Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Still Meaningful after All These Years

This year marks the tenth anniversary of my battle, no, war, with cancer.  I was operated on in April, 2002 and had chemo over the following months.   Now, summer in Vegas is brutal.  Throw in the brutality of chemo - well, I fought every day just to remain remotely optimistic.
Admittedly, I read a lot of lightweight, escapist novels when I wasn't watching old musicals.
I think I saw every Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly movie ever produced and know the words to every song in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "The Sound of Music". 

I also read several books on Buddhism and Taoism, and anything that promised to provide some inner peace, some sense that life would be even better when I got to the other side.  They helped. I read a lot! Therefore, when I recently created a home for the books that have mattered the most to me over the years, I was surprised to see that only one book from that period made the cut.

Most days that summer is a bittersweet memory, popping up again only when I have my bloodwork or hear of a friend or acquaintance waging the same war.  But I wondered as I put the book among its neighbors if I would find it as moving, as impactful as I did 10 years ago.  I wondered why, this book, of the many I read that summer, was so important.

So, I've started to reread I Will Not Die an Unlived Life, by Dawna Markova.  Although the title seems most appropriate for someone with a life-threatening disease and Markova was dealing with leukemia at the time, it is the larger theme of the book that should speak to more people, that speaks to me again at this time in my life - recovering passion and purpose.  I'm fascinated by the questions she asks of herself and her reader, wrestling with them in my journal.  And moved by her honesty, her compassion and her eloquence.  Beside being insightful and courageous in recounting her own journey, she is a beautiful writer. Her metaphors are magical, her stories engrossing.

It is a fine book that can remain relevant 10 years later, that can have meaning during the hard times and the good.  When I am done with it, it will be returned to that special shelf.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Hope You Dance

I've come to believe that one of life's greatest challenges is to stay grounded in the present moment; at least, it is for me. Granted, it can be vital to deal with the past and an uncertain future can scream to be shaped and secured, yet, it is the present moment that bears the unexpected gift and opportunity. And I almost missed it last night.

It was the first auditions for So You Think You Can Dance, a show I have grown to love; but the real action starts when the top 20 young dancers have been chosen, so it was tempting to skip for now.  However, It is also one of the few shows John and I enjoy watching together; so I chose to at least give it a shot.

Now, I can become easily distracted by an incomplete chore, an upcoming event, a niggling worry, something else I'd rather be doing.  My mind wanders, I fuss and fidget. I get up during every commercial. Last night, thankfully, I stayed engaged and was rewarded by examples of grace and commitment, of kindness, dignity and sensitivity. And pure, unadulterated joy.

There were, of course, the young dancers, many delusional, I fear.  Some quite talented, and a few AWESOME - with a combination of talent, skill and passion. They are why I watch this show and am never disappointed.  Last night, however, it was a judge who captured my attention and my heart (for other afficianadoes - Nigel).  Quite unexpectedly, too, as I have an historical bias against him shaped by what I have considered to be past inappropriate behavior and comments.  Last night, he blew it all away with three exchanges.

One, with a young autistic man who has a desire to dance, but alas, neither talent nor skill.  Nigel let him down gracefully, treating him with great dignity and respect, commending the young man's courage in performing before a crowd and encouraging him to continue dancing.  It was a demonstration of kindness and consideration we could use more of. 

The second, when another young man said he was auditioning so that his mother, in the rear of the audience, afflicted with a rare eye disease that was destroying her vision, could see him perform on stage before it was too late. Nigel brought her forward, gave her his seat and held her hand. Whatever else happens in this competition for her son, they will have that moment etched in their memories. And so will John and I.

The last, the moment I most treasure. A young mother of two, also in the audience, was to perform. Nigel call the youngsters, aged 2 and 6, up front to watch their mom.  When she finished, quite successfully, she commented that her two-year old daughter also loved to dance.  Well, even if you didn't see it, you can guess what happened next.  Up on stage the toddler hopped, resplendent in her little pink tutu,  - and proceded to twirl and dip and point a tiny toe. To dance with joyous abandonment, present only to the music and some inner imperative to move. An infectious joy that touched the judges, the audience and the two of us.

I've thought of that toddler frequently today. Of her delight, her complete absorption in the moment. Of the parents who have obviously encouraged and nurtured her. Of what it might feel like to dance with such abandon, such joy, such presence.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Transitions 101

A couple months ago, motivated after reading life is a verb, by Patti Digh, I went on a clearing, simplifying campaign, determined to put the finishing touches on our move here. Although to outside eyes we looked settled in, I knew there were boxes still unpacked, stuff crammed under the bed and in closet corners. Plus, from past transitions, I have come to believe that any true beginning requires a genuine ending. 

So I set upon my campaign with a vengeance. The result is magazine spread worthy, if I do say so myself. Every shelf organized, boxes labeled in fancy fonts ( label fanatics, you've got to get the Epson 300, such fun.), furniture repositioned, artwork exchanged.  Several trips to Catholic Charities, who may petition to have us declared saints!

Among the book shelves, organized by genre, of course, and balanced with favorite mementoes and even a degree of space, there is now one special shelf. It is home to a dozen books whose titles comprise my personal study guide to dealing with transtion. A dozen books that had been scattered throughout the house. Read over 35 years, dog-earred, underlined, one or two tear-stained, they provide a chronicle of changes managed well and not so well, as surely as any photo album. 

Seeing them on one shelf has inspired me to reread a few. I wonder if they will be as meaningful to me today? What would you add to this list?
  • If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him, by Sheldon Kopp
  • The New Diary, by Tristine Rainer
  • A Room of Her Own, by Chris Casson Madden
  • A Conscious Life, by Fran and Louis Cox
  • Flow, by Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi
  • Choice Theory, by William Glasser, M. D.
  • Gift to the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron
  • Transitions, by William Bridges
  • A Simpler Way, by Margaret J. Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • The Answer to How Is Yes, by Peter Block

The e-reader? Well, my most recent read, life is a verb, is stored on my Kindle. I may just have to get it in hardback - to place on the shelf.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Worth Remembering

Our 29th anniversary is quickly approaching. It's far too easy to see the passage of time these days - in the lines in our faces, the grey hair (or loss thereof), the widening waistlines. I am reminded every time one of us forgets what we were going to say, where we put our coffee mug, the name of a favorite movie.

I see reminders of our history in every corner of our home. The wall art John had before we married that he insisted (and I resisted) be placed over the fireplace. I admit it - it's perfect there. The slipper chair I had before we married that I insisted (and he resisted) be kept in the living room.  And he admits it - it's perfect there.

The etching we bought for our first anniversary at the art fair in Santa Barbara. We were sure the fair itself was a fortuitous gift designed just for us, only to discover it was a weekly event. Mementoes of trips to Hawaii and Italy. Furniture and accessories from the store in Las Vegas that came to know me on a first name basis. John was always convinced that my car turned into the parking lot automatically whenever we approached it. Photographs and artwork from friends, past and present. Gifts from our parents and siblings.

Reminders of almost three decades of facing challenges, expected and unexpected. Reminders that we have managed the changes and transitions of our lives together, for the most part, with grace and courage. That we are learning how to manage this transition together, too. 

Sometimes I get myopic and worry too much about a possible future alone. I forget to celebrate that I am fortunate to have such a good partner on this journey right here, right now.  Worth remembering every day.