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Tradition

I have always understood the dangerous dual nature of tradition.  Songs that we sing, games that we play, dresses that our mothers chose for us — they entwine our heart strings but also cut deep into our psyches.

I raised my son with a diluted version of my childhood traditions.   Steeped in the vestiges of my Roman Catholic upbringing, the Christmas that I concocted for him must have seemed as weird as it felt wonderful.  Santa got cookies and Mary with her babe got a candle.  I didn’t explain why the first visitor on Christmas morning symbolized the Christ child welcomed to the manger.  We just celebrated and fed whoever it was a generous helping of our Christmas  schmarren, a breakfast delight handed from my great-grandmother all the way down to my son.

Each year, I took Patrick shopping for a single new ornament.   I invented that tradition just for him, along with the tree elf who brought a present on the night we decorated the Christmas tree and the letter from Mrs. Claus.  The new piece could be from a local shop or a big-box store.  It could be cute or sentimental.  Once selected, Patrick got to find the perfect branch and shroud it with tinsel.  

Shortly after my son turned five, my health deteriorated.  I had no idea how many Christmases I would see.  Tension settled on our front lawn, lurking, pouncing each time a friend arrived for the trip to the emergency room or to take Patrick for a few days to give me respite.  Christmas changed.  I could no longer tolerate the heady fragrance of cedar, so we purchased an artificial tree.  The metal tips of its branches had different colors corresponding to the order in which you inserted them into the metal trunk.  The paint faded after several years.  We agonized over collecting each group and remembering the sequence.  Patrick and his friend Chris would spend an hour or two on Thanksgiving weekend getting the tree assembled.  When their patience wore thin, they would take a break, drink hot chocolate for a while, then return to finish the job.  

One year, Patrick got the idea of writing the branch order on the Christmas tree box.  That worked, but the box finally fell apart.  I salvaged the corner on which he had written the color sequence so we wouldn’t forget.  When I moved to California, the Christmas tree went into to trash, having served nearly twenty years’ duty.  I donated most of the ornaments, gave a modest boxful to Patrick, and brought a small selection to California.  I decorate my tiny house with them, as well as adorning the very small tree that Patrick ordered for my first Christmas here.

This weekend, true to tradition, I hauled out the Christmas box and set about making things festive.  But I found myself feeling lonely instead.  I persevered.  I put out the little Santa mugs, and hung the wooden stocking ornament from Patrick’s First Christmas on a hook at the edge of my loft.   Draped strands  glowed amber, blue, and red.   Fancy glass ornaments dangled in the windows.   I stood in my galley kitchen gazing at the splendor:  Wooden santas, crystal angels, stars, metal birds, and the paper dove that Patrick made in kindergarten.  I wrapped my arms around myself and cried.

On Sunday, a friend came over to help with the outdoor lights.  We worked for several hours, rearranging the plants and hanging lights on metal decor pieces that I had found at Goodwill.  Later, one of my neighbors cruised to my lot on his golf cart and handed me a box from his wife:  A brand new glass ornament, a Macy’s Santa train.  I held the lovely thing in one hand while the other gripped my walking stick and I inched my way back inside.  I gave it pride-of-place between Patrick’s dove and his favorite Christmas horn.  New for 2022.  

Tradition.

It’s the twenty-eighth day of the one-hundred seventh month of My year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

Thankful-Fors

The tiny plaque came from Suanne Atwood Schlotman. 

The folks gathered at last evening’s bonfire do not want their pictures drifting around the internet.  I have had this admonishment from others, and I try to honor such requests.  So I can’t show a panorama of the Thanksgiving lunch in our meadow or the circle around the firepit.  I leave that to your imagination.

Today my lungs protest the hour that I spent inhaling the smoke drifting skyward from the crackling flames.  I left before seven, knowing that the short sojourn would itself be enough to trigger a long-avoided asthma attack.  My eyes itch and my chest shudders. But I know these brief discomforts will pass, while the warm glow which I carried back to my house will linger.  I consider that I made a fair bargain.

Those neighbors will scatter to other corners today.  Some have families to whom they journey for the weekend, while others recede to their cozy abodes with partners, pets, or projects.  My list of tasks glares at me from the table, with three days in which to strike each job as I complete it.  Yesterday’s wind scattered the pleasant hours.  What lingers will not be as pleasant.

I do not join these parties with ease.  Decades of reinforcement left its mark; I assume no one wants to spend time with someone of my ilk.  I’m not pretty enough, not rich enough, not pleasant enough, not thin enough, not tall enough, not of the right political bent or religious inclination.  A tattoo of my failings stamped on my forehead broadcasts the shortcomings vetted by everyone who slammed the door in my face on their way to better offerings.  My stomach clenches as I prepare the dish of food that I fully expect to come home uneaten, and the wine that I don’t anticipate others will enjoy.  

But I went anyway.  I sat at a picnic table in the afternoon sun and chatted with people who know little about my life and have opinions regarding my character founded largely on first impressions.  I smile.  I laugh at their jokes and even  venture one or two of my own.  I answer a few direct questions, stretching for the precarious balance between honesty and unwelcome disclosure.  I bear in mind my son’s reaction when I asked him if a particular blog entry seemed too self-centered.  Mother, he sighed.  It’s a blog post.  You’re sending personal information to people who didn’t ask for it at a time when they don’t anticipate receiving it and won’t know what to do with it.  It’s self-centered by definition.

I bore his pronouncement in mind as I sat in the straight-backed chair that the neighbor behind whose house we picnicked last night kindly provided for me.  Someone asked me a question about my health and I started to give the whole story. My words faltered with the flicker that crossed her face.  I let my voice trail away.  The conversation turned to something more pleasant and I found myself finishing the sentence in my head.  Later, someone else asked about my book.  I tried to describe the blog from which its entries derived.  The blank look confirmed the failure of my effort.  Then I described this blog, which immediately resonated with everyone in earshot.  We talked about actions and accountability.  I described the unfortunate string of personal challenges which nearly cratered this endeavor and made a self-deprecating but truthful observation about why my quest continues unfulfilled.  They commiserated.

The conversation flowed to other subjects.  I felt as though I had made the most meaningful contribution possible, tacitly inviting everyone to share in my journey to joy.

When I got home, I made my evening tea and browsed through the day’s accumulation of unimportant email.  A few texts had arrived unnoticed while I sat in the company of my neighbors. I cheerfully responded.  The host at my holiday AirBnB had sent a message about check-in that eased my worries regarding access.   I sent a note of appreciation and confirmed the reservation.  Then I contemplated whether I needed more food as I browsed through social media.  Still later, I reflected on past Thanksgiving Days:  Rowdy times in my family of birth; pleasant evenings at my little household in Kansas City which sometimes saw 22 around the table for eight; and quirkier times , such as the Thanksgiving spent in a cabin in the Arkansas mountains, my first husband and I huddled around a wood-burning stove while a Cornish hen simmered in a cast-iron pot.  

My favorite seasonal ritual has to be hearing voices around the table reciting that for which they feel most thankful.  Yesterday’s lot said a quick collective prayer to the sky, to the meadow, to the trees, and to the happy coincidence of our communion.  I silently added my own “thankful-for”:  Of the many blessings for which I am humbly grateful, chief among them stands life — nothing less, nothing more.  I’m thankful for my continued existence because (to quote Lucille Johanna Lyons Corley) where there is life, there is room for improvement.

It’s the twenty-fifth day of the one-hundred and seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

Three Friends

I do not believe this story has ever been told.  Trigger warning:  This piece contains an account of suicidal ideation.

November 2014.  My life had shattered ten months earlier, and then the shards had slowly disintegrated.  My husband had left me.  My favorite curmudgeon had just died after an agonizing five months of lung cancer.  I could see everything to which I had clung vanishing into an abyss from which I knew I could never retrieve the remnants of a life that I never believed I deserved.

My days became a desperate regimen.  A handful of hours spent at work before surrendering to grief.  A trip to some coffee shop, where I would cry into my mug and the servers would pretend not to see me.  Sometimes they brought over refills or broken cookies from the counter display, which they would gently set next to my laptop.  A few would pat my shoulder before fleeing back to their stations.  Often, I would go to the public library and scrounge for books that I had not yet read into which I could escape during sleepless nights of anguish.

On one such evening, I decided that life held too much pain for me to continue living.  This marked my lowest hour.  As the survivor of a brother’s suicide, I had once vowed that I would never put my son or my remaining sibligns through the agony of regret that inevitably follows the irreversible act.  But on this night, with cold rain falling on my mother-in-law’s Prius which my husband had given me after his father’s death, I surrendered to my  despair.  

Here’s the thing:  Whether you believe in God, divine intervention, or the irony of the Universe’s control over you, sometimes you have to admit that life takes hold of your best and your worst intentions and shakes them like a rag doll.  Perhaps my favorite curmudgeon’s spirit still lingered on this earth.  But what happened next set a chain of events in motion that indisputably resulted in my continued existence.

I wept.  I sobbed.  And in a moment of rage, I pounded on the steering wheel.  I’m not certain, but I think my slammed fist pressed the button which connected the car’s computer to my cell phone.  The device redialed the last number, which happened to be Paula Kenyon-Vogt.  Unknowing, I cried into the emptiness, giving voice to my decision to drive that Prius into a bridge and put myself out of the misery which gripped me.

A few minutes later, knuckles wrapped on the glass of the driver’s window.  I froze.  I slowly turned, then lowered the glass.  Sheldon Vogt, Paula’s husband, stood in the darkness, sleet, and wind.  We stared at each other.  He spoke:  Paula says you can’t kill yourself and I should take you to dinner.

It seems that In my frenzy, I had lamented the irony of sitting in front of the public library trying to figure out a way to commit suicide.  Called by my phone without my realization, Paula heard my plans.  She had disconnected the call and summoned Sheldon to find me.  My guardian angel apparently needed assistance from one in human form.

Eight years have passed since Sheldon and I sat over a salad that I barely touched and did not taste.  He listened to my wretched lament, interjected a few calm reflections, and stayed with me until he made certain that I had abandoned my intentions.  Then he followed me to my house, got me inside, and gave me a hug from himself and Paula, who was on duty at her job but had been the sure instrument of my immediate salvation.

Two days ago, Paula and Sheldon drove from San Francisco to the California Delta to have dinner with me.  I had seen them earlier this year at my book release, but the knowledge that they took one evening of their five-day California vacation to see me speaks both to their virtue and the strength of our friendship.  Over dinner in Isleton, we brought each other current on our lives and those of our children and, in their case, the grandson who has always lived with them whose birth I well remember and whose smile shines from his grandparents’ faces.  A few hours later, they headed back to their hotel on the Bay.   I went home to my tiny house, the table of which Sheldon built and the stairs of which he designed. 

Their presence lingers here and will sustain me for a long time.  I know a lot of good people in the state to which I have moved.  But nothing says “home” quite like three friends who have been through thick-and-thin. sharing dinner and laughter on a November evening in the calm of their middle age.

It’s the nineteenth day of the one-hundred and seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Me, Paula, and Sheldon, outside of Manny’s Barzzeria in Isleton, California.

To see a new video of #MyTinyHouse and see the table that Sheldon made and the stairs which he designed, click HERE.

In which I briefly wonder where I belong

Years ago, after two years of living in a small town in the Ozark mountains of Arkansas, I told myself that never again would I live in the country.  Though my first house sat at the base of the Boston Mountains in Winslow, just south of Fayetteville, I clawed my way back to a concrete world. Eventually, I brought my small son home to Kansas City, where I could feel the burn of exhaust in my lungs and idle over an Americano in a different coffee shop every weekend if I chose.

Three decades later, I’ve landed in another rural setting, with clean sweet air and coyotes crossing the levee roads as I travel home many evenings.  From time to time, I have to go to the city for medical appointments.  I shake my head and remind myself how much I loved that life, before fleeing eastward to the quiet of the Delta.  I take refuge in my little house on the banks of the San Joaquin.  The traffic jams out here consist of the occasional flock of sheep or a raised drawbridge.  As long as I time my commute to avoid the speeding tourists, I meet no greater challenge than the heavy trucks which take a detour through the backroads now and then.

But I admit that I feel smaller here.  I stop to gaze at a hawk and wonder just what kind of wingspan it has.   The bird seems huge.  I pull the focus on my cell phone and find its piercing gaze.  If I sat for a few more minutes, It would arch its body and beat the azure air with those powerful appendages.  I drive away before its survival instincts compel that flight.  I remind myself that no creature in a noisy vehicle disturbed my morning reflection.  Why should I be any more privileged, even for the pleasure of watching that majestic being ride the wind.

In the quiet of evening, I reflect on what I miss about the life that I left.  Friends, certainly; live music; art galleries.   Book stores.   Choices.     I look at my photographs of this morning’s hawk, and scroll through a few pages of Pacific sunset snapshots taken on a roadside layby in the Headlands.  I shake my head.  I am not of this splendid, untamed world, it’s true; but I can stand a few more moments in its glory.

It’s the tenth day of the one-hundred and seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

There are three images in this gallery.  Sometimes they take a bit long to load.

Season’s end

Someone asked me today if I shouldn’t consider moving back to Missouri.  I shook my head.  I don’t yearn for the cold, or the ice, or the daunting prospect of finding someone to come and fix the broken bits of the old house through which the cold fingers of winter creep after sunset.  Truth told:  I miss my friends, but I wouldn’t enjoy the political climate, the prospect of rebuilding the shambles of my life which had fallen into ruins in the years before I fled, or the brutal winter weather .  Now I live in a warmer climate with fewer ghosts and only the occasional, astonishing glaze of morning frost.

Still I mark the season’s change with all those comforting rituals that we build for ourselves.  I pull the bag of woolen clothing from beneath the bed.  The zipper catches and I ease its teeth around a bit of yarn that caught last springtime and left a tiny gap over the summer.  I shake my head and hope that moths have not slipped through the small passage and nestled in among my favorite sweaters and scarves.  

The woolen hats spill from the compressed depths of the storage sack.  I gently gather them and stand on the little bench that my father made me to arrange them on the hat rack from which I have already removed my summer headgear.   The heavy scarves slip into rings which dangle along the side of the front door.  A few of the jackets don’t fit me this year. I lay them aside; I’m sure to know someone who will want them.  Dresses make their way into the small cupboard.  Summer garments fall onto the floor, and eventually, find themselves stowed away in the plastic holder and pushed under the bed, where they will sleep until spring.

In the little sitting room, I unplug the fans and ease them onto the floor.  The windows have been open since May but now I close them against the sharp air.  We will soon see rain, and strong winds, and what passes for cold here.  I will have need of the shawls that I fold into a basket and the long-sleeved blouses which I ease over hangers.  I shake out my comforter and draw a woolen afghan over the bed.  

This week marks end of the fifth year since my house arrived here; in another month, my own arrival has its anniversary.  I stood outside today wondering if I need to have my home re-leveled or the tires filled.  The windows could stand a good cleaning.  Cobwebs cling to the roofline.  I can’t recall when I last replaced the water filter.  With the time change, I will check the batteries in the smoke alarm and the gauge on the fire extinguisher.  

The geese have already started to arrive, along with the Sandhill cranes, and the flocks of starlings which  gather on the long, sagging wires. Winter has come to the Delta.  I close the door against the chill when night falls.  In the morning, I watch the majestic formations rise from the fields and make their way to the marshes east of here where they will feed throughout the day.  Autumn yields to its colder cousin.  I cannot say that I do not feel another year older, and even more decrepit.  Certainly, the fullness of time presses itself against my eyelids when I lay my weary body down to sleep.  But I have survived another year of my tiny life.  That has to count for something.

It’s the fifth day of the one-hundred and seventh month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Boxer, by Paul SimonPerformed by Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Madison Square Garden, 2009

 

Things I Should Be Doing

At 7:30 a.m. on the Saturday of the last weekend in October, many tasks await me.

My mail-in ballot sits under a stack of oddments pulled from my leather backpack during the frantic search for the earrings that I took off right before surgery last week.  I haven’t put away the load of clothes that I ran through my combo unit on Wednesday or washed my assortment of leggings in preparation for the coming workweek.  Don’t get me started on the breakfast debris cluttering the counter; the sitting-room light cover gathering dust on my desk; or the half-made bed on which I collapsed, exhausted, after last evening’s laborious trudge from the garden meadow after the community movie night.

Instead of attending to any of those obligations, I spent an aimless hour scrolling through the automatically uploaded photos from my phone, social media posts from my friends with children and grandchildren of Trick-or-Treat age, and ruminating on my sister’s kindness.

I don’t begrudge that hour.  

The lost earrings disappeared in the haze of twilight sleep.  I bought them for myself at Vulcan’s Forge in Kansas City in one of the dark years between my last divorce and my dash west to safety from the memories which haunted me everywhere I turned in my beloved Brookside bungalow.  I quite liked those earrings.  They consisted of a single, delicate disk of blue stone — sapphire, I thought — welded on a thin sterling wire with a secure catch.  I bought them in a wistful moment to go with the sterling-and-sapphire necklace that my then-husband gave me for the last birthday we celebrated together.  He presented them without ceremony over dinner with his father at some Johnson County restaurant where my clothes looked as out-of-place as my wild Lebanese hair which, at the time, I was striving to let go naturally grey.

For a few years, I saved that necklace for special occasions.  Truth told, though:  I don’t have many of those.  I don’t go on dates.  I live in the California Delta, which defines casual.  So now I wear that strand whenever its color and shimmer will enhance the dress-and-legging-combination du jour.  Its silky feel against my skin never fails to raise a smile.  

I took the earrings off just before they wheeled me into the operating room to allow a surgeon to commandeer a slice of my right calf for diagnostic analysis.  I had left all of my other jewelry in the little safe at my hotel room just before my 5:30 a.m. Lyft ride to the Stanford Outpatient Surgery center.  The driver had made a pleasant observation about my being an early riser.  When he realized where I had asked him to take me, he drew to a sharp halt beside the car door which he had started to close.  Alone? he asked, in the startled voice which instantly told me that I could trust this stranger.  I admitted as much.  He held his hand above my arm as though he wanted to give me a gentle pat but knew that doing so would violate the rules of our relationship.  I thought I saw him shake his head just a little, with something like chagrin.

I wore those earrings every day because they fit so well and the clasp stayed securely shut.  I could rake a comb through my tangles, struggle out of a tight sweater, or sleep like a dead person without losing one of them.  So I didn’t think about them until the nurse asked if I wore any jewelry.  She waited while I disengaged their clasp and slipped them into the zippered pocket of my purse.

Or so I thought.  But a day or two later, when I realized that I still had not unpacked from my brief sojourn in Stanford’s grip, I could not find them.  Did I imagine the conversation with that white-clad attendant?  Had I taken them off at home, in the hotel, or in the cold, sterile environment just before the anesthesiologist flashed the Men-In-Black light which robbed me of any memory of the surgeon’s knife?

Two nights ago, I searched through the online shop of Vulcan’s Forge for something similar.  I have no business making a purchase for myself two months before Christmas, when I have friends and family for whom I want to buy gifts before my trip  home.  But I wanted earrings to replace the ones that I have determined no longer exist within my realm.  Call me selfish; call me sentimental; say that I create a false dialogue for the soundtrack of my solitary existence. Guilty, guilty, and guilty.

As I wended my way through Russell Criswell’s amazing merchandise, thinking about him and the custom work that he does as well as his pleasant personality and intriguing travels, my sister Joyce called.  I continued browsing while we talked.  I told her about my earrings.  Suddenly, I found a pair not exactly like the ones I lost but evocative of them.  I gasped and then excitedly explained.  But no, I ruefully observed.  I’m meant to be saving for my grim, future existence.  A few minutes later, I heard an alert on my phone.  My sister had sent the cost of the earrings via Venmo with a note, Merry Christmas, buy the earrings.

My coffee grows cold in the pottery mug sitting on the edge of the counter.  I’m still gazing at photos, remembering the moments in which I took each one.  Here I sat waiting for a boat to pass, while the Mokelumne River drawbridge stood open.  Here I pulled over to the ditch, gazing at a red-tailed hawk perched on the branches of the old tree that the county has been slowly dismantling over the last few months.  Here I leaned against my car to snap the crimson glow of the setting sun through the wires above the park.  

In a little while, a woman named Dani, who travels the country in her trailer with her service dog Smokey, will stroll over from the east side of the park.  We will take my car and tour the Delta before heading to Lodi so she can run a few necessary errands.  Somewhere along the way, we’ll stop for what my mother would call “a good lunch”.  Everything that I should be doing instead of writing and ruminating on the bumpy contours of my tiny world will have to wait until my return.

It’s the twenty-ninth day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

The Four Questions

There I lay:  In yet another cubicle, for yet another procedure, with no family or partner beside me.  I had undressed, donned the over-sized hospital gown, and held fast to my glasses even as my clothes, shoes, and purse got tucked into a paper bag.  Now a perky woman settled into a rolling chair for a series of intrusive inquiries into my medical and social history.

After the usual drone about my current medications, any Covid exposure, my vaccination status, and my habits (bad and good), she raised an eyebrow.   Now I have four questions about suicide, she calmly informed me.

In the last two to three weeks, have you thought about harming yourself?

In the last two to three weeks, have you thought your family and friends would be better off without you?

In the last two to three weeks, have you considered suicide?

Have you ever attempted suicide?

I answered every question with the same firmly intoned response:  No ma’am.  Four times.  No ma’am, no ma’am, no ma’am, no ma’am.  I focused my eyes on hers, noting their clarity, the slightly hazel tint, and the fine lashes.  She didn’t look at her computer screen; she had these questions committed to heart.

The only trouble is, they are not the right questions.  Ask me this one:  Do you feel invisible?

Every goddamn day of my life.

A cheerful doctor followed her into the curtained area.  He acknowledged our prior meeting via video.  He signed his name on my right calf, sketched the size of the sample that he intended to remove, and patted me on the arm.  Another doctor took his place, and explained that they had nixxed the idea of general anesthesia.  Nurses circulated.  Someone wheeled me into the operating room.  I lay on the table, surrounded by figures in green.  I closed my eyes for a second and then, opened them again to see a woman bending over me.  She said,  You’re awake, good, how do you feel?

An hour or so later, my friend Jim and his mother pulled to the outside door.  An orderly helped me from a wheelchair.  We went to breakfast; and then, Jim and Mary said goodbye at my hotel room.  I drew the shade and lay under my wool jacket on the fresh sheets.  I slept for several hours and woke with a pounding headache and a throbbing leg.  Twenty hours passed, while I huddled in that room, eating delivered food and pieces of chocolate sent by Jim’s wife.  Shortly after dawn, I dragged my bags to the car and headed for the ocean.  I did not stop until I found a parking space on the shores of my Pacific.  I stood for a very long time while the fog lifted and the waves broke against the rocks below me.

It’s the twenty-second day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Sunrise, sunset

My son spent a summer in Los Angeles, years ago, in college or graduate school.  At the end of the summer, he drove straight to Kansas City, never stopping.  He left LA in the dead of night and saw the sun rise over some mountain range.  He sent a photograph of it.  That started a kind of competition between us which I have continued, on my own it seems.  Who can find the most beautiful sunrise?  I let that moment overcome my worry about his sleepless hours on the road and what compelled him to make that long trip without stopping to rest.

The gallery in my phone burgeons with snapshots of dawn and dusk.  I used to carry a little Canon but the lenses in my phone surpass that mediocre technology.  As autumn overtakes my world, my workday ends closer and closer to the Delta sunset.  I watch the crows settle in the gathering darkness as the last crimson rays seep across the horizon.  When my alarm trills in the stillness of my tiny house, I contemplate sunrise over Lake Michigan and my son’s home in the city on its southern shore.  Sunrise, sunset.  Sunrise, sunset.  Quickly go the years.

He called me today, that boy of mine.  We talked about the biopsy which I have scheduled for the morning.  The scariest thing about the procedure is the general anesthesia.  Or perhaps, the two hour drive from my home on the San Joaquin to the Stanford facility at Redwood City.  I saw an horrific accident today coming back from lunch in Half Moon Bay.  When I texted my friends to make sure that they had gotten through before the crash, the answering assurance included this observation:  It’s why we say don’t take tomorrow for granted.  That must have happened within minutes of our passing through.

As I face yet another medical challenge, thoughts of my mother hover near.  Although the doctors called her death the result of metastatic uterine cancer, we knew better.  A careless doctor labelled her symptoms hysteria or maybe menopause, even though she’d gone through the change fifteen years earlier under his care.  He prescribed Premarin, known even in the 1980s to aggravate uterine cancer.  It did its job.  Then a careless surgeon caused damage which delayed radiation.  Mom died a few months later,  two weeks shy of her fifty-ninth birthday.

I bitterly raged against the men who treated my mother with so little care.  I could do nothing about the surgeon; but the gynecologist retired under pressure from Lucille Corley’s baby daughter.  I could not save my mother, but at least I could avenge her.

The new maladies with which I’ve been diagnosed have plagued me for several years, during which I mentioned their symptoms to several doctors.  I desperately wondered if my mother’s fate loomed large for me.  Not until I got referred back to Stanford did someone listen.  Now a whirlwind of specialists have taken charge of my disposable hours.  They tell me that I can see many sunrises with careful attention to my health.  I certainly intend to try.

It’s the twentieth day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

Morning Moon

For the twenty-five years during which I had my own law practice, I found myself drawn to flip the scene from time to time.  I sat in the client chairs to face my own normal position.  I went out into the waiting room and paced, alert for sounds of the inner office door.  I called into the front desk and asked to speak with myself.  The change in perspective reminded me of my purpose, of the people whom I served.

As I drove to work in the bright morning air yesterday, I chanced to raise my eyes to the western sky.  The moon shimmered in the rays of the eastern light.  From the side of the levee road, on the edge of an open field, my cell phone’s camera captured the lunar presence.  I had no idea what I might see in the images.  I did not expect to be reminded of my mission here.

The moon never protests her place in the sky.  She reflects what shines on her.  Yet she has her own presence.  Her surface contours speak of her character.  We castigate her potential for sustaining life, yet she draws the waters of our planet to and fro.  Our beaches bear gifts from her tidal pull, shells which our delighted children clutch in their small hands and shards of wood that we turn into benches.  We take her for granted, but she gives balance.  She casts her glow on our meadows and the cheeks of our lovers.  She kisses the dew as she abandons her subtle light to the brash blaze of her bolder sister.

After I had taken a few shots, I resumed my journey into work.  I turned onto 12 with the same caution.  I glanced at Mt. Diablo as I passed, the way I do every morning.  But when I got to the suite of someone else’s firm in the back office of which I work after decades of being the empress of the universe, I felt a difference in the spring of my step.  What did that poem say, the one which I memorized in kindergarten?  “Be the best of whatever you are.”  And oh, by the way — no moaning.  Just rise and shine.

It’s the twelfth day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.

 

 

(1) Remind me to tell you the story some time.

I Am Grateful

Now that I’ve told my sister about the frustratingly nonaccessible facilities and the waste-of-time pre-op anesthesia visit, the experiences don’t seem so annoying.  I slogged through it, voiced my opinion when asked, and ended my day at a charming little house in Santa Cruz.  The air bears the breath of the ocean.  I saw the glow of the setting sun on her surface.  Tomorrow I will drive to the boardwalk and sit on a bench.  Her voice beckons me.

My list of tasks looms like the low-lying fog that rolled into the bay this evening.  But in the morning, I shall wrap myself in a purple shawl and linger over tea.  The ripples of my intention will spread.  I’ve done enough that only a little effort will carry me through.  Later, I will find a place to sticker for Xander, my friend Beth’s son who tragically died, and for whom I carry little stickers which she sends us to take a bit of him to places he never saw.

On this morning’s drive from the Delta, I thwarted the GPS lady and took the backroad.  I tarried on the banks of the slough.  I turned off the radio, lowered the window, and aimed my camera at a proud heron.  He did not flinch.  If I had a mean streak, I would have set the phone to video and tapped my horn to capture his startled flight.  Instead, I murmured my thanks and continued towards the highway. 

After my gracious hostess got my bags into the little bedroom, I asked about vegetarian restaurants.  She wrinkled her brow and mentioned Cafe Gratitude.  “Perfect!”, I proclaimed; and off I went.  Now my leftovers sit on a shelf in the homeowner’s fridge.  They will make a nice breakfast, with a hot beverage, on the little deck that she mentioned I would share with her housemates.  “They just got married,” she informed me, with a bright twinkle in her clear eyes.  

In the restaurant, a sign asked for what I am grateful.  I made a list as I ate my salad.  My sister; my son; the folks at the park where I live; a job; a full belly.  A reliable car.  Dawn at the ocean.  Dusk in the Delta.  Twenty-five years beyond the grim life expectancy pronounced over my hospital bed.  A grey heron who posed for me, on a hyacinth-choked waterway, beyond the confluence of two great rivers.

It’s the seventh day of the one-hundred and sixth month of My Year Without Complaining.  Life continues.