Old soldiers never die

I’ve been feeling a bit subdued by the death this week of a favourite uncle, and, as I’m thinking rather a lot about him, I might as well make him the subject of this post.

Uncle Howard was 94 years old, and by any standards lived a full and rich life. When I had tea with him in his ocean-side apartment in Victoria BC a couple of months ago, I asked him, “How’s your life?” It was a serious question. He had stopped slogging (his 2k daily run); his knees and back had confined him to using a walker; he’d begun to need help with getting his daily provisions. I wanted to see what he felt about his quality of life. And he replied, emphatically: “My life is great.” He went on to explain how he sees his friends, and still travels the seawall on his walker. He reads the news and keeps up to date with current affairs. He enjoys his family, including his granddaughters and great-grandson. He whipped out his iPhone to display photos of his brand new great-granddaughter.

As has been the case since I was old enough to recognise wisdom when I saw it, I leaned forward and listened. It’s a habit around Howard that has served me well over a good many years.

In times gone by, Howard owned a large construction company; he was a WWII veteran; he was an equestrian; he travelled in influential circles. His wife had a ferocious intellect and added spice to all Howard & Erma in their eighties, leaving Nanaimo Harbourour lives. On retirement, they moved to Victoria to take advantage of the warmer climate, the seafood, ocean views—and waterways in which to sail their yacht Le Jacqueline, which they did unassisted until into their late eighties.

That three-sentence history doesn’t even begin to give you a taste of what Howard did with his life. But I’ll ease up on the detail; after all, he’s my uncle and you might not quite share my interest in trawling through the mementoes of his existence. You’ll have to trust me that his whole life made a contribution to the world.

At any rate, I reckon his dying was quick and easy. He lived at home until the day before he died – spending just one day in hospital before pneumonia swept him away. In a spell of consciousness, he tried to convince the staff that he’d caught a couple of salmon the day before, which everyone felt seemed unlikely. But the claim showed where his spirits were in his final moments.

I have a notion that (not unlike my own father – his brother) he felt he was losing quality of life and, not wanting to risk becoming a burden, gave permission to his body to shut itself down.

I’ve been reading a book called “What are Old People For?” and it has sensitised me to what’s on offer from the elderly. The author, William H Thomas, takes aim at what he describes as our youth-obsessed culture. He asserts that our preoccupation with staying young is so embedded that we are blind to its impact and unable to think outside the square of the assumption that young is good, aging is not. Resistance to moving away from youth, what we think of as our “prime”, goes deeper than wrinkle-cream and Botox. It’s a distortion that influences research studies, medical approaches and our thinking about longevity. “We take the constellation of traits that define our humanity for granted,” says Thomas, meaning that we don’t notice the gifts that hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have given us—all of us, from the very young to the very old.

Thomas makes the point that, as we age, we make “miraculous adaptations”. It bent my head to try to think, as he does, of the aging body as miraculous. As parts of the body are wearing out, other important bits of us, for example the critical ability to adapt and to creatively compensate, are improving. These traits, he claims, are at least as important to the human race as youthful vigour.

A twinkle in her eye“If aging is truly a catastrophic prelude to death…then it deserves the dread it currently engenders.” What if, however, this is not the case? Thomas cites evidence that “nature finds aging very useful”. For example, older people report an enhanced sense of well-being and emotional equanimity. He also reflects at length on grand-parenting. He theorises that these humans who will reach across generations to support the offspring of their offspring are an evolutionary key, developed over some 40,000 generations, which has had the human race thrive over all other mammals. Isn’t that an amazing thing to consider?

My reflections on Uncle Howard this week support all of that thinking. In his youth and mid-life he worked hard and produced big results. But as he began to age, I experienced him even more as a contribution. His sense of humour, always a hallmark, flourished. His equanimity was close to an absolute, and he projected well-being at every turn. He made getting old look good.

And on the subject of grand-parenting, I know three young women who will testify its power. Howard’s granddaughters are all much more capable women for the influence he has had in their lives, and would be the first to say so.

There is an African saying: “The death of an old person is like the loss of a library.” Many stories, jokes, morsels of family history and nuggets of profound knowledge have died with Howard this week. But the equanimity, good humour, balance and joie de vivre he role-modelled live on in all of us who knew him.

He was a fine example of how to live and how to age. Mother Nature would nod her head in approval.

Mother Nature

 ***

I’d like to leave you with a final word from Thomas: “Humans are the only creatures on Earth that specifically and energetically protect, sustain, and even nurture their elders. Although we all like to believe the best about our personal benevolence, the truth is that protecting older people has long served purposes much large than simple charity. The elder is different from the adult because elderhood offers us a distinctive way of living. It is life beyond adulthood.”

Buy experiences, not things

Rick has a birthday coming up shortly. Hmmm—what under the sun to get him?

For several years now, he’s said, “I absolutely don’t want anything.” But what turns out to be even more suitable than abstinence is if we find something interesting to DO on the day, even if it’s just a good movie and dinner at a favourite restaurant. Better yet is when we plan ahead. The anticipation enhances, and we can concoct ways to add to our adventure.

Buy experiences, not thingsSo it was with no surprise that I read an article this morning (forwarded to me, of course, by Paul the maven), which slides in nicely with what I’ve been observing about Rick, and about life generally. Titled “Buy Experiences, Not Things”, the article describes research-based studies that indicate we’re much happier making experiential purchases than material ones. I recommend reading the whole article. You won’t be saying, my God, who would have thought any of that? You will say, yes, that makes sense, and yes, I’ve figured out most of that for myself…but read it nonetheless. It will help clarify things when you’ve next got a birthday to plan for.

The article builds from the premise that 47% of the time, our minds are wandering. Imagine that. While I’ve been typing this, half the time my mind’s been flicking around to other distractions. Furthermore, say the researchers, left to its own devices the mind is likely to gravitate to “dark places”. So given my mind is going to wander anyway, the best thing I can do for it is give it something interesting to anticipate, or something interesting to reflect back on. Like: an event, a holiday, an adventure. This is good news. I’ve been thinking of my interest in experiences as sort of an indulgence, but the research is saying, to the contrary, it’s an investment in my happiness and well-being.

The article describes several salient factors. Let me illustrate with a case in point.

Port Stephens NSWSix months ago Robyn and Jim, who are friends living in Sydney, emailed Rick and me the link to a special made available by a resort in Port Stephens, a sleepy beachside town about two hours from us. The offer was for three nights in a two-bedroom suite, and had to be used within a year. “What do you think?” they suggested. “Shall we buy it and book in together sometime?” We mulled it over briefly, did a bit of research and plunked down our money (not a lot of it, as it was a very good special).

A few weeks ago, we finally booked our dates, and last weekend off we went on our adventure.

Relationship.
One of the key factors about an experiential purchase is that it often relates to other people, much more so than a material purchase does. And it comes as no surprise that we get greater happiness from this added “identity, connection and social behaviour”.

That was certainly true of our experience. Because Robyn and Jim live a four hour drive from us, we don’t see them nearly often enough. But our little investment gave us lots of opportunities for enhancing our relationship. There were many emails over the last six months, as we chatted about possible time frames, tightened up specific dates, and finally got down to working out who’d bring the cheese, chicken and wine. That was topped off with an excellent three days together, as we dined out, cooked in, harbour-cruised, went to the cinema, lay on the beach, and watched DVDs curled up on the sofas at the apartment.

Anticipation.
This business of looking forward to things was cited by the article as a key benefit of an experiential purchase. Interesting, that. Since we booked in a few weeks ago, I’d been giving the holiday a fair bit of thought—with a smattering of trepidation, given my fibreglass-encased leg and ambulatory deficiency (not to mention that the mind will wander to dark places in that 47% of idle time). But mostly I was looking forward to it. In a quiet moment, I’d slip into Google and check out activities, restaurants or what’s on at the local cinema. Granted On the ferrymy life isn’t dripping with activity these days, but I can see that I always mull over an upcoming experience much more so than I do a purchase—even a purchase worth a hundred times as much, such as a new car.

Memory.
The way things slide into our memory banks is another factory. There’s no doubt all four of us will think back fondly on the weekend. For me, it will be a time when I conquered no end of obstacles to my mobility, when I learned to knit, and when I had adventures, conversations and relaxing times with good friends.

Again, here’s the article. I predict it will sharpen your spending habits forever.

Speaking of knitting reminds me of something else that caught my attention this weekend. While teaching me to knit-one-pearl-one, Robyn was describing her niece’s upcoming wedding. She proceeded to dig out her iPhone to show me the wedding registry. The bridal couple have lived together for some time and say they have all the “things” they could want. So the registry, called Honeyfund, invites you to gift them contributions toward their honeymoon in the Maldives. How amazing is that?! You could donate $100 toward hotel accommodation, or $30 for cocktails at the poolside, or $50 toward a day’s snorkelling. Anything a honeymooner’s heart could desire can be registered, at any price a well-wisher wants to contribute.

HoneyfundThe researchers, I think, would support the concept of Honeyfund. Surely it’s a perfect gifting solution, backed by scientific research, providing much anticipation and guaranteeing good memories. It’s also something that’s fun to participate in for the wedding guests. If I’ve contributed toward a bungy jump, for example, I’m bound to be interested in finding out how it went and will be hanging out for the photos.

Check out the concept here.

When Rick celebrates his birthday on 1 December, we’ll be in Noosa with our FLAFF friends. No doubt there’ll be adventures and celebrations—experiences Rick will relish for a long time. With such a rich banquet of possibilities, there’s really no need to worry about a birthday gift.

My space

Satin bowerbirdWe have a new tenant in a quiet spot near our China lady tree. I’ve written a short story about him this week for your enjoyment. After, treat yourself to the YouTube video I’ve linked at the end of the post so you can see the real thing in action.

The fleck of blue caught Marg’s eye as she trudged up the slope past the little garden.

“Hey, wait on, Mick,” she called, peering into a shaded area under the hibiscus. “What’s all this? Justa minute! – You been putting clothes pegs in there?”

Mick, who’d been just ahead, stepped close beside her. “Will you look at that!?” he exclaimed. “Never seen a real one before. You know what it is? – a bowerbird made it. That black bird we see around all the time? He’s making a love nest here.”

Marg frowned. “Gawd, he’s got a good dozen of my clothes pegs in there. And there’s a pen top. Lookit the bottle caps,” she said, pointing. “What’s with all the old twine and packing tape? And what’s he got, a thing for BLUE?”

“Dunno,” said Mick. “Maybe he’s just got the one colour he can see, outsidea black’n’white. Anyway, it’s all in the name of love. He wants to attract the females.”

“Check out the straw hat,” Marg pointed. “Whazzat?”

Bower ready for action“That’s the bower,” Mick explained. “He makes it from scratch. Guess it’s where the love-making happens.”

“Well,” said Marg, “she’d have to be a few bricks short of a load to get romantic in a mess like that. And he’d better get my pegs out of my flower bed before too long.”

“Aw, settle, luv,” Mick took her hand and pulled her away. “Look,” he said, pointing. “That’s him up there in the big gum watchin’ us.”

***

He watches until the big Two-legs are safely out of sight, a straw from the nearby pasture still held firmly in his beak. Then he darts down to his front door. Hop, hop, hop, over the little threshold. Hop, hop to his hallowed bower. Cocking his head to one side, he positions the straw so it exactly touches the next one in the wall that he’s creating. One quick corrective tap and it’s in place.

Now, he checks over his magnificent passageway, the mural he has created displayed in front of him. He cocks an eye toward the top of his shelter, where dark leaves dapple the blue sky overhead. He dips his head down towards the floor below, where the same image is reflected in the pools and strands he has created—blue glimmering against the dark floor. It’s wonderful, but it’s not finished yet; there’s always something more to add.

Hop, hop, hop, back to the bower. He thinks about Her, his pulse quickening. This space will be a wonder that will command her attention, that will call her in and be a Rightness. He gives a tug at a wayward strand of straw, then hop, hops to the threshold.

He takes a quick glance back into the chamber, because it always thrills him, then his wings whisk him off to where the next straw awaits.

***

Satin Bower Bird - linocut

Satin Bower Bird – Hand coloured linocut on handmade Japanese paper by Rachel Newling

Here’s a YouTube video clip that catches the spirit of things—a must-see, especially if you’re not familiar with the Australian satin bowerbird. They are sometimes called the most complex of birds, and you can see why. Click here.

Bowerbirds aren’t rare in this part of the world, but I can tell you, it’s a wonder to have one in our gardens!

Live to eat or eat to live?

Having spent all day yesterday in bed (and over the toilet, not that you wanted to know that) with the dreaded stomach lurgy, it is as exciting as life on a planet with three moons to wake up this morning with a renewed interest in food.

What with all the eating and weight-gaining that goes on these days, food has begun to acquire something of a bad name. In this part of the world it’s been a long time since mEat to live, not live to eatost of us have had to wake up concerned with how the day’s foraging will go. For many, the battle has become the opposite—how NOT to eat all we’d like. Food has become associated with degeneracy and wilful bad health. Guilt is the new order of the day. The message in this photo is now the accepted wisdom.

How did that happen?

I’m sitting here at the Waterbird Café in Manning Point, one of my first outings since my surgery almost three weeks ago. I am on the deck over the river, with my new fibreglass cast sparkling on the seat of a chair in front of me and a fine cappuccino on the table at my side. Rick and Eve have gone for a walk on the beach, and I am left to enjoy the sun-dappled river which has been serving up dozens of dolphins cresting their way upstream. It’s a sublime environment, but I must admit that nearly all that’s on my mind is…lunch. I drift to thoughts of a big slice of chicken—those roast chicken smells that were making me nauseous last night are now tormenting me in a very different way.

On this post-flu day, I can’t help but think what a waste it is to fret about food. My daughter Jenn has become my new role model in this regard. She’s always had a passionate interest in food, inherited mostly from her father’s side of the family, and has over the years morphed that into a talent for cooking. She’s accumulated dozens of cookbooks; as a librarian, she’s always had an eye out for an old cookbook no longer wanted in the collection. Each is carefully selected for its attention to ingredients, detail of spices and seasonings, and appeal of flavours. She’s also acquired an enviable collection of pots and utensils.

And when she cooks! – well, she made dinner for the five of us all summer while we Coq au vinstayed at Mum’s, and I must say, one time in three the meal was delicious and the other two times a banquet for the gods. Her coq au vin, where an old hen is transmuted into a merlot-soaked feast (a strong and sweetish Merlot works best, she tells me)….well, your mouth should be watering just thinking about it. Even on fast days (she and her partner joined Rick and me on the 5:2 diet) she employed her limitless imagination, with 300 calorie serves of ceviche, Thai salad and spicy soup. I make a good gravy, I must modestly admit, and taught Jenn how one evening this summer. But by the time she finished throwing in specially-prepared onions and handfuls of carefully considered spices, it was the best gravy I’ve ever tasted. She leap-frogged me in one go.

She keeps an eye on economy, calorie count and serving volumes, but mostly if it’s superb food, she’s unabashedly serving it up.

So with Jenn as a role model, I’ve had an exquisite example about how not to throw the baby (great food) out with the bathwater (evil habits). What a great shame it is that it’s become so popular to bemoan our eating, that we will say, after a fine restaurant meal, “I shouldn’t have done that,” that pecking away at our calorie counters dominates our meal choices, that we feel we must refrain from even a taste of a dessert lovingly prepared by a great chef.

No one is spared, that I can see, but I think my female friends and I are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon.  It’s almost a game we play, about who can make the most self-deprecating diet-related comment the fastest. There are worthy things in the world, and food is not one. It’s at best a cheerful self-indulgence, at worst an evil spawn.

What a mess we’ve created.

Do you ever wonder what the world will be like in a certain regard in a hundred years?This morning I’m thinking about a time in the universe when there will no longer be guilt associated with food, when we’ve learned whatever it is that’s going to take us to the next stage of nutritional transformation. There’s no doubt we’re in an uncomfortable transition from a time of scarcity to a time of abundance. The world will change You can't reach for anything new if your hands are full of yesterday's junkagain; something will trigger a new approach. Perhaps life-sustaining food habits will somehow become automatic, perhaps we’ll develop a new frame of mind, perhaps there’ll be an abundance of nothing but the right kind of food.

First we have to surrender to this predicament we’ve got ourselves into, then we’ll figure it out.

It’s now a couple of hours later, and I’ve just polished off a toasted chicken, avocado and lettuce sandwich served up by Rick. I ate it slowly, and it’s the best thing I’ve tasted for weeks.

So with the memory of that sandwich (not to mention Jenn’s coq au vin) still on my palate, I can honestly think of no more worthy purpose in life than to eat a great meal. Count me in with the live-to-eaters.

***

Food 3For you foodies, I’ve watched two enjoyable movies recently: Chef and The 100 Foot Journey. It’s unusual that there would be two movies glorifying food in such close proximity. Maybe they represent the beginning of the transformation.

The right to wheel

A few days ago I made my obligatory pre-surgery visit to the hairdresser. As Trent and I were chatting away about many things, including my upcoming hardships, I realised that his elegant salon has full wheelchair access. I commented on that, thinking about my little knee scooter finding its way to his scissors in a few weeks when I’m due for my next cut and colour. And Trent replied, in curmudgeonly tones, that I might as well enjoy the ramp when the time came, because it had cost him $80,000 and he Wheelchair mermaidcouldn’t have gotten his business licence without it. I was gob-smacked. Fancy, as a small business in a small town, being forced to spend that kind of money on wheelchair access. “How many wheelchair clients have you had?” I asked. “Like, NONE,” he replied, with an extra-crisp snip of the scissors, and went on to explain how such a sum of money came to be spent.

For a moment there the air was ever-so-slightly frosty. For the first time my hairdresser and I had been landed on opposite sides of an issue. I wasn’t exactly the enemy but I’d become associated with a deeply unfair incident—an onerous and nonsensical one, really. I mean, have a think about how many other cheaper ways you could find of solving a fairly simple problem, without lumbering a small business with such a large chunk of extra debt. Trent had strong opinions about the whole issue.

Now, Trent is as generous a person as I’ve ever met. He’d spent a day the previous weekend with the rescue team searching for the little missing boy in Kendell; his hairdresser-style stories are always peppered with evidence of his good heart. We have jam in the fridge compliments of his kitchen. A couple of years ago he came 30k out to Mitchells Island to do a home cut for a client beleaguered by chemo-hair. I’m sure he’d have done the same for me in preference to spending $80,000 on wheelchair access. When his arm’s not twisted, he’s a saint. But bureaucrats in the Taree Council brought out the worst in him with an illogical insistence that he provide service to society in this particular fashion.

I sat there thinking about an article from the post-polio community that I’d read recently. The author takes a strong fighter’s stance, exhorting us to make demands and settle for nothing less than we want and need. We have rights, she emphasised, and only by demanding our dues can people in wheelchairs and motorised scooters take advantage of the same jobs, facilities and day-to-day services as ambulatory people. As Trent snipped away, I thought about how in a few weeks I might begin to reap some of the benefits of that activism myself. I am likely to be making my way around Taree on my knee-scooter—into the shopping centres, the dentist’s, the optometrist’s and the library where my writer’s group meets.

However, I have a radical view which I don’t generally speak about in polite company: I don’t believe in rights. Hairs shudder at the base of my neck when someone uses the word. I don’t believe in “shoulds” (although I likely use the word as often as anyone Gotta ticket to rideelse). I am dismayed, for example, by the treatment of women in Afghanistan, but I don’t see it as a question of rights. In my world view, it’s a question of pain, suffering, workability, generosity, empathy and respect—addressed through education and negotiation. Having rights will not buy those women anything.

I observe that many (most?) people, like Trent, left to their own devices will happily share some of what they have and do their best to help those who need it. But when forced, people lose their generosity. Without choice in where the fruits of our labours go, we resist and don’t experience the benefits of giving. When we’re the unwitting recipients, as I am now, we don’t learn to ask, to enrol, to be thoughtful and appreciative.

Non-ambulatory as I am for a while, I can’t help feeling like I’m a bit of a second-class citizen. Obviously I’m not—but I AM reliant on the goodwill of others. However, that doesn’t give me rights. I don’t have a right for Woollies to provide me with a lift to the shopping level, or Trent to provide a haircut or Rick to get me a cuppa. It’s a nuisance having to ask Rick for so many things these days, but even 35 years of marriage doesn’t give me any rights.

It’s a complex issue which I won’t try to do justice to in this small piece, but meantime—

Thank you to all the merchants and taxpayers who have forked out for the ramps, the lifts, the flattened sidewalks and little bridges over gutters that I’ll be using in a week or two. I AM happy and grateful that they exist. I just wish you had more choice in the matter..

Day 4

As I was just going through my emails this morning, I was suddenly smitten by all the well-wishing that’s residing there at the moment. So although I said I wouldn’t likely post this week, it seemed a bit curmudgeonly of me not to at least let you know how I’m going.

Get a load of those new pins

Get a load of those new pins

So. In a word, well. My surgery was Tuesday and other than five hours in the waiting room attempting to stay calm, it was easy. I had a spinal block and was mildly aware of what was going on, dropping in and out of awareness randomly (well, likely at the anaesthetist’s carefully considered beck and call)..I liked that. In previous surgeries I’ve had, the general anaesthetic left me feeling like there’s a hole in time, similar to when the elevator suddenly drops a foot or two and your stomach falls out. At any rate, relief plus drugs made the surgery and subsequent evening a positive experience.

Made it to Book Club

Made it to Book Club

Since then, I’ve met two of my milestones. The first was to get out of hospital after one night. Tick. The second was to make it to the lounge room on Friday for our book club meeting. Tick. I’m sure I will easily make the third, which is to crutch it up to the yoga shed tomorrow morning for a taste of modified normality.

My brief is to be at all times with wound (i.e. ankle) above heart, in order to keep swelling down and ensure circulation. I’m allowed a couple of minutes each hour for a trip to the washroom or to another horizontal location. That goes on for two weeks, then gradually relaxes over another ten, after which the cast will be removed and I’ll start introducing some weight to the ankle.

It could be interpreted as a very limiting existence. But what’s been keeping me interested is that old spirit of challenge. How do I get down onto the floor to do stretches? How do I keep the water from splashing out of the shower? How can I surrender to Rick’s ministrations? It’s a moment-by-moment choice: is this a pain-in-the-ass hardship that no one should have to face, or an interesting new game which could entertain for hours, days, months!?

I suppose this is what’s meant when people say, “Stay positive,” or “Every flower must grow through dirt,” or “Let go…o…o…o of the thoughts that don’t make you strong.”

A few weeks ago, a dear friend was in a cycling accident and badly damaged his spinal cord at C1/C2. His happy, energetic body now lies immobile. He has assisted breathing, which silences his voice. The prognosis is unclear, but he gains a bit of ground, of sensation, every day. I know him as someone who understands the difference between pain-in-the-ass and challenge. He’s got a row to hoe ahead of him, and I take strength from him.

As I’m sure my friend knows, the world of the invalid gets rather small. This morning I celebrated two little wrinkles on my big toe—believe it or not, that’s a good thing because it’s a sign the swelling is going down. Bonza! Hooray!! My friend will be celebrating the same kind of minutiae.

I couldn’t close without a nod to my wonderful community. There were all those emails and Facebook air-kisses, each one a little pearl I got to finger during the hard times. There’s Rick, who has made it very clear that his life is at my disposal, who has fetched a thousand things already, cleaned up the barf on bad-meds day, made a string of appetising meals. There are housemates Eve and Daniel, who provided me with a summoning bell and have been imaginative in ways to support me. (Michael and Judy overseas have Skyped and emailed good wishes, stories and advice regularly.) Friends have dropped by, phoned, provided chocolates. It’s hard to express how supported this makes me feel. All these people shouting out, “Choose challenge!”, sweep me along on a tide of goodwill.

Chocolate. Choose.

So: the first lesson from the chocolate-or-vanilla process I described last week was about the precarious nature of how we choose. We tell ourselves that we use logic, but really what’s happening is we choose based on some reason or other.  And then the reason changes and it turns out we didn’t really choose chocolate at all, we chose chocolate-if-nothing-better-comes-along, or chocolate-if-it-has-sprinkles-on-top. At some point, we’re just standing there with our chocolate ice cream, and everybody else has hazelnut flambé or rocky road raisin rustica or something wonderful, and we’re dreadfully unhappy with our choice. The truth is closer to this: we never really CHOSE chocolate at all. We wandered into a decision, invested our $4.00 and now are stuck with it. And stuck with feeling stuck.

In summary, if we base our choices on reasons, and then the reasons change, we’re in trouble. It’s impossible to trace cause and effect all the way back to source, so we can’t truly understand our reasons, or isolate the one(s) that actually directed our choice.

Please close the doorTrue choice is something else. It’s an acceptance, an embracing of a decision. It involves closing the back door and making a home in the new space that the choice has created.

This is some of what I got out of the chocolate-or-vanilla process.

That’s where the second part of the exercise kicked in. This time the leader handed the bewildered participant only ONE ice cream cone, and said, “Chocolate. Choose.” This led into an exploration of the things in life that we’ve just been given, and our difficulty in accepting them. Your faceful of freckles? Choose it. Your alcoholic father? Choose him. Your nagging mother? Choose. Your dying sister? Choose.

Think about a recent major decision you made. Say a car you bought, or a place you chose to move your ageing father into, or a pet you acquired. It’s easy to tell whether you’ve really chosen that decision or not. If you can rest easy with it, if it’s there solidly (even though the dog loves to love to jump all over your guests, or the matron at the nursing home turns out to be a dragon, or the new car’s finish shows every spot of rain), you’ve truly chosen. But if you keep revisiting the decision, wondering if you should have chosen differently, you haven’t really chosen. And you’re up for grief.

Not that our decisions have to be irrevocable: it’s just that we make misery for ourselves by constantly second-guessing.

 

You treated me like an option...Look at any primary relationship you’re in. If I were to second-guess my relationship with Rick, or my housemates, every time I don’t get my way or my expectations are unfulfilled, I’d be either miserable, or gone (and miserable). The degree to which I can just surrender – it is what it is, I yam what I yam, they yar what they yar – is the degree to which I can experience happiness and contentment.

All that notwithstanding, here’s what’s really on my mind:

I’ve got surgery coming up next week. It’s a fusion on my dodgy ankle (an arthroscopic ankle arthrodesis, for the medicos among you). Elective. That is, not life-threatening; Ankle arthroscopythat is, a choice I made. I chose the date, the doctor, the hospital, the manner of surgery, the manner of anaesthetic. But although the procedure is strongly recommended, it doesn’t have a cut-and-dried outcome – surgery never does. It will work out for me better in some ways and possibly worse in others. As a post-polio, l might suffer unexpected negative consequences. Although it’s far from life and death surgery, it will involve a long recovery period and considerable life change. I have an uncertain future: a challenging situation for someone who spends a good deal of life planning and anticipating.

There was a point several months ago when I committed to the surgery. The decision was made and the surgeon booked. But that didn’t stop me chewing and chewing at it, continuing to research, trying to think every possible ramification through to its ultimate conclusion. Talk about a busy brain. It’s a wonder I could enjoy a meal or conduct a conversation.

I’m reminded of another gem from the workshop, which went something like this:

Some night, go out and talk to the stars. Tell them about your troubles, your indecision, the unfairness of life. And you will encounter the profound indifference of the universe to your suffering.

I haven’t actually done the exercise, but I can well imagine the outcome.

[Polio: choose. Surgery: choose.]

Anyway, you’ll be relieved to hear I’m IN now, boots and all. I’ve got dozens of books on my Kindle, Rick has organised a netbook computer, and I have all the latest gear, including a stylish knee scooter for eventually getting around the house. I have my own personal Occupational Therapist, a good friend from choir. I’ve been promised audio books, long conversations, visits with guitars, games, stories, chicken soup – and chocolate ice cream on a regular basis. The future is looking…well, interesting.

I’ll keep you posted. I .likely won’t be here next weekend, but I will be back soon.