The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Split July 30, 2017

For the first time in a year or more my son is resting in my bed on a Sunday morning as I sit in my favorite chair, writing. This had been our routine for most of his life until one day, it wasn’t. Last times are evasive; there is so seldom the awareness that one is experiencing something for a final time, but it has to happen sometime, right? I try to be as mindful and grateful of all the little everyday routines that bring joy to my life because there is always a tiny voice in my head which whispers “this may be the last time….”

I can remember the last time my father was downstairs in this house. It was a delicate procedure to get him down the steep cellar stairs in the first place, but I’d just painted the main room and installed a large carpet, making it truly habitable for the first time ever, and Elihu and I had wanted to share our triumph with his grandparents. I can remember watching dad’s laborious ascent of the stairs at the conclusion of our visit, and thinking distinctly “this is the last time dad will ever come down here”. It wasn’t a sad or overly nostalgic thought either, it simply was. In this case, the last time was pretty obvious to spot. But most of the time the ‘lasts’ are not always so clear.

With adolescence come many ‘lasts’. Elihu’s spending a weekend night in my bed was a routine event when he was small, but of course the dynamic between us has been changing this past year as he has become a young man and no longer a small boy. Things that felt effortless and natural just a year ago don’t feel quite the same these days. Late last night (I now retire before the kid, cuz he stays up til all hours fabricating airplane models) he came into my room saying a large bug had gotten into his bed and it freaked him out so he wanted to sleep with me. I was half asleep myself, but the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on me. I knew that it would mean one more lazy, sweet morning with my son next to me. One last morning in which he’d reach out to me and say ‘mama’ before falling back asleep, one last time when I’d rise early to let the chickens out and return to my chair with a hot cup of coffee. We would have one final morning the way it had been for so many years. As I sit here in my chair, my heart finding relief upon hearing the breath of deep sleep coming from my son, I am savoring this window in time, knowing that it may very well be the last of its kind.

Most times there are no single defining moments to mark the end of an era. Often last times aren’t known to us until we look back in time and identify them. We look backwards and can more clearly see where trends slowed and new ones replaced them, we can understand in hindsight how interests and passions waned and new ones emerged. In retrospect we may even find the dates and events that mark these changes. But for the most part, change is gradual, beginnings and endings are undetectable, invisible. But sometimes, they are not.

When I was eighteen, I broke my neck. In one split second the whole trajectory of my life changed. Many times I’ve reflected on how curious a mix of life events that near-tragedy provided me: I can surmise that without having broken my neck I never would have met certain dear friends, experienced the life of a musician, fallen in love with my ex-husband, given birth to my son. That was an obvious moment; and obvious ending of one era and start of another. Of course at the time none of these positive outcomes could be guessed, but certainly life as I may have envisioned it had been redirected in an instant.

When I was eleven or twelve I experienced a moment which also became a marker in my life. The smallest, most mundane thing had become transcendent. I will never forget that feeling, the enormousness of the revelation, the way I fairly weakened at the dawning, the way I knew, in that moment, that I was a changed person.

It was a summer evening, and I was walking home along the road on which I now again live, some forty years later. As usual, my glance fell just a few feet ahead of me on the gravel, keeping watch for my footing. In the damp of the June night a small red eft had crawled out of the grass and was heading perilously for the road. I carefully allowed the tiny creature to crawl to the safety of my hand, where I would inspect it, marvel at it and then return it to the wet overgrowth. I looked down at this creature and was smacked hard with a profound realization: we were related. I saw his four limbs, his tiny fingers, his eyes, his mouth… I marveled over the symmetry – in both of us – and was simply stunned. I guess I’d always known that each and every creature on this planet is of course in some fundamental way related, but this just got to me. I remember standing at the side of the road in the waning light and thinking “We are all related. We are all of the same family.” I remember standing there a little longer and literally thinking “We are all one.” It almost frightened me, but for some reason I remember laughing out loud. I can’t explain this moment any better. It was huge, it was tiny. Miraculous, mundane. And it was also a last. And a first, too. And I knew it.

Elihu was with his father in Chicago for six weeks this summer, and I enjoyed a great stretch of useful, solo time. Determined that I would finally expunge my house of all the physical objects that we no longer needed, I embarked on the enormous task of sorting, culling, organizing, boxing and bagging. If my son had been home the project would have been impossible. Exhausting as the project was, midway through I could see a new life emerging on the other side. My very being was feeling light and changed; I sensed a fresh new life awaiting me upon completion…

On the fourth of July I closed the chickens in shortly after the sun went down, then got myself cleaned up before heading downtown to watch the fireworks (my goal this year was twofold: one, I would finally wear earplugs so that I could actually enjoy the visuals without the horrible explosive noise and two, I would plant myself downwind so that I could savor that uniquely summer smokey scent.) Recently I’d learned a new trick to accommodate my changing vision needs; I wore a contact in just my right eye, leaving each eye its own focal length. This made it possible to both see the road ahead as well as focus successfully on things at close range, without the need for reading or distance glasses. As I wound down the hilly dark country road, I felt that my contact needed adjusting, and so leaned in to the rear view mirror to take a look…

Crack! The car hit a boulder, a log, a tree – something – which made a sound as loud as any firework… My body was immediately flushed with the cold, electric sensation of adrenaline. What had happened? It was darker out than I’d thought, and as I pulled to the side of the road it was hard to see…. And when I did, everything changed. Instantly I felt nauseous. I’d done what I so many times had cursed other, more careless people for doing. Oh no. This was horrible. I couldn’t bear to look… My mind raced through the implications. I knew I’d done something terrible, but perhaps could something good come of it? Certainly, it would change the way in which I pointed an accusing finger at others. Now I was the selfish, insensitive human I’d blamed others for being. I had hit an ancient creature of the woods. I had caused immense pain and suffering to an innocent animal who was quietly doing what she had been doing for years and years. Not only that, but if she wasn’t dead already (which at this point I prayed she was) she would be soon, and therefore I had ceased the creation of more of her kind. I had ended her lineage. Maybe even ended the existence of her kind in our quiet woods. My car had struck a snapping turtle.

Many of us who live in the country have carefully re-directed a snapping turtle or two; we all know to keep well away from those frightening jaws, we all understand how lightning fast they can spin around, how easily they can break off a finger… And yet compassion moves many of us to pull over, search for a good sized stick and begin the process of saving the creature from the dangers of the open road. Mostly, these animals are mothers seeking to cross over to the adjacent pond (why in hell they can’t just stay put I’ll never understand) in order to lay their eggs. In my experience, turtles do this in the daylight. I had never thought to be on the lookout for such a migration at night. But then again, should I not be mindful after dark of bolting deer, lumbering porcupines and other occupants of the forest?

As it turned out, she was still alive. For a moment I considered running over her again in order to bring her a more swift and humane death. But then I considered her shell, and my tires. It could make for more trouble. And besides, there was no guarantee I could do the job as I intended. In the end, I chose to move her as carefully as possible to the side of the road to allow her to die. Her shell was, as I feared, completely split up the middle of her underside. I prayed that her body had gone into shock, and I prayed she didn’t hurt as badly as I believed she did. I placed her in the grass, and then drove into town.

The fireworks took on a whole different feel to me now. I walked through the crowds in a daze. I’d forgotten my earplugs and the shocks were loud. From where I stood in the wake of the smoke clouds, the fireworks appeared in the sky over the roof of the historic casino building. Instantly, these munitions were not entertainment; I saw and felt them to be the explosions they symbolically recalled. Each explosion birthed a wave of fear for my life, for the lives of those around me. War, I felt, must sound just like this. The experience was transformed by this new perspective. I imagined the casino itself to be hit, with bricks and stained glass crumbling to the ground. Deeply frightening as it was, I forced myself to stay in this experience for a few moments. I felt the need to grab the nearest humans and hold us all together in safety. How strange it was, I thought as the sky lit up the park like daylight, that this should be held as an entertainment for we of this modern, Western world. Easy, I supposed, as we here in this culture know nothing of war firsthand. I wondered how citizens of currently war-ravaged countries in the Middle East would feel about such a display. Would it bring on symptoms of PTSD? Would it throw children into tears, would it make mothers cry out for their babies and grown men shrink in terror? I thought it surely would. So strange, this mix. Triumphant and celebratory, menacing and evil. At every cracking sound I relived the moment when I’d hit the turtle. One moment I was thrilling to personal victory on a beautiful summer’s night, the next I was dumbfounded and heartsick. This time, I had known the precise moment when things changed.

These days my fingers are hurting more. Usually the first thing I’m aware of when I awake is that my fingers hurt. The irony of a musician losing her fingers to arthritis tempts me to indulge in self-pity. I lament that I haven’t played with other musicians since my son was born, and the way life is going at present, I’m not likely to again. I think of the ‘time before’ and my heart aches. When was the last time I played in a band? Who were the last people I played music with? It saddens me that I can’t recall. Just when did my decolletage become crepey looking like those other, older women (whom I was never supposed to become!)? This doesn’t just sadden me, it angers me. Just when did my left pinkie begin to bend out in a bizarre and unnatural way at the far joint? Just when did this trend towards jowls and sagging neck actually begin? Many of my thoughts these days are an effort to come to terms with aging. With the process of saying goodbye to the way things have been for so long… I tell myself that the process has always been molecule by molecule, cell by cell. That, thank God, it happens gradually. Kind of like pregnancy. You get a whole nine months to adjust to the new reality. But there’s also something silently disturbing about slow change: you can’t stop it, and you don’t quite know when it’s coming or how it’s happening. Your past splits away from you without your even realizing it. And then one day you get it as you didn’t get it before. Oh shit. It’s over. And there’s no going back.

A few years back I played the music behind a student production of “Tuck Everlasting”. It’s the story of a family who is stuck in time; no one ages and life for them stretches on and on without end, while life and death continue on as usual around them. I’d never thought too deeply before then about life from the opposite perspective. But it certainly struck me as a hell in which I’d never care to live. It gave me consolation about the aging process: we all do it, and pretty much all at the same rate.

Troubled as I am by my mortality, I still continue to fully enjoy and participate in the experience. Admittedly I am vain, convinced that most of the time I am right, and often full of pluck and bravado. But at the same time I am also timid, unconvinced of my talents and deeply fearful about my future. I am a mix of these things all at once. These qualities all wrestle for power as the reflective side and the reactive side continue to fight each other for dominance. It’s fascinating how humans can be all of these seemingly contradicting things all at once. Yet truly, we are all things at the same time. Our lifetimes are spent swinging from one awareness to the next, from certainty to uncertainty in the blink of an eye. One minute we are whole, and the very next – we are split.

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Post Script: Feeling that this post was already verging on way-too-long I omitted these two recent incidents which further expand on the idea of life circumstances splitting in an instant: The happy day when Elihu returned home from his father’s, I tripped on the suitcase on his bedroom floor and broke a toe. A week before, lightning had struck The Studio and fried the just-out-of-warranty AC units, resulting in three thousand dollars worth of damage. Thankfully, the IRS just granted us our official status as a nonprofit entity after a three-year application process. Split indeed.

 

 

 

Red Truck Days March 8, 2015

It’s March, and that means it’s time for the Missoula Children’s Theatre to roll into town! Each year I play piano for this magical production, and although my son’s peers are no longer at the Greenfield Elementary School which hosts the program, I still have some young friends there – some have attended the Studio’s art camp, some are my piano students, some just friends and neighbors. These kids work incredibly hard all week, starting with auditions on Monday and ending up with a performance on Friday night – complete with lines, songs, blocking, choreography, costumes, makeup and sets. Whew! The whole shebang is made possible by two young and talented actors who bring the production to town in the back of the MCT’s famous red Ford 110 pickup truck.

Meanwhile, Elihu’s sixth grade class also had their annual class play this week, so you can understand it’s been a crazy-busy time for us both. Elihu had a generous role as the Muslim emperor in a play called “Crusader, Muslim and Jew”, which, as the title implies, explores the divides between the three religions and in the end (in the most convoluted, surprising twist you can imagine) highlights how ultimately we are all, most importantly, from the same human family. Lots of text to memorize for this one, but my kid’s got a magnetic mind for lines, so I didn’t worry for him. In fact, all the Waldorf kids are true whizzes at memorizing; they’ve been reciting verses and singing songs for years. (The sixth grade is also known as being particularly gifted in singing and acting – a very spirited bunch. A perfect place for Elihu. !)

I finally went to see an arthritis doc about my hands. Basically, he just confirmed for me things I already knew. It’s osteo, not rheumatoid. That’s a small blessing, I guess. But it is frustrating that in this day and age we still don’t know why people get it. It’s genetic, that we know, but in the end, knowing that is of no help. I did receive a script for a stronger anti-inflammatory, as well as a topical cream which has proven to bring a little relief during painful flare-ups (or long sessions at the piano). The doc is himself a classical pianist, and he told me that he also counseled a local jazz pianist about her hands. He told me that she happened to be convalescing nearby – so after my appointment I headed out to meet her. Little did I know I’d arrive just in time to hear her performing! A fantastic surprise.

Now that we’ve crested our end-of-winter busy spell, our attention begins to turn to the season ahead. When that red truck leaves town we know it’s just a matter of weeks before the snow will be gone. Hard to believe today, when flurries still fall, and the snowbanks are six feet tall. But just the other day, as I was cleaning the ice off of my car, I could have sworn that I smelled it. I stopped what I was doing and checked again. Could it really be? Yes, definitely, there was a new smell in the air. The birds are crowding onto our platform feeder with a renewed vigor – and that too tells me something is afoot. Change is coming. Our clocks have sprung forward as well. So now there’s finally some evidence that winter will be leaving soon.

Elihu and I have decided to enjoy the snow while it’s still here, and we’re going to use our snowshoes to visit the wetlands far back in the woods. Come Spring it won’t be accessible anymore, so there’s a benefit to the still-frozen ground. Knowing it won’t always be thus makes us appreciate it all the more. One more round of snow, then we’ll be more than ready for the great change ahead.

IMG_3021Homework continues, no matter what else is going on.

IMG_3024At the Waldorf School, students write in cursive. There’s a lot of writing, but my kid seems to be a bit more verbose than necessary. Hm. I wonder where he got that from?

IMG_3060The sixth grade’s play takes place in ancient Jerusalem.

IMG_3288Mr. Esty leads the final number at the dress rehearsal.

IMG_3347Thank you Cally for repairing Elihu’s costume on the spot!

IMG_3320The benevolent Muslim Emperor Salahadin and Jewish Merchant Nathan agree to be friends and shake hands.

IMG_3308Emperor Salahadin and his good buddy Roger.

Salahadin and Nathan ponder which of the three great religions is best.

The play ends with a song.

IMG_3296The cast, hamming it up.

IMG_3361Within minutes the class was out of costume, back in the classroom and winding down over some friendly games of chess. (Me personally, chess is not a de-stressor. !)

IMG_3279This is what my fingers look like these days. We can thank Dr. Heberden for lending his name to these enlarged distal joints.

IMG_3280Can’t fold them over side by side anymore, and this is as far as I can bend my index finger.

IMG_3159I don’t have a ‘before’ image to help give a better context, but even so you can see how the bone has grown, flaring out at the outer joints. It’s most noticeable in the middle finger.

IMG_3162I really liked everyone at this doctor’s office – and I love that the doctor’s wife has her dance studio in the same building. I love the idea promoting health and movement together. Btw – when I remarked to the nurse that I was rather disheartened at the lack of advancement in the understanding of arthritis, he pointed out to me that ten or fifteen years ago everyone in the waiting room would have either been in wheelchairs or walkers. He insisted that things are better – and that prevention entails healthier living and continued movement.

IMG_3167Now I’m visiting local jazz pianist and icon, Lee Shaw at a rehab center. I arrived just in time for her set!

IMG_3184Close to 90, this woman sounds as good as ever. I was thrilled to hear her.

IMG_3193Wish I could remember this bassist’s name, but he too was top-notch. He and I exchanged a smile when she started to play Billy Strayhorn’s ballad “Chelsea Bridge”. Seriously, what a treat.

The Great Lee Shaw

IMG_3376I got my new anti-inflammatory pills. Only problem is, I can’t open the package. If I could, I wouldn’t need the damned meds! ‘Press here’ indeed…

IMG_3377Screw it. That’s what scissors are for.

IMG_3486Backstage Missoula madness begins!

IMG_3503Grace is now a sixth grader, but she came back to help with the show.

IMG_3508This is Kevin, one of the MCT directors and magic-makers.

IMG_3499Hard to believe these boys are brothers! I bet they don’t always get along so peacefully…

IMG_3387The show’s underway.

IMG_3409Jessie – the cobra’s head – is the daughter of an old friend, and second to the end of the tail is little Coco, one of my piano students.

IMG_3541The entire 64 member cast and both directors. (Sixtyfour, did you get that?!)

IMG_3585A little last-minute post-show merchandise sale…

IMG_3587..and then it’s time to pack it all away again.

IMG_3601Twins Kestrel and Miakoda are regulars at the Studio’s summer art classes and worked backstage at this years’s MCT show.

IMG_3608Elihu pitches in too.

IMG_3597Can’t forget Sam! He helped out with everything!

IMG_3621I love the spirit that the Missoula Children’s Theatre brings to town; everyone pitches in to help get things done, and it puts everyone in a happy and upbeat mood.

IMG_3637

All of the scenery, lights, costumes, makeup and scripts fit into the bed of this ‘little red truck’. It’s more than a marvel. It’s miraculous, really.

IMG_3643Goodbye and thank you, Olivia and Kevin! All the best to you in your future careers!

IMG_3577Now that the dust has settled and the week has ended, it’s back to the bottom line.

 

Hope Burning March 3, 2015

I’m trying to imagine how everything might look right now if I knew I were dying.

Tonight the moon is out, and from every window in my house I see a gentle, rural scene. Beyond my kitchen window to the north I can see a thinly wooded forest through which the moonlight passes, leaving slender shadows in the sparkling snow. To the right of that there is a deep swath of open yard which stretches up and over the rise; it’s defined at the far end by a stone wall and row of trees beyond which lies another large field. I can also see the lights from my neighbor’s homes in the distance, and it feels nice to know they’re not right upon us, but still, just close enough. I like knowing that. Through my living room window to the east I see the ridge of the horizon, and lights twinkle from the hills beyond the Hudson River. There are people living out there, under those twinkling lights, and I like knowing this, too.

It’s a modest house for sure, but it’s cozy, it’s comfortable, and I think that most of the people in this world would be happy to call this place home. For just a second or two I’m able to conjure the feeling that I’m looking at it for one of the very last times, and for however many times I’ve so deeply missed the homes I’ve lived in before this one, for however many times I’ve lamented ending up here, alone at the end of a long, country driveway – now, in this moment, this place feels like the most important place of my whole life. Tonight, this place is my only home. It’s where I want to be. And until recently, it’s where I’ve always felt safe from the world.

Less than an hour ago I heard that a friend, who’d discovered her breast cancer in what she’d thought to be its earliest stages, had learned through her recent surgery that it was worse than previously thought. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. A diagnosis I’ve heard many, many times in the past decade of my life… It doesn’t always end the same way, but it’s a long, difficult road to travel no matter the severity of the disease, and I don’t envy those who’ve had no choice but to take up the charge. I’ve seen friends fight tenacious cancers, some triumphing after incredibly brave battles, some succumbing after equally courageous campaigns. And in the end, who in hell knows why some people make it, and some people don’t? No one, of course, deserves to get cancer. And no one deserves to die of it either. But when the patient is either the parent of a young family or a practitioner of the healing arts, it somehow seems all the more unacceptable.

Last night, Elihu and I had dinner with a neighbor, who brought up the subject of another town resident who was, although putting up a kick-ass fight, dealing with a lethal cancer. His mother had died of it, and he himself hadn’t even discovered it until it until quite recently – when it was already stage four. He was a relatively young guy, and with three young children he had a lot to live for, but still, it didn’t look good. Truthfully, it looked bad. But in spite of how imminent his death appeared, my heart lightened to hear a new tone in our hostess’s voice as she offered rather brightly that of course he still had a chance. (Funny how one latches on to hope – however small or unlikely it promises to manifest.) I myself had only learned of his diagnosis a few weeks back – after, I’d seen him in a local liquor store and given him some grief about his newly launched vodka business. He’d cited some local lore on his product label about which I questioned his firsthand experience. But he sure showed me; he’d known more about it than I’d thought he would, and even had the class to acquiesce about a point on which he may have put something of a romantic spin for the sake of salesmanship.

After my needless challenge of his new product line had concluded, he cheerfully asked after Elihu, remembering his charismatic performance at the Greenfield Elementary Talent Show a few years back. Our kids had ridden the bus together for a few years, and Elihu, whether this man knew it or not, had fairly idolized his namesake son. Maybe I should have told him? I wasn’t sure how relevant it was at this point. Just as well I didn’t go on…. In hindsight, I so wished I’d have stopped babbling sooner, and just played it a bit cooler. I had remembered to congratulate him on the new business, but still, I guess I just feel as if I’d been a bit foolish, a bit trivial spewing all that ridiculous banter to fill the space. I know it’s the common, everyday stuff that matters – it’s banter mostly that keeps the world turning – I just wish I’d been a little less enthusiastic in my pursuit of it. After all, there was some serious courage on display right in front of my eyes, and here I was chattering on as if it was a day like any other. Of course it was a day like any other – and when you’re sick, don’t you wish for your life to go one all around you as if it truly were business as usual? But then clearly, it is not just another day. A confusing mix of realities.

Both my parents have had cancer. My cousin’s been undergoing repeated rounds of chemo over the past several years in an effort to keep her colon cancer at bay. Our grandmother died of colon cancer. I myself, for the second time in as many years, have pre-cancerous polyps growing inside of me which need to be removed. The office gal at the gastroenterology group is nonplussed at my status; it’ll be months yet before I can even get in for a first appointment, much less get the things lopped off. “They’re slow growing” the gal on the other end of the phone tells me in a near monotone, the subtext being “We know what we’re doing. Don’t freak out here.” In past years it’s been another thing to tick of the to-do list, this year it’s something that begins to really frighten me. I mean, what if? What’s to say it shouldn’t be me too? There is no fucking justice in the assignment of disease. I am just as human as the dad down the road with the young family, or my friend and acupuncturist with the breast cancer. I am just as unsafe as they are from a surprise diagnosis. Nothing saved my old college beau from dying of Leukemia before he turned forty, or my dear musician friend dying from esophageal cancer shortly after that, or my old childhood pal passing from lung cancer before fifty. None of those jovial, loving and spirited young men deserved to go, nor did their loved ones deserve to lose them. From my earth-bound perspective these good souls deserved none of the shitty hands they were dealt.

In spite of the cheery demeanor that goes out before me in the world, I live my life in an ever-present, low-grade state of fear. And lately, I’m more keenly aware of just why. Making my way through life feels like I’m walking through a field of land mines. And now that I’m past that fifty mark, people in my life have begun to leave at an increasing rate. Right and left I hear stories, I learn that ‘so-and-so is gone’, or ‘didn’t I hear that she had only months to live?’ or ‘it was so sudden, and then he was gone’… It almost doesn’t shake me quite so much – at least not as much as it did say a couple of years ago. And also because many of my friends who have died have been out of my immediate, day-to-day world, their deaths have seemed somewhat unreal and distant. But the frightening reality of death has settled in all around me now, and I find that I’m even giving my eleven year old son simple directives should it be learned that I too have something possibly terminal. I’m not sure how comprehensive Medicaid is, but I am surely at its mercy. If a treatment isn’t covered, it isn’t going to happen. I feel a growing pressure to archive the work of my life, to get it organized clearly – so clearly that someone other than me could go through the mementos and understand their context and stories. I want my footprint to be tidy and identifiable, even if I know it will only eventually recede back into the rolling sea.

We passed a house today that I’ve always liked; it was a small cottage nestled into the side of a mountain, part of it was made of local stone, the rest a deep gray clapboard with white trim and tidy black shutters. Many were the daydreams I’d had about what life might look like if I myself lived there… Today I saw that it had recently suffered a fire. Gutted. It was black with soot, and dusted with the flurries that had started to fall again. I know most people’s first hope would have been that the residents got out safe. Somehow, I always take that as a given. Instead, my first thought is usually I hope they were able to save a few favorite things. But this time, after a moment’s more thought on the matter, I changed my mind. No, that wasn’t what I hoped for this time. This time I really did hope that they’d made it out safely, and hadn’t dawdled on account of the memento box.

My arthritic hands have started to make playing the piano painful; they’re beginning to twist in different directions and ache all day long. My vanity had already given up, but this new physical challenge of simply playing – of doing the only thing in the world that I’m truly qualified to do – is breaking my heart. It’s making me fear for the shape my fingers will be in ten years from now if they continue at this rate. But then, I remember my friends and what they face. And as with everything in life, when the road gets harder than you could have ever imagined in your worst dreams, the unimportant stuff somehow falls away. It’s not about living so much pain-free as it is about just plain living. It’s not so much about grabbing a box of mementos on the way out. It’s about steeling yourself, gathering your courage and getting the hell out of harm’s way.

Tonight I’ll be thinking of my friends – all of those who face deeply frightening health challenges at this time – and I’ll be sending them as much love as the airwaves can hold. I’m surprised to find I’m not quite out of hope yet, in fact I’m turning up the dial now, and I’m emitting as much hope out into the world as best I can… I pray they receive it, and like some sort of beacon, it will help them find their way out of the burning house in time…

 

Crossed Fingers November 11, 2014

The arthritis in my fingers has progressed quite a bit over the past year and a half. Just this past week my hands have undergone another big change. In fact, the change has been so rapid, it’s hard to fully comprehend. I so wish I had a baseline x-ray from before ‘the change’, or at least a photo of the way my poor fingers used to look, but practically speaking, I don’t need proof of how far things have gone. One look at my hands says it all.

In addition to watching the distal joints not only grow dramatically in girth, I’ve seen the tips of my fingers begin to bend forward, taking the shape of mini hunchbacks. When I hold my hands out, I no longer see the nails of my fingers. The disfigurement of my fingers was a little hard on my vanity at first (nearly everyone who sees my hands either makes an audible gasp or their eyes linger for a moment, and those who feel comfortable are quick to ask me if they hurt), and the occasional flare-ups were painful inconveniences, but now it’s become much more than a casual nuisance, and frankly, I’ve become worried about it. So far, it hasn’t hampered my ability to play the piano well, however it has changed how I play. Because the tips of my fingers essentially curve downward, I cannot tolerate any extra length of nail, as my nail hits the key before my fingertip (this is currently much more pronounced in my left hand). Again, that had become tolerable, and having become aware that I need to keep my left hand nails very short, I was ok with the change. But now, as of this past week, my hands are in an almost constant state of low-level discomfort. The index finger on my left hand has had a couple of distinct and alarming events, and it all has me wondering how in hell I’ll make it to my aged years if things keep up as they’re going.

Last night, the index finger on my left hand made a clicking sound, and from the middle knuckle, it visibly kinked to the left. I could see the difference from one moment to the next, because it leaned dramatically. I panicked, and quickly grasped it with my right hand and pulled. Somehow, it clicked again, and straightened back to its original position. Even so, it had been several years since my index finger had been straight, but thus far it had served me fine. But tonight it does not feel as it did even a few weeks ago; the tip of my index finger now makes continual contact with the tip of my middle finger. I suppose it would annoy and distract anyone, but somehow, being a pianist, I feel as if I’m hyper-aware of it. And to be entirely honest, it frightens me. If it continues like this, my two fingers will end up becoming crossed at some point. How can I live like that? It makes me scared, but also, it makes me angry. It really pisses me off. I know it’s not a healthy voice to indulge, but still, it rises up from within… Seriously, why me?

But of course I know the answer to that question: why not me? I have friends who are suffering far worse and more inconvenient health issues, and remembering that, I try to keep calm and concentrate on what I do still have, not what I don’t. Nonetheless, the idea that my fingers are continuing to get worse scares me, because as I understand it, once it happens, there’s no going back. This sucks, and my mind looks for solutions. I’ve been proactive in every way I can think; I’ve seen the conventional, Western doctors, I’ve done acupuncture, Chinese herbs, a small round of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, plus I’ve done my best to change my attitude and think hopefully and positively about my outcome. I’be begun exercising, drinking less alcohol, drinking more water, using less salt. At the end of the day, it really bothers me that it appears there’s not a thing I can do to stave this off, in spite of my willingness to do whatever I’m able.

I can’t help but wonder, if it’s simply extra material that’s forming on the ends of my bones, why can’t I just have it removed? Scraped off? And furthermore, if my body can’t be stopped in its self-destructive path of breaking down its own cartilage, why can’t I just have some sort of gel injected onto the problem sites to replace it? Seems intuitive, straight forward. Yet no doctor I’ve seen has told me this is a viable option. Of all the doctors I’ve seen, not a one of them has offered any solutions. Not preventive, nor curative, nor even restorative. And again – that pisses me off. Our technology is soaring by leaps and bounds, yet when it comes to one of the planet’s most pervasive health complaints, not one fucking thing can be done about it. Nada. Oh yeah, you can take glucosmine. Chondroitin sulfate. And supplements too. But the jury’s still out on all that. Regardless, I take the stuff, cuz I figure it can’t hurt. But so far, it sure hasn’t helped.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing all the ‘old folks’ – meaning anyone in their forties or beyond – griping about the mounting disappointments of aging; new ailments, gray hair and wrinkles, having to walk back into a room to remember what you’d come there for in the first place – the usual stuff. I also remember thinking that somehow these older people didn’t get it. That maybe they’d even done something wrong somewhere along the way – made a tiny misstep or bad choice once upon a time – that earned them their current set of problems. I felt certain, so very certain, that their fate would not be mine. Somehow, I’d age without incident. If I was to get wrinkled and gray, somehow I would not be diminished by it; I would enter that phase when the time was right, and somehow, if I did actually end up getting old, I’d be ready for it. In any case, it wasn’t worth thinking too much about, as it may as well have been a century or more off into the hazy future. The grown-ups would laugh and joke to my brother and me, telling us that one day we too would find ourselves saying the same things. My mother even told me how her own mother had said the same thing to her, and that as a child, my mother too would think secretly to herself that nothing could be further from the truth. She was not going down the same path as her mother, no way…

My mother’s hands do not look good. For the past twenty years her fingers have been grossly enlarged. Her wedding band looks as if it’s choking off the finger above it, and her middle knuckles are so large that it’s become difficult for her to grasp some things. I too have noticed things slipping through the spaces at the bottom of my fingers recently, and it’s just one more goddam thing I thought was strictly for old folks. I’m not taking to all these changes very well, I realize that. And until just a couple of years ago, I’d look at my mother’s hands with pity; imagine suffering that fate. Good thing it won’t be mine, I’d think. I shoulda known I’d be wrong – physically, I take after my mother more than my dad. And while I may have gotten my musical gift from him, sadly, I did not get his hands. I’m grateful that my son Elihu clearly has his father’s gorgeous, guitar-playing hands. Slender fingers with deft, double-jointed thumbs, he’s set for a life of great dexterity and finger health. For that I’m relieved and happy. Almost makes up for my own personal disappointment. Almost.

I suppose I’ve had a good run; I’ve gotten a good deal of use and music out of these fingers. Can’t have regrets. But still… I won’t stop searching for a solution to my arthritis. And I’ll do my very best not to pout and complain about things. I’ll continue to play piano, to make music and even attempt to learn new instruments. (But I won’t be doing any hand modeling jobs, that’s for sure.) So far, it seems that all I can do is deal with things as they are. But I’m still holding out hope that one day a cure will arrive. Some sort of meaningful relief of symptoms, or at the very least a way to halt the disease’s progress. A girl can hope, right? Fingers crossed…

 

 

Lung Leavin’ Day February 2, 2014

The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful and frightening for me, but hearing someone else’s story has quickly put a new perspective on things. Today Heather Von St. James celebrates another year of life, another year of victory over Mesothelioma. I myself had a friend (luthier, Jim Norris) die of this cancer years ago. It broke our hearts to learn that our friend was diagnosed with this particular cancer, as Mesothelioma is usually thought to be a certain death sentence. Heather, however, has shown the world that it is not. Heather is a shining spokesperson for hope. Please learn about her story, and watch her video. Here is Heather’s story. May you take from her experience inspiration to face the challenges in your own life. And please, if you’re able, donate something to help fund research into fighting this disease.

1266854_685378121502165_639066134_oHeather Von St. James and her family. Gorgeous, glowing and glorious is she.

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Woke up with a dull headache already nestled in between my temples, just waiting for me. I wondered how long I was doomed to live with this now. Now that the corner had been turned, and I’d foolishly declared before the world that a) I had been an idiot and ruined my father’s Studio and b) had been stupid enough to announce to the world that I was going to make it all better. What kind of spell had I been under? What the hell had I just gone and done?

Last night, as I stood at the sink (washing dishes for the third time that day – my kingdom for a dishwasher!) a realization came over me in a rush, and I literally felt as if I would vomit into the soapy water. Oh fucking no – the whole thing just presented itself to me in an entirely different light. This was no opportunity! This was a trap! And I’d fallen into it! Worse yet – I’d made the trap to begin with! The ‘if onlys’ came at me fast and furious, and I almost thought I would pass out. Instantly, I was terrified at my future.

I tried to settle down, tried to break the situation down into the few things I knew for sure. Ok. I knew these two things: that if I didn’t do anything about the Studio, one day profound regret was a great possibility, and that if I at least tried to do something about the Studio, then I would never face that outcome.

I have always longed for a quiet, under-committed life, with low stress; a simple, beautiful home in which to live, occasional international travel, visits from out-of-town friends and long, lingering dinners with good wine; musicians with whom to make music, friends with whom to laugh. I’ve long imagined how my little life might pan out here in Greenfield, and it was the great consolation for having lost the possibility of a life shared with my husband and child. But if I took this on – good Lord, my life, at least for the next ten years, didn’t show itself to be any of these things. Crap. I want to be anonymous, I want to be left alone. I want to relax. I just want to be happy.

I suppose I’ve already blown it about the anonymous thing. And some mornings I wake up with a similar dread as today, and wonder just what have I gone and done? More than a thousand people are daily peering into my life, and I have almost nowhere to hide now. I can’t take any of it back, either. It’s all out there, forever.  And all of my own doing. Man, I guess I just never thought…. And that’s the problem. Never thought… How many of us truly do think carefully about things?

It seems to me that there are two ways you can live your life; you can tune out and fill your existence up with distractions (career, sports, shopping, activities, living through your children, food and so on) and never truly think very critically about your life, or you can face that awesomely frightening question of your very own purpose and potential here in this world. And should you find yourself contemplating that second question, you can either go back to that first, comfortable route (I really, really want to go back to that one, but I’m afraid I’ve screwed myself out of it) or you must plow ahead into that alternate, murky future. Fucking scary. Or maybe not for some of you, I’m sure many of you don’t share my way of thinking on this – Lord knows this planet is made up of all types; I’m continually amazed at how differently people approach things. You think you kinda understand how someone’s feeling, after all, we do share the most basic needs and wants, but then you learn that they feel something quite different from what you’d assumed they did. And we all know what happens when you assume….

And I myself had always assumed that life would be fairly easy. That all that yack yack yacking about how tough life was and how ‘youth was wasted on the young’ and such – all that was nonsense. All that Buddhist four truths stuff, all this inner exploration and contemplative journey crap – what a waste of time and energy. Enjoy what you got, help out a little when you can, and just shut up already! Ok, that was a young, middle class girl who had the world in her front yard but had no clue. This was a young person who hadn’t yet faced a lump in her breast or a set of knuckles inflamed with arthritis, or the death of her father (or the ruination of her father’s work at her own hand). So, things change. Or maybe things just wait for you to catch up with them. Maybe these little atmospheric whorls of potential events lie in wait somewhere before us in time, and it’s our tiny steps in between that determine which of them we ultimately enter into.

So as I stood at the sink last night, fighting the urge to throw up into the dishwater, I remembered a woman who’d recently contacted me. She’s a reader of this blog, and she wondered if I might not help her in her own journey. For just a second, my own distress diminished as I considered the fear that Heather must have known. I think I’m afraid – but of what? My issues are external, they do not hold my life in the balance of their outcomes. They are nothing, really, compared to the challenge that Heather faced. Ok, Elizabeth, see? There are far more frightening prospects in the world. You, (saying this to myself, of course) are a wimp. You are being cowardly. How dare you? I remembered also my promise to Heather, and if I never came to fixing the Studio, I could at least do one thing I’d said I would.

Here is Heather’s story. Of course, it’s inspiring. This woman’s courage is impressive, but so too is her follow-through. Ok, so she made that mind-numbingly difficult decision to have a friggin lung removed in order to save her life, and she survived. Wouldn’t that be enough, you’d think? No, apparently not – because Heather has the drive and focus to continue to spread the word about Mesolethioma. She’s still taking action, long after she did her part. She had to face a kind of fear the likes of which each one of us prays we never, ever have to face. Ok, she did that, then she took care of it. Then she goes and does more. (Plus she’s a wife and mom. Cannot underestimate the time and energy that role represents.) Alright. My situation may feel dire, but I can temper my fear just a bit when I realize that it’s external, and that it is not a life or death situation like hers. Thank you Heather, for showing us that nothing is a done deal. I am known to say that this is a pain-in-the-ass planet we live on, and that life here is tricky. Heather, you clearly already know all of that – but have gone far beyond worrying about things and bitching about how hard it all is (that would be me doing that). Thanks for teaching us by example. I’m going to try my best to live up to my own challenges as you have yours. I’m not sayin I’ll do half as well, but you’ve inspired me to at least try…

As Heather says, “With hope, the odds don’t matter”. Thank you for your inspiration, congratulations on all your achievements, and most of all, happy Lung Leavin Day!

 

Scare January 10, 2014

“What happened to your fingers?” one of the eighth grade girls asked me today as we stood chatting and waiting for the teacher to arrive. It was more than the uncensored nature of youth that allowed her to ask me without first editing her thoughts (or her surprised tone) – I’d spent some time with this class accompanying them at several performances, so by now they felt pretty familiar with me. While her question initially stopped me in my tracks (I kept my cool in spite of it), I appreciated the candor of her question, because it confirmed for me that it wasn’t all in my head… I’d known it was bad, or at least not good, for a while now. In fact I’d even heard slight gasps from my adult students in class last year when showing them the hands that had just demonstrated something intricate on the piano. There had been a slight pause in the room as people began to reconcile the music they’d just heard with the hands they now saw before them…

The nodes on the distal joints of my fingers can’t be ignored anymore – certainly not be me, nor by folks I meet for the first time. They are large, they are painful, they get stuck in between the black notes – and they are not getting any smaller. Just this past week I had a painful day of great sensitivity on the fourth finger of my left hand, and the next day there it was: a fresh, new node. A newly deposited growth of bone, I suppose, from what I’ve seen and researched online. Just about a year ago I’d gone to an orthopedic doc, before it had gotten terribly bad, and I was more than disappointed to hear him tell me there was basically nothing I could do about it. There were some drugs I might take, but they had a lot of potential side effects which probably weren’t worth it, he advised. I’d been prepared to hear something like this, but it was quite disappointing even still. I mean, come on. Everybody and his brother has arthritis and has for as long as we can remember – and I still have so few options? Seriously??

As a young adult I can remember looking at my mother’s hands and thinking that the distortion in her fingers was almost unbelievable. As if she certainly must have done something to have earned them. Knuckles don’t just blow up like that unprovoked, do they? Well, no matter who or what was responsible, a fate like this was certainly this poor woman’s cross to bear, but thank goodness, I’d think confidently to myself, that’s not my future. I’d even had such smug thoughts knowing damn well that while I do get my musical talent from my father, I look not a thing like him. No. Rather, I look like my mom. So here I am, at the start of my fifties and my own beloved hands are blowing up like those of an old peasant granny. For heaven’s sake. This is so not me! Come on guys! I beg my hands. I love you guys! I appreciate you guys! Why are you doing this? Why? I plead with them, even kissing them like a mother would her child. But onward they go, their shapes morphing almost as I watch; the minute, intermittent stabbing sensations and dull, hot pain confirming for me that things are, in this very minute, continuing to get worse. I’ve cut out wine. I’ve cut out acidic foods. Dairy. Salt. I read, I Google, try something else. I drink water. I try to think positively. But my fingers respond to nothing. My disease is progressing without my consent, and I am sad. Scared, too.

It’s a dull, ever-present sort of scared, it’s one I can live with. But there are other insidious types of fear that I find have been making headway into my life of late, and I don’t like it. I might be able to live with them too, but I sure as hell don’t want to. I may strike people as a strong woman – and some days I might agree – but I can feel that it’s becoming a bigger challenge these days to keep it together. Panic has resurfaced over the past year, chronic concerns over money feel even more real as my own aged years loom closer (and I have not a penny saved), and then of course there is always the concern for my son. His vision, his ability to participate as fully as he can in the world, and of late, I worry about his having contracted Lyme disease. We’ve begun his treatment, and docs assure me that in a young and vigorous kid like him, he’ll have no worries later on. It helps, but angry emails from his father telling me that I “need to take this seriously” as if somehow I do not, and telling me I might have been more vigilant when I in fact had been worried but hadn’t had him checked yet, this all makes it much worse. I don’t know how my ex still has such power to hurt and frighten me…. I summon my focus and I stand up to him. Right after, I beg my son in my heart to forgive me for not knowing, for not doing something sooner…

Tonight Elihu asked me to please stay and read to him. He said he was feeling ‘needy’. I hadn’t given him a lot of one-on-one time lately as I’d had too much life to deal with. Music to learn, house to clean, food to fix and such. Tonight, we agreed on a trade. If he’d let me just organize the mess in the kitchen – get it squared away just a bit – then I’d come in and read to him. I did, and shortly after I began to read we both started to drop off. I turned off the light and soon fell deeply asleep. The next thing I know Elihu is feeling for me in the dark and muttering something. He, like me, is a sleep-talker. He can even hold some conversations in this state, so at first I wasn’t concerned. But this was different. He reached out to me with outstretched arms, which I took for a hug, but he shook his head. “Machine” he said, pointing to his nebulizer. Can you imagine the shot of adrenaline that flashed through my body? I immediately got a packet of medicine, poured it in and gave him the mouthpiece. He looked drunk. After a few puffs he laid back down. I yelled his name and shook him – “Are you ok?” He waited for a moment, then nodded no. “This is different” he said through closed eyes.  “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” I asked. He nodded yes. “Yes, emergency room” he said, again his head drooping to the side. Holy fucking shit. White hot fear coursed through me and my heart began immediately to beat as if I’d run a race…. I thought back to a panic attack I’d experienced earlier that day. It was a close second, for sure, but man, these stakes were mind-bendingly high… I ran through the house, pulling on clothes, locating his rescue inhaler, my boots, keys, a blanket to wrap him in…. I came back and tried to tug a sweatshirt over his head, but he fell limply to the side. Holy shit, holy shit, keep moving… I was thankful that the ER was just about five miles away, and we could be there in less than ten minutes. Lucky…. “Elihu!” I yelled at him. “What?” he finally responded. Then a look overtook him, and he sat up, eyes fully open, as I tugged the sweatshirt down around his neck. “What are you doing, Mommy?” he asked. “We’re going to the hospital – to the emergency room! You said you needed to! Can you breathe now? Are you ok??” He shook his head and fell back down on the pillow. “No, I wasn’t waiting to go to the emergency room. I just wanted a more comfortable pillow.” He lifted his head up and I inserted the down pillow underneath him. He plopped back down onto it. “Honey, are you ok? He nodded. My heart was still pumping loudly, and I wasn’t convinced. But I realized that he was still deeply asleep, and that while he may have needed help with his breathing, it wasn’t as dire as his sleep-talking self had said. Oh my God, I kept thinking over and over again, the prospect of a life without my beloved son flashing uncontrollably, nauseatingly, through my mind. My God, I think, and I my face sinks into my hands. Holy shit.

For the most part, I’d say I’m a glass half-full gal. Might not always have been, but I am now. Only I’m not sure if I could remain so if I were to lose my son. For that matter, how will I feel about that glass when I can no longer play the piano? Many times I have thanked the universe for all that I’ve been blessed with. Even the unexpected divorce and all the unforseen events that followed. It’s all been one unpredictable adventure from which I’ve learned so much more than I ever would have otherwise. If I hadn’t once been scared shitless, I wouldn’t be here now. I remind myself that fear has its place. But truly, I don’t think I need any more. I’m good. I don’t want to have to find out if I do or do not have it in me to live through a tragedy. Please, universe, don’t try me. I’m good with things the way they are. And I aim to make things better, too. I aim to get my son tinted contacts this year. I aim to teach him how to ride a bike, to make dinner on his own. We still have so much more to do, I have so much more to teach him. Let’s just get through this night, please, I beg anyone who might be listening. My right index finger hurts, my head hurts. I am emotionally weak just thinking of yesterday’s new run-in with panic. I am scared. But I remind myself: I might be scared, but I am strong too. Posturing though it might be in this moment, as the adrenaline begins finally to subside, I challenge my fear. I tell it we’re done for the night. Running in to check on my son every few minutes as I write this middle-of-the-night post and finding him in a comfortable sleep, breathing nice, even and deep breaths, I begin to take back what power I can. I tell fear to leave us alone.

Soon I think I’ll get to bed myself. One more check on Elihu, one more set of good, deep breaths and I’ll lie down.Man, I sure could use a rest after all of this… And I’m pretty sure being brave may well require a good night’s sleep.

 

Surprise January 3, 2014

This week has felt surreal, and on top of the sorrow my family’s currently working through, other little mishaps have been taking place. My toilet has broken (plastic parts and hard water do not mix), my drains have plugged up, my windows have been stuck, the doors to the coop must be coaxed to close and lastly, we had to kill Lefty Lucy after the flock tore into her mercilessly one night and left her near dead. The poor hen had recovered fairly well in the kitchen over the past week. so I returned her to her roost one night to find her covered in blood and far worse only the next morning. When I realized how the flock had treated her as a compromised bird (she retained a limp after an injury last week) I knew what had to be done. She did not face a life of any quality, so it was time to put her down. When I told my mom that I was simply keeping her comfortable until she was able to die, she remarked ‘kinda like your dad’. Yeah, I guess. So our friend neighbor Zac came over with his axe, and obliged us by chopping off her head on a nearby stump. Elihu tossed her out to the edge of the woods, and by the next morning she was gone.

Plus there’s this strange new twitch in the middle finger of my right hand. I’ve been feeling some tension – for no reason I can even figure – in my right shoulder lately, and I surmise that it’s related. Some nerve thing. Just a few months ago I’d experienced some ongoing and very annoying electrical tingling feelings in my left hand, and also a few in my left foot – but that was an easy self-diagnosis. Years ago I broke my neck – C6 and C7 (which later fused, giving me a C13!) as well as my left shoulder. I just figured time and gravity had come to roost and were now compressing on my nerves. I’d figured that being structural, the only fix would be yoga and a general improvement of my overall fitness. I went to an acupuncturist with few hopes, but after four visits the annoying electrical feeling was completely gone. Completely. And so, while it’s yet another unforeseen expense of life, I must find a way to carve something out of my budget to have a few more sessions. I have never in my life had any bad experience – or major injury – to my right side, so I can’t imagine what in hell is ultimately responsible for it. But a moment’s reflection and I needn’t look much further for reasons, because I realize that it is true: I am getting old. Well, at least older. And now a physical body of evidence is beginning to show itself. Crap. I still can’t believe I’m here. That I now know what it is to have a parent die. That I now know what it is to have aches and pains for no good reason. Crap.

Santa was good to Elihu this year, bringing him an Ergo electric bass and amp (hours logged on it already) and a couple of battling robotic spiders, but more surprisingly, Santa was good to me too, and brought me a Wii fit board (love the used game place – next-to-nothing prices for year-old products) and a Wii fit game. He musta known my health needed a little rescuing. Hopefully, in spite of a heavier work load and mom duties ongoing, I’ll be able to spend a little time with my cyber coach. I have plans to join Weight Watchers with mom, too. While it might be frustrating that I’m here again, this year I mean to do more than the Band-Aid approach to weight loss (and fitness). I’ve done the Atkins thing a few times now, and while it always works, it never feels right. I can’t help but feel it’s counter-intuitive to see an apple as an enemy. I will, however, take with me the conservative approach to eating carbohydrates. That is the beneficial ‘take-away’ from those experiences. I’m not a carb craver, so that’s not so hard for me. What I do find exceptionally challenging is simply eating less. Ich. More honestly speaking, what I find challenging is the challenge.

Now yet another challenge… I just received an email that had my body flushed with cold. I thought that I’d just been through all the extremes I could handle in losing my father this past week, but this was horrible in a new way. I hated this feeling, and what’s more, I hated that there was no good outcome from it that I could see. No relief, no ultimate fix, no happy ending. Elihu’s beloved teacher at the Waldorf School was leaving after the end of fifth grade. How many times had we thanked God to have found her? How many times had we exclaimed that she was the best thing ever to have happened to Elihu? How many times had Elihu himself told us how much he loved her, how he loved her way of teaching, of being? So many times we’ve thought how lucky we were, how amazingly lucky… This news has me wanting to cry, but I feel cried out. I feel the dull throbbing in my right shoulder and begin to feel like things are all pressing in on me. I’m almost scared, but more than that, I feel defeated. My son has been a joyful child due much in part to his teacher. How will my son remain joyful now? I know that whomever replaces her will be a gift too, I know that. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a Waldorf teacher that’s not pretty spectacular. But still. I sit with this new information for a bit. How will I tell my son? I know he’ll cry. His heart will break at this news, I just know it. I look outside at the mounds of new, white snow. It’s a gray, snow-covered morning. Beautiful, serene, unaware that all this human drama continues on…

Yesterday we removed the ornaments from the tree. It had begun to dry so terribly that many were now falling off. One ornament, the one that we’d gotten just after I learned I was pregnant (the ornament was made in Italy, and so was Elihu) had fallen to the floor, but interestingly had not broken. I heard it fall, and was rather amazed to see the delicate glass globe in the middle of the floor, intact. I had been given a second chance, now it was time to remove them before they all fell and broke. Good thing I had no time to anticipate the taking down of the tree, what with all this nostalgia and sentiment flying around these days it woulda been hard on my heart. Even so, it was a poignant afternoon yesterday as ancient and sad Christmas music played and years of memories, in the form of ornaments, were each recounted and packed away. I kept torturing myself by thinking that I’d put the tree up while dad was here, and now I was taking it down after he had died. He was here, now he’s not. This gorgeous tree was here and beautiful one day, simply gone the next. After about an hour of recorders, lutes and lots of D minor Elihu called from his room and asked if we couldn’t have something ‘less sad’. That kid always keeps me level, I swear. Time and place for everything. Yeah, I suppose you’re right kid, enough of the sad.

But now this. I was ready for the empty living room, I knew dad was going. And even the bird, I knew we’d have to do her in. But Elihu’s teacher? I had no preparation for this. I gotta keep it together, I’ve got to expect that surprise, wonderful, yet-unseen outcome. Life is full of surprises for which we can never fully prepare. I hear that Elihu’s up now. When to tell him? Fist we’ll have breakfast, tend to the chickens and fill the table feeder outside our window. Even there we have our little surprises – just a few days ago we were visited by a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker for the very first time in our five years here. So there are some good surprises to be had too. I know that. I’m ready for just about anything to happen next, I guess.

So go ahead, life, bring it on. Surprise me.

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Post Script: Careful what you ask for… Moments after I wrote this post, when I went out to the coop I found Lefty’s ‘twin’ sister, Righty, lying dead (identical and petite white leghorns, each had a comb that hung over on a different side, hcnce the names Righty Tighty and Lefty Loosey). Looked like she’d died recently. A victim, like her sister, of hen-pecking. She was featherless on one wing and covered in blood. When I picked her up by her legs and turned to check the boxes for eggs, goose Max started violently pecking at her. Many times I’d seen him take a bite at a bird’s back end, but it was never more than a territorial nip. This was strange and different behavior. I scolded him soundly then walked out with the dead hen. I walked her out to the edge of the woods where we’d left her sister. I kissed her cheek and told her how sorry I was. Then I left her. What a nice surprise that’ll be for a hungry fox.

When I got inside I found Elihu talking on his new IPad (left by Santa in Illinois) to his father and sister in England. Soon after he was playing his bass for her. And just now when I peeked in again, I saw Elihu explaining to her how he wove his silly bands into jewelry. Wow. Here in our little country home was an open window into another home halfway across the globe – and in real time, too. Call me old-fashioned, buy I still marvel at technology. My mind is still blown to think that my first cell phone was the size of a brick and got too hot to touch within minutes, and here my kid is chatting away without a second thought to the visual image of his dad and sister, thousands of miles away. (A bit mind-blowing too is the fact that my son has a sister his own age. Even though I’m at peace with it, and understand she’s an important part of Elihu’s family, I still can’t quite integrate that into my thinking.) Yup, surprises are everywhere.

A final Post Script: Surprise! My comments feature on this particular post has become disabled somehow, and in spite of my best efforts to reverse this, I cannot figure it out. Never happened before…