Pull Me Up

My life seems to revolve around rehabbing my shoulder and hand.

I visit my chiropractor’s office a few times a week for treatments and have been going for physical and occupational therapy a couple times a week also. Of course, I have a home regimen.

Since being sent home from the ER, I take time each day to bend at my hips and let my right arm dangle. Like a pendulum, first, I’d swing my arm in a circle going one direction, then the other. I’ll do 20 reps of various motions with my right arm dangling three times a day.

I also practice touching my thumb to my index, middle, ring and pinkie tips then make fists and practice extending, straightening out, my very stiff fingers.

I use props for some exercises. Recently, I bought a simple pulley from Athletico and had a friend hang it on the back of the door to my guest bedroom.

Sitting on a dining chair in front of the door, I’ll place each of my hands on crescent shaped handles at the ends of each pulley cord and draw my left hand downward to pull up my right, my “affected,” hand.

The exercise provides a good stretch. I feel in control. I can set the pace and the height that I lift my right hand. From day to day, I can see progress. I can see how much farther I can move my arm over the previous week. That’s really important to me.

As I’ve reflected on my journey, my path from injury to normal functioning, I’ll think about how easy it is to get discouraged, to worry about how long rehabbing will take. I’ll ask myself whether my bone and joints are aligned and on track for me to resume my lifestyle.

I worry about whether I am making the best decisions for treatment and recovery. I worry about how to minimize my out of pocket expenses.

I have been going out more and more, but I still don’t drive. It’s easy to sink into periods where I feel isolated.

Having this injury, at this time, considering my situation in life, I’ve become especially aware of how much I miss having regular contact with a mate or close friend.

I’ve contemplated how nice it would be to have someone know about my little accomplishments and disappointments. I recognize that I have done myself a disservice by assuming, as I often have, that no one would care about the little details of my life or how I feel.

I have been considering who, among my existing network of friends, could transition into a role of greater intimacy. And I think the universe is supporting me in this exploration.

One of my gal pals from my book group had hand surgery about a week after my injury. When we found out about each other’s wounds and recoveries, she’s reached out a lot with offers to help.

She’s acted as a great sounding board when I’ve wanted to think through a decision about treatments and has started to call me every other day to make sure I’m doing my exercises and keeping up with my home therapy regimen.

I appreciate the gentle accountability her calls have added to my life. More importantly, I like to know someone’s thinking about me and wondering how I am doing.

While I sit in my chair under the pulley and use the mechanism to lift my arm, I’ll think about being able to provide a good report when Deb W. calls. I’ll also think about the Talking Heads song from the seventies.

 

I was complaining, I was down in the dumps
I feel so strong now ’cause you pulled me up!
Pull me up up up up up up up up!
I slipped, and I got pulled
Pulled up, I tripped, and then you pulled,
You pulled me up…
 

 

Getting regular calls from your accountability buddy is great. Getting a call or text from someone, with no other purpose than to show you they’re thinking about you, is no small thing.

 

The Third Bottle

I hosted book group this past Thursday.

Every 6 weeks or so, a group of my girlfriends get together to discuss a novel. Whoever picks out our book hosts the gathering and provides something to eat and yes, there’s wine (We’re girlfriends, aren’t we?).

The book I chose was a novel about a young woman with anorexia -– told from her lover’s point of view.

I made a hearty meal of daube Provencal (beef stew with, yes, more wine), a pear-gorgonzola salad, mini pastries, and freshly baked crescent rolls. Perversity rules! I wanted to enjoy simple pleasures that our book’s heroine wouldn’t allow herself.

Our group consists of four women. Occasionally, a guest will show up. Core members will often invite friends who appreciate reading and de-constructing but are reluctant to commit to showing up for every meeting.

I asked our friend, Shari, to join us. Member of another book discussion group some of us were in over 20 years ago, she had to drop out when family, moving to Munster, Indiana (40 miles away), and grad school came to demand more of her time.

Via brief emails, she warned me that she would be coming late, as she was teaching a class, but was looking forward to coming.

I opened up our first bottle of red to pour a cup into the Le Creuset enamel pot that was magically transforming cubes of everyday chuck into something special. It was a large bottle and lasted through dinner and our initial comments about the novel.

At about 7:30, when we were raising our voices about choices the author made, little things we liked about minor characters, when we thought elements were introduced in a sort of contrived way, Shari arrived. We quickly got her caught up.

A bowl of stew was filled for her, a glass of wine was poured, and everybody contributed a sentence to convey an idea that was already aired.

Shari quickly jumped in, throwing in her own comments about teaching foreign students (an experience she shared with the narrator), body image, and relationships.

We took turns, following trails of colored Post-It Notes, reading marked passages out loud.

We opened up our second bottle. In between remarks on control, intimacy, grief, illness, differences between sexes, and narrative voice, Shari declared how much she missed this kind of process and camaraderie.

When the formal discussion was over, we discussed who would host the next gathering and my lady friends started to leave.

Shari pulled out her cell phone and texted her boyfriend to come and pick her up; to leave the bar where he was killing time and actually come to my home. He picked her up from the class she was teaching and drove her to my door.

On his way over, the third bottle was opened. Shari and I talked about her children, about her teaching career, about the death of her husband four years ago, and about her new boyfriend. She confided that some of her old friends were not comfortable with him, or not comfortable with the idea of her having a new partner.

We talked about some of her challenges; going to school, raising teenagers on a modest income as a single parent, how she began seeing partnership potential with the man who would join us shortly.

We talked about some of my issues with sleep and balance, my impulse to write and my need to generate income another way.

I hadn’t talked with her in so long and, more than getting updated, it was great to be in such a non-judgmental presence.

Always uncommon, I remember her circus themed wedding that included jugglers and elephant rides, which took place in the parking lot of a forest preserve. She never worried about what others might see as odd or a contradiction.

Established as a Christian artist, she always displayed very liberal attitudes about exercising personal freedom. I would not normally see these things as going together, but they were very natural and honest expressions for her. She made no apologies about either.

A few minutes earlier, as our book discussion was drawing to a close, she reached into her purse and pulled out a salami from Hickory Farms to give to me. Not requiring refrigeration, it was in a layer of heavy-duty plastic skin, making it easy to pull off a grocery store shelf.

When it was presented to me, she laughed. We both laughed. I knew she wouldn’t be hurt if I didn’t want the cased sausage, but I understood her impulse never to go anywhere empty-handed.

After her boyfriend joined us, while we talked about hockey, her parents, and their upcoming vacation, she decided to gift me with tiny vials of essential oils, which made the trip from Indiana in her purse as well, probably next to salami. She had recently become a fan, using them for relaxation and mental clarity.

Generosity, transparency, self-acceptance, curiosity and resourcefulness, a great tenacity for solving problems tempered by respect for the mysterious, for the unknowable – Shari embodies all these things.

I think she provides a mirror for me. I can see some things in her that I can see in myself, and I can see some aspects of her character that I would like to shine through me more.

Getting to the third bottle (even if no wine is consumed), a place of complete honesty and vulnerability, is no small thing.

 

Saying Goodbye

stained-glass2My good friend Lynne passed away this past weekend.

She used to hate it when an obituary led off with a reference to a person losing their battle with cancer. To her, this sounded like death was a moral failing of someone who didn’t try hard enough.

In Lynne’s case, there could be no accusation around lack of effort.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer maybe 15 years ago. (I believe the original diagnosis was Stage 3, but I am unsure of the exact diagnosis and the exact dates. I’ve lived with her living with the disease for so long, I can’t remember.)

According to expert oncologists, she wasn’t supposed to live as long as she did. The fact of her survival against the odds often confounded doctors. More than once, during a recap of a recent doctor visit, she confessed wanting to respond to their incredulity by saying, “Like should I apologize for not fitting your model?”

I could go on for days about things I admired in how she handled her situation from the medical standpoint: how she became her own expert and advocate (on treatment options and clinical trials); how she put up with crazy long-lines for regular tests at County Hospital (being uninsured for most of the time she had the disease, she had to get medical care through public aid); how she lived with an ostomy for the past two years.

I’ve also been amazed by how she took care of her spirit. So many people that she became close to died. (Once you’re in the survivor club, this is unavoidable.) I’m in awe of how she took care of her father over the last few months of his life and did her best to oversee the well-being of her husband and son.

Over her last year or so, she designated her living room couch and nearby end table as the Lynne Zone. In this space, she gave herself permission to come first; to not worry about the demands of her family, to read or watch reality TV or nap all day if she felt like it.

Maybe five weeks ago, she told me, she was not getting the desired results from the last treatment she tried and the doctors advised she had maybe two months left. She elected to go on home hospice and made the Lynne Zone the cornerstone of her operations.

For a few weeks, she welcomed visitors and attended to practical matters, filling a spiral notebook with instructions for her son including things like where to find computer files and what she wanted done with her ashes.

I came to visit her a couple times at her home. I was glad and also felt guilty by how NORMAL she kept things. It wasn’t a normal time. We didn’t avoid talking about her health but we didn’t make that the centerpiece of conversation.

I offered to do anything she thought of. She asked after my niece and my work. She was happy to hear I was planning a vacation for later in the fall.

I was hoping to visit her at home again when she stopped returning my calls. After four days, I left a note for her husband and son in their mail box, asking for an update.

She had been moved to the hospice wing at RUSH, a major medical center in town, where she could be monitored more closely.

I went to visit her there last Wednesday. Her twenty-something year old son was sort of camping out on a big chair by her bed. He shared how she commented on liking the stained glass window there when first settling in.

As he stood over her bed, he said, “Look who’s here? It’s Debbie.”

She looked so small, but she was breathing easily. Her hair was dark and recently combed. I think she would have liked that her nurses or the hospice staff paid attention to this.

Jeffrey explained that she was talking until recently and told me a little about the pain meds she was taking in. I touched her arm lightly.

I just whispered, I LOVE YOU. I don’t know that I could have said or done anything else.

I would like to think she heard me or was aware that I was in the room.

It is hard to see someone you care about not being as full of life as the picture you have of them, but it is a great privilege, an opportunity I’m very thankful for, that I was able to say Goodbye.

Telling someone you love them, even if you’re not sure they can hear you, is no small thing.

Better to Give

das_morgengebet_ii_s-_laboschin_1900Recently, I traveled for a family event; a young cousin’s Bar Mitzvah.

I don’t have a very close relationship with the Bar Mitzvah boy (haven’t seen him for years), but I have a very special fondness for his grandmother. Eight years ago, when I was trying to start a new life in a new town, Judy became my family.

Ten years younger than my mother, she welcomed me to her home for frequent meals. She was also a wealth of information on local doings. She was ready to offer advice on where I could take a Qigong class or where I could buy myself a nice arrangement of flowers when my mood needed elevating.

More importantly, she created a safe space for talking about difficult things.

We shared thoughts about writing and feelings about establishing roots and a sense of place in a new setting. A poet and scholar in her own right, she came to live in a Midwestern college town because of her husband’s teaching career.

She always displayed a great respect for tradition and a strong curiosity. She was a great storyteller and introduced me to many factoids about my mother’s family that I didn’t hear before. She also knew a lot about emerging writers and trends in art and music.

As I was preparing for my trip, I went through mental checklist of what I wanted to pack and bring with me.

Toothbrush –- check. Bar Mitzvah card – check. Cellphone charger – check. Pantyhose — check… (I wear stockings so seldom, I had to buy a pair for the occasion.)

…And while I was packing, the thought crossed my mind that I should comb my guest room closet for a piece of artwork I was storing there.

I dated an artist almost fifteen years ago. I lived with him for a few passionate but uncomfortably chaotic months. Before settling in Chicago, he defected from Romania and made his way west through Yugoslavia and Italy.

Somewhere in Europe during this time, he acquired a few pieces of artwork that were easy to roll up into tubes and travel with. One piece was an engraving on silk depicting a rabbi engrossed in his morning prayers, Das Morgengebet II.

He recognized the quality of workmanship in Siegfried Laboschin’s piece and, I think, had a romantic feeling for the subject. Though not Jewish himself, he thought of the Jewish families he grew up with as the intelligentsia of his country, a group, perhaps, he liked to consider himself belonging to.

Weeks after we split up (Befitting our relationship, getting him to clear out of my apartment was not a quiet affair), he wanted to gift me this engraving. Maybe he wanted to feel magnanimous after he caused so much turmoil. Or, maybe he thought it represented something positive for me to remember him by.

I liked the print and accepted the gift, but, because of my associations with the control and craziness he brought into my life, I couldn’t bring myself to hang it on my wall.

It sat in my closet for years, in a pillowcase, an old wooden frame barely holding the matted fabric engraving in place. From time to time, I wondered whether it was “worth” something – as in monetary worth. But I didn’t change my attitude about not wanting to display it in my home.

A year or so ago, I decided to re-frame it, as a good first step to pass it on to someone who would likely appreciate it. It remained in my closet, but now it was wrapped in bubble wrap, under museum quality glass with new sable brown frame.

As I was packing for Benji’s Bar Mitzvah, the thought just came into my head that I should give the piece to Judy. She was much more identified with the Jewish faith and was actually quite a scholar of Hebrew.

I printed a paragraph about the artist for her, a Polish Jew born in 1868 and trained in Germany. I gave her Das Morgengebet II when I shared Sabbath dinner with her and a handful of other family members from out of town the evening before the main event.

I wanted to believe she would find a place for it in her home and ENJOY it, but I decided that even if she didn’t hang it in her own hallway, she would act as a link in the chain -– getting the engraving to someone who would want to hang it and think of it as theirs.

I thought of the saying, It’s better to give than to receive. What makes this true, or at least feel true, most of the time?

I give away clothes periodically, but that’s largely about my own need to free up space. I don’t think of this process as gifting.

I give some money each year to causes I support. I think of this as more than a tax deduction but not up to the level of gifting.

There’s a special kind of satisfaction in giving something to someone who NEEDS that thing. That’s close to why it’s better to give (than receive), but there’s more to it.

The joy is not about having a surplus of what you’re giving away, or not needing something. The emphasis has to be on the GIVING and not on the AWAY part.

It’s better to give when you’re maximizing the energy of appreciation. It’s a joy to give something to someone who is genuinely grateful to have that thing in his or her life. Whether a gift is simply money given without strings, or something picked out especially for a person based on their preferences and values, it feels great to be the GIVER.

Giving with the intention of bringing something to someone who naturally appreciates the gift is no small thing.