Friday, December 21, 2007

Dad's New Room

After two weeks of snowstorms, flu symptoms, deadlines, new home inspections, retrieving Max from college, and several upset apple carts at home and at work, I finally made the trip to visit Dad's new room.

To begin with, it's a private room. Unlike the room he left--with two-men-in-a-cubicle (with two TVs going at once)--Dad now has his own space, with a private bathroom and shower and a beautiful view. "It feels like home, doesn't it?" Dad asked, sounding proud.

His room is located at the far end of a hushed, carpeted hotel-like lobby space, divided into four or six distinct living room areas, each furnished with beautiful sofas and armchairs, shelves lined with books, warm lighting and big picture windows overlooking the Hudson River.

On the new floor, nurses pad silently through the spaces, knocking on closed doors, speaking softly and warmly, distributing meds, making up the residents' beds, helping them with their walkers and so forth. The same activities are going on but it feels so completely different we might as well have changed planets.

And I know that for Dad, a quiet guy who has always cherished his privacy, this planet is where he belongs.

I found him in an alcove set off from one of the community spaces, sitting in his wheelchair by a window, reading Chaim Potok. "They have wonderful books here," he marveled. "And you don't even have to sign them out. You just take what you want and leave it anywhere you want when you're done with it."

Driving his own power wheelchair, Dad led me to his beautiful room, showing me the bed from where, he told me, "I watch for the stars each night over the river. But so far, it's been such bad weather that there's only airplanes. But the planes are nice to watch too."

He asked me to punch holes in some papers he'd collected to put in his blue notebook. As I did, he asked me, "When the social worker called about this room... what did she tell you?"
What do you mean?"
"I mean, why did I get this room? I never said anything... never complained."
"I did," I confess.
"Oh," he laughs. "Oh. I knew I hadn't said anything... to anyone... at all. I was still figuring out what to do when she came by and gave me this room."
"I thought you'd be mad at me, actually," I tell him. "You asked me not to call anyone. But I had to."
He laughed, joking, "I think I'm growing out of that phase. Im glad you called."

The only drawback, it seemed to me, was that next door to Dad, there is a man who basically shouts or barks all day long. "Does that bother you?" I asked.

"It did," he said. "But I can close the door or go down where you found me reading."
"I taked to him today for the first time and when you talk to him, he stops doing that. I asked him, 'Why are you shouting? And you know what he said?"
No, what?
"He said, 'What do you mean?' I don't think he knows he's doing it."
"That's wild," I laughed. "How could you not know?"
Dad shrugged. "I didn't talk to him at first. I don't necessarily need to take on another person like I did before so I gave it some time... but," he smiled, all crinkly eyes. "I really can't help it. I wanted to know what would happen, you know, if I talked to him."

"Have you seen Ronald?"
Dad shook his head.
"Was he upset when you left?"
I don't know. He was pretty out of it when I moved
He didn't say anything?
Not a word
Was he maybe giving you the silent treatement?
I dont think so. He was pretty out of it

I was surprised Dad hadn't visited Ronald yet. It made me realize, even more, how trapped he must have felt there. Still, I was kind of disappointed. I missed Ronald. I love the way he lights up a room with life, even from a hospital bed. In fact, I think I fell a little in love with him.

I've been doing that a lot lately, falling in love with the wonderful men I seem to be meeting everywhere. I know this has something to do with re-connecting with Dad, and knowing that, not too long from now, I'll be saying goodbye to him again. But Im not sure how it all fits together and forms this overwhelming burst of love I keep feeling.

Do you want anything to make the room more homey? I ask, noticing empty shelves, blank walls.
LIke what? he asked.
Oh, plants, pictures. A poster of a supermodel in a bikini. Max has one in his dorm!"
No, Dad laughed. Just pictures of the family--you and matt and the kids, jenny and cerulean...
We call him Sassafras now, I remind him
Oh, yeah, he said. (I guess Jenny told him that her five year old had recently renamed himself.)
Tell Beth I want pictures of her and she can send one that Emily's in, too. I like that girl
Tell Jenny I want now and before pictures. I'd like a picture of Rosy, if she doesn't mind.
I don't think she'll mind, I said.

Before I left, he asked me to unwrap some more candies and leave them in his little cup. Then, we called Beth on my cell phone which I held to Dad's good ear, the one with the hearing aid and he got to thank Beth for the TV she sent, which meant alot to him... and he choked up quite abit while talking with her... after about ten minutes, he lost all his energy and his voice kind of died back and he couldn't talk much so we hung up.

I talked for awhile, telling him about the ups and downs of buying a new house: falling in love with it, discovering its flaws, factoring that in, choosing it again. "Kind of like a marriage," he said.

I told him about the project I'd like to try at the nursing home to help residents get more related to each other, to build new connections. "I would visit each resident one at a time talk about their lives, taking down their stories. Then, we'd gather into small groups of 4 or 5 people and read the stories aloud--or they could read their own. And later, the small groups would gather with other groups, forming a larger group and listen to each other's stories, too."

"Include the staff in that," Dad suggested. "That's a great idea, by the way. Youre talking about high-level group social work."

"I am?" I said. "Now where did I ever learn to do that?"

Dad told me about his idea. He's excited about working with the residents' council and he's requested copies of the administrative structure and all the promotional literature the home distributes.

"You know this place sells itself as a place where staff and residents work in partnership. That's the first thing I noticed. They don't work in partnership. They don't know how to. The staff come and go, and like most institutions like this, there's an us and them quality to the interactions between staff and residents.

"I can change that," he said, blue eyes winking with light. "I know just what to do."

As I left, Dad reached up to hug me, saying, "I'm so glad you turned out this way."
"Me, too," I said, and now I was the one blinking back tears. "Thanks." And I meant, thanks for everything... for being my dad, for driving me places, for the money, for loving me, for all the dad things he'd done. And he knew I meant that...

Then, he walked me to the elevator, powering his own wheelchair himself. As the elevator doors closed, he smiled, content.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your responses to my last post

Dear ones, I love you all... I knew that my last post would bring you circling around me like the loving and gentle beings you are. I love your humor, your wisdom, your warmth and intelligence. Now stop worrying about me. I am laughing as I write this. All is well, the world is turning, the year is coming to an end, and with it, old things we no longer need are making way for the new--like a dusting of powdery snow.

Here are some lovely responses I received:

My friend, Peter, from DMA days wrote from NYC:
It could also be iron poor blood, low potassium or
> despondence over the state of popular culture.
My lost and found again, cousin wrote (from halfway across the country):Try bio cell salts and also, potassium. Take a few of those, too.
(Weird... maybe potassium WOULD help?)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Disintegration II

Help! I am experiencing something that feels, to me, like total disintegration but feels, at the same time, like something is being born.

Is anyone else feeling this way? I know that there is some great cosmic event taking place right now, something about endings and beginnings, and I wonder, is this what's taken over my usually sunny, pretty much sane, generally grounded psyche?

In the past two weeks, everything in my life is up for grabs. I can't write. I can't sleep. I am obsessing over things that make no sense at all. At the same time, I'm watching as my friends are losing parents or telling me things like: I've lost my connection to the light.

It feels like there's a deepening going on in the world--a deepening and a reckoning. A time when we are being asked to face the parts of ourselves we don't really want to acknowledge, the icky, shadowy bits we'd rather keep hidden (with our flyaway hair) under a winter hat.

I know what I'm experiencing could be a manifestation of the natural cycle of turning inward as fall turns to winter. But this feels bigger, more personal, more.. frankly... hormonal. And it feels much more out of my control.

Does anyone have any thoughts to share? You can send them to me privately, at or put them in comments following this post.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Three miracles: Men, homes, freedom, friendship

It's funny what happens at Christmas.At the time when days are shortest, when light becomes scarce and, therefore, more precious, miracles arrive. No wonder the early Christians decided to borrow this festival of "the coming of the light" from the Pagans to celebrate the birth of their savior.

In "fact", historians tell us, Jesus was born under the sign of Pisces, just before Spring--which would have been just as good a time to celebrate his birthday. But the symbolic resonance available in linking His arrival with the return of the light was too good to resist. Plus, it helped dispose of those pesky Pagans, still hanging around.)

This year, I am amazed--and deeply grateful--to report three miracles:

The first two involve the themes of the year: Home and Fathers and the Freedom to Choose. Readers of this blog will know that this year has been all about the moving, packing, buying and selling of homes. It has also, for me and my family, been about Dad.

For Dad, it's been about finally acknowledging that he was too disabled to stay in the little room at the top of Laura's stairs and to make the untenable but necessary choice to move to a nursing care facility. Once there, it was about adapting to the idea that his new "home" was precisely the sort of place he'd railed against in his career as Self-Advocacy Coordinator for United Cerebral Palsy and more recently, ACLD (Adults and Children Living with Disabilities).

It meant adapting to hospital-like rotation of nursing staff, aides and social services workers, and the constant noise and interruption of televisions blaring from every room and in the public spaces. It also meant living with a roommate who, thoug he was charming and delightful, was becoming increasingly demanding, controlling and exhausting. As the 80-something roommates got to know each other, and as the roommate's condition worsened, his dependence on Dad increased until, during my last visit, I could see it was taking a toll on Dad's health--and had, I realized, probably caused Dad's shingles--a very painful inflammation of the nerve endings, triggered by stress.

So I called his social worker.And though she told me it would be a long wait, somehow, in that way that things always work out as they're supposed to, she called me a few days later to say: I pulled some strings and got your father a private room in a quiet area with a picture window view of the Hudson River. The halls are carpeted, there's a hush in the air. It's nice. I think your father will love it. So do I.

I reported the second miracle, also involving Home and Fathers and freedom, in a previous post...It was about how, when Emily's father was called "home", he died doing something he loved doing, surrounded by friends, living life his way. As I learned more about this remarkable man, I was touched by Emily and her sister's description of the beautiful community he'd chosen as his home. The uncanny parallels in the lives of Dad and Emily's father, Steve, how against the concerns and protests of doctors, family members and friends, each had chosen to live out of their freedom. For Steve, this meant living his life to the edge of its fullness, in spite of his weakened heart. For Dad, it meant, as it has always meant, mobility.

Ever since he struggled to his feet at age five, Dad, born with Cerebral Palsy, has been moving. From the two-year long quest to get his driver's license to his more recent fight to keep his car keys, he simply won't give up. When I was 18, as he drove me to college, I still remember Dad telling me, "I always wanted to be a truck driver. To drive and drive all day, every day."

Dad loves moving, loves wheels. He loves it from a place deep in his soul. I suspect that, when Dad goes, he will go dreaming of (or actually having) wheels under his butt all the way.

Finally, our third miracle, which amazingly, also involves fathers, a home and freedom. The fathers are my husband, Matthew; and Tom, who, along with his 22-year-old son, is living in the home that my family is about to purchase. Though I don't have time to chronicle every detail of this miracle (I promise I will soon) I will summarize: We were about to sign a contract for a house we didn't really like when my daughter walked by and saw Tom's "For Sale" sign and she called me on my cell phone and I called the number she read to me from the sign and left a message. About a week later, I stepped into the house and fell in love with it--and with its inhabitants. When I showed it to Matthew I never expected him to like it, we have very different taste (his, more modern, mine, more cosy, country). But (and here is the miracle) he loved it, and with tears in his eyes, the man who took a year and a half to make a decision on the other house, said, "Make an offer." And we did, and Tom accepted it... and here we go.

Like all miracles, this one is not "simple". It affects us--and Tom's family--in many ways, bringing us their friendship, and with it new dreams. We will have a fresh canvas to paint on, a new community to meet--Tom and his son will be free now, to make their next steps. It's a beautiful story, perfect for Christmas. For just as we come into the darkest time of the year, here comes the light.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The magic house

Two weeks (or a lifetime) ago, once upon a time, our family was buying a little blue house that I did not like. But, in this way that I have of not following guidance, I was going along, imagining that the yanks and tugs at my intuition were just me being full of myself, thinking I was more special and deserving than I actually am. In other words, I was telling myself, "Oh, well, now. This is the house you can afford and Matthew likes it and we'll make it work."

I was telling myself that if I just let us sign the papers, buy the house, and move in, we would make it, through some alchemy of intention, blueprints and hard work, into something we'd like a little better.

It's the "We'll make the best of it" way of life. The thing is, we don't make the best of it. We want to... we try to. But we simply don't have the time... or the money... or the energy. We work so hard, and at the end of the day, the last thing Matthew or I feel like doing is ripping up old tile or knocking out kitchen cabinets.

We want to watch Grey's Anatomy in our pjs and go to bed. Of course, this way of doing things completely eclipses the real longing--for the things we really want: Sunshine on a hardwood floor (which is really a longing for beauty), a bright room to write or make art in (the symbol of our longing for freedom and creative expression), a quiet conversation over a steaming mug of tea, the touch of a familiar hand, a smile (intimacy, deepening love, shared history).

So anyway...
There we were making our way toward signing the contract, stashing away the cash for the down payment, sorting through paperwork and making plans to renovate the entire house when suddenly, out of the blue, I got slammed with a killer migraine and wound up lying on the sofa... sobbing.

As migraines go, I can honestly say that this was the worst one I'd ever had. It was two days after Thanksgiving and we were all exhausted. Matthew lay down on the sofa across the room because he was really worried about me--what with the sobbing, which I couldn't seem to stop and the vomiting and the way I couldn't stand up without his help.

And since he was there, just across the quiet, dark room, I started telling the truth. I told him that the little blue house represented failure to me. First, because it was so damn ugly--charmless, really. But also because, knowing what I know about dreamwork, a house represents the self--and this house had nothing to do with who I am.

Second, there was no bedroom for Max, who, though he is in college, needs to be able to "come home". Third, the house needed so much work--and it was so unlikely, no matter how good our intentions, that we'd really get around to doing it.

I knew what I was risking. It had taken us two years to find that house and, even then, it had taken Matthew several months to make a decision to buy it. I knew that if we didn't buy it my real estate agent and the seller of the house would be furious with us.

I knew that my daughter wouldn't get to live near her school or her friends and, taking the dark fantasy to its extreme, we'd lose our jobs and never be able to buy a house of our own.

On the other hand, I knew that the real estate market could crash and we might discover that just after we purchased the house, it would lose half its value and we'd be stuck there forever.

On the other hand, I'd been longing for a home of my own for so long... nine years and counting... and maybe I was just unrealistic.

But mostly, I admitted into the darkened room, I was sobbing because I'd failed to give my children the magic house I'd promised to them in a dream before they were born.

You know the magic house Im talking about... it's the one with a fireplace and a sunny porch where you can sip tea and read a great book. There's a big white clawfoot bathtub upstairs and in the kitchen, there's always something simmering on the stove. It's the one that sits on its site like a little gemstone, glowing at you--the archetype for "home". You've seen it in Thomas Kinkade paintings.

It's not a big house, it's cozy like a gnome cottage with a pretty garden and in the winter, twinkling white lights around the front door.

That's the house I wanted... and I'd seen several versions of it around Nyack. In fact, there was this one little house that Katie and I would drive by every now and then and each time we'd pass it, one of us would sigh and say, "Now if THAT house were for sale..."

But it wasn't. And even if it was, I sobbed, we'd never have been able to afford it.

Eventually, I realized that Matthew had fallen asleep. But I still needed to talk... so I turned to God. I told Him everything. And then, I prayed: Fix this. You know what I mean. I prayed that the situation would resolve itself in the best possible way for every person involved. It was the kind of prayer that comes after a deep cleansing sickness. The kind of prayer a person makes when they are at the very end of their rope, a prayer made with the very last drop of hope. I felt it connect--felt that soft pop, click, wooft feeling I feel when a prayer hits its target and the Universe lobs it back. Then, I fell asleep.

A few days later, Katie called my cell phone. "Mommy!" she said. "That little house is for sale!"
"What house?" I asked.
"The Thomas Kinkade house, the one we always say we'd want.... it's for sale!"
"Give me the number!" I said, feeling like a CIA agent. Then, I dialed the number, which Katie read to me from the For Sale by Owner sign.

The rest is more like a dream than a story. It goes like this:
The owner invites me over, saying, "I hope you can see the house through the mess because we are not cleaning up." Laughing, I assure him that I can--and that I am no stranger to messy houses.

I knock on the front door--which has, enchantingly, a stained glass window. I step inside. The house opens up around me like an embrace, pulling me in. I step up from the entryway into a living room with high celings, and a stone fireplace. In the dining room, multi-paned french doors open onto a sun porch, with a wood burning stove. Upstairs, three bedrooms--yes, one for Max! There are ample closets, plenty of light. And even viewed through the mess (the owner calls himself and his son, "the lost boys"), I can see that this is it--my magic house.

I ask Matthew to view the house and he comes, without protest--and falls in love with it himself. Amazed, we look at each other. How did this happen?

At a cafe, an hour later, he tells Katie and me, "We need to make an offer." We are stunned, and laughing, I ask him, "What have you done with my husband?" What I mean is: Where is the man who takes forever to make a decision? What magic is afoot?

With tears in his eyes, Matthew admits that he never liked the little blue house either. And that, the reason he'd taken so long deciding to buy it was that he knew it wasn't worthy of us... he, too, wanted something more. "And this house is perfect for us," he said.

I call the owner's cell phone. He is at dinner with his son. I make an offer. He laughs, saying, "Let me finish dinner first." He calls the next day with a counter offer and we agree on a price. We can afford it! We move seamlessly through the steps of the purchase process.

I should also add that, part of this dream is the seller himself, a thoughtful man of 60, with a bright, warm smile, an engaging intellect and his smart, handsome 22-year-old son.

They welcomed us into their home--and their lives with open arms. In an email, I told him, "We will be friends for the rest of our lives," and I believe it.

And one day soon, I imagine we'll invite them over to share a meal around the round wooden table I will place by the bay window in the dining room. The table my childhood neighbors gave me. There'll be something fragrant with spices simmering--through the French doors, the garden will be overflowing with hydrangea, iris and daylily. We'll uncork a bottle of wine--a Napa Cabernet or an old vines Zinfandel--and we'll talk and talk, late into the evening, old friends sharing gratitude for the miraculous forces that brought us together in a little, magic house in Nyack.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

On chaos

I was thinking this morning, as I drove Katie to school, about chaos--and about how we are all so ashamed and afraid of our chaos, building all manner of defenses to hold it at bay. And how, even so, inevitably, it creeps into our lives. I was thinking about messy houses and money and how we all think we are supposed to be so on top of it all and so organized, with our laundry folded and our checkbooks balanced and our balance sheets... well, balanced. And you know what? That is just such a load of crap.

There's no shame in chaos or in revealing that we are behind in taxes or twelve dollars overdrawn (as I so often find myself) or that we can't find the piece of paper we just had a minute ago. This is just life pressing us up against the edges of limits--and that's what's supposed to happen as life flows through us. These little breakdowns in order or systems or structures are just evidence of the ways that we are learning to turn the spigot of the hose up or down to "control" the force at which our lives flow.

Chaos has been coming at me full throttle ever since I woke up at two in the morning to watch the barn in my backyard burn to the ground last April. Paradoxically, chaos, like fire has turned out to be the most transformative force I've ever known... and I AM getting to know it, that's for sure.

The thing is, the more it comes at me, the more I'm getting used to it. And I've discovered that when I stop resisting it and just let it flow in to fill all the cracks in my life, some pretty amazing things happen!

Things like transformed relationships to my husband, to money, to friends. Things like finding my cousin, Laura--and rising to the challenge of getting my father into a nursing home, and now, the new challenge, of getting him (possibly) out. And things that I've been wishing for for years, like a real shot at finishing a book, and attending stellar classes with kick-ass teachers and going back to school... oh, and last week, in a wave of chaos that I can only describe as glittering with golden flakes, I stumbled across the house of my dreams, (one week before I was scheduled to purchase another house) and we made an offer that made us hold our breath (because it was quite low but it was all we could afford) and found it, to our incredulous delight--accepted.

Caroline Myss says that human beings spend more time trying to "control" chaos than any other activity. She makes fun of us, how we bargain with the gods ("If I am a good girl/boy, and I do all the things I am supposed to do," we plead, "wil you agree not blow my house down?")

Can you just imagine the gods, hearing this, looking down and saying, "I am not listening to you right now. I am over here making the wind whirl around the earth and aligning the stars and planets and lighting up the sun each morning. Your life isn't about me giving you anything. Your life is about you, harnessing your own universe and sorting through it like a pile of pretty shells."

The gods say, "What you send out returns... that is how it works and chaos is all there is. But the chaos is the reason it works. For in chaos, there's an infinite, unbounded supply of energy rushing around, swinging like a pendulum from yin to yang. Reach up, if you want some and take it--use prayer to focus your intention and let it flow into your life. If it blows you over, pray. Prayer is your tool for focusing the energy of the universe into form.

The gods say: Ask for what you want, we will send it. Then, grab it--and use it however you want.

And when chaos comes, be very clear that it has come because you have asked the gods to change your life in some way. And then, instead of trying to hold back the surging flow, grab it by the tail and see where it takes you.

New Post on my Everyday Miracles blog

Saturday, December 1, 2007

My wacky water angels

For those of you who've been following the continuing saga of my angels' water guidance, here's another chapter: (Note: if you missed the first post, this one wont make much sense. You can catch up by clicking HERE.)

So anyway...
I'm at Barnes and Noble tonight, working on my book. I'm kind of hiding here because Matthew is all worked up about losing some paperwork and he keeps trying to rope me into getting worked up with him (which is his way of soothing himself, I know, but I am not in the mood tonight--so I am hiding out in the world of internet cafes until it blows over or until he comes out and goes to see a movie with me, which would also soothe him)

Anyway, I'm here working and then, because I am always trying to distract myself from getting any work done, I get up, buy myself a skim chai (after consuming a large iced tea already) and when I come back to the little green table where I left my jacket and my laptop and my notebook there is a book sitting there - on the table right beside mine - and on the cover there is.... you guessed it a glistening glass of water with some ice cubes

And the title:
You're not sick, you're thirsty! Water, for health, for healing, for life.

Heh - heh.
Those wacky angels.
I threw out the Chai and got some water... lots of water. Which I am sipping now.
I also read the book (which was an excellent distraction from doing my work... and so is this post.)