Becoming a Lake.

Yesterday I overheard an interview with Marc Nepo. He is a poet, philosopher, and spiritual author. The interview covered many things, including his battle with cancer, the loss of his job, and his subsequent awakening. From what I can gather, because I haven’t read it yet, his most recent book “The Book of Great Awakening” is about presence, being conscious in the present moment. Those are a few simple words to sum up an enormous task. But as he speaks about it he makes it seem simple. And at its core maybe it is. But getting to that state of awareness is quite the journey. An excerpt from the book was read during the interview and I think it was one of the most beautiful and important pieces of writing I’d ever heard. Here is the excerpt:

How Does It Taste?

 An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining, and so, one morning, sent him for some salt. When the apprentice returned, the Master instructed the un-happy young man to put a handful of salt into a glass of water, and then to drink it. “How does it taste?” the master asked. “Bitter,” spit the apprentice. The master chuckled and then asked the young man to take the same handful of salt and put it in the lake. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake, and once the apprentice swirled his handful of salt in the water, the old man said, “Now, drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young mans chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?” “Fresh,” remarked the apprentice. “Do you taste the salt?” asked the master. “No,” said the young man.

At this, the master sat beside the serious young man who so reminded him of himself and took his hands offering, “The pain of life is pure salt; No more, no less. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same. But the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain in. So when you are in pain, the only thing you can do is enlarge your sense of things…stop being a container. Become a lake.”

Lucky, Actually

While it’s a total cliché to “give thanks” today on Thanksgiving, I’ve always found it important to acknowledge and share gratitude. So what better day than today. 2011 has been one of the worst years of my life. So I’ll start by thanking God, for crapping on me this year. Just kidding! I’ve finally begun to understand why what happened this year happened, and I’m starting to accept that I am exactly where I need to be. Would I have chosen this? No. But I have to think that means something greater than me is at work, and I need to embrace that.

One of the biggest thanks I can give this year is to my family, starting with my mom and stepdad. On that awful day in January when I was too weak to walk to the bathroom, my Mom and Marc raced over as soon as I called. They sat with me in the crowded E.R. as I tried to turn my wheelchair into a makeshift bed. Marc took Monty and played on the levee behind the hospital while my mom stayed with me, for the whole 10 hours we were there. Since then, I, at 27, have moved back in with my parents. It’s not exactly ideal but what I finally realized is, Thank God they took me in. I was at a point where I was absolutely unable to care for myself. They basically just “scooted over” and let me climb on board, never making me feel like a burden. That’s love. And that’s something to be grateful for. Two weeks after “the crash”, my sister Amelie flew in from California. She “extreme home makeover’d” my apartment, stocked my pantry and fridge with healthy food, found a massage therapist and bought me 10 sessions, researched homeopathic doctors, and cooked meals for me while she was here. The most beautiful part of that act of kindness was that I didn’t even ask her to do any of it. She did it all on her own. Her ability to anticipate needs and never wait to be asked for help has always impressed me. Since then, over and over people have shown their love and support in different ways. My aunt and grandma sent money to help pay for my doctor in Miami, which doesn’t take insurance. (Not that I have insurance anymore anyway. Because why would they give insurance to a sick person who actually needs it? Oh wait…) My brother and sister-in-law let me crash on their couch in New York City for a month and lay around and write. I became their self-appointed sick, adopted child. That was kewl. Gabe let me live at his house in Nola for free while taking classes in the city. Kaitlin gave me a bag of the movies we find funniest to cheer me up while in a sickly depression. In big and small ways, a lot of people stepped in. I’m lucky.

There is plenty to be grateful for, even in the midst of hardship. In fact sometimes it is in those dark times that we are able to see real reason for gratitude that perhaps we’d skipped over before. Truthfully this year has kicked my ass, beginning literally on January 1st. Upon losing my health, I lost my job, a relationship, my apartment, and perhaps most painfully, my independence. But what I have begun to gain is perspective. A reason to dig deeper, wade through the crap, and find purpose. I’ve got a long way to go. A long way.  But I’ve got a roof over my head, food on the table, and the priceless gift of unconditional love. That means I’m not alone at the end of the day. And that’s what I’m most grateful for.

Health and Happiness and Happy T-giving!

Curse words.

Let’s talk about curse words for a second. Because I love talking about those fuckers. Oopse!

Don’t you love how someone will say “What a BITCH! Pardon my french…” It’s like, that..was not french…and you don’t actually sound very sorry for saying it. I wonder how that started. But not enough to actually google it. Anyway, I bring up the subject of curse words because I used a bunch of them in my car this morning as I was stuck going 35 miles per hour on the Causeway. (For you Yankees, the Causeway is the longest continuous bridge over water in the world, and runs across Lake Ponchartrain connecting the North Shore to New Orleans. Fun facts yaaay.)  So this morning there was thick fog, and that means the normal 65 mph speed limit (which is actually more like 75 mph, let’s get real) was dropped to 35 mph. It seems like overkill to me, but I’m trying to talk about curse words here so why don’t I stick to the DAMN subject. I was headed to New Orleans to take my nursing school entrance exam, and at the rate of traffic I was never gonna make it. Thus, the curse words ensued…

I don’t know what the satisfaction is in saying curse words, but it seems like whatever point you’re making, it adds the perfect amount of emphasis. It makes funny things funnier and angry things angrier and unimportant things seemingly more important. For example: Who ate all the corn flakes? Vs. Who ate all the Fucking Corn Flakes? See how that works? Anyway I started thinking about curse words and a conversation popped into my head that I had with my grandparents around the dinner table a few years back. The conversation had died down a bit and out of the blue my soft-spoken, conservative grandpa asks me “Mary, would you ever let a boy talk dirty to you?” I started to choke on my meatloaf immediately and washed it down with lemonade. I clear my throat. “What do you mean?” He went on to tell me that on the golf course that afternoon, a couple was playing near him, and the man kept cursing in front of his wife. “Even the F word,” he raised his eyebrows at me. “You wouldn’t let a man talk like that in front of you, would you?” I shook my head no, I lied. But for what it’s worth, I prefer people not to curse. Unless you’re alone in your car on a bridge. It was right after this that my Grandma (also named Mary, I’m named after her) said something extraordinary. “You know, I have Never used that word in my life, and I never will.” I know what you’re thinking–she’s lying. But if you knew her, you’d know that 1. she doesn’t lie and 2. it’s totally believable that she’s never used it. She’s as pure and innocent as they come. It really struck me when she said that. I had said it that morning just brushing my hair.

Another memory pops into my head concerning curse words. My dad was another one of those pure souls. Never did drugs, hardly drank, and never cursed. He hardly even raised his voice. He was similar to my grandma in that way. And he didn’t refrain from those things in some kind of stick-in-the-mud fashion. He was a TON of fun. He was a lot of people’s best friend. (At his funeral there were six eulogies. Six.) Anyway, it was about a year after he was diagnosed with cancer that the six of us were getting ready to go out to dinner. He had just gotten home from work at the grocery store. We rarely ate out, so it was always kind of an occastion when it happened. We were all waiting outside our enormous Chevy Grey Van (with carpeted walls) when my dad went back inside to get something. When he opened the front door, our 110 pound labrador retriever burst through, wiggled through my dads hands and took off down our neighborhood street. My dad, the smiling, mild-mannered sweet man, transcended. Something snapped. He was NOT going to let Bacchus get away with this. Off he went, running, no— sprinting down Wilson Court, still in his suit, with his tie flapping behind him, yelling after Bacchus.  “You son of a bitch!” he yelled. At one point he began picking up rocks off the street, hurling them toward the dog. “You son of a bitch Bacchus!” Zoom, another rock. The dog, barely visible at this point, was miles ahead of him. Bacchus may have been a fat son of a bitch, but he was fast. My dad never stood a chance. The four kids and my mom stood in front of the van stunned with our jaws dropped. Who was this man? When he got to the stop sign, he gave up, slowly turned around and started the defeated walk home, panting. The five of us watched. I remember feeling uncomfortable because I had never heard him curse before, but suddenly I noticed, my mom was laughing, followed by the other three. One of those group laughers that starts small and bubbles into breathlessness and strange sounds. Something about it was incredibly refreshing. By the time he made it back he was laughing of too, of course. Through his diagnosis and the grim prognosis-6 months- he had always kept it together. Finally, our fat fast dog running down the street got him to lose it, just a little. Just for a moment. It was great.

I thought about these things as I finally made it to the end of the bridge. Turns out my test wasn’t until 9, not 8:30 like I had thought. So I was going to make it. All those F bombs for nothing. Maybe next time instead of saying that word when I’m upset, I’ll say what my grandma says: Fiddle Faddle.

Health, Happiness, and $%@!

Old Man With Grocery Bags

One of my favorite sights to see is that of an old man or woman walking down the street with grocery bags. I can’t explain it, but I love when I see this sight. I see it in New Orleans more than seldom and like the weirdo I am, I stop and stare. Watch them for as long as I can. It’s such a sight to see. Something about it makes me feel connected. Like I know who they are or they know who I am and I think about how small my presence in the world is. I wonder what it is about that image that gets me. But I’ve always loved it.

A couple of days ago I was riding my bike with Monty. The local grocery store Conseco’s is only a few blocks away, so to get a little exercise I ride my bike there and get groceries for the day. When I arrived back at the house I got off my bike and was unleashing Monty when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. There he was. An old, old, old man, a grocery bag dangling at either side, walking with a limp down the sidewalk. I froze. He didn’t look at me, he looked off, like he wasn’t looking at anything in particular. Almost like he didn’t even know where he was going. I stared. Monty stared. I  felt all of the city noise stop, there was stillness as he wobbled by. It gave me that feeling again. Calm, connected. I almost wanted to take his picture but I thought that might be perverted, or worse, make him mad. I watched him until he turned left and looked back at Monty who I felt was thinking “My owner is a creeper.”

Anyway I went in and wrote about that man I saw but I don’t think it’s where I want it yet. Sometimes I feel I could write a whole book about an old man or an old lady carring grocery bags down the street. It’s funny the things that stick with us, inspire us. I’m sure one day I’ll be the old lady, teetering with my bags. A girl can dream.

Heaven.

You know what I wonder about lately? What talk show hosts talk to their guests about when they cut to a commercial. Because they always lean in as the camera zooms out, and I’m wondering, what are they saying? “Dude, you bombed.” Or is it more cordial? “Thanks again for coming on my show blah blah blah.” Watch the next moment on a talk show before the break. It’s just one of those things I think about. I also think about this: What makes a good person? A few weeks ago a girl told me I didn’t need to worry about getting into heaven, “Because you’re hilarious!” she said. I found it odd because I don’t think a sense of humor exactly is your ticket in. I’m sure there are murderers out there who can tell great jokes. I’m also wondering what Heaven consists of. I used to think it was a white puffy place where you just hung out and reunited with all the dead people from your past. But I’m starting to think it’s not such an “entity” that you get into.

My beliefs have been reconstructing themselves this year. As a child I thought that following the Golden Rule and loving unconditionally got you in, among other things like Church on Sundays and not banging until you get married. I guess I still think that to some effect, but my concept of Heaven and how you get there has changed. I think what happens after you die is an evolution of your soul. But you can only evolve once you’ve learned and grasped whatever is necessary here on earth. My mom explained one theory to me that says the reason for humans to exist is to bring God into higher consciousness. And I can believe that. Sometimes I think, that guy who everyone says knows what he’s doing, DOESN’T SEEM TO KNOW WHAT HE’S DOING! Maybe when we struggle and then overcome, our achievement becomes that of the entire Universes. Our lessons are God’s lessons.

I just think you’ve got to get it before you move on. I don’t know what the lesson is specifically, in fact I’m sure there is more than one, but I know you can’t evolve until you’ve understood what you were sent here to. Maybe it’s different for everyone. I don’t know if I’m conveying properly how I feel, because maybe I don’t even understand it myself. And I don’t pretend to. I just know that when I watch people like “The Real House Wives” or “Toddlers and Tiaras” or  Rick Perry, I think to myself, they don’t get it. I can’t exactly place my finger on what it is, I just feel intuitively that some people get it and other people don’t. And the one’s who do will move on to something greater, the ones who don’t will take another lap around the track. That’s the thing about the universe, it will deal you the same set of cards until you learn how to play them properly. This year has dealt me some tough cards, so I hope I played them right and get a better hand in 2012. I’m sleepy  now.

Health, Happiness, Heaven.

Something Else.

I think I had a bit of an epiphany over the weekend. I went camping on a beach with some crazy people I know. It was great. Suddenly though, I don’t want to talk about being sick anymore. I don’t know that typing out everyday that I have a migraine and I’m really fatigued and all of my muscles hurt, is helping. In the beginning I started this out with some encouragement from a few different people that I should do it, and it might help other people. And if it even helps one person, then it’s worth it. But I think there is something more important at work here. I think the goal should be to show that you can have a stupid illness like that, and still have a happy life. A productive life. Sometimes people read what I write and tell me it’s really depressing. And I think, depressing for you? I’M the 27-year-old living on my parents couch! But the whole truth is, it could be way worse. I’ve got two feet, two arms, half a brain, and a sense of humor that seems to carry me through the toughest situations. I get that from my dad.

Anyway I’m not sure what direction this is going to go in. I’ll still give reports on how I’m doing though it’s hard to think that anyone reading this cares whether my migraine cycle stopped or how many pills a day I’m up to, or down to. The illness is a part of me, and something that happened to me, but it is not who I am. And I feel called to write about bigger things and do bigger things, even though at times that seems impossible. But I’ve come a long way already. It was just in January that I would dread walking to the bathroom, because it fatigued me so much. I still have a ways to go, but for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel like I am going to recover enough to do big things. Only the universe knows what’s in store, but I am anxious to see what lies ahead.

So no more elaborating about what I feel like. From now on, just assume I have a migraine and I’m fatigued. That way I won’t have to write it everyday. What I’m saying is, great health or bad health, I’m going to keep looking for the reason I am here and why I have a passion for writing. I have a feeling it’s not just to write a blog about being sick. That seems to diminish what I consider a gift that was given to me. I don’t mean to un-substantiate the seriousness or shittiness of this illness, because it is both. And everyone I talk to with it fights a battle everyday. I know the exhaustion of just explaining it. But I want the illness just to be in the background of what I’m doing. I don’t want it to have center stage. I want to show that life can still have meaning and importance, even if you’re stuck in bed. It may have been the reason I started this, but it won’t be why I continue. It’s time for something else.

My Liver

I’ve been thinking a lot about my liver. It’s like, 25 pills a day…my liver must be in overdrive processing all the crap I swallow. But in my anatomy class I was looking at the liver on the model that shows all the organs, and it’s huge! Like much bigger than I thought. I always assumed it’d look like a spleen or kidney or something, but no, it stretches from your right hypochondriac region to your epigastric region. That’s two whole regions! None of the other organs take up that much space. Well the intestines take up a lot, but you get it. Big organ the liver is. And I really hope it will be functioning by the time I am 50 but I often worry it won’t. Can you get liver transplants? I’ll ask my lab teacher.

I had another dream I was dying last night. Well first I had a dream I was looking at a horse and the horse’s head was on fire. It was really creepy. I even consciously thought “I’ll need to tell my mom about this.” Then it transitioned into me being attached to a parachute that wasn’t functioning properly. I kept thinking I was going to crash and burn and die but I didn’t. I would land OK. And then again, whisked up into the air, clenching my teeth and waiting to crash. Pretty stressful. The last part of the dream I was in a car with my dad and someone else that I can’t place. Again the car was attached to the parachute and being thrown all over the place. Only this time, I was calm. I closed my eyes and my thinking was this: It’s fine. If I die and there is no afterlife, then this is the end and I won’t have consciousness to suffer. If there is an afterlife I’ll get to see a bunch of people I miss and probably bounce around on some awesome cumulonimbus clouds. I always imagine Heaven to be filled with pink cumulonimbus clouds. Anyway it was the first time in my stressful dreams that I had attained composure and a feeling of calm before death, which rarely happens in those dreams, so I’ll consider that a win. Score.

I’ve been feeling crappy but functionally crappy for the last week. If I can get myself out of bed, take my meds, drink 3 cups of coffee, I am usually feeling alive about an hour later. It’s that first hour that is tough to push through. Monty usually helps with that because he gets anxious to go out and if I don’t get up he eventually paws me in the face until I start moving. He’s my best motivator, really. I still worry if I’m on the right track. I am working up to go to nursing school but when I talk to people in the program, they work very long hours and study very long hours. I just wonder if I will be able to handle it. But, I’m going to keep trying. Maybe I’ll just be a nursing student for like 4 or 5 years if that’s how long it takes. But I won’t sit around and be an invalid. That’s depressing. I gotta try stuff. Even if I fail.

Anyway, going to try to study more about neurons and the nervous system. It looks like it’s about to storm outside, so that is exciting for me. I like to just sit by a window and watch a storm for as long as it lasts. Sometimes I feel like I could do that for days. Or years. But Monty wouldn’t like that now would he. Peace!

Health Happiness and Functioning 50 Year Old Livers