wisdom of yesterday

So, should you ever decide to venture into the realm of setting goals that can only be achieved through discipline (and I would say that is most goals), I strongly recommend prioritizing them and working toward them one at a time. Okay, so maybe this isn’t true in all cases. Maybe I’m just speaking about the predicament I have created for myself in both dedicating myself to a blog a day and to a healthier lifestyle. Those two objectives really should not complicate each other…except they do. Here’s why: In order to live this healthier lifestyle, exercising on a nearly daily basis is required. My work/family schedule mandates that take place in the darkness of early morning (before I work an often 12 hour school day). Conversely, in order to write daily, I have to wait until the day is essentially done…dinner has been cooked and the kids are in bed. This schedule means that I wake up at 4:30am and don’t get to write until somewhere around 9pm…when I am thoroughly exhausted and ready to just fall asleep on my couch while pretending to watch television!

The only thing making success possible isn’t the king cake prize at the end (shocking, I know). Rather, it is merely the determination to succeed. This is something I couldn’t have mustered even in small form last year at this time. I was so sick and spinning nearly everyday and was too weak to foster any sort of regular discipline. Writing was misery in those days because nothing stood still and because my brain was so focused on seeing straight that words were not so easy to recall and certainly didn’t flow into orderly sentences crafted with style and voice…so instead of persevering, I avoided. It seemed easier that way. To make all of this even worse, I also made a pretty conscious decision that since my body was being so antithetical, I would be disagreeable right back and proceeded to eat anything and everything that I wanted. I ate all the gluten, consumed all the sugar, sipped all the carbonated beverages. Did any of this make me feel better? Probably only in the moment where I fibbed myself into believing that I deserved the deceptively delicious nutritionally void delicacy. Beyond that, sugar and gluten simply are not my friends, but after learning to abide by the discomfort my inner ear brought, this food induced malaise paled.

This indulgence into the world of avoidance and emotional eating not only destroyed my once healthy habits, but also built new terrible ones. Which is partly why this challenge has been so important and partly why I’ve maintained it even when it would be so much more comfortable to quit and to attain a reasonable amount of sleep. Knowledge of what I was incapable of last year at this time…knowledge of how far I still had to go…knowledge that it could all come back in any given moment…brings a gratitude that drives me forward. I maintain my discipline because I can…because it is a gift…because no day should be taken for granted and what I actually deserve is to honor the parts of myself that need exercise–both my brain and my body. It would be selfish to do anything else and foolish to waste what I can do today.

Yesterday brings a clarity worth honoring.

(A poetic gift in honor of hard work… “To Be of Use” by Marge Piercy Here she writes these lines and more…

“The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.” )

 

(Day 48! Written after family movie night and still relatively coherent…writing everyday has made that possible…the discipline is worth the discomfort)

pointless

Somewhere around age 8 or 9, I developed a pretty intense phobia. This fear defied conventionality (or at least it felt that way). It was no fear of heights or dogs that others could relate to (though, let’s be real here, I was afraid of those things too). No, this was something that no one else seemed to get–including myself. My fear rooted itself in an aversion to any kind of stomach illness. Sure, lots of people (almost proudly) proclaim “germophobia” but this was more specific and for some reason that baffled others. Or maybe it wasn’t so much the fear that was the issue as much as the way it revealed itself (in panic attacks at absurd moments, in selectively eating only food that felt safe, in doing any number of evidently ridiculous things that felt entirely necessary).

The great humor of my life…and I do believe God sees the irony in this situation as much as I do…is that I spent decades (literal decades) actively working to never feel nauseous…actively worried on the daily that I might be sick or that I might have been exposed to illness…actively avoiding events, people, places where sickness might be present (and I don’t just mean the obvious places…my fear of flying had less to do with the act of flying in a plane and everything to do with the possibility of people getting airsick…) only to find myself at age 36 coping with an invisible illness that brought with it episodic bouts with severe vertigo and regular imbalance and with that came nausea beyond my control (important to note here that even on the days when I wasn’t struggling with violent spinning, I sort of always felt like I was rocking on a boat…sort of like those movies with a shaky camera that make you feel a little seasick by the end…that sensation represented a good day for far too many years). There is no medicine, by the way, that will make vertigo stop…only medicine to abate the side effects of it (and then, only if you are lucky). You are at the complete mercy of your body. You just have to wait it out.

Situations like this provide clarity if nothing else, really. What I came to realize through this joke my body has played on me was that all those days and weeks and months and years of worrying, all that wasted effort, in the end, turned out to be really quite pointless. It didn’t matter how much I worried or how much care I took to avoid, this was always going to happen…and germs really have nothing to do with it (in all seriousness, you have to know, the comedy of this hasn’t escaped me).

This is sort of how life is though, right? People told me for years that I was squandering perfectly healthy moments with worry, but I couldn’t feel the truth of that in any real way until my life handed me a series of whirling moments that brought with them new understanding…like the scales falling away from my eyes. We are experiential beings and sometimes we have to live through the difficult moments to learn the lessons we would have been better off learning far sooner. But the important part is that we are ready to accept the understanding and move forward from there. I suppose that is growing up? And I suppose that process of forming and re-forming the people we have the potential to become is a life long one. And I kind of love that gift…of lessons learned no matter our age…because no matter how unpleasant the wrapping may seem, what is inside delivers insight that makes each day a better one than the one before.

(Day 43…this one feels maybe a little too revelatory…but here it is…is it king cake time yet??)

empowerment

Words, language, have become a means of survival.

Air, water, food, shelter, words. Sincerely, their necessity has reached this level.

The easy answer here in uncovering the meaning behind this dramatic assertion is that books have saved me…allowed me an escape…or that writing has…but it isn’t that simple or that obvious, because for a long time, when I was sick and dizzy, reading and writing were not the friendliest options. However, there are realizations in life that shine a light to burn off the fog that has settled in around you…the fog that hinders your vision…not allowing you to see anything else until you recognize first the truth of what has blinded you. Sometimes you get lost and can’t see up from down or details of the world around you.  Then the moment arrives when understanding clarifies the rest and the fog becomes mist which becomes transparency.

So, I have come to learn that when my language portrays victimization (whether resulting from life long struggles with anxiety or my more recent struggles with inner ear disability), that I sink swiftly into a self induced chasm of resignation. When my language falters under the weight of whatever ordeal I am suffering, I surrender any power or control I have in the situation and I become nothing more than a sacrifice to my circumstances. However, when I shift the syntax…when I choose words that reflect the strength of a survivor…suddenly, I repossess my strength, my courage, my vibrance. When I look at a situation through the lens of accomplishment rather than through the fog of defeat, it may not change my circumstances, but it certainly alters my perception of them. This isn’t simple stuff. The words, this “survivor speak” may feel hollow at first…futile, for they are just words after all. Eventually, with diligence, the moment arrives when they aren’t just words any more because what once felt empty has not only  become your reality, but transformed your experience of it.

In the same way that words can be employed to tear down and demean or to reconstruct and elevate others in our lives, they can be engaged the same way in our own.

reminiscent

A couple of years ago, I attended the Heinemann literacy retreat in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. We spent mornings in this idyllic environment filling pages of writers notebooks while working with Linda Rief. Really, those mornings earned and own space as beloved moments of time–moments that could never endure a precise recreation, for I will never be exactly as I was then. Yet, they live on inside of me nonetheless.

On one of those brilliant Maine mornings, I wrote the following piece. I’m not sure what made me think of it today, but suddenly I found myself possessed with the desire to seek out my notebook from that week and find this particular piece…and maybe nudge it and rework it a bit. A response to Katrina and the loss my family suffered in her fury, this piece testifies, I think, that even though lives move on and we find healing, solace, old wounds still open up every now and again, proving painful with their sting.

My mom and dad and sister and brother will probably read this piece and I worry that it will be too much (so maybe, stop reading here you guys…or if you continue, don’t say I didn’t warn you!). But I also don’t want to leave these thoughts out of the record of my heart, my life.

~~~~~~~~~

The table that got carried away by the flood knew stories, so it knew lives. Knew my childhood. My family–all of them: those that came before me, those that sat around it with me, whether for many years or for fewer than felt fair. It knew projects and homework and it knew me–the tiniest in the house charged with dusting its belly and legs—a job to keep little hands occupied and little me out of the way (that is until I deserted its secret dusty crevices in exchange for the tedium of picking parsley leaves in the kitchen).

It knew warmth. The center of our gathered hearts as we shared a meal, exchanged communion in conversation, offered up wishes of Thanksgiving or Merry Christmas or Happy Birthday or Congratulations–our most precious occasions. And it celebrated with us. Holding up our joy, taking in our laughter (or our tears), relishing it all. A bounty of food could only further adorn its beauty, a bounty of love surrounding it, effervescent. It became a touchstone, a symbol for family, for togetherness.

The table that got carried away by the flood also knew discord (all families really do). It stood strong in the midst of disagreements, teenage angst, parental concern…endured the occasion frustrated fist hammering down in order to punctuate a point…and it reverberated the echo as if in agreement. It knew grief too and absorbed the weight of loss as we attempted to endure and learn to live again.

But the saltwater of those tears could not prepare it for the deluge to come, for the sacrificial offering it would become. The table had withstood floodwaters before (though they merely tickled its toes), so it had remained confidently behind…on guard so to speak for all the life that house contained even with its people huddled together in some other house, in some other city just distant enough to escape danger (they were some of the lucky ones; they had a place to go). Yet, the enormous rush of water didn’t baptize to bring forth new life. No, these waters came in a hurry and took up residence only to depart weeks later leaving mold, stench and destruction in their wake.

Today, there are grandkids who sit around a different table (one with far less history) beside their parents, grandparents, cousins. Today, new conversations scintillate the air around a new table in a new-old house. Today, there are celebrations and arguments and joy and there is family and that abundance overwhelms, but the missing remain present as no one expected the lingering litany of loss.

The table that got carried away by the flood could not be replaced, though a stand in fills its vacancy. Memories only surface intermittently these days causing ephemeral tinges of longing for another chance to grace its antique sturdiness. These moment usher in longing and then gratitude, for life, health, the past, and the people that brought that table to life.

(Day 33–this one was a joy to write, though I don’t love the ending…it is a bit rushed, but so am I. I can return another day.)

reminder

Since the surgery that mostly resolved my inner ear struggles, I have worked diligently to move beyond the trauma of the seven months of nearly constant hearing and balance issues. Trauma is a heavy word, one that implies lingering physical and mental damage. Anyone who has never spun with vertigo might think my use of “trauma” here is hyperbolic. Anyone, though, who has suffered even momentary vertigo can relate to the terror it invokes. It is hard to explain the confusion of not knowing up from down, the disorientation of constant movement despite sitting still, a statue frozen in time, the fear of not knowing…how long will this last? am I falling? how sick will I be? is this the rest of my life? It is hard to explain the heart racing, sweating, shivering, stomach twisting fury that a vertigo spell induces. No medicine can calm the spinning; it can only quell the nausea…and even that salve isn’t guaranteed. No medicine could promise me that I wouldn’t suddenly become dizzy in the middle of a day, in the middle of the grocery store, in the middle of playing with my kids.

That not knowing stalked me endlessly; I became guarded and began to withdraw. By May of last year, 6 months into this journey, I was nearly incapacitated and could no longer envision the possibility of a “normal” life. I questioned my every move, my every decision. I lost hope of ever being well. Honestly, before this moment, I don’t think I could have even written this much about how frightening the episodes during those months were (and there were more than I can count) in this kind of detail without inducing panic.

I have spent much of the seven months since the surgery unlearning all of that fear. I have spent much of that time working past episodes of absolute panic set off by a too vivid memory or by a simple trip to a movie theater. I have spent much of that time trying not to be in a constant state of waiting for my good health to disintegrate…for the surgery to fail…for the moment when once again I am fighting, clawing, scratching to maintain some sort of quality of life….for the smiles to once again be false and the moments to become hazy and vague.

I have done a great deal of really hard work moving on and I finally felt entirely successful there. So, why? Why when a colleague looks at me and says, “What are you going to do when your health fails again” am I suddenly thrown back into the shuddery shaky shroud of worry and concern. I am no closer to being unwell again just because she asked a question of me, yet my brain and my body now stand on guard…proving there is more work to be done than I realized.  Maybe I had only put a patch, a band aid on a wound that required more time, more cleaning, more attention and maybe some stitches? Maybe I let myself get comfortable and neglected completing the process of healing? Maybe I just wanted to be well so badly that I chose to ignore the depth of the concern in order to focus on life instead (though, is that really so bad?) Maybe this process will be a lot longer than I wanted it to be…maybe it’s forever?

But also, maybe it is a reminder of what it truly takes to be resilient. Maybe it is proof that even in the fear and concern, I still survive, thrive, live. Maybe revisiting my concern will simply grant me a gratitude I didn’t feel as deeply yesterday.  Maybe I am stronger than I realized and accepting that as my truth, even when I am tired of having to be so strong, defines and develops the steps I take into my future.

It’s all about the lens we choose to view the world through, I guess. And, truly, we are the ones who choose that lens. The work of that choice isn’t easy, but its significance hasn’t been lost on me today.

(Day 24…almost skipped today. A timely and unexpected power outage was going to be a great excuse to not write and to go to bed early. So glad the power came back in time for me to get this out. It was needed tonight!)

need

I’ve written a good bit this week about where I turn for healing and rest: gratitude, exercise, poetry. My heart is heavy today though, in spite of all of this. Life is tumultuous, you know, and right now the upheaval is pervasive, weakening my spirit, dulling my optimism. I tend to describe this feeling as “heart-achey”…which really just signifies a moment or several where my metaphorical heart (the one that holds the weight of this empathic life), feels as though the stitching is coming loose and that it is about to empty itself. I’m not a meltdown kind of girl. I endure in the face of gale force tempestuous winds. But today, my guard is down and I need a powerful healer.

Today I need music.

~~~“I Am In Need of Music” by Elizabeth Bishop~~~

In this poem, Bishop writes, “Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,/ Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,/A song to fall like water on my head,/And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!” This is what I need today. The overwhelming harmonious rush of sound washing over me, renewing me in the baptism of its waters and bringing me new life. I need the escape offered in each measure, the fulfillment of the attention my senses have been longing for as they are too frequently muted in the mundane actions of day to day life–dulled by my distraction.

Tonight, I will sit in a church full of people, and musicians will work their alchemy and transform the ache in my heart into the beat of perseverance and the light of hope–their craft, a sustaining force. Tonight, I will allow myself to be engulfed in the beauty of the work of these artists; I will allow myself to escape the world outside that sanctuary (what a perfect word) to be transported elsewhere. I will share this experience with pews full of strangers and friends and we will become a community in that communion…we will become one.

Tonight, I will be intentional. I will close my eyes and feel myself breathe in the joy carried in the air–a gift of the music in the room. And as I exhale, I will release the exhaustion and frustration. And if only for a few minutes, I will be healed.

The respite is going to be spectacular.

(Day 21–three whole weeks!!! This one is short but I like it anyway:) And also, it has been  busy day–just glad I had the time for this!)

vision

I bought my first pair of reading glasses today and while that feels strange to admit (because in my head, I am still like 32) it also feels a bit like a rite of passage. A normal aging thing after all the weird illnesses and meannesses my body has inflicted on me. Honestly, I was a little excited by the normalcy of it. Finally, something that everyone for the most part will deal with eventually!! I wasn’t desperately in need of these glasses. I only really need to wear them when my contacts are in and even then I can get by. I mean, I am able make out the words on my screen or on the page…just not as easily as I once could. So I procrastinated…longer than I should have. I grew comfortable in my discomfort because it was easier than taking the steps of solving the problem.

It was sort of like when I was sick because of my inner ear, my car got out of hand messy. I mean unbelievably so. I was embarrassed just sitting in the car by myself let alone if anyone else had to see it. But I was sick and didn’t have the energy or the desire to fix the problem, to clean it out. So, I ignored the mountain of water bottles and magazines and books and more and just harbored by discomfort because even though it made me sort of miserable it was easier to drive the false facade around than solving the problem, easier than taking the time to clean up the mess inside.

When my ear was a bit of a disaster, I knew there was a surgery that could fix it but it terrified me, so I did everything else instead. I tried every treatment available except the one that would be nearly guaranteed to work. Chiropractic, Acupuncture, Essential Oils, Physical Therapy, TMJ Treatments, and more. All desperate measures to avoid the one definite fix. Why would I procrastinate when help was available? Who knows, really? I could tell you it was because of the cost of the surgery or that it was so close to my brain that it scared me, but the truth is that neither of those is the real answer. I was somehow simply resigned to being miserable and blinded myself to the solution.

I think we do this all the time in various ways. We table our issues, our anxieties, our concerns and just learn to live with them, rather than really dealing with them, rather than taking the steps to actually cope with them. We are willing to accept the false feelings of ease rather than work to uncover what might be a thorny path to healing, recovery, rest or health. Forgetting all the while that though the thorns may sting and intensify the misery in the short term, they are also necessary points along the way to healing…to a clearer path…to the river of rebirth that allows us to cleanse ourselves of whatever ails us.

When I put those glasses on my face and I looked down at my phone screen today to see if they really helped, I was entirely astonished at the clarity and precision of the words on the screen. I had not realized just how blurry things had gotten until a new lens, a new perspective allowed me to see the truth of the matter. And I sat there for a minute just wondering what on earth took me so long and how many more times will I fall prey to the laziness of accepting unnecessary discomfort…

“Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” by Portia Nelson

(Day 13–exhausted from a very long week, but still found a moment to knock this one out. Not my most careful writing, but happy to have it done).

voice

Since the surgery on my inner ear, a negative pressure has developed. What might this mean? Well, thankfully, it doesn’t make me dizzy, but I hear every inhale and exhale I take no matter how shallow. My heartbeat pounds my eardrum causing vibrations deep in my ear (we won’t even talk about the cacophony in my head when I am running–all breath and pounding). There are several more elevated internal sounds that would shake even the most serene soul, but only one feels like a burden. Every word I utter reverberates, echoing loudly inside my head. If I didn’t talk for a living, this might not be such a big deal, but I spend my days talking to teachers, kids, colleagues, parents, etc. Sometimes I can just ignore it, but other times the distraction is overwhelming and I am rendered exhausted by the effort of just attempting to hold a simple conversation. In crowded or noisy places where I really cannot trust my own sense of the volume of my speech, I think twice before talking, wondering for a moment if what I have to say is really worth the exertion.

It’s in those moments, that I am so grateful to have the outlet of writing–to know who I am as a writer, to know how to use my voice in that way, and to know I have the confidence to do so. So many young people, though, come to my classroom having been told they can’t write, will never be able to write, are failures as writers (because that is what an F translates to) and their confidence is shattered. I imagine that for these students, writing feels about as comfortable as holding a conversation does for me right now. I also imagine that mustering the courage to put the words on the page, no matter how few actually make it there, is absolutely draining.

For many of my students, their first writing goal is just to work on their confidence because so much of me knows that they will never be able to learn and to grow as writers if they believe they can’t.  But confidence, it seems, takes trust. And so, my first goal as their teacher is often to build that trust. To prove to them in my methods and in my words that I’m present and my only hope is to encourage and support, to listen and assist, and to offer opportunities for revision and growth. Trust also comes because with the choice and freedom they have to define and develop their writing, they know I respect them as thinkers, as individuals. They know I believe that who they are matters enough to allow it to shape their assignments.

It takes time, developing that trust and building confidence, and sometimes it doesn’t happen in a single school year. But, it is always worth the effort because witnessing the moment a young person finally realizes and owns their voice as a writer, is one of the greatest gifts a teacher of writers can receive. There is a vibrance that is indescribable–the words have a greater texture on the page because they’ve been imbued with authority and style and every so often, nuance and grace. There is a vibrance that is indescribable—the smile that creeps across the face of the writer whose heart and mind are finally at peace with one another. There is a vibrance that is indescribable—in the face of a kid who is finally hearing commentary that recognizes not only their skill as a writer, but more importantly, its worth…their worth.

Those are the moments I was terrified to miss when I left full time teaching to become a principal who only teaches a couple of classes. How could I walk away from such incredible moments? Well, it took me some time, but I finally realized that I actually was creating the same moment only in different context.

I am always yammering on to students (and anyone else who will listen) that three things are most important to me for our students at all times:

  1. That everyday–I mean every single day–students come to school and feel free to be themselves–exactly who they are without the mask of who they think they are supposed to be. And that they feel this freedom because they feel accepted.
  2. That at some point in their educational careers at my high school they feel truly engaged in their learning. That may not be an everyday, every class event. I understand this, but I want them seeking engagement rather than just teacher or parent pleasing…rather than just working for a grade.
  3. That my kids leave this school knowing the import and weight of their voice and knowing how to use it for good in this world–and that they have the confidence and the skills to do just that.

All of these are integral to our success as a high school and, in my opinion, to the educational and future successes of our students. School shouldn’t be about just checking off skills and courses; it shouldn’t be about just getting a diploma or into college. School should also be about learning what it means to be an effective, productive citizen in this world. And if I’m being honest, I think that has everything to do with accepting yourself, seeking engagement, and using your voice for good. And again, if I’m being honest, when I see my kids standing up and using their voices in a purposeful way, with confidence, it is just as vibrant as it was in the writing classroom…just as meaningful…just as significant.

I suppose I should start listening to my own advice when it comes to this ear situation…accept, engage, speak up anyway.

(Day 5 done! This daily writing thing has been far tougher than I expected and I suspect my dog is tired of me spending so much time on my computer at night instead of scratching behind her ears, but the challenge has me moving through the world with the eyes of a writer in a far more intentional way. Grateful.)

 

Hope

Someone asked me just before the New Year announced its arrival with colorful displays and cacophonous litanies, what word I would choose as sort of a mantra for the year. I had to pause (it felt like a rather weighty decision after all, I should be thoughtful).

I considered the previous year, 2018. This was a year that tested me in ways I’ve never been tested. My health decided to forsake me and as desperately as I tried to swim up through the mayhem of new and damaging symptoms, I only seemed to sink deeper. I was committed to not giving up my life and livelihood even though its quality had been diminished. I fought fiercely to put on a smile and to tell people not to worry because I was fine when that was the farthest thing from the truth. I made jokes. I taught my students. I cooked meals. I attended soccer games and plays where my own kids were competing and performing.

Well, a shadow of me did anyway.

I realized this Christmas that other than remembering how distinctly terrible I felt and the anxiety that swallowed me up as a result, last Christmas was a vast black hole. Because you see, while every picture reveals a woman smiling and being active and grateful for her life and those in it, every picture also hid what was happening on the inside.

On any typical day, I am without fail annoyingly optimistic. I own this trait–and while it can be less than realistic at times, it is also the only way I care to look at this world and my place in it. But in the days between November 2017 and June 2018, not only did my optimism fade, but so did my hope that I would ever be well or whole again…that I would ever hear normally, that I would ever have a non-dizzy day. And as my hope withered slowly, so did my spirit. And as my spirit dwindled I no longer recognized the person I had become and quite honestly, this terrified me.

And then, as though a gift from above, I was offered and received the surgery that fixed most of the physical issues with my inner ear. It was overwhelmingly successful–I couldn’t have ever imagined I would feel this good again and while incredibly grateful, at some point I realized that even though my body was seemingly “cured” (even if only temporarily), I wasn’t healed. There was damage that no surgery could repair. The rebuilding of my trust and my hope and my optimism was going to take time–it was going to take effort…so. much. effort.

I began to think of Emily Dickinson and how she described hope–

“‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers-

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all -”

So I knew hope had to be there…maybe I hadn’t listened carefully enough in the furious “Gale” of those sick days to hear it singing (or maybe I was simply too tired to make the effort to try). But that’s the thing about hope–I don’t doubt that it was always waiting for me to seize it up enthusiastically and allow it to carry me forward. I don’t doubt the power of its force and I don’t doubt that it is there for every single human in this world who seeks it out despite hardship–hope is certainly not biased in who gets to partake. I also don’t doubt that hope, as powerful as it is, lacks the ability to swoop up an unwilling passenger–hope is not for the bystanders, it is an active state of being.

I lost hope because I grew too weary to fight harder to seek and to maintain and to nurture and to treasure it. I lost hope because I thought hope had forsaken me–I removed myself from the equation and I was too blind to even realize my role in this. And once I felt betrayed, once I felt abandoned by hope, all I could feel was sorry for myself. And this was new territory. It took me realizing that I needed to seek hope out for it to sing loudly enough for me to hear.

So, in my pausing to consider what word should define my new year, it was hope that reverberated in my mind and in my heart. This is a world that commands hope for survival. Even when you are not sick, sometimes the world seems to be. It can feel easier to give in to the pessimism, to the rancor, to the weight than to fight to see the goodness humanity still possesses and creates. But it is our job to see that light in others and in the world, to amplify the good, to sing the song of hope so loudly that everyone else cannot help but listen to its melody (and hopefully hum along). And for this year, and beyond, Hope (seeking it, singing it, living into it) is my word, my guide, my path back to myself and who I truly wish to be.

(This podcast is a really great listen for everyone but especially if you are suffering without cure in sight but might benefit from understanding the difference between being “fixed” and being “healed”. It has been an integral part of my understanding on this journey.)

Day 2 of Carnival Season writing challenge complete!

 

A ticket for my destination

“I was in crazy motion

till you calmed me down…”

(“Something So Right”, Paul Simon)

To the observant eye, Jazz Fest 2006 was a composition of strange juxtapositions. The pain of loss was fresh—surreal but powerful, pervasive. But, the city, nurtured and healed by its heart and enduring community, was reaching for recovery. Jazz Fest activities offered reprieve and felt almost normal, as though for a moment you might forget. But even amid that semblance of normalcy there was a constant haunting reminder that outside the gates of the Fair Grounds lie the lingering stench of floodwaters that sat for too long, houses (lives) left in shambles (unrecognizable), an emptiness left by those displaced or worse. There weren’t bookmarkers to measure this loss.

Inside the gates, however, was something else entirely–a vivid display of all that we are and have been; a brilliant indication that we would in fact be okay, we would rise again. The food, the music and the community of people joyously gathered together in spite of it all worked to heal something inside of me that day. Something I wasn’t so sure could be healed.

I went to that particular day of Jazz Fest as a bit of an unwilling participant. In addition to the devastation the storm brought to my family, in the months leading up to the storm, my husband and I had lost our son midway through the pregnancy and another baby to miscarriage. My body, my spirit was battered and seemed to understand a depth of loss that my empathic nature could never have predicted. It seemed permanent damage. And maybe on some level it has been.

Except not entirely.

I went to Jazz Fest that day for one reason only: Paul Simon. I was in a funk. I was sad…for myself, for my city, for my parents…and I just wanted some do-overs.  Paul Simon’s music does something to me that I don’t have proper words to explain. His lyrics are poetry in a way that not all lyrics can hope to become. His awareness of words, his attention to how they work together, to how the sounds of the letters and their repetition create a rhythm just as the music does, how his words create a moment for the listener–first inviting you in, then residing in your heart, in your mind. That is what poetry does…that is what Paul Simon’s work has done for me…storied my life, guided me through.

As I stood in that field, Paul Simon, playing songs we had all heard before, somehow uplifted the city of New Orleans, and I was delivered to a sort of rebirth…a baptism if you will, but not by water (there had been enough of that). It was music that brought healing and comfort that day and carried me from the funk to the other side…to a place where I could see the possibility of goodness again. I stood in that field not knowing if I would ever have children, but knowing that my spirit was healing and that no matter what, I would be okay.

“My life is made of patterns
That can scarcely be controlled.”

(“Patterns”, Paul Simon)

Thirteen years later, I find myself in the midst of a new sort of recovery, facing the hope of yet another rebirth.

I spent so many months of the last year disabled by hearing loss and vertigo…and after becoming resigned to the fact that my hearing could be permanently damaged but I might still potentially hear the movement of my eyes forever (I promise, the novelty of this idea is deceiving)…after spending months trying to memorize the sound of my children’s laughter rather than be annoyed by the noise of it and carefully studying voices of loved ones before I no longer heard them as I should…after learning not to trust my body or my balance and after fearing loss of so much, I have come to find my body healed (at least for now) by a surgery that seemed unfathomable for so long.

Yet, while my inner ear is currently in a more cooperative mood, my mind and spirit are still trying to catch up. On any given day, at any given moment, I find myself suddenly stricken with absolute panic over the possibility of symptoms returning despite the fact that, everyday, my life is a little closer to normal. Or, I find myself unexpectedly emotional at the weirdest times when gratitude for health and healing overwhelms me. I’ve learned what it means to be a fighter over time, and while I am weary of having to continually prove my brawn, I furiously battle on through the weight of this anxiety and these grateful tears.

In the midst of all of the unknowns of this illness though, tickets went on sale for Paul Simon’s New Orleans show of his farewell tour.  We bought floor tickets without thinking too much about it. I had no idea if I would be able to stand in a crowd or stand at all…I had no idea if I would be able to hear well enough to enjoy the show…I had no idea if I would be too sick to attend. All I knew was that if Paul Simon was coming to New Orleans, I had to be there.

Buying those tickets was a leap of faith.

Recovery has not been an easy road, but my beacon all the way through was knowing that in just a few short weeks, I would be in the New Orleans Arena vertigo free, with my hearing restored and once again having my soul replenished by the beauty and richness of Paul Simon’s lyrics and music.

As I sit here tonight typing these words (the night before the concert), a tropical storm looms in the Gulf (I promise, this English teacher has assigned more meaning there than should be).  A bit of a reminder for me that storms will come–they might flood, they might destroy, they might bring uncertainty and fear and it might be hard to see in the midst of them or to know when it will subside, but there is another side.

There is always another side.

Tomorrow night, when I walk into that arena, I will be stepping not just into a shelter from the storm, not just into a brief respite, but I will be stepping toward the consolation that will be my reward.