Monday Morning 9 AM Social

Grace and I talk a lot about community (or lack thereof) within our apartment complex. There are four buildings, perhaps pockets of community within each, but together, we are factions.

Management sends out a monthly calendar of clubhouse events. Every Monday, there is a 9 a.m. social and has been for as long as Grace and I can remember. Her memory is encyclopedic.

Grace and I share an apartment wall. As she says, “it makes a difference if you know who is on the other side.” So, we decided to find out what a Monday morning social is rather than just surmising.

We meet outside the clubhouse, telling each other how nice we look, and we do. We have brought our own beverages, mine a lime-green insulated cup and hers, a silver thermos, which she raises as she whispers, “community coffee,” a flash of the ironic in her smile.

Ruddy-cheeked and wide-eyed at the world, she is captivating at 90, 20, 50, or 70. Tai chi three days a week. At 66, I am the one with the walker and “black tea,” now conspicuous in its lack of a label for the occasion.

“What does that say about me?” I ask both of us.

We are friends with rhetorical questions, Grace and I; they usually begin or end our conversations. We have little regard for answers, they of the limited run, always replaced by another question.

So on this Monday morning we are open to what we meet in the “kitchen area” of the clubhouse, three women intensely involved in a card game using a star-shaped board with pegs.

Five bid each other “hello,” and three return to their play. Grace and I choose a table in the middle of the room, and I take my walker to a side wall. All other tables are empty.

“Is this it?” Grace asks.

“I think so.”

We had given considerable thought not to arrive early (with Grace, one is never late) but as it turns out, we were on time. We had come to be social, which was not to interrupt the game. Their chatter immediately resumed after “hello” with counting and card shuffling.

Grace and I kept our voices low as we sipped our beverages, telling stories we had left untold during the visits to each other’s apartment, when talking over the phone, or sitting on the wooden bench outside our three-story, white stucco building with red shutters.

It was as if we were meeting for the first time, and that may have had something to do with our age difference.

I look older than my years. Grace is curious but would never ask. That would be rude. Besides, she enjoys putting together pieces of life, moving them around for effect. Until Monday, I had walked around her efforts.

When Grace began, “I am not sure exactly what age span is between us….”

“I am 66 and you are 90.”

Her eyebrows shot up in surprise, and she let her breath out slowly, indicating the span with a spread of her arms, her arthritic hands still dexterous. Was it a bridge too far?

“I’m a historian,” I said, wanting worth I may not have.

She tells me a story of blackouts during World War II, of many nights sitting with her bed-ridden grandfather who said, sometimes, he wanted to die. Teenage Grace telling him he did not.

“My mother asked me to do it and I was glad to do it. I loved my grandfather.”

I don’t know where in New York State that Grace’s family lived but it was closed to an air field. With a bit of pride, she tells me how quickly she learned to identify the different planes and wing spans. Hesitantly, she admits “it was all a bit exciting.”

“It is the way of children, isn’t it?” I say, as if I know, but how else to get through a world war. And I think of Grace’s teenage angst buried in the memory of bombing drills and identifying warplanes.

I don’t know that but I have been reading many World War II war novels (The Women in the Castle) and biographies like Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II.I tell Grace about them.

“Well, without the women in the war…” Deftly, she drops in an ellipsis and lets it sit. “They did everything. They kept it going.” She sips the last of her coffee. “And then,” she says, as she opens the palms of her hands to the sky.

“It is time for women to come forward again,” I say. “And I think it is beginning to happen. This time, there is no going back.” I offer this with more conviction than I carry most days.

Grace looks at me for a while before offering “Yes,” with the finality of belief that won’t bend with the wind.

And this week’s Monday morning 9 a.m. social ends, much as it began. The players still playing but now in silence and with a smile, they say “goodbye.”

Like Grace says, it makes a difference to know who’s on the other side.

Are We Americans?

I write about change, which I do not find easy nor do most. We resist before we act, hoping not to have to change our lives. It always means some kind of loss but the longer we avert our eyes, the greater the effect.

Many other sentient beings are dying off (or being killed outright), unable to adapt to our immense presence. We are creating our own date stamp. That’s the global effect.

In America, it is our constitutional republic under siege. We are quite fond of that term, as if we understood its layers of complexity, its nature, by attaching to a label.

Currently, I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. One of the characters remarks that America is the only country that is in constant search of its identity. Who or what is America?

It is an ongoing question, and that’s a good thing. A constitutional republic is vibrant as long as its citizens are vigilant. We cannot look away, although we have.

If you have read any Hamilton, Madison, or The Federalist Papers you know whereof I speak. Lots of questions about this new republic and for what it might stand. And there are years of writing, beyond the 18thcentury, about what a remarkable experiment we are.

History reveals some really cool stuff about being American. It’s some of my favorite writing. We can be and have been something good, not exceptional but good. It’s just that we have averted our eyes, and without vigilance, freedom dies.

In less than 250 years this great experiment in democracy is in shreds. Without one country, indivisible, there is no republic. We need to take a knee in defiance to the one who would rule us all, if for no other reason than to defy decree in democracy.

There are no saviors on the horizon. That is fantasy. We can no longer merely man the lighthouses. We are the saviors we seek, such as we are. It gives us pause but we know it is ours to do.

There have been and still are remarkable human beings whose lights are brilliant and whose hearts are so compassionate that all of humanity benefits. These beings have always walked this earth and that they still do is a tribute to the human spirit.

We have many in America, right now, but they are not faces we readily recognize. Too often, we avert our eyes still. Old habits, ours, are dying very hard. We are at our tipping point.

There is “nothing more exhilarating than saving yourself by the simple act of waking” (Junot Díaz). Fine words but what to do? We do know. Awareness is basic to human nature.

It’s not difficult to discern the right thing to do. It means do no harm, and in response, our hearts open in ways that amaze us. And before our eyes the world is different because we are. It’s the little stuff, every day, that changes the world. It always has.

We want swift change, with a certain outcome, but that is the wand the illusionist waves, diverting our attention from what we are, a constitutional republic, a unique experiment with layers of checks and balances. The web we weave is catching he who practices to deceive.

No trick lasts for any illusionist, demagogue, or oligarch. That is the story of human history. Life bends back around, like a boomerang, in ways beyond hope. Every. Single. Time.

We cannot be caught wanting. The simple act of waking, being aware, means taking a stand, accepting that it comes at a cost. We take ourselves out of our wants and act for the need of all. Every. Single. Day.

That’s the compassionate response and its ripple effects form the future. Our way of life as a constitutional republic is revolutionary and always has been. That is America. Are we Americans?

 

 

It’s Not “A Thing” Unless…

I have been living beyond my means, again, which means a lull in life, writing becalmed. I’m shipwrecked, dogged daily by whether to stay with the ship, relive the storm that has passed, or let it go.

I know that life is one experience after another, including shipwrecks. When aground, why not explore where I am rather than reliving the wreck. I get that now, at almost 66. “It’s not a thing” unless I make it one.

I cannot claim this brilliance as my own. This sliver of light belongs to a trusted friend, cheerful in all weathers, especially during my storms. She’s my lighthouse.

I set to salvage operations.

Most of my writing is beyond saving, easily recycled. Momentarily, I anguish over the gap between blog posts, once an ego favorite for shaming. I made it “a thing” for years.

What seems salvageable are pieces of a pirate story, although grounded in place rather than plot–as always–as well, a pitch for a resistance essay that is all thought and not yet a word.

Neither is yet a place on a map still to be drawn.

I’m fascinated at the idea of writing a pirate story, which does not mean it will end up being a pirate story. I am not good at writing fiction. I know that. For years, every time I failed it became “a thing,” a true tempest. Shipwreck after shipwreck.

And then it wasn’t “a thing” anymore. I stopped reliving the storm and discovered that my elaborate exploration of setting was its own story, and the map began to reveal its treasures.

Not all my expeditions take place on the screen. Sometimes, I visit actual lands, like Spanish Hole, where some 500 years ago at least one exploration for gold turned into a quest for survival.

Familiar story, if not exactly about pirates, but who has not sought one treasure only to find another? Is that a pirate story?

Where the St. Marks River flows into the Gulf of Mexico is Spanish Hole, its secrets intact. And that is its own kind of treasure, too. Like writing a pirate story. Who knows what it may not reveal.

As I was writing this post my dad sent me photos, as he often does. This one is from his cabin on Treasure Island. And I realized, I had set sail.

It is not as if a life lens comes with a ready-made life. It’s just a lens.

Thanks, Leonard Huber, for the view. ❤

Of Bombs, Washing Machines, and Missions

In the early hours of Saturday in Syria, bombs fall, a first world response to do as we say and not as we do or else. Mission accomplished, whatever that means.

Later that same morning, my washing machine fills with water and stops, refusing to start the wash cycle no matter what I say or do. Sometime later, the repairmen (it takes two) tell me it is a Monday problem, at which time they will return to empty my washer of water and clothes to see if the machine is worth fixing.

I know a bit more about washing machines than bombs but not enough about either. Although I am at fault in evaluating one with the other, I can no more afford to replace a washing machine than I can offer a solution to world peace.

Why is that?

Somewhere in the truth of that false equivalency is an answer on whose surface I skate every day, hoping it will hold until it doesn’t. Like Saturday.

Prior to the arrival of the repairmen, and perhaps coincidentally, I meet one of my neighbors in the hallway of my apartment complex. I am on my way to guide the repairmen to a parking place. In actuality, none are available for all are assigned, some to people who do not live here but occasionally visit.

I am among the lucky who have an assigned space, by virtue of being among those who have lived here longest but I know that assigned parking does not mean having a place. Freely, the phrase “parking Nazis” is bandied about but no one is quite sure who they are. Just that they are.

In my cell phone conversation with the repairman I do not explain everything but I do mention parking Nazis in hopeful emphasis, for I have yet to be a cause of parking concern and don’t want this to be that day, too.

As is, mine is not to meet the repairmen in the parking lot.

“Aren’t you a Buddhist?”

It is Vicky, hers is a smoker’s voice, husky and helped by tubes attached to the oxygen cylinder lying in the basket of her walker. Her dog, Teddy, tethered to its handlebars.

“Well, I see myself more as Zen.” Why I never just say “yes” to being Buddhist, I do not know. I just won’t.

“What does that mean?” Vicky asks, wary that I might actually try to explain. I can all but see the amount of oxygen increase in her transparent nose tubes.

KMHuberImage; oneness; St. Mark's Refuge FL

She is not looking to understand the many schools of Buddhism (as if I do) much less the distinction of labels. Just like me, she has only her kind of love to give, and on this day she is offering it, doing her best to ask about something she knows nothing about other than it is important to me.

“It means open to everyone.” And for once, I stop there.

“So, do you do tai chi?” And we find our way to conversation.

If I hear her, I will find something to give in response. Nothing magical, just helpful. She’s in so much pain, much of it physical, and I tell her about my gentle yoga practice. It does not take much to begin a practice, just a DVD I tell her, and she is relieved. Maybe it will be a way for her. Maybe.

While Vicky and I talk, the repairmen are in my apartment examining all the parts of my washing machine, where distinctions matter. What began on Saturday must be met again on Monday. As always, mission ongoing.

Only later do I remember the parking Nazis.

Spreadsheet Zen

Each year is a workbook of 12 monthly spreadsheets with columns and rows by category. That is how I account for my life. It does not escape me that what it orders most in my life matters least, money.

From time to time, a friend and I talk about the carryover on our credit card, having paid the monthly amount but not having quite enough to pay the entire balance. We might pay no interest but the sheet is not clean.

Yet, if I look beyond my current expenses, I project balances that do not exist. I cannot know next month so I confine myself to the columns and rows that I can complete. But this spreadsheet is not without its Zen.

Every month I mine my finances, drilling down to every penny, as I record each receipt. It’s not that time-consuming as I don’t have many receipts. There are advantages to being “almost poor.”

Not the least of which is letting go of living in lack. That in itself is quite a discovery, having enough, and exploring all that I might do with it. Working within my labels, and looking forward to it, something I used to dread.

It was not the actual labels of personal care or household supplies that confined. It was lack. Before I looked at what I had, I was sure the month would outlast me, as if it were a contest, which it never was. It was a spreadsheet of columns and rows, choices.

Sounds like spin, and it may be, but living in lack is wandering a wasteland with no way out. Life in an infinite loop. Everything is never enough.

When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you. 
Lao Tzu

I dive into each budget category, to its bottom dollar. It will always be 100 cents but shifted here or there, it becomes a receipt paid. It’s expanding the category, understanding that in some months the label of household supplies pays for personal care.

Rent remains rent even when it increases, like utilities, phone, and Internet. Bandwidth and a roof over my head are among the first paid. And then, food.

Life is not constrained by any label, and every time I try to make it fit, all I find is lack. It’s not the label, it’s my attachment to it. Best to roam the range of labels, keep my boundaries loose. That seems the Zen of it.

Dying Alone

My neighbor, Eva, and I share a wall. It divides our apartments, intersects our lives, leaving jagged the edges where we do not meet. One of those edges was Harriet, who shared a wall with Eva.

This past week, Harriet died. She was found in her favorite chair. It seems hers was a peaceful death but it required a police presence to prove, so for a while her apartment was a crime scene.

Our apartment complex is a 55+ community, and most of us are well beyond middle age. Death is part of the deal of living but in the tenor of these times, death by natural causes has to be proven when a woman dies alone.

We should have known is what Eva and I say to one another but we never know death’s arrival.

It is not that death visited, it is that death came and no one noticed. For days. And then, someone did.

When there was no answer on Harriet’s landline, an extended family member called the police. Later, Harriet’s son, Dave, arrived. To be fair, the police could get here more quickly. Dave lives an hour away

No neighbor checked on Harriet with any regularity, if at all. Eva tells me she is working through her guilt. She and Harriet have a history, and it’s a good one, but their daily strolls around the apartment complex are long gone, almost another lifetime.

Only a few walk with us forever. Yet, living in a community where moving out usually means either nursing home or death, it seems as if connection–being good neighbors–would transcend our differences. It doesn’t.

Harriet’s death troubles me, too. Like Eva, I know I could have done more, much more. I didn’t try hard enough. When Harriet’s chihuahua, Hal, was dying, I did everything I could except give Harriet the one thing she needed, support.

She was angry, afraid, lashing at everyone. Losing Hal was losing her connection to life. All I needed to do was listen. I don’t remember doing much of that. Nor did I see her often after Hal died.

Son Dave took Harriet to her appointments, picked up her medications, and brought her groceries. He saw to her needs but he never came just to visit. That was not their relationship, and both accepted their differences. They loved, regardless.

Dave is not a talker. He just gets on with the next thing, which rarely works out for him. Like the time he brought Harriet a new-to-her recliner. She loved overstuffed recliners and wore out at least three in the time I knew her. It was where she watched TV, slept, ate, and smoked.

She all but burned up each chair. Harriet had congestive heart failure and terribly painful neuropathy. Heavily medicated, she would fall asleep in her chair, cigarette still burning. Eva tells me Harriet had all but quit smoking but just a couple of months ago, Dave brought another recliner. It had bedbugs.

As Eva says, some people are born under a dark cloud, and Dave is one of them. So it seems.

Pencil-thin, husky-voiced, and quick with a southern-spun retort, Harriet never pretended to be what she wasn’t, which is not to say she usually told the truth. Like all of us, sometimes her lies caught up with her, but she held onto them as long as she could.

I could have offered Harriet more. I didn’t. I live with that jagged edge, but in pain is the expression of experience. Mine is not to fix anyone or anything but to meet people where they are, as they are, and walk with them long enough to hear their story. In death, there are no more chances except for the living. Thank you, Harriet.

Eva says we should go no longer than two days without calling each other. Okay, I say. Maybe Eva wants Harriet to know that she, too, is grateful.

Note: For a bit more about Harriet and Hal, you might enjoy “Love Lives in Inconvenient Places.”

The Best Feeling Ever

I always wander home, eventually, ever surprised, once again, that no matter where I roam, I am always home. “Wherever you go, there you are.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn). The hearth of home. Joy.

Yes, joy. No, really. Joy, in all of its rejoicing, delight, exultation. The best feeling ever. It’s always there. I just don’t realize it. I get lost. Why is that?

When does home become a foreign place? It doesn’t, of course. It is I who become a stranger in a new land, when ideal replaces real. When joy becomes only a brilliant light, unsustainable. Unreal.

Joy is not a momentary flash, all show. Joy is pure prana, the energy of existing. It is home. The trappings and trimmings change but joy seeps through any moment, no matter how dark.

Joy fills the cracks of experience, pulls the pieces together and seals them with grace. That is the hearth of home, no matter how the house might appear. Within are the rooms of a lifetime. The exploration never ends.

Still, I wander from time to time, and it is in impermanence that I wander– when change arrives–I go in search of what is gone but don’t yet accept. It is a fool’s errand but I go anyway.

Once I realize I have been running, I stop. That’s the easy part. It is at home that I am face-to-face with the change that sent me running. At a glance, it is minimal. New disc herniation at the base of my neck, a gnawing stomach in protest of ongoing chemical intake. Low sodium and fluid retention issues, maybe heart involvement.

The leitmotif of autoimmune-spinal cord disease, ever involving all of the body. Any newness wears off as soon as it is discovered. Where is the joy? Nothingness, groundlessness, may warm the cockles of my Zen heart but my humanness cannot help but hold cold.

No, I do not feel joy in this moment. I have to trust it is there, nothing more and nothing less, as I pick up the pieces, restructure my home, shake up one routine after another. Rearrangement, new structure.

It is very like a jigsaw puzzle. I know what the picture looks like. That doesn’t change. It’s the rearrangement of the pieces, the energy of grace, that gives me shape. I sink into my surroundings, the room that I occupy more than any other.

It’s comfortable here, my hearth of home, and every time I return I wonder why I ever left. My electric, adjustable queen-size bed, room enough for notes, naps, food, and stand for my desktop keyboard. The comfort eases the ache of arthritic joints, supports my spine and damaged spinal cord. Sturdy and soft, I am ever grateful for home.

From here, I reach out to the world and it calls back. Connection, the experiences of a lifetime. Easy to shut down but in absence, connection changes. Impermanence is inevitable; it does not pause because I do. Easier to stay connected, experience after experience, no matter what.

All of us have only our kind of love to give but I wonder if we know it’s invaluable, pure joy, light no matter what. Life is not limited to one lens, one look, one way. Maybe that’s what I find most difficult.

I don’t want to sit in the eye of any storm anymore because I know to come through is to be changed. That is the way of life in this dimension. It’s not so much what I lose or who I no longer am. Not anymore. It is change itself. That’s new.

A voice from within welcomes me to aging, which I cannot escape, either. There is a lilt to the voice that I recognize as joy and the grace of experience. They whisper trust, and I do. After all, they are always with me.

The caverns of my mind go dark but not completely. There are cracks in every experience. It is the light that wins, as a friend told me, which is not to say living in the light is ever easy. It’s not, nor is it meant to be.

For most of the last six weeks, friends have kept me busy, some on Words with Friends. Slivers of light, both friends and words. It was not writing but it was words. And a blog post here and there. No thing and no one ever stays but each is an experience, all mine.

KMHuberImage; writing

Each time in my wandering, I wonder if I will continue to write. There will come such a day when I won’t, and it is closer. It surprises me that I accept that so readily but I do. With each illness flare-up, I am less, physically. Winter is hard, even a Florida winter without a “snow event.”

A corneal abrasion in my left eye shut down my sight for a while. Corneal abrasions are common but this one occurred in a mishap at a vision clinic and nothing about this incident stayed in the realm of the usual.

Never one to stray far from the written word, I listened to audiobooks, fiction and non. In reading Fire and Fury, I was reminded of what it is to sit through yet another storm of our collective chaos but unless we immerse ourselves in this experience, we will never move through it. The longer we look away, the harder it will be to face who we are.

And in that, I find my way home, again, replete with new life lens, healed corneal abrasion, and if not new vision at least light enough to string together sentences, keep connections, and find ones anew. Still others yet to discover.

Everywhere I go, there I am.

Thanks to Leonard Huber for the Seattle area traffic images, both light and dark.