When Zero Was Not a Number

In the woods outside my window, it seems like nothing will stop this growing of green and the flurry of flashy red cardinals as they prepare their nests with their olive brown mates, who blend beautifully with the firebush, sparkleberry, and mesh of the passionflower vine. 

In spring, every day is endless.

I am not immune to all this wonder of squirrels munching on the tender leaves of a wax myrtle, a treat seemingly worth the trek from the hole in the leaning Live Oak across the longleaf pine and down the passionflower vine.

Frankly, it makes the human world pale in comparison but then, nature usually does. 

Here at the Apartments in the Woods, we have replaced watching the murderer among us with having to deal with mandatory online rent payment. Checks are no longer accepted. Not amazingly, emotions run high as if life itself, again, was threatened. 

Quite the welcome for a new manager who had been assured the online payment system for our 55+ community of 144 apartments was in effect, one of many untruths she will discover for truth is not always what it appears.

I don’t know the percentage of people who pay rent online but I imagine the majority of residents use the convenience, which was not true just a few years ago when the majority cohort was more like 75+ but no one lives forever. Nonetheless, their numbers are still sizable, including my 93-year-old neighbor, Sybil, who somehow still maintains her flip phone, despite threats from everywhere and everyone that it can’t be done. 

Although we have been neighbors (sharing a common wall) for 11 years, and true friends for the last five, I often forget Sybil is Sicilian and have to be reminded, which she does with pride. Round faced with a slight rosacea on her high cheekbones, Sybil is a clear-eyed beauty with flowing white hair, agile yet fragile as her petite body begins to fail her. 

Sybil is prone to one point of view on any subject (until she’s done with it), no matter the cost. She traces this to the island existence of her Sicilian ancestors who were faced with one invasion after another. Hers is a kind of reticence, which some have called stoicism, and with this visage, she faces all weathers.

Something like 30 or 40 years ago, Sybil decided the Internet was a passing phase and only last month did she admit that had “probably been a mistake.” 

To their credit, Sybil’s family is proceeding at her pace, in their completion of the online payment process, relying on the information Sybil provides, such as the documentation sent out by Apartments in the Woods Enterprises (AWE) for the online payment portal. 

AWE is to be commended for a streamlined and simple process. Residents who had never made any kind of online payment completed the process in about a quarter of an hour. It feels rather worldy, this being on the web, writing electronic checks for rent. 

Sybil is not so sure, although some days she sees its truth, yet when it comes time for her son, Paul, to complete the process, Sybil lies awake at night worrying about hackers, for she is well read and has an amazingly accurate understanding of the World Wide Web for someone who has only looked upon but never browsed or received an email. 

“It seems that there is still a problem with the rent,” Sybil tells me. “Paul is exhausted by all this.”

“There is no problem with the system, Sybil.” The words are out of my mouth before I can stop myself, clipped and cold. I’m tired of the conversation before it begins yet again, but I do better with “what’s the problem Paul is having.” 

“There is no place to put the routing or account number,” Sybil pronounces this as fact. “I don’t want Apartments in the Woods to have access to my checking account.” 

We have been having this conversation two or three times a day for the last two weeks, and I know where it’s going, but I also know Sybil vets her ideas with me before she shares them with her family, for reasons understood only by Sybil, but there is a lot of fear, too, always a tough subject, which is to say that I, too, sometimes get the wrong end of the stick. 

“Sybil,” I say, wincing at my tone of voice, not quite terse but close. “If Paul enters your routing and account numbers into the AWE system—

“The WHAT?” Sybil begins to talk over me, thankful for the tangent. “I don’t even know—

“Sybil, stop. Just. Stop. Talking. Over. Me.” And finally, she does. “When you write a check for your rent, isn’t the routing number and the account number on the check? Yes or no.” 

“Yes.” 

“So, Paul is going to enter that same information into the online system. It’s an electronic check rather than a paper one. That’s it. Nothing more.” 

“Okay. I’m fine with that. But we’re going to use a credit card.” 

“You do you, Sybil, but know there will be at least a 3% charge for using your card. That’s about $30.” 

“Paul says five or 10 dollars,” Sybil fires back.

“He’s wrong, just wrong.” 

We are both so over this conversation, but we both know it’s not yet resolved. Sybil is upset at herself, not for the first time, for refusing to have any kind of online presence over all those years. So many missed moments, those, but I’ve made that kind of mistake, too. It hurts.

At 93, both Sybil and her family are doing everything they can to maintain her independence. Increasingly, that means more to do for them and less for her. They love her deeply and do not mind, and Sybil is grateful, but with each task, there is one more thing out of her control. It’s such an uneasy balance for all of them.

Somewhat similarly, my body is far older than my almost 69 years, and I am ever adapting to maintain my independence. So, Sybil and I are each at an age where decisions close a door and not always does another window open.  

My heart is a bit sad that my tone of voice has been firm with Sybil—well, terse at times, if I am honest—Sybil, too, is a bit sad that she can’t write a check to pay her rent as she has always done for the last 17 years. For her generation, loyalty and consistency were just about everything in life. I get it.

As usual, I turn to Pema Chödrön to see if I can find something in her words for my frustration. I don’t want to repress it or reject it. I want to go to its core to see what I can learn from it and maybe help Sybil look at hers. In other times, Sybil has done it for me, in her own way, which is not mine.

Turns out Pema has a friend who talks about this very thing.

“As a way of working with our aggressive tendencies, Dzigar Kongtrül teaches the nonviolent practice of simmering. He says that rather than ‘boil in our aggression like a piece of meat cooking in a soup we simmer in it.’” 
Pema Chödrön

Not exactly the imagery I was seeking but I get the metaphor.

“We allow ourselves to wait, to sit patiently with the urge to act or speak in our usual ways and feel the full force of that urge without turning away or giving in.” 
Pema Chödrön

I am aware of the energy in “edginess,” or what Pema Chödrön refers to as “groundlessness,” and I find it attractive, that unknown. How to manage when I don’t have my feet on the ground, when what I know is not of worth to someone else or is not what they can yet receive, and I must be patient and listen in acceptance. 

“Neither repressing nor rejecting, we stay in the middle, between the two extremes, in the middle between yes and no, right and wrong, true and false.”  
Pema Chödrön

Most of my life I was a “fixer,” offering the obvious solution only to have it rejected because the choice was not mine to make. Not everyone comes to change the same way or at the same pace. Patience in every moment—to sit and simmer—although easier with age, it is no guarantee.

There is only one solution for Sybil no matter how many times we talk through what must happen. What is not an issue for me is a game changer for her but we offer what we have to one another, although it doesn’t feel like it’s what we need. I don’t hear anything about online rent payment until the fifth of the month, the last day before rent is late.

“I was going to have to pay almost $28 if I used my credit card!” Sybil has never been a stranger to umbrage. 

“So, Paul found where to enter the routing and account numbers?” I just have to know, which feels a bit unfair but somehow, it feels important. “He received a receipt by email, correct?”

“Well, if you can call it a receipt. It says, ‘Dear Sybil’ and then gives only my apartment number without which building. There are at least four different apartments with the same last three numbers.”

We talk about unique transaction numbers for a while, which is what is important for a transaction to take place between the two systems.

“But that’s just it. It hasn’t cleared my bank. There is no transaction.”

“Sybil, we just went through the receipt, line by line. You have a transaction number. The receipt says it was sent. That specific transaction was sent.”

“The bank has not received it. I’m going to be late on my rent.” 

“You are not going to be late on your rent because you have a receipt saying you paid it on the 29th.”

“But there is no transaction is what the bank is saying,” Sybil says, with a calm that is surprising.

That is a problem but there also seems to be a solution or maybe she’s been winding me up. I can’t say I might not do the same.

“Paul is working with the AWE manager.” Sybil pauses, pleased with her use of the acronym, and I find myself smiling. She goes on, “The account number was wrong.” 

“Did Paul enter it incorrectly?” 

“No!” Sybil snaps. Her son does not make mistakes. “I didn’t give him the zero.” 

“The what??!!” And for a moment I am as lost, if not moreso, than Sybil was when all this started.

“The zero in front of my account number on my check. I never use it. When I was in school, we were always told that zero isn’t a number. It’s nothing.”

“Let me put it this way, Sybil. Data is made up of nothing but ones and zeros.” I pause before adding, “that’s just probably adding to the confusion.”

“No, it’s not! I understand that. I’m saying that when I was in school zero wasn’t a number.”

“Zero is a number and it has value, Sybil. It may look empty but it’s anything but nothing.” We wait for a moment before I ask, “Didn’t you give Paul a voided check so he could enter the numbers?”

“Yes, but he said he didn’t need it because I read the numbers to him.”

“So, Paul had a check but he entered the numbers you read to him.

“Correct.”

“But he has now entered the correct account number into the system????” 

“I don’t know.”

This time I don’t go there. I look at the woods outside my window and tell Sybil I watched a goldfinch singing this very morning, sitting atop a still bare branch of the fire bush, yet another add to my birding life list. 

And Sybil who has taught me so much about the flora and fauna that is the woods outside my window begins to tell me yet another story about spring in some year before the Internet, when you could believe zero was not a number and not be bothered at all.

*Pema Chodron excerpts from Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, page 49.

A Murderer Among Us

A murderer lives in my apartment complex and has for the last eight years.

Marie stomped her 82-year-old mother to death, after throwing her down the stairs. Marie then encircled her mother’s body with all the things they had fought about: the gas money purse, the television set, various foods, mentholated rub. It would take some days to find both mother and daughter.

No one in our apartment complex knew about Marie’s past until recently, when she fell in love, so much so she told her beloved what happened just over 15 years ago. Predictably, he dumped Marie and then told everyone else in the complex that they could find Marie’s story online. He and a new girlfriend moved away.

The story of Marie falling in love with a man who leaves her for another is a repeat scenario, although this time there was no child that had to be given up for adoption, but falling in love seems to be the catalyst for Marie to stop taking her bipolar medication and to begin grasping at whatever story will give her oxygen: she was raped, she wasn’t raped; she’s a danger to others, she’s not a danger to others; she loves everyone, she doesn’t love anyone.

“I’m not a danger to myself or others but I guess I am” is what Marie told the judge at the sentencing hearing for her mother’s murder. Marie is and is not a danger, often simultaneously, a reality whose boundaries only she can perceive. The rest of us draw different lines in the sand that she crosses almost daily.

We call the police, record and video her outbursts and send them to the apartment complex managers but mostly, we wait until she injures herself or somebody else as she systematically destroys her own apartment.

Every day is pretty much the same with Marie. Sometimes the police come, sometimes not, and other times it’s the sheriff, whoever draws the short straw is what it feels like. “I’ll f**cking kill her (or you)” is a favorite rant as Marie asks for money or to borrow a phone that she will never return.

She is being evicted and sometimes she knows this but mostly she just tells us “this is “MY f*cking neighborhood.” We really are all she has but we don’t want her, and she doesn’t want us, either, yet we all need a place to live.

Because she’s leaving, Marie gifts her neighbors with used deodorant, perfume or dead batteries, delicately placed on the tiny shelves beneath the message blackboards outside resident apartment doors. It’s not that she’s not crying for help or that we don’t hear her. A torn window screen hangs from one of the window panels of her second story apartment, like a flag that just can’t catch a breeze.

About every four or five days, she is taken to a mental health facility where she is held for 72 hours and then released. Her own father and his wife, now in their late 80s, are so scared of her they sold their house and moved into an assisted living facility. They don’t want to be beaten to death during a psychotic outburst, and they no longer know how to help her.

With me, Marie keeps her distance. She waves whenever I drive into or out of the parking lot. I suspect she knows that eight years ago I figured out her story, when I was thinking about putting together a writers group. Marie was rather excited about it and told me her psychiatrist was, too. There are many solid reasons I never started that writing group, but it would be a lie to say that Marie was not the major one.

Eight years ago the story of Marie was more prominent on Google with pictures of the family home and sidebar stories about her activist mother. It was a tragedy, the headline read, and it still is but this time—so far—no one has died. We have two weeks until Marie leaves us for nowhere and anywhere. In either direction lies homelessness.

We do the best we can with who we are in any given moment, which doesn’t mean we choose right or wrong, even when either is evident. Life is not that clear cut, and there are always consequences. Choices are not words alone but actions, too; together, the best and worst in us.

UPDATE 4/13/21: Marie was evicted effective April 2 but not before there was a small fire in her apartment, perhaps accidentally started, perhaps not. Nonetheless, that was the last access Marie had to her apartment. In the waning hours of April 1, she sat outside her apartment, leaning against the door of what had been home for eight years. I don’t know how long she stayed, only that she is gone to the streets, maybe jail, possibly the mental health center but she can’t come home anymore.

All Right Will Never Be the Same

My primary care physician and I are having our usual conversation when she says, “If you didn’t do what you are doing, you would not be living on your own. Others would be caring for you.”

“Thank you” is all I manage to reply. There are so many facets to what she said. Later, I tell a friend who responds, “that’s so powerful.” It is indeed.

My mind’s memory reels spin, searching for July 2015, days before the surgery to decompress my spinal cord and prevent quadriplegia–this time. I’m told to stay at home and “whatever I do, don’t fall.” So, I don’t.

My stagger resembles a drunken Frankenstein’s monster and more than once, my scrambled eggs end up on the floor, as signals short-circuit. My limbs are less and less.

I meditate a lot and dream, vividly.

I am in a surgery where all the instruments, table, and equipment are white light in a brown paneled room. Dressed in a hospital gown I sit on the surgery table, legs dangling over the side. I’m not alone.

 Maurya sits next to me, also dressed in a hospital gown, legs dangling over the side. We talk about the surgery, as if she were still alive but she is not so our conversation is the sense of speech.

 “But I will make it through, right?” I remember repeating the question as she leaves, taking some of the answer with her but not all. I will go through stuff, maybe a lot, and I will be all right, but all right will never be the same.

And it hasn’t been, knowing there is no recovering only progressing, and no one, even in dreams, knows what that may mean for spinal cord and autoimmune disease.

I “do” not waste days wondering or analyzing dreams. I immerse myself in the life I have, and the more present I am the larger my world. My days are never long enough for all I want to do.

Mindfulness is not a placebo; it is awareness, raw and unfiltered. Finding the worthwhile in the seemingly worthless, like Leonard Cohen’s cracks that let in the light, imperfect in an impermanent life, one experience after another. It’s in the unexpected that I find out who I am.

This latest round of medical visits began with my driving to Georgia with a tampon up my nose. Who knew that was a thing? This is my kind of unexpected–almost expected, now.

Every three months, I see my rheumatologist and this last Tuesday, just as I was getting ready to leave, my nose began to bleed. These nosebleeds are now chronic, a side effect of Sjogren’s syndrome.

Immediately, I pinch the bridge of my nose, deciding whether I need a light(L), regular(R), or super(S). I don’t want to change tampons while I am on the road so I settle for an R. I close the red door of my apartment, turn the key in its lock, and walk to my car.

My drive takes me through Buffy St. Marie’s “Tall Trees in Georgia,” long leaf pines, sprawling live oaks, and in spring, wildflowers in the median. In winter, a steel green blanket.

By the time I reach the Macintosh Clinic, my nosebleed has stopped. The two-story, red brick building with white pillars once had another life and usually I stop to admire its architecture but on this day I’m grateful not to walk into the clinic with a tampon up my nose, although I was perfectly fine driving through 8:00 a.m. traffic.

When I tell the nurse about the nosebleed she asks, “When you were at the light, did you turn and look at people like this?” And her brown ponytail swirls from side to side as she gives me her best tampon-up-the-nose look. “I would! I’d find a cop and look straight at him!”

It is only recently I have come to know that tampons up the nose are an actual thing, medically. And on this day, I discover that my rheumatologist (and later) my primary care physician believe staring is the preferred behavior when wearing.

I tell my 90-year-old neighbor, Grace, and she, too, wants to know if I turned and looked at people. I get it, I really get it. I’m almost looking forward to the next time, for there will be one when I least expect it.

And all will be all right and all right will never be the same.

Every Time He Shakes His Tail

I was in my late 30s, finishing my Master of Arts thesis, when I finally understood writing as a process.

Admittedly, it sounds silly but in 1986, the “how-to” of writing was threatening an academic tradition once thought unassailable, at least in the English department at a small university in the Rocky Mountains.

It was the invincibility of that tradition that drew me to academia and it would usher me out. We would both find out of what we were made. Different stuff.

For the first time in my life I was consumed by my work, in complete awe of writing. It was alive, no longer an academic exercise in research. And for that matter, neither was I.

My thesis advisor, Jeanne, was having none of “my new process” and rejected the initial draft of my thesis after reading the first two pages. No matter what I said, she would not read more.

Jeanne was a friend, ever patient with my enthusiasm, but her life was the academic tradition. She railed against the canon of “white male fact” and was integral in establishing a women’s studies program but she knew her parameters.

So, stalemate.

In response, I drank my way to sobriety and an eventual decision. It seemed I was fine with not graduating. Writing was what mattered and that has never changed.

But no story ends without a twist or two, if we are true in the telling. We cannot be part of a tradition and simply pull away without consequence for others or ourselves.

So it was that my hands were in dishwater when the telephone call came.

“It’s Jeanne,” my then partner said, stretching her arm toward me, cordless white phone in hand.

“No.”

“She just wants to talk to you.”

I shook my head and looked down at my hands in the dishwater, a master’s graduation ring on my fourth finger, left-hand, gold in suds. My mom had it sent to me. She was coming for graduation. I would not cheat her out of this degree ceremony as I had for my bachelor’s.

Other than my partner, few outside my academic life knew about the thesis stalemate or a tangential twist, my formal charge of sexism and breach of protocol against a tenured professor.

It began with a question, as these things often do. The graduate level course was American literature, 1930s-40s, and I asked why there were no women writers included. The professor told me there were no major women writers. His words reverberated throughout the department.

His breach of protocol was reading the student evaluations before submitting his final grades. The professor all but grabbed them out of the office secretary’s hand, saying he knew “they would be good.”

I was the only graduate student to challenge him in class and in my written evaluation of his course. Accordingly, I was the only one to receive a B, everyone else an A. It is the only B on my graduate school transcript.

Confident in his tenure, the professor never denied any of the charges and a committee of his peers ruled against me, which proved to be the catalyst for a department showdown.

A number of professors threatened to bring my complaint before the entire department for a vote:  to overturn my grade (copies of my coursework were made available); to end the exclusion of women writers from all courses;  to censure the professor for breaching University protocol regarding student evaluations.

The vote never happened.

The head of the department removed that course from the professor’s teaching roster. He never taught in his area of emphasis again. The student evaluation procedure was completely revamped and finally, there was a review of department courses, something many members had been fighting for, including Jeanne.

My grade remained a B.

“You can appeal this decision, of course,” the department chair told me. Very carefully, he explained the process.

I nodded, hoping my tears would not spill over. Some part of me knew my grade was no longer the point, although it had been the initial pain.

“What you need to remember is that whenever he shakes his tail, this issue will make itself known for years to come.”

And it did for the rest of the professor’s life or so I am told.

Jeanne was not among the professors who outwardly supported me but for all of us there is more than one bridge too far in life. At least that has been true for me.

Of course, those were not my thoughts as I stood at the sink with my hands immersed in what was left of the soapsuds. Mostly, I thought about the many differences between my mother and me, specifically that 1986 MA class ring.

I took the phone call from Jeanne.

I did not really “defend” my thesis but ours was a lively discussion regarding writing and women. Some 25 years later, a thesis committee member told me there was some concern about my not defending the thesis.

KMHuberImage; oneness; St. Mark's Refuge FL

Jeanne knew I would travel a road not hers but she sent me with love (and a degree) nonetheless. As firmly, she stood in her truth, too, a world of the Venerable Bede, tawny port, and women finding their own way.

In the year of Jeanne’s death, she asked me to teach a session of her graduate-level women’s studies course, the one that gave me the idea for my thesis. It remains one of the greatest honors of my life.

The last time I sat with Jeanne was in the dark hours of a Wyoming winter morning, selecting the music for her funeral, her singing “this little light of mine.” She thought it a good choice.

Me, too.

I have now lived longer than the lifespan that was Jeanne’s. I cannot imagine her in the time of Trump. She thought the 80s impossible, “the me generation.”

Not surprisingly, that last year of graduate school was on my mind as I listened to Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony. Like so many other women I knew how it would end but I also kept hearing, “every time he shakes his tail.”

That, I know to be true.

The Peace in Thinking Bigger

Who is not looking to live with peace of mind, to rest in the reality of every day, to frustrate the frenzy in favor of calm. No one wants to ride the roller coaster forever. It’s exhausting.

My way is Zen, which provides perspective but not escape. I don’t get to detach from the chaos–create an echo chamber–mine is to sit in the middle of life, to “think bigger” as Pema Chödrön says.

It is more than sitting in meditation or feeling the prana of yoga. Those are powerful, pristine moments, truly a touch of peace, but like Heraclitus’ river, each experience is its own. No do overs.

Yet in the experience is the yen to return.

Some days I sit on its banks, having finally found my way around a horseshoe bend or oxbow but it is to the river I return, always at peace, a place to think bigger.

Where I accept that all of life is an experience. I trust it. And each time I drink in these waters, I am slowed, as if in the sip I experience life to no exclusion.

Every time I go off on another meander, yet another promising tangent, the river does not slow for me but trusts my return. Of course, the river is endless but my experiences are limited to one life.

I begin at the river, mind and body balanced, but soon one is ignored in favor of the other, leaving me vulnerable and impatient, probably defensive, which is what I bring to the world.

If I am not feeling equanimity, I’m not giving it. No amount of positive thinking/action will make it so. If I promise what I am not certain, offer words people want but I doubt, the river will wash out those bridges.

I am back where I began. My mind pulls up similar events and while memory is not 100% reliable, I am reminded I do not step in the same river twice–not ever–no matter how similar the results.

I add to my experience bank as I sit at river’s side, purposefully not moving, to still the body’s sensations, even the ever-present numbness/tingling in my hands. They who never quite wake appreciate the stillness of meeting the dawn as an act of breath.

It is a recent revelation for me, having my body still my mind rather than the other way around. It is not that I didn’t know, it is that I did not do. My mind is more cooperative because it doesn’t have to fight for its turn. No more meandering…well…less trying to step in the same river twice.

We are living impermanence on a grand scale, and it is not always what we would choose, but the river is not selective in its offering. How we accept experience defines us. Do we meet the dawn or run the meander only to return where we began?

 The main question is, are we living in a way

that adds further aggression and self-centeredness

to the mix, or are we adding some much-needed sanity?

Pema Chödrön, Taking the Leap:

Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fear, page 2

Are we thinking bigger?

 

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?

 

 

One Storm at a Time

These past two weeks have been a bit of a hurricane for me, a storm within a storm but today’s post focuses on Hurricane Irma.  She took her time crossing Florida and many parts of the state are devastated and without power.

At times Tallahassee was in Irma’s path but she turned northeast, not before disrupting the city–enough to be under curfew for a couple of days.

Floridians know the hurricane season is far from over.

It may seem quite odd that I turn to the trees during storms but I do. Today’s post, I Talk to Trees, is about just that, specifically the small woods outside my window.

I offer a swinging bench to sit for a bit to read the full post on Aim for Even.

Wherever you are, be safe. There’s only one of you, only one. ❤

 

 

No Ground Beneath My Feet

I wonder how many times letting go is accepting what has already gone.

When reading a book, I have been known to pause at the end of a chapter. I like to sit with good writing and let it wash over me. Sometimes, the better the writing, the longer it takes me to finish a book, as sentence after sentence illuminates.

This past week has been one of letting go, recognizing that a beacon now shines in another direction. It no longer lights my path, and I pause in acceptance and gratitude but also in love and loss.

I change my routine and walk away from the written word. I call a good friend and say, “Let’s have coffee.”

We did, which was stimulating for my mind-body and lasted into the evening. I do not remember the last time I drank a cup of coffee, much less two.

I was awake most of the night but this brief foray into the world was not one I regret. All day long, there were smiles and no doubt a bit of giddiness. And when this moment revisits, it will wash over gently in remembrance.

Not all the week’s memories will be so kind but that is also the life experience. I continue to work with a group of women committed to a better world through the written word—we wrote a book together–through our resistance, we join a larger grassroots movement. That path is not without its obstacles.

There is so much light in this group it sometimes blinds me–I step back–before I can once again bathe in the light that is these women. Here, I know wonder again, the kindness of human beings and of what they are capable–so much good, which is so easy to forget.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves

over and over to annihilation

can that which is indestructible

be found in us.

Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart

This quotation is from a sign that Chödrön had on her wall before she embraced Buddhism in any form. She said it was her first inkling to the core of Buddhist teaching.

It hurts when things fall apart but in letting go— experiencing groundlessness–there is at the very least familiarity if not comfort. For me, the more I open myself to the impermanence that is life– exposing myself to the annihilation— the less I struggle with accepting there is no ground beneath my feet.

Groundlessness is never all dark. Always, there is light, be it a sliver or a beacon, and I immerse myself in it. I know it will not stay and that when it leaves, I will discover something I did not know previously.

And on mornings like these when I know the light is already gone— some lights are that bright— my heart is not heavy but joyful. Yes, there are tears– for light is always love–sometimes a great one. I know only gratitude in that it lit my path for a mere moment.

It will live on in the caverns of my heart, this light, for there are still shadows that reside there. Each time such a light crosses my path, my heart opens just a bit more to the world around me, no matter how difficult a moment.

I now appreciate that the bodhisattva’s greatest power is compassion. My practice is limited, of course, but I know of no other that can dismantle fear, perhaps even crack open a heart or not.

Compassion extended may be felt in days yet to come.That is not for me to know nor should it be.

Rather, I return to the wisdom of the written word. This time, May Sarton’s “loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” Of all this past week brought me, it was not poverty of self.

As I told my friend yesterday, it is Zen that opens me to my life. I’m not afraid, which is not to say I am fearless. My knees wobble and threaten to buckle from time to time.

I anticipate less. Often, I forget about expectations altogether so when fear comes calling, I respect its appearance of power but recognize its façade. And that is the result of only a sliver of light in my heart.

Imagine a heart full of light–not a shadow to be found–when risk and grace are intertwined as one and the bud bursts into bloom–one bright, shining moment.

Sitting Silence

In times of loss, I have always gone silent. To me, silence has always been a response but it is only in these later years that I learned to sit silence as a response to loss.  watching 0314

Certainly, silence has been my only response on this blog for well over three months. Almost daily, I posted on Aim for Even. There was the interruption from hurricane Hermine, and there was the first of two hip replacement surgeries.

The surgery went extraordinarily well but the patient lost a way of life, totally unexpected. Loss is often evident to everyone around us before we meet it face-to-face.

And so it was for me with feline EmmaRose. She appeared frequently on this blog, and while she lives still, she lives elsewhere.

My hospital stay revealed that I was no longer able to care for EmmaRose even beyond my recovery from hip replacement surgery. More and more, autoimmune disease dictates what is possible for me. In this case, accompanying anemia keeps my energy level quite low.

This partnership of autoimmune disease and anemia has been affecting my life for some time—quite seriously—yet I chose not to hear what my rheumatologist was telling me. Neither did I sit silence for counsel. Rather, I ignored or reinterpreted every medical pronouncement, an old behavior of mine. Emma meditating 0313

Only in losing EmmaRose did I sit silence. I knew the right thing to do and did it but the right thing is always so hard to do.

Is that because I ignored my intuition, my “gut,” until I could no longer deny it? Or is it because doing the right thing always asks something of me that I don’t want to do.

Good questions, and I will ask them all my life. The answers are time sensitive but the questions are eternal. They allow me to see me as I am; always, it is revealing.  

I sit silence, all eyes and ears.

And if I am fortunate, a bit of magic shows itself. I have never doubted the presence of magic. It stays hidden in plain sight, its last protection. As fast as this world whirrs, magic is missed.

So often, we chase what we will never catch. Where is the magic in that? As a believer, I tell you that once you have walked through a magic portal, you will never forget the experience.

Some years ago, I discovered an animal sanctuary, deep in the Florida forest. It is not a rescue or a Humane Society but a farm for medically needy animals to live out their lives in a family setting.

If it sounds idyllic, it isn’t, and to me, that’s what makes it perfect. Not too long ago, I was an administrative volunteer for this sanctuary because its mission is like no other. There are no paid staff and there are two veterinarians on site. And yes, it exists entirely on donations.

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Magic always wends its way.

So, EmmaRose, now medically needy herself, returned to where she once lived. Daily, a little girl sings to “her best kitty ever,” as a family helps EmmaRose adjust, again, to life on the farm. At the very least, the scent is familiar as is the love.

And I cry but my tears are more for the joy of the years we knew than for the years we will not know. Love always overflows loss.

No matter how dark the moment, there is always a sliver of light. If I sit silence, the world cracks open just a bit.

I no longer focus on the future, what I may or may not experience. The only life I know is the current moment. It has my complete attention. Even without death, some lives leave us. We never know when we must let go, when we must change.

Sitting silence is immersing myself in the experience of being alive, raw and unfiltered, whether it’s the loss of health or doing the right thing for EmmaRose.

I know that each loss reveals its worth in its own time. And then there is the magic. If I sit silence, I will not miss it. I will not go whirring by.  

Aiming for Even…With Wheels

Musing CatEvery post that appears on this blog bears little resemblance to its initial version. In life, there are best laid plans and then there is what happens.

However, this post is different than any previous, not in substance but in laying out a plan, making a commitment. That’s a bit risky for one who lives life from the eye of a storm more often than not.

My roundabout way is beginning to resemble clickbait so here’s my plan: I created another blog, aimforeven.com, featuring short posts–daily doses I call them–on living life with equanimity. It is a sister blog to this one.

I have given this much thought over the past two years but explaining this commitment remains difficult. And Zen Buddhism isn’t much on explaining. But this I know. Aim for Even rests so comfortably in my heart and so anxiously in my head.

There is nothing for it except to begin, as if there were another way.

Aimforeven.com is a number of moments–365–strung together as a series of blog posts in a cumulative year of days, if not consecutive. I’m working with the reality I have and aiming for even.

My view is from within the eye of a health storm that has waxed and waned for the last 384 days, more or less. Waves of impermanence do not count the days coming or going.

For that matter, days are not what they used to be for me, either, but I have not lost track. If anything, I’m more aware of each day’s presence, even if I don’t always get the order correct.

With each wave comes an awareness not yet imagined. It is mine for the viewing, if I will only look.

To sit within the eye of the storm is to witness the surge sweeping away life options while leaving possibilities never considered or usually rejected.

The current storm is swirling around advanced, late-stage osteoarthritis in both my hips. It is early days in this storm but so far autoimmune disease seems subdued, spinal cord weakness waxes and wanes.

It is the storm clouds of degenerative disc disease that thunder, threatening then throwing lightning surges up and down my legs. Within, rage ultimately gives way to stillness.

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It is such an effort to begin again. And I’m tired, really tired.

Within every storm is a sliver of light, and this storm is no different, if I will only look through the life lens. Perhaps it is my fatigue that reveals the world anew this time. I’m never sure what does; I just know it always happens.

Regardless, it takes a while to get used to viewing the forever changed. And there is always some sort of surprise awaiting me.

This time, it is “wheels” to access more of the world around me. Regular errands and daily tasks are easier. I may not have more energy but I am not so tired, either.

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This storm is far from over but I take in the view of what other options await me.

In the past, my mind set sail for Aim for Even only to travel off course or simply shipwreck in one convergence after another of my personal, perfect storm.

What is in one’s mind is not always within the life lens of experience. It has taken me a while to explore the view I have rather than search for the one I want.

Now, aimforeven.com is within my scope, equanimity in daily doses, a steady course through any storm. After all, no storm is without an eye with a view.

No day or dose is ever the same, even if the aim is. An evenness of mind opens not to expectation but to experience. Equanimity knows no enemies.

That is the course for a year of days on aimforeven.com.

Certainly, the posts are a way for me to reconnect with my online life. Just as my “wheels” allow me access to the world surrounding me, blogging connects me to the immediacy of the virtual world. I have missed both.

Join me on aimforeven.com for a year of equanimity. Stop by KM Huber’s blog for longer observations, the usual fare perhaps a bit more regularly. Each blog site features a sidebar link. After all, they sail within sight of one another.
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