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Another Saturday

This Saturday, I will be enthusiastic.

This Saturday, I will be kind.

This Saturdays, I will be hopeful.

This Saturday, I will embrace ideas which elevate my spirit.

This Saturday, I will rest when I am tired.

This Saturday, I will let positive thoughts come to the foreground and usher negative thoughts to the background.

This Saturday, I will turn away from any who would be ugly and toward any who would be lovely and loving.

This Saturday, I will listen to positive commentary about myself and reject negative commentary about myself, even in my own mind.

This Saturday,  I will see beauty in all people, all places, all of my surroundings.

This Saturday, I will be the best version of myself that I can muster.

This Saturday, I will invite myself to believe that I am worthy.

It’s the ninth day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Another Day When Suicide Was Not My Answer

Two suicides this week (Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain) prompt me to think about all the days when suicide was not my answer.  I do not fault those who choose suicide, even though the anguish which they leave behind weighs as greatly on survivors as the despair which led them to take their life.   I will not judge them by what they cause others.  I seek only to understand what prompted them to choose escape.

I’ve had several conversations about suicide which inform me, two of which I will recount here.  A third must remain confidential because I honor the still-living person with whom that conversation took place.

The first conversation occurred in 1997.  My brother Stephen had tried to kill himself the previous year.  He had taken an overdose. He sank into a deep sleep.  By coincidence, he had a common cold.  Once his body began to die, the virus attacked his kidney which then failed.  He became toxic and his legs swelled.  He awakened in this debilitated state, and called 9-1-1.  He lived, though his body had permanent damage as a result.

Months later, at a family gathering in a restaurant in St. Louis, I said to him, “What  I don’t understand is calling 9-1-1.  You try to kill yourself, then call for help?”

He looked over his shoulder at me as he hunched by the bar.  Then he lit a cigarette, took another pull of his drink, and replied.

“I took those pills to end the pain, not make it worse,” he said, in a voice still as death itself.

A few months later, he used a gun to try again.  He succeeded.

In 2014, my life careened so far out of kilter that I decided to kill myself.  I’ve never felt good about myself and still don’t.  By November of that year, I reached the point at which I could not see any chance of salvation on this earth, in this body, within the situations that had congealed around me.  I won’t describe them, because I don’t think I could do so without seeming to blame other people for my choices.  Accept that I had suffered a series of losses between October of 2013 and November of 2014 which I could not reconcile with continued existence.

I sat in the parking lot of a public library, sobbing, pounding on the steering wheel of my car.  I fumbled for my phone, called a few people for comfort, and talked to their voice mail boxes.  That told me all I needed to know in that moment to reinforce my despair.  My friends had lives.  I did not.  I had lost people whom I loved.  I had tried and failed to make a new life for myself in the aftermath of those losses.  I decided that a fitting end, the only viable end, was death at my own hand.

My phone, my guardian angel, the Universe, and, I suppose, the Divine Entity whatever he/she/it might be, conspired to intervene.  The phone served as instrument and redialed Paula Kenyon-Vogt.  She heard my sobbed lament. I no longer recall whether I actually responded to her or she heard my raging in the confines of that small space.  But she understood my state.

She called her husband, Sheldon Vogt.  He found me.  He took me to get food and we sat over dinner at which I barely picked.  Tears streamed from my eyes. Snot rolled out of my nose and gathered on my mouth.  I paid no heed to my pathetic appearance.

I don’t remember what Sheldon actually said.  But sound of  his voice as he articulated reassurances of their love has never left me.  Paula and Sheldon acted together to save my life.  Their support has been among the powerful truths which have sustained me.

I do not like myself.  I acknowledge that.  I recognize some of my virtues — I can write; I care about others; I can be kind; I can be helpful.  My list of failures grows daily.  My biggest faults loom dark and heavy over me.  I rarely learn from the clumsy choices which I make.  Over and over, I fall into the same traps.

But I can tell you this:

What stands between me and self-inflicted death each and every day is the knowledge that  I am loved by others.  Nothing else.  I understand that if  I loved myself, the gap would widen.  I’m working on it.

Every day when I walk outside my house, into a store, down a street, across the paths of others, I tell myself that any one of them might face the same short span between life and death that I have seen.  My brother stepped across the path.  I did not.  I know how close one can come to taking that last, irrevocable leap.  I remember that moment for me. I remember my brother’s look that day when  I questioned him, a silent statement that  I did not, and could not, understand his grief.

Every day on this earth provides me with another chance to save someone else’s life, to find them in a parking lot and lead them away from the final anguished act.  I might have little for which to live, but the chance that I could do for someone else what Sheldon and Paula did for me seems to be enough to keep me going.  At the same time, the memory of my brother opens my eyes to the silent, hidden desperation that any of us might feel, on any given day.  In his memory, I watch for the rise of that despair in others, and for my chance to pay forward the saving grace which sustains me.

It’s the eighth day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

IN LOVING MEMORY:

STEPHEN PATRICK CORLEY

12/25/1959 – 06/–/1997

YOUR FRIEND AND MINE, STEVIE PAT.  REST WELL.

 

 

Little nuggets of gold

It’s hard to understand why I feel hopeful today.

I remain unemployed.  My budget for job-free living has dissipated.  I cancelled my appointment for a physical therapy eval at Stanford for various passably coherent reasons but remain concerned about the extra wobble in my walk.  My march towards old age continues with no fountain of youth in sight.

Yet I found myself awake before dawn making lists not of my failures but of my blessings.

Yesterday’s mail brought a heart-wrenching thank-you card from my sister Joyce.

My dear friend Pat and her little Yorkie traveled from Arizona to visit me.  We’ve been tooling around the Delta with a background soundtrack of her sassy attitude toward life, the deliciousness of which I had forgotten.

A gentle breeze drifts through the open window even now.  What passes for heat here on the river would seem like sweet spring in the Midwest.

Knock wood, but I seem to be sleeping soundly with a new mattress and pillow.  When you suffer from neurological sleep disruptions, the refreshment of continual unconsciousness cannot be underplayed.

My son called with an intriguing report about a town hall meeting addressing oversight of the Chicago police which he attended. His social activism gratifies me and gives some slight inkling f redemption for the nation.  His generation might just save us; or at least, slow our ruination.

My blessings might seem trivial to most people.  But they delight me.  I’ll take them, each and every last one.  And others, just as small.  I don’t need the pot of gold; I’ll take the rainbow.

It’s the seventh day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

A good day

If two good deeds makes a good day, then today counts.  But my stomach has been knotted all evening with the vague heavy kind of grief which slugs a body into a chair and pins it down.  I tried to slide my mood back onto happy.  The lever stuck.

I finished a book that I’d been reading though I had to skip a few chapters.  I scrolled through email long enough to see that most of it could just be deleted.  Those which sought a response can wait.  I’ve run out of words to get around the sticking keys; and the clanging sound which my bracelets make against the table annoys me tonight.

I noticed recently that the internal litany of my failures has finally subsided but in tense moments, I can still render a perfect recitation of the many ways in which I’ve disappointed people.   Broken promises, broken dreams, broken glass in shards under feet.  I shake off the memories.  It’s a good day, I tell myself.  I walk around the house muttering this over and over.

Then  I remember something:

Once I stepped into a room straightening my dress in front of a man waiting to take me to a party.  From his place in my little boudoir chair he asked, Is that what you’re wearing?

I froze.  Well, it’s what I thought I would wear, I admitted.

Do you have anything else in your closet, he said.  I looked into the depths and replied, yes, but it all pretty much looks like this.

I guess it will be all right, he sighed.

I’m still reeling, years later.  But I’ve reached the point at which I’m no longer certain which stunned me more: his callousness or my own willingness to accept it.

When I moved to California, I downsized from twenty feet of hanging clothes to twenty-one inches.  Even ten pounds overweight, I feel beautiful in every last article hanging in that tiny space.

It’s the fourth day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Love in a Cool, Dry Climate

Five people approached me as  I worked or read outside my home yesterday.  Four of them wanted to see my tiny house.  The fifth was the owner of the park in which I live, Park Delta Bay.

The visitors came in two groups.  Three men slowly drove down G-Row as I contemplated a large package which  I did not think that I could carry into the house.  I had gone over to my neighbor’s place to ask for help but found no one at home.

I thought I recognized the car and gave a little wave before realizing my error.  They took this as an indication of welcome and called out, asking if I lived in the park.  A few minutes later they had pulled into a space at my invitation. One of them hoisted the package onto my porch.  Another chortled, “Oh, I’ve been wanting to see one of these for a long time!”  I gestured to the open door and he slid into Angel’s Haven while I stood on the porch answering questions.

A few hours later, a young man from Japan bowed slightly, a nod really, a gesture, and asked if I could spare a moment.  He clasped my offered hand.  He nearly refused the chair into which I indicated he should sit, but finally did.  He told me about his start-up which makes water filtration systems for emergency use.  They want to start marketing the systems to furnish RVs and tiny houses.  He’d flown to the U.S. to look for business.  His mild manner and wide smile charmed me.

Later, closer to evening, the owner of the park stopped on one of his circuits around the 1/4 mile loop on which we live.  He spoke of TinyFest California and my offer to help at the builder’s booth which he will be staffing.  Pausing again on his second circuit, he mentioned that my propane tank seemed a little precarious.  We walked around to look at it.  Before he left, we talked about evaporative coolers.  My research suggests that they work in the Central Valley climate which is cool and dry, with a few hot weeks.  He seemed skeptical.  We debated this for a few minutes, and then stood examining my house jacks.  He recommended adding a couple and setting them on larger pavers for more stability.  More jacks would also solve the slight sway of the house, barely detectable but disconcerting.

Alone in my writing loft a little while later, I scrolled through Facebook, looking for news of my friends and the Saturday evening concerts in Kansas City.  I stopped on an image of a musician whom I know; a man who’s maybe in his late 30s.  He’s a stocky guy, short, intense, with piercing eyes.  I clicked the play button and watched a full minute of the man urging his friends and family — “the ones whom I love” — not to hit him.  “I know I say some weird shit,” he tells them. “But don’t fucking hit me!  Don’t smack my shoulder, don’t slap my back, don’t thump me on the back of my head!  I don’t like it!”  He never laughed, not once.  His mouth set in a grim line as the video ended.

I watched it through twice, then a third time, stunned by its starkness.  I wanted to respond.  I typed a few words, deleted them, starting again.  After several tries, what I had written seemed an acceptable mix of empathy and validation.  I hit the return key and posted my remarks.  A few seconds later, the little heart icon lit with his name beside it.  I let myself exhale.

It’s the third day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Growth

The succulent shoots which I brought home from a  garage sale have begun to thrive.

When I got them, I believed them to be actual plants, with strong roots in the black soil.  While I was arranging them on my deck rail, I knocked one of them over.  Dirt spilled onto the wood of the porch.  The cutting itself drifted to the ground.  Mystified, I gently pulled at the three others, discovering that they, too, had merely been stuck into coffee cups full of earth, probably minutes before I bought them.

I scooped the dirt back into the mug and buried the end of the little cactus stem.

Since then I’ve been watering these plants and wondering if they’ll survive.  I read about growing succulents from cuttings on site after site, a desperate foster mother racing against time and the unseen voice of judgment. New leaves take the place of the old, which will shrivel and fall away as they provide nourishment.   I expect something similar caused my teeth to crack while I nursed my son.

In the mornings I stand over my makeshift garden, straining to see signs of growth. The rising song of the birds distracts me though.  I move to the back railing and watch the light dance over the meadow.  The branches of the willows hang low, heavy with their summer frocks.  But I shudder.  I clutch my shawl to my arms.  Night’s chill lingers long enough to keep me humble.

I spent a lot of time today straightening my shelves and my cupboards.   My neighbor came over and put clean sheets on the guest bed in the far loft.  I re-folded the towels, crisply, edge to edge; and organized the pantry.  I spent a long minute looking at a piece of art that I have not yet hung, but in the end I put it back into storage.  I can’t decide if it suits me anymore.   Just before sunset, I took a cup of tea out to my rocking chair and sat motionless for a long time.  As the last light faded, one of the cacti raised its head to the west.  I swear that I could see it preening.

It’s the first day of the fifty-fourth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

“The Cabbage”, by Ruth Stone

You have rented an apartment.
You come to this enclosure with physical relief,
your heavy body climbing the stairs in the dark,
the hall bulb burned out, the landlord 
of Greek extraction and possibly a fatalist.
In the apartment leaning against one wall,
your daughter’s painting of a large frilled cabbage
against a dark sky with pinpoints of stars.
The eager vegetable, opening itself 
as if to eat the air, or speak in cabbage
language of the meanings within meanings;
while the points of stars hide their massive
violence in the dark upper half of the painting.
You can live with this.

Spring winds

The Tibetan prayer flags on my porch move with the wind.  They entwine themselves around the ribbon on which they fly.  I stand at the doorway and watch the birds rise into the broad expanse of sky thinking, and there will come soft rains.

But the rainy season has come and gone here in the California Delta.  Now we have fierce winds, warm afternoons, and cold clear nights.  My friends in Kansas City speak of hot days and poolside afternoons while I wear long sleeves and pull my windows tight as the sun sets.  I know the heat will arrive soon but for now, I feel that I’m a stranger to the warmth back home.  I’m caught between seasons, waiting for the earth to turn.

A few setbacks pull me into a blue funk now and then.  These days I try to measure my reactions in the grand scheme of things.  A broken trinket means little when the news blasts so grim onto my computer screen.  Lost immigrant children; racism running rampant; people stumbling and succumbing to an onslaught of war, crime, and ignorance. . . Any one of these looms larger than even the worst of my troubles.  I bow my head; I take the point.

Outside my tiny house, the wind whips the willow trees and rushes past, through the meadow and back to the levee road.  I clench my hands; a shudder courses through my shoulders.  I hear my mother’s voice asking did a ghost walk over your grave?  Maybe so; maybe so.  I strain to hear the last call of the mourning dove but she has fallen silent in her nest high above my roof.

It’s the thirtieth day of the fifty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

These Days, by Jackson Browne

Simplicity itself

As I washed my face today, a memory sprang from the depths where  I store the nuggets that I can’t or won’t relinquish.  This one carried the sweetness of a mother’s realization that her bird has flown.  I drew in a deep breath and savored it for a few moments, then continued with my day.   But the memory floats near the surface now, lifting my mood and carrying me into the day more lightly than I might have stepped.

My son and I had a special bond with my cousin Paul Orso so we met in St. Louis for his funeral.  One of us had forgotten some toiletry item.  Usually we can assemble a full complement between us; we use many of the same brands.  But we fell short on this occasion, so he, my sister Joyce, and I took a detour to CVS.

As we walked in the door, we came upon a short woman behind a demonstration table.  She peddled “Simple” products, a brand purporting itself to be natural or better for your skin.  Crisp, fat, bottle-red curls clustered around her small skull.  Her face bore a Revlon stamp, thick foundation accentuating the lines of age; dark lipstick lining a narrow mouth.  I turned away from her extended hand, thinking,  I hope to God that I don’t have to peddle cosmetics when I’m seventy.

I saw my son pause in front of the woman, reach out his hand, and take the coupon which she offered.  “Patrick, come on, we don’t have much time,” I called to him,  He looked back with a glance that struck my heart.

“Mom, I’ll be right there,” he responded.  Then he turned his smile on the elfin lady.  I waited a few seconds, then continued to the personal products aisle.  His voice followed me:  “Thank you very much,” I heard him say.  “Now, which one would I get if. . .”  I didn’t stop walking.  I didn’t hear the rest of his question.

He joined me a few minutes later.  I saw him bend down to the row with the “Simple” line.  “The store brand is probably cheaper, even with her coupon,” I told him.  I lifted a tube from the shelf.  “Look, see.”

That gaze again.  “Mom, it’s okay.  I’ve got this.”  I shut my mouth, but I thought:  Kids.  They don’t appreciate you.  

In the check-out line, my son placed his items on the counter and then took my selections from me.  He swiped his card to pay for the lot, after tendering his coupon.  As we exited the store, he stopped beside the Simple lady’s table.  “Thank you so much for the advice,” he said.  He gestured with the bag.  “I’m trying what you recommended.”

We didn’t speak of the incident.  It sank into the dark recesses of my mind, a seemingly trivial moment in the life of mother and son.  When I got back to Kansas City after the funeral, I discovered that my son’s Simple face cleanser had gotten packed in my suitcase. I added it to my bathroom stash.  When I ran out of my normal face wash, I started using it.

It’s been three years since my cousin died from complications relating to his ALS — three years since I walked away from the sight of my son’s head bending down to give that woman his full attention while she explained the benefits of Simple products.  Today, as I  washed my face with yet another bottle of Simple, I realized — not, by any means, for the first time — that my son grew into a splendid man despite my worst efforts.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the fifty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Patrick Corley, Paul Orso, and me; August 2014, a year before Paul’s death.

Remembering

The direct consequence of being ill for two days turns out to be awakening at 2:30 a.m. on the third day, aching from not getting exercise and hungry from not consuming enough calories.  I lay in bed until the birds began their morning song and then made my first pot of coffee since Friday. I carried a cup to the porch and watched the sun rise, wishing my porch had been built on the east side of my house.  But then, I reminded myself, I would miss the glow of the setting sun over the river.  It’s always something.

By 6:00, I had scrolled through social media and reposted a few stories, the most notable being a long list of links to help protest the separation of children from their parents by ICE.  I pegged through links to try to find original source material about the 1,475 migrant children for whom the U.S. government cannot account.  It seemed to be true.  My stomach ache returned and I wondered if it was too early to text my son.

I forced myself to wait to make breakfast until the sun had fully risen.  I took a second cup of coffee outside and photographed the neighbor’s flag, still waving over the RV which she and her husband had to vacate due to a fire in the kitchen.  I shook my head at the tender sight.  She escaped unharmed.  I watched the reunion between wife and husband when he parked his car behind the fire marshal and ran to her, the car door swinging open, the motor still running.

In my house in Kansas City, I always flew the American flag, 24/7/365, with a flood-light shining on it all night.   I get my patriotic spirit from my father.  He served in World War II.  He walked the Burma Trail with the Mars Men, mule skinners from Missouri and elsewhere, tasked with the onerous burden of clearing the way for supply trucks.   As my father told it, they completed their mission but not until six months after peace had been declared.  The Army whisked them home, forgotten soldiers, considered an embarrassment perhaps.  I’ve read enough to know that what they had to do would scar a man for life.  I don’t excuse what he became, but I understand it.  I cannot help but think him brave.

My oldest sister, Ann, also served.  She spent 1969 – 1971 in Korea as a nurse.  It would be decades before it occurred to me what types of injuries she must have treated so close to Vietnam at the war’s height.  I’ve never asked her about it.  She’s never volunteered to talk about it.  Now she spends her free time in Guatemala, doing medical work but also teaching women to spin, weave, and sew.  I’ve always wanted to be like her.  I have no idea if she understands how much I admire her.

When I lived in Arkansas, the townspeople decorated every grave on Memorial Day.  They brought small flags, pots of flowers, and photographs.  I never went.  My people all slept in cemeteries north of there.  In recent years, I’ve visited the graves of my in-laws, most weeks and certainly, on every national holiday.  My father-in-law served.  I placed a new flag on his grave in April, knowing that I would not be back this weekend.  A dear friend has promised to visit today, to make sure the flag still stands.

I voice a lot of criticism about the events taking place in America these days.  I have another page on which I write about political issues but this blog focuses on my #journeytojoy.  So here, I will speak only of the beauty which surrounds me — the song of the crows; the flight of the gulls; the sweet air rising over the meadow.  I woke up this morning, which is more than many can say.   And so far, I live free enough to enjoy my days.   I’ll take that.  I’ll take that, with thanks to those who fought and died believing in our freedom and in the American dream.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the fifty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Cleaning House

For months, a grey presence stood in my path as I moved through the house.  I struggled around it.  I darted left; it deftly followed.  I slipped right; it lunged sideways.  I stopped and stared; it ogled back at me.

No chemical could shrivel it.  I haven’t hands strong enough to throttle the thing.  I strained to ignore its ugly mug but it hoverd behind me when I looked in the mirror.  It crouched on top of the cabinet when I do laundry.

I shook my head a dozen times a day in disgust.  The damn thing  mocked me with a leering grin.  It haunted me in my fitful sleep.

Clouds covered the delta today.  We saw the mist rolling towards us yesterday.  Billowing masses of gauze hung low and ponderous over our island, blown by a hard wind that knocked me over as I crossed to the Spindrift.  The clouds lingered all day today.  By early evening, though, the same Delta wind had cleared the sky.  I opened the door and let the air dance through my house and out the window.  I watched as the wind raised the branches of the willow, moving across the meadow into the fields beyond our park.

I caught a glimpse of a grey ghost clinging to the tail of the mischievous breeze.  It vanished as the wind rose to meet the last bright rays of the setting sun.   I drew a deep breath, then reached to shut the window and draw the curtain against the fading light.  All of a sudden, I walking through my house with a lighter step.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the fifty-third month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.