Friday, January 19, 2018

Fear, Hope

This was the first week:
Honey I have something to tell you and it is not good...cancer...stage 4....

I've been down this cancer road.

It all becomes cliche - unable to sleep, holding tight, trying to make deals with God but before the thought is fully formed, I recognize that is just not how it is done. Then prayers and tears at wee hours while he sleeps - faucets full - to the point of but not quite over the line of - an inability to breathe. I am old enough to know that doesn't work either and becomes all about oneself instead of the one I love.

I argue, in my most academic mind, he doesn't fit the prototype "high intake of fat, alcohol, red meat, processed meats, obesity, smoking, and a lack of physical exercise. Approximately 10% of cases are linked to insufficient activity. The risk from alcohol appears to increase at greater than one drink per day. Drinking 5 glasses of water a day is linked to a decrease in the risk of colorectal cancer and adenomatous polyps".


The wait for information...the shock, the unknowing, the denial, the fear.

The beginning of the second week:
Waiting to talk to the doctor because quite honestly what we know is cancer...stage 4

....similar to that which killed one of my best friends, my daughter's godfather, at 49 in 3 months...

and in this time another dear friend...we just had lunch together less than 5 weeks ago...the waiter said we upscaled the place...because of her radiance I am sure not mine...a powerhouse, one who inspires gone.

But at work, another friend and another's wife has kicked cancer...they reach out, give comfort, suggest actions, exude positivity. I collect up all the news I can on the internet, the survivor stories, the how to's.

Who I want to talk to most is Cathy - she is the link of love and the one who actually was an ontology nurse - the one he will listen too, the one who understands in a very profound way because of who she is. Who to tell and how - the dread of retelling every time, desperately trying to reach the children first while at the same time terrified of breaking their hearts - but at the same time needing to cancel flights and work and other daily to dos.

Finally in the hospital, the doctor visit... I bring my laptop to capture every word because I know I will not clearly remember...hope to get to 2 years...the promise of new knowledge. But still the odds are better than the internet predicted.

Hope and fear.
The calls, the tears.

Until today:
His son, his lovely partner, my daughter/his - the love, the texts, the calls, the visits, the help -  and then the eldest - the call, the planned immediate visit - how I want to gather them up and say he will be fine. The recognition that we are his united front.

My sister, here with no delay. Our friend Corin, Nate and Nate, the calls - those who show up - his impromptu 65th birthday - the last day of his chemo - he might be sick - but we need to celebrate, to surround ourselves in love. Reaching out to those who we shared close times, the party... with balloons and cards...his annual birthday accouterments no matter the size of the celebration. The out pouring of love...the sharing of feast and stories. The full heart and deep rest.

The biopsy - the skiing, the love.
And then the chemo - the reminder of my mother's journey...a day spent in oncology, lovely people to whom Jim tells "you are all so wonderful, just would rather not know you". He entertains the nurses, endearing, he's not one to easily give up who he really is, a lover of people, a kind heart, a smart man. All the time a new normal begins to take place. He's never been one for drugs and in many ways as healthy as they come, extremely active, a genius, low blood pressure, the list goes on - now with tubes and pumps and poison.

The poison allows me to sleep. It is no longer only my prayers fighting back the cancer cells. I can picture them at work. It is them and me pushing back, repairing the broken mutations, stopping the divide - pleading not to divide us. They are now the force, I am the supporting actor. He is the hero.

And then sleep, an unfathomable sleep. So tired for a man who I would beg to come to bed at 11:00 or later...a night owl, a high energy man like our springer spaniels - non-stop busy. I watch over him and watch his peace.

My fear, my hope.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Flow of Words

Life is not to be regarded as an uninterrupted flow of words which is finally silenced by death. Its rhythm develops in silence, comes to the surface in moments of necessary expression, returns to deeper silence, culminates in a final declaration, then ascends quietly into the silence of Heaven which resounds with unending praise.
- Thomas Merton, "No Man Is an Island"

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Wait

We've all been there — the unexpected black ice on the road, the soft snow after hard pack which catches the ski tip, the tick bite, the wrong turn, the flight cancellation, the diagnosis. The unexpected and unanticipated which upends our plans.

It's difficult to write this but I need to start. I need to be able to work through what is in my heart, to express, to grieve, to give, to hope, and to celebrate.

Over the holiday, my husband, my love, my "I finally found the joy of true love" was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. The darkest of ice, the deepest of snow, the worst type of flight delay. Physically I feel as if I just had open heart surgery and the surgeon forgot to sew me up.

Besides being the most talented and sweetest of geniuses, Jim is otherwise healthy, optimistic, and determined. I keep bringing to the front of my mind that he bicycled across the country by himself despite odds making wonderful friendships along the way. This gives me hope. For now we wait for answers, for structure, for the treatment to begin, for the path to follow on our journey.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bravery and Joy

"It's a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.
So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we're faking them.
And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it's joy we're looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.
So that is my wish for you, and for me.

Bravery and joy."
—Neil Gaiman, 2012

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Three Ages of Being Human

 Three Ages of Man by Italian painter Giorgio Barbarelli da Castelfranco; c. 1477/8–1510[2]) 
Of late, lately, right now, my thoughts have been on the brevity and rapid succession of life. This past spring, I marched past 60, this fall my daughter embraced 29 - an age defining maturity, friends around me are turning 60, or even 70 and 80, small children are now teens, former students now have babies. It all turns so quickly.
My daughter Tegan at 3 or 4 and myself at 34 or 35.
I was reminded of the painting by Giorgione above, the Three Ages of Man. As an undergraduate in my second year of school I took a printmaking class (not my favorite) and we learned the art of etching. The process was interesting but as a colorist at heart, my results were not my favorite. Likewise in art school, we often were assigned duplicating the work of master artists—a way of learning from past generations. For this assignment I chose Giorgione. Looking back, I think I must have been homesick in college, for this piece says more to me about familial ties though it is a story of the master teacher and the pupils as indicated by the written note the boy holds. Below is my result.

Obvious differences such as the image being a mirror result from the process itself as well as from my own newness to my profession as an artist. For instance Giorgione so beautifully layers the light and shadows over his subjects in a meaningful way. Why did I not capture this more meaningful story? Why is the middle aged master held in darkness? Why are the eyes of the youth shaded? Why is the eldest in such full light? And lastly why is it only the eldest who looks back at us? The artist himself died at the age of 30 and yet from the standpoint of nearly 500 years later, it seems he had much to teach us all.

Also around the age of 21, I created the following series for another class. It was a foundational course and our professor was very technical. He had us creating series after series of images: on color, on light, on perspective, on time, on still lives, and even on bisected rooms throughout the course of a day. Below may have been a final piece for course end. And again I see clearly my missing my family and home. I chose to show the passage of time through the family mail box. At the time my parents had considered moving out of the house I grew up in. In the end they did not. That sad day came for my siblings and myself when we had to clear the house twice during the tumultuous times when they moved to assisted living and then after their deaths. Looking back I believe I forecasted my feelings.

Unlike Giorgione, I have no conclusion on the three ages of being human. They are different, with differing challenges and rewards. I enjoy the age I am and would not wish to be my younger self, hard won has been my learning and I do not wish to give that back.

A favorite photo I have is one taken by my ex-husband when I was 31. It is of myself, my daughter, my mom, and my grandmother - 4 generations of our matriarchal line. In this photo, my mother is perhaps 3 years younger than I am now. I love the joy in our faces and how it seems a thread passes through us all. I often look at photos like this trying to learn from her.

Perhaps that is why I am occasionally melancholy these days. It is not in regards to my own mortality. It has more to do with what next now? With many goals achieved there is no model for what comes next as life winds out its final 10, 20, or with luck 30 years. Our times have changed. If there is another Krenzer girl child from my grandmother's line, she will not be coddled by 3 elder generations. Even the state of our own nation and planet itself is in question. My melancholy is due to those questions but larger still is my own "homesickness" at the passing of those I have loved and looked up to for their wisdom. When I go too deeply down that path in my heart, I think of my mother and am reminded that she too lost those she loved and what she did was to embrace those around her. I am reminded to take joy in those here now, to celebrate their lives and our time together.
Tegan and myself now


Monday, July 11, 2016

Quiet Time

The green grass breeze, slips through the window
as nine pups squiggle and dance in their morning sleep.
A grunt, a murmur, a baby moan, a miniature dozing bark,
bathed in filtered streams of purest light.

There is a meditation no sweeter
than the murmur and rhythm
of the tiny beating hearts.
Stilling my anxious mind.
Gentling thoughts of life's griefs.
Quieting the restless future.

Light, breath, warmth - summer's gift,
the gentle hum of the newborn, the innocent,
the return to self.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

There's a storm brewing

I feel it when I walk out the door to pick some basil
vibrant, green, blown about by the wind
carrying the smell of rain. The rain.

In the South dense, sulfur blue clouds
In the Northeast a sparkling sun and cyan.

And as the wind blows
my old dog is dying
no longer taking food
and the vet I respect advises we plan
for his comfort
as she passes me the Kleenix box.

But life calls.
The rain quenching the brittle soil.
The worms rising to feed the robin's hungry hatchlings.

And my youngest Springer readies
just shy of delivering seven pups
with tiny hearts beating
in the ultrasound
under the vet's probe.

It was only a week or so ago
when my former love of twenty years
who no longer
speaks to me
had a massive
seven bypasses worth coronary.

And our daughter
disregarded his instructions.
Much like the storm moving onward
she worriedly nurses back his health
and the puppies turn ready to greet us.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

For a young woman whose father is ill

Tragedy strikes on its own whim
after a lifetime of threats
and then whoooosh
like a sled on a snowy dark mountainside
it takes off

even he who wished to fly and never return.

Be like that rider, dare, challenge, curse the sled.
But take care not to blame
the cold
or the dark
or burrow too far into the snow
life's crystalline fragility.

forgive forget
and then fall exhausted into the arms of those who love you.

Don't resist, don't hold in, or hold back.
Everyone soars and everyone falls
deep, deeper still and then
once more
down Alice's rabbit hole
and into unseen light.
Their light.

There is only so much one can do
on someone else's journey.
Except perhaps step aside
and marvel at the shadow and the light.

And then dance your dance
and fly your flights
and hold open your arms
so others can come inside.

Friday, January 1, 2016

How the Light Gets In

The Light
Ring the bells that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything,
that’s how the light gets in.
—Leonard Cohen

There were three times in my life when God burst open that crack to find me. In the most profound and fleeting moment I experienced God as pure, all enveloping light, and instantly recognized the imperfection of my knowledge. Like the bell of a lighthouse, one thought rang out with the light "the eternal I Am, Is, Always Will Be, and that is enough".

I realize there are all sorts of scientific reasons to explain my experience - and that many others have experienced those moments more frequently than I through meditation, prayer, brain chemistry instability, or even drugs. Some folks claim that at the point of death we experience it due to the brain shutting down. Whatever the scientific explanations, they do not sway my faith in my experience of God because for whatever reason, I was given a keel to give me balance through the roughest moments life offers up.

The last few years have served up much too many of those soul breaking moments: the death of close friends, of beloved pets, of a favorite uncle, and of my parents; I've had my own back problems and near death; and worried over the health challenges of those I hold dearly. Life though has also laid out before me incredibly wondrous moments. In this year alone I've shared in: four weddings, family visits, travel to marvelous places, accomplishments in the spheres of education and human rights, bountiful and beautiful gardens, wonderful friendships, a lovely daughter come home, the successes of stepsons and lovely daughter-almost-in-law, and a joyful, cute as a pinch, new granddaughter.

However, yesterday, New Year's Eve, was one of those roughest points. We put down amazing Maisey. She outlasted the vet's prediction by about three months, even able to spend a wonderful Christmas as the family dog at our family celebration in my brother's gracious home. My Uncle Lou, who passed away just recently and who was the smartest dog person I ever knew, used to say that a person is blessed in life with one great dog. I used to think he was wrong as I've now owned 5 great dogs. But he was right when I consider Maisey. She was my one great dog, the dog from whom I've learned so much. She was almost human in her intelligence and keenly aware of the emotional state of others. Maisey was the dog most tender with young and old, and most generous of spirit (with the slight exception of her unwillingness to share her toys with my other two dogs, Louie and Addie). This New Year's weekend, we are all a little lost without her.

You might wonder what this all has to do with God, cracks, light, and such. Here's the thing, though I have an unmovable faith in God, I do not have that same belief in any type of after life for us earthbound creatures. In fact I fall more inline with John Lennon on this one,
"Imagine there's no heaven,
It's easy if you try,
No hell below us,
Above us only sky,
Imagine all the people living for today."
So why believe in God then you may wonder. Well I found the permanence and magnificence of God has been enough in Itself. Simply we are never alone, always belonging, never as smart as we think we are, and there is more beyond our limited vision of reality. This has been enough for me, well that is until my parents, family, friends, and beloved dog died. It's at these moments that I wish for one and only one great gift. I wish for the existence of heaven. In a fantasy of heaven, Maisey sits now under my father's gentle touch and walks the Elysian fields with my Uncle Lou, and in my fantasy of heaven my Mom watches out over everyone while laughing with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and quite a few of my cousins.

When I posted on Facebook about Maisey, many wrote to me about the faithfulness and ridiculous joy that a dog brings into one's life. Dogs carry that faith no matter how much their owners deserve it. Another wrote "the faithful love of a dog is the nearest we can come on earth to experiencing God's abiding love". It's the abiding part, the faith part, the where we find our strength bit that holds me. We find it in love. For now I'll keep trying to peer through the cracks and bring all those I've loved and who have loved me back to life in my own small ways.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

No hell below us

"Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky."

Those singular and cumulative events remembered from our youth that forever let us know the world is not the one we imagined we were entering into: one ruled by rationality or love or trust in the greater good or commonly held  beliefs.

In some senses, my generation was fortunate. We did not grow up during WWI or WWII - a titanic clash of narcissim wherein the most helpless were unknowingly incinerated in concentration camps. Or perhaps we weren't so lucky. An unlabeled war that went ignored until rising numbers of maimed and dead - more and more youth to include a cousin in an unopened casket and a young girl in napalm flames - populated our TV screens and newspapers - infiltrating our beings. And then violence came home loudly taking out those we chose to lead - our nation, our souls, our hearts - JFK, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and then John Lennon - martyrs for some sort of common good. There seems to be a message here, as song by Billy Joel, "only the good die young".

I am afraid to consider the lessons we are leaving our youth.

The night Lennon died - why does a troubadour of peace die? I still don't have a real answer. Is it media, the clash of generations, culture shifting, one lone crazy person, or in today's lexicon is it terrorism?

The night Lennon died, I was a starving artist living in Vermont where the snowplow turned around in my driveway and made its slow rumble back to civilization. It was a brisk-fill-your-lungs with cold, snow covered evening with sparkling stars. A neighbor, a fellow artist, ran in (a day when doors went unlocked) and then the heavens simply shattered. And not much after that the same neighbor and his partner began arguing - loudly - rattling the forest - and after he moved out another and then they were all gone - and instead it was my partner who became unraveled.

Life has its lessons and decision points: those early turning points tell us heaven is not here yet. Through them we are continually asked to re-examine and act for what we find true - even as truth shifts below and above us, above us only sky.