My 49th birthday on February 20th at roughly 4:30 pm, officially started my jubilee year in my bedroom with hot soup, tissues and a heating pad for anywhere that would get me thinking about the goodness of warmth and not on how miserable I felt. Lucky for me, my rock star husband had asked close friends and family members to write descriptive words about me so I read these sunflower colored laminated book markers as I
rocked and sucked my thumb tried to make the most of a miserable feeling day. The most surprising was my son described me as “wild” (he has no idea) and my niece, whose birthday is two days before me and born the same year as my son, described me as “zen.” Ying and yang – it seemed this might be a good year after all. Turns out, I’d recover in about two weeks and then a month later get the flu on a business trip, which may or may not have included holding my head, praying, and rocking on the airplane while trying not to moan or taste my breakfast a second time. The later happened as I waved at my daughter sitting with a friend who commented, “Hi Mom! Oh wow. You don’t look so good.” I didn’t and it would be about four days before I emerged to crawl to work and crawl home which became a routine for about three weeks. My weekends in between were filled with wild amounts of activity – sleep, sleep and a bit more sleep with a variety of chicken broth, chicken noodle soup or any soup that was given to me.
Fragile health has been something I’ve grown accustomed to in my 40s, not to say that this was “fragile” but I can’t remember a time I’ve been sick for so long. Over the past five years, I’ve walked with several friends in their cancer journey and have said good-bye, see you on the other side of the veil, to three of them locally and within the last three months – two more distantly. For family, I’m no longer making memories with my father-in-law – his death several years ago. My wellness checks have occasionally yielded “abnormal results” or “come back for more tests” and I too have fleeting concerns about the C word – get sick for six out of ten weeks when you have an exercise habit and eat a diet that’s about 90% gluten, sugar, and dairy free you’ll be wondering if there is something depressing your immune system besides the flu. Turns out, I have lead poisoning with high amounts of mercury and two airborne chemicals, likely from my living environment in LA in the vicinity of oil pumping. Not sure how long I’ve had it but for the last two months when I’m in town, I drive 30 miles for treatment once or twice a week, which includes sitting in a treatment area recliner, IV connected, for two hours with moments of nauseousness, headaches or stinging and if it’s not too uncomfortable, a good book (currently Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage though I’m trying to enjoy her writing and not think about the fact that this marriage didn’t work out for her either), my journal (as long as my right hand is free to write), and for transparency sake at least two or three other items “just in case” (I.e. The Sun magazine, another book – The Climate of Monastic Prayer by Thomas Merton, or my laptop which is difficult to use since one arm is hosting the IV). My commitment to myself during this year has been to stop “pushing through” health issues thinking they will just be resolved. It took over two years to finally discover this “metal problem” which is why my body wasn’t absorbing certain vitamins – mainly antioxidants and why my stress levels weren’t going down despite a regular practice of meditation, work adjustments, and a month worth of vacations.
Friendships have been adjusting as the reality that some of my deepest friendships have lacked regular contact. I was in a group for 16 years, The Graces, but with the death of Amy five years ago and the moving of Shannon a year later, a group that had been meeting once a month has now limped along with the three of us left in Southern California – though in June Shannon visited and we met at an early bird 6:30 am for breakfast to catch up. This year would’ve marked 20 years together. On a positive note, a group of long time friends merged what were two groups ten years ago into one so we can support one another during the parenting adolescents, widowhood, divorce, “rubber meeting the road” marriages and whatever else comes up during our once a month meetings. Also, a professional book club, which has been meeting quarterly for about six years has been incredibly supportive. As well, my own marriage during this half year has needed some composting and soil aerating. Dennis and I also had a difficult year personally. Our criticism/ defensiveness cycle reemerged after going on a hiatus for a number of years and we needed to change some things before it became chronic so we’ve been back in couple’s therapy. Thankfully, it’s been incredibly healing but a lot of emotional work.
Some highlights – Since last July, I’ve been enrolled in a year long intensive writing program in Santa Fe with Natalie Goldberg and Rob Wilder, which has been life giving on so many levels — getting me out of the LA craziness, writing, deepening my meditation practice and meeting some great people. I’m hopeful that this experience will help me reprioritize some things professionally –creating more space for writing and creative projects. As well, I’ve never had a better year professionally. It is a wonderful experience to see all the time and effort I’ve spent learning and doing has translated into a more confident place of being. It feels so refreshing to be past “am I doing what I ought to be doing” and instead, know who I am so I can more easily make decisions about what’s important professionally. My new challenge is owning my creativity and doing more in that arena like blogging (last blog seven months ago), podcasts, more on the YouTube channel and finish my darn book, which is happily in the editing phase. I also led a workshop on meditation for a women’s retreat, which fed my soul. I’ll also be facilitating a women’s retreat in Spokane, WA later this year for a group of women who have been meeting together for several years.
For those of you who have either followed this blog for a while or know me, likely remember that I celebrate my birthday with adventures or outings. See last year’s post on my canyoneering trip and photography workshop in Utah with National Geographic photographer in April. (2020-the big 50 already in the planning stages for Ireland, Scotland and London along with mystery country not yet selected). To start my year of jubilee, I decided for a “fly to” concert experience since few things bring me more joy than music. Predictably, I couldn’t decide on only one I went with two. Lauren Daigle in Albuquerque and Celine Dion in Las Vegas. Full disclosure – LA tickets for Lauren Daigle were three times the amount of Albuquerque, where I was conveniently scheduled for my writing intensive the next day so Albuquerque won over LA. I bought VIP tickets for full engagement. However, as it would happen, my flight was delayed long enough for me to possibly miss the entire concert so using LAX’s busyness to my advantage, I jumped from my flight to another which routed me to a different city before going to ABQ which looked like I could at least get in to make the latter part of the concert. While waiting at the airport, I shared my sadness, anxiety, angst with a number of friends who all rallied around and were with me in all the suckiness of missing out on my well-planned trip. My friend, Shannon, aka Graces member, maid of honor and college roommate, text to me in a group chat, “One thing I will say about you entering year 49 this way, is that you navigating difficult choices (which flight to take?), weathering disappointment, reaching out in friendship, willingness to ‘come as you are’ to the concert [I had no luggage or time to check in to hotel – all carry-ons needed to be taken to concert including TWO coats because of course I brought a “concert coat” since I can rarely wear coats in LA even in winter] has borne fruit of hope, hope-fulfilled and blessing (concert, with-ness)…and I pray THAT will be multiplied more and more all year through…” Not a bad way to start my year of jubilee – a blessing, companionship, and music! Concert made about two songs in to opener with the unfortunate experience of walking past the entire center section with my carry-on bags and two coats while the sitting audience listened but couldn’t help but see me (confirmed by not one but two women commenting in the hotel elevator after the concert about my fashionable coat that they admired while I walked past them). In my 20s, the possibility of embarrassment would have caused me to miss the opener in order to ditch my luggage at the hotel but I LOVED the opener, AHI, who I would have completely missed to avoid embarrassment. As it was, I sought assurance from the people that matter most to me that even if I was seen as the “bag lady” from the concert I’d be okay. That saying about “sticks and stones will break my bones…” ignores the reality that we all want to belong and words deeply cut us which is why we need to have “our people.”
Celine Dion was another destination concert scheduled in May. I’m no dummy so this time I drove instead of flew – taking advantage of car time to talk about visions and dreams with Dennis as well as answer some love map questions from Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.” I also took advantage of being the birthday girl by requesting we stop off the freeway to take in the art installation, “Seven Magic Mountains” by Ugo Rondinone, a request which had been shot down by my family on previous visits.
Looking ahead to the next six months, I’m really hopeful that I’ll be done with all the edits for my memoir, which I’ve been giving birth to for the last eight years. It’s been a laborious process – one I hope to end and move into infancy where I can attempt to get it published. As well, my daughter, Eden, and I are starting a new mental health platform for adolescents and young adults. We’ve called it scars.together – and will be addressing the issues like anxiety, loneliness, depression, and suicide that can be overwhelming when an individual doesn’t know how to navigate it. Our vision is to be with others on social media platforms to come along side and help others deal with anxiety, anger, loneliness, self-doubt, etc. when they feel overwhelming and disorienting. Adolescents have big feelings by way of the neurological development happening in their brain, mainly their “thinking brain” isn’t fully developed until 24 or 25. The digital culture, without guidance, has the ability to wire pathways in their brain that lead to isolation rather than connection – which we know is a main “staying power” for launching into adulthood. Essentially, I’ve already “won” so there is no risk involved as we plow ahead because to develop content, I’m spending meaningful time with Eden who only has two years left at home
before I kick her out.
The intention behind this year was to slow down in my busyness so in February I began taking a day off from my private practice to write and work on retreat projects. This has been rejuvenating for me. I also practice a Sabbath once a week where we change it up with church, hikes, meals with others, games, or anything else that feels rejuvenating. I take more breaks in the day by walking around my building or walking to lunch. I engage in meditation and a writing practice which slows me down from being on the production hamster wheel. I’m hoping the next six months will be more of the same.
What I’ve come to realize with age is I had no idea how much I lacked the ability to hold onto complexities in the human condition and with situations in general. For example, cancer isn’t reserved for unhealthy or stressed out people, in fact how many people do you know who lived a long life but would never be described as healthy. To think that it’s your healthy lifestyle that frees you from this potentially devastating illness is a myth and really gives you a subtle “superior” posture when trying to comfort or be with those fighting against it. To truly be a comfort to those with chronic illness or illness not yet in remission requires an individual to recognize their own physical frailty and to interact out of that place.
Bad things do indeed happen to good people and seeking the lesson to be learned from the experience robs you of allowing your healing to direct what is gained. Whether it be greater capacity to empathize with others, greater capacity to capture the present moment, an ability to receive comfort from others – these examples are not lessons – they are new ways of being. And allowing a bad thing to change your character or capacity to feel or relate is much much harder than learning a lesson.
I’m grateful to be alive and have friends and family who have woven a net of safety beneath me so that I fear not what the future might bring. I know that I will never endure a trial or tribulation alone, no matter how big or small. I feel as rich as a queen – well, maybe this is because I recently spent an evening with wonderful people who are renting a home on Balboa Island. See pics…
The Good Life
Thank you for journeying with me. May wherever you find yourself be full of life and connection – majoring in the majors and keeping those things that are minor, minor.
Peace be with you.