Shadow and Light Snowscape
Doodle Dogs resting in tandem!
Sometimes it is the confusing imprints left on our hearts by life's surprising twists and turns, that allow us to look at the same old landscape and mindscape in a brand new way. The dogs have certainly left their paw-prints on the snow outside the Gnome Mound. It is starting to look more like the surface of the moon than the serene canvases I had been viewing and photographing since the first snows of December. As my days become fuller, because I am thankfully able to be more physically active, I am aware of how much more there is for my mind to be irritated by. And so I am discovering that my mindscape is agitated with new thoughts, concerns and anxieties, that had not been there before. This inner turmoil is not so different from the churned up snow outside my windows.
I already described a bit about my driving escapades in the last post. But there are other things that are stirring up my thoughts too. For example, how do I now get out of the house like a regular Mom and still budget my limited energy? (Without becoming completely overwhelmed and annoyed with myself and others that is!)
I was scheduled for a dentist appointment and Gordon had meetings he had to be present for. I had to do the drive myself if I wanted to keep the appointment. I drove down to Nashua. I found the elevator that Gordon had thoughtfully called in advance to find out about. (I had forgotten that the office was on the second floor and that the outdoor staircase was higher than average.) I never knew there was an elevator on the outside part of the building to get to the second floor offices before. I never needed to know. I made my way down what suddenly seemed like an endless concrete balcony, in the bitter cold to the office. I checked in at the desk. Hung up my coat. Picked up a National Geographic and started reading an article about neural pathways and bionics for people with spinal chord injuries and amputated limbs. I wondered about how these kinds of scientific breakthroughs might help people with neurological disorders like mine someday too. As I waited for my turn, an older, presumably octogenarian gentleman came in. He too had a cane and was more than a bit wobbly. His hygienist came out to greet him with a smile, asked if he wanted to hang up his coat. He said yes, put down his cane and began to clumsily unbutton his heavy wool overcoat. I sat across the room watching him struggle, wondering why none of the 3 able bodied women standing near him were assisting him in removing the coat from his frail body. I was feeling frustrated for him (and for myself as a kindred wobbly cane user). I picked up my cane, gimped my way over to him, asked, "May I help you with your coat?” He thanked me as I took it from him and hung it up on the coat rack by the door. This added to the increasingly pocked surface of my mind, another anxiety. Why didn't these women see that he needed assistance? What if it had been me needing help. Who would have assisted me? As I sat back down and continued to wait for my turn I used my breath to calm my sudden anger and bring it back to a level of reasonable irritation...then forgiveness. They just didn't know. They probably never even considered that standing and taking off a coat is multitasking. They were not intentionally being cruel. They likely could not imagine how hard it is to remain standing AND take off a coat when your balance is impaired. How different was their lack of awareness from mine in not realizing there was an elevator in this building before? Being disabled or caring for a disabled person really shifts your perspective. After what seemed like a really long dental cleaning that started with me explaining why I now use a cane (MS) and my suddenly "chic", decidedly European accent, (the one I didn't have last time I was in for a check-up, because I'm from the suburbs of Philadelphia and my brain was functioning differently then!) all went well. My teeth are very healthy!
I wandered back down the length of the balcony of the office building to the elevator, got back into the car for the 25-minute drive home and thought about Belin. I knew she needed some zip up hoodies because she is having difficulty lifting her arm and getting shirts on over her head because of her brachial plexus injury. I decided I felt "ok" still, so I could stop at Kohl’s on the way home. After all, the Jr.'s department is directly to the left of the entry doors. I found a handicapped parking spot…but not one in front of the set of doors I wanted to go through. So I had to walk further than I had intended. I shopped in a way that was new for me. I had to keep focusing on “hoodies only” and deny myself the pleasure of browsing through anything else on this day outside of the Mound. But I was on a mission with limited energy. I was able to carry the tops in my left hand (which gradually became numb from holding them) and walk over to the registers leaning a bit more heavily on my cane than when I entered 15 minutes before. The line was long. There were not enough cashiers for the number of customers. The head cashier made an announcement over the loudspeaker asking for back up. I stood there for just 10 minutes waiting, but in that time that felt eternal, I could feel the energy being sucked out of me. As I stood there my left hand became heavier and more tingly by the second. My back was beginning to cramp up. This happens when I become fatigued and then my neurons don't communicate as well with my legs and feet...making walking pretty difficult and hampering my ability to speak clearly. I was scared I wouldn't be able to make it back to the car without assistance, and not sure anyone would understand my impaired speach if I did ask. I had to self-talk in my mind, just like with driving. “You can do this, you are doing this…just 2 more people ahead of you…just one more guy.” The cashier cheerfully fired the requisite questions at me: “Do you want to keep the hangers? Do you want to open Kohl’s card? Is it getting any warmer out yet?” And I leaned against the counter, smiling as politely as possible, declining the additional weight of the hangers to carry out to the car with me, the charge card I do not need and could not imagine standing up another minute let alone 10 to fill out the application for. I nodded and mumbled something about the weather, wondering how it was possible she could not see the desperation in my eyes, the slump of my body, the desire to just pay for the freakin' clothes, slowly amble across the parking lot to the handicapped spot that was too far away (but the only one available when I arrived) and sit in my car for 10 more minutes of rest before attempting to drive another 20 minutes home. Again. My breath and awareness carried me through the rising frustration, irritation, physical discomfort and growing fatigue and soothed me enough to recognize that this young woman could not read my mind, she was busy with a long line of other people. She was doing her job with a cheerful countenance. There is no crime in that! If I had not been self-absorbed in my own momentary suffering, I would surely have been grateful for her smile.
I made it home safe and sound, hung out with Belin for a bit as she was home resting on pain meds and had a cup of tea. And then I crashed for a while. Just zoning out snuggled in my bed, flanked by a doodle and a poodle. I replayed the morning's adventure and thought about the compassion that was lacking when I was feeling tired and irritable. How judgmental I was of others. I was recognizing areas of my heart/mind that I really need to work on; patience, and compassion, not just toward myself (the qualities I had been cultivating at home over the past 5 months), but toward other people now. I always had believed I was practicing kindness, patience, compassion in relationships, even casual ones in the past. Being cranky and fatigued unveiled some ugly judgmental aspects of me that need some serious attunement.
I have the same mind I had before. But it has new footprints, (I mean besides brain lesions) new concerns, new anxieties, new levels of irritation and frustration whirling me about in many different directions. I am doing some old things again….traversing the physical landscape of my life; the same dentist office, the same stores, the same roads that I have known since we moved here ten years ago. But my experience of these familiar places and how to “be” in them is completely different now. In some ways I am starting over. I am beginning to reassess every situation and relearn how to navigate the world as I knew it, on new terms. Not just the actual topography of places, but my inner mindscape, the way I think about things, the way I respond. I am searching for the footfalls that will take me where I want to go. I am struggling to discover how to simply "be" amongst the chaos, until I can find my way with more ease and true kindness again. (Realizing too that once I think I know the path, it will surely change, like the pesky staircases at Hogwarts castle!)
My inner world may be slightly shaken up right now, and maybe yours is too, with your own "stuff" but the lives of the people of Haiti have been tossed about in terrifying ways most of us can barely begin to imagine. Please consider a generous donation to assist our brothers and sisters in Haiti. You can find a bright red link at the top of the side bar of this blog that will direct you to organizations that are doing their part to be aid them, won't you help too?
*If you are interested in learning more about meditation and looking for some terrific mindfulness resources join the sacred community over at my friend Jan Lundy's blog Awake is Good, for her on-going 28 Day Meditation Challenge.