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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Aging Gracefully in Tight Jeans

    I turned fifty-three two days ago and have been "adjusting" to this, like I've adjusted to my new age every year for the past few years. It's like putting on a pair of jeans that don't quite fit right, struggling to pull them over my hips and noticing a resistance. Noticing the tugging that is required to make it happen. Noticing the tightness as I pull up the zipper. Noticing the discomfort. I stand there in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom looking at the me in too-tight jeans and wondering, "How did this happen?" and, "What can I do to make it go away?" 

    I know how it happened: I got older. There's no mystery in that. I got older like everyone else gets older. Why I thought I would somehow be immune to this process is strangely comical. Why I thought everyone around me might start to wrinkle, sag and bulge in odd places while I would not is baffling and bizarre. Or is it? Isn't clinging to that desire just another way of resisting the inevitable? Maybe the belief that I would retain my youth past middle age is a normal reaction. I don't know. What I do know now, now that I'm smack in the middle of it and suited up in my new jeans, is that I was wrong. I was wrong about this just as I've been wrong about many other things in life. This new me isn't going anywhere anytime soon. She is here to stay, and stay she will, even though I've been trying to kick her out for awhile now. Even though I tell her she isn't beautiful enough to be a member of the club. 

    Yes I've been trying to make her go away, that woman in the jeans clinging a little too snugly to her bottom. I've done this in various ways. Most have been attempts to preserve my youthful physical appearance or alter any visible signs of aging as quickly as I can. This is evident on the shelf in my bedroom that contains multiple vials, bottles and pots of various creams, lotions and potions designed to slow down the passage of time. There has sometimes been a franticness to it that I'm not proud of (looking at my aging neck pushes the panic button every time for example). Because everyone knows we're not supposed to feel frantic about aging, or we're not supposed to show that we're frantic anyway. We're never supposed to show our fear, panic or distress about the whole thing. We're either supposed to do something about it OR we're supposed to age gracefully. Those seem to be the only two choices. We can pay someone to try and change us back to who were were, or to somehow stop time from running all over our faces and bodies, just freeze it somehow... for a bit anyway. Or we can invite that new person in to stay, for good, and with open arms. 

    Although the second option is much less invasive and cheaper, it isn't easy, the main reason being that we live in a world that values youth, equates youth with beauty and places a premium on it. Looking young is the ideal. A face free of lines and jowls, and a body free of lumps and saggy parts is a good thing indeed. In our world, we are basically made to feel inadequate with the inevitable. This sucks. Because how can you fight that? How can you beat it? How can you emerge unscathed? How can you traipse through middle age and old age unaffected by the standards and scripts that the world has written for you when you're bombarded by it at every turn? I told someone the other day that it seems like a cruel joke indeed as we go through life, especially as women, that we spend our youth often not feeling attractive enough, and just when we start to feel ok in the skin we're in, age comes storming in and boom-- we're not good-looking enough again! When does it end?

    It probably ends when we say "Fuck it" or "Enough" or "No more" to societal standards and expectations and begin to live our own scripts, not the ones that have been laid out in front of us forever. It probably ends when we can redefine beauty, and look at beauty from multiple perspectives, perspectives that can look at a highly wrinkled face with twinkling eyes and find pure beauty in that. It probably ends when we can go within and make peace with ourselves, explore the depths of our hearts and minds, and see the never-ending treasures inside of us. It probably ends when we realize with certainty that the inside is more important than the outside, that the outside is just a shell that houses the gifts within, and that that shell is beautiful and valuable no matter what age it is.

    I know that is where I need to get to. I know that I need to redefine things and make my priorities reflect where I am at in my life, rather than where the script that is "out there" tells me I should be. I know that I need to take a deep breath and be less frantic about the whole aging thing. I know also though that underneath it all is an intense fear of aging and that I need to confront that probably in order to embrace the new me fully. But for starters, I think I'll just welcome that new woman in the tight jeans into my space instead of pushing her away all the time. I'll let all fifty-three years of her in the door, and we can sit and have some tea together. 


    


    

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Being Single on Valentine's Day

     Over the past decade, Valentine's Day has always been a bit of a tricky thing for me. I never really know how to celebrate it, being a single woman, so I usually don't celebrate it. I know I could use this day to focus on all the other kinds of "love" that I have in my life, and celebrate those loving relationships, but I don't do that because to me, Valentine's Day isn't about other kinds of love; it's about romantic love. It's about being grateful for the intimate partner you have, and taking the time to make sure they know somehow, in your own special, meaningful way. Whether that be a carefully crafted private moment with that person or a public post detailing the the reasons that person makes your heart skip a few beats, this day is about a special kind of love. So where do all the single people fit into this?

    Although it often feels like a "couples world", especially seen through the lens of singlehood, the reality is there are many, many single people on the planet. Whether by choice or not, our numbers are growing. Considering that Valentine's Day is supposed to be a day to celebrate coupledom, it would seem logical that us single folks should just ignore it. And many of us do. Or at least we try to. But sometimes this is hard, and sometimes we can't help but think about our own hearts on this day, and on the paths that have led us here, to our single places. This is what I often find myself doing on this day: reflecting on my own love life and how I ended up wherever it is I am at in that moment.

    Today is no different in the reflecting part, but it is radically different in other ways. In past years, a certain chunk of time was devoted to feeling sorry for myself because I didn't feel the piercing of cupid's bow at present, and was convinced it would never happen in the future either, even though I desperately wanted it. This prediction of future loveless states would send me into a downward spiral that wasn't pretty. Another chunk of time was devoted to trying to convince myself that I really didn't want a romantic relationship, or that it was an overrated, commercialized thing best left to hardcore romantic types, of which I thought I wasn't. In retrospect I can see that both of these ways of responding to Valentine's Day were lousy ones, but that was where I was then, and the response seemed fitting.

    This year is different though. Although a small part of me is thinking about the lack of intimacy in my life in the present moment, it is only a tiny part. And even when I think of it, the way I am thinking about it isn't the same as before. I don't think of it in a self-pitying way, rather in a self-acceptance way, a way that sees with truly open eyes how things are in the present moment and is okay with it. I can look at where I am at in my life also with understanding. I can see the choices I have made, choices for the most part that have kept me single, and I am okay with those choices too. I know that it is I alone who has created my reality, and that for many reasons I am meant to be exactly where I am now.

    There is no longer the self-blame or over-analysis of how I came to be where I am, no longer a bemoaning of my single status or a fervent wishing that it were different. Gone is also the desire to be rescued by someone, or to lose myself in another person in order to possibly forget my overthinking self for a moment. I also am not replaying countless tapes of how and where I have screwed up in the love department, tapes that rewrote all of my relationship troubles and made them my own fault, even though I knew that a relationship involves two people. In short, I don't feel yucky about being single today.

    Does this mean I'm doing a dance of joy because I'm not part of a couple thing? No. Do I still want that? Yes. Do I need it? No. And that is the biggest difference of all. I have finally arrived at a place in my life where want trumps need. It took me 52 years to get here but it finally happened. I no longer need a romantic relationship to feel whole, centered, satisfied and at peace. Because, more and more, I feel those things on a daily basis, just being in a relationship with myself. Although it seems to be common wisdom that one of the best ways to a fulfilling, healthy intimate relationship with another person is to start by cultivating a healthy, fulfilling relationship with yourself, for some reason, I found that so hard to do for much of my life. But then slowly, things began to click for me, and slowly that changed. 

    So today, on Valentine's Day, I celebrate personal growth and true self-love, a love that is not born out of ego, but grounded in compassion and acceptance. I celebrate the opening of my heart as I see more and more the ways that it was closed before. I celebrate this moment as it is, and me as I am in my singleness. I know that, in the end, Valentine's Day is about the heart that is full, and I know I have a full heart. Maybe one day again I will share my heart with another, but today, I am okay to sit still with my full heart all by myself.

    

    

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Why I love "It's A Wonderful Life"

     I have a few routines and traditions during the holiday season, and one of them is to watch "It's a Wonderful Life". I'm not really sure when this started. It wasn't a tradition in our house growing up. It was something I grabbed onto I think in my late 20s, and it stuck around. Truth be told, it more than stuck around. It's not just a thing I do because I'm supposed to, or because I started it, therefore need to continue it. No, it's something I do because it has meaning for me, because it reminds me of things that matter, and because it fills me up with warm, fuzzy, loving feelings... and that is never a bad thing.

    I've tried to pull my 17 year old son into my now decades long yearly ritual of watching this movie, in various ways, telling him the themes are timeless, that it's a classic, a treasure, something he also needs to incorporate into his holiday season. He has now watched it three times with me. I don't remember 3 times, more like 1.5, but he insisted adamantly the other day that it has been three... three hate-filled times. He has declared more than once, "I hate that movie". Although part of me feels the sting of his words and wants to ditch my indoctrination attempts with him, another part won't give up. In fact, that other part clings fiercely to the mission: To make my son see how fabulous this movie really is.

    So my mission got me thinking and asking myself a few questions. Why DO I like this movie so much? Why does the holiday season somehow not feel complete unless I've watched it? Why can I watch this movie over and over again, and not get tired of it (especially being a person who tires of things quickly)? Why does it affect my emotions the way it does?

    This year, I actually found myself tearing up a few times as I watched it, an odd experience because crying is not something I usually associate with this film. In context, the tears might have more to do with current circumstances rather than the movie itself. Due to the social distancing that is now required of every human on this planet, I spent Christmas Eve alone-- something I have only done once before in my life, and that was because I had a nasty flu, so it doesn't really count because I was too sick then to care. But this year, I did care. And this year, my ritual of watching It's a Wonderful Life took on even more importance. This year, it was a life raft of sorts. I clung to that thing like it was the only thing to cling to in a weird sea of alienation. And it saved me.

    As I sat on my couch and watched it, under blankets and cozy in my pjs, with food I'd ordered in so I didn't have to cook, I slowly felt myself filling up with all the right emotions. Where sadness and disappointment were a few hours before, in its place now were hope, love, and joy. Where I had been focusing on my aloneness, feeling cut off from the human contact I so desperately wanted, the focus now shifted. I was reminded of our interconnectedness, of the ways we affect one another, of how we come together when we need to. But most of all, I was reminded of the love we feel for our partner, family and friends, and how it is that love that matters most of all. I was reminded, in essence, of all the things I am normally reminded of each time I watch the movie. 

    When George Bailey leans over the same railing of the bridge he had only hours earlier thought to jump from and end his life, but this time in his leaning, he is praying, "Please God, let me live again. I want to live again" (or something like that), my heart fills and occupies more space in my body than it did before. It happens every time. His plea is a reminder of how precious and beautiful this life is. When he realizes he has been granted his prayer and runs screaming with joy through the streets of Bedford Falls, savouring everything and everyone along the way, I'm reminded of all those things and people that I savour in my life, and how I need to spend more time savouring and less time complaining. When Clarence the angel tells George, "See George, you really did have a wonderful life", it makes me think of the infinite ways that life is indeed wonderful. And that is never a bad thing. So I will continue my tradition of watching "It's a Wonderful Life" every holiday season, under my blankets, with the lights of the Christmas tree twinkling in the background, because I love it that much.

    

    

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

My Father

     Today is November 11th, Remembrance Day, and a fitting day to write about my father, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 31 years. Every year, I watch the Remembrance Day ceremony on tv on CBC, and though I think of current events and past veterans, it is my father who takes center stage for me in my mind on that day. He is the main character, the principal hero in his crisply pressed military uniform, with his stripes and medals, standing proudly, representing his country and all those values that he held and continues to hold dearly.

    My father was born on October 13th, 1945 in Sudbury, Ontario to a French-Canadian mother and father. I don't know a lot about my father's childhood, but I do know things weren't always easy, that money was sometimes tight, that his father had a problem with drinking, and that his mother worked long hours to pay the bills. My dad doesn't talk much about his childhood. I know that at a young age, he was hustling in a local pool hall, finding a way to earn his own much-needed money. I know also that he wasn't successful at school, despite his obvious smarts, dropping out in grade 9. The act of joining the military at 17 years of age I think was, in many ways, a ticket out of the limitations he was facing at the time. Joining up revealed a few other things about his personality as well: the ability to make radical changes and take on big challenges, the desire to defend core values by serving his country, and a deep-seated urge to grow into his potential and spread his wings. 

    As I think of my father today, through the lens of the army brat I once was, I have many vivid memories of him as a military man. There he is, spit-shining his boots at 9pm, getting them ready for work the next morning, cigarette dangling from his lips, face tense in concentration. There he is again, standing in front of an ironing board as the early evening spread itself across the living room, turning his shirts into perfectly perfect fabrics, getting ready for the next day. Always getting ready for the next day. And always happy to get ready for the next day, never miserable about it. As a child, I understood that my father loved his job, and found meaning in it. As proof of this, in the mornings, my father would whistle and hum as he went about his rituals before work.

    In another memory, there he is, walking around in the Officer's Mess one night, the place he was in charge of running. We lived in Lahr, Germany at the time and my dad, who had begun his career in the infantry as a cook, had risen in the ranks and was now a Master Warrant Officer whose job it was to take care of all manner of events and goings on in the Officer's Mess-- a position of significant responsibility. He had gotten me a job that night as a "cigarette girl" (I was 16 so I guess old enough to carry out such duties), someone who walked around with small elegant trays of cigarettes, offering them to the officers and officers' wives. I remember for the first time, looking at my father through different eyes as I watched him work, and witnessing the respect and genuine liking his subordinates showed him as the night went on. I saw that not only did he like his job, the people he worked with seemed to like him. A lot. I had a newfound respect for my father and his work after that night.

    I have a few other memories of my father, sitting on the edge of my bed the morning after an argument that happened the night before during my late turbulent teen years (this occurred more than once), lightly waking me up with his hand and saying, "Sorry about last night. We're okay, right?"  In this memory, he sits there, in his ever perfect uniform, ready for work, his kind eyes looking into my own sleepy ones as I struggled to wake up. Looking back, I understand that it bothered him to leave things messy and unfixed and so made the effort before going to work to fix things with me. I cherish this memory of my father because it says so much about him as a man, and as a parent.

    When I left Winnipeg at 20 to move to Vancouver, it was my father who drove me to the airport, again in his military uniform because it was in the morning, before work. We had a coffee together in the airport lounge. We sat across from each other, he in his usual outfit and I in mine. I don't remember what I was wearing at the time but it was probably something black, being the deep-thinking artsy wanna-be that I was. We didn't say much to each other beyond talk of weather and travel details, yet the space between us was heavy with feeling. I remember there was so much I wanted to say to my father in those moments before I left, and I'm sure there were things he wanted to say to me too, but it was hard to say them, and so we didn't. To this day, I remember the jumble of feelings I felt as I waved goodbye to him, holding back tears. I remember his eyes were dry as well, but I could see in his expression that his tears were closer than they had ever been with me before. In this memory, he stands there waving back, crisp and efficient in his uniform, and I love him fiercely. 

    My father served 31 years in the Military. He began as a private and ended as a Chief Warrant Officer, the highest level one can attain as a non-commissioned officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. When I think of my father and how successful he was in his career, I am filled with awe, respect and admiration for him. His career achievements made him a success story, triumphing over humble and shaky beginnings, and leading him to a life of meaning and satisfaction. He loved his work, and was good at it. He showed unwavering commitment to the values of order, peace and freedom. The military was a huge part of his life. So today, on Remembrance Day especially, my father holds a special place in my heart, and in my mind's eye standing there at attention, in his perfect military uniform, ready for work. 

    

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Going for Year Two

    I've decided to go for year two of my Onewinelesswoman experiment, and have been surprised at how difficult it has been so far. I think I thought it would be easier than this, mostly because I already had a year under my belt, so wouldn't the second year just be more of the same? Wasn't I now a pro of sorts, an expert at navigating sparkly water drinking in a world where the cups runneth over with all things alcohol? Wouldn't I just get better and better at this way of doing things? Wouldn't I forget about the wine? Wouldn't the moderation fantasy disappear, replaced by a healthy, vibrant, centered me who didn't need fantasies?

    I didn't plan to go for year two. The goal was originally one year, and then I would reassess things. Beneath the one year goal was another goal though: To begin drinking moderately again after going one year alcohol-free. So as I went about the business of living without my pinot grigio and merlot buddies, I had that other goal, tucked somewhere deeply in my back pocket. It went wherever I did, comforting me on the tough days. Perhaps it was this other goal that allowed me to accomplish the first one. I don't know. What I do know is that I needed it, and maybe I still do. I needed to know that in future, if I wanted to accompany my delicious dinner with a glass of equally delicious wine, that I'd be able to, no questions asked. 

    Not that there would be any questions asked anyway. I live in a world and in a time when wine is a cherished thing indeed. And beer. And vodka. And other spirits. People love this stuff. They love how it makes them feel (while it's going down anyway!), how it takes the edge off a rough week. They love how it connects people, how uncorking a bottle and pouring it into glasses around a table is a lovely shared thing. They love how it makes things seem somehow more manageable. And fun. They love the fun that alcohol brings. So if I were to uncork my own bottle again, I doubt anyone I know would say anything, or wonder why I decided to do that. It would be a normal thing, just as their doing it is a normal thing.

    I think that's one of the reasons why year 2 has been a challenge-- I'm tired of going against the grain of normal. I'm tired of being the perrier-with-ice woman, while everyone else fills their glasses with the other stuff, the fun stuff. I'm tired of being the abnormal one in the room, the lone wolf on the sidelines. Even though I chose it, I'm tired of it. Sometimes. And I guess that's the key word... sometimes. Because I don't feel like this every day. Most days, actually, I'm ok with following my own path, as odd and not-normal as it may be. Most days, I'm aware of how much I've grown in the past 15 months, and how the fact that I've been wineless has played a big part in that. Most days I agree with my son who told me one night when I asked him why he likes me better as a nondrinker, "I don't know, you're just a better person". So, with that in mind, I guess I'll crack open another bottle of sparkly water and raise a glass to Year 2!

Monday, October 12, 2020

On Gratitude

     Thanksgiving is the one day of the year where the idea of Gratitude takes center stage. We mark it on our calendars, we have a day off work, we gather with our friends and family to stuff our faces and be thankful for what we have. It is a fabulous holiday. We need more of those. 

    In recent years, there has been much interest in the topic of gratitude. Google the word and you will be flooded by information on its benefits-- everything from increased immune systems and improved sleep to positive emotional and mental wellbeing. Merriam Webster defines gratitude as "the state of being grateful: thankfulness". This simple definition is easy to understand, but for some reason sometimes difficult to do. It is one of those things in life that most of us know we should be doing more of, but sometimes default to its opposite: the state of being thankless. I don't think we set out to be thankless; I think it is more that we just forget to be thankful. It is all too easy some days to focus on what is not working in our lives, or on what is missing, rather than remembering what is there and beautiful right in front of us.

    I have the unfortunate predisposition to be one of those people who, for much of her life has looked toward the other side of the fence and its pastures, always thinking they are greener than the greenest green, and often wondering how I can jump over the fence and quickly get there to do some frolicking. Although it is nice to be able to envision better things for oneself occasionally, the problem with this activity (especially if it becomes a regular habit) is you miss out on so many things. You miss out on the joy of being in the present moment, in feeling yourself grounded in the now. You miss out on recognizing and valuing what you already do have. You miss out on the experience of savouring what is. Again, this concept is not new at all. It has been written about over and over again by philosophers, psychologists, writers and musicians. It continues to be written about. People are talking. 

    We all have our things that we are thankful for, big and small, and they are unique to each of us. What is important is that we remember them. Regularly. Daily ideally. Doing that is medicine for the soul. So in no particular order, here is a list of things that I am grateful for today: When my sixteen year old reaches over to give me a hug- not a short fleeting hug but a long meaningful one, and then says, "I love you, mom" in his almost-man voice. When the sky is a vibrant canvas for the stunning fall colours of the leaves on the trees on my walk. When I slip my tired body between clean sheets at the end of the day. When I look down at my stomach and remember there was a colostomy bag there at one point in my life for 9 months, and that has now been replaced by a few scars, which I greatly prefer. When I share an intimate moment with a friend or family member. When I am filled with laughter to the point of bursting, and have a fully satisfying belly laugh (even better when I do this with someone else who is doing the same thing-- shared laughter can't be beat). When I sit on my couch in my living room by the window with a good book that makes my brain either relax or think, with tea in hand, looking at the shadows and shapes that the sun makes on the walls, and realize, "I am content right now". 

    I could add many more things to my list, and to do so would only enhance my life I am sure. Just writing the short list above did something cool to my heart. It warmed it up in all the right places, reminding me that Gratitude should indeed be a daily thing, and what a better day to reflect on this than on Thanksgiving. 

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Scars

     I have these two scars. I've had them for over 3 years now. One runs from slightly above my navel to just above my pubic bone. The other hangs out mid-abdomen, below my belly button, on the left side, about 3 inches long, perpendicular to the first one. The first one was the result of an emergency surgery brought on by a perforated bowel from a diverticulitis attack. The second one was the closure of the temporary stoma they had to create because of the perforated bowel. They are permanent reminders of what happened to me physically; there is no forgetting. But they are also symbols of healing and compassion.

    Today, September 20th, is the anniversary of my first surgery. It all started the night before, September 19th, 2016, when I was hit with excruciating pains in my lower abdomen around 9:00 pm. The pain was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I knew it was serious, and beyond troubling. It wouldn't abate. All night, I lay in bed moaning. My son was 12 at the time and could hear me from across the hall. He kept telling me to stop making the sounds. Thinking back on it, I'm filled with a rush of sympathy for the boy he was. Nobody wants to hear a parent in pain like that. Nobody. But I was stuck because I didn't want to go to the hospital and leave him alone during the night, so I was determined to stick it out. My plan was that I would drive him to school in the morning, then drive myself to the hospital. Ever the independent woman. Needless to say, my plan never happened.

    Around 4 am, unable to stand the pain any longer, I texted a former boyfriend who I knew would be awake as he worked at a golf course. I texted him because I knew in my gut I would be hospitalized and I needed someone to look after my dog, Licorice. He had always liked Licorice, didn't have a dog of his own, was single, and likely able to help. He answered right away that he could take her. More texting resulted in him coming to pick not only the dog up, but me as well to take me to the hospital. So at 5:00 am, he arrived at my place. I will forever be grateful to this man for his help when I needed it most. I woke up my son to tell him I had to go to the hospital, texted his father to tell him what was happening and to make arrangements for him to come and get him in a few hours. Then we left.

    The rest of this story is a surreal nightmare of sorts. Although I was given attention at the hospital fairly quickly, the next parts of the trip weren't so quick at all. I was placed on a bed in the back somewhere and lay there moaning (although a bit less with the morphine drip) for over 12 hours. Fast forward to 5:30 pm when I got up from my bed, dragged my ass and the IV pole to the nursing station and made an announcement to about 5 nurses laughing and chatting that I had had enough. They had been telling me all day that I was going to get a CT scan, even made me drink a bunch of water 2 hours prior in preparation for it. Yet it wasn't happening. In a voice that shocked me with its calmness, considering the state I was in, I told them that I didn't understand why this was taking so long, that over 10 hours had passed, that I had a known intestinal condition, that I had already been hospitalized for 4 days for this same condition 3 months prior, that I was probably sitting here with a perforated bowel. I advocated for myself with all the strength I could muster. It worked. The silence at the desk was deafening as I spoke. They all listened to me, and within 5 minutes someone came to take me for the CT scan.

    After the scan, the 5 minute thing happened again. Although they told me I would likely get my results from the scan in about an hour, within 5 minutes a doctor was at my bedside informing me that they were indeed going to have to admit me because I had a perforated bowel. Fear met reality at that point for me. They wheeled me somewhere else where I waited another 5 hours to see an emergency surgeon. She told me that I had 2 options: 1. have surgery to remove my problematic sigmoid colon and have a temporary colostomy bag or, 2. wait out the night and see if the IV antibiotics would kill the infection, with the hopes that I could then have elective surgery at a later date and therefore spare me the joy of living with a colostomy bag. I chose the latter. It sounded nicer.

    Over the next 24 hours, I waited to get better. My friend and her husband came to the hospital to be with me that evening, and I am forever grateful to them as well for doing that. A few friends came to see me the next afternoon, and I am forever thankful to these wonderful women too. I was starting to learn, unfortunately, that laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV, being sick and scared and vulnerable is a really shitty thing. Seeing a few familiar, caring faces was a soothing balm to my fragile state. 

    Around 3:30 the next afternoon, a nurse came to check my temperature, and she told me it had spiked to 38.5 degrees. The 5 minute thing happened again. A group of doctors appeared at my bedside, and the surgeon that I had decided I didn't like during my previous hospitalization, looked down at me with the kindest eyes, and in the gentlest voice said, "I think you need to have surgery". I still think about and am grateful for his compassionate delivery of the news. I asked when this would happen, and he said "In about an hour". I'll never forget the panic and temporary madness that filled me as this news sunk in. Everything seemed concentrated into one point in that moment: my son. I had to text him, had to tell him I loved him, had to tell him without showing how terrified I was that I had to have surgery. I was filled with horrifying thoughts that hijacked my brain. There were many hijackers, but the most frightening of course were the ones concerning my actual life on this planet: What if I didn't make it? What if I actually died on the operating table? What would happen to my son? How would he cope? I let the thoughts do their thing for a bit, but then I decided to shut them down and go with Faith, something I don't have a lot of normally, but in that moment, I grabbed onto it like it was the biggest of life rafts in a turbulent sea. It got me through.

    By 10:30 that evening, September 20th, I was back in my hospital room. This time was of course radically different, for a few reasons. For starters, I had a transparent colostomy bag attached to my abdomen and could see my actual colon ("stomie" as I would later come to know and call it intimately) resting there, swollen and pert, looking up at me. Then there were the tubes coming out of almost every orifice of my body: a catheter drained urine into a bag attached to the bed below me, an epidural and other drugs ran into the pick line they had done earlier that day, the NG tube ran from my nose to stomach (this would eventually almost drive me mental), and finally, a tube running from my abdomen into a small pouch attached to my hospital gown that collected what appeared to be blood and pus from my stomach. I was a mess. I definitely had had better days. But, on the bright side, I knew that the offending agent- my sigmoid colon that housed the diverticula that had caused me such grief off and on for years- had been removed. I would later learn that I now had 13 cm less of my colon. But I also had 13 cm less of problematic body parts, so I decided to focus on that.

    There is much more that I could write about all of this (because of course the story doesn't end with my first surgery) and maybe someday I will. It was in many ways a harrowing journey, and harrowing journeys, despite their awfulness, often make for great stories. Today though, I decided to start with my "scars", and so I will end there. 

    As I sit here and reflect on the 4th year anniversary of my first surgery, I am filled with many feelings about my scars. When I stand in front of a mirror and look at my body, my scars look back at me and tell me things. Every time. Things about strength, courage, determination, humility, grace, suffering, pain, and yes, even love. My scars are a reminder of what I have been through, but more importantly of what I have survived. Although I think of physical pain sometimes when I look at my scars, what I mostly think about is healing and compassion. I think of the ways my body has physically healed (the human body is indeed a miracle), but I also think about the emotional healing I have gone through since then, my own personal journey to match the physical one. Another thing that happens though when I see my scars is I am suddenly filled with compassion. I can't look at my scars anymore without feeling compassion... for myself, for others, for all of the suffering that humans sometimes endure while being alive. My surgery changed me in many ways, but the opening of my heart, ironically, was one of the biggest ones. 

    

    

Aging Gracefully in Tight Jeans

     I turned fifty-three two days ago and have been "adjusting" to this, like I've adjusted to my new age every year for the ...