“You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” ~ John Green

Medieval Illustration: Astrology and the Body

  

“We all get lost once in a while, sometimes by choice, sometimes due to forces beyond our control. When we learn what it is our soul needs to learn, the path presents itself.” ~ Cecelia Ahern
Medieval Medicinal Herbs

It seems that I was just talking about the number of people I have come across who are giving up blogging. For some people, the time just seems right to close a chapter in their lives. For other, it is less a matter of timing and more a matter of  giving up the ghost, as it were. Blogging no longer offers the sense of accomplishment, or the challenge, or the outlet for release that it once did, and so, the blog dies—sometimes naturally, and sometimes with assistance. I find it sad no matter what the cause.

So extremely sad news, not just for me but for all fans of one of my favorite blogs: Floridana, by Janson Jones. Janson, whose life is very full with his family and his full-time job teaching at the University of Alaska, has decided to end his current blog.

I’ve been following Janson’s blog since I first began blogging myself. To not have it available for weekly reading is going to be a loss. The good news is that Janson plans to keep posting his beautiful photographs on deviantArt. DeviantArt is a wonderfully eclectic site that features submissions in many categories: digital art, photography, traditional art, film and animation, manga/anime, flash, and fan art.  If you’ve never visited this site, you might want to take a stroll through the submissions, many of which can be purchased.

Janson’s link on deviantArt can be found on my blogroll under Visual Stimulation or by clicking here. Janson, I’m really going to miss your posts and your incredible photography of Alaska, Florida, and other parts. Take care.

I have come to drag you out of yourself and take you in my heart. I have come to bring out the beauty you never knew you had, and lift you like a prayer to the sky.” ~ Jalal al-Din Rumi
Medieval Illustration: Veins in the Body

In other news around the blogosphere, I came across a few posts in recent days that deserve mentioning. First, there was a wonderfully-insightful post on Truth and Rocket Science called “Glass Full of Oil.” John, the author of the post, is originally from New Orleans, so he feels the acute dismay of this spill keenly. The post deals with the ethical issues of a country dependent upon fossil fuels, oil, and the oil business. Ultimately, it asks the hard question:

This isn’t rocket science.  It’s a matter of will.  We are the richest country on Earth, and we can do this if we want to.  While we’re at it, we can finally clean up the mess and set things to right from Katrina.  What America does shows the world—and more importantly, ourselves—what we really want and what we really care about.   What shall we do this time?

Another wonderful post comes from Rodibidably, who recently posted about healthcare reform. This post includes videos from Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, and Representative Barney Frank. The author is worried that the American people have become complacent about reform, and as a result, the opposition is gaining ground. He posits five action points on what still needs to be done about healthcare reform:

  • Ensure that EVERYBODY is covered and has equal access to health care
  • Ensure that medical professionals are making the decisions for what treatment should be given, and not accountants at an insurance company
  • Ensure that NOBODY goes broke due to health care costs
  • Ensure that everybody has access to medical treatment, regardless of the providers’ personal feelings about such treatment (i.e. don’t allow pharmacists to refuse to give women “the pill”)
  • Ensure that “Science Based Medicine” is the basis of treatment

And finally, Titirangi Storyteller featured a post on the 6th of June called “Women Time Forgot.” Unlike the previous two, this is more of a personal post in which the author talks about how we as women are supposed to age as compared to how we really age. Witty and ultimately enjoyable. Here is a taste:

Who are we? Where do we belong? We are the women that time forgot.

There is no name for us. No single word or box we fit into. There is only one acceptable definition – we are The Wild Women!

We’ve paid our dues. We’ve proven everything we need to prove. They ain’t got anything on us! The reason it’s been kept a secret is – we are the most dangerous people alive… We’re no longer living for them – whoever they may be.

Wild women. Women of a certain age. Women time forgot. All of these or perhaps none. Only the woman herself can know.

By the way, Titirangi is in Auckland, New Zealand.

Sometimes inspired thoughts weave themselves into the finest fabrics,
And grow ever fresher and more comely as they expand,
Glistening with colors of the most exquisite embroidery,
And tuned to the poignant music of a thousand strings. ~ Lu Chi
Medieval Illustration: Bloodletting

So last night, just as I was adding the images to my post about feverfew and sunflowers, the Internet went out. The post itself isn’t anything special, but it was one of those that took every ounce in me to write as I was feeling less than creative, downright listless, in fact. So when my computer stopped working, I was royally torqued out of shape. It had taken me almost two hours to write less than 1,000 words. The entire process reminded me of bloodletting.

You know, what they used to do to get rid of illnesses in people: cutting them open and letting the blood drip out so as to rid the body of ill humours, those four things that resided in the body and controlled a person’s health. Never heard of it? Then you didn’t study Medieval and Elizabethan literature because doctors in literature were always bleeding someone or using leeches to cure the ill. Hamlet, for example, is ripe with allusions to his ill-humour.

Even though medicine in the Middle Ages was derived from ancient Greek and Roman texts, elements of Islamic medicine were also incorporated, particularly during the Crusades. Hand-in-hand with the pervasive suspicions and beliefs in the supernatural, Medieval medicine was also based on the idea that factors such as destiny, sin, and astral influences could affect the human body.

The underlying principle of medieval medicine was the theory of humours, which was derived from ancient medical works. The idea of humours, which dominated all western medicine up until the 19th century, stated that within every individual there were four humours, or principal fluids: black bile (earth), yellow bile (fire), phlegm (water), and blood (air). These fluids/humours were produced by various organs in the body, and they had to be in balance for a person to remain healthy.

For example, my melancholy would have been diagnosed as too much earth. Too much phlegm in the body, for example, caused lung problems; so the individual would have been told to cough up the phlegm to restore a balance. The balance of humours in humans could be achieved by diet, medicines, and by blood-letting, using leeches. The four humours were also associated with the four elements and the four seasons, black bile-autumn, yellow bile-summer, phlegm-winter and blood-spring. The signs of the zodiac were also associated with certain humours. Even now, some still use words “choleric”, “sanguine”, “phlegmatic” and “melancholy” to describe personalities.

Aries Avoid incisions in the head and face and cut no vein in the head.
Taurus Avoid incisions in the neck and throat and cut no veins there.
Gemini Avoid incisions in the shoulders, arms or hands and cut no vein.
Cancer Avoid incisions in the breasts, sides, stomach and lungs and cut no vein that goes to the spleen.
Leo Avoid incisions of the nerves, lesions of the sides and bones, and do not cut the back either by opening and bleeding.
Virgo Avoid opening a wound in the belly and in the internal parts.
Libra Avoid opening wounds in the umbellicus and parts of the belly and do not open a vein in the back or do cupping.
Scorpio Avoid cutting the testicles and anus.
Sagittarius Avoid incisions in the thighs and fingers and do not cut blemishes and growths.
Capricorn Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and sinews in these places.
Aquarius Avoid cutting the knees or the veins and veins in these places.
Pisces Avoid cutting the feet.
Treatment According to Zodiac Sign
 
“Man is a microcosm, or a little world, because he is an extract from all the stars and planets of the whole firmament, from the earth and the elements; and so he is their quintessence.” ~ Parcelus, 16th Century Physician
Medieval Doctor's Bloodletting Blades

Historically, physicians believed that many illnesses were caused by an excess of blood, and bloodletting was a frequent prescription for a wide range of conditions. As far-fetched as it may sound, the bloodletting may have actually been beneficial in some cases, as, for example, in cases of high blood pressure. Lowering blood volume would lower blood pressure. On the other hand, the loss of too much blood could make  patients sicker, and unfortunately, repeated bloodletting was often employed if a patient did not show improvement.

Therapeutic bloodletting was accomplished by puncturing veins punctured with knives or needles, or by using leeches to suck blood from a patient. Leeches are still used in modern medical treatment to treat specific conditions, such as poor circulation. In some cases, leeches can actually restore the flow of blood to a damaged extremity, potentially preventing the loss of that extremity.

So, bearing all of that in mind, I need to avoid cutting my knees, and I need an infusion of lemon balm (insomnia), chamomile (headaches), and yarrow (pain relief).

More later. Peace.

Eric Clapton, “Change the World”

“Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.” ~ Kevin Arnold

The Magpie Monet 1869 oil on canvas Musee d Orsay

“The Magpie,” by Monet (1869, oil on canvas), Musee d’Orsay

 

” . . . say it loud
panebreaking heartmadness” ~ From “Nightmare Begins Responsibility,” by Michael S. Harper

Do you know what it’s like to hold someone you love in your arms as she is dying? All of the white noise of the hospital room dissipates in those last few minutes. The only sounds that you hear are your own heartbeat in your ears and the sound of someone near you crying. Time becomes suspended, and a part of you hopes that it will remain that way forever, just so that you never have to move into that next moment, the moment when all possibilities cease to exist.

I still remember the weight of my daughter’s body in my arms, still remember the smell of her dark hair, or what was left of it. I can recall vividly the bright overhead lights of the small room, and the way that I stared at the machine that monitored her heartbeat, willing it to remain steady so that all that was left of Caitlin would not end.

I remember how it felt as if my own heart stopped in that moment when hers stopped, and how I wished that it were true so that I would never have to exist in a world in which Caitlin was no longer a part. And then how we all left the room while the nurses disconnected her from all of the machines and removed the tubes that had sustained her. How when we went back into the room, she was lying there in the middle of that big hospital bed, so small, so seemingly perfect, and how I knew that at last she was no longer in pain.

I removed the hospital gown and dressed her in soft white pajamas, and I tried to train my eyes away from the incisions on her chest and arms and legs. I felt the scar on the back of her head where the surgeons had cut into her only two months’ previous, and then I kissed her, caressed her still-warm cheeks, and left.

We walked out into the bright November afternoon, and I thought to myself that it was impossibly cruel that the world outside could still be moving on as if Caitlin had never been a life force among those moving about, completely mindless of her life and her death. After that, I don’t remember much. I don’t remember the car ride home. I don’t remember walking into the house that had been mostly empty for months. I don’t remember getting into bed that night or waking the next morning.

My next memories are of minutiae: picking out a headstone and deciding what to inscribe, taking a dress and bonnet to the funeral home, renting a carpet cleaner and cleaning the carpet and living room furniture, even though they did not need it. I remember my mother-in-law bringing Pizza Tuesday night so that we would eat, and I remember that it tasted of cardboard. I remember Ann going with me to find a dress for the funeral, and how I obsessed over finding finger-tip towels for the bathroom.

I remember the day of the funeral, passing out Valium like it was sweet tarts, standing in the tiny bathroom of the chapel with Kathleen and watching the people pulling into the parking lot, walking up to the podium and looking out at all of the faces of people who had been so much a part of our lives—nurses from the hospital, our friends from the medical school, people with whom I taught at the university, and I remember not being able to distinguish faces.

I remember the ride to the cemetery in Kathleen’s car, and looking behind us at the long line of cars that followed. I remember the late morning sun and the cool breeze. I don’t remember what was said, nor do I remember actually being there during the service, only the moments after the service concluded, when friends began to come up to me and hug me, how surprised I was. I remember looking up and seeing Johnny and collapsing into his arms, sobbing openly in my dear friend’s embrace.

Afterwards, I remember sitting in the Bentwood rocker in which I had held my daughter, drinking wine, and listening to people talk to me. I don’t remember what was said or everyone who was there. I remember that Sarah wore red. And then as people left, I remember pressing food into their hands because the idea of a house full of food made me physically ill.

Awakening Bessie Pease Butmann 1918

             “Awakening,” by Bessie Pease Gutmann (1918):            This is how Caitlin looked with her dark hair and chubby cheeks.

 

“I’ve never tried to block out the memories of the past, even though some are painful. I don’t undrestand people who hide from their past. Everything you live through helps to make you the person you are now.” ~ Sophia Loren

These are the things that I remember about those four days in November, remember still even though so much time has passed. And while I know that I have forgotten as much as I remember, it’s the memories that continue to cut so sharply, reopening wounds that have never healed completely.

I know that it is a cliché to say that a part of me died in that room that day, but that does not negate the statement’s truth. A part of my heart closed off completely the moment that Caitlin’s heart stopped beating. The part that had belonged to her grew cold and has never regained its living warmth. I can live with that. I have lived with that. I will continue to live with that.

Death is not a gentle journey for anyone, for those who die or for those who are left. Death is insidious in its ability to weave its way into the sinews of existence and memory. What those of us who remain must do is learn to take that loss and incorporate it into our daily lives. If not, it would be impossible to go on, to move through time with any kind of peace or hope.

The memories of the day that my daughter died and the hours that followed are stored away, and I dare not retrieve them too often lest they break me. But sometimes, it is necessary to open the box in which they reside, even if the doing feels like bloodletting. These memories are not the totality of my daughter, yet they are as much a part of me as the cells that give me life. I have incorporated these memories into my lifeblood, and there they will remain, along with the memories of my father and all of the other memories that make me who I am.

I have come to realize that the ability to recall such intense emotion helps to make me stronger, even if it feels like a little death each time that I do so. It may not seem to make much sense, but embracing every part of the tapestry of my life—the beauty and the pain—affords me my humanity, and given the opportunity, I would not choose to have traveled any other path.

One of my favorite songs from that time: “Cristofori’s Dream,” by David Lanz

More later. Peace.

                                                                                    

Remembrance of Monday Afternoon Past
     for Josh

How can I explain to you
what it is to hold someone you love
until she dies?
I cannot prepare you for that moment of separation—
     it is something so unspeakably personal
     that to watch it, to intrude upon it
     almost cannot be forgiven.
If I try to tell you about the silences
that enclose and isolate,
     you will not understand
     until you, too,
     have felt them.
I cannot describe for you
     the desperation
     with which you will try to pass
     life
    from your arms to hers,
    but you will come to know this as well
    as I once did.
When the moment comes,
     you will not be ready,
     but you will recognize it for what it is—
     that last instant
     in which possibilities still exist.

L. Liwag