The Circle of Life


It’s funny how a “life-changing” event (like a stroke) will change your life. Duh. Right now if you are reading this , you are no doubt realizing that you have stumbled upon one of the greatest writers/philosophers of modern-day. Or not. Even now, as I think about it, I was not prepared for the level of change that I would be experiencing.

Like most people, I was caught in “The Cycle”. You know it. Expectations. Work hard, accumulate “stuff”, and compete with the “stuff” that others are getting, then work to pay off that debt. Save what you can to have the experience of freedom later in life. I wanted the experience before I was too old or it was too late. But my debt and my belongings (and dogs) limited. And still do, my ability to just experience freedom.

Then came the stroke, which I always thought could happen, there is a family history, but I wrongly assumed that it wouldn’t happen, and if it did, it would be when I was old…or at least older. Wrong. So, while I am still young and filled with ideas of how my old age would look, I am suddenly fast forwarded into what looks and feels like old age to me, minus the financial security and someone to share my life with.

Because this was such a big event for me, for anyone I trust, I have done a lot of soul-searching. I have lost things that made me understand that stuff is just stuff. What I don’t want to lose is the experience of being here in this world as a full participant, being authentic and adding to the world. I know now that I can lose a lot of stuff and still have the wealth of experiences. But I also know that life is short, and valuable. I heard recently that the odds of even being born, at this time in your family are 400 trillion to one. So, you see, just being here is a phenomenal miracle in itself. I squandered far too many years, waiting for the freedom to experience. I realize now that none of us, even if you exercise and eat right, have the luxury of squandering time. Not even a minute. I want to join the Circle, not the Cycle of Life.  Life is way too valuable to be stuck in the cycle. It’s a shame to me that I needed such a huge event to fully wake me up. But I am awake now so watch out!

“From the day we arrive on the planet, and blinking, step into the sun

There’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done

There’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found

But the sun rolling high, through the sapphire sky

Keeps great and small on the endless round

It’s the Circle of Life, and it moves us all

Through despair and hope, through faith and love

Till we find our place, on the path unwinding

In the Circle, The circle of Life”

Yes, those are the lyrics from “Circle of Life” from “The Lion King”.

The other thing that has really changed for me is the way I see things now. I have an entirely different perspective when I see and hear things. Everything is a sign. Live! Experience! Grow! Participate! Benefit others.

There is not enough time left for me to do everything there is to do, see everything that there is to see, et cetera, et cetera. So, I need to adjust my perspective, and acknowledge and accept that I just can’t get it done, or I can say, there is just enough time to get the stuff done that I need to. I only need to be as good at me as I can. I believe there is the perfect amount of time for that. But I have to start now. Writing my blog is part of that.

So here’s a story. It’s not mine but it could be:

A man falls into a deep hole. It’s cold, it’s dark, it’s deep. He starts to panic a bit and begins to yell for help. One passerby hears and looks down in the hole. He throws a flashlight into the hole and keeps walking. It really doesn’t help the man in the hole at all so he continues to yell for help. A priest stops and looks in the hole and yells down that he will pray for the man in the hole. He keeps walking and the man is still in the hole. He yells again for help. This time he is surprised to see a passerby jump down into the hole with him. The man who jumped in says, “I heard you yelling for help so I’m here to help” The first man says in response, “Thanks but now we are BOTH in the hole. The second man replies, “Yep. But I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.

I hope you never find yourself in a deep, dark hole. And if you do, I hope that there is someone who will jump in with you and show you the way out. And I hope that if you know someone who is in a hole, that you consider jumping down in the hole and helping. I think the Universe challenges us to share our experiences with others. Help each other out of holes.

One of the gifts of my stroke has been to be in a deep, dark hole. As I work my way out, I know there are others that are in holes, have been in holes, will be in holes. At the very least, this connects me to others. I also know that the hole doesn’t have to define us. It just becomes part of the story. What story doesn’t become more interesting when there is a deep dark hole involved?

Here’s to living fully engaged for as many days as we get!

Kim

 

Gladys


I thought my grandmother hated me. She would eagerly await my brother’s stay for the entire summer but didn’t want me to stay for a weekend. She was an amazing woman who had a bunch of amazing stories I was sure. I wanted to be near her and hear her stories. I had heard them second-hand from my mother but wanted to hear my grandmother’s words. I wanted to see her face when she talked about her first love and about when she met my grandfather, many years younger than her, and how she resisted his attention, only to be finally won over by his complete and total devotion.   I wanted to look in her eyes and not see pain or anger. But, she would have none of this. I still have regrets that I didn’t get to access her experiences and her stories. I know now that it was not me she hated, but her stories and the reality in which she found herself. Maybe she knew I would pry. Maybe my bull-headedness, my temper and my will reminded her of herself or who she had been at one time and she didn’t want to have that visual around.

I am writing about Gladys now because she also had a stroke and I have a much greater insight now into what must have been such huge terror, pain and depression. I inherited a lot from my grandmother; my temper, my stubbornness, a sense that life is not and will not be fair, and a genetic predisposition towards strokes apparently.  And my badass came from her too.

She was 72 when she had her stroke. Immediately after, she was hospitalized and then spent the next 3 months or so in a residential rehab center. She was completely paralyzed on her right side and lost her ability to speak. But in looking into her eyes, past the terror, past the sadness, she was in there. The rehab hospital was several hours from family. My grandfather drove every day to spend time with her. My mother would make the 2 hour drive several times a month to visit. We would make the trip with her and, at the time it felt like such a boring inconvenience. Now, understanding how incredibly long the days were for me while in the hospital, and how I lived for the moments when visitors came in, I am sure our visits were beyond important to her.

She was able to come back home after several months but had not re-learned to use her right side yet nor started to relearn to talk. My grandfather, Gus, hired a health assistant and set up some rehab equipment in a spare room. He was hopelessly devoted to her, to the point where he refused to see that he alone could not bring her back to physical health. He got up early every day to care for her and made sure that she had what she needed for the day. The nurse would take over until Gus came back in the afternoon and took over the evening shift. He would make dinner and feed my grandmother, spend time providing her with company and then make sure she was settled in for the night. It was physically hard on him but he adored her—a perfect model of “in sickness and in health”. I never heard him complain.  At her funeral many years later,   he wept by her casket telling everyone this was the most beautiful woman in the world.

He would get some breaks when my aunt and my mother spent time at the house and took over the morning and evening responsibilities. Gladys was a handful. She had anger before the stroke but there were times after when she showed outright rage. She had no way to communicate and would become understandably frustrated when those around her couldn’t figure out what she wanted. She rang the little bell to summons us only to find out it would be no help. I wish I knew more then about adaptive technology and maybe we could have lessened her frustration and brought her back a little more to where she had been. But Gladys resisted any type of rehab and never got any better. For 15 years she was unable to speak, walk, care for herself even in a small way. I am so grateful that I had and have people around me that believe I am a badass and can survive anything. Gladys was the original badass I’m convinced.    I can’t imagine, actually I almost can and that’s what scares me.   In a parallel life, I didn’t get out of my bed and figure out how to walk. I couldn’t speak and I slipped away into hell. So these are the things that I can find to be grateful for. I still have my words and can tell my stories, express my frustrations and make my needs known. Not a small gift when pondering the parallel possibility.

Towards the end of Gladys’ life, she seemed less angry and there were times when she would grab my hand and look at me and I felt as if she wanted to tell me her story and let me know it wasn’t me she was mad at. I tried to let her know I understood. I wish now that I would have spent more time, effort getting to know her. At her funeral, I remember thinking she was finally free.

IMG_1897

Telling a story


I’ve had very nice feedback on my blog writing.  Thank you all for the comments.  Last night my eleven year old son read a blog of mine and asked how I got to be such a good writer.  That may have been one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten.  I asked him what he liked and he said the way I use the words, which, when it boils down to it, is really what writing is, right?  So what makes some writing of words better?  I don’t think about it so much as I am writing.  I am simply telling a story and I am lucky I suppose that I have been exposed to rich vocabulary through my life.  I listened to and told stories my entire life.  Mostly I listened.  My parents both were/are marvelous story tellers.  My grandparents, aunts and uncles all shared stories of their lives and adventures.  Long car trips meant more stories and more access to memories and family histories.  Both of my parents were experts in telling stories that created vivid pictures in my head.  I have specific examples but those are not my stories.

A wise advisor of mine told me after my stroke that I should keep a journal, mostly to record my progress, but it didn’t feel like something I could do.  Physically, writing was difficult and I didn’t feel like putting my daily ramblings on paper in the first place either way.  Still, as I recounted my early hospital stories to friends I would get a frequent suggestion to write it all down.  Next thing I  know, I’m blogging.

It has become a way for me to “tell my story” and to read my story at the same time!  It’s interesting to read my own perspective which often looks different in print than it feels in my head.  It turns out that of all the things I am struggling to still be good at, Public speaking, facilitating, riding my motorcycle, hell, just walking, the one thing that has come out of this experience is that I might be a good writer.  I am tempted to do it for real, tell stories, empty my head, be a writer.

Who knows.  Keep the feedback coming, good and bad.  This process may well be saving my life right now.  Now I have to decide where to start.  Good times.