Everything Leans

A couple of weeks ago, on short notice and somewhat of a whim, I hastily packed, got in my car and met my brother, Brian, in Harrisburg, PA, where we then traveled together for a wonderful trip to Asheville, NC. He is a beekeeper (among other vocations) and needed to pick up six “nukes” of bees to refresh his own colonies. The adventure was ON!
We were both due for some R&R … I was ill with a kidney infection, and he simply needed to rejuvenate and restore. We chose the “long way” by driving all the way to Asheville down the Blue Ridge Parkway … a glorious trip every mile. We stayed in some funky motels, ate in country restaurants, and feasted all of our senses on the full glory of Spring in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was an easy, casual, unhurried trip … and we got to spend some truly special time together. Brian got his bees, I got to visit with a dear, long-time friend for several days, and we both got the healing and rest we needed. The return trip was “abuzz” with the bees in the back of the van, and us enjoying the sweet smell of honey and beeswax the whole trip back. Back in Harrisburg, where I had left my car, we each chose our separate routes for the final legs of our trip, sad to be parting, but satisfied we had spent such a rich and joyous time together.

Our first “destination” was Montecello, VA, Jefferson’s home and retreat both before, during, and after his time in service to the budding Nation.
We got on The Blue Ridge Parkway at it’s uppermost entry point, in Waynesboro, VA, not far from Montecello.

Hidden falls along the way.
We discovered so many “secrets” and hidden treasures along the way, just by walking down a few trails and listening for what was next.

Flaming azaleas.
So many flowering plants this time of year … and hardly a car in view. Sometimes we drove for hours without seeing another vehicle … and after Memorial Day it will be a mob along the BRP. We couldn’t have done this at a better time of year.

Rhodies, near the end of their season in the Blue Ridge.

The Blue Ridge Mountains.
We stopped or slowed down at so many of the “viewpoints” , it’s no wonder it took us nearly 2 1/2 days to drive from Montecello to Asheville (only an 8-9 hour drive on the SuperSlab roads)

A restored mill along the Blue Ridge. At one time is was a gristmill, sawmill, and supplied power for other machinery. There was also a blacksmith shop and wheel works shop. And all of this was run by a husband and wife, with little assistance from anyone else.
Brian and I could both see him as a master carpenter working in a mill like this. Who knows, perhaps he did in some other lifetime?

The best small-town restaurant the whole trip! Fresh eggs, organic veggies, homemade sausage.
The folks that owned this wonderful restaurant, Cristina’s, owned a small family farm and have the restaurant to supplement the farm’s income. Family Farms are making a comeback in some of the rural areas, but it’s a long road and incredibly hard work to make it financially feasible. If you can support local farms in your area, make it your mission to buy from them during the growing season.Just

Simply stunning.

Yes, that’s really a van full of bees! Sweet girls with their queens, ready to go to work when they reach RI. Mmmmmm … the scent is wonderful. Honey and beeswax. Made my mouth water all the way.
And now, just this week (Wednesday), Brian suffered a significant heart attack and will be needing a triple bypass to restore his health. We both could not be more grateful for the journey we were given. Of course we expect a full recovery, and Brian looks forward to a full and rich life in the years to come. And we both know “things happen” … that we don’t plan on, that we don’t “expect”. What we do know, and acknowledge, is that every moment is a gift, and if you are waiting for “later” for some moment in your life to connect with the people you love … well, “later” is NOW, and THIS is the moment to do it … because that moment, that “later” moment, may never come.

Brian, looking at new vistas, where ever they may be found.
[If any of you know my brother, Brian, we have started a Caring Bridge website for updates and status. If you would like to receive updates, please go to CaringBridge.org and search on Brian’s name, Brian Fiske, or click this link for Beetle’s Beehive Buzz.

Everything leans.

The Third Act (Thank you Jane Fonda)

When I hit sixty years of age (nearly 9 years ago) something shifted for me. That something was visceral and profound and spiritual. It was something “deep in my bones” (other than the creeping arthritis of which I had become aware). I had become aware of its approaching intensity, but could not yet identify it. It was mostly “just a feeling” that never quite went away.

In the past 9 years that “feeling” has grown into an ingrained and satisfying awareness that my life is “just fine, thank you”. Much of that just fine-ness has come about as a result of deep reflection and some radical redefinition of my history, of the events of my life. As Jane says, almost as an aside, “taking a look at our history and seeing what we ‘made up’ about it.” That’s an important distinction, after all, isn’t it? That part about “making it up”. We are hearing that phrase a lot these days; that our lives and how we live them are simply based upon a collection of stories that we make up.

How much of what we live with, the burdens we carry, the “heavy mantle of adulthood” we drag around with us is no mare than what we invented? Something we made up about something that happened? Something we treat as inviolate reality? Did what ever it was really happen? Probably, or at least some version of what we remember occurred. Yet, more likely than not, it’s only a version of what actually happened. Not the whole thing, or the ‘real deal’. It starts to get tweaked in our mind’s eye at nearly the same instance the event happens. And once we “tweak” it that becomes the new reality! The truth never happened, and the “made up” version becomes “the truth”.

There are now reams of scientific studies and accounts in the legal profession that have proven that the least reliable evidence in a case comes from eyewitnesses. Yes, the absolutely LEAST RELIABLE evidence! And yet we often base our essential assumptions on “how life is”, or “how it works” on partially remembered details, some event (or events) of decades past as though it were the truth! And there we are, mired in THAT’S JUST HOW IT IS! And even if we have Perfect Total Recall, there is the infinitely more important distinction of “what we MADE IT MEAN” – about the people involved, about the circumstances, about ourselves.

If your big brother beat you up from time to time did you decide he was a bully and assign him a “life sentence” of Big Bully? (What kind of relationship can you possibly have with a Big Bully?) Perhaps you decided/made up that you were a helpless human being and became Incapable Ivan? (So, no wonder you dropped out of school, your business doesn’t succeed, or you have NO VOICE to speak up for yourself.) Perhaps you invented that you can’t count on anyone to defend you, care for you, be there for you, and became Aloof Al. (The distance is safe, but if no one can get close what chance do you have for meaningful relationships?) Perhaps you decided that you’ll never get pushed around again, and you became Defensive Dan. (Well, right, you won’t get pushed around, but you’re probably not a very nice guy either. How much fun is that?)

Who knows? The point is you evolved into who you are as an adult, in large part, because you MADE UP what the events in your life mean for you and you designed yourself and your life accordingly. And, hey, this isn’t just about men! I only chose a man in the example because I could think of names to go with the analogies. You can just as easily fill in “Nagging Nancy”, “Defacing Dana”, “Careless Cara”, and so on. ALL our personas have a source … and that source is an invention of our interpretation of life’s offerings. Please don’t misunderstand, everything we MAKE UP doesn’t lead us to unhappiness, misery, and a general discontent with life. Many things have served us well, and led us into wonderful careers, fulfilling relationships, and satisfying lives. We develop incredible strengths and talents out of our created meanings just as well. What IS important to remember, I believe, is that no matter which way it goes, we are still “making it up”. And, that is the REALLY good news!

The joy, the beauty of having a Third Act, as Jane calls it, in which to participate is that we get to redefine our lives and our experiences any way we want. Once we know and absorb that we really do just “make it up”, then we get to start making decisions about how tightly we want to hang on to our past interpretations. Is our “version of the truth” in service to our lives or destructive? After all, it’s all our own invention, and we can tinker with it all we want. We get to re-write the meaning and live life from a new perspective. How about writing a Third Act in which we are the sole authors, and the ending is NOT already written? What would it be like to redefine our experiences as we go along in such as way as it serves the life we choose to live, not live a life that we suffer by default? What would be possible for YOUR Third Act?

I want to close with a deeply personal experience, one that I share with a heartfelt intention with you all. As you read, pay attention to what you “make up” about what I write, what occurred, about me, about the people involved, about what your own biases lead you to believe, the conclusions you draw. Then, when all is said and done, re-evaluate where you are and where you want to leave it.

As a child, there was a certain level of abuse that existed in my life. For my siblings and myself. Mostly we kept it a secret. That’s what one did in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and still in the 70’s. That is true. It is factual. There was abuse.

What I “remember” about that abuse is what is open to debate. What is actual vs. what I created – out of fear, anger, repression, or out of replayed memories and my own interpretations of what “actually happened”? However, the ultimate effects of all that abuse, in whatever form it occurred, have so much more to do with what I MADE IT MEAN than with what actually happened.

And what I made it mean was multifaceted and destructive: that I was an inconsequential female; that I didn’t ‘matter’; that the abuser was evil and irrational; that I didn’t deserve to be happy (joyful, content – you fill in the blanks). I made it MEAN all those things we associate with “abuse”. Pretty much all of them! And the consequences followed my invented meanings: years of severe clinical depression, thoughts of worthlessness, self-destructive behaviors (anorexia, sleep deprivation), chronic anxiety and PTSD. And more. I was pretty messy, to be sure. There were also more productive outcomes: I was deeply compassionate with those that suffer; I had empathy for those that get “hooked” into depression and self-abusive behaviors; I can stand in another’s shoes and know their pain and suffering from a deeply personal place; and I was an absolute ROCK that my daughters would not EVER go through what I went through if at all possible. I became a voice for getting abuse out the basement and into the open where it belongs; a voice that secrecy is as destructive as the abuse itself.

To be clear, abuse messes up a kid (a woman, a man, any person who suffers at the wrongful intention of another). Absolutely, it does! Abuse is untenable, unacceptable, and deplorable. It is not to be tolerated, by our society, our legal system, and most certainly not by ourselves. This is NOT a treatise on finding ways to make abuse acceptable. There are none.

What changed my life dramatically is in how I renegotiated my relationship to the abuse that, as a matter of fact, occurred. For over 40 years I carried around the scars of “being an abused child” and bore the intense weight of the title “Survivor of Abuse”. Our recent social attitudes greatly assisted me in deepening the ties to the unhappy parts of my childhood. I kept it real. I kept it alive with my stories. I enrolled everyone I could in how “awful” a person the abuser was. I thought I was “helping” women take ownership of the abuse that happened to them; to face it head-on and not be ashamed or hide out. And perhaps I did some positive work in that way. But, I also wanted to punish “him” and most of all I wanted to punish myself. Over and over. In short, I chronically re-abused myself with my stories, my tight clinging to the past of my meaning-making brain (however fact based), my unwavering inability and unwillingness to create a new meaning!

Twenty-seven years of therapy, endless hours of meditation, spiritual teachings, and retreats, and vision quests, dozens of self-help books (maybe more), personal growth workshops and trainings and courses, a husband that never gave up on me … I know it all led me to one simple place. A place I didn’t enter until my Third Act. I had to come to a place in my heart and being where I was simply willing to lay it all down. I had to be willing to make closure, as Jane invites us to do, with the history, the stories, and the memories. I had to be willing to change my definition of myself, to give up my titles, my interpretation of who I thought I was. And one day, after all the work and all the personal growth and all the introspection and all the journaling, I simply knew. I am no longer an “Abused Child”. Abuse happened. True. But the abused child lived in the 40’s and 50’s. She no longer exists. She does not need a life of her own. She is free, and I am free. For my Third Act.

May I have this Dance?

By Jan 28, 2015 5:43pm

(My thanks to Anna, as I took the liberty of paraphrasing parts of her Facebook update this afternoon to write this post.)

Today was a GOOD day as Susan’s heart responded to the heart pump (RVAD) being turned down somewhat with positive results! Dr. Groh was very happy with what he saw, and there are still some things to bring into balance. Over the next several days Dr. Groh will be adjusting (downward) the medications that have been supporting her heart function while the RVAD continues to support her heart. The plan is to let her body adjust to not having the support of the medications, then work with weaning her heart off the machine. Sometime in the near future (maybe Friday?) he will do another trial of her right ventricle function to see how things are progressing. Tomorrow there is a plan to do another heart catheterization to be sure that nothing else is going on in her heart. It is a delicate dance, and this doc is a gifted choreographer!

Today was also the very difficult conversation about “if this doesn’t work, what next?”, and Dr. Groh said that he has been in full communication with the heart transplant center at Duke University Hospital (one of the major transplant hospitals in the US). No plans or decisions in that direction are being made at this point, but it is at least an option being offered if her heart does not appear to be strong enough on it’s own. Susan is now fully aware of the seriousness of her condition, and will take all of this into her meditations and practice as we move forward.

Susan has been in this dance with This Moment with such grace and acceptance, and she accepted today’s success with some sweet element of relief and joy. Dr. Groh even said that she could begin to increase the bit of applesauce/mango puree she has been allowed, from a couple of teaspoons 2-3 times a day to somewhat more. She takes in each bite with a delicious combination of gratitude and pleasure. There IS that smoothie from the juice bar coming one of these days soon!

Your prayers continue to be so welcome and deeply received …


Deepening Prayers …

By Jan 28, 2015 9:46am

… today Susan’s heart will be “tested” as the support from the RVAD will be decreased further; the docs will make use of a couple of sensing devices to see how her heart responds and can make determinations from there. I won’t go into a lot of tech-y details right now. It’s simply time to deepen prayers and hold Susan closely. Smile at her heart!

With loving arms holding you all … another post later today,

A Very Busy Day

By Jan 26, 2015 9:02pm

This was a long and busy day for Susan. Busy partly because she is more and more engaged in her daily care, asking questions and understanding more and being proactive, like requesting a time to discuss plans with her doctors. She is still very weak and needs a lot of help but she is an active participant in her care which is wonderful to see.
Each day she shows more progress. Today it was passing her swallow test and being able to send out for one of her favorite juices. Just a few sips from a teaspoon but it was a start. With help she sat up in bed and dangled her feet for a little bit longer today and with less support than usual. She is able to move her hands and legs more freely in bed, reaching for and using a suction device if she needs to. Today she was able to hold the phone to her ear and talked to her good friend Charleen in Hawaii. Her voice becomes stronger and a little less hoarse each day making it easier to converse. Considering where she was just a short time ago, it was a joy to watch Susan and her daughter Anna comfortably talking back and forth from my vantage point on the other side of the bed.
We all would like to be a fly on the wall when her surgeon sees her tomorrow. After four days of being away I think his jaw is going to drop when he sees how much Susan has improved. It’s all been small and steady steps adding up! The goal to steadily strengthen Susan’s muscles, improve her nutrition and increase her stamina is all to decrease her heart’s reliance on the assistance of the ventricular pump. The surgeon is planning to “dial down” the pump some more this week and allow Susan’s right ventricle to resume its job of pumping blood to the lungs and then back to the left side of the heart. Susan especially needs your continued loving prayers and healing energy.
She asked me today to let everyone know how grateful she is for you keeping her in the light and that she can feel everyone’s love and support and that she believes it is all helping her.
She particularly enjoyed seeing pictures of her dear friends in her Innervision group.

With so much gratitude for the steadily emerging essence and beloved spirit of our dear Susan.

Very Brief Update

By Jan 26, 2015 3:58pm

Dear friends and family,
Kathryn loves to expound on things in an eloquent manner and I don’t share that gift.  So my update will be very brief.  As of today, January 26th, Susan is very stable and continues to grow stronger daily.  Still, things are a bit precarious as long as she continues to be connected to the notorious RVAD (right ventricular assist device or “heart pump”).  She has been in a holding pattern the past few days and things may start moving along more later this week.  Her heart surgeon has been out of town and returns today or tomorrow and it will be good to have him back on the premises and have the ability to communicate with him. As of today, I’m back in Nashville for the time being so Kathryn will likely make the next post some time tomorrow or tomorrow night when she returns to Asheville.  If there is any more significant news between now and then, I will try to post it.  Keep that love and light a ‘comin!
Love and peace to all,