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Day 320/365 Spring Will Come Again

We are nearly a month into what the calendar calls “spring” and it is cold outside…really fucking cold, and just to add insult to injury, it is also windy as hell.

(Is hell windy? Probably not, I just really feel like cursing today, damn it).

Actually, I am in a perfectly fine mood, albeit begrudging of the winter for overstaying his welcome.  The howling wind outside makes me want to continue to turn inward, when what I want to be feeling this time of year is an opening…a blossoming…a gesture of expansion…

I want to be bursting with warmth and JOY, damn it.

I know, I know…warmth and joy should be found within, regardless of whether the weather is cooperating, but seriously…

My vision of spring does not include wool socks.

And yet, yesterday…ahh, yes…yesterday was beautiful…perhaps twenty degrees warmer. The sun shone. I was, at long last, liberated from my winter coat.

Fleeting as that taste of spring was…it was a reminder that winter won’t last forever. 

It never does, you know.

Such is life.

Sometimes the cold hangs around longer than we would wish.

Sometimes it appears to leave, only to come rushing back…a frigid gust shocks us – just when we have dared to shed our protective layers.

But always, it relents.

It must, for the cold is not sustainable…and in knowing this, we must also understand – nor is the warmth.

We cycle through them, again and again.

We endure…and expand…and endure again.

So I will curl inward another day…and wait.

Spring will come, again.

Damn it.

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Day 319/365 Stay Curious

Last week my eleven year old daughter asked me, “Mom, do you ever wish you could live inside someone else’s body…”

For a split second I thought, “Oh no…I don’t want you to wish you are anybody but you.”

Then…(wait for it) she finished her thought…

“…so you can know what someone else is thinking, and maybe understand why they act the way they do?”

“YES!” I smiled and shouted exuberantly, “ALL THE TIME!”

(Oh my God, this kid is definitely mine).

While I obviously cannot live within someone else’s body, I do often try to look at things from another’s perspective. I try to get into their head and to understand them.

This practice in shifting perspective can be an incredible gateway to compassion. In doing so we begin to try to truly understand each other…

But it can also be dangerous.

Here’s why –

It can be a real impediment to true connection and understanding, when we assume we understand another’s thoughts and motivations without actually Asking. When we presume to know someone’s heart without being curious about whether or not we are actually right…this can be a huge mistake.

It can actually wreak havoc on our relationships.

I spend a lot (a LOT) of time analyzing my own thoughts…admittedly WAY more time then I should. So, I think it is only natural that I would also spend a lot of time trying to analyze the thoughts and behaviors of others.

More than a few times when I have stopped to actually ASK what someone is thinking instead of assuming that I know...I have been surprised by the answer.

How do you feel?

What are you thinking?

This is what I saw/felt/heard in your words or actions….

Is that what you meant?

I had a conversation recently that went something like this (I am paraphrasing)…

I know you are mad at me.

Actually I’m not. I was only mad for like ten minutes, and then I let it go.

What made you let it go?

I realized that I understood why you did what you did.

And why is that?

Because of XYZ.

Actually, that’s not why. It was because of ABC.

Oh…well that’s interesting…can you explain that? 

Yes…

A whole new and in-depth conversation evolved from that….a conversation and a level of understanding we never would have come to if we had not each been curious.

Even though I was being compassionate and forgiving, I did not truly understand.

I had “let it go,” but without an authentic understanding of what lay in her heart.

So…the next time I was bothered by someone’s actions, I reached out. I told him this was how I perceived the situation. I asked…

Am I right?

I wasn’t right…and a conversation evolved from there.

As Glennon Doyle says, “Less judgement, more curiosity.”

This doesn’t work with everyone, or in every situation of course. Sometimes people are not ready, willing or able to delve into why they said what they said, or why they did what they did...or what that might mean.

You can ask, but that doesn’t mean you will get an answer with any real depth to it.

More and more I realize how much I deeply appreciate the people in my life who are willing engage with me in this way. When a person can connect with themselves and give a thoughtful response to the question, WHY?

Somehow it still surprises me…it even takes my breath away. I feel humbled and grateful to know someone else’s truth. It is so brave to say – yes, I want you to understand me…to truly know my heart. I trust you to at least try to understand me, even if you may not like what I have to say.

In a way it feels like magic –

You mean…all I have to do is ask, and you’ll tell me what lies within you? It can’t possibly be that easy.

Yet with some people, it is. So, to those people in my life…thank you for sharing your heart and your mind with me. I think you are beautiful…and fascinating.

Sometimes, though, we are left to draw our own conclusions. When this happens, perspective and compassion are useful tools, but I think in using them we must always remember we are drawing our own conclusion, based only on our own perception…

This does not make it true. 

Also…

In my constant quest to understand myself and the people around me, I know I need to respect the fact that some questions need breathing space.

The answers are not always immediately clear. There are some questions we are not ready to answer, and some answers we are not ready to hear. 

Stay curious.

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Things that make you go HMMMM.

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Day 318/365 The Courage of the Seed

The Courage of the Seed

All the buried seeds

crack open in the dark

the instant they surrender

to a process they can’t see. 

This innate surrender allows everything edible and fragrant to break into a life of light that we call spring.

In nature, we are quietly given countless models of how to give ourselves over to what appears dark and hopeless, but which ultimately is an awakening that is beyond all imagining. This moving through the dark into blossom is the threshold to God

As a seed buried in the earth cannot imagine itself as an orchid or a hyacinth, neither can a heart packed with hurt imagine itself loved or at peace. The courage of the seed is that once cracking, it cracks all the way.” – Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

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At the very beginning of Dipped In It, I made reference to feeling within myself a “breaking open.” I did not use this metaphor in the positive context of the above prose…because quite frankly, I didn’t see it that way.

I meant – My life has broken me.

I AM BROKEN.

Now, with some perspective, I can see that yes, I have been broken, but I was never irreparable.

Wait…that isn’t the truth. 

Actually, I am irreparable…because I was never meant to be repaired.

I do not require fixing.

I cannot go back into the seed casing. I cannot curl back into who I once was. I am forever changed…and I hope to break open and to bloom again and again.

No, I do not wish for more hardship nor tragedies in order to further become.

Actually, I believe it is equally the joys in life that have the ability to crack us open.

Even the simplest of things can expand us when we open ourselves up to them…

Waking up in the morning next to someone we truly love, witnessing a fiery sunrise, letting the sound of our children’s laughter spill over us…  

I think when we practice opening our hearts within these beautiful, simple moments, it makes it easier to begin to open them during our painful experiences as well. We can choose to soften when we feel the impulse to tighten.

In opening our hearts to fully FEEL IT ALL…the full spectrum of our humanity, we begin to trust in “the courage of the seed.”

Knowing that the moment we let go…

That is when the light bursts through.

“It is an awakening beyond all imagining.”

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Day 317/365 I Like My Humor Dark, Like My Coffee (or Google is an Asshole, Part 2)

{Click here and read that one first.}

By the time my mother told us she had breast cancer, her doctors already had a plan in place – chemo, then surgery.

On the last day of chemo, suddenly the plan was changed to chemo, surgery, then radiation. This was disappointing, especially to my mother, who had plans to enjoy her spring, cancer and treatment free.

Two days after that, the plan was…

Well…shit, who the hell knows what the plan is…you might have lung cancer.

What we did know was that if she had lung cancer, she would not be having the surgery that had been planned to deal with her breast cancer…beyond that, we had no idea, but it seemed pretty grim.

Suddenly, we found ourselves hoping that she was going to be having major surgery. After all, the alternative was apparently too dark to discuss.

No one wanted to go there.

It’s a funny thing that happens – a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts.

Something as scary as a five-hour surgery suddenly seems like a trip to Disney when things go down something like this…

You might have terminal lung cancer, in which case you won’t be having surgery. 

Just kidding, you don’t have lung cancer! 

You get to have SURGERY!

**YAY! THAT’S AMAZING! THANK YOU!!!**

For a couple of days we basked in the glow of finally having gotten some good news…even though we had been put through the ringer to get it. I guess in a way that’s what made it all the more sweet. The surgery seemed totally manageable in comparison to the alternative (or lack thereof) with which we had been presented.

For me, the euphoria last until yesterday – one day pre-op. I started to feel restless and jittery. I slept fitfully last night. This morning we awoke in the dark and had a mostly silent pre-dawn ride to the hospital.

The intake room was chaos as they readied all of the 8am surgical patients at once. Mom winced as a nurse grazed her IVs trying to get the blood pressure cuff on. I felt a surge of protectiveness. No matter how strong you know a person to be, when they are laying on an ambulatory bed, wearing a surgical cap and johnny….they look helpless, and scared (and rightfully so).

The nurse was frustrated because the number on my mother’s ID didn’t match her file. There was a computer glitch. “Sorry for the delay,” she said. “We want to get that fixed before she goes into surgery.”

“Uh…yeah,” I replied,  “I don’t want to come back and find out you’ve amputated her leg.”

Mom and I cracked up. We needed that.

The nurse was not amused. Perhaps dark humor is not her thing. Maybe it’s an acquired taste. Although it seems like the professionals in certain fields would need to appreciate it to survive.

Right?

Come to think of it, the funeral director didn’t appreciate my dark humor either. A year ago when we asked if our dog could be buried with my dad, the director had said, “The dog has been cremated, I assume?”

I said, “Oh, the dog isn’t dead. It’s just that dad was the only one who liked her.”

Sometimes laughter is the only thing that keeps you sane, and I know a person is a part of my tribe when they go to dark places with it.

As I sit here writing this, mom is in the recovery room. They are letting the anesthesia wear off before I can see her. Everything went well, they said.

I am so relieved…

They said her leg should heal up just fine.

 

 

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Day 316/365 Google is an Asshole

“I am concerned about two areas on the lung x-ray that look as though they could be related to the cancer,” he said.

What I heard was, “Your mother now has lung cancer.”

Wait…but….she just finished chemo. How can she have NEW cancer already? 

I used to be an eternal optimist.

Even now I can pull out an “Everything is going to be fine!” but lately…

Maybe it’s my recent life experience, or just getting older…but I have begun to brace myself for the worst. Often I can dial it back and force myself to be present with what is known – to not get too crazy over what is not (yet) – but the fact is…

I am not the Pollyanna I once was.

As I sat there across from this unknown doctor, my mother laying between us on the bed in the ER, I was sure I was “hearing” what he wasn’t saying…what he was trying to tell me with his eyes…which was, THIS. IS. BAD. 

We weren’t even supposed to be there. More than two weeks out from her very last chemo…we were on a break! A month off before phase two – the big surgery.

Her body had different plans.

She spiked a fever, and protocol had her going straight to the ER. They ran all kinds of tests to make sure she didn’t have an infection, the flu…pneumonia. She had none of these things.

In fact, they saw no reason to keep her there.

So it was – Go home, get some rest, drink lots of fluids…oh, and…you might be dying….better get that checked out as soon as possible. Have a nice day. 

I thought about those stories you hear – the people who find out they have a brain tumor only because they hit their head and needed an x-ray. You have to believe that it was divine intervention – at least, I do. A higher power wanted it to be known. So applying that logic, I thought – she surely has lung cancer. That’s why she ended up coming to the ER for seemingly no reason, and had gotten a chest x-ray.

A higher power wanted us to know what was there.

And so it began…

Waiting to get in for a test.

Waiting for results.

She might be dying. Have a nice day. 

Waiting to get in for a different test.

Waiting for results.

She might be dying. Have a nice day. 

And so it continued – for an entire month.

The month of “reprieve” between chemo and surgery turned out to be no reprieve at all.  She did feel better physically, but the testing and the waiting…oh, the waiting. Trying to act normal when your mind keeps creeping over to the darkest places. Trying to stay with what is known and to not go crazy thinking about what is not.

My mother and I joked that if we got bad news, we might be looking back on these awful days of waiting as the good ole’ days.

In the words of Dylan, “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

They did let us know that if her cancer had metastasized to the lungs, she would not be having the trifecta of “ectomies” that were planned. We did not ask what the new plan would be, though I had read (before we’d even left the ER that day) that breast cancer metastasized to the lung is, in fact, terminal.

Sometimes Google is such an asshole.

However, in an act of optimism, they never cancelled her surgery. Then, three days prior to the surgical date, we finally had an answer.

Her lungs are fine.

I sobbed with relief and joy.

Once I composed myself I couldn’t wait to tell the small group of friends and family who had been waiting with us in the hell of the unknown…

Aaaaand I wanted to go down to the hospital and punch that ER doctor in the face. 

(Just keeping it real, you guys.)

Deep breath.

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Longing for the days when we could concentrate on important things like hair accessories.

 

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Day 315/365 Your Father’s Favorite

It hit me today unexpectedly, and with the sudden force of a freight train.

I was sitting there, in my parents’ house, having coffee with my mother.  I had spent the night, and I was enjoying a cozy and relaxed morning in my pajamas.

She pointed to an enlarged photograph behind me on the wall and said, “I should probably change that to something more recent. Will was only five in that picture….so it is more than a decade old…but, it was your father’s favorite….”

Your father’s favorite.

That’s all it took to knock the wind out of me.

It surprised me, for I think about my father every single day, but lately it hasn’t rattled me as often…not like this. If anything, I have found a new way to be with him. I have been talking to him a lot. Of course, he probably thinks I only call on him when I need something…

Typical kid.

Okay, fine…maybe praying for him to let me make it to the gas station on fumes was kind of an abuse of his potential on the other side (although I did make it…thanks Dad).

Back to this morning…

Your father’s favorite.

There I was…about to dissolve into a puddle. For a panicked second I considered making a dash for the bathroom before the floodgates opened. I thought I should protect my mother from my pain…she doesn’t need this…not right now with all of her worries, but…

It was too late.

“What did I say?” she asked, “Is it…Dad?”

I nodded my head yes. “Sometimes I just expect him to come walking around the corner,” I said, tears streaming down. “I wish he were here right now.”

I know what you mean,” she said, gently. “I still think it’s him whenever the phone rings, or whenever someone pulls into the driveway.”

I couldn’t help but imagine the small death she must feel every single time she remembers that isn’t possible.

He’s gone.

As if reading my thoughts she said, “He’s still very much here.”

My mind flashed back to a conversation we’d had a few months after he died. Trying to comfort her, I had said that very thing – “He is still here.”

Somewhat angrily (and justifiably so) she’d replied, “What good is it for him to be “here” if he can’t be HERE?!”

I felt a slight sense of relief; glad that she has since found some peace within his transition into spirit.

I wondered what it was like –  to live with a ghost.

Then I realized, I already knew.

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Day 314/365 A Blog Mostly Full

One year ago (one year and two days, to be precise) I announced that I was going to write a blog a day for 365 days.

You may ask…

What the hell were you thinking?

That’s a fair question – and one I have asked myself more than once. The answer is…I was drowning, and somehow I knew that writing would help me to keep my head above water.

I wasn’t wrong.

I wrote every day for more than half the year, but at a certain point I began to relax a little and to allow myself to take a pass, or two…or as it turns out…51.

I can choose to see this as a blog partially empty or as a blog mostly full. Personally, I think writing 313 blogs in 365 is an accomplishment, so I am going to go ahead and take this as a win…with the condition that I will keep writing. Stopping now would feel like tripping and falling with the finish line in sight. If I had 314 blogs in me, I am sure there must be 51 more kicking around in here as well.

I’ll find them. 

The truth is I wasn’t sure exactly when I started the blog (the precise date), but the first ones started showing up in my Facebook news feed as “memories” two days ago, so…there was my answer.

All this time I have deliberately avoided going back to read any of them. I honestly have no idea how doing so is gong to make me feel, but I am curious

Will the me from a year ago seem far removed from the me I am today? Will I relate to my own words differently now with the perspective I have gained?

Is it a time capsule I am really prepared to unearth?

For Dad – you’re why I’m here…asking the questions and seeking the answers.