“We all live in a house of fire. No fire department to call. No way out. Just the upstairs window to look out of while the fire burns down the house . . . with us trapped, locked in it.” ~ Tennessee Williams

 

“Untitled,” by Galina Lukianova

   

“I believe fervently in the nature, in truth and imagination, I believe in the blood, in life, words, and motivations.” ~ Gael Garcia Bernal
Dandelion, by Fastily on WikiCommons

Well, my computer is still broken. The part that Corey ordered did not fix the problem. Of course it didn’t because it cost less than $20. As is usually the case, the part that I probably need to fix the problem will cost much more. I don’t know for sure, though, because Corey cannot find the part I need (CPU fan) anywhere. 

Surprised? Not really. 

It’s Wednesday afternoon. The heat wave finally broke, and temperatures here are hovering around 90° F, about normal for this time of the year. Speaking of which, how did it get to be the end of July? The fact that I am constantly surprised by how late it has gotten never ceases to surprise me, but you would think that I would have grown accustomed to the incongruity of time passages by now. 

Anyway . . . the sun is shining with a few puffy clouds scattered about in the sky. The Jack Russells are currently asleep beneath the chair in which I sit, so I suppose that all should be right with the world, but it is not. 

This past Sunday night, Alexis called me to let me know that one of her best friends, Jennifer, with whom she works at the thrift store, had been admitted to the hospital. Alexis said that the doctors had found three brain tumors in Jen’s brain. I had to wait to write about this as it really threw me. 

“It is dark inside the body, and wet,
and double-hearted. There are so many ways
to go, and not see, and lose
the feeling of the thread…
and never reach the fabled center.” ~ Larissa Szporluk
Black and White Sunset by Sean K (Flckr Creative Commons Set)

Of course, this is not about me and my reactions, but at the mention of brain tumors in a young woman of 26, I found myself once again railing at the injustices of fate. Jennifer has a five-year-old son named Reilly, who she absolutely adores. She is a single mother who works hard. She is also one of the nicest people I have ever met. 

When Alexis was much younger, I was a bit wary of Jennifer because he family is so dysfunctional, but I realized that it doesn’t really matter what kind of family you come from as it matter more what you do with yourself on your own. I mean, I always thought that I would never have any problems with Alexis because we have tried so hard to give her a normal upbringing, whatever that is. I mean, a home, food on the table, values—but that did not stop her from unexpectedly running wild in high school and causing me endless heartache at the time. 

So I suppose that what I am saying is that I initially misjudged Jennifer. Now she is faced with a great unknown, and her biggest concern is not her own health, but her son’s reaction. Then earlier today, Alexis phoned me to tell me that the latest tests show five tumors, not three: three in her brain, two on her spine. 

Five tumors. Twenty-six-years old. A five-year-old son. No health insurance. To try to pinpoint the worst aspect of this situation is fruitless. It’s all bad, horribly, terribly bad. 

“Come stand with me
under the summer shower –
healed of world-madnesses” ~ Paul Reps
Black and White Study by RandyA38 (Flckr Creative Commons Set)

Alexis has been taking Reilly to school in the morning before work and picking him up after. Jennifer’s younger brother is taking care of Reilly in the evenings. I told Jennifer that Reilly can come over here anytime someone is needed. 

In the meantime, Alexis has diligently informed all of their mutual friends and kept them up to date. One of Jennifer’s dearest friends drove into town this morning. 

No word yet on when the big operation will take place. No idea on whether or not any or all of the tumors are removable as the neurosurgeon won’t know until he cuts her open. And then, of course, the wait for the biopsy results on each tumor. There was some confusion today about what kind of operation she was being taken in for, but I told Alexis that if the estimated time is only an hour, then it’s not the big operation; more probably, the doctors are inserting a shunt to drain of some of the fluid build-up in Jennifer’s brain. 

That I have this knowledge in my long-term memory is both a blessing and a curse. I can sit her on the sidelines and inform Jennifer and her friends and family about some of the things to expect. I can try to explain some of the tests to Jennifer so that she isn’t so stressed. But in the back of my mind, all I can think about is the day of Caitlin’s surgery, the hours and hours of waiting, taking Valium and hiding in a room away from all of the well-meaning people who had come to the hospital to support us. And more hours of waiting, only to be told the news and the prognosis. 

Five tumors. One tumor. Five times the chance of something going wrong.  

Corey reminds me that Jennifer is a woman, much stronger than an infant. But by the time the tumors were found, she was already in a much-weakened state. You see, Jennifer has been sick for months. She has gone to a few doctors about her headaches. One told her that she was depressed and needed to eat bananas. None of them did a CT Scan or an MRI. She also went to an oral surgeon to remove an infected tooth, which everyone thought might be the main cause of her health problems as she had put off getting the tooth fixed because of the lack of insurance. 

Eat bananas. I am reminded of other callous remarks tossed out so nonchalantly years ago by doctors denuded of compassion, and how I had enough rage to kill someone. There is rage again. 

“Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.” ~ Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha
Tree Black and White Relief by doortoriver (Flckr Creative Commons Set)

There is rage at fate and rage at life. Rage at injustice and those things over which was have no control. But mostly, for me at least, there is a sense of emotional rage at the fact that on top of everything else, Jennifer is lying in ICU wondering and fretting over how she will ever pay for her hospital stay, her medicine, her operations. 

This young woman, who works for less than $9 an hour, who has no benefits, no sick leave, nothing, earns no money each day that she is out of work. Her job is not guaranteed, but I believe that the people for whom she works will hold her job. But the reality is not when Jennifer will be able to go back to work, but if. And then what? What does she do to exist if she is unable to work. She has no long-term disability coverage as I do. And as much as I bitch about how my coverage is menial, at least it is something. 

It’s hard not to be angry at the world, not to want to call someone and just scream at them. Perhaps a Republican Senator who cannot wait to repeal Obama’s healthcare reform. After all, healthcare is provided for members of Congress, as well as their families. It is not provided for people like Jennifer, people on the fringes of society who are not layabouts, drug addicts, or welfare moms who are supposedly living on the comfort of unemployment and government assistance, or whatever other derogatory term is being bandied about. 

Jennifer is one of those individuals who does not rely on other people or the government to provide for her, and look at where she is now. Try telling her and people like her how tax cuts for the wealthy are going to help. 

I’m sorry. This wasn’t meant to be a tirade on politics, but it’s hard not to think about the bigger picture when someone you know is being engulfed by it. Jennifer isn’t just a statistic; she is not someone who falls into category A or category B on some political demographic chart used to measure the invisible part of American society—the part that drives ten-year-old cars that are falling apart and are glad just to have transportation, the segment that lives in questionable neighborhoods because the rent is more affordable but pizza deliveries are not available because of the danger, or the people who spend money not on nights out on the town or designer shoes. 

Jennifer is a member of that group of single, working women who must budget one-fourth of her take-home pay for her son’s daycare in lieu of trying to get health insurance for herself and her son. And now she is part of that group that has the uninsurable pre-existing condition, that label that makes obtaining health insurance well-nigh impossible. 

So yes. There is rage. 

And so we all wait, each of us in our own fashion. We wonder what news the days will bring, and we try not to think of possibilities. 

More later. Peace

Music by Sia, “I Go to Sleep” (originally by The Kinks) 

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The Road Less Taken

Point Woronzof Park along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail AK

 Point Woronzof Park Along The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Alaska by Janson Jones

 

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood

edward-hopper-rooms-by-the-sea-1950
"Rooms by the Sea," Edward Hopper (1950)

Today, my mind seems to be going in seventeen directions at once. I feel that I am being bombarded by thoughts and feelings too complex to unweave. Part of me is in Australia where a dear friend is going through some major life difficulties. To worsen things her daughter is also ill and experiencing ups and downs.

Another part of me is thinking about the wife of one of the writers whose site I visit. She, too, is ill and awaiting some kind of relief from her doctors.

Another blogger, one whose writing is just amazing, is anticipating the death of her beloved dog who has been with her for years.

A poet with whom I try to stay in contact has just lost her nephew. Her words are full of pain and sorrow, yet they are hauntingly beautiful at the same time.

Yet another compatriot is awaiting the birth of his daughter. The excitement that he is feeling is palpable, making me excited for him.

It’s so hard in some ways to be connected to so many people, to be intimately familiar with their lives and their loved ones. These connections bring me laughter, insight, opinions, joy, and sometimes, heartbreak.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear; 

It is the empathic side of me that feels too much, that perhaps delves too deeply into the pain and joy of others, leaving me bereft at times, and full of inner delight at other times. I have always been this way—too willing to take on the emotional burdens of others. I remember being a young girl and feeling such complete despair when one of my friend’s dogs was hit by a car, and then being filled with delight when a neighbor’s dog had puppies. Granted, these are probably normal childhood emotions, but it is hard to put into words the keenness I have always felt emotionally, the incisive way in which my emotions have held sway for as long as I can remember.

Henry County Indiana from When Worlds Collide
Henry County Indiana by Julayne from When Worlds Collide

I remember being devastated when someone I worked with at the newspaper died after a bout with cancer. And how absolutely crushed I was when I heard that John Lennon died.

My emotions have always guided me, which is why, I suppose, I have the incredible highs and merciless lows in my life. I’m not suggesting that this is the preferred way to live. On the contrary: There have been many times when I have wished that I could simply turn a switch, turn off everything that I was feeling. There have been moments in which I would have given anything not to be able to feel. To be numb, completely without thought, emotion, or concern.

No one has ever accused me of being a Stoic. For me, nature is not rational and perfect. I do not see everything from a fatalistic viewpoint. In Stoicism, whatever happens, happens, and nothing can change that which is determined, so there is no point in questioning or trying to alter things that are not within the individual’s power. I would never have been able to converse with Zeno, the father of stoicism and his philosophers of the porch. For each statement made, I would have asked why.

But why? Why does this happen? Why didn’t that happen? Why? Why? Why?

For me, every change is felt, not just within my psyche, but by my corporeal self as well. It’s as if my body is a barometer to my soul.

Admittedly, pure elation is an emotion that eludes me much of the time. That’s not to say that I have not been elated many times in my life. Of course I have: when I first held each of my children, on the day that I graduated with my B.A., when I finally completed work on my publishing degree, whenever I finish a piece of writing that I feel certain has come together well, each time that Corey returned home safely after being on the water, each accomplishment in my children’s lives, to name only a few.

As I have mentioned, the beauty that I find in the smallest things—flowers, birds, beautiful images, music, words—brings me a tremendous sense of inner peace and can affect my mood and sometimes reverse an impending low.

But spontaneous elation? I am mystified by people who are like that. You know the ones—they are genuinely happy most of the time. Very little seems to penetrate their cheery dispositions.

To be honest, I am uncomfortable being around people who are like that. Something in me tries to find the falseness behind the cheer. But sometimes, there is no falsehood. These people are happy, with every fiber of their being they are happy. I don’t understand that, nor do I particularly care for it, or perhaps the more accurate statement would be believe it.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not wish unhappiness for these people, but to have that much happiness all of the time? How does one go about feeling the inevitable calamities in life if everything is always good? Positive? When faced with tragedy, to speak homilies such as “well, it was probably meant to be,” or “you’ll feel better soon” seems to ignore the pain. And if pain is ignored, if the individual does not allow herself to move through it, embrace it, and come out on the other side, how can any knowledge be gained?

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 

Bear Lake Trail Everglades Fl by JJ
Bear Lake Trail, Everglades, Florida by Janson Jones

Admittedly, I am a cynic. I question everything, take nothing at face value, and tend not to accept glib explanations. Am I proposing that that is the way to live life? No. Sometimes, I wish that I could just enfold myself in the easy answers, ignore the nagging doubt. Wouldn’t that be easier?

But then, I would not be true to myself if I did so. I question. I doubt. I wonder. But once I believe in something, I will argue vehemently in support of whatever it is that I believe.

For me, the path isn’t always clear. Where it is going is never defined, but I would never change that. The not knowing is what allows for exploration, what encourages the soul to seek out the truth, even though the truth is not always what we desire or what we are prepared to accept.

The truth is such a complex animal. It changes with the wind. It is ephemeral. And that is why the search for it is usually not well-trodden nor lit with beacons pointing in the right direction.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:

andrew-wyeth-easterly detail
"Easterly" (detail), by Andrew Wyeth

My life has been one long search for beacons pointing the way, but just as sailors have been misdirected by false light, I too have been misdirected: by believing the words of the wrong person, by holding dear to someone who was not worthy of my heart, by listening to misleading echoes.

And then the path becomes unclear, no boundaries, no borders. And at these times, I have become lost. Yet I have always made my way back, whether it was a friend who guided me, or my love for someone or their love for me, or just being attuned to my esse—I have always managed to find my way home.

For me, the lie is the worst thing. It rips apart the existing reality. It causes shifts in time and space, and as a result, things must be moved around until a new pattern can be formed, and the result is a grey spot where the truth used to be.

But then the opposite holds true: each new friendship, each new person who enters my life in a meaningful way also causes a shift, but the resulting move to accept these new people into the fold increases the beauty of the tapestry, enriches the colors, emboldens the pattern.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 

Even though I may wish at times that I had it within me not to feel things so deeply, I know that that will never be. I have my peaks and my valleys, and the movement between the two is an amazing journey, regardless of the pull on my psyche or the taxing of my constitution. My emotions are my plinth: They bolster me and keep me buoyant. But more importantly, they allow me to open my heart to others, to sustain my empathy, to avow the truths of my soul.

Arctic Valley Chugach St Prk Anchorage by JJ
Arctic Valley, Chugach State Park, Anchorage by Janson Jones

Admittedly, the pinnacles of my highs and the chasms of my lows do not make me the easiest person with whom to live, or even, to love. But I hope that the ferocity of my loyalty and my unstinting willingness to follow those for whom I care into the breach help to compensate for my ever-shifting spirits.

And so it is my hope that all of those individuals who I mentioned in the beginning of this post know that even though many miles separate us, my heart and my thoughts encompass them as fully as if I were sitting across the table from them, sharing a cup of tea.

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference” ~ Robert Frost
 

edward-hopper-houses-of-squam-light detail
"Houses of Squam Light" (detail), by Edward Hopper

I do not know where my path will continue to lead. I only know that I am willing to follow it to its end. I hope that along the way I continue to meet new people, to enter new lives, to touch those who seek comfort, to share in the great moments of bliss, to ease the way for those who will allow it, and to love and be able to call myself beloved.

It is these stops, these waysides that make that path more enthralling and that make me want to continue on this journey. I do not know the full purpose of my quest; I only know that it began years ago and that I still have a long way to go, many more observations to make, and more words to write before I reach my inn.

I’ll leave you with this track from Die Romantik. Haunting song.

 

More later. Peace.

 

The Road Less Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

 The journey is more important than the inn

Photograph by L. Liwag

“What you are comes to you.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ Unknown English Professor, Ohio University

Well, eldest son did it. He walked up there and took his diploma, and the school Superintendent pronounced them graduates. The ceremony was a fast-paced deal that lasted only an hour and a half, as compared to my daughter’s graduation which seemed to go on and on and on. The venue was good too, open, roomy, not squooshed up against the person you are sitting against, so I had no claustrophobia problems.

Aside from immediate family, his cousin who is graduating tomorrow came, as did his friends since childhood, Gordon and Tailor. I made Eamonn stand for pictures with everyone, and he was actually pretty gracious about it.

The only downside was when I was trying to move up a row (because of course every seat in the row that I selected was being saved), and I scraped my thigh on the arm of the end seat. I have a nice, big black and blue spot on my leg, but I don’t plan to enter any hot legs contests anytime soon.

As far as people being overly rowdy and loud, it wasn’t too bad. The school’s principal had already made a few announcements prior to the start of the ceremony in which she said that if the noise became too loud, she would step back and stop handing out diplomas, and she kept her word. Twice she stopped the procession until the crowd calmed down.

It’s such a shame that she had to make the announcement in the first place, and that she had to follow through with it, in the second place.

“What is the most important thing one learns in school? Self-esteem, support, and friendship.” ~ Terry Tempest Williams

The Road Less TraveledI always like to choose a fitting quote to go into almost every card that I give, and I found a really good one on Goodreads. The quote is by writer Neil Gaiman:

“I’ve been making a list of all of the things they don’t teach you at school. They don’t teach you how to love somebody. They don’t teach you how to be famous. They don’t teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don’t teach you how to walk away from someone you don’t love any longer. They don’t teach you how to know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. They don’t teach you what to say to someone who is dying. They don’t teach you anything worth knowing.”

The reason that I like this quote so much is because it is essentially true. What do we take away from high school? How to conjugate a verb in French? How to find the square root of an isosceles triangle? What the Monroe Doctrine was?

If you remember this kind of information, you probably do really well at Trivial Pursuit and/or you have gone on to become a teacher. But what is my son taking away from high school?

A group of friends who have stood by him during the worst times of his life (so far) and the best times of his life (again, so far). Memories of some really great times that he would prefer his mother never finds out about, and more than a few regrets that he didn’t follow through on a few things (track, football).

He is also taking with him the following lessons:

  • Mom knows if you are lying if you giggle too much
  • It’s hard to explain why you were absent from a particular class if your mom dropped you off at school that morning.
  • The school is serious when they say they will confiscate cell phones
  • You cannot make the team if you never go to practice
  • Yes, you have a deceptively charming smile, but that smile only works with some teachers, probably females
  • Mom was right when she told you that you really would survive the second breakup with your first serious love
  • Girls do talk to each other, so it’s probably not a good idea to date friends no matter how hot they are
  • Asking your mom to type your paper that is due the next day at 9 the evening before does not put her in a good mood
  • It takes money to put gas in the Trooper, and it’s probably a good idea to check the oil sometimes
  • Your mother knows when you have been smoking in her car, even if you leave the windows down all night

“High school: Oh man. This is where boys and girls go from tweens to teens and become complicated and cruel. Girls play sick mind games; boys try to pull each other’s penises off and throw them in the bushes.” ~ Eugene Mirman

Zen leapOkay, those are the fluffy lessons, so to speak. But he also learned some really hard lessons, like how much it hurts when your first love breaks your heart. And how hard it is to keep your word if you never meant it in the first place. Or how someone who claims to be a friend can stab you in the back without breaking a sweat. And how your parents can become real hardasses over things like curfews, and grades, and conduct notices, even though you don’t really understand what the big deal is.

I think that it is profoundly unfair that you first discover love at a time when you least know yourself in life. How is a teenager supposed to cope with all of the drama and accusations and breaking up one day only to make up the next day? How are they supposed to handle all of this angst and study for calculus too?

Frankly, when I put things in perspective, it’s no wonder that 11th grade becomes the make or break year for so many people. The pressure from their teachers is incredible because they are pushing students to think about college, and they are trying to cram as much information as possible into a brain that is essentially a sponge: and while a sponge can absorb a great deal, it also lets a whole lot seep out.

The pressure from worried parents intensifies in their junior year because there is college to think about, and if not that, then how have they prepared for a trade? And aren’t they spending too much time on the phone, and shouldn’t there be limits on the computer?

And the poor teenager is thinking “God, I wish that I could talk on the phone in peace, and I really don’t think that chemistry is going to make or break my career, and I’m responsible enough to stay out until midnight on a school night.”

And then comes the summer before senior year, and everything changes. By October, your senior is already thinking about graduation and getting an apartment, and you are wondering where all of the years went and praying that nothing goes horribly wrong in the next seven months.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

Eamonn made us tremendously proud today, but I have to admit that there were times when I wasn’t sure that he would make it. There were moments when it seemed that there was nothing more than Pooh fluff in his brain, and there were many nights when I would get anxious about his state of mind and just how much he was in control of himself when he wasn’t under guard at home.

But I really believe that the senior year is more for parents than it is for their teenagers. It’s nine months in which you can begin to accept the fact that you son or daughter isn’t 7 any more, that you are not the most important part of their world, and that they are thinking about life without you.

Starry skiesIt’s a hard reality to face, and if you are anything like me, you don’t accept it gracefully. Even as your man-child or woman-child is thinking of new paths of discovery and a brand new chapter in life, you are reconciling yourself to fate and the need to close a chapter that has ended much too soon.

I hope that Eamonn figures out what his great adventure is going to be. I hope that he never stops dreaming, and trying, and loving, and living. I wish him star-filled skies at night, and red-orange sunrises that will take his breath away. I want for him all of those things that are possible, and even some that may not seem possible. I wish him joy, and I wish him love, but most of all, I wish him a life that is filled with hope.

Hope for better tomorrows, a world more at peace, people who are more in tune with their environment, friends who will be there at 3 o’clock in the morning if he needs them, and the immutable knowledge that home is always waiting.

And in the words of the incomparable Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget the way you made them feel.”

More later. Peace be with you and yours.