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 25, 2021

Thirteen years

Cherry tree in bloom

We moved into this apartment complex thirteen years ago now, and this tree was the first thing I saw as we pulled into the parking lot, with SG driving a U-Haul and me driving my silver Honda Civic. He had made an earlier trip to the area and found this place for us, left his own car and flew back to Boulder. The two of us arrived April 17, 2008 to begin our retirement years. This seemed like a good place to gain a foothold in the area. We did move from one end of the complex to the other in 2012, but otherwise it's been our home all these years. Twenty-six units make up the place, with lots of open area around us, which has changed over time, but it's quiet and mostly serene, and we see no reason to move anywhere else.

Many tenants have come and gone, and our rent has almost doubled over that time, but we have a community garden in the back, a large front porch and two entrances to the unit, which I had never enjoyed in an apartment before. I think it's a wonderful addition to apartment living. We live simply and have good relationships with our neighbors. People are mostly respectful of each other's space, and most of the children are on the far end of the complex. I do occasionally hear them playing and find the sound soothing, much as I find the birdsong coming from the trees.

It's not ideal, but it comes as close to ideal as we could find around here, and we are happy to be renters and not owners. We try to live lightly on the land and have only modest needs. This past year during the pandemic has been hard in many ways, but it would have been the same wherever we lived. Our county is undergoing a resurgence of the virus, but it seems to be getting under control, and most of the community is respectful of the need for masking and social distancing. We are in what is called Phase 3 of reopening, meaning that restaurants, gyms and bars can have up to half capacity in their facilities.

So much has changed during this past year, but we are slowly but surely regaining some normalcy, although I am still doing my yoga classes through Zoom, and frankly I prefer it in many ways. Once we return to the studio, only a few people at a time will be able to be inside, and we will need to bring our own mats, blankets and other props. Being in enclosed spaces still bothers me, even after having been fully vaccinated. I shop at the local Costco during senior hours, and mostly spend my time in close contact with only a few regulars. The coffee shop is still closed for anything other than buying takeout. I really miss hanging out inside. My usual spot these days is the passenger seat in John's truck. It's so much better than not having any place at all to visit. The weather, however, is now beginning to warm up enough to gather outside. 

Our ten-day warm streak of full sunshine is gone, and now it's just a rainy drizzle and makes the warm cab in John's truck much more inviting than sitting around outdoors. Once I finish my post and take care of the usual morning activities, I'll drive to the coffee shop and enjoy a latte with him. And I will be very happy when we will once again gather indoors to log onto our iPads and share stories. That is a ways in the future, however. I need to be happy with what we do have, and to be grateful that I can still get outside to enjoy life.

I'm trying to change my rather gloomy mood right now. Last week I finally made it to the dentist's office for a cleaning and an exam. It had been well over a year, and I knew I needed it, although I'm one of those people who rarely appreciates having good dental care until something really hurts. Everything checked out well, except for one back molar, which has a deep "pocket" and needs to be extracted, according to the dentist. My options are limited, but since there is no pain from that tooth, I am really skeptical about the necessity for losing it. I've never had any tooth pulled except for two bottom wisdom teeth long ago. My two top ones never descended and have never given me any problems.

I did get my dentist to agree to give me a prescription for two valium pills, one to be taken the night before, and the other the morning of the procedure. But of course the whole process is constantly on my mind. I have two more weeks before the big day. In my Trailblazers weekly Zoom meeting, I heard horror stories that have NOT helped me feel better about it at all. I'm wondering if maybe I should get a second opinion about the necessity of going through all this. But then again, it seems quite common for people in their old age to lose teeth. I'm willing to consider anything, but I sure don't need to hear more stories about what might happen. My dear husband has had two pulled during the past few years, and he didn't go through anything so horrific, so maybe I'm just making it all up. But it sure is on my mind a great deal of the time.

Other than that, however, I seem to be doing quite well overall. Although my sister Norma Jean likes to brag that she doesn't have any aches and pains, mine seem to be mostly in check at the moment. Never does a day go by when I don't have to nurse something that hurts; usually it's my knees or my right ankle, but one grows accustomed to having these little annoyances. At least I do. 

I wonder sometimes how much my daily exercises help me. Every morning I perform the Five Tibetan Rites, and I realize it's now been almost a decade that they have been part of my daily routine. Several friends have also been doing them, and one thing I know for sure is that they have helped me with my lower back pain. I also try very hard to get 10,000 steps on my iPhone every day, but lately it's been hit and miss. When I was going to the hi-lo aerobics class four times a week at the gym, it was no problem: the class always gave me more than half of them in an hour. I wonder if that class will resume someday. If so, I'll be there. I miss all those fellow regulars who were there along with me and wonder if there will ever be a time when we'll be back together. It's been hard to let go of what I loved.

Everybody has to deal with tough times. A gold medal doesn't make you immune to that. A skater is used to falling down and getting up again. —Dorothy Hamill

You know I couldn't end this post without finding a quote from somebody, and once I started looking I found this one from Dorothy Hamill. I am very used to falling down and getting up again, I do it almost every day. And the need I have for routine means spending some of my Sunday morning reading quotes, looking for just the right one to leave you with. It was the image of Dorothy trying and failing, and getting up again and again that stayed with me. 

And with that, I have reached the end of another Sunday morning post. Now I can get up and out of bed, while my dear partner still sleeps next to me. The sun has already risen, but it's cloudy and drizzly out there, not exactly calling me to get on with things, but you know I will. It's my nature. And I do hope, dear friends, that this coming week will bring you joy. Life is good and I'm looking on the bright side. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. 

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Our world today

Taken yesterday at the train station

Just last week, there were so few tulips up around town, but yesterday we saw these gorgeous tulips while on our six-mile walk from downtown to the Ferry Terminal in Fairhaven and back. On Thursday, Melanie and I will venture down to the Tulip Festival in Skagit Valley to see what's showing up there. When Lily and I traveled there a few weeks ago (on Easter Sunday), the daffodils were open but very few of the tulips. It's amazing how quickly that has changed.

When I went to bed last night, I wondered what I might write about today. It often comes to me during the night, but not always. It's my first task of the week, if I consider Sunday as being the first day of the week and not the last. Sunday is different: on some calendars it is on the right side and others on the left. Curious, isn't it?

Of course, we make it up ourselves. There is really no difference between days of the week, or months or years, for that matter. The sun rises and sets as it has been doing since the dawn of time, but here we are, observers who have given names to it all and believe that we are in charge of things. How silly is that? I have no more control of my life than I do over the change of seasons or the weather. 

As I make my way through this beautiful springtime, I ponder the state of the world, and especially my country. We are in the midst of a terrible period of gun violence in America, with more than 45 mass shootings in the past MONTH. People going about their business, in grocery stores, or at work, or simply just being outside, are killed for no reason other than some crazy man with a gun, usually an assault rifle. What is happening? Can it be changed or at least mitigated? It fills me with despair.

And it makes me realize that nobody anywhere is safe from it. Just as I have no idea when it will be my time to die, I realize that there is no guarantee that I will not be shot dead in the street today. Or at the coffee shop. Or in a grocery store. If not me, then some other poor soul who doesn't know where the bullets are coming from, or why. It's hard enough to navigate through our lives, but now we must be aware of death coming from an unknown adversary.

We, my partner and I, talked yesterday about taking the time to fill out some forms that will help each other if we might be killed suddenly. Ways that we can cope if we are left behind and need to take care of business. I looked online and there are plenty of workbooks and other tools for this task. We have already filled out and registered our Advance Directives, but that doesn't take care of the details we need to know if for some reason we are left behind. I found this one that I particularly like, The Final Chapter: An End of Life Organizational Planning Tool. Here's an excerpt from the description:

Having everything documented in one place relieves emotional stress, heartache, and chaos for those who are grieving. Now, more than ever, our digital world necessitates a structured depository for passwords, accounts, insurance details and other crucial information, as much of it is saved online and cannot be accessed by anyone after death.This book provides peace of mind, financial security, guidance, direction, and knowledge for the survivors’ coming days and will be a major part of your legacy. 

I went ahead and ordered this one, after reading several reviews from different versions and found this one quite useful. Many people have been using things like this during the Covid pandemic, and some reviewers were grateful for having had so much of their burden lifted when a loved one ended up dying in the hospital. We just never know how our final chapter will be written. We live in an uncertain world in an uncertain time, and this is one way to give some semblance of control over our lives. 

I realize that my readers might have found other ways to cope with today's world, and I would be so happy to hear of other approaches to this time in life. One thing I know for sure: nobody can ever say about me that I left prematurely, since I have already lived a full life. Many of those who were killed in the most recent shooting were young and their families certainly didn't expect this. 

We think about leaving behind a legacy for our loved ones, but the most important thing I can do is to remove some of the pain from my partner, who would have to figure out how to access all the different avenues left unfinished, such as (perhaps) this blog, how to get onto it and let my readers know I am gone. We all die, and certainly I have been blessed to have my faculties intact as I begin to make my way through my own final chapter. I don't have an end date, none of us do for sure, but by the time we get into our late seventies, we know it's not that far in the future. It's actually kind of a relief to open up to this task and get it behind me.

Yesterday I watched the funeral of Prince Philip, who died at 99, and had lived a full and meaningful life. I was moved by the image of his sword and his hat on top of his casket, reminding me of my own son's memorial service that had his helmet and boots in front of his picture, since he died while serving in the Army. The Prince was married to the Queen for 73 years and I was also moved by the picture of her sitting alone in the chapel. We do what we can to lessen the burden of our passing for our loved ones. Nothing can remove the grief we feel for our loss, but it's so much easier when it is expected and not a sudden death, such as from being shot dead while shopping for groceries. But even that, we can recover from.

You will lose someone you can't live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn't seal back up. And you come through. It's like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly - that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp. —Anne Lamott

 I wish I could have written about something more uplifting and positive, but that's just not where my mind is today. It is the state of our world today, and of my heart and mind as well. That doesn't mean I am not hopeful for the future, and for all the good that surrounds me. Sometimes life is a mixed bag, isn't it? 

But my dear partner still sleeps next to me, as normal, gently breathing, and my tea is long gone, and it's time to out of bed and step into the rest of my day. And nothing can stop me from giving thanks for the delight that all the opening flowers fill me with. And for you, my dear readers. I hope you will have a lovely and safe week, until we meet again. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Paying it forward

Skagit Valley daffodils

 I overslept this morning, and I've got a massage scheduled early, so here goes a Sunday post with little to no idea what I've got to say. It's always a little bit disconcerting to awake and find that half my morning is already gone, and I am already feeling less than serene. This picture was taken last Sunday when my friend Lily and I drove to the Skagit Valley, hoping for tulips but seeing very few, although the daffodils were in full bloom! Gazing at that picture does bring me a little more serenity.

We've had a very cool spring, and everything is behind. But coming up this week we've got a big change in the works: a week (at least) of above-normal temperatures, and everything should catch up quickly. The weather has been really strange in so many places in the world, probably because of climate change, they say, but who knows for sure? We are still in the grip of the coronavirus in much of the world, as well as countless wars and rumors of war everywhere. It's a very unsettled time in the history of the world.

And here we are, right in the middle of it all. We in the United States had the first presidential election in our history where there was not a peaceful transfer of power, with an insurrection on January 6th, and many people still not convinced in the legitimacy of President Biden. It has caused so much strife and difficulty already, and I fear there is more to come. Not since the 1960s have so many citizens marched in the streets for change. And now almost everyone has at least one gun and I wake up every day to learn of another mass shooting in my country. It's inexplicable, and many of them seem random, making me more fearful for my safety and for those around me.

There are so many homeless and hopeless people in Bellingham, and it seems to be increasing daily. As I sat in the cab of my friend John's truck yesterday as we enjoyed our coffee together, at least six homeless people walked by, some with all their belongings in a grocery cart, few dressed appropriately for the cold weather. And a few obviously in a bad mental state, shouting and cursing at everyone they see. It's a very depressing state of affairs.

However, for now we do have a functioning government, and there are places for those without homes to get some food, even as many of them are huddled in doorways in inadequate sleeping bags, trying to sleep with all their belongings surrounding them. There are homeless shelters, but many of these unfortunate people don't go there because of the rules they must follow. And they must leave each morning to walk the streets. At least we are in springtime, and the weather will soon warm and make life a tiny bit easier for them. I fear that the trickle of homeless will soon become a flood, along with all the pain and suffering that we will all be forced to endure.

Not that it seems to be any better in other countries. I shudder to read every morning about what is happening in other parts of the world, where military are executing their own citizens in Myanmar, where innocents are being starved to death in Syria and other places, and where governments are teetering on the brink of collapse. Is it just me, or is the world really in worse shape than ever? The pandemic is raging in most countries, and we endured a horrible year in 2020. People want a scapegoat and are going after Asian Americans, as if they had anything to do with the virus.

Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times. —Saint Augustine

What do you suppose St. Augustine means by that statement? That if I can live well, times shall be good? My life is pretty darn good, and I have a roof over my head and hopefully no bullets will come through my windows. I can sit in my bed on a dark Sunday morning and ponder the state of everything. I don't know how to go forward when times are so bad everywhere around me. I feel almost guilty for my good fortune, when I see so many others suffering. If there is a way for me to make the world a better place, I ask for guidance to find that path.

First of all, I realize that even in the midst of so much suffering, there is plenty to be grateful for. Yesterday I observed several acts of kindness that were unexpected by the recipients, and I saw that and even offered one myself. Kindness is catching. I realize now that is the way forward for me: find ways to spread more kindness through my own little world, and life will get better. If everyone could find a way to be kind today, we can spread that benign virus into the world. Perhaps that is what St. Augustine means by living well. What do you think?

Paying it forward is also something that can help spread kindness through the world. I read not long ago about a long line of people in cars waiting to get a chance to buy coffee, and one person paid for the coffee of the people in the car behind them, and that started a chain that went on for 11 hours, from morning to evening. You can read about it here

Upon realizing as I sit here writing, there are definitely many ways for me to become part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Life gives us, every day, choices to make that can either brighten the world around us, or allow us to fall into despair and consent to its becoming darker. I was well on my way to darkness until I asked for guidance and found that article. Yes, it is possible for my small little self to make things better by looking for ways to spread kindness in my immediate environment.

One of the ways I can also spread kindness is to ask my readers to start a chain of kindness in their own lives. That would be you, my dear friend, and perhaps this day will become bright enough to light many sparks that will change the world. And with that admonition, I hope to feel that this bright new day will offer many of us a new beginning. 

My dear partner still sleeps next to me, my tea is long gone, and I am ready to begin the rest of my day. I will be getting a massage in a few short hours, and that will help me, too. I hope that your day will be bright with promise and lots of love, dear friends. Until we meet again next week, be well. 

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter 2021

Rita Eberle-Wessner creation

Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf. —Rabindranath Tagore

Here we are again, the week has slid around to another Sunday, this one Easter. I went back to look at previous Easter posts I have written, and the picture I thought I might use at the beginning, of my sister Norma Jean and me with our Easter baskets many decades past, has been used too many times already. This one, snagged from one of my Flickr friends, thrills me with its perfect evocation of springtime joy.

And I love the image that comes to mind when I read that quote from Tagore. What does it mean, to "let my life lightly dance on the edges of Time"? Almost every person whom I choose to emulate has already danced there, and they have left the realm of the living and now are only present through their past works. Does it matter that they are gone from this earth? Does it make them any less relevant?

No, certainly not. Easter reminds me that we are all caught in this wonderful and magical creation of ours, that of being born into a world we know nothing about, learning and growing, moving from youth to old age, feeling ourselves the same, but always dancing on the edges of Time. After living through a pandemic winter, the birds are now singing, the flowers emerging from the ground, and my life feels filled with promise. We are not through to the other side of the pandemic just yet, but there is much to be grateful for and to enjoy through each moment of the day.

Easter always comes on a different Sunday, and I learned that it was decided to be held the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox, by the First Council of Nicea in AD325. It's also the celebration of Passover, the eight-day-long Jewish celebration of the Israelites being freed from Egyptian slavery. It's not by coincidence that all these events happen at the same time. But why in the world has Easter become associated with bunnies and Easter eggs? Here's why:

All the fun things about Easter are pagan. Bunnies are a leftover from the pagan festival of Eostre, a great northern goddess whose symbol was a rabbit or hare. Exchange of eggs is an ancient custom, celebrated by many cultures. Hot cross buns are very ancient too. In the Old Testament we see the Israelites baking sweet buns for an idol, and religious leaders trying to put a stop to it. The early church clergy also tried to put a stop to sacred cakes being baked at Easter. In the end, in the face of defiant cake-baking pagan women, they gave up and blessed the cake instead.

The celebrations of annual events has been followed by humans immemorial, and here we are in 2021, still following the same paths set down by our ancestors. It makes sense, since we are all experiencing our magnificent planet and its seasons throughout our lives, whether we dance lightly on the edges of Time for a long or short moment. It's sort of reassuring to me to realize that even as momentous events occur, the march of the seasons stays the same through the years. Easter comes and Easter goes, but will return again and again.

For me, the holiday is also a time to remember those who are (as they say) on the other side of the grass. My parents are both gone, but when I sleep at night, my mother often visits me in my dreams. My children are both gone, but my son Chris sometimes comes to laugh and rejoice with me, and I remember that all that I am today is part of my history that will never disappear as long as I breathe.

And it is also a time to count my blessings, which are numerous. As I sit here in the dark with my laptop, I feel the presence of my dear partner, who sleeps next to me, and my gratitude for him in my life only grows as the time passes. When he had a stroke last August, and I worried that I might lose him, it became very clear to me that I had better appreciate our time together every single day. He has mostly recovered from it, but he's different now. In some ways it has been a good thing: he's more emotional and less reticent to share his feelings with me. He still makes puns and bad jokes that cause me to groan in protest, but now they are precious and unique. But he also still struggles to speak clearly and works on making progress every day. If anything, I love and cherish him more because of the stroke.

During this last year, I was unable to carry on my life as usual, and now what I realize is how much of my routine was fungible: although now that I walk with one or two friends, I still walk. If I cannot hike in the mountains, I can still enjoy the wonderful forest environment within a few minutes drive from here. I do miss my workouts at the gym, but three Zoom yoga classes a week in my living room have helped me stay moderately fit. And some things will never return to their pre-pandemic place in my daily life, but it's not something to lament, just to notice and appreciate today.

And yes, there is always my social calendar, one which I am enjoying right this moment: a conversation with my virtual family. Once I finish this post and hit publish, I will look forward to your comments and hear what you have to say. One day soon, I should be able to attend a movie theater inside, but for now I am happy to keep things virtual. Now that I am fully vaccinated, I feel so much less apprehensive about walking around in close proximity to others. Here in my town, we are all still wearing masks and keeping our distance, but lately I have been able to hug dear friends who are also vaccinated. It's wonderful and something I once took for granted.

And with that, dear friends, I will finish off with an Easter wish for you: that you will find joy and companionship in your day. And that you will also remember that whatever else happens, you are appreciated. Be well until we meet again next week.