My Healing Continues

I am now 18 days past my surgery. I have met and exceeded my therapeutic benchmark of a 20 minute mile, but I am easily exhausted and still caught in reveries I wish I could transcribe directly from my mind. By the time I sit down to write such thoughts, it seems that some search for information or news online eclipses my urge to write just in time such thoughts to evaporate.

I’ve accomplished two things which are notable to me over the past three days, and I will admit that I’m uncertain which is more important. First, I chopped up a large container of vegetables for snacking:

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at which point I wonder if it is alright to end a sentence with a photo. Is such punctuation permissible as our cultural tendency toward multimedia communication has grown in permanence?

My second feat was readingĀ Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. At this juncture I offer the shameful admission that I have seldom read fiction over the past twenty years. At that point, I felt defeated in realizing that it was improbable that anyone’s lifetime, let alone mine, would endure so long to read enough other canonical works of fiction and critical works thereof to inform my reading of future works of literary fiction. Since I hadn’t read (and the examples are legion, really), any Milton, Hardy, or Foucault by my mid-20’s, wasn’t my critical ship permanently lost at sea by that point? If I couldn’t even commit to an Oxford comma, why bother writing at all, at least no more than is necessary?

It may seem odd that I’d elevate the cutting of vegetables to the reading of a novel, but such tension is ever present in my life. My body needs the nutrients in those vegetables just as much as my mind craved the words of that book. I have struggled to feed my mind properly more than I have struggled to nourish my body as it needs.

I highly recommend eating as many vegetables as you can stand and taking the time to read a book that could crack your mind wide open. Lincoln in the Bardo was such a book for me.

This novel looks more like a draft for a play or movie with a cast that an editor would demand be shorn a bit for the sake of clarity. It is as if Saunders knew that his work could never be perfect, yet the ideas within demanded release to the world nonetheless.

The majority of the people in this novel are already dead before the narrative begins. They are lingering in this realm concurrent to the death of Willie Lincoln, and they witness his funeral and Abraham Lincoln’s acute mourning at the loss of his young son. They must convince Willie to do what each of them has been unable yet to do, to move on from this life.

While this novel is set during the Civil War, it reminds one that there are basic human concerns that endure through every era. No matter what time and place contains your lifetime, you will know both joy and agony, and certainly not in equal measure. As I read this book, I considered once again that while there are plenty of remedies for pain, we need none for pleasure. For example, no one has had an orgasm so stunning as to require anesthesia.

Everyone suffers, and our suffering is only amplified when we cling to that which holds us back from transformation. Yes, our lives are ripe with opportunities for change, yet we are usually tempted to do the impossible, to stop the inevitably of change. This can take simple forms, such as insisting one is permanently right about something, which is also impossible.

I consider how in my youth I wasted time agonizing over how I would love someone and be so dissatisfied at how they cared for me in return. Why can’t my father be a dad that hugs? Why can’t this friend of mine fall in love with me as I have with him? I tilted at that windmill time and again, each battle leaving me feeling more and more unlovable. Then I had my daughter and fell to earth on this matter. What matters is that I love, and it is a fool’s mission to dwell of how someone else feels about me. We are incapable of knowing the reality of anyone’s feelings but our own. We can look for various clues and signs of reciprocity, put the devotion of another to the test by being our worst or best for that person, but such endeavors are pointless.

The reward of love is the feeling itself and what it inspires you to do for those you love.

This is true balm for suffering, to love without care for its return.

Coming Around Again

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Thirteen days have passed since my spine surgery, which included L4/L5 decompression and fusion. My back has gained two rods, four screws and two 2.5 x 5 cm grafts of donor bone. I must not forget to write a thank you letter to the family of my donor, and the hospital provided me with a bar-coded form which will enable me to express my gratitude to this anonymous giver.

My recovery is progressing more quickly than I anticipated. While I need many rest periods daily and have been instructed to pick up no more than ten pounds at a time, I have worked up to walking 20 minutes straight and am driving again. My physical therapy goal was to start walking two minutes straight and add two minutes each day until I reached 20 minutes. Next I am to work toward walking a 20 minute mile.

I think all of the walking I ordinarily do at work optimized my chances for recovery. I am still weeks away from meeting the regular physical demands of my typical work day, but I am hopeful I will be primed to work again by the time my medical leave is slated to end.

When I saw my daughter after surgery, she first asked me a rather clinical question which had the odd effect of immediately lifting my spirits. She inquired, “have you had any hallucinations?”

I can only think that this was her sly way of letting me know that she has been reading my writing during the many times she paused to pat me on the shoulder as I’ve been writing seated on the living room couch. There have been several times when I’ve referenced hallucinations in my blog entries.

The day I arrived home from the hospital and settled to rest on that same couch, my husband was milling between our garage and the house to catch up on some small projects he’d let lie fallow during my hospital stay. Several times while my husband was out in the garage, I could hear my grandpa’s distinctive shuffle down the hallway. His walk had an unmistakable sound because he’d had six vertebrae fused in the aftermath of an accident he’d had working for the railroad. My grandpa passed away in 2012.

The next day I called my siblings and my mother about hearing Grandpa, and these were conversations that needed no I-might-be-crazy preface because to be related to my mother necessarily entails a bit of magical realism. While my grandpa I heard is my paternal grandpa, I tend to talk about such matters with my mother rather than my father. I figure that she is a better judge than I am on divulging these experiences to my dad.

Two days after my discharge from the hospital, I woke up in the morning from a dream that my mom had called me and told me that it was my day to visit Grandma. I woke up before I could explain to her that I was still too fragile to make the short trip across town for a visit.

I called Mom for real shortly after I woke up, and she let me know that the time was at hand. My grandma had passed away at the age of 88, after beating the odds time and again during her long life. She had survived a catastrophic wreck that had taken her sisters and her father. She was a 20+ year cancer survivor, and she had emerged from multiple bouts of sepsis in the past year.

From Grandma I learned that it is possible to rise time and again until God decides it is time for your life on this earth to end. Like my parents and the rest of my grandparents, she also taught me that there is no real love that is free of sacrifice.

I am grateful that as I get older, it feels like it is becoming easier to rise again, even after spinal fusion.

Cats . . . and my impending surgery

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Crackles, who has a 30 decibel purr punctuated with an occasional smoker’s cough

A month has passed since my last blog entry. In the interim, I’ve followed advice I resented during my years of endless clinical depression, “Work as hard as you can, pray as hard as you can, and leave the rest up to God.”

Despite that my natural OCD lends itself to chronic prayer rather than cleanliness, I have found great solace in irreverent humor. I loved hearing my mother comment that the world’s fattest tiger must have achieved his impressive girth through a diet of people. Lately my daughter and I have worried about some spectacularly overweight duo of cats at the animal shelter where we volunteer:

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No matter how many times I’ve photographed this pair, the lens slims them down. Why can’t this happen with people?

My daughter and I mused at length over the chunkiness of this pair. While I fully understand how humans become so round through personal experience, my comprehension of their dimensions invited a bit of genetic myth making. My cats, may they rest in peace, didn’t become too overweight because they seemed to have a mild natural bulimia. In contrast, this pair at the shelter appeared to have the opposite gift of the capacity to survive a famine.

Soon after we watched the glorious Simpson’s episode entitled “King Size Homer” wherein Homer discovers that he can work from home due to disability if he weighs no less than 300 pounds, the chunky duo were adopted together by a family with a baby and a toddler. I wish this family luck in caring for these spectacular cats, given that their pets may weigh more than their children.

My daughter and I miss this pair. While we knew that it was in the best interest of these cats to find a home where they could be comfortable and fed a controlled diet, we wished that we could have visited them for the rest of their lives.

I highly recommend volunteering to help shelter animals, but I will forewarn anyone who hasn’t done so already that you will likely become attached to these critters. We loved an overgrown quasi-Maine Coon type cat gray cat named Ethan most of all. I sensed that we had helped this shy cat warm up to people enough that his adoption was imminent:

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My daughter with the glorious Ethan

Although I had told myself that the time was not right for us to get a pet, my affinity for Ethan led me to ask my husband if he’d agree to adding a cat to our home. The following is something I probably shouldn’t discuss here, but I will because I need to clear my inner static before my back surgery this week. The Ethan incident is an interlude which for me exposed that radical ambivalence which occasionally erupts in almost every marriage or very long term relationship. There are moments when you can love and hate your spouse/partner in equal measures. This was one of those times.

He refused getting a cat first because he doesn’t like cats. As the argument grew, he had a reason which really Trumped the whole matter: cats make him so nervous he gets chest pains over their messiness and general entropy. This is no small matter given he was recently diagnosed with coronary artery disease and will see a cardiologist tomorrow.

Ethan, who is 8 years old and obviously needs a home, was adopted by a fellow volunteer a couple days ago. Yesterday my daughter and I visited the shelter, and I joked with her that if Ethan happened to be there but on hold for his adoption that we should steal him and go on the run. We had enough gas to make it to Canada and request asylum for us and our kidnapped cat. In the frozen north, we could escape my surgery, the school she can barely stand, and our catless home.

When I discovered last year that my great grandpa had suddenly escaped his life and started over in a different state, I didn’t feel like such a turd for all of my past and likely future interludes where I longed for escape (and gave into that longing a few times in the past). Why is it that I swing between near agoraphobia and wanderlust?

In a couple days, I will have spinal fusion surgery. I expect to be off from work for a couple months. During my early recovery, I will need to avoid contact with pets for infection control.

This morning will be my last opportunity to bask in the dozens of cats at the shelter before my operation, so off I go.

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Morgan, who enjoys riding on my shoulders and will walk back and forth on my outstretched arms if I let her.
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