Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Light of the Season

Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” I think of our light as our spirit. My interpretation of this quote is that I have two choices only: I can choose to shine my light, or I can help someone else’s light shine in this world.

I’ve always hated Christmas, since it was the worst time of the year for me growing up. It took me almost a lifetime, but I learned what Christmas was all about, and for me, it is about the light.

I spent every Christmas at my dad’s house, really it is his wife’s and her daughter’s house. Although he paid for half of the mortgage, he has already told us that the house will not be in our will, instead, it will go to his wife’s daughter, my step-sister. Every Christmas was all about my step-sister, who is five years older than me. The gifts I received were mostly copies of my step-sister's, so she wouldn’t get jealous of me. She received at least twice as many gifts as I did. I would sob to my father saying it wasn’t fair, but he and his wife insisted that we received exactly the same number of gifts and I was acting ungrateful and told to shut up. I heard "shut up" a lot at Christmas time. On Christmas morning, I’d open my gifts very slowly so I wouldn’t be done before my step-sister. I’d clean up after myself, just so I’d have something to do. I’d organize my gifts neatly, but she’d still be opening presents hours later, and after each gift she’d say, “Look Marsh! Look what I got! Isn’t this beautiful!” In fact her gifts were nice clothes, silk blouses, and fine china dolls – things I wouldn’t get. I wanted to be happy for her, but the pain was unbearable. The rest of the day she’d go on about how much she loved all of her gifts. I learned humility before I even knew what it was. Each year she got even more presents than the previous year, and I’d learn to hope for nothing, and especially to shut down all the feelings other children associated with Christmas, and wait until the day was finally over.

At home with my mom, weeks before Christmas she’d tell me, “You can’t stay here for Christmas. I don’t want you here. Do you hear me? I don’t want you here!” No matter what home I lived in, my mother’s or my father’s wife’s home, I had no home, that’s what Christmas was for me. To this day I still think of myself as a gypsy, with no home. My "theme song" has always been "Melissa" by the Allman Brothers. "No one knows the gypsy's name..." My "sweet Melissa" will always be Mount Tamalpais, where I've always felt at home.

I was in college, which I paid for myself, the first time I heard the saying “I am a child of God.” A child of God! It was a breakthrough. I could embrace life as a child of God. Not as the ignored child that I’ve always been to my father, my step-mother, my step-sister, my mother, my brothers, my grandparents. After this revelation, Christmas took on a new meaning. As a child of God I could see Christmas as a spiritual time. You have to understand, for me it was all about my step-sister and being told to "shut up." Nothing else. For the first time, while I was on my own, I could see Chistmas was no longer about the seemingly endless gifts I saw another older child receive, it was about the birth of Jesus. That he was a child of God and so am I. I felt transformed knowing not only that I mattered to God, but that we all do.

Today in church, the pastor talked about how we become the child of God when we believe in him. That Jesus was made of the flesh of God. In the “flesh”, he brought God’s message through his own teachings. When we act on these teachings, like practicing “love” or “compassion” or “humility” we make that word part of our “flesh.” For me, these words brought home the meaning of Christmas and of a meaningful life. I continue to learn beautiful Christmas can be. Just as I continue to grieve for the childhood I lost. Recently my father admitted that my step-sister did get more gifts than me, but it was his wife's choice and he couldn't stop her. He tried, but he couldn't. I respect him for telling me that, but knowing my father abandoned me and lied to me about it, is the kind of betrayal few people will ever experience.

It’s why I am so delighted to be alone on Christmas. For me, it is a time of reflecting on myself, Jesus, Christ, God, and all the people who I love. The human spirit is so resilient. When I see Christmas lights or candles this time of year I am reminded of the spirit within us all. I am not God. I do not want to bring the whole world of people into my heart – I’ve lived through hell and the people who made my life hell still live and breathe in my life. But I have a choice, of what I want to do this time of year. I chose to be the light. To try to do what is right. Sometimes, that means not pointing out a lie my co-worker just made to me. Sometimes that means avoiding people like that co-worker, and finding people who are genuine, loving, and want to make a better world for us all, not just for themselves. I woke up to that every year on Christmas throughout my childhood. I know the destructive power of selfishness.

Part of the sermon today was that we can all harness our strength and act on that strength, to make it “flesh” and in doing so become a child of God. The pastor said, if we see a need in the world, and we have a gift, we can bring our gift into the world to make a differnce. I say, to shine. For example he said, “The world needs people who perform small acts of kindness.” That’s what I like to do. Amazing because so little kindness was ever bestowed to me by my family, but it’s what I love to do. I also love to write. This is my gift that I want to share with the world. I believe there is a place for my words in this world. If it feels as good to write about as it does for someone to read, for even just one person, then it is worth it to me to share my words. To share my light. For I am a candle, who is burning bright.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Miracles Please!

In my blog post “The Opportunity of Death” I wrote about having to have my ovaries removed. I had a big, fat, oily cyst on one of my ovaries. I was told it was a dermoid cyst, which may have hair, eyes, sweat glands, and teeth. I named it Harold, after one of my favorite movies, Harold and Maude. Maude was my ovary, and Harold was surrounding her embodied as a cyst that was oily, hairy, and possibly had teeth. The kid who played Harold in the movie wasn’t that bad looking, but this was my Harold, and he was ugly. My surgery was scheduled for March 5, and I was as ready as I was ever going to be to have my ovaries removed. And then a miracle happened: My surgeon broke her arm riding a bike. When I got the call that the surgery was canceled because the doctor broke her arm I was thinking, “No! This can’t be happening to me!” The office secretary made it clear that the doctor was not making any plans for future surgeries at this time. “No!” I needed Harold taken out! What was the doctor doing riding her bike! She’s a surgeon; she can’t just go bike riding! I thought to myself, yelled in the car, told everyone who would listen (for example, the cashiers at Safeway). After a couple weeks of trying to figure out what the heck am I supposed to do in this situation, I found another surgeon and scheduled an appointment, which took another three weeks.

The new surgeon checked me out and told me the cyst had shrunk. That meant it was going to go away on its own and I didn’t need surgery. It wasn't a dermoid cyst afer all! It was an amazing turn of events that left me whole! No surgery! I get to keep what I have! It was a miracle! Goodbye Harold! I could have lifted off into the clouds I was so light and happy, but it was more than just feeling fortunate: It was feeling that I was being guided. It’s not like the kind of guidance you get on a tour in Muir Woods, “You’ll notice it is very quiet in the forest because there are no birds. Since the Coastal Redwood trees, the tallest trees in the world, shade the forest floor, flora cannot grow, and birds are attracted to flora, so no flora, no birds.” It’s the kind of guidance that left me in awe. How did all of these unrelated events occur to make this one outcome? And how was it that this outcome was the best for me? Who am I in this great, big world to be graced with so many twists and turns and still end up where I was supposed to be? I don’t know, and I like it that way.

We all like to think we have a certain control over life, but we don’t. We don’t have any control at all really, and nothing makes you more aware of that than an illness, or cancer, or having something removed from your body… You might think that it is bad to have those types of troubles, but it is our troubles that help us find the strength in ourselves to overcome, even when we don’t think we have any strength. You realize that there’s something greater in the world than you and your tiny trouble. Whether you believe in God or Buddah or Allah it makes no difference, because we are all connected in some way, and miracles are a pathway that lead us when we least know where to go. Webster’s defines miracle (noun) as a wonder, marvel, an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs.

They connect us with something bigger than ourselves, with the greatness in ourselves, the world we live in, the spiritual world, and the unknown, even the unimaginable. I’d like more of those experiences. And after that event, I started having them, again and again.

I was hiking in Deer Park in Fairfax when I met a woman and her dog on a trail. She was wearing those shoes that make your butt and thighs look better, which I desperately want for myself, so I asked her about them. While we were walking and talking, we both would kick her dog’s tennis ball so he’d run ahead and bring it back. She told me that she had lost her car keys while hiking. She lived nearby and she was going to walk home and ask her husband to help. I wanted to offer to give her a ride, but her dog was pretty dirty. Our heads were down most of the time kicking the ball to her dog. At the gate to get back to what used to be Deer Park School, I looked up and there were keys on top of the post. “Are those your keys?” They were. I felt like we had been guided by something divine that lead us to talk walk, and find her keys and someone else was guided to put them right there, where we almost didn’t see them. Now she could get home, and back to her life. It was amazing.

On another hike, this time at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes, I came upon a small harbor seal with a pink streak of spray paint on its forehead. It was making its way to the bluffs, far away from the water. There’s no cell phone service there, and the pay phone at the parking lot didn’t work, so I drove back to town. On the way, a young man waved to me to pick him up. His car broken down and he needed a ride home to get help. I picked him up, drove him home, just a few miles away, called 911 about the seal, and they connected me to the Marine Mammal center in Sausalito. I was going to meet someone from the Center back at the beach to show her where the seal was, although I had also given her a description of where it was, but the beach is over 3 miles. After the long drive over the hill to the beach, I couldn’t find her, so I drove back into town. On my voice mail was a message that the woman had found the seal, and she thanked me for her help. I felt like, I didn’t plan any of this, and yet I’m some type of tool being used for a higher purpose to help a seal and a young man whose car broke down. I felt more lit up than a Christmas tree. I was high on happiness, on just plain joy from feeling connected with the world that I was a part of.

The weeks went on and more miracles – I quickly stopped on Highway 4 when I saw a woman walking away from her broken down car. I saw her car, her with a bag in her hand, and I just thought, “I have got to help her!” She was so grateful! I was just running errands on a Saturday; in the right place at the right time. Miracles!

I don’t know how you can create a miracle. I think you have to be open to receiving them. Prayers have helped heal people, which is one way miracles work. This week at church the pastor talked about how God is only a prayer away. Maybe a miracle is a divine spirit’s prayer for you. I know that they are a gift of realization that I am significant, and bring meaning to the grand scheme of life that I am part of. They also bring me awareness that there is guidance in every moment. For me it is also a feeling of awe in knowing that you can’t know everything, and that from even what we do know, is all a mystery. Just because we can name a tree a Coast Redwood, doesn’t mean we know it. The trees in Muir Woods, the harbor seals at Limantour Beach, all have a life of their own. A life we can’t even imagine. I think there’s a place in awareness between appreciating the magnificence of all life, from birds to flora, to harbor seals, to humans, and allowing ourselves just to be in awe, and letting go of the walls that surround us, and the fears that keep us from being really whole, then there’s a moment of grace, when a power greater than ourselves touches us without words, without sound, and guides us to a place that is right, and in that moment we understand the immense beauty, love, joy, delight, awesomeness that is life. That’s a how I would describe a miracle. They happen all around us every day. However they come about, for whatever reason they occur, I have a request for any divine spirit who is listening, please send me more!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Endless Frustrations of Dating

It’s been three years of trying online dating and I have nothing good to say about. So instead, I’m going to offer some insights I have on the subject, because after three years, I’ve learned a lot, even if I haven’t met a man I want to spend my life with, yet.

The first thing I would highly recommend, don’t put too much emphasis on sex, immediately. A guy on my online dating site noted these as his must have’s: his partner has to be above average in looks, she has to want sex regularly, and she has to be intelligent. What is this guy, 16? Has he taken down his Bay Watch posters yet? All that screams “immature” to me, which is such a turn off.

On a first date, over dinner, one guy told me that he had a vasectomy. In case anyone is confused, a vasectomy is not dinner conversation with someone you just met. I mean, what are men thinking? I wonder, what does he think I'm going to say, think, do? Perhaps Gloria Vanderbuilt has that in one of her books. "Don't talk about your phallus at dinner on your first date, unless it's a big one." It was on a second date that another guy told me, because of his age, he couldn't "respond" to me as quickly as he'd like. I'd just have to be patient. What am I going to do? Read a romance novel while we wait for the Viagra to kick in? In whose book is this romance? Even after a year, this still isn't funny. Ugly yes, funny, no. My advice, on the first several dates, try to get to know the person. Let's just leave it at that.

Over the summer, I met Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome who was funny and fun, but after one date he couldn’t meet again. All he wanted to do was text. One excuse was he had to work double shifts all the time, because his ex-wife needed so much money. Guys, I know this sounds crazy, but try not to talk about your ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, or even your ex-pet or ex-trailer home that went to the ex-wife. A potential mate is not interested in your ex and when you talk about her or him, you sound really petty. Instead, do what us women have done for years, pay a therapist to talk about it, even it all your money is going to your ex.

To me it is important for the man I date to eat, regular food, and regular meals. Guys, I am a woman. I have curves, and more curves. I don’t want to date a guy who weighs anywhere close to 100 pounds. I don’t want these double-Ds to knock a guy out or break his bones. I need a guy that eats. Recently a guy wrote, he only eats when he’s hungry so eats less than most people. Oh, wow, that is so – icky! Eating out is fun! I want to enjoy it and I want someone to enjoy it with. I don’t want to hear “I had a big lunch, I’m not hungry.” On the night you have a date, do not eat a big lunch. Come to the "table of love" very hungry!

One question I recently received online was “What do you find physically attractive?” I’m a lady. I’m not going to discuss sex or what turns me on sexually before I even meet a guy. What’s the fun in that? It’s a fact that women need to feel emotionally connected to a man before having sex. A fact! So saying to a woman “I want sex” or “Let’s talk about sex” “are you affectionate?” is not a substitute for the emotional and mental maturity that what women find attractive. Guys, you want to try to connect with the women, and connecting doesn’t happen over “What do you find physically attractive.” For me, what is attractive is a man’s mind. If I like the way he thinks, the way he makes me laugh, the way he can carry on conversation, I’m attracted. How he looks means nothing if he doesn’t have a great personality.

An intelligent man knows how to lead a conversation. I met a guy tonight in line at Safeway and I really enjoyed talking to him, because he knew how to converse. Most men have this little problem of talking about themselves endlessly, without pause, no point, not caring if anyone is paying attention… It’s a lot like they are in a coma, but still talking and their eyes are moving, but they have no actual awareness beyond themselves. This is the ego and the ego only cares about the ego. Please try to hold back the ego and not talk about yourself too much on a date. I’m sure you have some amazing talents, but monopolizing a conversation is just wrong, impolite, boring, and shows how incredibly dense you are. None of those are qualities anyone is looking for in a relationship. And of course, if you are doing all the talking, no bonding is happening.

Confidence is an extremely sexy quality in a man, in my opinion. A lot of men equate confidence with being a know it all, but they aren’t the same things. If I want to learn something, I’ll take a class. When I want to get to know someone, there has to be give and take. For example, the man says something, and then I get to say something. That’s the basis of a conversation, and a conversation is what is going to make a woman feel connected with a man, and potentially lead to sex.

Before you go on a date, try not to assume you are perfect as you are. Perfection is very boring. When we see ourselves honestly, we can better accept ourselves and others. So who looks at themselves honestly? And that’s the big problem with online dating: if a person is not honest with themselves, how can they be honest with you? You might like to be the expert in everything, maybe heard people say you talk too much, and especially about yourself. You know in your heart, that they are really just jealous! So when you go on the date, you talk too much, just about yourself, and you portray yourself as near perfect, everything is great… Those are all red flags that tell the other person, “RUN FAST”! I’d like to suggest, if people have recently or throughout your whole life told you something about yourself that you don’t want to look at, look at it before you go on a date. Just tone it down, say 50%. You want to make a good impression, so what do you have to lose?

Which brings me back to sex. As a woman, and a lady, even if I was Maharati in bed, I’m not going to tell that to a man. See, the moment a woman even mentions sex, the man, because of some crazy hormone, is going to take it to raunchy. So a woman, a lady, even a wild-woman lady, is not likely to bring the subject up. Your job of course, is to help her to bond with you so you can find out what Maharati is like in bed!

I think of sex as an expression of love. Love takes time to develop. I need to like the guy, really like him before I start with affection. I want to see him as special, interesting, exciting, fun… I haven’t even mentioned looks, because chemistry reigns supreme. If there’s no chemistry, nothing else matters. Patti on the “Millionaire Matchmaker” said, “A “7” could be a “10” if you like the person.” A person who might be a “7” in looks could easily be a “10”! I have dated plenty of guys who looked like “4s” and “5s” who were “10s” to me because of their great personality.

One final thing about sex: The second date is a second date! It’s not supposed to be your ticket to “second base.” Who got this idea that date number two equals the key to a woman’s chastity belt, and her heart, all loaded in a box of condoms? Remember guys, women need to feel an emotional connection! I am never going on another second date unless I’m crazy about the guy, because the men I have dated seem to think it’s the “all-sex-live” phase of the relationship – it’s just a second date!

To highlight the key points of this posting: Don't talk about your ex or anything that went or is still going to the ex. If you are taking your date out to dinner, do not have a big lunch that day. Don’t let your ego get in the way and talk way too much about yourself. Don’t lie. Listen to what the other person is saying. Most men I meet online heavily emphasize sex, try to avoid that. Remember, women need to feel a connection before starting a sexual relationship. This is so important for men to understand! Be yourself, perfection is boring, showing a little vulnerability can be hot! Develop a conversation that allows you both to give and get information. Take time to know each other.

We are all works in progress and that is the best approach you can take when getting to know someone. I’ve gotten to know a lot of men, and I am more frustrated with each and every one. So if you are dating like me, online or otherwise, I really have nothing good to say about it. But until I meet my someone special, it looks like I’ll continue in this direction, hoping for the best, and writing about the worst.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lucky To Have Had Cancer

When you are on a spiritual journey, everything is an opportunity. What if the opportunity was breast cancer? Would you take it? Do you have a choice? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2008 I cried a lot, and laughed a lot too. As a spiritual person, I tried to find meaning in the experience.

Now I often meet women who after having their mammogram say, “I am one of the lucky ones”, because the doctor did not find cancer. I’m one of the lucky ones too, because I had it. The journey of having cancer changed me in a positive and meaningful way, and I credit my creativity, spirituality, and a willingness to see that it is all a gift, where others see “lucky” or “unlucky”.

What does it mean to be lucky? Does it mean you never have to feel fear? Never suffer? Never feel grief? If this were your path in life you could end up very arrogant and self-serving. Does avoiding those parts of life that hurt or scare you really sound like any way to live? To really live we have to grow, and nothing makes you grow like fear.

When most of us experience fear we want to get away from it. Kate Bush sang a song in which she said “Make it go away.” You can’t. Cancer is one of those things - you can’t make it go away. The mere word “cancer” is like hearing the “f” word your first time or hearing someone make a racists remark – you never forget it. But cancer is a part of you. It’s somewhere in your body, on the level of your cells. The cells build themselves again and again, creating a tumor that’s called cancer, and this time, it was inside me. It was on my left breast. My breasts! My breasts that make me feel like a woman, they turn me on when they are kissed, they were the first thing a man ever noticed about me as a woman, they make me want to stand up straighter, they make me know what it feels like to be beautiful… those breasts! But inside one of them was cancer.

When I first found out I had cancer it was like this: I got the call to come in a second time – it’s probably nothing – don’t worry I told myself. The doctor who examined me was a man. He examined the ultrasound and said, “I am certain you have cancer!” He said it like he discovered America and the rest of us were so lucky to be in his presence, but I couldn’t believe it. He went on exclaiming, “I am positive you have cancer!” “I am absolutely certain you have cancer!” I looked at the nurse as if she was my lifeline to another world where things made sense. She never once looked up. “I am certain you have cancer!” This doctor would not shut up. He made it about him as I sat there in fear and disbelief, not knowing what to do. What if he was right? Then what? “I am absolutely positive you have cancer!” That’s how I found out.

Of course, you have to have a biopsy to know for sure, and that was the first time in my life, when I let my breast be exposed to this apple-corer-looking thing that hurt like hell. It was only the beginning of intense physical pain. What do you do?? I didn’t know. What do I normally do when I don’t know what to do? I couldn’t run. I couldn’t make it go away. Get help, I told myself.

In part my help consisted of a team of doctors. There was my surgeon, my oncologist, my radiologist, and my primary care physician. But when I met with them, I was sobbing so much, they all asked me if I was suicidal. I wasn’t, but it made me realize that I was showing the world my resignation to death. The thought of crossing over to death was always on my mind. Before that I always thought about sex, now my thoughts were about death.

My radiologist got me in touch with an onsite social worker. I had a social worker when I was put into foster care at age 16. Other people who get social workers are those who can’t take care of themselves, they stop eating and bathing. Was I that bad? No, I was still bathing. Everything brought me to tears. I was a mess, and it was a mess. I remembered reading in a book about spirituality that life is messy. But I thought that was when you fall in love with a guy who is married, and another guy you don’t like, likes you… That was a good mess, this was a bad mess. Well, maybe. You just don’t know.

The first thing I got involved in, with the help of my social worker, was a support group at the Cancer Support Community (originally the Wellness Community) in Walnut Creek, California. It was close to work and the meetings were in the evening for this group. The intake counselor talked to me on the phone to find out more about me. I cried the whole time while I was standing outside my office on a break. When I told a co-worker about the group with some excitement, he said those groups are for people who want to complain about how sorry they feel for themselves. He made it sound like we were all a bunch of losers. Losers with cancer. Well, maybe.

The group was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my life. Of course, I went there and sobbed as normal, but I laughed too. The see-through plastic “bra” with the nipple area cut out, the one I had to wear for radiation to keep my boob from moving around, “made me look like Barbarella,” I told the group. "Now if I could just get rid of that radiation machine, I’d really look hot!" We laughed about our experiences. The drugs I was taking caused me so many problems, and my doctor who originally told me about all the possible the side effects seemed shocked to hear I had any! So I wrote them down for her, and then I told the group, “I have gas, constipation, my ears ring, my hands are numb, my face is flushed, my chest is heavy, I have pain in my legs…” As I’m reading this list, it sounded so bad, like, this can’t be that bad?! But I kept going, “uncoordinated, can’t sleep, indigestion….” Pretty soon I tried to sound like Roseanne Rossanadana, the character Gildna Radner played on Saturday Night live. It was hysterical! I’m reading this list of all the problems this drug is causing and laughing! The group was laughing. Other people in the group were adding their side effects with the same accent… I was laughing so hard, I was crying, but this time with delight. What I learned was, when I could laugh at something that once frightened me, then I knew I had moved through the fear and onto acceptance or understanding. I knew I had been transformed. And I learned this because I had cancer.

The Cancer Support Community is now affiliated with Gilda’s Club. Gilda Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Gilda’s Club was started in her memory to support people with cancer.

I found my people! I found other people going through the same thing and they were amazing people! Strong, brave, beautiful, funny, rich with depth, compassion, and understanding. I started having synchronistic experiences: I went for a hike all the while asking God to guide me through this difficulty. At the top of the hill where I was hiking was a tree, a California Bay tree. Those never grow on top of hills, they usually grow in the crevices where they can get the most water. “It just wanted to be closer to the rain.” I told myself. And then this feeling of grace came over me: I also choose to be closer to the rain: to the cold rain that we all run from, I’m choosing to go into it, and not run away. That day I found grace through God, the God that is within all of us.

In her book, “Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears” Pema Chodron says, “How we relate moment by moment to what is happening on the spot is all there really is. We give up all hope of fruition and in the process we just keep learning what it means to be right there.”

I found that when I had to be there, I accesed a deeper part of myself. I found that was creative in ways I could not have imagined: I decided to make radiation all about breakfast. I set up all of my appointments for first thing in the morning so I could eat breakfast. I told myself, “I just have to do this one thing (radiation) and then I’m going to breakfast.” I love breakfast, and the cafeteria at John Muir Hospital was good and inexpensive. After each treatment, after taking off my plastic Barbarella bra and getting dressed, I’d go to the cafeteria, get my tray, pour a cup of coffee, choosing from the options (scrambled eggs, country potatoes, turkey sausage...). I’d be friendly with the cashier or anyone else in line, because I was just there for a great breakfast. I did that for 30 days, 30 treatments. After eating breakfast I’d cross out that day. It was a gift I gave to myself. My authentic self, and a very creative self who obviously could overcome adversity, fear, and uncertainty with her beautiful spirit intact. Being on a spiritual journey has made having cancer a life affirming experience.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, get help and let your fear help guide you. Find out what resources there are in your area. You can start with the American Cancer Society.

Whether you are on a spiritual journey or not, life has so much to teach us and labeling what happens as good or bad, lucky or unlucky will only keep you stuck. We really don’t know all that life can be until we open ourselves to the experience that is before us, see it as an opportunty for acceptance, understanding, and transformation.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Mount Diablo Morning

Today has been a busy social day, and I'm not a social person. I had breakfast with some friends, then stopped at another friend's open house, then met some people through It was a lot of people time, which is what I think I have to do if I ever want to meet a man ("You have to get out there"), but it wasn't really what I wanted to do, and I didn't meet any eligible men either.

At breakfast, the woman sitting next to me didn't like blonds - I'm a blond. I have blond hair like my Russian father, who looks like his Russian mother, who looked like her Russian grandmother... This woman recently lost her husband in a motorcycle accident. I understand that she's struggling with grief, and sometimes when we grieve, we revert to our "base emotions". We are more reactive, and less reflective. I understand she's struggling, and hurting, I just didn't want to be the brunt of her hurt.

People like to remind me all the time that you create the world around you, and I believe it, mostly. I don't believe I created myself sitting next to a grieving woman who hates blonds. And later at the open house, when no one wanted to talk to me, I didn't create that either, but it hurts. It hurts when you go to a party, and the host is busy, and the guests are talking, and no one wants to talk to you. I'm always alone, so the couples who are always sitting or standing within a fingers length of each other, do not want to talk to me. I'm a blond after all, and I'm alone. I was showing some cleavage too - OK - that I created! I'm sure they thought it would be better to ignore me. I don't believe I created that. I ended up having a good time, but I wonder why people are so unfriendly - especially at a party - when we are there to celebrate. No, I didn't create that either.

The highlight of my day was driving to the breakfast. When I turned onto highway 680 going south, the view of Mount Diablo was spectacular. The thin clouds above the mountain opened up to let in the sun that was hidden above them, resulting in beams of ethereal light streaming through. Each beam of light focused on a different part of the mountain: the blond hills, the Black Diamond mine, the peak. For just an instant the light, gentle, warm, and loving, reminded me of the presence of God. Reminded me that God is all around us. And I am part of God, and this world.

For only a brief moment, which had nothing to do with people, I was moved by light shining through the clouds, on a mountain, on a morning before the rain. Simple. I wish I had more moments like that. Moments when I felt so connected to the earth, to life, to what really matters. Moments when the color of my hair, my sex, or my smile don't result an imagined betrayal by others.

I don't think I'm asking for much in the world: respect, appreciation, love, health, happiness. Of all the people I met today, I felt separate from most of them, but the air, the clouds, the sun, the beauty of nature embraced me and made me feel whole, if only for an instant. And never in that instant did I think, I created this. But I loved being a part of something, and the feelings that ran through me from seeing one instant of spectacular beauty. It is my choice to remember this moment, to see true beauty, and connect on a deep, spiritual level.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Opportunity of Death

I recently found out that I have to have an ovary removed, but why not remove the other one too? I had breast cancer and it turns out there’s a connection between breast and ovarian cancer. No ovaries, no risk of cancer. No ovaries! It has felt like a death sentence ever since my oncologist first mentioned it. The idea of taking something in my body and removing it, makes me feel like I'm dying. I imagine my ovaries in some red plastic pan, casually dumped into one of those containers that has printed on it “Bio-Medical Waste”. The cyst on the ovary isn’t big, but it can also cause cancer. Maybe it’s time.

At least it’s time to think about the opportunity of death. Tonight as I was leaving work the wind made a sad sound through the dried stems of dead leaves still clinging to the vine on the parking structure. I thought I heard the sound of death, and I said to myself without hesitation, “It is a song I have heard all my life.” I’ve had a lot of hardships. More than anyone I know. When you lose something in life it often feels like a death. Or when we face something new, there is that feeling of “I’m going to die!” But we make it. We make it when we come to school for the first time and have no friends, when we fall in love and the person doesn’t love us back, or the love ends. Endings are a death.

Death is something that is unknown. Even when it’s good, like when a horrible boss dies and your new boss is great. It’s still an unknown. There’s still grief and fear, “How did that happen?” “Why?”… It’s really that way with life too, we just see the good as an opportunity and the bad as, death, unlucky, cursed… Death can be an opportunity too. A time to re-evaluate what matters. Also a time to let ourselves be completely vulunerable and get comfortable with that.

A friend noted on facebook awhile ago that he felt so good when a stranger helped him, even more so than when friends had helped him. I tend to think that’s the magic in life – that’s one true example of how we are all connected. It's a testimate to another unknown - how life works.

If I feel like there’s a loss happening in my life from losing my ovaries (I say "losing" like I had them in my Hello Kitty purse and I mistakenly left it in the woods while I was brushing snow from the face of my doll). The fact is, I don’t know what’s on the other side of not having ovaries. I don’t know what’s on the other side of losing my father, or what I was going to do when my best friend carelessly forgot to care about me recently. What I do know is that of all the horrible, and I mean absolutely horrible things that have happened to me, I have gotten through. I am changed though, and I’m changed in a way I had no idea of would be changed. It’s all a death, but it’s also a growth. The more I think about it, I’m not sure which one it is more: death or growth.

When I look at life like this, I feel like a grownup: someone who can manage complex issues. But I think I’m more of an evolved person, who has decided that my attitude makes a bigger difference in life, and this attitude is up to me to create. I also see a spiritual side in all this: Being in a place of not knowing creates a lot of fear in us. Now, if I can be in that place and not be afraid, I would find a power within myself few really know.

In her book, “The Places that Scare You”, Pema Chodron describes the teaching of fearlessness in this way, “To the extent that we stop struggling against uncertainty and ambiguity, to that extent we dissolve our fear. The synonym for total fearlessness is full enlightenment – wholehearted, open-minded interaction with our world… By learning to relax with groundlessness, we gradually connect with the mind that knows no fear.”

If I can relax with the groundlessness of my decision, of “why me” of “why now” and the feelings of loss, then I can evolve, to the other side of fear. Like tonight, when death once again sang its song... a sad song blowing through the dried stems of dead leaves on a vine circling the parking structure. I follow the music and I take the hand of uncertainty. On the other side I will find some peace, maybe others like me, and soon things will seem familiar. So familiar that I will cling to it all again, if only for a very short time, before I hear that song that reminds me, it’s time to let go.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Five Good Friends

A wise woman recently told me, “If when you die you have had five good friends, really good friends, you will have lived a rich life.” I agree with her. These days, when “friends” are simply the numbers that you collect on your Facebook page, I realize how precious good friends are. The kind of friends you can tell anything to, “I have cancer”, “I feel so alone”, “I’m a sex addict”, “I’m broke.”, “He doesn’t love me.”… And that friend will listen, care, even help, and then they stay in your life despite the darkest fears that shadow your soul.

How does anyone find these friends? So often I find women who I think are amazing, only to find out later, they were just pretending. One friend I had, Maddy, was so much fun, had a great personality, and had sex with all these guys, even though she was married. I was single and I never met men, but she could not stop meeting them. I wish she had given me some advice or support or encouragement. There could only be one love life, and that was hers.

Recently, I let a friend go named Cathy. She seemed to have a lot of soul and depth, but it was just an act. Again, the only person who mattered was her. When it came to me needing her support because I was moving and depressed, she didn’t care. And that was supposed to be OK with me, but it wasn’t. I spent so much time with her, and I thought she was kind, but she became as rude as her mother accused her of being. One year of my time and energy gone, for what?

How do you keep friends? I care about my friends, no I really love, yes love my friends. But I don’t get that back. I feel a lot of uncertainty from friends. They aren’t willing to extend even a complete sentence between us to create a bridge of acceptance. Why? What will happen? When I’ve been in love with men, I’ve never regretted it. But women are so insecure about friendship. And they lie. They pretend to be who they think you want them to be. And they want you to pay attention just to them. That's not friendship. Not the friendship I want. The only person I want to answer to is myself and God. I sound so high-minded, so idealistic, then where did I go so wrong with people? How did I go so wrong with finding friends?

The one good friend I’ve had for a while now, has a husband who simply cannot control his desire to make fun of me in some way. I think anyone who needs to put another person down is unhappy with themselves. Let’s just state for the record what we all know: He doesn’t like himself. And I know that by how he treats me. Fortunately, I see him only once or twice a year and the last time was just recently, so at least for awhile I have one less person who wants to dump on me the ugliness they feel inside.

It doesn’t seem like enough: Five good friends in a lifetime. I don’t think I’ll find that many. I wish I could say I already knew that many friends who I could trust to hear these words and really understand me. Understand how lonely it is to be without close friends. Not husbands or lovers, but good friends. I find people are caught up in their “doing” and “done” “I’m doing this now. I did this last week….” It doesn’t matter that much. I wish I knew, how I could find one person who wants to stay in my life, allowing the time together to pass. I’d like to see that friend look at me and know that they see the person I know myself to be. A good friend. Someone who takes the time to listen, to care, and to stay friends with me, through our lives together, no matter what.