Navigating The Shallow Facebook Seas

I first met Danny at my friend Bob’s funeral last year.  Danny is Bob’s nephew and bears more than a passing resemblance to him both in appearance and demeanor.  We talked a bit, but funerals do not promote an atmosphere that favors deep, searching conversations so neither of us learned to a great deal about the other.  All that I learned of Danny for certain is that he also believes Bob was a true hero despite Bob’s wish to be seen as nothing more than a citizen soldier who did the job he was assigned well.  But I sat with Danny at enough meals and side bar conversations to know that I liked him in his own right – not just as a Bob simulacrum – and wanted to know him better. 

After the funeral I sent Danny two pieces I’d written about Bob’s journey to Arlington National Cemetery to give to his mother (Bob’s sister), and one thing led to another.  We became friends on Facebook. I haven’t seen him face-to-face since Bob’s funeral; we’ve had to be content with reading each other’s Facebook posts and occasionally  sharing commentary.  

Facebook posts are communications of information so spare that they often provoke undeserved pique and rash rejoinder.  Since Danny and I both have strong personalities and no fear of saying whatever we wish, we’ve had to be careful talking to one another on Facebook.  While our personalities mesh well, our politics are very different.  Fortunately, we had the gift of face-to-face meetings prior to becoming Facebook friends to rely upon; neither of us wants our relationship to founder on the shoals of social media sound bites. So when one of us posts something that annoys the other, we’ve been careful to disagree with respect and restraint.  And each time we disagree in this public forum we’ve tried to find a point of common interest or belief to fall back upon to preserve our nascent friendship.  We’ve gone so far on line as to wish that we could meet over a good meal to explore our differences in depth.  It is clear that we share certain basic beliefs; it is equally clear that we are on different ends of a spectrum that uses these shared beliefs as a fulcrum.  Each of us is interested in what has caused the other to take a different direction from our shared starting point – me to the left and Danny to the right. 

Facebook is no substitute for a searching, one-on-one discussion over a shared meal.  Facebook posts only reveal flashes of a discrete portion of someone’s personality. Facebookers tend to react only to another’s post by high level agreement or disagreement, often with the push of a single button.  And many times – if not most of the time – they fail to read anything more than the headline of an article the other posted before reacting to it.  In other words, Facebook is nothing more than a visceral world lacking any depth whatsoever.  It is pidgin language rather than true intellectual conversation.  This is so true  that when the term “social media” is applied to Facebook, it becomes an oxymoron.  Facebook exchanges are nothing more than the thin gruel Oliver Twist hesitantly requested more of.  They are not the wholesome ingredients of a good, satisfying, three course meal of deep thoughts and well-prepared food; rather, they are little more than leftovers that don’t merit refrigeration. 

So why do I maintain a Facebook account?  I do so because it is a way of staying in touch with far-flung family and with those folks I once knew well enough to call “friend” but with whom I may never share another great meal of ideas because of time and/or distance.  As to family members, Facebook serves to keep me up to date between meals.  As to old friends,  the snapshots of self which it displays prompt fond memories of someone I knew well when we last interacted in person.  I am wholly aware that our Facebook friendship will survive only as long as I remember that I am ignorant of who they became following that last meeting or that they might have escaped long ago from the boxes in which I’ve chosen to file my memories of them.

If I were to choose to go beyond this pool of family and old friends on Facebook I would stumble into the depths of the social media sea that are populated by sharks and trolls.   So I limit my Facebook friendships to those with whom I share some sort of history.  No strangers need apply!  I don’t need or wish to communicate with scarecrows, sharks, trolls, or ‘toons. 

But Danny is different – he’s not only the right stuff, but is a member of a group I think of as my extended family.  And even if our history is brief, it is long enough for him to have piqued my interest.   Bob’s death brought us together and each of us has enough trust in Bob to know that a stronger relationship would be enjoyable. 

So until we can meet in person again, our friendship will just have to muddle through on a diet of measly Facebook gruel until we’re finally able to share a real meal of good food and in-depth discussion  I’m looking forward to it.

 

Posted in Friendship, Ponderings on the Meaning of Things | 1 Comment

The Momentary Stewardship Of Gods And Daisies

Take your place on The Great Mandala
As it moves through your brief moment of time.
Win or lose now you must choose now
And if you lose you’re only losing your life.

Peter Yarrow, The Great Mandala

Each May and June here on our Farm in Humptulips County the humble long-stemmed daisies growing in our fields and along our drive become anointed as God; in July, that God suffers its annual death ritual and returns to root and seed to assure Her resurrection the following year.  It is July as I write and there are still daisies here, but their appearance is ragged and the Daisy God’s condition has been reduced to that of needy mendicant. Many daisies have already died and been cut back, and the few that remain are writhing in the death throes that will turn them into the wilted antithesis of the collectivized beauty that gave the God form and power in the first instance.

The Daisy God’s physical presence on our Farm has grown each year of our residence, and may soon rival Her emotional hold over it.  Her expanding physical presence has been due to her foremost acolyte, Helen; while the devotion that the Daisy God demands is strong indeed, Her physical prowess is insufficient to have allowed her to demonstrate her teachings in as many great swathes of our fields as She now does in the absence of Helen’s annual refusal to cut Her down while in bloom.  After all, gods, being the intellectual manifestations of humanity’s doubts and insecurities over their basic right to exist, require human hands and voices to spread their respective messages – in the case of the Daisy God, Her annual insistence that every life should be celebrated as exuberantly and vividly as possible whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.  The artist in Helen understood Her message from the instant of Her initial manifestation following our assumption of stewardship duties here.

I use the term  “our Farm” to describe this  small patch of ground, but the truth is that it isn’t.  It is only because of the peculiarly human concept of possession that I am able to make that statement.  None of the other residents of this small place would assert ownership over it; the birds, rabbits, coyotes, opossums, raccoons, field mice, plants, trees, snakes, slugs, snails, insects, and other sundry forms of life – and yes, even the great Daisy God Herself – do not feel the need to make such an outlandish claim.  A simple co-existence on this place whereby each feeds and serves another is sufficient for them.  They understand the essence of life better than we humans, and face it without fear; they lack the insecurities and hubris that cause humanity to assert primacy over all other forms of life that share the great mandala and to lay claim to minute portions of the wheel of life as if it possessed the attribute of physicality.

The Daisy God is finished with Her public rebuke of human insecurities for this year, and has returned to Her hibernation.  As a result of my December stroke, I am better attuned now to Her message that all lives, even those of humans, should blossom as vividly as possible while remaining humble in the presence of the ineffable; that each life form, regardless of its shape or its ability to exercise power over other life forms, is but a temporary placeholder in a grander scheme that each is too puny to see, that each, by and through the use of its own devices and own means of comprehension, can only sense without any true understanding.

Posted in Humptulips County, Our Place in the Firmament | Leave a comment

Old Friends

Old friends,
memory brushes the same years,
Silently sharing the same fears

Paul Simon, Old Friends

We talk a lot about illness now – ours, theirs, and others’.  But while the subject has become a conversational staple, we refuse to allow it to dominate our evenings together. Whenever we become obsessed by the topic, one of us scolds the group gently with self-deprecating laughter and we move on to brighter topics.

Our meetings are still dominated by current events rather than memories, even though our decades-long friendship has produced an abundance of the latter that we often use to illustrate our assertions.  And while we sometimes regret the loss of former cultural norms remembered by one or all, we retain enough stamina to embrace those of the present – even if our acceptance is usually somewhat reluctant and often accompanied by a head shake or two.

We have grown older and wiser together among the tears and laughter of entwined lives. Mutual friends and even family members have left us, but we move on together to create yet more pleasant memories.  Walks, discussions, laughter, and good food dominate each meeting, our friendship becoming even more firm over each meal served with ample helpings of mutual love and respect.

All of our meetings begin and end with the same round of handshakes and hugs, the two events differentiated only by the fervency of our promises at each parting to get together again soon.  None of us can imagine a time when we won’t meet again; the concept is simply unacceptable.

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Summer is Here

My walk to our mailbox yesterday was under a cloudless sky down an asphalt ribbon of driveway stencilled with a frieze of silhouettes cast by pines, alders, blackberry vines, and long-stemmed daisies and grasses.  The heat shimmered from the paving on only the third official day of summer.  The birds were too loud and the hum of insects too quiet to make it the perfect mid-summer afternoon, but time will cure these defects.  We have set sail on the summer sea here in Humptulips County, and lush, hushed, sun-baked days loom ahead of us like uncharted rocks along an unmapped coast.

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Dear Mr. Bezos

Jeff Bezos, Twitter Post

Dear Mr. Bezos:

I read your Twitter post regarding the establishment of a philanthropy strategy with interest.  I believe you established a false dichotomy between a long term strategy and giving immediate assistance to those in need.  I firmly believe you can do both in the same plan, especially given the extent of your resources.  This is particularly true given the depth of need on so many philanthropic fronts – chasms so deep that no single philanthropist, even one with your wealth, could ever fill them singlehandedly.  Indeed, even cohorts of very wealthy donors would fail in the attempt.

I approach your request for feedback as a person who has toiled for years to raise money for various causes in the Seattle area; causes ranging from the arts to children’s needs to access to justice matters.  The latter has had most of my attention because of my chosen profession.  I was a practicing attorney for over 40 years before my retirement, and the shortcomings of the legal system as it relates to low and middle income people became more and more apparent to me the longer I practiced.  It also became increasingly evident that no matter how much I and my fundraising colleagues raised, we could never come close to meeting just the access to justice needs of the residents of King County – much less our community’s other needs or the many needs of other communities elsewhere in the country on any chosen subject.

It is this background that gives me the chutzpah to reply to your tweet as an amateur fundraiser with significant experience in a focused area of need.  This is not a plea for you to focus on access to justice issues, although I have some great ideas for you if you are interested.  Rather it is a plea for you to focus on the community need that seems most important to you given your own experience and passions.  Like most things in life, you will have a much greater impact for good if you keep a tighter focus on your philanthropy; there is so much to be done to make our community a better and safer place to live that it is much more effective to focus your efforts in some way.

And, well, you did ask for it – my opinion, that is.  So here it is.

The false dichotomy I believe you’ve created can best be explained by your reference in your tweet to Mary’s Place.  Mary’s Place is a worthy charity that provides services to homeless families and children.  It is part of a much wider space of charities that focus on the needs of families and children in the Puget Sound area.  Examples of similar charities in the area that come immediately to my mind include Friends of Youth, Center for Children and Youth Justice, the  YWCA, and Cocoon House, among many others.  Some of them focus on providing direct services and some of them focus on programmatic  analysis and improvement of governmental services to the sector.  All are worthy.  By choosing to focus your philanthropy on, for example, family needs, you could donate to any one of them and better the lives of many families and children in the Puget Sound region,  if not elsewhere.

In other words, establish a broad, but not too tight, focus for your philanthropy; this will allow you to be better able to satisfy the concerns and beliefs you will eventually arrive at over an extended period of giving,

Having a focus for you philanthropy is beneficial because:

  1. It better rewards your own passion for service by giving you a bigger bang for each buck spent.  While  diffuse giving efforts are better than not giving at all, focused giving allows you to have a greater effect on whatever topic is  your passion. And since there is such overwhelming need wherever you look, it is far more satisfying to make a dent in something (however small the dent may be) than to see donations simply disappear down endless maws of need without having any noticeable impact on any one of them.  As a donor, you should get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a difference in people’s lives, and that satisfaction will be greatly enhanced if you stay focused.
  2. Charitable fundraisers will bless you for telling them what you care about.  Wealthy folks in every community are the natural targets of fundraisers.  We spend inordinate amounts of time and effort to find effective ways to approach them in order to convince them of the merits of the causes we cherish.  All of us have participated in endless meetings that ask the question “who among you knows or has a route of access to this particular potential donor?”  We always welcome the knowledge of what someone is interested in, even if it isn’t within our frame of reference.  We only have so much time and effort to spare for our chosen causes.  We have needs to fill and too little time to meet them, so even a declaration that someone is out of our bounds is of good use to us.
  3. You will not be bothered by as many fundraising approaches if your preferences are well-known.  Of course, every fundraiser believes his or her chosen focus is the most worthy of them all due to their own passion, so you will never eliminate all of the asks made of you outside of your chosen focus.  But you can cut down materially on asks in which you have little interest by letting your interests be publicly known.  Fundraisers respect those who limit their philanthropy to matters outside of the fundraiser’s own focus because they are aware that all philanthropy betters their community, even if not their own needs.
  4. You will have a great many programs to choose from within a broad focus such as family needs.  As you become more knowledgeable about who most effectively provides the services you value and what programs work best from your perspective you can tighten your focus further or use your wealth to cause the charities themselves to better their focus.  Don’t be shy about speaking with you pocketbook when it comes to charitable giving.  All charitable needs have some value, but so does your passion for giving.  Make your passion known and the charities within your areas of interest will seek you out and will listen to any concerns you may have about their activities.
  5. You will find that some charities that seem outside of your declared focus may well affect it indirectly and will, therefore, be worthy of your donation.  For example, some access to justice charities affect family needs – the treatment of children in juvenile courts or in foster parenting programs, or the plight of unrepresented heads of families in civil litigation in our court system.  This will allow you the ability to give grants outside of the boundaries of your main focus and still remain credible and true to your last.

In the final analysis, both charitable giving and charitable fundraising are all about empathy – exercising our passions for the benefit of others less fortunate.  No one can argue with another’s passion when it comes to helping whatever communities we are members of, only with their refusal to display any empathy at all.  So let yours be known.  It’s just as much a matter of self-respect as it is of earning the respect of your fellow citizens.

Lastly, if I can interest you in a good access to justice cause, please let me know.  There are many to choose from.  Most of all, thanks for listening (or should I say reading) and thank you for aiding our community.  It needs all the help it can get in each and every way possible.

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They Also Serve Who Sit And Read

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton, When I consider how my light is spent

Yesterday (a Tuesday in mid-June). Helen sat for two hours in the heart of the day and read a book.  It was raining yesterday, but not on Monday when she also sat for three hours during the heart of the day and read a book.  Those of you who know Helen might understand her immobility on a rainy Tuesday in spring, but not on a sunny Monday.  For those who don’t know her, be aware that she is an avid gardener with no less than two or three outdoor projects ongoing at any given time throughout the year.  Gardening is an especially avid hobby for her here on the Farm because there is always too much for one person to do outside on any given sunny day irrespective of season (I am fully aware that inherent in that observation is the fact that I am not much help to her out of doors regardless of the state of my health at any given time; my preferred domain lies indoors, and she consistently outworks me there as well for I sit and read at all hours far more often than she does).

But be aware that I offer the rain to you readers as a red herring.  On both Monday and Tuesday she was sitting idly and reading for the same exact reason – me.  I am not yet able to drive (maybe I could, but I’d still be a menace to all and sundry, including myself) due to my December stroke and Helen is my designated chauffeur – a task she undertakes willingly even on days she’d rather be outside enjoying the sunshine.  And on both days I was engaged in activity relating to stroke recovery – a visit to the urologist on Monday to determine the source of the all-too-frequent urinary tract infections that have sent me to the hospital twice during the interim, and to the physical and occupational therapists on Tuesday so that they could do their always gleeful best to work me into a state of utter exhaustion.  Helen drove me to each appointment, wrestling my rolling walker in and out of the car two times per each.

Helen acts as my chauffeur at least twice each week, and some weeks she does so a full five times. Fortunately for both of us, five medical visits a week are unusual even if possible. But to say that she acts as chauffeur willingly implies that she made a considered, conscious choice to undertake the role. Nothing could be further from the truth; it would never have occurred to her to make such a choice because she simply isn’t aware of having had one in the first place. She acts as chauffeur – and as my all around Helpmate-In-Chief – because we face life as a team. So whenever I thank her for her efforts, she simply replies that she is only doing what I would do for her if our conditions were reversed.

I am greatly conscious of, and thankful for, the favor of companionship that she has granted me, and she is correct in believing I will act the same way should misfortune visit her again.  I pray that will not be the case – not because I am afraid or unwilling to make the effort that further misfortune would require, but because she has already had her aliquot share of it and deserves no more.

On any other rainy Tuesday, Helen would be busy inside the house doing something because she is constitutionally unable to sit still when there are chores to do.  And there are always chores to do in a household consisting of only one fully capable adult.  I have worked myself back to being at least one-third of a capable adult, so I now attempt a few chores.  For example, I can load the dishwasher slowly; the occupational therapist now wants me to unload the dishwasher and I will attempt the task next time it needs unloading.  Helen watches me load the machine with some skepticism because she could do it in at least a third of the time it takes me, but she understands both my physical and mental needs to make the effort  She has learned patience when I awkwardly try these things, even though such a demonstration of patience goes against her well-deserved reputation as a responsibility sponge.

The truth is that my effort to rehabilitate myself would be lost without Helen’s assistance, and every time she sits and reads during the heart of a sunny day she is doing so in my behalf – even though she is an avid reader by nature and is mostly content while engaged in the task.  For her priority during such days is  being outdoors, not sitting in some waiting room with thirty or so strangers (some few of whom always act bizarrely) reading a book while an unattended TV plays dreadful daytime fare that passes for entertainment.  She has sublimated her own hobbies to my needs and simply would not understand the concept that she is doing so since she doesn’t question that she has a crucial role in our – not (from her viewpoint) my – rehabilitation efforts.

I am a lucky guy.  As I have often noted, life serves up relatively equal portions of bad and good to each of us during the long years of existence, and the only way to profit from the bad stuff is to learn a lesson from it.  My rehabilitation is reminding me of the benefits of exercise, and our rehabilitation is reminding me of my great good luck when Helen said yes to my marriage proposal all those years ago.  After all these years, Helen and I still make a hell of a good team, and goodness knows that teamwork makes any life so much more enjoyable.

Thank god she likes to read and for her willingness to do so in uncertain environments, and thanks to her for doing so far more often than she’d otherwise prefer if she thought she had a conscious choice in the matter.

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Thoughts On The Nation’s Official Memorial Day

It being Memorial Day, I wondered who among the Vietnam War dead I might know. Using my home town as a filter turned up four names I did not know; using the state of Washington as a filter turned up 1,047 names I did not know.

But I could easily have known any of them given that they came from nearby and would be roughly my age had they survived.  They all died in their prime and shared a decade in death – the 1960s.  I survived the 1960s through a combination of fate, luck and determination, but none of them did.  In the case of their war, they fought at their country’s request for a questionable national benefit. But each of them died in the service of his country nonetheless, so I salute these strangers by name for their patriotism and the fact that they were my companions in residency sharing the same circumstances of my youth.

There are far more armed services related dead from the state of Washington than the dead of Vietnam. I salute all of them as well today, just as I do those dead veterans from elsewhere. But with one exception, it is these 1,047 who are mostly on my mind on this official Memorial Day for I could easily have been a member of their class. Reading each of their names this morning reminded me of the aggregate cost of lost futures that patriotism often demands.

As always, my deepest thoughts on this or any other day, official or otherwise, lie with the resident of Grave 450, Section 76 of Arlington National Cemetery – my partner, mentor and friend, Robert Lincoln Weiss.  He died long after the war in which he fought – World War II – a war that stayed fresh in his memory until the day he died in 2016 at age 92.  Knowing well the anguish he suffered over his lost comrades, I take the opportunity to salute all of our living veterans on this day of remembrance as well. From my conversations with Bob about World War II, l know that each living combat veteran celebrates his or her dead comrades by name and particular history in everyday memory just as Bob did on every single day of his post-war life.

Combat veterans don’t require an official day to celebrate our nation’s dead as the rest of us do; their dead survive in bright memory as well as on the sanitized, formal written lists which the rest of us must depend upon instead.

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The Importance Of Inchworms To The Long Haul

Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far.
Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.

 Frank Loesser, Inchworm

When roadblocks are monumental, little victories assume a greater role than they would otherwise deserve.  This is probably because greater resolve is required under such circumstances to move the few inches that little victories achieve relative to long term goals, and great resolve is difficult to find and maintain in the face of heavily adverse odds.

I’ve achieved two notable little victories these past ten days from my perspective as a recent stroke victim.  The first was walking the two tenths of a mile to and from our mailbox with Helen by my side.  This was soon followed by three more trips to and from that selfsame mailbox with and without friends – trips that served to reduce a seeming miracle to a routine endeavor. 

As I write, it is that time of afternoon when yet another mailbox trip would be in order, but the weather is inclement and my resolve doesn’t extend to a soaking even though the workout would be welcome.  So I settled instead for a brief walk around the pine in front of the house to admire the other kinds of flowers Helen has planted, and during that trip I ventured into one of our fields to see if I could manage its inherent unevenness – and realized an even smaller, less notable victory along the way. 

I achieved today’s first truly notable little victory while indoors.  This morning I climbed the 17 steps to our second floor for the first time since my December stroke and went to work in our library while Helen went grocery shopping.  I made the ascent and descent under Helen’s watchful eye and with her support since I still require more balance to attempt the stairs on my own.  In between the ups and downs I did a reasonable amount of honest-to-god work updating my desktop’s software and cataloging some of the myriad books we’ve purchased since December.

These were not my only little victories during that same ten-day period, only the most notable given my goals and perspective.  I also went to a bookstore for the first time since December, only to discover that the management had ruined my ability to forage happily due to an ill-advised (from the customer’s standpoint) rearrangement of its books.  I was disappointed by this blatant attempt to make me search through their entire inventory for newer books, given my relatively  limited endurance.  Nothing is more satisfying than a bookstore crawl, and I felt cheated of a long-held pleasure after having waited for so long.

Fortunately, the Internet makes book buying a simple affair, so I haven’t been without the pleasure of acquiring new books during my hiatus from everyday life.  Even rare books can be found online given an experienced hunter’s patience and the requisite luck.  As to current books, the Internet allows me to identify ones I want to read and either buy them myself or give Helen a list of books I would like to have.  Since she is as enamored of books as I am, buying books for me isn’t a chore but rather an excuse to indulge herself.  

Neither my nor Helen’s passion for acquiring new books was diminished by my stroke, and, as a result, I found piles of yet-to-be-catalogued books when I arrived in the library this morning.  Without the benefit of a catalogue we could no longer find an individual volume or even be certain it is in our possession.  I only made a dent in the to-be-catalogued pile, but it seemed an outsized success nonetheless.  To my pleasant surprise, much of my morning’s work  was promptly undone this afternoon when a large standing book order arrived from my friends at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop.  While my book cataloguing toils appear to be endless, I am always happy in the work and my friends have given me even more joy to anticipate. 

I’ve learned to savor little victories, for while they are mere mile markers in the greater scheme of things, the fact of their measurement is ready evidence of progress.  My present progress in regaining my balance so that I might walk alone and unaided always appears incremental when viewed up close.  In the space of a single week, my progress is difficult to see, but, like starlight, the further I look back in time the further I seem to have come.  These last ten days seem very successful given the achievement of so many long-sought little victories en route to my year’s goals, but I couldn’t have achieved any of them without all of the effort expended during the previous five months. 

I have new interim goals to supplant those I achieved during these past ten days.  Driving a car again is a several month goal, but using our big tractor to mow the upper pasture is its near-term cousin.  I  am not yet ready to ride the big tractor as getting on and off of it will be especially challenging given my condition.  But the determination to make the attempt is building and my mind is already identifying and searching for ways of overcoming the various obstacles to its success.  After all, I can only injure myself in the pasture.  But the trick will be to injure no one at all while enjoying the fruits of my labors – the beguiling smell of freshly cut grass and the visual satisfaction of lines of passage etched in a well-mown field.  

While Inchworms may not savor the beauty of the marigolds they attempt, I’ve learned to savor the logic and beauty of their patient  progress.  For it is only when you consider the entire length of your life that you realize just how many milestones you’ve achieved and how important each of them was to your arrival at the here and now.

Complacency with the present will damn anyone’s joy of anticipation.  If my stroke has taught me anything, it is to emulate the inchworm and proceed along my way with single-minded determination.  For, if I do, there will always be more little victories to savor no matter how long or rugged my passage may prove to be.  And there may even prove to be marigolds that I will be able to stop and see.

 

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Different Strokes

Life is full of unexpected surprises.  Some surprises are good and some are bad, with both sides of the coin ranging from a one (mild, whichever kind of surprise) to a ten (either a wonderful or woeful surprise).  On December 23, 2016, I was treated to a category ten surprise qualifying as a near disaster.  As I sat on the couch in our living room getting ready to drive to town for a haircut and lunch with a friend, I suffered a stroke.  At first I thought I had the onset of flu and decided to ride things out after cancelling my appointments (the haircut would eventually wait three months).  But when I realized that morning that I could no longer stand unaided, I called for Helen who was still in bed.  When she found me, she called 911 over my protests.

I seem to learn the hard way at times.

There are often surprises within surprises, a fact I was to discover anew that morning. Since I had felt no pain whatsoever during the stroke, I was astonished when the EMTs advised I’d likely had one.  I had always assumed a stroke would be a painful experience, but, while the aftermath can certainly be painful, the event itself is usually painless because the brain feels no pain on its own (or so several of my doctors assure me).

One of the lesser surprises I suffered that morning was going straight from the couch to the local emergency room courtesy of Medic One.

I am a firm believer in learning something from any category of bad surprise simply because there is nothing in them to enjoy.  Because of their singular lack of joy enhancing qualities, the only way a bad surprise can be of benefit is by teaching you something – something about yourself, your spouse, your friends, or something useful about life in general.  And the lessons can be about anything, including future avoidance behavior, some form of self-realization, or the fact that the brain doesn’t feel pain when left to its own devices.  What and how much you learn is up to your own sense of curiosity and your powers of introspection.

So what have I learned from this category ten near-disaster?

No two strokes are the same.  Their consequences vary greatly depending upon what part of the brain is affected.  Many of my visitors seemed surprised and relieved to find me as coherent as usual and able to speak clearly.  Their stereotype of a stroke victim demanded a wizened wreck of a man, not a guy appearing as he used to – but for a bad haircut and the absence of a sense of balance.  My stroke hit my cerebellum and subtracted the concept of vertical from my life.  My goal for 2017 is to add it back.

My first lesson was that friends and family matter a great deal, especially when they have the unerring good sense to always arrive when spirits are low in order to salve your wounds with humor and ply your appetite with gifts of sinful food not on the new healthy diet that has caused me to shed so many unneeded pounds.

And I learned that doctors and nurses (especially nurses) work harder on a daily basis than I ever did when employed – and I worked pretty damned hard at my profession.  It’s amazing what they do and how often and how well they do it.  While I had the misfortune to meet one Nurse Ratched, she was a one-off and disliked by her colleagues.  The nurses who regularly attended me during my three separate hospital stays were all courteous, friendly, well trained, and understanding of my needs and shortcomings (stroke-induced or otherwise).  I am in awe of their dedication, knowledge, and versatility.

Therapists – both occupational and physical – appear to believe that their patients are victims and that their job is to induce near death experiences in them.   They drive  you to the limit in each engagement, smiling the while.  The great ones are able to make you believe that it was your idea to suffer in the name of rehabilitation and to make you laugh just before – or even during – your inevitable collapse.  My newest best friends are all therapists; they have reminded me of the stubborn personal core that has served me well so far and which will power me to renewed good health.  Bastards, all of them!  Glorious people, but bastards nonetheless.

My primary lesson learned is that spouses are central to recovery.  The really good ones, the real keepers, empathize with your ills while urging you onward by any means they can conceive, fair or foul – all following a time when their own sense of security was knocked head over tail in an instant.  I know this for a fact.  Helen has been my rock, my transport, my best friend.  I would not have been in a position to write this piece if it wasn’t for her; I would likely not be alive if she hadn’t ignored my protests and called 911 that long ago December day (or on either of my other two trips to the hospital).  She is my strength –  even when she has nothing left of herself to give.

Rehabilitation from a stroke is a lonely business even if you have a spouse, no matter how many people are there to help.  In the end, you can only move as far forward as you are able to drive yourself.  Nurses, therapists, and spouses are never surrogates for willpower. They can only effectively assist those willing to help themselves.  And willpower is a finicky gift, especially when the obstacles to its success come fast and furious.  But it’s always been a core attribute of mine, even when suffering from near TKOs.  I have my grandmother, Bunny, to thank for my stubbornness – she never took anything lying down except her own death, an event that she made wait after suffering a massive heart attack until she had donned her best nightgown and took to her bed to meet it on her terms.

Some days I make more progress than others.  I am fortunate to have a lot of help even though I am on my own as the nature of life demands.  I am well aware that I will get just as far as I can drive myself just as fast as I can do so; not one centimeter further nor one second sooner.  My short-term goal is to use my walker to walk with Helen and my friends Tom and Carrie the two tenths of a mile to our mailbox and back; my long term goal is to once again walk unaided to anywhere I wish.

So, I persist, bastards, near-TKOs, and all.

 

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Waiting For The First Snowfall

Snow falls:
years of anger following
hours that float idly down —
the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh?  Then
the sun!  a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes —
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.

William Carlos Williams, Blizzard

Snow is in the forecast for Humptulips County for the first time this year.  The forecast is uncertain; the foretold amount, if any, less than an inch.

It’s early morning on the promised day.  The promise is for late evening, a time when I, in my eagerness, will be tormented by choice.  To learn the truth of the forecast, I can either peer out of our library’s windows at tomorrow’s first light to see if our fields are whited and pristine, or I can advance cautiously to our front porch from time to time during this evening’s hours to search for snowflakes.  I will likely opt for the latter, since I am  anxious.

In the context of my preferences, truth must gently fall from the sky.  Given the odds of the forecast, I must admit to the possibility of an alternate truth: that of a  cold wintry evening without snow.  But that truth does not figure in my expectations, and by their measure it would prove to be a falsehood.  For I want and need the snow to fall, whether in miniscule quantities, if only for a moment, or just as a single flake.  Nothing less will do.

It is late in the year.  Years are not measured by humans in terms of the earth’s passage around the sun, but by the sum of our experience during that passage.  Some years are notable for momentous events; others are memorable only for being one in a string of years labeled “youth” or ” when I was in school” or “when the kids were small” or “the years following my ____ (fill in the blank with the relevant calamity).”  This year will be remembered by most of us as an anxious time, but one we all know to possess the human quality of “importance.”  Its true and accurate label is yet to be attached and none of those now living can yet be certain what it will say, only that the drafting of its pithy summation must be left to future historians.

So I am anxious and in need of a pinch of magic to restore my equilibrium.  I have a vision of Mother Nature as Tinker Bell, flitting here and there to sprinkle fairy dust upon the landscape with the goal of having my secret, unshared wishes come true, no matter how improbable they may be of attainment.  While the inner, small child will be satisfied with nothing less than a fire burst of magic, the old man will be content with just a light dusting of powdered sugar on the crust of his experience – for he knows that the track of its gathering will show up more clearly in the snow.

Posted in 'Tis a Puzzlement, Our Place in the Firmament | Leave a comment