As I have aged, I have become more appreciative of the vessel that is my body. As time and illness and injury have each taken its toll on my physical vessel, I have come to regard my body as an imperfect, wonderous miracle. It is with kinder eyes that I see myself now: lumps, bumps, bulges. I can feel how hard my heart works, scarred though it is, to supply enough oxygen rich blood to get me up a short set of stairs or across the street. It is an effort. I notice that. I appreciate it. I’m thankful for it.
Conversely, as a young woman, I led a busy and very physical life. Working. Raising children. Engaging in my favorite spiritual past times: hiking, swimming, kayaking, walking. The list goes on and on. I enjoyed using my body and I demanded a lot of it. In significant ways, I took my youth, my beauty and my health for granted. I was far to busy to THINK about it. When I was still, I was in nature, thinking about oneness and connection. I felt a great kinship with the land, the sea and the sky. That meant a lot to me. But I did not fully appreciate the vessel that allowed me to BE.
I imagine that my son and my husband, both of whom have had to contend with severe physical challenges, have long been more aware of their vessels. Imperfection, physical imperfection, was and is something that they have to confront in every instance that they live and breathe in this world. I will venture to say that I bet they never take their bodies for granted. But those of us with fully functional bodies usually do. Until we age or until something goes wrong.
Rumi says there are a hundred ways to kiss the ground. My way is through clay. I make clay vessels, one of a kind, unique. Each is meant to be a meditation on the beauty inherent in imperfection. Invite me into your story and let me make a vessel in honor of your beauty.
Tonight I write as my family sleeps. In my new life since my heart failure, sleep eludes me. It seems I can neither sleep at night nor nap. At first I thought of words I had heard about insomnia long ago: “Do not fear it as everyone eventually sleeps.” However, I find that this is not entirely true. I do catch a few hours here and there. Most often, I sleep as the first light of day comes, catching 3 to 4 hours. What I have found is that there are few medications I am allowed to take and all of those make me groggy without providing sleep. That means I am tired enough to want to sleep, but can’t, and am too tired to do anything else. So, medication is not the answer. What is? Going with the flow. I will sleep as I can and see what happens. Oh, the ch-changes.
I have noticed that in times of hardship during my life I am most able to live in the moment. When my son was injured many years ago, I recall realizing that I was literally living one moment, possibly one day, at a time. I had to. There was no other way to manage. A rather elderly man (and boy, isn’t “elderly” a slippery term! I’m sure I fall into that category in the eyes of, say, high school students) said to me: “If you have learned to live one day at a time at your young age, you are doing well, young lady.” I took that to heart. But of course I did not keep that up. Several months later, I was again laboring under the multitude of tasks most of us take on, most certainly those of us who are mothers of young children. As I learned to “manage” the crisis of my son’s health situation, I inadvertently allowed distance to creep in and obscure that one-day-at-a-time living. Perhaps it is impossible not to.
As a child, my family moved frequently. I believe I had lived in something like 12 places before going off to college. These places ranged from Wisconsin to Mississippi to Long Island. It seemed I was always pinch hitting. When I became a mother, this served me well as I was able to respond to the ever changing ages and stages of my children. If there was a crisis or someone needed me in the moment, I had the requisite skill set. After I married Marc, my life settled down and I began to experiment with such things as pacing and setting limits. I remember I used to ask Marc: what is a normal amount to do in a day? I had no concept of when or whether to stop “doing.” This became more of an issue as I would head off at full speed and suddenly my energy would drop right out from under me. I was stunned. I assumed it all had to do with needing to learn self regulation. And I am nothing if not an eternal student. So I worked on it. But even as I gained the skills, the fatigue did not abate. I wondered if I had simply taken on too much in life. Perhaps I had used up all the energy allotted for one lifetime. Too late, it seemed, I learned to hold some energy in reserve. Some of that was no doubt at play. But, the larger part of it, I think, was the beginning of my heart failure. I did, after all, have a “broken heart” many times over. But I was in no way in a difficult time of life when the fatigue hit. My kids were in college. My husband and I were happily enjoying our “empty nest.” But that is when the heart condition really caught up with me.
The take away message? Perhaps there is none. Who knows? But my thinking on this is as follows. Stuff happens. I have no idea why. I don’t know why my husband can never catch a break with his eye situation. I watch him fight through pain everyday. I have no idea why my son would suffer such a brutal injury at such a young age. There are many more such examples in my family and in pretty much everyone’s family. But I do know that as an eternal student, and as a person of faith, I choose to try to see what such experiences yield in terms of learning and perhaps wisdom (one can hope!) So far, I am learning yet again of the primacy of faith. This can be as simple as: I don’t know if I will sleep tonight or I don’t know how well I will cope with the next medication change or I don’t know when I will have the energy to post again or when will I have the energy to grocery shop or to return those items to walmart. Or it can be as high stakes as: I don’t know what the story of my children’s lives will be and I have to have faith that they have the tools to cultivate joy and to withstand hardship if they must (of course, I would sheild them from everything if I could).
Now I have forgotten my other point, which is great, because the better “point” is that I am here now, living, watching, trying, appreciating, loving, some days complaining, and learning what it means to be.