January, 2010 Archive

Shelter from the Storm

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Luscious sounds of rumbling thunder and rain tapping on skylights.  Still dark at 6:30.

After preparing a solo dinner last night with rappacini from the farmers market and a glass of wine, I lay down on the bed for a nap, which lasted until this morning. Tensing with the pains in my back and joints all day left me exhausted.  Settling under the old feather comforter felt wonderful, as if I had been up all night or spent hours at hard labor in the cold, even though it hadnt been a strenuous day, especially by comparison to Jan’s, who was at a Council meeting that would probably go till midnight.  I’d accompanied Lucas and Claire to the dentist in Arroyo Grande, driven home for lunch, driven back to A.G. at Dennis’ request to take Ian out of school and get his cast removed, gone with him to the beach to look at  storm waves and topple little sand cliffs, and then stopped at the nursing home to see Ruth.  It was a shock to find her no longer dressed in her wheelchair, but sprawled in bed in a flimsy hospital gown without glasses or hearing aids or false teeth, her mouth shriveled and gaping, her hair lusterless, her skin gray, her brow  furrowed.  I announced my presence and took her hand.  She squeezed it once, then pushed it away,  shuffled on the mattress, and resumed fingering the edge of her gown. One word escaped her: “help.”  Then she quieted, apparently off to morphine-induced sleep, though her brow never relaxed.

The night before, Jan prepared an elegant dinner for Patricia whom we hadn’t seen in two years, since before her cancer diagnosis, radiation, chemo, and surgery.  She was as vital, busy and considerate as ever, full of lighthearted stories of her ordeal and triumph, of recollections of experiences we’ve shared, of questions about us and the family, and of her own burgeoning plans for this year—directing six productions at PCPA while teaching full time.

On the topic of feeling pain during her new exercise-physical therapy routine I was especially engaged—trying to distinguish between the benefits of pushing limits of  endurance and recognizing signals to pull back, use drugs, seek medical help.  The knee surgeon had told me two weeks ago to take four Aleve per day to see if that reduced swelling, but after reading of the long-term side effects of such regular use, I was experimenting with doing without it and working in the yard.  The results were not encouraging.

All this wintry local experience takes place within the darker framework painted by the news flooding in on radio, internet, and newspaper.  The failure of Obama’s promise, confirmed by the fizzling of the Copenhagen talks on climate change,  the widening of war in Afganistan,  the increase of debt and reduction of government services, and by yesterday’s Republican victory in Massachusetts.  And behind this political gloom lurks the metaphysical horror of the earthquake in Haiti.

I’m in the habit of preceding my morning meditation with prayers to a god whose existence I don’t believe in. I make three silent utterances beginning, “Thank you,” “Please,” and “I’m sorry.”  The Please is most often for cure of disease or alleviation of suffering by friends and family members: “let the chemo work for T…, let the tumor  be benign for P, let R rest in peace.”  These requests affirm my concerns, discharge obligations and create the illusion of sending  positive influence their way through my obeisance to a higher power.  But when I think of the suffering in Haiti, the Please bounces back at me.  Even suspending disbelief and regressing to the innocence of the first graders in Ian’s  school who a dozen times a day hear of God’s benevolent intentions, I cant imagine a personality who would unrelentingly torment so many people while allowing me to listen to their story on the radio as I cook myself supper.

Mirrors

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Ketchum December 28 2009 7:30 AM

I woke up at 6:00 AM after a night of many trips to the bathroom and unquiet rest.  Before going to bed at 9:30 I sat for a while at the kitchen island looking at my hands in the beautiful overhead spotlight, feeling contentment.  Joe, Amy, and Jan and the two boys had watched the show I’d been thinking about since I cleaned and scanned the slides in the Art History lab: 150 or so images from 1978 to 1984 projected on the white wall behind the couch.  Most of the pictures were of the trip to England we took from Lund in June 1978.  Joe was Ethan’s present age and I was two years younger than he is now. It was a time of fulfillment and promise for our young family then, as this is a moment of fulfillment and promise for his young family now. Jan and I pieced together a story line about the trip, and Joe filled in details both of us had forgotten.  He marveled at the similarity between my past and his present appearance.  The kids watched patiently for more than an hour, even though exhausted, and Ethan asked many questions. We agreed that just as Joe now remembers those events of 31 years past, Ethan will remember this present when he is Joe’s and grandpa’s age.

As I copy these words written a week ago, they recall yet another déjà vu.