I’m Wearing Down to the Real

[Quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams]

_________________________________________________________

Some days, getting older is a real drag (literally and figuratively)…the graying hair, the middle-aged spread, the skin spots, the forgetfulness, the sense of being either in the way or invisible to the younger generations…

…and on other days, getting older is tempered by the Velveteen Rabbit.

velveteen rabbit I

Let’s face it — I’m wearing down to the Real.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.
“It’s a thing that happens to you..
When a child loves you for a long, long time,
not just to play with, but REALLY loves you,
then you become Real…It doesn’t happen all at once.
You become. It takes a long time.”

It has taken a long time, but sometimes it feels like overnight. Wasn’t it just a short time ago that I graduated from college, then optometry school? Set up my practice, got married, became a mother? In fact, when did I become my mother when I look in a mirror? (See: When Did I Start to Look Like My Mother?)

I’m wearing down to the Real.

“Generally, by the time you are Real,
most of you hair has been loved off,
and your eyes drop out
and you get loose in the joints
and very shabby.
But these things don’t matter at all,
because once you are Real,
you can’t be ugly except to people
who don’t understand.”

My hair is getting gray at the roots, my eyes haven’t dropped out but night-time driving in the rain is risky, and there’s a certain delayed reaction with certain joints — I get up but my body lags behind my head. If my joints aren’t cracking, they’re stiff.

But I’m wearing down to the Real.

Only authentic goods here.

My heart is bigger, my insight deeper, my tolerance wider, my amusement heartier, as I get worn down to a well-loved vehicle. And I hate to admit it, but I even have some shabby – or is it flabby – matronly moments, too.

“When you are Real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.”

But it’s taken me a long time to get to the Real Theresa…the reason-for-being, meaning and purpose in life, I can die and will have made a small positive difference Theresa who is comfortable in her own wearing out skin.

And that’s a good thing, because in wearing down to the Real,

“Once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

I’m wearing down to the Real.

I’m steeped in readiness.

And I am blessed, indeed.

velveteen rabbit

___________________________________________________

Thursday Re-View — “The In-Between Time”

It’s in the in-between
that the real magic happens.
The seeds are planted,
the roots take hold…
and we blossom into who
we were meant to be.

~ Kristen Jongen

I’m not good at this in-between time. That’s where I am at the moment. Since a health scare prompted me to take a “time out” from working as Director of a Counseling Center in a small, private college in late December, I’ve been on hold as far as contributing to the Gross National Product.

And since patience never was one of my strong suits, I’m none too happy with not getting up at 6:30 every morning, coming home at 6:30 at night, having done my part to save the world.

Some of you who follow me know that I expected big things from my health care professional retreat to Assisi, Italy this month (“My Pilgrimage to ????”).

While there, I expected nothing less in the town of St. Francis’ birth than for the heavens to open and rain wisdom down upon my thirsty soul, giving me detailed instructions on where/what/when/how I would be doing for the rest of my life. Give me my Divine Missive and I will obediently carry it out to the letter, and beyond.

I want a lightning bolt to strike the ground directly in front of me with the answer to my impatient question of, “Now what?????”

tumblr

tumblr

My therapist has respectfully suggested that perhaps my imagery of a lightning bolt striking directly in front of me might need to be modified.

Let me explain.

Since my husband’s illness prevented us from going on retreat, my pilgrimage was one of hospitals and doctor’s offices and bedside vigils. Now that he is slowly recovering…I’m ready for the lightning bolt.

Now what???

I can still hear my therapist, Dr. G, saying, “Theresa, I don’t like that image – the lightning bolt.” He’s trying to be polite and professional. That works for awhile. “That’s too much like a defibrillator!!! You need to use something more calming for the imagery – like a sunset, or a sunrise.”

My feet came off the floor as I burst out laughing. He and I have been through a lot together (…bless him…), ever since I first met him and, barely having sat down, informed him, “You have 6 months for me to get through this ‘whatever.'”

He tried to be polite and professional back then as well. “Theresa, perhaps putting a time limit on the therapy might add more stressors to your life?”

Don’t you just hate it when people are right???

Perhaps putting a time limit on my in-between time will also add more stressors to my life. And stressors are what sidelined me in the first place.

So now I have to let go of one of my all-time favorite symbols – my lightning bolt – and attach myself to something (unlike the defibrillator paddles) more soothing, more peaceful, less shocking, less startling.

Something without a sense of urgency or that won’t be seen as an intrusion; something that will simply allow answers and inspiration to come forward slowly, in their own time, bringing me to a “new and stronger Theresa.”

[Whew! Is this the kind of stuff I tell my patients/clients/students?]

So naturally, I start thinking.

[That’s another thing my therapist has observed; when he presents an idea, I “run with it like a German Shepherd, dragging my owner behind me.” I’m not sure if that was praise or censure, but I’m still going to run with it.]

And in thinking, I recall my time working in the trauma bays of a near-by hospital (“Of Hospitals, Loss and Love” and “Wounded Hearts” ), when a man was brought in with extensive burns from electrocution. The palm of one of his hands was the exit point of the bolt of electricity, and it had blown open a hole where you could see blackened skin, tendons, muscle and blood.

Burned. Charred. Unrecognizable.

This is what I was praying for? Asking for? A lightning bolt?

Maybe not such a good idea.

So here I am in the in-between time, impatiently waiting for a lightning bolt beautiful sunset to remind me that all good things come to those who wait. To have patient trust in whatever has been written for me, even before I was born.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Dawn
Do I go back to Hospice, working with people as they make the “graceful passage” from this life to the next (“You Are My Sunshine” and “The Last Good-bye?”)?

Do I return to Community Mental Health, where people are in desperate need of just about everything (“The Welcome Angel” and “I Wasn’t Enough...”)?

Do I return to a college campus, where students struggle to carve out an identity (“An Adolescent’s Christmas with the Infant of Prague“)?

Do I open a private psychotherapy practice?

Do I volunteer in an international setting?

Do I venture forth as a motivational speaker?

Do I continue my blog?

Do I finally write the book I’ve always wanted to, something to uplift and inspire and offer hope?

Or do I simply continue as is, taking care of my family and myself, working my way through the grief of the vast losses that took hold of my life in the past 14 months (“Remembrance II” and “Who Will Remember?”)?

What is enough? What is too much? Where do I belong?

I’m not good at the in-between time.

The time between who I was and who I am yet to be.

The time between chapters…between birth and rebirth…between death and resurrection…

But above all, I am a listener. A co-journeyer.

The seeds have been planted, the roots have taken hold, and I have only to blossom in another setting, with another offering of my self.

I will wait in the quiet. I will listen for the whispers. I will keep watch for the soft glow of the banked embers that is the fire in my soul.

I will open and stretch to the golds and oranges of the welcoming sunrises. I will rest, bathed in the muted purples and pinks of the sunsets.

I will be still and know that I am.

And that will be enough.

For now….

Come. Who will journey with me?

____________________________________________________

Kristen Jongen

Kristen Jongen

Thursday Re-View — “When Did I Start to Look Like My Mother?”

When I glanced at myself in a mirror the other day, I thought I saw my mother.

That’s pretty hard to do when she passed away more than 25 years ago. But really – I thought I saw my mother. Or at least someone who looked an awfully lot like her.

That someone was me.

Wow. What an eye-opener…

When did I get so old? When did my jowls start to sag and my hair start to show some gray? What about those lines in my face or that strange growth underneath my neck? The swollen ankles? The beginnings of an apple shape when I used to only be a pear?

body type

Like I said, when did I start to look like my mother? When I looked in the mirror and a stranger looked back, it was me. That’s sobering.

Remember when your parents used to warn you about how “time flies” when you get older? I think time must have flown on the wings of a supersonic bird for this transformation to have taken place. Maybe even a pterodactyl…

It’s time for a reality check. Let’s survey this venerable temple of mine to see its history.

That knot of muscle sticking out of my left shoulder? That formed the day my son got his tonsils out in 1st grade. I hadn’t met the surgeon ahead of time, and the thought of having my only child go under the knife with a stranger had me at the Emergency Room the night after his successful surgery, in pain. That knot gets worked on every two weeks by my faithful massage therapist, 20 + years later. A badge of honor…

That crevice line on my forehead, just between and above my eyes? That’s from hearing hour after hour of tragic situations from my patients/clients/students over the years – the loss, abuse, addiction, mental illness, shame, suicidal thoughts… It takes its toll.

That vertical abdominal scar that no amount of vitamin E could make disappear? That’s the Caesarean section (almost) 28 years ago for the birth of my son. I can still remember the feeling of the two surgeons’ hands inside my body (yes, you do feel pressure, but no pain with an epidural). Or else it’s from the hysterectomy that was recommended I have 2 years later because of my cancer history.

That cough that turns up when I laugh too much? That’s from 7th grade, when my teacher used to actually take points away from all my tests (I almost always got 100’s because I studied all the time), explaining to my parents and me, “Theresa doesn’t need all those As; other students in the class need them more.” It was weeks until our family doctor determined that my cough was stress-related; after all, it wasn’t fair that the As I worked so hard for were taken away from me, was it? What a fine example of a teacher…

Those cracked caps on my back teeth? Those came from when I fainted in the bathroom while recovering from “GOK (God Only Knows) Disease” and clenched my teeth when I hit the floor. After which my brain couldn’t put together thoughts, let alone sentences for almost 2 months… The only way this wordsmith could survive that frustrating period was to figure out that maybe God wanted me to be quiet and listen.
teeth

That tiny scar in the upper right quadrant of my abdomen? That’s the emergency gall bladder surgery, where my gall bladder went from 100% to zero percent functioning in what seemed like the space of a day. I never really liked fried foods that much anyway…

Those skin indentations on my face that look like scars every morning? That’s from the face mask that I have to wear because I stop breathing 11 times every hour while asleep – that’s with the C-pap machine. The good news is that the impressions disappear about an hour after I start the day.

That shadow of sadness that lurks deep within my eyes? That goes along with the crevice line on my forehead (see above) along with struggles with depression. You know – that “melancholy” that fueled Abraham Lincoln’s greatness and made him the perfect leader during our Civil War; that illness that Winston Churchill called his “black dog” and helped win World War II.

The graying hair that I put a rinse on now and again to make me look less “frumpy?” [An aside here – why is it that gray hair in a woman is often considered “frumpy” while gray hair in a man is often considered “distinguished?”] I think the most recent contributor was my husband being sick with his own GOK Disease, in the hospital for a week and unable to work for almost a month (see: “My Pilgrimage to ???“). That, along with the fact that there is yet to be a diagnosis… Oh, and let’s not forget my own hospital visit last fall and the mini-stroke that brought about my stepping aside from my job.

The occasional swollen ankles? I don’t use salt, I drink plenty of fluids and I’m not going into congestive heart failure. I think my legs are just tired of carrying me around for so long. Plus, they outran wildlife on the Serengeti Plain – that’s no small feat!

The addition of a telltale apple shape on top of the always present pear shape? This one, I must say, is from the release of gallons of Cortisol caused by stress, which is directly related to belly fat distribution in women. Why it hasn’t disappeared since I took time off from working is a mystery to me. But, I just ordered an abs wheel and exercise mat on-line, so I’m going to get back to just a pear shape in the next few months. And I must say – I never thought I’d be glad to return to “just” a pear shape…

The road map of lines that cover my face? Let’s see – almost 12 years of higher education after high school, marriage, divorce, setting up my own practice, building a house and an office, moving, changing careers, death of both parents, multiple surgeries, responsibility-laden jobs, death of 3 cats in the past 14 months (see: “In Memory of Peanut“), my husband’s hospitalization, being a mother and wife… I’m stopping before I get too depressed; those transitions can do a person in! (see: “The In-Between Time“)

modernantiaging.com

modernantiaging.com

Last, but not least, what’s with the loose pouch of skin fat under my chin? The one that my Mom thought for sure was a tumor growing when she first noticed hers. The one that makes me look like I’m related to a turkey. This one is another mystery, but I know it must be related to the gravitational pull that influences ocean tides and sunspots.

But this seasoned body – so flawed, scarred, exhausted, sagging – is also the body that is still standing. It’s weathered a lot of storms, and by doing so, forged my own unique path that has gifted me with the privilege of being present with others while they examine their own scars – the kind that we don’t actually see.

And perhaps most sacred of all, 28 years ago, this maturing body delivered the miracle of my son, who I count as my greatest blessing.

So, I’ll ask again: when did I start to look like my mother?

I’m thinking that with everything she went through in her life (see: “Remembrance“), that’s not a bad way to look. Even in the last month of her life, battling breast cancer at 59 in the hospital, head shaved, feverish, swollen – she was beautiful.

She never complained, she knew the life stories of the nurses who brought her special foods and drinks to tempt her appetite, and she faced her cancer with courage for as long as she was physically able.

Like I said, Mom was beautiful. The essence of who she was – her spirit – the part of her that could not be diminished regardless of what was destroying her body – shone forth.

Now that I think of it, I’m honored to look like my mother.

slowjams.com

slowjams.com

__________________________________________________________

The Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life
by Elisabeth Kubler Ross

_______________________________________________________________

The Mouse
(early years)

The mouse enjoys getting in and out of everything, is
lively and mischievous, is always ahead of the others.

The Bear
(early middle years)

The bear is very comfortable and loves to hibernate. It looks back
at the early years and chuckles at the mouse as it runs around.

The Buffalo
(late middle years)

The buffalo loves to roam the prairies. It reviews
life in a comfortable setting and is looking forward
to lifting the heavy load and becoming an eagle.

The Eagle
(later years)

The eagle loves to soar high above the world, not to look
down on people, but in order to encourage them to look up.

_______________________________________________________________