Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Strong as a Bear, Wise as a Fox

The first time I packed my bags for New York, I felt very powerful. I carefully included only what I thought I would need for the trip, and saved a little room for a souvenir or gift for my husband.

When I loaded my bag into the car, I felt powerful. I had perfectly scheduled each activity in the following 48 hours to include more fun and relaxation that I'd actively planned in a long time. Shopping with my parents. Dinner with friends. Coffee dates. Connection.

When my doctor's office called me ten minutes from my destination, I panicked. I rearranged. I began to breathe one breath at a time.

I changed my plans and drove back home. I cried. I worried.

The next morning I decided to live as though the worst reality were already realized and did only what I could: go for a walk, eat blueberries, and cry.

The morning was beautiful. After months of nothing but a dusting of snow, it had started to drizzle. The plants were eager for the moisture after doing their best with what limited resources they could find. When I walked into the park I saw a skeleton. The bottom half of a deer, fully picked of every scrap of sustenance and left in my path.

I stopped.

I turned around.

I cried as I walked home, taking this moment as a sign. A SIGN. A bad sign.

Listening to my book club book and taking in the world around me, I wondered why I hadn't taken this walk before. Why I had retired three months ago and yet never stepped out to walk alone? My book buzzed by as my mind wandered elsewhere, considering my appointment. The direness of the diagnosis. The urgency. And I remembered the bears.

The bears came in 2008. A mama and two babies wandered onto my deck after the neighbors assured us that no bears had been spotted in years in our neck of the woods. At the time I took this signal as the impetus to Get Off My Ass and follow my dreams. I was also in the midst of a health-scare then. In my solitude, the vulnerable place between the doctor's appointment and the doctor's phone call, alone in the island of inland Ohio, I found my way to the Columbus Zoo. I needed to see the bears.

It happened to be a high holy day in the Jewish faith, so the schools were closed and the zoo was well-populated with local muslims who had the day off of school. It was surreal. They cast their eyes down as I cried silently, searching for the bears.

I found sun bears there, and next to them a coin press into which I could deposit my coin and create a little emblem of the sun bear. I did. I kept it with me, rolling it between my fingers and worrying its impression into the folds of my skin.

This realization came to be half-way home from my walk. Rather than seeing the skeleton as a bad omen, I decided to see it as a symbol of my bear friends doing what they needed to do to survive in these dry times.

I found my sun-bear totem. And the gorilla totem I'd made the last year in a visit to the zoo with my husband. And the coin-shaped carving of a bear I had bought in Seattle just this December. On the one side, a native carving of a bear. The other, the world "strength."

I held these tokens in my hand as the doctor cut and sampled and cut and sampled. I pressed their images into my palm. I held my husband's hand, and I breathed.

Repacking for New York, I didn't feel powerful. I felt the intense sourness of packing to leave. Of leaving behind.

Jesus drove me to the airport. I'm not kidding. I'm not partial to any particular faith despite being a confirmed Catholic, but the significance of my shuttle driver's name was not lost on me. I took it as a good omen.

On the plane I read an article about aging and how fantastic it is. The entire magazine, which I had originally packed in the first-packing, is all about aging well and gracefully. For the most part, I'm having difficulty relating right now. I've never considered life without a calendar or watch, but right now the sense of planning anything in the future, including aging gracefully, is not inside the scope of my clouded mind.

But one little poem, one little love-note made me reconsider my concept of future. In the infinite wisdom that Michael J. Fox shared to his younger self was a lesson that I needed to hear. "When the unexpected and inconceivable intrudes on life, and it will, deal with life's actual events-don't obsess about perceived eventualities."

And I opened my laptop. And I felt powerful.

"The pain which has not yet come can be avoided." ~ Sutras of Patanjali 2.16

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remember-ies or More Footprints, Please

In the Western Way of thinking, we strive to make our mark. Whether we drunkenly etch the plaster of a gas station restroom, buy a $250 brick at the zoo, or chisel a relocated hunk of super-hard stone, we want a permanent record of our time. We want the world to know:

I. Was. Here.

Which is a thought that depends on the concept of "I."

And who are you, really? What do you suppose we think when we read "Stinky was here" or "Josephine and Bruno love hippos" or "Custer last stood here"? We wonder why you took the time to memorialize that moment. Was that the best BM you ever had, Stinky? Were you so busy loving hippos that you wanted us to know how you spent your Sundays? Or a really bass-ackwards memory of what happened in battle, memorialized from the loser's point of view (and obviously not by him?). Do you suppose we get a well-rounded sense of who you are/were?

We don't really do this with important memories, otherwise sites of important rituals would be graffitied like an elementary school desk. I can't imagine going back to the chapel where I was married and carving 'I was married here,' nor to a grocery store where I witnessed a crime as a child 'I saw my first gun here.' Is it about reminding us of who we are and how we are supposed to feel? Tricking ourselves into a sense of permanence?

Now through various forms of social media, we let everyone know where we are all the time. Did you forget about me? I'm at Denny's now! Now I'm getting an oil change! Now I'm going to yoga! Think of me as: a yogi who cares for her car and also appreciates Slams of all sorts.

Is that how we want to live our lives? Spending so much time telling everyone all of our insignificant blather that we can't make time to actually DO anything? Maybe that is how detectives want us to live our lives, and if you have the sense that your life is evolving into an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, please check in. At the fire station.

I want to know the stories behind who you are. The photos. I want to see that you climbed something fabulous, or spent a weekend learning how to lay carpeting, or reconnected with family you haven't seen in awhile. I want to see that you stood up for something you believed in, not that you "shared this if you think cancer stinks, too!" Perhaps it is the anthropologist in me, but I'd rather see a photo you left near the edge of a cliff to commemorate someone special. I'd rather find wisps of prayer flags and wonder who put them up and whether their grief is as tattered as the remaining flags. I'd like to see what you did, hear what you believed, and feel how you felt. Knowing you were here makes me feel a bit more confident as I wander willy-nilly through the strangeness of life.

Nothing gives me more confidence in living this life than the Laetoli footprints, left in sand or muck some odd million years ago by two beings, walking on two legs, hand in hand.

Maybe they loved hippos, or Slams, or futuristic battle stories. We'll never know. But their footprints tell us even more.

That they would rather walk together than wander alone.

And, that they were here. Sutras, 1.40.