Wednesday, March 30, 2005

PostSecret

I highly recommend checking out PostSecret, a blog wherein people are invited to send the Blogger a secret about themselves on a postcard. These are then scanned and displayed on-line. The url is http://postsecret.blogspot.com. PostSecret was featured on NPR this week and is the most intriguing idea I've heard in months.

Enjoy the world of secrets.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Homeostasis

We are all constantly in search of homeostasis, balance, equilibrium. Physiologically, the body consistently strives to keep things in check, running smoothly with little deviation---acid-base balance, electrolyte balance, fluid balance, blood volume. A normal body pH needs to be found in the very slim margin of 7.35-7.45. Potassium balance must be between 3.5 and 5 or all hell can break loose. Sodium is more generous with a normal range of 135-145 mg/dL.

On the psychoemotional side, how do we measure such notions as balance? Manic versus depressive? Joy versus despair? Just think of the language we use for sketchy and potentially emotional situations:

"I'm walking a fine line";
"You're on thin ice";
"He's playing with half a deck";
"She's teetering on the edge";
"I feel like I'm walking a tight-rope";
"I'm on the edge of my seat";
"They were walking on egg-shells";
"I'm juggling too many balls";
"You have so many pokers in the fire";
"It's neither here nor there".

From the look of things, we have plenty of language to describe our imbalances. Are there enough sayings to counter those assertions with balancing terminology? Please enlighten me, dear Reader, and share how you would verbalize balance. Can we create a nomenclature of homeostasis, or does it already exist and I simply cannot see the forest for the trees?

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter?

On this quasi-Pagan and heavily Christian holiday, I mull over Easters past and the meaning of holidays in my life. My parents are secular Jews, and when they moved from New York City to the predominantly white, Christian suburbs of early fifties New Jersey, Jewishness was, I'm sure, like being from another planet. So throughout my childhood, we celebrated Easter and Christmas as secular holidays, replete with bunnies, eggs, Santa, and all the trappings of American popular holiday culture. I have many fond memories of Christmas, especially, though I do remember some slight confusion when Christian friends and teachers in elementary school talked about the baby Jesus and the birth of Christ. Magi? Myrrh? Three kings? Hmmm. I preferred Santa. The even stranger spring-time tableau of crucifixion and resurrection while surrounded by colorful eggs and bunnies further confused me. How to sort it all out? And then there were my cousins on Long Island who celebrated a strange ritual called "shabbat" (the Sabbath), wore little hats on their heads, and appeared to actually enjoy going to "The Temple", as my paternal grandfather Louis called it.

When I was twenty-one, I hitchhiked around Europe for 11 months, ending up in Israel about seven months into the trip. My distant cousins near Tel Aviv received me enthusiastically, and I was whisked to a kibbutz north of the West Bank where I was enrolled as a volunteer. Some Americans came to kibbutzim (plural for kibbutz) to get in touch with their Jewish roots and study Hebrew. I lived in sub-standard housing as a member of an international group of volunteer workers, and apart from working 48 hours a week, we spent the remainder of our time drinking, smoking pot, hitchhiking, listening to David Bowie, dancing on Friday nights, swimming, and being young hard-working slackers in a foreign country. That said, my cousin Shula who lived on the kibbutz would occasionally steal me away and take me to her father's house in Tel Aviv for family gatherings. The older folks couldn't believe I didn't speak or read Hebrew, were aghast that I had not been Bar Mitzvah'd, and were even more shocked, when at Passover seder, I confided that I had never been to a seder before in my life. It didn't help that the seder was conducted completely in Hebrew. I think I drank alot of wine that day.

So what does all this mean now that I'm in my forties? Being Jewish is just that, being Jewish. Having never studied it or celebrated it, it's more a state of mind and a strange sense of humor with a love of bad puns. ("Hey you bald-headed babe, you look like a Jewish Mister Clean! Hey, two bald-headed men--put your heads together and make an ass of yourselves. But seriously...". A nod to Robert Klein, please.) You get the picture.

But seriously, when Rene was a young child and we were first married, we celebrated some of the Jewish holidays in a desultory and thoroughly incorrect manner, and we also enjoyed the trappings of Christmas and Easter, Mary's family being Catholic and all. We would play Dreidel (that funny spinning top) with Rene on Hannukkah (one of seven spellings of that word, I think), light a borrowed Menorah with our own pagan prayers, and also read to Rene about Jesus and The Holy Spirit, not to mention The Ascended Masters and Buddha. We also tried our hand at Kwaanza a few times, just to round things out. While we tried to infuse Rene's life with spirituality and an abiding belief in Spirit (with a capital S), God, the Goddess, and the greater good of the Universe, religious identity did not play a part in our lives. The curious reader would need to ask Rene about how this all affected him, but I see my mature and lovely son as a spiritual but grounded person who is infused with love and deep compassion. What will he ever do with his children? God only knows.

I have a picture of my brother and I dressed up on Easter, sharing a pack of the ubiquitous JuicyFruit Gum that my maternal grandparents always brought with them. I have never been able to separate the smell of JuicyFruit from my grandparents' substantial body odor. But I digress. For what did we dress up? The Easter Bunny? Jesus? I think it was a way to integrate into the life around us, honor what was normal, and participate in our community. While we didn't go to church, we would go out for, or cook, Easter dinner, and mark the day for what it was to us---a special day of family and togetherness with some religious undertones that were best ignored. The chocolate bunnies were very helpful on that end. When my father was married to his second wife, we participated in huge family feasts at some famous country inn in rural Pennsylvania. Overall, many nice memories abound, leaving me with the sense that this odd Sunday in March still holds some resonance for me.

So, dear reader, this Jew from New Jersey with no connection to his religious heritage meanders along the path of life, more of a neo-Pagan Taoist/Buddhist by choice, with earlier incarnations as a teenage atheist, twenty-something agnostic New Age Meditator, and current forty-something secular Jew believing deeply in the goodness of Spirit and the possibility of global change through love and true compassionate living. While I may not be Raptured or taken up by the ships in 2012, I will continue to walk this lovely but troubled earth lightly, with as much love in my heart as I can muster.

While my parents could not ground us in religion, what they thoroughly succeeded in teaching us was the skills to be good, solid people, loving and compassionate parents, law-abiding citizens, thoughtful mates, and productive, tax-paying members of society. My father gave me a love of nature, creativity, curiosity, and an abiding interest in people and helping them when I can. My mother gave me a thirst and love for music and art, the gift of creativity, and the finely honed skills to be a loving parent and spouse. My step-father, a Catholic Italian, brought to me a love of food and cooking, the understanding of social grace and chivalry's rightful place, and appreciation for beauty.

As for Easter itself, I see the Resurrection not as a literal story of one individual's rising from Death. I see it as an illustration of the ability of each person to remake him- or herself at any time, and the power of humanity as a whole to reinvent itself, correct imbalances, and restore equilibrium at times of collective spiritual death. We can all resurrect ourselves, but we don't need to wait for our physical demise to do so. Easter is really about rebirth, the symbol of the egg and its fertility, a symbolic notion of rebirth and the coming of Spring which, in my view, long preceded the coming of historical Christianity. Those colorful plastic eggs are only a bastardization of a deeply felt need for rebirth at the end of the literal season of winter, or at the end of a personal winter of spiritual or emotional entropy.

Religion may not be central in my life (or even peripheral), but a spiritual love of life and humanity runs deep in my core, and for that I am eternally thankful. While Jesus' resurrection on this day may hold only somewhat abstract meaning for me as I type at this keyboard, the resurrection of the planet and humanity from the deadly sins of greed, avarice and hatred compels me to continue walking the good road. I hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Life and Suffering

Thinking about the Buddhist refrain that "life is suffering", I reflect on the suffering which I witness so regularly, and gain perspective on my own:

The caring and compassionate wife with AIDS whose eyes fill with tears as we discuss her sweet and gentle husband who has worsening AIDS dementia which we just cannot explain since his virus has been completely suppressed for more than five years. He lies in bed moaning as we review his medications and discuss diapers, a shower seat, and visiting nurse services.

The very nice fifty-year-old man who recently entered my caseload---Hep C, HIV, alcohol abuse, heroin addiction, a history of multiple incarcerations, homelessness. Very earnest and recently detoxed. Really a pleasure to talk with, his childhood history and family constellation is still an unknown to me. What brought him to this place?

A woman with a history of such psychic and physical trauma that her life is consumed by pain, both real and imagined. Her level of personal insight and psychic resonance is negligible---a true train wreck from a clinical perspective. She, more than any other, invites "compassion fatigue" to develop, from neediness and consistent demonstration of powerlessness.

As I've written before, I know that I could easily be in the same developmental and life situation as these individuals if I had been less blessed in life, less priviledged, less loved. Children do not ask for trauma and poverty. Children do not invite such suffering. Entering as a clean slate upon which parents and the world can choose to inflict horror or beauty, the veneer of innocence and openness can be eroded away as the vicissitudes of life intrude. Who's to say why some are more resilient than others. It is not our place to bestow blame, for none of us are blameless, and none of us are wise enough to ascertain the true failings of another.

How much does my "Body Mass Index" matter in the face of what others experience? How important is it that I suffered ridicule as a less-than-physically-perfect child? No one can really judge how much those experiences affected me. My young mind and heart were vulnerable at the time, and the wounds still resonate today. My suffering was astronomically less than that of millions of other children, and my current state demonstrates that it did not preclude my growing to be a reasonably competent adult. This is my path, my own suffering, and while I should not judge it as unworthy of attention, I also remind myself of the relative ease with which I have moved through life.

Thinking again about my childhood obesity, I remember an aunt of mine, actually the partner of my eldest aunt. My clear childhood memories are very few and far between but I remember this one. We were at their home on Long Island for a family gathering. The adults were congregated in the kitchen or dining room. I came in to get something, and my aunt made a remark that I was an "L.A.". Everyone laughed uproariously and refused to respond to my questions as to the meaning of these initials. The event must have imprinted deeply in my brain, for about five years ago, for some reason, I remembered the event as if it had happened just yesterday, some long-dormant synapse sparking to life for a brief moment and bringing that memory flooding back. I realized that she had meant "Lard Ass" by that comment, I'm sure, and the bewilderment of that long-ago moment became mine again. Trusted adults laughed at my expense and refused to explain the source of their merriment, and thirty years later I clearly remember the moment. Such power of the brain to block out---and then recall---trauma (if I can call it that), regardless of its relative significance.

I use this illustration to elicit in my own mind the notion that, if that remark had been more abusive, more hurtful, if remarks of a derogatory nature had been made towards me daily throughout my childhood, perhaps accompanied by physical abuse, who would I be now? What would I be now? What other choices would I have made in life? This seemingly random assignment of each individual to a family constellation and series of life events bestows upon each person their own unique experience, and reactions to said experience.

These illustrations and memories are food for thought, written more as fodder for my own growth than for any reader who peruses these virtual pages. If this missive touches something for you, I'm glad for that, and invite you to comment, or just to reflect privately on that which is elicited. My suffering is my own, as is my recovery, a lifelong process to which I'm forever dedicated. This writing is powerful medicine, and my prescription of self-reflection will never expire.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Body as Preoccupation

I've been working out at the hospital employee gym a few times a week since January, in an attempt to thwart my occasional tendency for winter adiposity from decreased exercise. Early this morning, my friendly gym attendant performed a service for me that I had hesitantly requested---calculation of my BMI, or Body Mass Index---a crude index of obesity based on the ratio of weight-to-height squared.

I stepped barefoot onto what looked like a high-tech metal scale with sensors that can actually measure body mass, water mass, lean mass, and other body composition factors. My total Lean Body Mass is 78%, making my body's Fat Mass 22%. My BMI is 25.5, the normal range for my height and weight being 18.5-24.9, obese being >30. While I weighed approximately 206 pounds about a year ago, I now weigh 188 pounds after months of great effort and duress.

As a child, I was always somewhat heavy, "husky" was the euphemism my mother and the salesladies at JC Penney's liked to use so frequently. As a 10-year-old trying out for Pop Warner Football, I was ensconced by the coach in a group categorically dubbed "The Overweights". We unfortunates who were "circumferentially challenged" had to run extra laps and do extra push-ups as the other slim and trim athletes relaxed and drank Gatorade, laughing as we huffed our way around the field. In Junior High, as a novice wrestler, I was again put in the "Overweight" club, although they used another term which my memory has efficiently blocked out. That was the end of my sports career, shabby as it was. I retreated into art, books, and not long after, massive amounts of marijuana and moderate amounts of alcohol. Music was the refuge, often fueled by altered consciousness.

Now, as a thoroughly middle-aged white man, I grapple with what some might term as body image dysmorphia. I can never be sure that what I perceive in the mirror is an accurate representation of reality, but I often let that perception guide my actions and reactions. Perhaps it's the effects of this culture that worships youth and beauty (a cliche, I know, but still oh so true), in which young women bare their flat, pierced midriffs and lumbosacral tattoos, and elegantly thin young men wear hip-huggers and tight rayon t-shirts. Perhaps middle-aged people always feel this way, longing for the days when nutrition and exercise didn't seem to matter and one's body assumed its perfect shape regardless of how one abused it. (I had only two or three blessed years in my early twenties that approximated such a physiological and metabolic state of gross equanimity).

What I wish for is a sense of humor about my body's predilections, a sardonic smile and laugh which accepts the inevitable and simply attempts to stave off further decline. Or maybe I'm one of those middle-agers who can summon the courage and fortitude to transform my body magnificently in a flurry of energetic self-discipline. Alternatively, I imagine I will continue to plod along, making small steps forward and small steps back, looking in the mirror and occasionally liking what I see, sometimes seeing something that isn't actually there, and perhaps eventually not even caring what I behold in the cruel clarity of the reflective surface. After all, if one loves oneself and is loved unconditionally by another, do the mirror's twisted messages reflect who you truly are in the eyes of the Goddess? That is an idea worth pondering.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Unfortunate Events at the End of Life

A busy week has kept me from posting since Sunday.

Walking the dogs when I arrived home tonight, I was thinking about the Terri Schiavo case and the many questions raised by the fallout from that most unfortunate situation. The politics and carpet-bagging aside, the avoidable tragedy that I see from this entire scenario is that Ms. Schiavo and her husband apparently never clearly put their feelings in writing in preparation for just such a turn of events. A living will or health care proxy document can clearly demonstrate a person's end-of-life wishes and can serve to appoint a person to make decisions for that person under situations where the individual is incapable of making decisions independently.

Perhaps it's our culture's inherent discomfort with death and dying that makes us so uncomfortable with these questions. In the American drive to live in the moment, the denial of death and eschewing of our responsibilities to prepare for death only seem to lead to confusion and anger. My heart goes out to Ms. Schiavo's husband, who, having been life partner to Ms. Schiavo, must be prepared to make such decisions for her, feeling that he knew her best. My heart also goes out to her parents who are acting from their own innate desire for the survival of their offspring, a sentiment which anyone can understand. I don't feel it's my place to pass judgment at this time, but I recognize that the current national conversation about the end of life that's now in process is a true opportunity, one which unfortunately may be drowned out by the misguided political and moral forces at work in the country at this time.

Here at home, Mary and I are reviewing our legal documents and putting into writing increasingly detailed wishes for our own end-of-life care. Although none of us wish for an untimely demise for ourselves or our loved ones, it is certainly our responsibility to be certain that our loved ones have the legal and ethical support to carry out our perceived wishes to the best of their ability. If you, dear reader, have not done so, please consider putting your wishes in writing, and avoid such potential complications and confusion for your loved ones.

This situation certainly deserves our attention, but it's always so unfortunate when the true issues and their consequences are usurped by those who solely wish to promote their own moral agendas. Serious ethical debate in this country is sadly often overtaken by moralists who don't seek to promote free thinking, rather, they seek to create pre-packaged opinion which will turn the public's view based upon the rhetoric of fear.

May we eschew fear and embrace a culture of reasoned debate that allows each of us to form our own opinions free of political and moral coercion.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sunday Eve

Woody's 41st birthday has come and gone. Life goes on unchanged, or does it? Woody has been gone three years now. Yesterday with his parents, we celebrated his birth with carrot cake, and later in the evening toasted his memory with carrot juice made by our son Rene and his girlfriend. To fully honor Woody we might have played a game of charades (his favorite) or drawn some pictures or written a poem, but the best we could do was remember him lovingly and go to bed.

I'm experiencing a little bit of the "Sunday evening blues" as the weekend winds down and preparation for the coming week---both mental and physical---begins in earnest. Trying to stay in the moment, but also watching the clock and knowing that work will begin in 12 hours. How much of an energy-waster is that?

Meanwhile back in the present, earthly matters of acute back pain, school and work preparation, laundry, and other flotsam and jetsam of daily life crowd my mind and my dining room table.

I was just on the phone with a friend whose mother died on Friday. Life is fickle and its demise can be swift and painless or long and torturous. Whichever way my ending arrives, I hope I can see my life flash before my eyes and know that it was well lived. Dreading the arrival of Monday morning will not improve quality of life in my book. It's time to nip that behavior in the bud and take it all for face value before my days here come to a close. You never know---I could die on a Monday so I'd better make each one the best it can be.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Friday, March 18, 2005

41st Birthday Blessings to Woody, Whom We Miss So Very Much

Tomorrow, March 19th, marks what would have been the 41st birthday of my dear friend Woody. We were both born in 1964---he in March, me in August---and we shared so much in the years we were friends. His death in 2001 (see posts in January 2005 archive or http://justiceforwoody.org for the story of his death) is still affecting us all in so many deep ways. His presence lingers in our minds and hearts so strongly....

Woody was like my soul brother. Although we differed on many subjects, we shared a love of music, of art, of technology, of nature, of dogs, of Mary and Rene, of friends, of games, of children, of laughter. We shared a dream of opening a new style of nursing home for aging hippies and baby-boomers: picture a Jimmy Hendrix lounge with lava lamps and black-light posters; patchouli and cannabis aromatherapy; tie-dye activity day. As funny as it seems, that dream is not far off, and Mary and I may very well create a similar haven, but most likely in Central America for expats. Woody's an expat now, himself, but he doesn't need frequent-flyer miles to visit us....

Woody's birthday----last year we had a 40th birthday party for him at Touchstone Farm in Easthampton, MA. Circle dancing, potluck supper, carrot cake from Whole Foods decorated with peace signs and smiley faces, then dancing, with me as DJ, playing songs that we always loved to dance to.

Just the other day, I had a very clear memory of dancing to The Cure with Woody in our old house in Gloucester. The song was "Hot! Hot! Hot!" from the Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me album (boy, Robert Smith loved repetitive words in those days). We were all three dancing in the upstairs hallway, the music seeming so out of place in that old house which was so clearly haunted, although Woody would never believe that it was.....

Another dancing memory---Mary and I took Woody and Rene to see King Crimson in 1999 at an old theatre on Main Street in Springfield, MA. We were up in the empty balcony, slam dancing and rolling around on the floor, bouncing off walls as the sound waves careened around the cavernous hall. Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp looked like little raisins on a marshmallow from up there.

Other music we shared:

+Both of us having seen Yes perform on a revolving stage in Madison Square Garden as teenagers, years before we met--we figured out that we'd been at some of the same concerts;

+Air, a quirky French electronic band that Woody turned us on to;

+Brian Eno, whose music and aesthetic we both loved enormously;

+Us3: "Cantaloop". Memories of dancing to that one;

+Radiohead, who I grew to like much more after Woody's death, listening to songs and trying to hear them through Woody' ears. Some of the songs seem almost like warnings to me now---"My Iron Lung", "(Wish I Was) Bulletproof", "The Bends";

and so much more.

What I learned from Woody was practicing the art of listening during conversation, really taking in the words of others without thinking about what I wanted to say next. Also, being willing to make a fool of one's self---especially with children---as a way to increase others' comfort and engagement in an activity or gathering. I appreciated his keen and odd sense of humor, his love of art and drawing, his way of looking at the world in a critical and interesting way, his ability to engage anyone in conversation. He was like no one I've known, and his absence still pains me at a level I am often unwilling to address.

Just this evening, as Mary insisted that I take a nap after an exhausting week, I fell asleep thinking about my soul brother Woody and how, during that last year of life, he asked us for advice on how to make soup from scratch. That question came from Woody who we knew to be capable of eating raw spaghetti and munching on dry blue green algae powder, his entire mouth stained that almost psychedelic blue color.

No matter where we were living or what we were doing, we knew where Woody was and he would keep in touch with us: Europe; teaching English in Taiwan; buying up loads of cheap jewelry in Bali; studying Spanish in Central America without ever improving; hiking in the mountains and wilds of the United States. Speaking of Central America, I remember Woody writing that he had his first email account: pulpoloco@hotmail. Pulpo Loco. Crazy Octopus. I think he studied Spanish just as a way of meeting people and having fun---learning the language was secondary. That said, he always enjoyed practicing his Mandarin when we were at Asian restaurants. He loved the challenge of a completely different alphabet, the Chinese characters, the imagination it took to remember how to speak. The tall pale man that can rattle off some decent Chinese. Always a crowd-pleaser.

We have a tape of Woody talking while driving in his car---"Solo Safari Through Pennsylvania". It's hard to hear what he's saying over the road noise, but it's refreshing to hear his voice. We also have a tape of him playing with six-year-old Rene. The pain I feel for Rene's loss of his best adult friend and mentor is impossible to verbalize.

The worst tape we have is the answering machine message that was left as Woody called us from the cellphone of someone in the church where he was killed. They had dialed our number, and while our out-going message was playing, he was shot seven times. Our answering machine recorded his cries for help as he lay bleeding. Despite that, he was able to yell "I love you!".

That he was able to yell "I love you" while in the moment of his greatest pain and fear is a testament to him and what he stood for. He stood for love, for connection, for fun and laughter. He had his dark side, as we all do, but he more than made up for it with his infectious ability to bring out the best in everyone. He still encourages me to exercise, to get my endorphins going, to connect with someone who seems so different from me, to listen with greater intention when in conversation, to look into a dog's eyes, to understand children. I miss him so much right now.

Writing that last paragraph, I had to burst into tears--it was inevitable. Crying is rare for me, and when I do cry, the floodgates can really open. Mary held me, I regained my composure, and here I am again, ready to send this missive off into the ethers. I know Woody has already read it. In fact, he knew what I would write before I touched fingers to keyboard.

Recently, Mary and I were taking about Woody as I walked up the stairs. Just then, a rubber children's ball that I had found on a street in Amsterdam came bouncing down the stairs from the bathroom. No doors slamming, no gusts of wind, no shaking of the house from trucks on a distant street. Believe what you may---I know who threw that ball. That wasn't the first parlour trick, and I pray it isn't the last.

Tomorrow we go to see Woody's parents in Connecticut. We'll bring lunch, a birthday cake (carrot, of course, with peace signs and smiley faces), and we'll talk about Woody and visit his grave, which is in a beautiful spot on a river, far from the road.

At Woody's funeral, Rene dropped one of his baby teeth, one of Sparkey's puppy teeth, and a piece of bone from Woody's ashes into the small hole dug for the urn. Woody's wisdom, love, and grace now reside in Rene, and he carries that grace forward into the world now. For me, Woody's death is a sacred wound which can cover with scar tissue, but will forever be a tender place I can go---a painful place, yes, but also a place of solace. It is a friendship that never dies.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Notes on Blogging

Writing on this blog gives me a creative outlet, a place to vent and process my thoughts and challenges, and helps me to feel that I have a venue for expression that's immediate, connected to others, and thoroughly gratifying. It affords me time and place to entertain those thoughts that I would otherwise ignore or shelve and forget, being a person that has eschewed writing in a paper and pen journal for some years now (except for when travelling, that is). While I would like to eventually have a larger readership, all three of you are greatly appreciated! (I know there's more than three, but definitely less than 10 regular readers at this point.)

This opportunity for instant self-publishing is a priviledge, and I appreciate all feedback and input. I request that anyone reading who finds my writing somehow amusing or thought-provoking, please consider sending a link to a friend who might also enjoy it. Maybe there are others who, after reading my missives, might themselves take up the mouse and start their own site, or there may be some who will realize that this vain attempt at humor and philosophizing is just another poor use of band-width. Could be. Anyway, the mouse is mightier than the sword these days, and although the revolution may not be televised, I imagine it will be blogged.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Just a Wee Bit Off

Today was one of those days when it seems it would have been a wise choice to stay in bed with a cup of tea and a good book. Nothing went terribly wrong, mind you, but it was a day of awkward energy, clumsiness, everything feeling just a wee bit off, as they say.

Throughout the day, I couldn't put my finger on it and did my best to shift the current of the day---and there were some moments when the veil seemed temporarily lifted---but overall, there was a subtle undercurrent that just could not be overcome completely. Astologically speaking, was the moon void of course? Was Mercury in retrograde? Were my asteroids akimbo? I can't say, really, but I know something was not right.

Last Thursday night, I had a flat tire, and some esoterically minded folks would say that it had to do with my sense of feeling deflated. (No pun intended. I think.) But tonight, a good friend called me from nearby--she had a flat tire and was just stultified as to what to do. It was cold and dark, and I think changing a tire seemed beyond her in that moment. It took me a few minutes to get there--it was actually on the way to my haircut appointment anyway---and I was able to alter her reality in a flash. The relief on her face was enough to make anyone's day, and it felt like that moment of service to another was the shift I needed. Things were changing along my path with little effort.

After my haircut, I bought some groceries and came home to blog and do some schoolwork. Accidentally dropping the grocery bag on the icy walk, I found a lovely and sticky puddle of honey on the bottom of the bag when I went to put away my groceries. (Didn't I spill about two cups of honey all over the stove last week, I ask myself? And didn't I puncture a small paper bag of Quinoa (http://chetday.com/quinoa.html) on the top cupboard shelf two weeks ago and spill thousands of little round grains all over the kitchen, the remnants of which can still be found amongst the boxes of herbal tea?)

Note to self: be more careful and circumspect, and consider a day off to read and drink tea soon. Not a bad idea.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Crisis and Healing

Last night I went to a very thought-provoking panel discussion about crisis intervention. I'm a volunteer for two organizations in our local area which provide different types of crisis intervention and support for communities or individuals experiencing trauma, crisis, natural disasters, or other traumatic events. The panel discussion actually took place based upon my natural inclination to introduce the directors of the two groups of which I am a member/volunteer, creating a symbiotic and synergistic relationship which may prove to be extremely fruitful.

Briefly, I work with Community Crisis Support Services of Greenfield, MA, which is a program of the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT). CCSS provides critical incident stress debriefings (CISD) to groups of people or communities affected by traumatic events such as fires, murders, suicides, violent crime, domestic violence, etcetera. I also volunteer as a member of the Amherst Medical Reserve Corps. This is a one-year pilot program funded in part by federal dollars appropriated in the wake of September 11th. The MRC's function is to be trained and available to respond in the case of natural disasters, terrorism, public health emergencies (like outbreaks of Hepatitis A or meningitis), or other incidents. The MRC exists to assist local emergency responders and authorities whose resources and personnel might be overwhelmed in a true emergent situation, and a network of local MRC's is growing across the country as we speak.

Sitting in this room of dedicated professionals, I was moved almost to tears by the idea that we were all there simply because we care and wish to be of service. With no possibility of financial remuneration of any kind (except for the project coordinators who receive very modest grant-funded salaries----what grant-funded salary isn't modest, you ask?), this group of nurses, mental health professionals and one chiropractor wishes to serve their community by being prepared to be of assistance at the worst of times. That simple and moving idea just swept through my heart last night and I felt the impact of that reality on a visceral level.

When I'm experiencing "compassion fatigue" in my daytime work, this type of emergency preparedness training lets me see a window in which I can be of service to the community at large in a more basic and straightforward manner. About six months ago, I was the lead "debriefer" for a group of employees and managers at a bank that had been robbed at gun-point. I can't talk about the details at all, but I can say that providing a therapeutic environment in which the affected individuals could vent their feelings in a healthy manner was very satisfying. It's such an honor to be trusted in this way by a literal group of strangers.

I would just like anyone reading this to know that in many communities across the country and around the world, there are thousands of people who spend a great deal of their free time learning and practicing these skills so that any of you---at a moment's notice---could receive such support and succor if you were ever in need. If anyone reading this wishes to participate in trainings for such wonderful community service, feel free to email me and I'll do my best to point you in the right direction. Many lay people take part in such trainings and provide an important aspect of trauma recovery---peer support. Usually, no prior training or education is required.

Amidst the ugliness in the world that can bring us all down a notch at times, the knowledge that many dedicated people are working in so many capacities for the good of others is a heart-warming notion that continually restores my faith in humanity.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sugar and Steam


The steam generated in a local "sugar shack", where, at this time of year when maple sap is running, 45 gallons of sap are boiled down to make one gallon of sweet Grade A Maple Syrup. I love the mystery of this photo.... Posted by Hello

Birds Do It....


Two butterflies having a spring fling at our local "butterfly museum" which we visited today. Kept at a balmy 80 degrees and filled with tropical flora and fauna, we reveled in the warmth and the tens of thousands of butterfllies swarming and flitting about our heads...... Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Survival Strategies

Amidst the snow and continuing cold, survival strategies loom large. Today's were 1) pancake breakfast lovingly cooked by my love; 2) a mid-afternoon winter's nap, curled up on the couch with Mary; 3) Bikram Yoga, 100-degree room, sweat, oxygenation of muscles, focused mind; 4) easy dinner at Whole Foods followed by shopping for health foods with which to feed our bodies for the coming week.

How simple to pay for food without cash---the priviledge of debit cards and the security of money in the bank. That's priviledge and may I never forget that fact.

Another priviledge that I do not take for granted is the owning of our home (well, the bank owns it really, but we're the ersatz owners anyway). Having just refinanced this past week---a relatively painless process---I'm reminded how, in the middle of this long and seemingly endless winter, we are snug in our home, warmed by wood and natural gas, with hot water at our fingertips and food in the cupboards. Any of those people living on the street or homeless following a tsunami---there but for the grace of Goddess go I...

Gratitude seems to be the secret, even when I temporarily forget. Today I remember, and acknowledge the priviledge that permeates my existence. Food for thought today and always.

Endless Winter


This seems like the winter that wouldn't end. The snow is quite pretty, but the novelty has certainly worn off by this juncture. Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

A Week Well Done

The work-week comes to a close as fresh snow falls (once again) on our little abode. We are in our frequent postures---laptops on laps, fire in woodstove, dogs snoring, bellies full. This is redundancy I can live with!

With cancellation of my teaching obligation due to snow this past Tuesday, no other evening obligations all week, topped off by a brief overnight visit by our son and his girlfriend last night, I end the week with an unusual feeling of refreshed energy, no burn-out sensations in sight. Fatigue, yes, but a feeling of having lived well and embraced life all week with an appropriate attitude adjustment in operation.

Many stressful patient scenarios presented themselves this week but somehow I managed to stay above the fray. What is the magic ingredient that manifested this ability, you ask? Damned if I know, but I'd like to bottle it for future use when needed, kind of like a "Break This Glass in Case of Entropy" toolkit. But seriously folks, it was just one of those moments in time when the planets were aligned, my humors were in balance, I was not plagued by excess melancholia, and the stress just wouldn't stick, so to speak. While some people did push my buttons at times and I occasionally ran around like a mad chicken, there's a level at which the week did not exact an emotional and physical toll, and for this I'm exceedingly grateful. The weekend can begin with a willingness to enjoy, produce, relax, and create, all in the embrace of a loving home and a relationship which feeds my soul and spirit. That is priviledge of the highest order.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

I Am A Witness

This week I'm putting a fair amount of energy into the care of one particular patient named Q. Q has a 10-year+ history of AIDS, Hepatitis C, depression, severe anxiety, a seizure disorder, and a history of IV drug use. She has wandered into and out of our care for the last 6 or 7 years, never staying long enough for treatment of her AIDS to be considered. Her immune system being very compromised, we have not even been able to convince her to take medication regularly that would protect her from myriad opportunistic infections to which she is quite susceptible. Basically, she's one of those people who we have always thought would become acutely and fatally ill, and then have what we would call a "deathbed conversion"---deciding in the face of most certain death that she's now ready to take meds, too little and too late.

That said, Q has resurfaced along with her daughter, begging for home delivery of her methadone since she is too weak to walk, having seizures daily, and losing weight rapidly. My job has been to "rope them in", assess their actual willingness to do the work that needs to be done. With the family history as it's known to me, I can't put too much stock in their potential for success, but I'm doing my part to coordinate the resources so that the mechanisms of the system are set in motion on her behalf. Pleading with me to come to her house for a visit, I've refused and insisted that they come to the clinic, trying not to make it too easy for her. Yes, she's weak, but not too weak to come to an appointment, and always willing to come if we dangle the possibility of a benzodiazepine prescription as bait. This may sound macabre or manipulative, but given the situation and history, we know that incentives and carrots can work wonders with addictive personalities.

Now that we have her ostensibly hooked into care and wanting more from us, we institute visiting nurse services so that the nurse can come to her home every day and physically watch her take her seizure medications, sedatives, and antibiotics to protect her from infection. The nurse has a lock-box in the home to preclude any shenanigans on Q's part in terms of adherence to meds. Next we arrange with the methadone clinic to have the visiting nurse deliver methadone to her home each morning---something she wouldn't miss for the world---thus ensuring that she'll be home for the nurse in order to avoid withdrawal from missing her dose. If she can hang in there for two weeks of this first round of intervention, we add HIV meds to the mix and we're on our way. It's a long shot, but it's the only game plan I have, or death is certain within 12-18 months, perhaps sooner.

Just three months ago, I attended the funeral of a patient who just could not muster what it took to overcome his addiction and his intellectual deficits enough to seize the opportunity for treatment. Ms. Q may be the next to vacate her physical existence, but I'm willing to give it a go first. Another of my patients of whom I'm exceedingly fond (and who is very much like Q in many ways, although much more intellectually savvy) has succeeded in breaking her addictions, and her HIV is now completely suppressed, her immune system almost strong enough to withstand most infections which might have killed her earlier. I would like to see Ms. Q follow in her footsteps. Only time will tell.

The stories are many and I could go on for hours, giving fifty or sixty very interesting and compelling case histories. The point I want to make, however, is that I'm simply a witness to others' pain and struggle. I can't fix anyone and I can't force treatment on anyone. I offer options and I hold out my hand. There are days when I personalize my work---and those are the days when I suffer emotionally and drag myself home, exhausted and spent. Sometimes I hit my stride for a few days and sail along with my witness self intact, watching the action but refraining from reaction to it. The dance is difficult and I frequently falter but I work with what I have and come home and charge those batteries.

Another day is behind me, and for this I give thanks and embrace the evening in peace.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Sighs of March

Following some rather balmy weather in the 40's which made many people want to rip off their parkas and roll in the as-yet-snow-covered grass in sweet relief, a raging N'oreaster has rolled across New England today, closing schools and wreaking havoc with the roads. My class at the community college was cancelled tonight, a turn of events which will throw my syllabus off kilter for the rest of the semester. Oh my.

On the bright side, I rolled into the driveway at 5pm rather than my usual 10:30pm on a Tuesday night. Joy. Flowers for Mary for International Women's Day, yet another roaring fire in the woodstove, food in our bellies, beer next to the laptops (don't spill!), and the wind screaming outside as the dogs continue to perfect their Olympic sleeping skills.

What to do with a "free" Tuesday evening, five extra hours of time usually reserved for trying to make sense out of pathophysiology and nursing diagnoses for nurses in their formative stages, my hands covered with chalk and mouth dry from hours of talking?

Well, first, having accomplished that most daily of evening events---namely dinner---blogging is first on the list, as are 30 minutes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (a re-run of last night's show that we missed), mortgage refinancing homework, tax-related stuff, and maybe then a cup of tea and a treat. We also took time to listen to our new Innocence Mission CD ("Now the Day is Over")---covers and originals done as lullabies---very sweet and restful.

I don't take these hours for granted, and am basking not only in the glow of the fire, but the glow of an extra evening at home with my best friend and favorite canine companions.

Perhaps I will allow myself some time to read---Carlos Fuentes' A New Time for Mexico and The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, have been sitting forlornly on my bed-side table for months as I slowly read them in the most desultory and disrespectful fashion.

Anyway, here arrives yet another late winter evening in which yours truly finds himself afloat in a sea of "what-should-I-do's", the responses being numerous and somewhat overwhelming. That said, one must take at face value one's inner yearnings and seize the moment to tackle those chores or tasks which seem most likely to, 1) bear fruit, 2) be readily accomplished, 3) call out for attention, and 4) will bring some notion of relief or "I'm-so-glad-I-did-that-ness" after its particular denouement.

Now I must turn my attention to those tasks, or perhaps heed the Buddhist saying, "don't just do something, sit there!"

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Week's Eve

Sunday evening, a relaxing and wonderful weekend behind us: live music on Friday night; no use of a car from Friday night until Sunday afternoon; some spontaneous and some planned socializing; laundry and household chores; telephone chats with family and friends; a movie today (Million Dollar Baby---mixed reviews, really); and a fascinating show on the National Geographic Channel tonight with new amazing footage of fetal development inside the womb.

Mary is asleep on the living room futon, a yellow smiley-face pillow under her head. Sparkey and Tina are sacked out on the floor in front of the woodstove, and the house and its silence surround me. I put two more logs on the fire and clean up the kitchen. I work on my lecture for Tuesday night---blood transfusions.

So many things to be grateful for. So many reasons to feel blessed and lucky. Very little excuse for dreading Monday morning and the week to come.

I practice being in the present moment. Here I am and it is right now. This is it.

Sparkey and his Road Runner---note the chewed beak. The poor bird is slowly being disemboweled...... Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Horoscope

My horoscope this week from our local arts and entertainment weekly:

"LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): I have a tricky assignment for you this week, Leo. It will require you to display an open-hearted curiosity as you live on the edge of your understanding. It will ask you to be cheerful and optimistic as you question as many of your certainties as you can. Your challenge is to embrace the attitude suggested by Caroline Myss in this passage from her CD, Spiritual Madness: The Necessity of Meeting God in Darkness: 'The moment you come to trust chaos, you see God clearly. Chaos is divine order, versus human order. Change is divine order, versus human order. When the chaos becomes safety to you, then you know you're seeing God clearly.' "

Food for thought for one who sometimes loathes the roller-coaster.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Music's Anointing Oil

If the work-week seemed somewhat like chewing on aluminum foil, this evening's concert by Over The Rhine (www.overtherhine.com) was like being bathed in light and soothed with the most exquisite anointing oil. Karen Berquist's voice was a soulful, sultry croon underscored by Linton Detweiler's thoughtful guitar and piano, not to overlook Kim Taylor (www.kim-taylor.net), their fellow musician and friend accompanying them on this brief tour.

We shared the evening with our dear friends, soaking in the intimate atmosphere consciously created by OTR, all of us uplifted by the spiritual power of music.

A soothed heart resides in my chest tonight.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Wicked Gravity

What is it that I'm experiencing these recent days? Am I burning out? Am I going through what some people refer to as "compassion fatigue"? Whatever it is, the physical feeling is one of heaviness, of the effects of gravity pulling my body and mind in a downward direction. The cold weather, hunched shoulders, and eyes squinting in the blowing wind and snow do little to ameliorate the uncomfortable sensations. A feeling of burdensomeness washes through most of my activities. There is little internal lightness for me right now, rather a feeling of dense corporeality that feels cumbersome and awkward.

A psychic who Mary and I both see on a semi-regular basis (email me if you want her contact information--she does amazing telephone and face-to-face readings) told me that one of the "stories" of my life is the sense of "burdensome dutifulness". How does one cleanse oneself of such a ball and chain? I think it's time for a visit to this gifted healer for a wintry shot in the arm. While I don't think my "compassion meter" is on empty, I do feel that my personal fuel gauge is at an ebb and needs a boost before I'm running completely on fumes, as it were.

Tomorrow night, even though we can't afford it, we're going to see Over The Rhine (www.overtherhine.com) play at The Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Mass. They'll provide me with the experience of a moving and beautiful performance---as they always do---which I'm sure will lift my spirits and send me sweetly to sleep at the end of a difficult week.

Tonight, I remind myself to give thanks for my blessings, as much as I was loathe to do that today as I slogged through a workday that was akin to chewing on aluminum foil. As Brad Roberts of the Crash Test Dummies once sang, "It's not as bad as eating your own liver; but still I'd like to think that there are better methods".

Good night.