more waiting

Mid-May I started re-reading The Master of Hestviken tetralogy and this morning I finished the last volume, The Son Avenger. (see Changing Perceptions) My reason to begin reading it again was that I remembered loving the descriptions of the natural surroundings and the inner thoughts of the characters living in medieval Norway. Or so I thought. What stood out quickly to me in the first volume, this time around, was all the waiting Olav & Ingunn had to do to get matters settled so that they could finally be together.

In my “Eternally Terminal” post I commented on the waiting again, and connected it to the waiting theme in my current life situation. Little did I realize that the theme would keep coming around again and again in the four volumes. Waiting. Some things cannot be rushed.

Like many of the other characters, Olav was not to have a quick or easy death. He had a stroke and could no longer speak or use one side of his body. His son and daughter-in-law did their best to care for him as he lingered on for a few years. When Olav felt his death was near he struggled, inch by inch, to drag himself outdoors near dawn one morning without his family hearing him. He wanted to see the fiord once more. He finally climbed high enough to find a spot where he could see the water and the sky and be with nature. The next two paragraphs took my breath away:

The immense bright vault above him and the fiord far below and the woods of the shore began to warm as the day breathed forth its colours. Birds were awake in woods and groves. From where he lay he saw a bird sitting on a young spruce on the ridge, a black dot against the yellow dawn; he could see it swelling and contracting like the beats of a little heart; the clear flute-like notes welled out of it like a living source above all the little sleepy twitterings round about, but it was answered from the darkness of the wood. The troops of clouds up in the sky were flushing, and he began to grow impatient of his waiting.

He saw that all about him waited with him. The sea that splashed against the rocks, rowan and birch that had found foothold in the crevices and stood there with leaves still half curled up – now and again they quivered impatiently, but then they grew calm. The stone to which his face was turned waited, gazing at the light from sky and sea.

What a profound moment of intense awareness… It reminded me how when playing in the woods as a child I never felt alone, sensing and delighting in the energy of the trees, my friends. I now feel I was led to read this book again so I could pick up on this message about waiting. Patient waiting is definitely not one of my strong points! I’m impatient for my father’s suffering to end.

I’m also impatient for menopause to arrive, because I’ve been assured, by older women who have been through this and by my neurologist, that my hormonally triggered migraines – and they are the worst of them – will disappear. Every time I go several months without a period my hopes climb a little higher, only to be dashed as they were yet again last night.

Both these things I wait so impatiently for are part of nature. Maybe like Olav I can learn to become more aware of all of nature waiting with me. To let nature calm me down and soothe my frustrations.

Poor Olav. When his family discovered him missing they came looking for him and when they found him unconscious they carried him back to his dark little bedroom and there he died a couple of days later. They meant well…

eternally terminal

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
wheelchair ramp built by my son and my brother-in-law ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.

Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
woodland garden ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!

Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
dianthus ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.

So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
captain’s bell ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!

Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.

Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
spruced up space to store canned foods ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it.  🙂

In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!

The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
potted succulents on stone wall built by my dad ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

by the sea

It’s been another rough week – will things ever settle down? Dad is not doing well at all and seeing him in so much pain, or else so drugged up that he’s incoherent, leaves me with a pit in my stomach as I stay helpless to relieve his misery. It’s at times like this that it seems like being there couldn’t possibly be enough, although everyone tells me that it does make a difference.

It’s way past my bedtime and I’ve been sitting here at the computer emailing family… And fiddling with a different theme and name for this blog. As if that would change anything. Edge of the Sea suddenly sounded so sharp to me, like the edge of a razor, or the edge of doom, or the edge of night. By the Sea sounds so much softer and comforting. I simply couldn’t rest until I changed it.

None of life’s strings can last
So, I must be on my way
And face another day

Now the darkness only stays the night-time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always going to be this grey

All things must pass
All things must pass away

~ George Harrison
♫ (All Things Must Pass) ♫

Eyjafjallajökull

photo by David Karnå
Eyjafjallajökull – Image: David Karnå

Watching the news last night, about all the flights grounded because it is too dangerous to fly through volcanic ash clouds, got me thinking… Years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

One of the things I loved about reading Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken was how Sigrid Undset portrayed the characters waking up in the middle of the night and knowing what time of night it was by the subtle sounds they heard outside and the feeling they got from the depth of darkness around them. Imagine being that in tune with the earth!

In Jane Smiley’s book, The Greenlanders, a mother poignantly explains to her son why his grandfather doesn’t have to do any chores:

After a long day, folk rest at night. After a long summer, folk play games and sit about in the winter. After a long life folk sit about the fire and stay warm, for the chill of death is upon them, and even the thickest bearskin can’t keep off the shivering.
~ Jane Smiley
(The Greenlanders)

Life is a mixture of positive and negative things, a delicate balance. On a walk in the woods we see the process of death and decay right along new growth and mature life. It’s more natural than a garden, where unwelcome plants are weeded out, and dead ones discarded as soon as possible. Once we went to a butterfly conservatory where my young friend asked a curator how long the butterflies lived. Usually a day or so was the answer. What happens to the ones that die? They’re swept up every morning. So all we see is the beauty, the dying part is hidden from our awareness.

I’ve been hesitant to blog the past couple of weeks because so many “negative” things are disrupting the rhythm of my life, and it seems a shame to whine about it. But perhaps negative things can be discussed without whining? More as part of the ebb and flow of life? Sometimes I think we pay a price for trying to carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe we need to go to bed when it gets dark early, maybe we were meant to sleep more in the winter. Maybe we need to accept the universe and stay home when Mother Earth says we should not be flying…

Our little spaceship creates some very big dark clouds sometimes. So why should we expect to sail through our lives without limits on our plans and our share of disappointments and grief to endure? Yes, it would seem I’ve got a rather large dark cloud following me lately, but in the words of my favorite songwriter…

Isn’t it strange how we move our lives for another day
Like skipping a beat
What if a great wave should wash us all away?
Just thinking out loud
Don’t mean to dwell on this dying thing, but looking at blood –
it’s alive right now, deep and sweet within, pouring through our veins
Don’t beat your head, dry your eyes
Let the love in there
There are bad times, but that’s okay
Just look for love in it

~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Pig) ♫

gaia community shutting down

To live is to change, to acquire words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know.
~ Barbara Kingsolver

Well, here I am again! Time to change things around again. This afternoon I was stunned to learn that my beloved social network, Gaia Community, will be forced shut down at the end of this month, because of the economy. When breaking the news our director, Siona, aptly quoted Dr. Seuss:

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.

But the tears came anyway. For a year and a half since I found this wonderful “place,” full of amazing like-minded friends, I’ve never felt happier spiritually, and never more connected.

But all is not lost! As the afternoon turned into evening and I chatted with one of the first of my friends found on Gaia, we began to comprehend that Siona had found another place for us all, Ning, and she set up a Gaia network for us there. It won’t be the same, but at least we will still have a place for group discussions and a place to stay linked to one another. For those of us who like to blog she suggested WordPress. So this is where my blogging will land after all!

I will be adding my old blog posts from Gaia to WordPress over the next couple of weeks. The only thing I haven’t figured out yet is where I can keep my quote collection. Oh, and how to add pictures to this blog. But surely I will figure something out sooner or later. For now I must turn in for the night…

changing

Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

~ Stevie Nicks
♫ (Landslide) ♫

I have put on thirty pounds since my husband survived a major heart attack and triple by-pass surgery two and a half years ago. A symptom… of what? Stress? Middle-age? Less than a month after the heart attack, my already frail and declining father fell and broke his pelvis, femur and a few ribs. He has since been confined to a wheelchair. Neither one of them wants to exercise… We won’t even go into the healthy eating question… A couple of weeks after that my son was hospitalized with an antibiotic-resistant infection, and in the course of treating that it was discovered that he has diabetes. No family history of diabetes. And eight months after the heart attack I had a highly suspicious (false positive) mammogram followed by the ordeal of a stereotactic biopsy and waiting days for the, in the end, negative result…

Last summer we went to a big family reunion at Shenandoah National Park where I made friends with my “stepsisters-in-law” as we spent four days hiking in the woods together. It felt so good to be active and immersed in the natural world! It began to dawn on me just how sedentary my life had become, the exact opposite of the changes in lifestyle I had started hoping for after the cardiac wake-up call.

spring 2009 ~ Shenandoah National Park, Virginia ~ bear we met while hiking

Last week I was food shopping and a special interest magazine on heart-healthy living caught my eye. Thinking it might have some helpful recipes I bought it, but inside also found an article on strength building exercises. As I read the instructions and studied the pictures I thought to myself that the exercises were too simple and easy to offer any challenge and have any benefit. Well…

This morning: “Stand with feet just wider than shoulders, toes turned out slightly. Slowly bend torso to the right, bringing right arm toward ground and left arm toward sky. Hold for 1 count and return to start. Do the given reps (5-10), then switch sides.” As I lifted my left arm toward the sky for the first rep it ached, oh so miserably, from that simple stretch! (I shoveled snow yesterday and it didn’t bother my arms – hmm…) I stopped at 5 reps and switched sides, right arm ached, too, but not quite as much. There were six more exercises and they stretched all kinds of long neglected muscles. Some of the exercises call for weights, too. Looks like I now have myself a workout to add to my walks!

I love to walk, especially in the woods. My friend Kathy, whose blog inspired me to begin this blog, wrote a lovely blog post, Why I won’t (usually) go cross-country skiing with you, which touches beautifully on the subject of meandering mystical nature walks vs. cross-country skiing (or for me, brisk hikes) in the woods. (I’d love to try snowshoeing one day.) I think both are needed for body-mind health.