuable.

And then there's my own small community of friends. In the book about aging well, it turns out that it's important to have a few friends who you can share the ups and downs of life with. Women have more of such friends. I think that's because many men have difficulty bonding with one another. I'm glad to have many friends of both sexes I feel I can talk to and cannot imagine not having that outlet.

Speaking of which, I guess I'd better get up and start my day. My beloved partner still sleeps next to me, and I've got a pretty full day ahead. After the coffee shop and hanging out with friends there, I'll go to Whole Foods and meet Lily there for breakfast. Then she and I will pick blueberries at my friend Judy's house, before taking in a movie at the local independent theater, where Judy will join me. By the time I get home it will be early afternoon, and I'll settle into my easy chair and decide which book to pick up and lose myself in. Not a bad life, not at all.

I hope that you will find some small (or large) delights in your week ahead. And don't forget to pay it forward, give someone a kindness that you wouldn't otherwise have thought of. It's good for both, the giver as well as the receiver. Until we meet here again next week, I wish you all good things.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Finding a way to happiness

Walking into the mist
Is it possible to develop a stress disorder without ever having been exposed to direct violence? Sometimes I wonder if I have it. Every single loud noise at the gym or on the street makes me jump, tense up, and sometimes even emit a scream. I don't trust cars to stop for me when crossing the street, even in a crosswalk with proper lights and signals. I have become rather skittish when out in public. Perhaps my sister has it right: she avoids the news and doesn't watch anything on TV that tells about current events. Yesterday's news about two separate mass shootings has put me on edge. (Sorry, Norma Jean. I won't say anything more about them.)

Current events, especially gun violence, have shaken me to the core. When did all this start? I don't remember growing up afraid of people with guns on the street. It is definitely a growing problem, but I don't understand why. Of course I looked it up on google and found an article on Vox, written last month:
Gun violence in the US is often talked about as if it’s a single problem. But it’s really at least four different ones: suicides, urban gun violence, domestic violence, and mass shootings. Suicides are the majority of the nearly 40,000 gun deaths in the US in 2017. But urban violence is the second biggest category, making up a majority of the 14,000 gun homicides that same year.
 It's not just me, of course, who is upset about the proliferation of guns and the men who like to have them around. And it's usually men, it seems to me, that buy multiple guns and sometimes shoot up people in random settings. Why? Most of the time they die, too: are they suicidal and want to take people along with them when they die? I just don't understand it.

I remember the first time I saw a gun. I was maybe nine or ten years old, and my father, who was in the Air Force, had returned from a temporary duty assignment. He placed his gun on the top of the refrigerator, and my sister and I decided to get a couple of chairs to climb up and take a look at it. We didn't touch it, but I remember it was a handgun and looked very scary to my young eyes.

I was an adult and a young mother when President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. Five years later, I remember Martin Luther King's death. They were both felled by guns. These days, I wonder what these two men would think of what is going on in this country right now.
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. —Martin Luther King, Jr.
Well, that quote from King pretty much sums it up, to me at least. Hate is busy multiplying in our country, as he says, "adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars." He does, however, give us a solution: love. As hard as it is for me to figure out how to do that, I know I can.

I can start where I wake this morning: by taking stock of all the wonderful parts of the surrounding world, including my country, my home town, my loved ones. Concentrating on finding love all around me is the only way forward, as I see it. Rather than concentrating on what scares me, I can look beyond to that which makes me smile, laugh, and gives me hope for the future.

Not everyone has the ability to find peace and happiness in their surroundings. Some of us live in desperate circumstances, but that is not me, not today at least. I see small acts of kindness around me every day. Why, I even practice them myself. Kindness feels good, too, both offering it to others and receiving it as well.

The choice is mine to make: concentrate on what I can offer to the world around me that will add joy and love, or let myself get pulled into the morass of hate. Nope, I won't do that, and I sincerely ask my readers to consider just one act of kindness that you might add to your world today. Each spark of loving kindness adds to the flame of happiness. Just writing those words feels good, and I know we are up to the challenge.

So, today I will make every attempt to make my world a better place. First, I'll start by finishing this post and getting myself ready to go out into the bright sunshiny day. Maybe I'll be able to finally spend some time in my garden, since my back is so much better, and pull out weeds and give the plants and flowers some room to spread out a little. I hope you will also find something that will add positive thoughts to your own small universe. I'll do the same, and we will have already made a positive difference in the world.

My dear partner still sleeps next to me; my tea is gone. Until we meet again next week, I hope you will find much to smile and laugh about, and that you will be well. I wish you all good things.