old enough to die

“Old Woman with Child & Goose” by Willard Metcalf

Once I realized I was old enough to die, I decided that I was also old enough not to incur any more suffering, annoyance, or boredom in the pursuit of a longer life. I eat well, meaning I choose foods that taste good and that will stave off hunger for as long as possible, like protein, fiber, and fats. I exercise — not because it will make me live longer but because it feels good when I do. As for medical care: I will seek help for an urgent problem, but I am no longer interested in looking for problems that remain undetectable to me. Ideally, the determination of when one is old enough to die should be a personal decision, based on a judgment of the likely benefits, if any, of medical care and — just as important at a certain age — how we choose to spend the time that remains to us.

In giving up on preventative care, I’m just taking this line of thinking a step further: Not only do I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.

~ Barbara Ehrenreich
(Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer)

A year after my cancer surgery it seems like a good time to mention a book that tumbled into my life at just the right moment. After my brush with a life-threatening illness, the ideas set forth in Barbara Ehrenreich’s book, Natural Causes, make a whole lot of sense to me.

I spent many years carting my mother-in-law, my aunt and my father around to those “windowless waiting rooms,” getting test after test, some of them downright painful. My aunt finally put her foot down and proclaimed, “Whatever I’ve got, I’m taking it with me.”

She lived to be 103 in spite of refusing all the standard tests recommended for her in the last years of her life. When she died, it was from an infection. After accepting treatment for a day or two, she finally refused treatment for that, too.

Nothing ever came of those countless tests.

In my own case, because my mother died of breast cancer, I have submitted to many “required” mammograms and wound up with three false positives, causing weeks of anxiety. Now I refused to have any more. At this point in my life I am old enough to die, and if I wake up one morning and feel a lump in my breast, so be it.

The endometrial cancer I wound up getting? Well, there is no screening for it. Irony.

Fortunately I’ve found a general practitioner who understands my feelings and treats my “urgent problems” without pushing me into a “medicalized life.” Barbara Ehrenreich’s book has all the facts and figures I needed to convince me that as a culture, we are indeed killing ourselves, or at least making ourselves miserable, in order to live longer. All these expensive, invasive tests have not increased our lifespans.

Therefore, I have chosen to enjoy spending whatever time I have left to me without borrowing trouble.

doubt

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5.15.15 ~ gull at Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

What we overlook is that underneath the ground of our beliefs, opinions, and concepts is a boundless sea of uncertainty. The concepts we cling to are like tiny boats tossed about in the middle of a vast ocean. We stand on our beliefs and ideas thinking they’re solid, but in fact, they (and we) are on shifting seas. Any ideas or beliefs we hold in our minds are necessarily set against other ideas and beliefs. Thus we cannot help but experience doubt.
~ Steve Hagen
(Buddhism: Plain & Simple)

Herring Cove Beach

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

One morning in Provincetown we drove out to Herring Cove Beach, where we used to spend days at the beach when the kids were small. The waves here on the bay side are more gentle than they are on the beaches facing the open Atlantic. When they got older they preferred the excitement of Race Point Beach. This beach is pretty rocky, lots of small stones, making trips in and out of the water rough on tiny feet.

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea
~ E. E. Cummings
(The Lyric Self in Zen & E. E. Cummings)

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

It was fun photographing the gulls sunning themselves in a different background than the large rocks they usually perch on at our local beach. The future is always uncertain, but lately possible scenarios seem to be monopolizing my thoughts, creating anxiety even as I try to stay living in the present. Spending so much time on the Cape has helped me restore a sense of peace with things as they are or will prove to be. It’s not so much a feeling of resignation, but more of an accepting of the inevitable flux and flow of life.

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
(Letter to Clara Rilke, March 27, 1903)

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Herring Cove Beach ~ 10.11.15 ~ Provincetown, Massachusetts

this old age

"Self-Portrait, 1669" by Rembrandt (1606-1669) Dutch Painter & Etcher
“Self-Portrait, 1669” by Rembrandt

Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to a man.
~ Leo Tolstoy
(Promises to Keep: Thoughts in Old Age)

Old age. All the facial detail is visible; all the traces life has left there are to be seen. The face is furrowed, wrinkled, sagging, ravaged by time. But the eyes are bright and, if not young, then somehow transcend the time that otherwise marks the face. It is as though someone else is looking at us, from somewhere inside the face, where everything is different. One can hardly be closer to another human soul.
~ Karl Ove Knausgård
(My Struggle, Book One)

This old age ought not to creep on a human mind. In nature every moment is new; the past is always swallowed and forgotten; the coming only is sacred. Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Circles)

days of darkness

illustration by Lennart Helje (1885-1922) Swedish Illustrator
illustration by Lennart Helje

Our governor has asked all the churches in our state to ring their bells twenty-six times this coming Friday morning, in memory of twenty innocent children and six brave women who were gunned down in their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut four days ago, last Friday.

As the chilling details of this horrific story have been unfolding we have been thinking of little else. We are numb, still stunned, deeply saddened. Our hearts ache for the first responders and for the parents, families and friends who lost a precious loved one so suddenly and so inexplicably.

As the light begins to return on the winter solstice, as the bells are ringing, as prayers, sympathy and blessings continue to be offered, may the light of comfort and healing shine a little brighter and a little longer in the days to follow.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey.
~ Wendell Berry
(Standing by Words: Essays)

light

“The Cat” by Hans Thoma
“The Cat” by Hans Thoma

We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When Light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Good bye –

A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision to the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –

And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –

The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –

Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.

~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #428)

Healing Back Pain Naturally: The Mind-Body Program Proven to Work

7.4.11 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
Tim calls this the Mr. Rochester house, Thornfield Hall ~ 7.4.11 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

It’s been a while since I’ve done any blogging, but my back has been getting better by the day. I spent a good deal of time reading Healing Back Pain Naturally: The Mind-Body Program Proven to Work, and Extraordinary Healing: The Amazing Power of Your Body’s Secret Healing System, both by Art Brownstein, MD. The good doctor’s advice and suggestions were just what I needed and were taken to heart.

One thing learned was that quite often a back will act up after a period of stress. That was certainly true with this episode. On the last day of June I reluctantly went in for a routine mammogram. But there have been three false alarms before, when “something suspicious” was seen and I had to go back for a stereotactic biopsy and ultrasounds. Each time there were days and days of waiting, not knowing, and all the waiting and uncertainty made worse by my family history. Happy to report that nothing new was seen on this mammogram, a sigh of relief for a change! But until I knew the result, my muscles must have been tighter than knots, and then trying to distract myself from anxiety by sitting and slouching in front of the computer for a couple of days – it was a perfect recipe for back pain!

So, now I’ve been introduced to my body’s healing system and we’ve been getting to know each other very well. It’s amazing what a shift in thinking can do for our bodies.

7.4.11 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
the front door ~ 7.4.11 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

Yesterday the kids came over for dinner! Larisa & Dima are settled into their New York City digs and came up here for the day, and Nate & Shea will probably be here in town another month or so before they’re off to Georgia for good. We had such a good time! For some reason it seems that on both sides of our families it’s the men who are the ones who love to cook, and it’s proving true with the next generation, too. Dima made the best deviled eggs I’ve ever had, the filling had avocado, cilantro and lime in it, and a tiny strip of bacon on top. And Nate prepared a fruit salad for dessert, with cantaloupe, raspberries, blueberries, mint leaves and lime zest. Larisa and Tim did their best trying to help me salvage a creamy red pepper sauce (for the pasta) gone horribly wrong – my ineptitude in the kitchen is legendary – I should just buy it in a jar… And Shea kept everyone happy with a mixed drink (I forgot the name of it!) she learned how to make while they were on their cruise.

7.4.11 ~ Stonington, Connecticut
something in the back yard ~ 7.4.11 ~ Stonington, Connecticut

We’ve had a couple of little thunderstorms and plenty of gloominess and rain today. Wish I could send some of this rain to the places that need it more than we do here…