A Path

In the mornings, I read a short meditation from the Unity Church publication Daily Word, a habit acquired years ago from watching Mom do it, although like all practices that are good for me, pulling me into relationship with a more expansive view of my purpose on this earth, I am far from consistent.  Years have gone by when I’ve forgotten about the simplicity of beginning the day grounding myself in even such simple (some might say simplistic) affirmations as these few sentences.  I am always the better for any precious seconds I spend attending to my spiritual well-being. The challenge of being an incarnate soul is that the physical, time-bound world just demands so damn much attention. There’s laundry and traffic, politics and paperwork, and a million little decisions about what to eat or which route to take or whether we can afford this or that.  How can it be that we can feel such deep peace and love in our souls at times, yet live in a continual state of chaos, forgetting that bedrock foundation?

This morning’s Daily Word began “Today I consider the path that has brought me to this moment. Looking back at past situations, I now see that seemingly insurmountable obstacles held rich new opportunities to my Christ self to guide my every choice.”   As an aside, I should clarify the difference between my interpretation of “Christ self” and anything to do with Jesus, the man, or Jesus, God incarnate. Christ I understand here (shout out to theologian Richard Rohr, whose daily email meditations I also receive, and who has written much about Christ-as-energy this week) as non-denominational, not owned by any sect or religion and not exclusive to Jesus, a thirty-three year old carpenter from a little town in the Middle East.  Rather, it is shorthand for universal love, the dynamic, living energy that animates all existence and Big Banged us into eternally interconnected existence, bound to each other by our transcendent impulses: love, joy, creativity, compassion, generosity.  (Also: carbon and physics.) This conception of “Christ” is what arose within Buddha as he meditated under his Ficus reliogiosa. It’s the deep font of wisdom that informed great Jewish thinkers from Maimonedes to Elie Weisel. It’s the radical love and social progressivism embodied by Jesus, and the creative force that animated Michelangelo as he lay on his back, paint and sweat clouding his vision, forging the beauty of the Sistene Chapel. It’s that almost imperceptible breeze that sometime lifts a few hairs on your head and inexplicably opens your heart to something so rich and profoundly connective that tears spring to your eyes and you can hardly express why.  I don’t know how to square the power and beauty of this Christ Spirit with the depravity and corruption done in the name of the human being Jesus over the millenia, except to say that churches and religions are as imperfect as the humans who created and compose them, and it’s folly to suggest otherwise.

After reading the first sentence of this morning’s Daily Word, I closed my eyes to do the assignment, i.e. consider the path that has brought me to this moment: Two weeks away from my fifty-ninth birthday, newly sidelined by a single misstep last Monday. My world is reduced to my kitchen armchair, knees propped on a pillow with a bruise the size of a football on my thigh, awaiting MRI results that will unveil the truth of what’s actually happening inside my own body (I feel I should know with more certainty than I do), a tendon or perhaps two detached from my ischial tuberosity, floating somewhere under my ample thigh flesh, or perhaps (I hope), still attached, but frayed and tenuous, slamming me down into this suddenly sedentary existence.  As I considered the question, images of myself played across the screen of my mind: A montage of the past two years, essentially since the 2016 presidential election, spinning ever faster, like a broken clock:  from Nia classes to writing to building a business to strength training to dog walking, with frequent stops at my pantry door, where I scan the shelves for anything sufficiently crunchy to suppress the urgency that roils in me.

In an instant, it came to me: I’ve been running from my own broken heart.

It’s broken because I miss my kids, even as I thrill to see them go out into to the world and forge their lives, authentic, creative, brave, struggling, growing. But damn, it’s hard to go for months without seeing them in the flesh.  I just love ‘em so. I miss their laughter, their music, their amazing minds and big hearts.

Broken because I’ve been called on to do so much caretaking, with people dear to me experiencing grave health challenges with uncertain outcomes.

Broken from visiting people at McLean Hospital so often that the environment came to feel almost ho-hum. Yet the parade of suffering was always profoundly moving: the human condition at its most vulnerable­–wounded minds, fractured hearts, spirits at a loss.

Broken because I have been pulled back into childhood feelings of disempowerment and confusion, caretaking where distortions rule and everyone acts as if it’s all normal and good, and as long as you look attractive and are successful in worldly ways, we’re all okay, when in fact we are a big old (if well-intentioned) mess.

Broken because our parents are fragile, needing us to soothe their fears about losses and declines inevitable at their life stage, and truly, there’s little we can do except listen.  We lost John’s mom in November, and of course, more such passings lie ahead, whether in years or decades.  It’s a weird fact to sit with on a daily basis.  The unremitting anxiety of being 80-or-90-something-years-old for the person living it is wholly understandable and fitting, and yet, I feel guilty to admit:  it’s a buzzkill to be around.  (My parents would agree…)

Broken because marriages I admired have erupted into astonishing hostility, dissolving like sugar in boiling water.

Broken by the continual evidence of mankind’s capacity for corruption and arrogance, embodied in so many men that it takes my breath away: from Trump to Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, Larry Nassar, Bill Cosby.  Catholic priests abuse children, women and nuns; prep school teachers assault students; boys at parties, in frats or clubs, on teams, in dorms fail to understand (or worse yet, fail to comply) when they are being denied consent—if I listed them all, this post would be Nile-length and I’d have to update it hourly.  How can it be, with the overwhelming evidence of the capacity of men in power to abuse women, LGBTQ people of all genders, people of color, or any other disenfranchised group, that our culture continues to shame the people who call them on it?  Time and time again, “we” accept Man’s  “categorical denial,” buy into his sense of outrage at being accused of harms he may not or may not have intended, but caused nonetheless. Just this Friday, New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, a Boston celebrity, “categorically denied” paying for sex when caught in a sex-trafficking sting where the police report videotape evidence of 200 men engaged in the sleaze, including Mr. Kraft.  The system works for these abusers every time we affirm their blustering demurrals without scrupulous, disinterested examination. Is it any wonder victims of sexual assault or gender-based harassment don’t feel safe coming forward?

Broken because so many people seem to admire bullying as strength, believe mendacity is justified (unless the other team is doing the lying), and think patriotism is a club to be used against fellow Americans.

Broken because people who are black and brown continue to be systemically oppressed in a country purporting to prize liberty and justice for all. Hate thrives where selfless love might heal.  We owe these people of color an apology, for crap’s sake. I’ll give mine right now: I apologize to you for all the ways in which I am insensitive, clueless, blind to my own prejudices or privilege, participate in systems that oppress you in ways large and small, feel threatened by what I don’t understand or even see about your culture or experiences, misinterpret, fear, misjudge, look away, overcompensate or in any way think/feel/behave/believe/that you are less than I am, or treat you that way.

Broken because people are struggling and poor, children go hungry, families can’t afford to visit the doctor, schools crumble…in these United States, the most affluent country in the free world. Watching certain media outlets, you’d think our problem is lazy, greedy teachers, and not the astonishing gap in power, access, and capital that has opened up over the last two decades between big money and everyone else.

Broken because people are estranged by technology, and our arrogance and self-absorption undermines the health of our planet (not to mention, our social fabric. I’ll put that on my list of future posts).  We separate ourselves from nature, as if our species somehow stands outside it­–one day we’ll all have microchips in our brains and bionic joints anyway, so who cares if we burn the house down, we humans seem to think.  Well, here’s the news heading heatedly our way:  we are not the boss of Mother Nature.

BROKEN because so much beauty and health, goodwill and transformation is possible, just beyond our grasp, if only we’d discipline ourselves to look for intergration versus separation, expansion versus contraction, love versus fear; to set the highest standards for our care of this world and all that is in it: flora, fauna, and human, seen and unseen, friends and enemies (as Jesus the man insisted, by the way).  These are all the reasons why my heart has been broken. In my steadfast yet blinkered optimism, I have been running away from the realization as fast as I can. Until Monday, when I pitched forward onto my left leg and my hamstring emphatically declared: JUST STOP RUNNING.

So this morning, with the Daily Word app open on my cellphone, my ass aching on an icepack, I felt the tears of all that broken-heartedness welling up inside me.

You know: It was a relief.

If anything, the sensation of grief renews my determination to choose positivity.  I have just this one life, for all I know, incarnate in a human body.  Every moment counts, every choice is a gift, every thought and word has consequences, and everything I imagine creates some kind of reality.  It takes vigilance to ride my feelings of rage, fear, loss, accepting that they are with me and legitimate, yet nonetheless: continually choosing faith and hope.

Step by halting step, that’s my path.

Magnetic Resonance

Array ArchitectsI know many people find the MRI machine claustrophobic, disturbingly loud, even panic inducing. But I kind of liked it in there. There was something comforting to me about sliding into the snug, white tube, like a little chocolate in a candy factory, toodling along the conveyor belt towards its foil wrapper.  I liked the aesthetic: the white molded surfaces, the slight dome to the oval shape.  There’s a pristine clarity to the space, as if the design team at Apple had a hand in it.  From the much-handled menu of in-house radio stations, its lamination cracked and peeling, I chose the “Spa” channel.  Who listens to electronica or dance beats in the MRI machine, I wondered.   Stephanie, the technician who performed my MRI, was solicitous, handing me the emergency button, a plastic bulb attached to a computer cable that brought to mind a turkey baster, and placing the heavy headphones around my ears.  She put an extra pillow under my knees, draped me with a blanket, and when I suggested wincingly that taping my toes together for a better view into my hip-joint was not going to feel so hot for me at this stage in my healing journey, she said kindly, “No problem, I’ll just put a note in your file for the doctor.”  Her tone was professionally reassuring, but also personal. I know she does this a bazillion times a day, but she made me feel cared for, and I was grateful.

In the belly of the great white beast, I listened to my Spa tunes–pan flutes, wind chimes, ocean waves–underscored by the not-so-distant droning of the equipment. I kind of blissed out, to tell you the truth, inhaling deeply in my borrowed medical scrub pants, shorn of earrings and necklace. After the initial burst of sound, I felt unflapped by the loud clanging and womp-womp-womping of the machinery. They should offer you a sachet with the essential oil of your choice; maybe I’ll mention that in the post-scan customer satisfaction that surely awaits me.  Every so often, a loud buzzer would sound, bringing to mind a basketball game at the end of the quarter.  Amazingly, I had a really nice meditation in there.  I felt flooded with gratitude for the people in my life and what they mean to me. I thought about trees and their generosity to mankind, uncomplainingly cleaning the air poisoned by humans and our misguided sense of dominion. I acknowledged for perhaps the first time since I fell on Monday how much I miss my trail walks with the dogs, being out in nature, their resplendent joy at the smells and fresh stream water. I decided that, what the heck, I’ll probably go on a Nia retreat to Panama next winter, if I can afford it, because my Mexico sojourns these past two years have brought me such gifts of joy, laughter, and renewal. I had a vision where I was a fantastical, dragon-sized bird, twirling and winging through the sky, translucent and yet multicolored, with lines of energy and light emanating from me and also radiating into me, unifying me with all life, reminding me that we are all One, and that everything is energy and love.  Sounds a little trippy, but there you have it.  Ibuprofen is the only drug I’ve taken in the last week, I promise.

“Okay, Holly, we’re all done,” Stephanie’s voice came through the headphones.  “I’m gonna get you out of there right away,” she said, her tone urgent, as if my leg were caught in a bear trap.

I felt a little disappointed.

“How are you doing,” she asked as I re-emerged from the cavity.  She lifted the heavy lead apron from my pelvis and removed my blanket and pillows. “Take your time,” she said, watching me warily as I wobbled up on my good right leg, painfully dangling my left foot above the floor while the hamstring cramp passed.

I told Stephanie I was fine. “I kinda think I had a spiritual experience in there,” I said, laughing. I wiped a little tear away from my cheek, embarrassed to have become so moved at the Shields MRI facility on Washington Street in Wellesley.

She smiled.  “Oh, you’re one of those.”

She walked beside me as I limped towards the door.  “Probably about a third of the people actually find it relaxing,” she said.

“Relaxing” isn’t the first word I’d choose to describe how I found it.  Certainly, I had a few instances of anxiety about what the images will show, and potential dire outcomes passed through my mind as I cocooned.  I had to work, initially, at resisting urges to go down the rabbit hole of catastrophe, focusing my attention on my breath and the sounds of the music, rather than my busy imagination.  It was noisy and odd and I can certainly think of better pastimes on a sunny Saturday morning.

And yet, it was resonant.


crutchesI’ve missed blogging.  The act of habitual immersion in the present—noticing the varied sounds of my footfalls in the snow, or the texture of a slice of cinnamon raisin toast with crusts slightly charred, but soft-centered, little bites of raisin squishing sweetly under my molars—such observances come more fluidly when I’m cultivating the discipline of dailiness.  I felt it when I was in Mexico a few weeks ago:  a tug back towards writing.  But I’m rusty. On the flight home, I filled page after page in my journal with dense verbiage, words meandering from my pen like jungle vines, without the sense of propulsion that comes with practice, the machete of my internal editor whacking a path to a place I hadn’t realized I was heading.

I arrived home from the trip aglow with delight at the time spent with my amazing, hilarious, wise Nia sisters, immersed in nature, movement and meditation, an entire week devoted to the present. So good.  Re-entry from our vacation selves always has its challenges, and mine was no different:  a ton of teaching my first two weeks back; several client calls and meetings (not to mention, the actual client work); catching up with my chronically ill brother, always stressful; helping John with some communications projects he’d asked me to look over; buying and shipping Valentine’s Day care packages; scanning all our tax documents.  Self-care proceeded straight to the back of the line.

And then came the bad news/good news gift of a pulled hamstring sustained Monday afternoon when my sticky-soled moccasin caught the fringe of an area rug and I catapulted onto my free leg, stuck and twanging like a javelin before flopping earthwards.  I was on the phone with Mia, laughing at her story about “accidentally applying” online for a summer internship, whilst also carrying a new roll of paper towel up to the kitchen to swab the dog’s bloody ear (it was that kind of day). Typical, I thought, as I writhed around on our basement floor.  I arrive home unscathed from an hour of slip-sliding on the trails, Yaktrax skimming across the sheer ice through a thin layer of new snowfall, only to shred my hamstring over a roll of frickin’ Bounty.  I dance at least 6 hours a week, lift two hours a week, walk dogs an hour every day, and it’s this utterly mundane moment that takes me down.

C’est la vie.

The bad news part is obvious:  I’m in pain, I’m grounded, even taking a pee is a contortionist’s challenge at the moment.  I’ll have to miss who knows how much teaching and will certainly lose conditioning, which as anyone over 50 knows, goes in a nanosecond and takes light years to rebuild.  Dancing is how I process my emotions as well as maintaining my fitness, so I’m not looking forward to several weeks of physical and psychological blobbifying on the couch like Jabba-the-Hut. I feel infantilized, calling to John from my new perch in our living room to refill my water bottle, or to help me put on my socks since I can’t reach my feet, or adjust the pillow under my knee because my left leg throbs and groans like an old sailing vessel at the slightest move.  I am fighting off an inner voice, honed through decades of don’t-worry-about-me-I’m-fine inner monologuing, that tells me “Don’t be such a pain in the ass” when I ask John to run back up to our bedroom on the third floor for my moisturizer or “not-those-glasses-the-pink-ones.”  Having him extricate me from the SUV at the doctor’s office Tuesday was a particular exercise in surrender.  The foot of my injured leg got caught in the seat belt like one of those Chinese finger-traps we used to get as birthday party favors in the 60’s—every time John pulled me backwards towards the street, the strap tightened around the ankle of my injured leg and I sobbed like a terrified six-year-old, my butt dangling over the pavement.  Marriages are made of such indelible memories as these.

As for the good news, I have plenty of time to write, obviously.  And to let others take care of me, which I have never excelled at, but I’m here to learn.  (On the couch.  In the living room.  Stop by.)  John got me lavender-scented Epsom salts—what an innovation!—and friends have offered meals, crutches, trashy magazines, and visits, all of which I am accepting with deep gratitude.  It feels really nice to allow oneself simply to receive the love and kindness of others, freely offered and cheerfully given. I have a renewed appreciation for the work I’ve put in this year with my personal trainer, Kathryn, as I enjoy my hard-won core and upper body strength: Triceps potty dips and car-roof pull-ups have already come in handy.  Friends and acquaintances immediately raised their hands to sub my classes or fill in for one of my volunteer shifts at the women’s exchange.  People are generous and kind.  One forgets that in these times of vitriol and constant “othering.”  I’m enjoying the view out our living room window, which I rarely have time for since I spend most of my time at home staring at monitors at my desk in the kitchen. The dogs are ecstatic about the twin mattress we pulled down from Mia’s room so I wouldn’t have to handle the stairs for now.  Monday night, they curled up next to me in deep delight, as if to say, “You mean we’re all sleeping on the floor…TOGETHER?  THIS IS SO RIGHT!”  The GP who evaluated me Tuesday afternoon not only pronounced that he doesn’t think I’ll need surgery, he also informed me that I am due for both a colonoscopy and a mammogram.  Who knows what oversight might have ensued were it not for that reminder?  I even have a new fondness for the humble kitchen tong, a lifesaver for plucking ice packs out of the freezer drawer or pulling a blanket up over my feet.

Now it’s Thursday and although I am hobbled and stir-crazy, I am also improving daily.  What a miracle the body is.  Google searches concur it takes about six weeks to rehabilitate a hamstring strain. That means it will be April when I’m back in form. I hope. Springtime. New life.