Rafiki and Einstein

One of my besties has a good friend who is in the midst of dying. At our age, though not a common thing yet, we will see it more and more. But like so much of getting older, there is no book that tells us how to deal with it.

Family is gathered close around her friend, as well they should be, keeping outsiders, germs, and stresses away from their cherished member as she makes the transition. But my bestie is one of those who absorbs people into her soul more than most. She wants – needs – to touch. It’s visceral for her, a primal need since watching her own mother take the journey when we were in our adolescence. She doesn’t want to intrude. Doesn’t even have to actually see her. Just wants her to know that there are hands and hearts along the bridge who will give her strength when she needs it. On one level, it is a gesture of love and friendship. On another, it is a grasp at a connection with the ones who are already on the other side.

We aren’t kids anymore. We understand that life as we know it comes to an end. We realize death is part of life. We’ve seen The Lion King. But it is hard to remember that life is a circle when your friend is on the exact opposite side of it.

Even if you were standing next to them, you know you can’t pull them back. It’s their time. God/Goddess/Universe’s choice, not ours, and we are in no position to disagree. We aren’t reaching out to pull them back into the circle permanently… We just want one more minute. One more chance to feel what we felt with them. Love. Friendship. Humanity. And to remind us that we are not permanent. A jumpstart, if you will, to our resolution for living each day to the fullest.

Perhaps that last is the most important.

My Ma died a long time ago. I think of her often, of course, and for many reasons. But more often than not, i am thinking of her because i want to tell her about something. Something i am planning, or doing, or have done, that is benchmark.

Benchmark = Proof that i am really living. 

With the holidays approaching, memories of lost loved ones are, for many of us, closer than any other time of the year. It’s easy for us to get caught up in sadness, loneliness and longing for times and people since passed. To get out of it, i sometimes talk to those memories. Like, “He Ma, do you see your namesake in there cooking up a storm? Is she amazing, or what?” Or, “Gram, someone just brought in homemade raisin bread to work. Lets toast some and spread it with cream cheese just like you always liked…”

Yes, i talk to dead people. What of it? If Einstein was right (And i dare you to say he wasn’t..) nothing new is ever created. All the energy that ever was is still here – Just in a different form. Who is to say that the energy, the soul plasma, that was our loved ones isn’t all around us all the time? Or that i won’t still be around my loved ones after this pasty, wrinkled, old broad of a body is long since gone? I choose to believe that the best part of us lingers, like a faint whiff of Shalimar after the theater closes, for anyone who chooses to breathe it in and remember.

Yes, i talk to dead people and i am a hopeless, romantic dork. So sue me.

Regardless, as the insanity of the holidays approaches, and the memories come flooding in… Or if you are someone who must face a loved one becoming a memory amidst all the merriment… Breathe them in. Talk with them. Talk about them to others. Bring them into moments where you are truly living. Keep it all alive so that they may continue being relevent. In a way, become legend. Don’t let the laws of biology stop it. Our physical time on this Earth is fleeting, but our soul can go on forever. Just ask my friend, Albert. He is an expert on energy. And really, isn’t that all we humans are?

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The System Went Live, And All I Got Was This Pay Check

It has been a hell of a couple of weeks.

The new career culminated in a system GoLive that was on par with the day after a county fair chili eating contest. In other words, a shit show. Apparently, that is normal. Being a clinical medical person up til now, i am not used to that. Because we had patients on the line, it wasn’t a shit show unless the patient actually, you know, shit. Basically, no matter how bad things got with computer issues or patient condition, you were running on adrenaline. You’d adjust and move on, with no time to think about it til later.

Without a patient to distract my brain squirrels, the big day was a lot different than a patient with an active heart attack. First off, instead of adrenaline, i was running on string cheese and hummus… Neither of which are a good idea in excessive quantity. Second, it was hard to drum up appropriate panic for the user who couldn’t find the exact study they wanted because it was listed under “cardiac” and not “heart”. (Most “critical issues” actually were, but sometimes these eye-roll kinds slip thru, and you have to hope against hope that the user is just having an off day.) Third, the level of noise when you cram nearly 300 people into a giant cubby farm meant for 125 is enough to disturb the zen of the Dalai Lama himself. Fourth, it is a painful irony that when you most need a day off / a walk in the woods / a visit with your therapist, you don’t have time for it.

I was cranky. I was frustrated. I was exhausted. And i lost count of how many times i talked myself out of ceremoniously exiting the building with a straight back and a one fingered salute on each hand.

But even in the midst of all that, there were moments that warmed my soul.

I came home one evening to find that my oldest weedling had folded the clothes in my dryer, even knowing that i am level 10 particular about laundry. I could tell she worked hard to mimic my OCD folding requirements. And i damned near cried when i read the note on top that said, “Love you, Ma. I tried my best.”

My son uttered nary a complaint, and required no extra requests, to get chores done. He even did some of my chores so i could roll into bed when i got home. And he did it all with virtually none of the snarkiness implicit in a 15 year old boy.

I received an after-hours voicemail from a user whom i had helped. It was a genuine and sweet thank you. It’s a simple thing, but the fact that she took the time after her own long workday to make a phone call meant more to me than she could ever know.

Friends and family have been generous with their patience. It isn’t easy to stay connected with someone who is socially running on fumes. But there has been no chiding for non-response. No nagging to answer the phone. Only the random supportive message or funny meme. It helped to know that i was forgiven without question. I couldn’t ask for better people in my circle.

There is still a lot of work to do. But i am better prepared for this than i was for the job in the beginning. I have learned a lot and acquired some great co-workers. And i survived the biggest hurdle of this new career: The not-real-shit show.

As things start to settle down and we can at least see the light at the end of the tunnel, where we get to work normal hours and have a bit of life outside of the cubby farm, I am reminded of something… Tho wading thru the last week felt like The Great Molasses Flood   (It’s a real thing. Click on the link if you don’t believe me) – An onslaught of unexpected stickiness and suffocating waves coming at a fast pace… Setting everyone back in shock and disbelief that this is actually happening for real… It’s everywhere and you can’t escape it… Oh-my-god-does-this-mean-there-won’t-be-any-rum??… Oh no! What a mess!  – In the path of the cleanup, it leaves a lingering sweet scent of a job well done.

Unfortunately, it also leaves sticky spots and bugs.

But at least it ensures continued employment.

Just An Everyday Sunday

Work has been insane, and i needed something that would totally take my attention away from it for a bit. Thankfully, i snagged a couple of great end tables at a yard sale a few weeks ago to team up with my coffee table, and all 3 needed a makeover, so i had something that fit the bill. On advice from The Creative One (My oldest weedling), i decided what i wanted to do and had bookmarked some videos on the technique i was going to try. I went out yesterday morning to get the necessary supplies, and spent a delightful half day sanding and base-coating the pieces.

I was up past midnight last night thinking about the project and how i was going to approach it. I have been mad busy with work lately and haven’t done much creating, so the excitement of a new project was hitting me like the first snowfall of the year. It was right before i shut my eyes that i remembered i was still missing one key ingredient.

So bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning, fresh out of bed, with only a teeth brushing to distinguish me from the living dead, i head out to the dreaded Walmart. I am surprised that i didn’t fall victim to Murphy’s law and run into some stunning love interest while i was looking homeless. That is usually what happens. Not today, tho. I grab what i need and start to head back when i remember that my son had mentioned yesterday that he was craving a bagel.

There happens to be a Dunkin Donuts next to WallyWorld, so i go thru the drive thru, grab us each coffee and bagels and drive back towards the house. I am about 4 blocks away when my son calls…

“Where are you?”

“I’m just around the block. Why?”

“I made you breakfast. I was going to surprise you and brought it to you in bed… But you weren’t there. I got worried.”

I start laughing. “I’m bringing breakfast home as a surprise for you!”

So i get home, and on the porch table is oatmeal and english muffins and limeade. I add the coffee and bagels. We feast and talk.

He tells me he has never been able to figure out what my Spirit Animal is. We agree that my middle weedling has Kermit the Frog for a Spirit Animal, but he says it changes to a honey badger when she gets pissed off. We discuss his grades, and i remind him again that i actually do use Algebra at work (He insists that Algebra was created solely to torture teenagers.) We recount funny family stories. I remind him that he needs to excavate the landfill under his bed. He waxes disdainfully on my preference for cinnamon toothpaste. We marvel at the beautiful cardinals flying thru the yard. We discuss the virtues of Chile versus other South American nations. He surprises me by confessing a hatred of minion memes. I impart a bit of wisdom on the topic of toasters. And he tells me a groaner of a joke…

“Hey Ma, do you know what a Splenda Daddy is?”

“It’s when you want to be a Sugar Daddy but you don’t have the money.”

He does the vaudeville smile&doublewave while the universe decides if it should throw in a “ba-dum tsss” or just let the crickets have it.

I couldn’t help it. I laughed.

All in all, a good morning. My projects are out on the porch drying. My chores are getting done. I’ve got a nice dinner planned. And i’m still smiling over the statistical anomaly that was my son and i getting each other a surprise breakfast.

Sometimes, even the most common of Sundays can be just grand.

 

The Prices of Wisdom

Shout out to my readers in the “I survived a half century” club. If most of the bits below apply to you, i embrace you in sisterhood, and even if we never meet in person, i’ve got your back.

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If you….

Have ever looked at young women with those cute little tattoos on their hip and thought, “Just wait, princess. It’s going to look like a Salvador Dali in 20 years.”

Have been forced to realize that trusting your body not to pass gas in public is on par with trusting a four year-old not to say anything embarrassing at a body-positivity festival.

Know there should be a name for that yoga position, bent over and legs crossed, we take when we sneeze to keep from wetting our pants.

Tho depressing, have accepted the fact that visions of sexy 30 year olds have gone from “fantasy” to “pipe dream.”

Have thought, in the midst of a hot flash, “Wouldn’t it just be The Shit if this were me transforming into a superhero right here in the cereal aisle?”

While reading on the importance of self-breast exam, thought to yourself, “First i have to find them. And then it would be like scooping half-set jello.” (Still worth it, but it can be like trying to contain an oil spill.)

Know exactly what level of lighting it takes to show off your inner radiance.

Self-prescribe a pedicure, decadent lunch, and a few hours of shopping for lipstick and books when you are ready to snap… And realize it is for everyone else’s benefit as much as your own.

Have never spent so much on shoes that were so un-sexy.

Realize that you were ignorant as hell when you said finding your first white hair on your head was horrifying.

Wear less makeup than you used to because the amount of spackle and Bond-O it takes to keep it from settling into your wrinkles became cost prohibitive and was starting to raise eyebrows in the checkout at the hardware store.

Say bikini and brow wax, but mean also toe, nostril, ear, beard, and/or that random little spot on your rib cage.

Know that you could still work it in a nightclub… But you can’t stay up late enough to prove it.

Accept the fact that you are going to cry over inspirational videos, cinematic death scenes, and most well-done public service announcements… And can laugh at yourself for it.

Have ever woken yourself up from a sound sleep because you rolled over onto a runaway body part.

Have removed all the granny-panties from your skivvy drawer, because you realized everything is technically a granny-panty now. No need to buy any specifically for that purpose.

Spend far too much time in front of the mirror, pulling your skin back to see what you would look like if you could afford a face lift.

Have a social media page full of baby animal pictures and silly memes whose sole purpose it to keep you from drinking.

Have ever wondered if God/Goddess/Universe has a crazy sense of humor or was just a sadistic bastard when they decided we should have to fight wrinkles and acne at the same time.

Have occasionally had those moments of wisdom and confidence that almost make all the above worth it.

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Love you, friends. Really Really.

Distinctive Similarity

Sitting on the front porch, cup of Lapsang Souchong, messaging a Brit friend of mine, and watching the remnants of Nate pass thru… Siri had been at my side, but then she saw a chipmunk and took off. I messaged this to my Brit friend, and then i got to thinking. A few Google clicks later, i discover that there are no chipmunks in England. Seriously. Zero. But i’ll bet they still have rodents that dig up the bulbs in their garden. He bet that his cats, familiar with chipmunks or not, would chase and eat one.

They don’t have groundhogs in the U.K. either.  But i’m sure they have some other kind of cute-but-destructive whistle pig.

I have friends in Australia… If i went there and saw a Tasmanian Devil, i’d be awed, even tho we have our own version of the “Trash Panda”, the American Raccoon.

I suppose it is natural to assume that all places and people are both the same and different. Parents work, kids learn, and politicians make rules that they don’t follow. But not all parents work an eight hour day and come home for supper. Not all children get to go to school. Not all politicians are criminals. All cultures have music, but each has it’s own melodic sound. We all eat bread, but indigenous grains make it taste different in different cultures. And we all tolerate idiots, regardless of what language we speak. Same in principle, different in detail.

Let me tell you a story:

During the Gulf War, i spent time in the Middle East. Even having a full schedule with my Navy duties, i still occasionally had time to explore. For example, a friend and i had heard about this great hole-in-the-wall Turkish restaurant on the edge of the city where we were temporarily stationed, and ventured out one night to go there. Now, the city wasn’t a large place, but somehow we still got lost. We ended up in an outskirt neighborhood after dark, and one of the local kids came over to us.

“My mom says this isn’t a good place for you to be. Why are you here?”

“We were looking for a place to eat that we heard was very good, but we got lost.”

He runs to his mom and tells her. She motions us over. She is stirring a big pot over a fire in what could essentially be considered a dirt floor garage. There are other women around her, and a whole mess of kids running around playing. Thru her son, who is maybe 8 or 9, she tells us we were nowhere near where we were headed, will never get to the restaurant on time and were welcome to eat with them instead.

We take her up on her hospitality. Some of the kids stick close by to translate. I ask about her recipes, her husband, her family. She asks about our children and what it is like to be a woman in the military. Someone starts playing music… Unfamiliar to me, but upbeat and pop-ish. Periodically, a young weedling will come tug at skirts. I can’t understand the words per se, but i’m sure it is something like, “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. MOOOOOOMMMMMMYYYY!” Sometimes, after this, i see Mom’s eyes roll, and then she looks at me and laughs. She knows i know what it’s like.

We shared a delicious, if humble, meal of lentils and flatbread. More talking and laughing and friendship afterwards because, tho of different backgrounds, the concepts of “Family” and “Meal” are universal. Tho literally on the other side of the globe, as women, as mothers, we are sisters.

As we got up to leave, we handed the woman money. She vehemently refused. Her son let us know that she would not take money from our children’s mouths. Hospitality was part of their culture, and the exchange of money wasn’t allowed. It wasn’t til we explained that we had been given this stipend by our government specifically for eating, and that it was not taking anything from our family, that she relented. We reasoned that our experience that evening was something every government should encourage. And then we laughed and hugged, and her son gave us directions back to our hotel.

I relay this story because even tho from two different worlds, the woman and i were the same. Different language, culture, lifestyle… Everything that, on first glance, would make you think we had nothing in common. And yet, we were both “Mom”, both curious, both building a bridge with a total stranger. Our children were dressed differently, would be educated in a completely different way, and certainly had different opportunities… But our kids were all loved, raised, and taught to be kind. She had likely never seen a chipmunk, and i have never seen a jerboa, but we both know a rodent when we see one.

Differently the same. Similarly different. All of us. Everywhere. We all have blessings. We all have problems. We all know friends and family and music. We all know bills and illness and assholes. We all seek the pleasure in little things. We all seek the occasional epic event. We all cope with politicians. We all deal with rodents.

But maybe those last two are the same thing.

First World Health Care

Looking at bills from my recent surgery, i have to wonder how so many do it. Manage to take care of themselves without going into bankruptcy.

I work for a hospital. Tho not in any danger of living a life of luxury, i am well compensated enough that i am able to pay my bills without juggling them. (Something i never had til recently.) I have commercial insurance that my employer subsidizes, and truly, my cost per month isn’t terrible. I had a short-term disability benefit to cover my salary while i was recovering. And yet, i am having to engage a payment plan to pay for surgery that was a necessity.

At just under $5,000, my out-of-pocket is manageable over time for me. And i am grateful. But what if it had been my daughter who needed it?

She is an hourly worker. A florist. Works her tail off managing a flower shop at a modest rate of pay that is likely a bit above average in her industry (A testament to her talent and diligence.) But her employer offers no benefits. She makes too much to qualify for a government plan, but not enough to afford a commercial one. She isn’t a slacker – She works hard, tries to live within her budget, pays her taxes – Everything we expect of an upstanding citizen. And yet, if she were injured, she would lose everything. The $25,000 of overall medical costs would break her for more than half a decade, especially considering the amount of work time she would lose during recovery.

I can’t imagine what it would be like if she had a child.

Everyone has an issue with those who are capable, but choose not to work and remain on the dole. But there are millions of people in this country who ARE working. Working their asses off. Doing what they are supposed to do. Not spending money on a bunch of frillies or drugs. Just getting by with the essentials.  And health care is off-limits to them financially. Yes, there are funds available. There are private benefactors who contribute to funding as well. And that is wonderful. But it isn’t enough to cover the gap. We have some government representatives who are fighting for people like my daughter. But not enough of them. We have health care providers who make exceptions and volunteer services on a regular basis. But they can’t cover it all.

We are trying hard, but still failing.

I have heard arguments for and against government healthcare, single-payor plans, pocket-pay and free market systems. None of them is a cure-all.

Yet another instance where we know what doesn’t work, but don’t really know what will. Or at least i don’t.

All i know is, having grown up without the money to have the kind of healthcare i enjoy now… Hell, the kind of life i enjoy now… to know how blessed i am, even as i realize that i am still far closer to the bottom of the food chain than the top… I want to be part of a society that provides help for those who are struggling in spite of their strong efforts. I want to be part of a country that says, “If you are working hard, i’ll help you any way that i can.” A country where children and the elderly receive what they need.

And a country where those of us who are able to manage without help remember that not everyone is as lucky. And we have to help look out for them.

Silk Impressions

My son takes me outside to show me something very cool…

At the bottom of our driveway is a spider web. Up at the level of the transformer on the electric pole opposite, it spans across the entire street and is probably 5 or 6 feet tall. It’s a real beauty. And in the center is a large garden orb.

We both stand and stare at the magnificent creation. I am thinking the spider must be very lonely. Here she is – a BBW (Well, BBS… BBWS?) in an enormous beautiful house all by herself. No egg sac, no little man-spider to share it with. I feel for her.

My son is thinking differently.

“So, Ma, if i start acting weird, you know why…”

I’m thinking he means if he gets the willies.

“…I was walking to the bus stop and the spider dropped down and bit me and i turned into Spiderman.”

“But, ” i say to my son, “That could be kind of cool!” I start doing my best Spiderman impression. Hopping around the street in a bad interpretive dance, pointing my wrist at things and making noises formerly only seen on the 1960s Batman TV show. Pow! Spoing! Fwoosh!

I’m sure the reclusive spider diva was amused.

My son, however, was taking this very seriously.

“Ma, that is not a good thing! He is filled with teenage angst! And he accidentally killed his girlfriend with radioactivity!”

I stand corrected.

Well, not really. I’m still doing my Spiderman dance.

When i am done with my Tony award-winning performance, we both settle under the web and tilt our heads back. Standing right under it, we can see the huge expanse of it as it billows in the breeze.

“It really is extraordinary, ” I say.

“Yea,” He responds. “It really is. I mean, how did it manage to jump and get the silk from the transformer all the way to the tree on the other side? That’s a big jump for something so small.”

We stare in silence and appreciation for a few minutes.

“Well, goodnight, beautiful woman.”

“Yes,” says my son, “See you in the morning…”

I wonder if he’ll be infected with angst this afternoon? And what will his Spiderman dance look like?