Tag Archives: health

Monday Run Day

The Path by Circespeaks

The Path by Circespeaks

Monday run day. I am moving fast today. Lots to do. I started out on a walk that turned into a run, which is a good metaphor for the way this day is going.
In the course of walking and running, I mostly avoided roads with traffic, and took the routes of humanly constructed nature: the path by the brook to the loop around a big soccer field. Of course asphalt loops and soccer fields, like fields of any kind–are not real nature, but they beat concrete and battling with cars for a corner of pavement. I have discovered my best path out of the house, without using my car, while spending the least amount of time crossing streets or in any way thinking about cars and traffic.
I am not a runner. My idea of why to run is to chase a ball or a kid. But I find myself not exactly out of shape, but not in the best shape for the upcoming ski season, and life in general, so am adding running (yes, jogging, but hasn’t that word been retired?) back into my routine as much as overused soccer knees will allow.
Do you remember wearing a winter coat when you were little? Not a ski jacket, but a coat, for occasions when your parent decided that you should look “cute” or be dressed up a bit? I do. Mine was red, with big red buttons, and my arms didn’t move that well in it. I felt repressed when wearing it. The pictures confirm that I did look cute, but from the inside, it did not feel good. Today’s run was unplanned, so though dressed in yoga pants and running shoes, I was also wearing a wool coat on top. When I arrived at the loop and saw other people running, and not in long, graceful sinuous motion, either, I decided that I didn’t care what I was wearing: today I would start to add running back into my non-runner’s workout routine. Of course, I happened to pick the coldest morning of the year thus far to start my running program. But it is so much easier to just do something spontaneously, even without every detail in place, than to plan so carefully that I set up mental roadblocks. The running program and the renewed commitment to being outside, but away from traffic are separate, and consistent. So, whether the knee with big staples from a 15-year-old ACL reconstruction, or the knee without object too much for me to do this often, I will resignedly keep walking.

Today my path will lead to a place I both do, and do not, want to go. It is not the physical place about which I have mixed emotions. The story is not mine to tell, and no online source is truly anonymous, but in brief: I will be visiting a very close friend today. One of my friend’s two children, not a young child, but a young person, is very ill. Will I provide comfort? Will we be able to meet, enjoy ourselves, reminisce, without making devastating illness the focus of our afternoon, or is that a ridiculous proposition.

Please, any of you who has a child who is ill, or a close friend with a child who is ill, provide me with guidance. Illness is never so devastating as when it strikes the “wrong” generation of a family. The young person may be present, or be off enjoying time with other family members. “How are you doing?”, a most common of English phrases, takes on a weight and unintended meaning in a situation like this one. And there is the discomfort that comes with knowing that I am as susceptible to this, or any other scourge, as the next person. But this is not about me. It is not about illness. It is about meeting a close friend of many years face-to-face and heart-to-heart. May my heart lead me. Only intuition, or guidance from a source greater than myself, and not rehearsed dialogue can help me to be the person I need to be today. I will keep my ears, eyes, and all senses wide open, and I will know what my friend needs from his old friend. Please hold me in the light this afternoon.

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The Uncooperative (and Partly English) Patient

The lowly has risen. This isn’t quite as marvelous and self-aggrandizing as it may sound. I just went from being a person with a lifetime of low, sometimes unusually low, blood pressure, to a person who was trying to calm down, so that I could go home instead of to the hospital. I guess 160/100 is no big deal…unless your normal blood pressure has been 110/60.

Was it the coffee I drank? Just those few sips? Normally a drinker of strong English or Indian tea, it was, if so, not caffeine but some other alkaloid contained in coffee.

Suggestions on what to avoid if you happen to have a sudden spike in blood pressure: self-righteous relatives who choose that moment–when you just want to avoid the dreaded hospital, to go home, and to get something to eat–to tell you how “lucky” you are. I am perfectly aware that I am fortunate not to be in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, or war-ravaged Syria, or drought-and-strife ravaged nations in Africa. And while I am not making the ultimate sacrifice of going there as a foreign aid worker–with no special medical training, I would merely be in the way–I am one of those people who broods over the terrors, natural and man made, that befall people whom I have never met. Hunger is perhaps the curse I brood over most because it is almost one hundred percent preventable. And I am almost always hungry, despite not suffering want.

Not that I am unusually generous, but I give as I feel able, and as thoughtfully as I am able, pouring over Charity Navigator, and over articles on how to help the most people with whatever (small amounts) I have to share. MSF, Oxfam, an UNICEF are usually the international aid agencies I choose for crises. There are also organizations such as FINCA, that provide small business loans, usually to women in third world countries. (Is “third world” not an outdated expression? Non-industrialized nations might be better, but even wealthy industrial nations like Japan suffer tragedy and require aid, as we saw two years ago.) I do not neglect local needs, the people who are my neighbors, either. But I could most certainly do more–much more. As I have written before, the word “charity,” except in its biblical meaning of “love” rankles. Who am I to have money and time that I choose or don’t choose to share with someone else? Lucky, that’s who. Not to mention a bit selfish.

Wherever I go out, I make my best effort to smile to someone who may be having a worse day than I am, even though I naturally tend to be on the morose side myself. Or even to smile at someone who looks like he or she is having a marvelous time. We can all be masterful at deception when we are in public. Yes, this is terribly trite, yet I hold fast to the truism that a smile can “brighten someone’s day.” My smile is probably my best feature–isn’t it everybody’s?–and it is a daily miracle to watch someone become happier simply because I have made eye contact, and smiled at them, without regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and all those other statuses. Sure am lucky. If I didn’t have teeth, for instance, I doubt I’d be smiling, and able to make even that small contribution.

My other suggestion: Don’t answer the phone. If it is urgent the caller will keep trying. One doctor’s office called the other, and while I was sitting there, head and chest pounding, sweating, being quite amazed that I had been able to negotiate the heavy Friday afternoon traffic while feeling distinctly light-headed, another doctor’s office called. What was I thinking? I normally do not answer the telephone. The telephone is my least favorite mode of communication. That’s what voice mail is for. I think my mother is starting to understand that you don’t leave a message except in urgent cases: You call, hang up, and the person you have called will call you back if he or she is able and so inclined. I was in no mood to be told to make an inconvenient drive next week to have my blood pressure checked. Every pharmacy has a cuff, and I know to check both arms, and so on. So…I was not impolite, but I was very definite in informing the receptionist that I would not be coming in for a blood pressure check because doing so would raise my blood pressure. Being even mildly terse with the receptionist, and probably labeled an “uncooperative” patient, made me even more stressed.

My blood pressure was perfectly normal at the gym yesterday, at the gym this morning. I like going to the gym: the people are friendly, and if I can’t be playing a real sport, I at least want a good daily sweat. Once I arrived at the doctor’s office, I suddenly felt strange. So I am not going to repeat that exercise unnecessarily. Yes, if I check my blood pressure at one or more pharmacies and it remains high, I will go to my GP, but until then….

It’s Friday evening. Happily, though caffeine was forbidden, beer was not.

I’m really very annoyed at myself for missing the GSW (Golden State Warriors) buzzer-beating game last night. (The GSW are an NBA basketball team based in Oakland, California.) Maybe I can find a replay on ESPN2. This is probably a good day to abandon my usual schedule.

Pilgrimage: Journey and Destination

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

Wildflowers in Swedish Meadow by Circespeaks

To see a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

–William Blake

The little flower carries a promise. It is not dangerous to see ones smallness. Small is not worthless….That which is small can bear the grand in the wonder that holds the infinite…

–K.G. Hammar

Pilgrimage in Sweden today is more focused on the journey than the destination, as was traditional in medieval times, and as is traditional in many Catholic pilgrimage sites, such as Lourdes, even today.

Pilgrimage is a common metaphor for the journey of every life, from beginning to end. Surely many of us are also more focused on the journey than the destination. Even those who have a very clear vision of what the ultimate destination following life on earth is, often agree that the right sort of journey will lead to the desired destination, even if the path is not clearly mapped.

It is at this point that opinions, religious and spiritual convictions, diverge. The journey that is sacred for one, is secular for another. In Swedish pilgrimage today, the distinction between the sacred and secular is not sharply drawn. Many of these pilgrims reject the language and authoritarianism of organized religion in favor of spirituality. Whether a Swedish pilgrim joins a pilgrimage through a tourist organization, an educational or cultural association, or a church, or because it is conveniently passing through the person’s hometown, the sacred and secular are brought together with every step of the journey. Though atheist pilgrims, and some agnostic “seekers” would not use the language of sacred and secular, pilgrimage is both for all. Pilgrimage takes place in the physical lived world, and is sacred, as in set apart from daily life and activity. Each footstep may be a lived prayer or a step towards improved psychological or physical health.

Ideally, we would all live each moment as mindfully as those on organized pilgrimage, but for those not devoted to the contemplative life this is not an easily achieved goal. Nor do all desire such a life. Leaping first and looking second may yield surprising benefits along with the possibility of risk.

Walking and running are not my usual forms of exercise, but the misty morning called to me. Once outside and in motion, I was greeted a woman holding a booklet in her hand. She was only momentarily distracted from meditating on booklet which appeared to contain Christian prayers or Bible verses. When I arrived at the track, I noticed a woman walking slowly yet speaking rapidly without pausing. Her words had the cadence of a prayer, perhaps from the Qur’an or other sacred text, perhaps a repetition of her own petition, or the recitation of multiplication tables. She spoke a foreign language, so I can’t be certain, but the latter seems most unlikely. She spoke with focus while walking, and stopped praying or reciting when she stopped walking. Though we may not think of short walks as pilgrimage, local pilgrimage has also always existed, especially for women, who could not leave the home for any length of time. Lunch-hour pilgrimages go forth from the Pilgrimage Center in Gothenburg, Sweden, and from many Swedish parish churches. We are each on our individual and communal pilgrimage. A common Swedish pilgrim prayer, the prayer of St. Birgitta follows. Rather than beginning by invoking “Lord,” which has an authoritarian, masculine, Christian connotation, simply substitute “Spirit Within,” “Earth,” “Gaia,” “Higgs Bosun Particle” or the name of an inspirational figure or religious leader of your faith.

“Lord, Show me Your Way, and make me willing to walk it.”

–The Prayer of St. Birgitta

“Draw the Circle Wide” A Living Legacy

We gathered together, quietly, anxiously, some reaching for tissues in anticipation of the tears bound to flow. Seated in the chapel, we waited for the celebration of life ceremony to begin. There are so many reasons to “draw the circle wide.” We were gathered that afternoon to celebrate the life and contributions of one extraordinary individual, an individual whose constant inclusion of the LGBT community was one important legacy.

We, the celebrants, also mourners, were not sure what to expect. Would our colleague and professor participate via Skype? Might he be too tired that day, at home with his family in hospice care, to participate at all? (Would a recording of his voice be broadcast, and would the voice of a living man seem like the voice of an Old Testament God from above? This imagined scenario made me ill-at-ease.) When every seat of the Methodist Chapel was taken, and latecomers were standing, we heard the surprising and welcome words,”All rise to welcome our guest of honor and his family.” We rose, apprehensively, and then, as our beloved professor, colleague, and friend was wheeled to the front of the room, and slowly turned to face us, the clapping and calls of joy and greeting continued for many minutes.

The pithy, yet heartfelt, words of welcome concluded with an invitation to those present to step forward to share. People of all ages, from around the world, and in many languages, spoke not just of our professor, father, friend, but directly to him. We were reminded by one colleague that this vital man of powerful intellect who loved life, family, friends and justice–as well as a good party and music–so ardently, was also often angry, exacting, and demanding. Though slightly reduced in stature and stamina by illness, before us was a familiar person: gentle, helpful, yet often intimidating, and always life-affirming, fully himself. Some tried, but were barely audible when they stood to speak; some sang; others told of being homeless and being invited “home,” not merely once, but as family. All went forward to bestow and receive a kiss.

The ceremony ended with tossing of colorful confetti, which we rained down on one another. We sang as our esteemed teacher and his family left the chapel. The song was an embrace: we held hands in a convoluted ring, singing “Draw the Circe Wide” as they slowly and deliberately moved away. “Amazing Grace” indeed! Atheists, agnostics, believers in a transcendent God, and in the sanctity of physical earthly and human community, a spirit moved through us and united us. This communal spirit and the strength of the man in the wheelchair– unflinchingly, graciously, even joyously attending his own celebration of life ceremony–was a testimony to one life and to all life.