Another celebratory morning for me: I had an amazing sleep last night.
Normally, I roll around in the bed like a breakfast sausage in a hot pan, trying to cook all possible sides, settling only briefly before skittering away to another spot. Cordelia sleeps between me and John, a dropped anchor trapping the blankets, so that I have to pull with all my might to keep my feet covered. I’m perpetually hot, but our bedroom windows are casements, six feet tall, and the heavy frames pull out of alignment if we open them too often, so instead, I dial down the heat in the room. But then, I get cold for a while, so I keep a heating pad by the side of the bed to warm me up, which sometimes overheats like an old toaster, and I wake up to fling it out from under the duvet. John snores, a robust, where’s-the-grizzly?-growl-n-snuffle that can be heard in the kids’ rooms downstairs. I know this, because I sometimes go down and sleep in Nate’s old room to escape it. The distant sawing still reaches me, droning without respite despite the insulated sub-floor. It’s almost more annoying muted than full-throated. The moon shines directly into my line of vision through the unshaded fanlight that tops our beautiful Palladian window. At least the moonlight illuminates the bedside table, so I can see where I deposited my detestable night guard after unconsciously discarding it in frustration. I’m forever pulling it out; I only wear it because my dentist insists my teeth will be creepy little nubs by the time I’m elderly if I don’t. Some nights, when there’s no moon and the room is dark, I knock over the lamp or spill my bedside water bottle all over the sheets, my fingers groping for the toothy plastic. My PT says I’m supposed to keep a pillow between my knees when sleeping on my side, which feels like I’m wrestling a reluctant raccoon every time I shift positions. Speaking of wildlife, there is a loquacious family of owls in the woods adjacent to our land. They “whoo, whoo, whoo” in a tri-tone call and response that is charming for about three minutes. At which point I start thinking about avicide. The woods also feature coyotes and their pups, foxes and their kits, and fisher cats, whose hair-raising caterwauls bring to mind a colicky infant who happens to also be morally outraged.
In other words, I’m a restless sleeper. It’s not that my mind is busy. I’m not laying awake stewing over the day’s god-awful news or the dying of the planet. I’m not running through to-do lists for the coming day or trying to remember the name of that gal I ran into in the market who clearly knew me and asked about the kids and my writing, about whom I had not the vaguest fucking clue, not even a scintilla of “maybe from Little League? Or grad school?” It’s my BODY that doesn’t want to settle in to sleep, that refuses to surrender and let the wave take me. No doubt all those busy thoughts and worries bypassed my brain and baked themselves right into my cells, leaving me twitchy as a squirrel in heat. Some mornings, I wake up feeling stiff and achy, muscles strained from mortal combat with the bed linens.
But last night, I slumbered.
Isn’t that such a beautiful word?
It has weight, it pulls you down into its deep embrace, forms in the
mouth like a one-word poem, landing on the page of your day, solid and sure.
I felt celebratory when I woke up this morning: Today is April 1. It’s also the six-week anniversary (not that I’m throwing a party) of the day I tripped and ruptured my hamstring tendons. It’s an important milestone because in terms of recovery, at six weeks out, the acute and sub-acute healing phases are largely complete–my body has done what it needed to, silently and without nudging from my interloping mind, to marshall platelets and proteins to my torn hamstrings and quadratus femoris, repairing the damaged soft tissue and scarring the muscle “down” towards my bones. During the sub-acute phase of healing, scar tissue matures and strengthens a little bit every day. I have no idea how my body knows how to do this; I could sooner explain how to rebuild a Tesla. Yet for the past month, I could literally feel daily changes as my body repaired itself…a listing gait straightening out, then tightening up, then grounding down. We now move into the remodeling phase, my body and me – whoopee! — wherein the goal is to stretch, strengthen and stress the new scar tissue, exposing weakness and instability that will signal a process of laying down additional soft tissue, and so on, in a cycle of challenging and rebuilding that will eventually restore my pre-injury level of function. Ish. This collaboration of cells buzzing around doing their thing, harmoniously weaving new flesh out of mere juice, energy, chemicals, holds the same divine mystery for me that I felt when I was pregnant, consulting the fetal development chart in my well-worn copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting:” At twelve weeks, your baby develops fingernails, or At the beginning of month 2, mesothelial (coelomic epithelial) cells proliferate and penetrate the underlying mesenchym. They multiply quickly and differentiate into large acidophilic cells which surround the medullary primordium and form the fetal or primitive suprarenal cortex.
How astonishing. I don’t even know what a “mesenchyum” or “suprarental cortex” is, let alone how to grow these items for someone else. What an absolutely breath-taking miracle the body is! I feel the same way about the new soft tissue my body has been busily generating these last six weeks, while I was sleeping, or working on a client project, on the phone or watching yet another episode of the teen comedy “Sex Education” on Netflix. (Pretty hilarious, just saying…)
And yet, the ways in which I have done violence to this remarkable body which God gifted to me are innumerable: the packs of cigarettes smoked in my twenties, the decades of yo-yo dieting—sugar binges alternating with bizarre restrictions, cleanses and fads, morning glasses of “healthy” sludge: unsweetened cranberry juice mixed with ground flax seed; whey, egg whites and almond milk in a thick paste of “nutritious” misery; apple cider vinegar in hot water—the red wine over-consumed, the hot yoga classes in which I overruled my joints’ insistence that Padangustasana was not for me; the symptoms ignored and the pain pushed through and the sensations unheeded, of anxiety or anger, exhaustion or grief. But the worst abuses to my body have come from the insults and criticisms I have relentlessly hurled at her decade after decade: the self-loathing inspired by her perfectly human lumps and rolls, the desperate desire to escape her endomorphic clutches, to trade her in for a sleeker model, one with a more muscular silhouette and a faster metabolism, fewer freckles, longer fingernails, thicker hair, a sex drive that could be turned on as simply as the pushbutton ignition in my Toyota RAV 4. You’ve thought these things, too, I know you have. (Or something similar…perhaps instead, you bemoan your vulnerability to seasonal allergies or hammer toes. Or cancer. Or MS. The list of grievances goes on and on.)
So today, I decided to mark my emergence from the cocoon of sub-acute healing by going to my friend Robyn’s Nia class at Starfish Dance and Yoga. My PT cleared me two weeks ago to start taking classes, although gently, and with patience, which has never been my forte. Robyn has been planning to teach all her April and May classes with the theme “LOVE YOUR BODY,” inviting her students into gratitude for this miraculous living sculpture of energy, flesh and bone that is our home for this lifetime. She and the owner of another studio (Laughing Dog Yoga in Wellesley) where she teaches have mapped out a two-months-long curriculum of workshops and classes built on the theme, with topics ranging from sexuality as we age, to essential oils, emotions and the body. A local painter’s colorful studies of of the female form, in all sizes, colors, shapes and gestures, adorn the studio in a celebration of the beauty of the embodied feminine. I can’t wait to see it.
This morning, dancing with Robyn and the other ten or so women in the class at Starfish, all of us grooving to a soundtrack of George Michael that was jazzy and sensual, I felt enlivened and hopeful. It’s amazing to be feeling stronger every day, to sense my stability returning. I admit, it’s kinda wonky to have a disconnected hamstring, and sometimes I feel a bit of a psychic wobble, even though my movement is steady. After class, I decided I’d clamber aboard the LOVE YOUR BODY bandwagon by writing a post day of body-loving gratitude for the next six weeks.
It’s the least I can do for this dear old friend who’s been with me since birth, these toes and knees, hands and eyes so familiar. I haven’t always been the best friend back to my body. It’s good to be reminded that she deserves nothin’ but my love. After all, one day, I won’t have her to kick around any more.
So here it is, Post #1 of “Love Your Body” month. If you live in the Boston area and want to look into some of the programs being offered this month at Laughing Dog Yoga as part of the Love Your Body series, click here!
My injury turns out to be a complete proximal tear of the hamstring tendons, with several centimeters of retraction of the muscle away from its former attachment to my ischial tuberosity (Gray’s anato-mese for “sit bone.”) If you were to Google that (and believe me, I have), you would learn that this level of injury typically triggers a surgery recommendation, although this may be mitigated somewhat by “age” and “activity level.” The tendons will not, however, grow back on their own: the gap is too great. The last two-and-a-half a weeks have been a fever dream of ice packs, emails, texts, tests, and calls to various offices of surgeons and physical therapists, trying to get clarity on the best path forward for me, not for a data point on a statistical chart, or this guy Bob who had a similar injury and was still able to downhill ski without surgery, or that lady Judy the amateur triathlete, who first opted out of the surgery but regretted it and was glad when she later decided to do it. Or that other dude who had the surgery but couldn’t sit for a few years afterwards and wishes now he’d given rehab a more concerted effort.
The first surgeon we met said surgery for me is optional. I might do very well without it, she thought, although when we pushed her to get off the fence, she said “Ok, I’d lean towards surgery because you’d have more reliable strength. But it’s like 60/40.” She works in the practice that treats the Boston Celtics and is arguably the most experienced of the handful of surgeons in Boston for whom repair of a proximal hamstring tear is a sub-specialty. She’s co-authored a paper on non-surgical treatment of proximal hamstring tears showing decent outcomes, although not a return to maximum strength, and not for all those studied. Just to keep the pressure on, she urged me to make a quick decision, by the end of the week. Her experience is that the surgery is much better performed within three weeks of the initial injury, and the window for dancing into her O.R. would close quickly.
The second surgeon, two days later, a specialist in women’s sports orthopedics, agreed that my case is “gray,” spending nearly an hour with us answering our questions. She demurred when we asked her, too, to take a side. She acknowledged with a rueful smile that she’s a surgeon and she likes “to cut,” yet she felt reluctant to say that she thought it would necessarily lead to a better outcome for me. We showed her a video of Nia technique, the movement classes that I teach, and she said, “Yes, you’ll be doing that,” either way. We pressed her about non-surgical rehab: with no compensatory issues to the rest of me, my joints, my back? “None of the longitudinal studies suggests that would be an issue.” Like the first surgeon, she explained surgical risks, the usual: infection, stiffness, anesthesia complications, some skin numbness. But also (and not uncommon with this procedure, which involves putting hardware in your sit bone): “sitting intolerance” – not good for a writer and graphic designer who spends hours a day working on a laptop at her moniter, i.e. on her bum. I’m sitting fairly comfortably right now, she observed, and quite mobile compared to many with my injury. What I’d gain from surgery is explosive power, but surgeon #2 wondered if I need this extra oomph, which would allow me to drive to the hoop, or pole vault. As my friend Nora summarized the dilemma, “so surgery makes you a Mazerati, but maybe you are great with being a Bentley.”
Other opinions were sought and given: An orthopedic sports doc who’d never seen me was emphatic over the phone that I should do the surgery. My primary care doctor, Jeanne, who has treated me for over a decade for the occasional UTI or chest cold, went back and forth, but ultimately landed on the side of non-surgical rehab. The recovery from surgery begins with an arduous crutch through six weeks in an immobilizing brace, something not easily accomplished living in a four-story home with two active dogs and a husband who has to go to work. You cannot drive for up to eight weeks. Pain, according to the surgeons, is “relatively light.” Relative to what, I wonder? I won’t be perched on one ass-cheek with a four-inch incision in the other thinking, “wow, this is so much easier than a knee replacement.” After this initiation, you work up to something resembling mobility four months out, “returning to sport” between six and twelve months down the road. My primary care doctor felt I’d only want to submit to this squeeze if I had a high degree of confidence the juice was worth it. Non-surgical rehab is typically a four-month process–unlike surgery, you don’t get knocked back down the stairs to the basement level of pain and non-functioning of the original trauma, minus five more weeks of loss in strength.
Two good friends who are both ER docs leaned away from surgery unless it’s absolutely necessary. “Before MRI’s, these injuries weren’t typically addressed surgically,” said one, adding, “the most invasive response isn’t always the right one.”
“You have to trust your body,” said the other.
Amen. I’m trying.
The third surgeon we consulted, who attends to the athletes of the Patriots and Red Sox, expressed a clear opinion that I should go for the procedure. No fence sitting for him. Otherwise, I might find myself cramping up a few hours into a 5-hour hike, he said. That does sound unpleasant. He wedged me in to his schedule as a favor after I asked a friend with deep ties at MGH to connect me to a highly-recommended physiastrist, which said friend generously did. But the physiatrist wanted me to have a consult with her surgical colleague before she’d see me. (Are you following any of this? I hardly can, and I’ve been living it.) The Pats/Sox surgeon was charming and direct, generous with his time. We were able to overcome an initial gaffe when he rolled his stool my way and said, “so this has been developing over time and you’ve had several shots to try to address it?” Umm, nope. Not me. “I tripped on a carpet,” I corrected him. (Note to self: put a big red X on left butt cheek before going to the hospital if I elect for surgery with him.) Even though he was a strong advocate of operating (and I appreciated his rationale: “You are a movement teacher, and you like activity. If you were 69 and just wanted to potter in the garden, I’d have a different recommendation”), he also was willing to listen to my concerns. He took seriously my desire to avoid surgery if there isn’t a truly clear case that it’s necessary. Which I appreciated. I felt he heard me and collaborated. We arrived at a compromise: I’ll work for two-and-a-half weeks with a crack member of his PT team, someone who is “the real deal” at rehabbing this injury. And after that, we’ll reconvene in his office in Foxborough, adjacent to Gillette stadium so maybe we’ll get to see the Super Bowl trophies in a display case on our way to the appointment. By then, I’ll be armed by PT with better information about what makes the most sense for me, living in this body, the person who is Holly, and unique, even if her injury has been seen before in other bodies.
I have also heard from countless friends, movement teachers, family members, all offering gifts of perspective, names of physical therapists or acupuncturists, suggestions of books, herbs, tinctures, essential oils and other resources. My refrigerator overflows with soup–lentil, chicken, kale and sausage, white bean, minestrone, sweet potato–an epic tale of nourishing kindness told in broth and vegetables. I am so fortunate to have access to the best healthcare providers and insurance coverage; more importantly, to have the support of the dearest, wisest, most caring friends. Not to mention John, who has been a pillar of emotional support: my knight in shining armor, advocate in consults, precise note-taker, dispenser of hugs and schlepperof my glasses, phone charger, ice packs and other detritus up and down the stairs of our four-story home. He is constantly telling me how great my attitude is. Which helps, because it takes discipline to keep my thoughts positive.
Yet all the while: my body feels like a healing machine. It’s almost startling how much progress I have made since that initial first week of sickening pain. The horse-kick bruise is gone, the ache is basically nil, every day I am able to do something that was out of bounds yesterday: pick up an envelope up off the floor, put on my socks, zip up my boots, walk up and down stairs, then do it again carrying a laundry basket, potty squat, drive, walk down the street and drink in the fresh air and sunshine, greeting the beautiful woods and trees I have so missed. My “real-deal” PT, Emily, asked me on Thursday if I could demonstrate a few Nia moves for her. It felt like coming home. I was careful with kicks as I’m not supposed to overstretch the hamstring while it is scarring in. I showed her a deep curtsy (on my good leg, but the injured one needs to come along for the ride) and she raised an eyebrow: “And that feels okay for you?”
“Omigosh, it feels great,” I said, lowering gently to the floor onto one hip, rolling over and rising back up to standing on my uninjured leg. Emily’s expression behind her glasses was difficult to read, but if there’s a spectrum from no freakin’ way to well, I dunno, maybe…, I think she was somewhere around hmmmm, which at least wasn’t discouraging. I have far to go. There is a hitch in my gait and my hamstring complains if I try to squat too deeply. Months of rehab lie ahead of me, with or without the surgery. But it’s hard to begrudge my body the chance to mend this her way, to show me her wisdom, what she’s capable of if I respect her, and listen to her, give her plenty of rest and do the hard work of retraining her muscles and movements to work in recognition of this realization: We are permanently torn, the lost connection will not grow back, something is missing, for good, if I opt out of of surgery, physically to be sure, but also psychologically, emotionally. And yet, life goes on. One of my best friends lives without a breast. She is joyful and courageous as ever, maybe even more so than before her mastectomy, although I didn’t know her well then. She models authenticity, sharing both her sense of vulnerability around that flat space that once was curved, and her determination that this is who she is, and she is whole. She is the most beautiful woman I know. People lose a kidney or a limb, and they adjust. I know people who have lost a CHILD, and yet they persist at living.
So I may be able to make it work without a hamstring attachment just fine.
And perhaps not.
It is difficult to know, and that’s a hard space to navigate. I’d like to simply trust the opinions of the experts, but they didn’t all present the same picture. My friend Lisa texted me a Benjamin Spock quote the other day, “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” I remember feeling this way when parenting young children. Expert opinions abounded. I could read book after book about this form of discipline or that technique for getting my kids to sleep through the night. But in the end, these were our children and we had to parent them in the way that came naturally to us, for good or for ill. I have no doubt there are areas in which I fell short and that my kids are now paying the price: I was not nearly enough of a tiger mother when it came to practicing their musical instruments. I didn’t push hard enough over table manners or chores. I perhaps found their every thought and obsession too interesting and important. And yet: they are fabulous and beloved, even if they haven’t lived up to their potential as instrumentalists, or they leave their elbows on the table during dinner. Not a single one lacks persistence or grace in pursuing their passions. They are honorable, loyal, kind. The same crux may be at play as I ponder how best to live my life as a Nia dancer and daily trail walker with a torn hamstring: Is the best way forward for me to trust my own instincts, or give my faith to the greater experience of the experts; in this case, the undoubtedly fine team at Massachusetts General Hospital, the same folks who got Julian Edelman back in the game, for Crissake. No one would fault me for choosing the latter path. Many, in fact, would applaud. Perhaps these two paths will merge in the coming weeks, apparent tensions will resolve. My bias is obvious, but I’m trying to keep an open mind.
Throughout, I’ve been doing daily meditations, plugging in to silence and higher guidance. Reconnecting to a deeper level of being is one of the gifts of being torn open, it turns out. As I sit on my icepack, breathing quietly, images brush my mind and dissolve: me in a year, dancing and free, alongside my gorgeous friend the breast-cancer survivor, or two thirds of the way up Machu Pichu, answering John with a smile, “it’s fine,” when he asks “how’s the leg doing?” At lunch with a friend, saying “I was so locked in to the stress of making the right decision, but you know, my body was showing me the whole time.” I’ve imagined healing light scarring my hamstring nicely to my thigh bone; I’ve felt the presence of those I love so deeply surrounding me with loving care—even my dearly departed golden retriever, Hobbes, has visited my meditation, with his Zen-like calm and unconditional devotion. I’ve sought to honor the best in all the people I’ve met during these past few weeks, making conversation with receptionists and eye contact with technicians or my fellow patients in waiting rooms, giving them all an inner “Namaste.” An awareness of our interconnectedness steeps me like a teabag. In my mind, I danced with the MGH surgeon (he was slightly dorky) and perceived a quiet sadness in one corner of his heart; I greeted the divinity in my PT, Emily, which was easy, because she reminds me of Annie, with wide blue eyes behind glasses, a ready laugh, keenly intelligent, gorgeously nerdy. There have been so many opportunities to heal various wounds in these last few weeks. Even as my anxiety occasionally spikes and my heartbeat races, on some level, I know all is well, and proceeding as it must.
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.
I don’t know if you’re still with me after that digression, but after reading the first sentence of this morning’s Daily Word, I closed my eyes to actually 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.
I 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.
I’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.
He’s my firstborn, my training child. I used to joke they should give you a practice kid first so you could make all your mistakes and then give the kid back in exchange for your actual first child. Then your firstborn wouldn’t have to suffer the ups and downs of your parental learning curve. But despite my new-mom nerves for, say, the first twenty years of his life, Nate has turned out to be a helluva guy—an amazing person, and someone from whom I’ve learned so much.
Nate’s birth was a pitched battle. He was born exactly a week after his due date, August 2, 1992, 26 years ago today. He must’ve liked the accommodations in utero because he was in no particular hurry to leave. Being 32 years old and invincible, I was determined to have a natural delivery, which meant powering through about 32 hours of labor and delivery armed only with breathing exercises and tennis balls for back pain. The 1992 Olympics were on TV when we first got to the hospital, Jacki Joyner-Kersee had just won gold in the heptathlon for the second consecutive Olympics. Sometime around midnight, I decided that my goal of natural delivery was unnecessarily ambitious, but things had progressed too far at that point for an epidural, so onwards. At one point, the midwife had to reach inside and rearrange my cervix because the baby was entering the birth canal somewhat askew. I thought, “just kill me now.” I believe it was about 2:15 a.m. when I told the midwives they should immediately wheel me down the hall and give me a C-section because I was done with this process. Nate, showing early the great persistence which is one of his hallmark qualities, has never been one to take the easy path – the midwives informed me we were “too close” for surgery, so we soldiered on together, he and I, me thinking I was pushing really hard, John coaching me to relax (???) or some other well-intended but useless advice. A student nurse tiptoed in. The midwife asked whether I minded if the girl observed as I flailed ineffectively at this whole birth thing. I was speechless, so the trainee stayed. Finally, at about 2:45, with the baby’s heartrate showing signs of distress, the midwife leaned into my face like a marine drill sergeant and said “Okay, Holly, enough of this ditzing around. I want you to push like your life depends on it.” And at 3:07 a.m. on a dark, cool August morning, Nate emerged into the world, quiet, and peeing. A nurse out at the maternity ward desk rang a little bell in the still morning to herald his arrival.
Nate was a lot to keep up with, for new parents. He was headstrong and fearless: climbing to the uppermost branches of the hemlocks at age four; skiing off ledges into the abyss below with abandon all his life, terrifying his sisters when he drove them too fast to summer camp. I cannot recall a time I’ve seen Nate back down from a challenge. He may feel intimidated inside, but he goes for it, even when he shouldn’t, like that time he biked to the Cape when he had mono. Or when he partied with a group of homeless people in Vermont because he was interviewing them for a college journalism class, a privileged Ivy Leaguer entering their milieu with a frisson of fear, but led on by a compulsion to understand.
Nate has always been astonishingly bright. His school years left a number of teachers scratching their heads in an effort to challenge him, or contain him, or both. In our recent house-cleaning frenzy, I came across a high school essay of his—a snarky, darkly comic piece about being a competitive Mr. Potatohead assembler that he’d written to the prompt “write a mock college essay.” Clearly, he took the word “mock” seriously. It was beautifully written and decidedly sarcastic. The teacher’s note at the end of the paper read, “I just don’t know what to say.” I laughed out loud at her comment; being his mom, I often felt that way, a mixture of amusement, amazement, awe, affection and irritation. He regularly astonishes his dad and me with his encyclopedic knowledge about everything, from catalytic converters to foreign politics to 90’s rap music. I don’t know if I have ever known someone with a deeper drive of innate curiosity, one who hungers more to learn. And he’s a born Devil’s advocate, loving nothing more than a good debate. (Well, except maybe Annie. And their cats. And his family. And rowing.) He’ll argue one side flawlessly then flip to the opposing viewpoint, just to better understand. And also, I expect, to get under your skin. Just a little bit. Or sometimes a lot.
As he’s entered manhood, the perseverance and iconoclasm that drove parents and grandparents, teachers, coaches and carpool drivers crazy when he was younger have become assets for him. He’s grown into them. He’s acquired an easy way with people, humorous and interested. What I once thought was orneriness, I now see more clearly as profound sensitivity. He CARES.
So do I, buckaroo. Thanks for teaching me how to be a mom, for the great adventure of watching you unfold into your adult self, for being smart, and making me laugh and eating whatever I cooked with such enthusiasm. Knowing you and watching you grow has brought me so much happiness. Don’t ever blend in! Love you heaps and hope you have a great birthday.