What rises, falls, and begins again. By enriching ourselves during times of death, we honor the cyclical nature of life and all contained therein, we dig deep for the bones, the teeth, and pelt crafted into tools of wisdom passed on if there are those willing to receive gifts of a crone. The depth and breadth of scar tissue from every loss, every hurt, differs, each death leaves its mark. We are all scar clan, every one of us with their own story.
When Phoebe closed her eyes she heard Shana’s giggle, a drawn out “Gurrrrrl” when she recounted another meet-cute on campus turned weird because Shana found “normal” equal to “boring” and coyly promised a reward for admirers who proved they were neither, with hilarious results for the retelling. Phoebe, who shied away from a hormonal wave of her own admirers, accused her friend of using people for stories, entertainment purposes only. Shana pointed out to her that most of them aspired to motorboat her boobs, probably dreamed about it, their “weakness” as Phoebe’s mother would say. For her part, Phoebe failed at Shana’s mockingly serious introductions, one long-fingered hand involuntarily flying up to cover her mouth, but not her repressed laughter, as she envisioned Brad, Kylie, Geri, or whoever barking like a dog, or if they were exceptionally fit and handsome, meowing like a pussy cat. Merely “placeholders” is how she thought of them because someone, THE one, would fall madly in love with Shana’s overall BIG energy: her corny anecdotes related enthusiastically with sound effects, her talent for creating natural poems and sketches in the moment, her insatiable curiosity about large families, her pride of uncombable dark curls. Timid and slight herself, pale and often invisible, Shana brought out a vitality she didn’t feel she possessed before. Still young enough to believe she controlled her fate, despite Death’s intrusions, Phoebe thought their careful plans and blood bond insulated their future together, or at least a close version of a city/country life, with vegetable gardens and gallery openings, a book shop or small market where Shana could have poetry readings and Phoebe might curate curious treasures, for sale only if they needed an adventure to stir their blood/imaginations. Or, they’d travel, be vagabonds for a year, soak up sunny ocean breezes down south while it was freezing in Detroit, meet characters and write their stories. They’d been dreaming together since 7th grade. The friends had plenty of time before graduation to figure out their next steps, or so they’d said. Then Shana met Doyle with his deep-set eyes fringed in white blonde like spider legs and easy wide smile. Doyle with his ambitious load of pre-med courses and enough natural intelligence to render bioengineering simple. He immediately enthralled her when he set a cup of peppermint tea down next to her textbook. “Take a break. I promise I won’t bother you very long”. And he hadn’t bothered her, only staying long enough to tell Shana how he noticed her before in the busy coffee shop, watched her as she studied at one of the small tables outside. “And how did you know I like this?” “I smelled it last Thursday when I walked by. Wanted to catch your eye, but you are always so engrossed”, he’d said before he told her his name and asked for hers. All the while, Doyle’s eyes never wandered from her face. This was the detail she told Phoebe several times that evening, who thought she should be more concerned about being watched. “Jealous?”, is all her friend replied. Kinda, is what Phoebe thought. A week later, he came over for dinner. A bottle of Shana’s favorite zinfandel and a petite jade tree in a green ceramic pot presented with a memorable line, “A symbol of you and Shana’s friendship that I hope will grow to include me, Phoebe.” Like a dude in a cheesy rom-com, Phoebe thought, although she did appreciate the lucky plant, if not the accompanying sentiment. “How thoughtful. Doyle, right?” When she put her hand out, he beamed at her and gave it a soft shake in his. “Thank you for inviting me in, Ladies.” Although perfectly charming on the surface, there was something slightly off, too sure, a tiny bit spooky, about him. While the girlfriends typically cooked (and danced) together when they entertained, Shana had eggplant parmesan in the oven and the loft tidied up before Phoebe got home stinky and soaked from a spinning class Shana swore would tone her ass before it killed her. Phoebe wasn’t convinced, but admitted the release had improved her concentration. Even their notebooks, sketch pads, books and plethora of writing tools normally littering the coffee table had disappeared, bean bags thrown behind their respective bedroom screens. She remembered how unusually nervous and quiet Shana had been, how she’d paced between the single tall window that looked out on the street and the loft’s kitchen, peeked in the oven window each time she made a pass. “Why don’t we have a tablecloth, Phoebe?”. Long before, their overexuberance frosting Valentine cookies had left pink stains on the uncovered edges of her mother’s old Formica table that she held on to purely for good memories. “Next time we go to the Salvation Army we’ll get a vintage one, maybe with lace or embroidery if we’re lucky”, she’d yelled as she begrudgingly slipped on her loosest jeans rather than pajamas. Phoebe thrived on predictability and preferred Shana’s detours on weekends, when she felt she’d earned some fun. But, her curiosity didn’t want to wait in this instance. How lit up Shana was as soon as Doyle arrived, her rare insecurities gone right up to the moment her parents were exhumed. His faded black t-shirt, well-worn jeans, and scuffed biker boots belied his piercing after dinner conversation, “How old were you, Shana, when your folks OD’d?” and “Did you ever see them shoot up?” Normally, Shana’s dates were intimidated, but not Doyle. After a half hour of squirming through Shana’s stammered descriptions of a past she rarely spoke of, and never with such detail, Phoebe interrupted, “Sorry, but I have some reading tonight; that last chapter when Anna left Alexei again… I want to understand it better. Professor Fayed stresses me out before I’m even awake”. Despite her earlier promise, she awkwardly excused herself before Doyle’s curiosity turned to her. Looking back, she thought maybe her friend was the one intimidated and she had been too self-involved to notice. Why did she leave her in the middle of that brutal questioning? Did her withdrawal help him create a trauma bond? At the time, she didn’t expect to see Doyle again, didn’t expect life to change because of him. He’d left by nine, and hadn’t called Shana for a week.
Belladonna slowed Phoebe’s racing thoughts, picked up and tucked away her memories, and kicked blame out of her head temporarily. Phoebe thought she heard boots on hardwood in the hallway and wondered if Mom would yell at Daddy; late again. As she tumbled loosely into her underworld, she let go of everything except a prayer, “Hail Mary full of grace…”.
Bare feet cool on smoothly worn stairs carved into the sides of the tree, she climbed round, her eyes trained and face tilted back in search of tell-tale lightening, until one foot met only air. She’d run out of stairs. Although she’d hoped to step out in the forest, a soft peat pathway underfoot, admittedly she’d be sorrowful company for her flying friends. Exhausted was any peace she’d discovered in a stream of liquid crystals meandering around mossy boulders and emptying into a pool lit from below. They’d floated for hours the last time they drank Belladonna tea together, she and Shana; no need for words. It’d happened once before, dozens of stairs not advancing to the top, twice if she counted her initial trip to what she imagined as a base, perhaps HER base, within a cedar tree. In the months following her daddy’s heart attack in his corner office on the 23rd floor, she and her mother lit a candle for him at 9 a.m. every Saturday at St. Josephs’ Parish, then prayed for his soul until Father Daniel began readying for Noon mass. Her mother, who’d had to take a front desk job at the Marriot, seemed to find solace during those hours, so Phoebe kept her sore knees and desire to join classmates at the skating rink, or the mall, or the movies, or anywhere other than church, to herself. She often wondered why her daddy’s soul required so many rosaries for so many Saturdays. Deep in the earth at the base of the tree’s unique stairs, is where she found herself one Saturday morning, mesmerized not only by an expansive interior of this mammoth cedar tree, but also by a signature of characters burned black into its’ honey-hued walls. As she did then, Phoebe trailed her fingers over these symbols now, some of which she’d encountered in her studies, most still unrecognizable. A pulsing yellow Sun the size of a dinner plate interrupted the chain and radiated an enveloping warmth, comfort she absorbed for a few seconds before unworthiness prodded her onward. More unknown charry characters passed under her fingers until she reached an infinity symbol, one of five, this one streaming oceanic shades of blue and black. It was the first symbol she’d recognized, and researched it only to find finite understanding by even George Cantor, the famous Set Theory mathematician who classified “absolute infinity equal only to God’s realms”. Unlimited, endless, a brush of her fingertips and she no longer embodied a human, but a sparkling star in the constellation Lyra, not far from Vega the Harp Star, and neighbor of Hercules, Cygnus, and Draco. Eternity was perplexing with Earth’s limited lens, but from here Phoebe remembered Shana could never be entirely erased. An enormous azure and orange ring nebula caught her attention in the distance, neon green twinkling in it’s heart. As she reached for it with her will, a steely vise pulled her forcefully by her head and dumped her naked on an amber resin floor, flat on her back. Just as her breath expelled in a huff, a silver pregnant moon fell from above to pin her motionless. Phoebe sipped the air frantically, unable to expand her lungs as the moon cooled her flattened frame. A frequency emanated from a newly inserted needle at the top of her skull. Hyperventilated and panicked, she stilled finally, spent and empty. Proof of her vileness, her ugliness, played on the moon’s surface like a bad movie, times she made fun of other kids, times she lied, times she wished people dead, like Shana’s parents. I AM vile, she thought, to which Death replied, “Vile, jealous, and ugly. Take whatever love you can because you won’t get much, especially after your ultimate failure as a friend”. A smoky cloud filled the space around her and she felt long hard hard pinches simultaneously on the sides of her thighs that punctuated every word. “Now repeat it back, your worthless bitch, and I might let you go”. Phoebe repeated the words in her head, over and over. The cloud dissipated, as did the moon, and her breath came easier, just as promised. When she tried to sit up, however, a band encircled her brow and lowered her back to the floor as laughing and attractive faces appeared above her, most unknown, but very familiar. They appeared to make bets with one another, their voices muffled.
Trembling, Phoebe came to with a crowd of paramedics, firemen, and police around her bed, an IV in her arm, an empty syringe on her nightstand. “Wha’ss goin’ on?” “It’s going to be ok, Phoebe. I called them when you didn’t answer the door or your phone. We’re all here to help you.” Doyle stood by the jade tree in the window. The streetlight at his back cast his shadow over her and she thought his platinum hair glowed. “Is thisss a dream?”, Phoebe slurred. “Transporting to the state hospital, repeat, transporting female, age 20, name Phoebe Monteer, to state hospital for evaluation following her self-termination attempt.” In the ambulance when she explained she drank Belladonna tea to meet her friend in her dreams, and that she certainly did not need to be restrained, the paramedic looked at her with a smirk and said, “You’ll get a chance to explain all that, Honey. Don’t worry.” He turned toward the front. “She’s getting agitated. I’m going to give her clozapine. Always easier that way and we get home for dinner”.
Shana’s soul trembled as it received an iota of Phoebe’s light-filtered grief, then sighed and settled in peace. Sequestered in their barred galaxy, Tri-Eloh felt the friends’ unbreakable soul bond shred yet hold, but one angel felt an ancestral golden thread unravel as the hem of its’ Mother skirt fell out. A future for the soul in the tiny green star aligned with a threat to an ancient angelic bloodline; if its’ contract wasn’t renewed, other descendants would be spiritually weakened. A single soul rarely appreciated their own import. The Tri exhaled stars into the inky center of their galactic home, then settled in the corners of a triangular cavern as light glanced off a breathing scroll of silver sheets cradled in golden fleece. Alive with a baritone hum, it was encircled by 3 ruby chains, each link embossed with sleeping faces of their descendants on Earth-as a newborn, as a child, as a mother or father, and as an elder. Easy to spot, the link they sought displayed a break where Shana’s older faces had been. Although expected, the prior “If we find an error in Shana’s debts versus karma plus Death’s receipts, the Office of Terminations might pass her on for an audience.” quickly evolved into “We will find an extra somewhere and later, we will audit ALL contracts.”
An expressionless face at the door at 3 a.m. instead of Shana laughing about losing her key again, dead-panned words in a staccato of blasts to her heart, a piece of paper shoved in her hand, all of it a living nightmare Phoebe resisted to her core. Accusing eyes scanned the loft while she sobbed, unable to catch her breath, “Shana, nooo, nooo”. The Tri’s foresight didn’t extend beyond Phoebe’s fierce denial, her wild bedhead and snotty t-shirt in sync with the ugliness she felt, the officers who tossed the loft and took her prescription sleeping pills “for testing”, her desperation with a weary social worker who seemed stuck on repeat, “Did you and your friend use heroin together? Where do you get your heroin?” No mention of the towers of undisturbed textbooks-biology, anatomy, European history, Spanish poetry and modern lit, on the dining table between them, two of each, undisturbed sign posts to their future. The next day Phoebe would go to the county morgue in a daze and identify Shana’s body per parting instructions from cracked lips and also in bold letters on the piece of paper. Further down the sheet she would see an 800 number for survivors “if needed”, and wonder how a stranger with an intact life could possibly understand her blown up world. An 800 number to heaven, she’d think, if I could just talk to her, tell her I love her, I need her. They knew she would be handed a bag of Shana’s belongings including the rose boots she’d given her for Christmas. What Tri-Eloh didn’t see were hellish visions in her mind, massive guilt about staying home, about not really wanting to be with her friend lately. They didn’t know Phoebe would wash her misery away with two cups of Shana’s belladonna tea, or they may have acted sooner.
Nothing and no one in the entirety of the universe escaped El’s all-seeing/feeling/knowing, yet nothing and no one could confidently describe seeing El. For this reason, Tri-Eloh hurriedly reviewed Shana’s contract. “Delivering it in time for bandaging prior to the hearing will render this small transgression into nothing at all, you’ll see.” The other two angels intuited in tandem, “Count the addiction aspects first, then betrayals, then a sum total of abuses. We’re tallying Death’s receipts. No way we have time to figure in Karma. Those records are in The Halls under Archangel guardianship.” In truth, El forgave them instantly and moved on to universally important matters.
While hierarchy did not exist in the ethereal realms, Blissful missions and Divine missions did, both assigned eons after a soul fully ascended.
In the underworld, hierarchy was strictly observed with brutal punishments meted out as rewards for souls addicted to pain, and admittance may be earned in as few as ten lifetimes if the soul lusted after power enough. Death, giddy at their success with Shana, asked again why the demon before him sought punishment and lowered it into the icy salt water when it tried to reply. “Kazmir!”, Death bellowed. Often sidetracked by its desires, Kaz should have returned with a report by now. One of Death’s oldest and most effective demons, Kazmir often took liberties, but also delighted his boss with tales of surprise cruelties undetected by most Guardian Angels. It was dedication like Kaz’s that drove the wheel of life downward, into unconscious competition, violence, and for the long game-thwarted dreams and grief. For a while, Death thought they might lose, but they were an ultimate pessimist. Kaz appeared before them with a rush of decaying stench. “May I congratulate you, Boss, on winning such a prize soul today”, it went on, eager to please, “Soon enough, it will be your pet”, one bulging eye swung out of its’ socket to point at a cage made specifically for Shana’s soul when she was ten years old, a cage of human bones where she often found herself in nightmares. Death would have ordered its’ construction sooner, “S” etched on each bone, but discretion was crucial when tormenting a young soul before puberty, the allowed starting line for their race with life. El disqualified an enraged Death every three seconds for cheating demons who often caused souls to cry out for El’s help. “Did you twist up the other half’s mind yet, Kazmir?” “Not only did I gift her with torture audio and visuals of an endless fiery sea, I also sent unhelpful humans to harass her, and set her up for lucid dreams tonight. Would you like to draft her nightmare?” Once again, Kazmir became Death’s favorite. “You know me so well, Kaz. Let’s involve Doyle. He showed promise, but took too long in pushing Shana to break her contract. See to it, while I console Phoebe”, he laughed.
Doyle Regan dreamed of Shana, her heart-shaped face smiled up at him framed by her raven curls reflecting dappled sunlight, her deep brown eyes looked into him with a smile and acceptance; love he didn’t deserve, never asked for even. She took his hand in her small one and together they walked through the park as they’d done dozens of times over the past year, down the winding path by the flowering trees where they stood as petals floated down on them. Tears slowly made their way single file to fall from his chin as Doyle saw the red and purple marks on her neck. When he awoke, the dream lingered. As he made his way into the shower, scalding water did nothing to fade the image. Doyle wondered how Phoebe was handling her first day without Shana. Phoebe seemed so capable, so responsible. He thought about calling, but decided instead to bring her some of the lemon chicken soup she loved from the Coney Island. Doyle had to make her understand it wasn’t his fault.
A cold breeze laced with pine and rich earth blew across her mind and erased every story, every reason why. Glimpses of a forfeited future flashed in a hologram first to her right, then her left, and back again. A visibly older her sat on a blue blanket on a lush lawn laughing while a well-calloused hand brushed a raven curl away from her face and tucked it behind her ear, her tiny gold cross earring catching the sunlight. At middle-age, she drove a white vintage convertible along a shoreline highway, seagulls diving into sparkling water and that same hand reaching to change the radio station. A strand of pearls being fastened around her neck by younger hands. Her body jerked against the rope as a baby nestled into her shoulder. She kissed his downy hair. Mingled scents of baby shampoo, mother’s milk, and fresh laundry filled her briefly with an old familiar hope. Heavy purple curtains tangled around her limbs; constricted them relentlessly until she no longer had limbs. Something forgotten strained against her diminishment; a desire for sight grew as her life and the images blurred and receded. How unfair that life still withheld joy, still punished her even to her last breath. Death laughed in the vestibule while Life pushed forward with all its might to give her a parting gift. Seth, tall like his Dad, enveloped her arm in his and helped her slowly shuffle to a worn shiny pew at the front of the cathedral, where he bent down to receive her kiss the sun shining through a stained-glass depiction of Mary holding the Christ child. I look happy, was her final thought as tiny vessels in her eyes popped and released their crimson sentence. Urine filled Shana’s favorite leather boots, the ones with roses embroidered on them, as a sea filled her skull and applied waves of pressure needed to oust a soul from its form: a human female of short stature, deep amber eyes and only medium wear. Life sighed and moved on.
“Whoah! Slow your roll there, Kazmir. This one qualifies for a hearing.” Oisin arrived at Termination chute # 333 just in time to play the hero it imagined itself. Belief was everything; everything except for a tiny, tiny bit. Feathers of nil swept Kaz to the side easily as they paid little attention to #333, which everyone knew was highly protected. They much preferred Soul Mover #66, where souls with potential slid toward repetitive contracts nearly impossible to fulfill, except for those that did. Drool covered them all as Kaz’s mouth inspected cracks, dents, and holes in search of the oldest and most damaged of souls with karmic contracts. Some writhed rather than jerked when he prodded their wounds with needles of searing blue fire. Oisin plucked Shana’s soul, still in a state of shock, from the crowd of first-timers and pitched it hurtling through nothingness until a tiny speck of blue appeared below. “Ok, so … Eddy asked me to cover this gig for him today and I don’t really remember exactly what I’m s’posed to impart. Knew I’d be picking you up, concentrated on that part because it seemed more important than a transmission…but, I’ll try”. Oisin extended a pink tendril toward her. “You fucked up. Wait, I mean… (Big inhale of nothingness) you were obviously hurting immensely, maybe even in a mentally ill vessel, so you have an exam and hearing to evaluate if you can finish your contracted missions in another vessel, or if your soul … um, yeah… not quite sure. Forgive me, but I normally work in the Birth Arenas.” Blue speck spread until it enveloped the soul and spun out loose bits of identity such as age, race, gender, and religion. This Soul held tight to its’ name with an ancient ownership that defied Oisin’s abilities. Crimson and violet tendrils wound around concepts of good and bad, ripped them out, and left behind shreds of guilt and regret. One mammoth golden wing swept Oisin aside, who didn’t mind in the least. Not even a portion of a single soul minded Tri-Eloh’s graceful ministrations once they were beyond earth’s physical plane and limited valuations. Oisin felt entirely free as it floated left at the edge of the Milky Way galaxy, a slate wiped clean of worry about covering for Eddy adequately, erased of any concern for Shana’s soul because he’d just tell Eddy about the Tri sweeping it away. Surely, of any Ancient Ones, Tri-Eloh had Divine exemption. Oisin had no appreciation for rules. It attained its choice of exalted positions thousands of lifetimes ago after serving love in 15 lives, 5 of them entirely volunteer, and two in another galaxy. Having been healed by Tri-Eloh eons ago, it existed in bliss as long as it stayed within the Birth Arena, which it planned on every time it returned.
Three spherical beings slightly less bright than the Sun became one around the battered soul, lengthened into a shaft of starlight, then slipped into a disk galaxy 3 million light years from Earth. Shana’s soul rested in a tiny green star among the debris at the outer edge, just left of the Erasure Chambers reserved for Tri-Eloh descendant souls, prior to healing in a collective rainbow eligible for planetary re-entry. “It’s good to have her back, even under the circumstances.” Shana’s ancestor spun energetic threads of protection as it whispered, “You are cherished.’ “There IS a process for suicides”, one being intuited. “Yes, it’s true. Your descendant, or not, it should’ve been stripped entirely and put in Grief Empathy BEFORE erasure”, the other added, even as it floated toward the galaxy exit in anticipation of a negative reaction all three would find equally excruciating. But, typical separation that occurred with disagreement did not come. “It may happen so rarely that we forget their dire oaths, but Death’s demons have been known to cheat.” Tri-Eloh felt a surge of protective love snap their collective will back into alignment.
“Noooooo! Nooo!” a tormented scream of soul mate separation shot out of Earth’s atmosphere and reverberated throughout the universe until it landed on the tiny green star.
While Summer 2020 may be drastically different from summers past, we’re up to creating memorable outdoor fun with our circle of friends and family. As I sit in my office looking out at a cold white sky and maple trees full of new buds, I can envision in my mind’s eye the window open, a soft July breeze lending a voice to hand-sized leaves while birds call and insects hum. Heightened imagination and innovation are a couple of quarantine side-effects that we can put to good use. It’s what we do, so onward with a few ideas that may fertilize your idea garden.
In a recent chat with my cousin, we planned a small family cookout for June, date to be determined. Our plans hinge on multiple factors, and may include new feasting practices, and elbow touches rather than hugs, but oh how sweet it will be to see those faces. Talking and laughing in person again paired with more sunny days is a hope worth having. We also want to spend as many years as possible with our parents and each other. Mortality is on the table whether we acknowledge it, or not, so we may as well make Summer 2020 a standout with a focus on what we DO have.
Kayaks, canoes, tubes, and boats can easily be enjoyed without exposure to a crowd of strangers. We can wave and yell to the strangers, “Any luck? What ‘cha using?” or just a nod and a smile on the river works, too. **Note of Caution**- river levels are especially high after rain and can change a meandering kayak trip into navigating small rapids. Water levels of a specific river or lake can often be found online, too. Here are a few companies that you may be able to schedule classes and tours with to try out kayaking in calm waters: https://stepoutside.org/article/5-excellent-places-for-beginners-to-kayak-in-michigan/
For the past few years we’ve camped at a family-friendly state park next to 2 lakes with wooded trails, and neighbors.. lots and lots of neighbors enjoying the campground’s play areas, courts, and community restrooms and shower houses. Our 2020 campground is our backyard, with the luxury of a private bath and shower. Within 15 minutes’ drive we have several lakes and natural areas for trail walking. And there’s a basketball hoop in the driveway for those games of h-o-r-s-e before it’s warm enough to go swimming. Here are a few innovative hacks for curating your own camping experience: https://www.buzzfeed.com/mallorymcinnis/a-backyard-camping-we-will-go
Hiking/Walking and Picnicking outings also include a chance to create experiences that reflect our individual tastes. For us, an outdoor scavenger hunt could be fun with a simple follow-up picnic of hoagies, nuts, and seasonal fruit. Dozens of scavenger hunt printables and hundreds of picnic recipes can be found online. Location possibilities are plentiful in Michigan with 74 state parks, 1 state forest, and 4 national forests, not to mention hundreds of parks.
Host a family/friends art show, storytelling evening, or craft fair/flea market. Those events on Facebook that we were interested in, but are now cancelled or questionable? Why not a family/friends Maker/Art Fair with created and discovered pieces that stretch our definitions of art, like a miniature ArtPrize 2020, (brilliant ideas for art projects that everyone can manage). Story-telling is perhaps one of the oldest forms of both entertainment and learning. Stories create ease in uncertain times, especially for children, and memories shared strengthen bonds and deepen our roots. I’ve found The Storytelling Loop helpful for crafting children’s tales.
Create a patio and garden that you enjoy. Always wanted flower boxes in your windows or big pots overflowing with blooms on your patio or porch? If you plan on mostly staying close to home this summer, containers’ increased watering needs aren’t a problem. 2020 is my year to create an outdoor oasis. Our grandson already helped assemble a gnome/fairy garden in a rock/succulent bed. Victory gardens, a.k.a. vegetable gardens are an excellent method for reconnecting with our source of nutrition-earth. Families especially can benefit from planting, maintaining, and harvesting fresh produce-from reduced cost, pesticide exposure, and environmental footprints to increased understanding and peace through a creative outlet.
Helping others has never felt so urgent to me, but my usual donations of food and clothing aren’t being accepted. Of course money helps people, and there are plenty of online requests and easy giving opportunities if you’re able. The simplest, yet not the easiest, way to contribute is to consciously be a positive force in your little ecosystem. Encourage others and scroll past angsty political posts. Choose wisely if you want to be informed of world happenings, and remember to enjoy the life and love you have right in front of you, or right around the corner. Make plans. Send cards by snail mail to say, “I care.” Here are some simple tips that contribute to a positive out look.
During the past decade I’ve tried dozens of traditional and alternative treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. I’ve appreciated pain complexity and adjusted remedies to fit, backed off harsh medications or added steroids, adjusted my diet almost daily along with activity levels (completing a project may take 5X as long as it used to). Consistency vanished along with my life outside disease management until I joined an online support group, but not JUST any online support group. This group is fiercely devoted to humor (you may get ousted for complaining), support served on the side (in heaping portions, if needed). Not long after joining this group, my focus shifted, and I began laughing again. Sometimes I was in horrid pain and unable to walk, but I felt better after connecting and laughing. Sometimes I provided the laughs, and it felt good, like I contributed something positive! I’d almost forgotten that feeling.
Truly understanding the effects of disability and pain on a person’s self-worth when you are healthy is beyond difficult even if temporarily stricken with an illness because you get better. That’s not a judgement (YAY for healing), but reality as much as I cannot possibly understand what it is like to live in (Insert Least Liked Country) for the rest of my life. I can learn as much as possible about (Insert Least Liked Country), even visit, but without being forced to live there when I don’t want to, it is a topical comprehension. Experience is where empathy grows, and from shared experience friendships are born.
My friends are online mostly, but please don’t pity me or assume I’m lonely/depressed. I have people I can be 100% real with, if not in the group, then on messenger. Around-the-clock support is there when steroids keep me up all night because: 1. I have friends across the world. and 2. I’m never the only one on steroids at any given time.
We have regional meetups, where I get to hug a few of these Warriors in person vs. our usual cyber-hug routine and we laugh for hours, and end with promises to meet again. Whether online, or in the flesh, the founding member in my neck of the woods teases mercilessly, tells great stories, and is a pretty good sport when humor boomerangs on him. Some friends have travelled for hours to meet each other, in my city this summer and in Elkhart, Indiana yesterday. These are not only friends I laugh with, but also friends who pray for me and send me positive energy when I’m very sick or just walking with a limp. They are the friends who invite us for a big spaghetti dinner, and add special details like twinkle lights and grapes hanging from the ceiling and little gifts of jasper. And they are the ones at home watching us online, hopefully getting a little ambient flavor through the screen.
I don’t socialize less because of this group, trust me. If anything, they help keep me fit for decent company.
Last Spring while scrolling through my Facebook feed I noticed a pictorial essay of women with arms raised, their unshaven armpits displayed. Just as images of women’s bodies portrayed in all their authentic glory evoke a tribalistic pride, I felt the sense of freedom apparent in their eyes. Immediately I typed “How powerful!” and hit “enter” without a thought. I’m free, too!
I began warming to the idea of not shaving my pit hair when a week before an acquaintance on the barstool next to me leaned in and whispered, “Ya know… she doesn’t shave her armpits”, as if imparting a dark dangerous secret about a young woman we know and like. Unfiltered and Budweiser loose, I laughed and said, “Who gives a shit?” Nudges already sprouted, the online troll of a misogynist fertilized my curiosity with , “KSS why don’t you just grow a beard” in response to my support of the hairy women.
What was so magical about armpit hair? And how long did it have to grow for my powers to activate?
Besides a dark stubble, I haven’t met my armpit hair since it was blonde, prepubescent and fine. Shaving was a requisite of becoming a grown woman, at least in my mind. I can still see myself at 15, enjoying the ritual. Cultural definitions of beauty widened a fraction during my youth and allowed for new dramatic, artistic expressions of self (think David Bowie, Prince, and Motley Crue).
In 2019, I find myself in a time of flexible inclusiveness, with rigid labels fading into history. Thanks to millions of wise women and brave men before me, I feel more free to try new things and new ways of living than ever before. Shaving was not an important issue to me, but Dang!, it sure is important to some people. Seeking to understand why, at least somewhat, (MOSTLY for a chance at Samson-style magic), I used this summer as my lab.
#1 Grow-not shaving my pits
What I learned:
Surprisingly, hair in my pits made me less funky this summer, even with switching to a natural rose-oil deodorant.
I AM MAGICAL! I feel more powerful in my body now that I allowed myself to be uncomfortable, then settle into a reality where shaving is purely my choice, rather than doing what I’ve always done because I was trained to do so.
This is my first experience/choice/”Grow” out of 40 I intend to curate by the end of 2019. New experiences expand my understanding and the potential for fun, laughter, and friendship is endless. I invite you to join me for #40grows to experience growth through new habits, new food, new thoughts, meeting new people, new adventures, new anything that takes you out of your bubble of comfort. The point? To enrich our lives and fertilize our brains.
3-month-long summers in Michigan fly by not only for school kids, but also for winter-worn adults. Spring arrives with promise and summer memories begin greasing the wheels of vacation plans. Our choices this year were made easier by the Mr’s new fishing boat. While I don’t have mad love for fishing, my husband has enough for both of us. So, out of mad love for him, or maybe just madness, I planned a camping/fishing vacation at a state park with shower houses and 4 nearby lakes.
Not your average outdoorsy or anydoorsy gal, I learned a few things that will make our 2020 camping trip easier for me and maybe other camping newbies.
In Yogi Bear cartoons an army of ants regularly marched away with food and even whole picnic baskets belonging to Jellystone visitors. Those ants are ancestors of a well-trained ant army at Interlochen State Park. Newbie tip-Don’t bring syrup camping; pancakes can be found at nearby restaurants. Secure ALL food in airtight containers or bags. Don’t assume a plastic tote will keep the invaders out. Learn from me so at least some good comes out of my underestimation of ants.
If a grocery store is within 5 miles of our campsite, there’s no need to pack as if we are travelling to an island (our usual July vacation in my parent’s cabin). Old habits do not die, so I packed enough food for a week. You know, just in case. Waterlogged food, in general, is not salvageable.
Make friends with dirt; lean in and don’t fight it or dirt can ruin everything. Skip showering one day to show solidarity with dirt/earth. Setup a screened tent (our “kitchen”) directly in front of the sleeping tent. Use an outdoor rug or piece of outdoor carpet between the 2 tents. Leave your dirty shoes in the screened tent.
Building on #3-chances are, it will rain, so go with it and don’t become disappointed. Bring cards, a radio or bluetooth speaker for areas with WiFi, and a board game. Some of the best conversations happen when it rains.
BE ORGANIZED. Camping may never be on my Top 10 list of dreamy vacations, but employing 3-drawer plastic organizers might render it mostly relaxing, almost turn-key, definitely better than living out of a suitcase or duffel bag. The less time spent looking for things is the more time we have to fish.
Above all-decide to enjoy sharing time outdoors.
Fun fact: Interlochen Fine Arts Camp across the street from where we camped at the state park is the “band camp” referenced in the movie American Pie.
Here in the middle of all the wonderful and horrible ruckus in our universe is Gen X, former latch-key kids who watched Scooby-Doo and played tag regularly. We had 2 technology electives at Creston High during the early ’80s-“Computers” and “Word-Processing”. College was a smart option to leverage your prospects, but there were also plenty of decent-paying jobs for those of us who wanted to move out after graduation. I’ve seen our Casey Kasem-Top 40-mixtape world entirely change during my 51 years. Once in a while I am nostalgic for a John Hughes movie, but the truth is I love my mod cons. Except my Kindle (no page-turning, no smell). I spend most of my time here in the gap between a simpler existence and massive waves of new information to sift and sort. XER is about what I fill the gap with in this middle-child kind of life-travel, food, joy, healthy tips/recipes, nature, good books, and writing.
Scrolling through my mind this week were women who have inspired me, paved the way for me, or just made me a better person by being themselves unapologetically, or sometimes apologetically. The writers, artists, and humanitarians. The scientists, teachers, and leaders. Today though, I remembered dozens that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in listicles. Although these Women came to me last, they are the ones who inspire me most often, the Women who keep me encouraged.
In my day-to-day life I’m grateful for the Woman who taught me how to be a Woman, how to work, and most importantly, how to stand up. Her devotion inspires me on multiple levels.
I’m inspired by Women who fight Autoimmune Diseases such as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Disease, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, Hashimoto’s, Celiac, IBS, Grave’s Disease, AI Hepatitis, and several others. Many of these Women are raising children, keeping a home, working, then working some more. All of these Women are living life on their terms, pushing for better treatments, and pushing themselves every day. I tell myself that if they can do it, then so can I.
I’m inspired by the Moms I know because their well of energy on half the amount of sleep I get is mind-boggling. I have my grandson for one day and I’m whipped, done-in, Netflix ’til I fall asleep the next day. These Moms go from the crack of dawn until they finally put kids to bed, pick up around the house, and get to relax. At which point they fall asleep.
I’m inspired by the working Women I know because it isn’t always easy to meet expectations or to get out of bed when all you want to do is drink Nyquil and snuggle with the dog. These Women show up in every sense of the phrase.
When I look around me, in my community, in my family, I see inspiring and resplendent women everywhere. I see Women doing their best and generously giving to others. International Women’s Day 2018 birthed a thoughtful week filled with admirable Women.