Who’s your Psychopomp?

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA

As for qualifications, I have camped on the south shore of the Gulf of Corinth at the mouth of the River Styx and crossed it several times. So have all the other residents of Akratas. No that won’t do. (The Ancient Greeks believed that Charon, the boatman ferried them across the River Styx to the Underworld. They were buried with coins on their eyelids to pay him for his service.)

As a child, I was shut in boxes. Maybe that was my early training.

At a certain point in my life, the recently dead started turning up, usually sitting in a chair in the corner of my bedroom. Just sitting. Never talking. Or in my dreams, they phoned me, never saying anything sensible and never answering questions. My father’s spirit persistently offers advice such as ‘Buy lottery tickets’. He was a villain on earth, but he has spent 30 years on the other side and seems to be a reformed being. He even shows up at hospital bedsides to comfort those he once harmed. So they tell me.

Somewhere along the line, my family started to assume that I was a conductor of the dead, a psychopomp. They didn’t use that word of course. It is not a role I aspire to. At the moment, for example, I have a recurring image of a man who has passed over, but doesn’t believe in the afterlife. He is huddled in a fetal position with his ears covered, pretending he is not conscious. I repeat the 23rd Psalm to comfort him and, alternately, offer to give him a swift kick.

I’m not religious at this point, but I remembered that comforting song of David, and thought it might help – Josh, let’s call him Josh. If you feel inclined, you could join me in your own way, encouraging him to “Wake up! Wake up! It’s not so bad. You really are forgiven.”

When I uploaded my e-book, Hour of the Hawk, Amazon called ‘psychopomp’ a spelling error. An aberration, a delusion, perhaps, but not a spelling error.

Creating my main character, Joanna Hunter, I saddled her with that ‘ability’ as well as a conscience which speaks to her in her great aunt’s voice, admonishing her to fulfill her duty.

Her first duty is to attend to Tom Braddock who has been mauled to death, in his own backyard, by an angry bear. Well, of course an ‘angry bear’. He would hardly have been killed by a grateful, happy bear, even though he did persist in feeding his bear friends honey in a tire swing. And the bear had good reason for being angry, although not necessarily at Tom.

There are other deaths. It’s a murder mystery after all. But those Departed have enough imagination to manage on their own.

As you will, no doubt, when the time comes. Just be sure to cure yourself of the idea there is a hell. Pretty sure we are doing our stint there, right here on earth. Like my father we may have much to learn in the afterlife, but as a school it’s much more like Play Mountain Place than the boarding school Prince Charles attended. It seems to me, the afterlife can be whatever you think it is. With night school courses in empathy.

For heaven’s sake, don’t call on me to guide you.

To purchase Hour of the Hawk as an e-book go to joycehowe.com. It will be available as a paperback from Amazon in January 2018.

 

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The Great Loneliness

Churchill called it the Black Dog

Churchill called it the Black Dog

The great loneliness fell upon me without warning.

True it was Saturday night, the loneliest night of the week, according to Sammy Cahn. True I had just watched Piper’s boyfriend break up with her on the phone, after dissing many of her fellow inmates on NPR and telling her who actually turned her in. True Jamie Fraser,s cousin, Simon, had just died of a musket wound, but Jamie had gone to the British lines under a flag of truce to bid him goodbye in Gaelic. Still it was very sad. I hadn’t spoken to another human being all day. I had phoned but everyone was out. The sky had been heavily overcast when I opened the curtains at 8:30, there was ten minutes of sunshine around noon, but at 3 p.m., I closed them against the gloom.

I shut off the iPad and An Echo in the Bone. I disappeared the TV and sat down on the couch. Winter loomed, months of lost light and cold, days of being shut in by ice and snow. I didn’t even get to my impending mortality before one of the women upstairs broke down, crying “it’s not funny”. I got up to get a glass of water and dropped one of my favourite glasses onto a pyrex bake dish soaking in the sink, smashing it into seven sharp pieces. As I put the wrapped shards into the garbage, the other upstairs resident drove away.

Right, you can feel the great loneliness even if you have a spouse. I knew that. I had felt that lonely before my husband left.

You can feel it in the midst of your family. When I first found myself suddenly on Pine Mountain, I would sit in bed with the curtains open, watching the steep wooded slope, the moon waning above. I was longing for home and the familiar, my no-view first floor flat. If I had known that the family emergency would keep me on the mountain for five months… I didn’t and I fell asleep before the loneliness got well established.

Usually, the year end holidays keep it at bay at least until mid January. You can armour yourself against it even then. I can usually con myself that winter is manageable until a month later, at which time I begin to snivel and consider throwing myself down in a tantrum, but unobserved tantrums are over-rated.

This particular bout of great loneliness follows upon the great good fellowship of family achievement. Four of us together handled a serious illness and a traumatic change in an elder’s life. Elder even than me, which is very elder indeed. In the last five weeks, we broke through to a relaxed and healing companionship. We were going to live after all.

Then I had to come home. Not only did I need to come home. They needed me to. Marriages go better without mother and elders need to feel self-sufficient.

My brother rushed from Brussels to help me make the transition from sunlight and altitude to gloom and sea level. He took one look at me, declared I was not destroyed by my ordeal as he expected. He didn’t actually have to save my life this time. If I had gone to Brussels, as I did last Christmas, I would have been his chief concern, feted by his many friends and his family. Here he has to be shared. This weekend is someone else’s turn.

I used to think I could fight the great loneliness by sheer willpower, by talk therapy, journaling, acupuncture and long walks, identify the aberrant mental attitude and contradict it. Stick up post-its with affirmations on the bathroom mirror. It was exhausting. Now I take psychotropic drugs.

But it’s a long game. I am old enough to know just how long.

Sure, I need to feel needed, as Orange is the New Black has just assured me and for the present, I am not. I wasn’t needed for years, but I’m glad I persisted until I was. Lives depended on it. So here I am again, under-needed and sulking about it.

In fact, old bodies need to rest at this time of year, so home needs to turn into a cave for long sleeps. It is a time to turn away from the outer darkness to the light within.

Having said that I see that the moon is full.

full moonmtn

 

A Change Would Do You Good

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ikjmz_SlGh
Cheryl Crow’s song of the same name
black &white wallI flew back to Toronto on Monday and met my sister Georgia for dinner on Wednesday. I ordered Guinness. She had never known me to order beer. I felt like saying, “It’s not beer. It’s Guinness.” She had not expected that change, but she liked my new hair cut.

Blake, my ex-husband, took me out for dinner Friday. He made no comment when I ordered Honker’s Ale from Goose Island, but he did tell me I looked younger. True, I was tanned from 150 days of sun at 5,500 ft in California, where darkness and silence led me to sleep 10 or 11 hours a night. And I had spent hours sitting beside our patient reading while someone else made dinner. The last seven weeks as recovery proceeded were particularly relaxing.

On Friday, I decided that I hated my minimalist decor and began hanging all the pictures in storage, including a wall devoted to the family and another of Georgia’s colorful paintings of houses. This means that I am giving up on feng shui. I’m not supposed to have red, a  fire element, in my living room during the year of the horse. Georgia’s paintings are full of red. Besides feng shui wasn’t doing  any good. My year has had a deal of bad luck. Our patient had also used feng shui which did not protect her from recession, loss or extremely grave illness. Be that as it may, I prefer now to be creative and bask in the warmth of family fire.

Roberta's wallAt my desk, I rounded up all the receipts I have assiduously saved my entire life and trashed them. I have lived altogether too carefully. During the five months I was away, I didn’t get my mail, of course. I didn’t even listen to the messages on my land line until a month before I left and I couldn’t receive calls because my cell phone got no reception. There was absolutely nothing in the mail or in the messages that was important. Well, there was a thank you note for funeral flowers, pretty much a dead issue.

During my mountain sojourn, I talked about the cold as fall drew on and I adapted to cabins heated in the old way by wood or more modern pellet stoves, both of which meant cold mornings. I have hated being cold all my life. For years, I have included the weather at the top of my daily journal entries. Now I have stopped. At first, I glanced at the thermometer outside my kitchen window. But I’ve stopped doing that as well. I assume that for the foreseeable future it will be below freezing. Snow, ice and wind will be apparent when I open the curtains. What difference does it make? I am going to wear thermal underwear, a heavy sweater, a sheepskin hat and a long down coat whenever I go out. I don’t need to hear a forecaster scaring me silly.

Georgia and her friend, the people upstairs, Blake, my brother on the line from Belgium and others who have called have eased me back into life in Toronto. Not everyone has answered my “I’m-home call”. I am sad, but by their deeds, ye shall etc.

So out of a traumatic and potentially tragic situation, has come new life. As Aunt Mae would say, “Ain’t that grand?”

 

 

 

Home After Five Months Away

Georgia's idea of homeGeorgia’s idea of home

http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/home-after-three-months-away

My title is taken from Robert Lowell’s poem, Home After Three Months Away in which he observes his toddler daughter and himself after his stay in a psychiatric hospital. His central image is one of shrunken dried out toast, hung as bird feed by the tyrannical ex-nurse. I like the title, but my own experience is quite different. I wasn’t in re-hab. I wasn’t even a patient, but I returned after a long absence to find myself much changed and for the better.

I was surprised by change, rather than dried out sameness. Wow, I have a new kitchen tap. I have new phones. True I had bought them, but I had forgotten. I stood for a long time, trying to figure out where I kept my mugs. I knew where they were in both houses in Pine Mountain Club, California. Now, logically, where would they be in my house. I took a chance they were near the glasses and there they were. What did I used to use to carry dirty clothes to the laundry room. Not a basket. I know I used something; otherwise socks escape all the way down stairs. Ahhh, a plastic bin, stored in the closet.

I came into the apartment to be met by heat and the sound of electric fans. It was very hot. “I turned on all your air filters,” Georgia had told me on the phone. That puzzled me. I have only one. She had turned on that and two small heaters that I had been using on cold spring days, once the furnace was turned off.

There were vegetables, bread and cookies in the fridge. I could actually have a chicken sandwich for dinner. All of the clocks except the one on the PVR were an hour out. The audio unit was doing a light show – the power had gone out.

But the place was dust free, it had been aired and the sheets changed. The mail had been sorted and discreetly placed so I could ignore it. The one letter that might cause me angst, opened and summarized for me. An old friend still didn’t want to speak to me, but Revenue Canada had given me back $200. Armed with this information, I ignore it.

True, I also met my terror at receiving the call that led me to leap on a plane to L.A. reassured it that all was well and moved on.

I ran the water filter a few minutes and had a long drink of familiar water to quell the dehydration of the flight home.

I called Georgia to anchor myself in Toronto and then I called Pine Mountain Club because I needed to extend my long-distance love connection and get the latest medical report.

I vowed in early June that I absolutely would not leave until I felt our patient was stable and unlikely to relapse. I vowed it fiercely. I put up with major inconveniences, like living two months in a hotel and two more with Clara. I put up with no car, no internet and no phone of my own. I found ways to cope – a hot wire, Skype and a golf cart. I put up with the occasional hint that now it was time to leave. I was adamant. When I decided to leave, I booked three weeks in advance. Even that three weeks showed significant health improvement.

Phone calls over, I went out to discover my almost new car was full of gas and it started right up. I drove to my favourite restaurant, where the dining room was closed. At 9:30????? (Oh right, I’m back in Kansas.) The bar was open, so I ordered a dark beer and the most expensive item on the menu, lobster jambalaya. I pulled out my iPad, turned on night vision and dived back into the 6th Outlander book, Snow and Ashes.

I was home after five months away, a more solid and whole person, an easier person to be. I knew when I left that our patient was better and so was I. Two heal faster than one.

Between Thankgivings in the Centre of the World

Here in the mountain valley which the Chumash called the Centre of the World, I found myself caught between two Thanksgiving Days. I wasn’t home in Toronto for Canada’s day of thanks on the second Monday of October, and I won’t be here on November 27, the fourth Thursday in November, for the American Thanksgiving. And yet I had much to be thankful for and I wanted to express it. Luckily a birthday came along. I began planning.

Well, let’s be honest. First, I took stock. Was I up to cooking such a meal? I factored in my advanced age, my aching back and divided by thankfulness. The result was a decimal zero, zero, single digit. In other words, no prob!

Not turkey. Sorry turkey farmers, I don’t like your bird enough to go to all that bother. No our preferred protein is roast beast, i.e. a beef rib roast. Since I no longer have a house to mortgage, that was a sobering thought, but I said, what the heck, I’ve got a line of credit. In the event, it cost only $126 for 4 ribs, with the bones cut off and tied back on. The butcher worked away at it for 15 minutes while I looked at wine.

Of course there would be champagne and a good bottle of red. I found a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, or the Widow, on the top shelf and the wine guy who reached it down recommended a pinot noir from the Santa Barbara area, just across the mountains from the Centre of the World. I added a bottle of chardonnay for the cook in case her back got going.

I had found a “Classic Caesar Salad” recipe on line and Jamie Oliver’s root vegetable mash. Those ingredients were cheap enough as were the Brussell sprouts that I decided on at the last minute to add green to the main course.

Clara offered to split the cost, but I said it was my treat. I didn’t want to have to do CPR in the middle of the Santa Clarita Whole Foods  and besides I had that generous line of credit.

That was Thursday and dinner would be on Sunday. The plan was to to turn up the fridge and store the roast on the back shelf at the bottom. The butcher, fearful for his rep didn’t want to endorse that plan wholeheartedly, but I explained about winding mountain roads and a long trip down the I 5. In fact, it worked very well, although a container of green soup froze solid.

It was a two household project (Two households both alike in dignity/In fair Verona, etc). One had the necessary more or less empty fridge, but I would be cooking in the other house, the one in the pines where I could find the utensils I needed.

Saturday morning, I had the fridge house to myself, so I peeled the root veg into a big heavy pot and covered them with spring water. The tap water here is very heavily chlorinated because of the drought, I imagine. The wells are lower than ever. When I drink tea made with it, I fell as if I’m drinking from a tea flavoured swimming pool. I stashed the veg in the fridge and drove the golf cart over to the other house.

I had it to myself as well, the occupants having made their weekly trip to Los Angeles for treatment and shopping. I put on music on my IPod and began to prep the salad. I listened to the birthday boy’s album Shadows of Another Time (www.allmusic.com) as I worked and used his Cuisinart to make the Caesar dressing. By the time, I finished and cleaned up, I had heard most of it twice and gone on to listen to 4 versions of Carrickfergus.

Sitting at the table, I began tearing up a baguette for croutons. With the music off, I was began to think of why I felt thankful. Together as a family, we had found the right medical help and routed a potentially deadly disease. Now it was being managed. Certainly, refinements to medication were still being made, certainly it would be a lifelong condition,  but after 5 months, it was manageable. Or the patient had learned to manage it.

Sitting there, I felt all trace of my former picture of myself -78, alienated from a beloved son, prone to isolation in a cold city, survivor of a traumatic life – drop away. I was truly at the Centre of the World, washed through with love as I have seldom been even in the spring of my life and my first and abiding love.

When I came back into the house on Sunday morning, it was fragrant with coffee, bacon and pancakes already. We carried in the big pot and the roast from the golf cart. I rubbed the cut ends of the roast with butter, no salt so as to preserve the juices. When the oven got up to 450, I put it in for 20 minutes. Then I turned it down to 280.

It turned out the Brussell sprouts looked like small cabbages, so I sliced them thin, fried some bacon, added the sprouts, discovered the skillet was too small, put them in a pot and added a cup of chicken stock. Just before dinner, I would cook them 15 minutes.

I cooked the root veg -carrots, parsnips and rutabaga, early and got my sous chef to mash them with butter. I wasn’t up to that upper body exercise, but I was pleased to note that being thankful seemed to keep back pain at bay.

I sat at the table to put together the salads.

As dinner time drew near, I used a digital thermometer to monitor the meat. Luckily there was one. Cooking America which posted how to cook the perfect rib roast had threatened to wash its hands of me, if I didn’t use one. At a certain point it read 113. I wanted 120, knowing the meat would rise to medium rare. Fifteen minutes later, still 113. I jacked the oven heat up to 350 and 10 minutes later, the thermometer read 125. I took it out of the roast pan and wrapped it loosely with tin foil.

The sous chef mixed up the ingredients I had measured out for Yorkshire pudding, poured the beef drippings into popover pans, heated them in a 400 degree oven and then poured in the batter. Twenty minutes later when she turned the heat down to 350, they were already rising.

yorkshire

I was somewhat taken aback to discover all the beef drippings gone, but olive oil worked just as well with the scrapings from the roast pan. Beef stock and red wine added to the roux produced a tasty and copious gravy.

Reheating the mash took a good deal of stirring, but the excess water cooked off. The sprouts were tender by now and just needed to be lifted out with a slotted spoon. In both cases things hadn’t worked out as the recipe said and I had had to wing it.

The last ingredient, the guests, arrived just in time.

We had the champagne with the cake, a tropical coconut cake from Susiecakes in Manhattan Beach, which didn’t look exactly like this one. It had pineapple in the middle.

coconut cakeThankfulness is a great shortcut to happiness and mental health. And relief of back pain.

PS I drank the chardonnay anyway.

Gabaldon on Forgiving the Rapist

drums of autumn

Okay, now I’m taking moral advice from a romance novel and me a philosophy major!

The novel in question is Diane Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, the fourth in her Outlander series and the subject in question is forgiveness, specifically forgiveness for a rapist.

I’m nearing the end of this book and shamefully already plotting to order the fifth on my iPad. I used to have such refined tastes in reading. This book is not just a bodice ripper. It’s a skirt ripper and a shift ripper. Drawers or underwear are just removed and so require no mending. Mending is a big deal in the 18th century. Clothes are frequently reduced to rags and then replaced miraculously by a rich and generous, usually new-found relative. (How come I never find mine?)

But enough levity, now to the serious moral question.

Jamie, now in his 40s and living in 1760s North Carolina has a heart-to-heart discussion with a time-traveling woman on the subject of rape and whether vengeance or forgiveness is the appropriate response.

Both have some experience of rape as a good many of Gabaldon’s readers do, no doubt. Either she does or she has done good research. Since we are dealing here with the Highland clan warrior culture, killing the assailant is presented as an option. Those of us reared in the Christian tradition, even if lapsed, don’t leap to that as the answer, but hang on, Jamie is Catholic. Maybe it’s more a personal response.

This series is long and over the years, Jamie has discovered that time takes its own revenge and forgiveness is the better option.

Here is where the Gabaldon’s insight comes in: Jamie says that it is an on-going process that has to be renewed each day. I have noticed that myself and forgiveness comes harder some days.

Some days the whole terrible episode gets re-experienced in vivid detail, as it does for Jamie after that conversation, as it may well do for some readers after they read this part of the book.

On such a day, you can feel raw, as if you have no protective skin. No use even aiming for forgiveness then. Best to sit on a porch swing listening to the pine trees purr, watch the flitting birds, raise your eyes to the mountain ridge. Do something peaceful and healing wherever you are. Forgive yourself for hurting.

 

The Kangaroo Complex: take a minute mother

complexe du KangarouI sent two birthday cards to my sister Georgia one read “A mother never quits.” The other one said “Sisters are forever.” Talk about ties that bind.

Georgia considers herself the mentor of an informal group of older women -70 to 80- who still have mothering duties. One of them has three daughters who are in various stages of Huntington’s disease. The rest are not quite so challenged by their children’s illness, but bad enough.

My Belgian niece, Sarah Moon Howe, is about to premiere her documentary film called Le complexe du Kangaourou about several young mothers who have children with various physical and mental difficulties that are going to keep them in Mama’s pocket for years to come. Sarah Moon’s own son, Jack, is such a child.

It’s not a distinction reserved for women of course. Jack’s father and grandfather are also part of the project as are a great many other dads, grand dads, uncles and friends. My brother, Sarah’s father, has made it a point to befriend such young men and teach them life skills. Wear underwear and your false teeth, for example.

But just at the moment, it is a group of women I am involved with.

When Sarah Moon thought she would lose her mind with Jack’s many surgeries and need for constant care, she started dancing again. Jack was happy playing in the dressing room and being mothered by all the dancers. Sarah Moon made a movie about that as well.

Georgia advised the Huntington’s mother that she should remove the boxes in her living room belonging to the daughter who had just moved back in, which the daughter is incapable of moving. To storage or elsewhere. It was mother’s living room after all and sorely needed for relaxation. Then she should set about getting them a two bedroom apartment.

When I phoned Georgia this morning on Skype, I didn’t get hold of her, but in a few minutes the land line rang. She said, “You didn’t sound good in your message.”

Where to start? But Georgia and I are used to waiting until the other person gets her sorry story together. Briefly I was/am ill with the worst lower back pain I have ever had and that’s saying something. But there was more.

Our Aunt Mae was a wise woman who could see the future. She told us we had to live to be old and healthy because we would have jobs to do then. She said there would always be chances to go before our time and we had to watch out for these, stay alert and not get sidetracked from our -what?- she would never have used the word “destiny”. She probably just repeated “job”. One of the reasons we chose to be teachers is that we would get a pension. I never actually believed I would live to collect it and it is true I had to retire early to survive. Mae also assured us that all would be well, laughing as she did. When I doubted that, she said, “Joycey, don’t take things so to heart.”

Georgia didn’t. Georgia believed entirely in what Mae said. Things would be hard. They already were, but they would turn out all right in the end. Georgia would have said, if they’re not all right yet, then it isn’t the end.

So on the long trip back from Los Angeles to the mountain yesterday, I was staring out the back window at the unending series of hills and I suddenly had the impression that one of those false doors was available. I woke up, vehemently rejecting the possibility.

What to do, I asked Georgia. Well, of course I needed to come home for some rest and rehabilitation, she said, a few weeks at least. It might not be possible just now, but soon. She talked about how she looks after herself, how she is able to be slightly less wholehearted than I am. In times of great stress, she can withdraw part of herself and reserve it. I’m sure that’s what Sarah Moon realized and why she turned to dancing in spite of how “neglectful” it may have seemed to some. Chinese medicine says, “First, heal the mother.”

What could I do in the meantime? At present, I am reading as usual, blogging as usual and doing the tai chi exercises. I can’t watch the programs I usually watch because the internet connections up here are too slow. And PBS in this area is really lame, no British drama. I do have my own TV on which I can get the 3 networks. That leaves with me NCIS, CSI and the Good Wife. With no car of my own, I can’t set off exploring the wilderness.

Then this afternoon, I found myself on the deck doing a tai chi set for the first time in weeks. Good grief! That’s what I needed. For 20 minutes, I was lost in the familiar, slow-paced moving meditation. Not only that, the set has the benefit of including a “sit” in every move, up tall, then down, weight on one hip or another. It is the hip that my change of season illness has settled into. Two birds and all that.

Plus I remembered how to seize moments of peace instead of being eternally vigilant.

 

https://115journals.com/The Crying Cure

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been dealing with a serious family illness, that has left me “stranded” in an exquisitely beautiful mountain village, which I sometimes have called Shangri-la. (see 115Journals.com and enter Shangri-la in the search bar.)

Recently, we have made progress. The illness itself is difficult to diagnose and treat. Factoring in medicare didn’t just double the difficulty. Quite possibly, it quadrupled it. Every time we turned around we had been dropped from MediCal, once because we were signed up on July 30, with an end date of July 31. Yes, both were in 2014. Or MediCal was refusing to fill a prescription because there was no TAR -whatever that is – or the doctor had upped the dosage but MediCal disagreed. Even Kern County Health which we transferred to has a limit of 5 prescriptions a month, so we had to choose the cheapest one and pay cash. At least one life-threatening situation and hospitalization ensued. And let’s be frank, some of our medical practitioners seemed to know less than we did.

After a particularly rocky interview with a “specialist” on Skype, we discovered she was actually a nurse practitioner. Time to call in Blake, the patient’s father who has equity in his home. Time to call on connections. And so we found Dr. B and ponied up the cash.

Let’s be clear, my people have earned over $300,000 a year and paid taxes accordingly – prior to 2008. Thanks to banks that were too big to fail, my people failed, lost two homes, their savings and their retirement investment. Obama bailed out the big banks. The little guy not so much.

Dr.B.came up with a diagnosis in an hour and a half and the chief drug necessary to control it. “Bread and butter”, he said. Then he refused to let Blake spend the patrimony and referred us instead to a resident he supervised who would accept the medicare plan. After a month’s wait, during which time Dr B insisted we call as necessary; otherwise he would be annoyed, we met Dr. P and Dr. Y who listened intelligently and knew how to carry treatment forward. Today, we ran up against a problem and Dr. P. answered our query immediately.

So I fired off upbeat email reports to 5 family members, all of whom are far away and to 4 friends. Then I got really sick.

Has this happened to you? You hold things together at work or at home for a long time, go on vacation and spend two weeks in bed?

Sure I had a good excuse, the temperature dropped suddenly up here at 5,500 feet and the furnace pilot light was out. I don’t actually get a cold at change of season, I get a headache and then a very bad muscle spasm in my lower back. No appointment was available for treatment until Saturday. That’s tomorrow, friends. Exercise quells it briefly, then it comes raging back. Ditto hot Epsom salt baths, heat, positive thinking and long walks. Pain killers don’t seem to touch it. The one thing that works longest is a good hard cry. First I have to find privacy, not so easy when you’re living in other people’s houses. Then just let go.

Just now having cleared the air with copious tears, I went to the general store, ostensibly looking for a mallet and unconsciousness. I found extra strength Tylenol and Newcastle Brown Ale.

Joy Says Good Morning

I have been reading and rereading all the poems in Rumi: the Book of Love, this week looking for this idea. For some reason, I read back to front. Still I didn’t find it. Last night I said to myself, “Well, it must be in Coleman Bark’s introduction to a section”, so I started rereading those, back to front. I found it in Section 14, entitled “Union”. The poems in this part talk about spiritual union, which we are all seeking, no matter how worldly and unspiritual we may seem.

Here Barks considers how potentially unbalancing this can be. When that happens we are liable think we are in deep trouble, but in actual fact, we are evolving. For the time being, we may need help and so we find another kind of union with our helpers.

“The heart cannot be talked about. We must experience its depths in that mysterious osmosis of presence with presence. Hazrat Inayat Khan says that our purpose here is to make God a reality, a daunting and potentially unbalancing task. One can get too full of the ecstatic state. Rumi warns the the roof is a dangerous place to drink wine. We can die trying to make God a reality. If we don’t fall from the roof, we wake with a hangover that weakens consciousness. Hangover remorse can be helpful then. The work of balancing love (enthusiasm) with discipline (practical helpfulness) is beautifully addressed in the first poem of this section, the drink of water that is ‘Sunrise Ruby’.”
p. 119 Barks. Rumi:the Book of Love

The Sunrise Ruby
In the early morning hour,
Just before dawn, lover and beloved wake
to take a drink of water.

She asks, “Do you love me or yourself more?
Really the absolute truth.”

He says, “There’s nothing left of me,
I’m like a ruby held up to the sunrise,
Is it still a stone, or a world
made of redness? It has no
resistance to sunlight.”

The ruby and the sunrise are one.
Be courageous and discipline yourself.

Completely become hearing and ear,
and wear this sun-ruby as an earring.

Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off work.
Water is there somewhere.

Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there.

Rumi trans by Coleman Barks in Rumi: the Book of Love p. 120

rumi 1

Offa This Mountain: an anti-Shangri-la moment

the bandWhen I get offa this mountain, you know where I’m wanna go
Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico
To Lake Charles Louisiana Little Bessie girl I once knew
She told me just to come on by if there was anything she could do…

The prospect of an uninterrupted three weeks on this mountain, three weeks of sun, pure air and altitude is taking its toll. I’ve put in two already, but now I crave exhaust fumes, crowds, bookstores, freeways at a standstill, lunch at a noisy curbside.

I distract myself listening to the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” its raunchy message offsetting the unbearable niceness of life here at the village centre.

I distract myself by driving a golf cart. Turn the switch on. Press the pedal. Silently, it moves off, leaning over as it turns. Yes, it has an a go-pedal and a brake. No rear view mirrors. No directional signals. It has a governor. Which on down-hill runs kicks in later than I think it should. Once you put the brake on, it locks. The only way to unlock it s to press the accelerator. Stopping at stop signs is entirely absorbing. Turning on a hill causes a lean that is entirely exciting. Did I mention I’m a septuagenarian?

I feel like crying “Hi ho, Silver!” although it keeps turning into “Hi ho Silverwear. Don’t forget your underwear!”

Ah, little red Yaris, 2000 miles away in Toronto.

I come romping home to the small hotel in the dark, grab my Elizabeth George novel, take myself upstairs next door to Madd Bailey’s bar, order a Guinness and read. The bar is mine and mine alone.

I can travel – by golf cart or on foot – to an internet connection and a phone. There are of course no actual public phones still extant and no kindly charity has stepped forward to protect the species. I can, however, sit outside the internet cafe even when it’s closed and get online where the miracle of Skype lets me make phone calls all over the world. Try to have a private conversation, though.

The television set in my room seems to be the last analogue receiver in service. I can get a very, very grainy CNN and if I’ve already seen the show, I listen to the sound -The Sixties, Music e.g.; otherwise, forget it.

Yes, I am reading. And reading. And reading. A book every three days. Right now I’m embarked on another Lee Child, a Jack Reacher thriller, Running Blind. Without Fail is waiting at my bedside.

And listening to the Band on my iPod. “I’m a lonely boy/Ain’t got no home.”

Ostensibly, my mission when I’m not involved in the family healing project, is to plan a mystery novel. But I feel like one of the wasted detectives I read about -Vera Stanhope, Wallender, Rebus. In off hours, I just want to retreat to oblivion and music.

But hey, it was distracting to have my hair cut very short and get a bracing Christian message, all for $45 and a very small tip.

“Acadian driftwood, Gypsy tailwind,/They call my home the land of snow/Canadian cold front moving in/ What a way to ride, oh what a way to go.”

Such was my midnight moan, but sitting outside the Bear Claw Bakery having breakfast the next morning, my octogenarian friend warily asked if I would go shopping with her in Santa Clarita. “Just hand me your car keys,” I said as I sprang to my feet. An hour later, down many mountains, we found the mall. She completed her outfits for her grand-daughter’s wedding and I added to my collection of Apple gear – a small iPad