Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Swirl and Swing of Words*

All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.
~Kahlil Gibran

I’m looking at three disparate, undated pieces of paper—different colors, different sizes, each holding three words written in different colors of ink.

These are the things I know: At various times in the last eight months, I scribbled the words on the papers, stuffed them in the large folder I take back and forth to work—and forgot about them. There they stayed until this morning—two, a bit crumpled, one with a torn edge.

I often jot down ideas for subjects I may want to write about in my blog, yet at first I could not recall why I put down these particular words, or what was going through my mind at the three different times. 

The first paper has these words: Peaceful, Calm, Tranquil; the second: Pain, Illness, Process; the third: Revelation, Transformation, Acceptance.

Thinking about it now, I believe the first words, “Peaceful, Calm, Tranquil,” were written at a time when I was dwelling on how often friends have commented that I usually seem settled and composed and how they often feel less tense or upset when around me. I try, I try. 

My journey to inner peace, calmness and tranquility has been rocky and rife with missteps—missteps which have taken me to emotional and financial precipices. I know it does no good to chastise myself for what now present as poor decisions, or rue the day when those decisions seemed exactly the right thing to do.   

I have always “owned” the way my adult life has unfolded and I take ownership for the way in which I handle the bumps cropping up along the path. 

It's not always easy to project a positive attitude and yet, giving in to the opposite does me no good (I've experimented!), and so I keep smilin'. 

“Pain, illness and process.” Words written inside scribbles that look like river eddies, jagged lightning bolts emanating from the centers. It’s easy to know why I jotted down these three words. During the past four years, two of my dearest friends have been experiencing dire health issues, often bringing severe, intractable pain and an inability to physically function in their usual go-getter fashion. My heart aches for them.

I’ve known excruciating physical pain—a kind of pain that could never be assuaged with any drugs. Thankfully, gratefully, years after surgeries and physical therapy I'm in a "so far, so good" state of physical health. 

My friends who are in pain? As of now, it doesn’t appear that they will ever again know pain free days without medication. They use a daunting regimen of painkillers and those often work well enough to give them a few hours of relief. Neither one wants to take the medication but their lives are massively diminished when there is such overwhelming pain.

The process of pain management can be a mentally overwhelming task. Many sufferers don’t know when the pain will crop up. When it does, a day that might have begun with hope, with sunshine and flowers, with joy in a good, hot cup of coffee or a call from a loved one quickly turns into a struggle to find the steel resolve to cope, once again…to just make it through another day.

Serious illness can strike overnight and quickly rearrange every aspect of life.

I read Floyd Skloot's 1996 book, The Night-Sidewhen it first came out and agree with the reviewer who wrote, "Rarely has so painful a subject—being sick—produced so exhilarating a book. His writing is full of wisdom and panache. He manages to turn physical affliction into literary gold. A series of moving, often hilarious meditations on chronic illness that remind us, in prose that mesmerizes, of the remarkable tenacity of the human spirit." Below are the last lines of Skloot's poem, "Music Appreciation":

  …I may never know what brilliant cell rewrites the entire score my body has followed for life, throwing its symphony into chaos.

It’s somber, but I’m learning to appreciate this new tone, the discordant sound that accompanies vital change.

I was thinking vivace, but find that recovery runs at its own tempo and settle back simply to hear the way my being achieves its harmonies. …

“Revelation, transformation and acceptance,” are the words on a piece of paper torn out of a small notebook I once carried in my purse. The entire 4x6 slip of paper, right out to the edges, is covered with happy faces and twirling doodles. No artistic presence there!

I tried to recall what it was that spurred me to write those words, to embellish that small slip of paper with such childish scrawls. Then I remembered!

Two months before, a friend and I had been together for dinner and then to the theater. We’ve been friends for over three decades and we easily share our thoughts and feelings.

I recall we’d been talking about a myriad of things (as we usually do when we are together). Heading toward her home on this evening, our conversation ended up focusing not on our families or friends, not on the dinner we just enjoyed or the play we’d laughed out way through, but on how we felt about where we were in our lives.

Almost as one, we said we’d recently had a sort of epiphany, or revelation, having to do with the ways in which we’d changed and evolved over the previous many years. We both felt more confident and sure of ourselves even though we acknowledged our physical stamina was not what it had been even five years previous.

As we wove our way through the dark, wet city streets, we spoke of the transformations that had begun taking place in our lives two months prior. 

My friend said she was just now beginning to know for certain that she'd made the right decisions about her marriage and her living situation.  

After leaving a 45-year marriage, my friend and her adult daughter, along with two teenage grandchildren, now share a large, old Craftsman-style home with a lush garden and enough room for the three legally allowed city-chickens. She is on the path to having her second novel published, taking yoga classes and beginning a book club.

Decisions made by the corporate owners of the apartment complex where I've lived for a total of 14 years have forced me to do something I probably should have done years ago and that is to move into a small, less expensive apartment. It has just been so easy to go on year after year, cutting back as necessary in order to keep up with the ever-rising rental rates.  

Of course, I'll keep my part-time job and I will concentrate a bit more on growing my freelance editing business. 

These changes have not come easily for either one of us, but after realizing and accepting that we needed to make some adjustments, we have both transformed our lives.

She called me the morning after our time together to tell me how much she enjoyed the evening. Her voice was calm and soothing and as I listened to her I picked up the piece of paper and a blue marker, eventually writing, “Revelation, Transformation, Acceptance” in florid, curling letters, grinning faces bobbing on the margins.

Dante Alighieri said, “He listens well who takes notes.” I listened and I heard friendship.

*I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.

~James Michener