Michael Row the Boat

Halleluja! The river is deep and the river is wide, Milk and honey on the other side. Can you hear slaves singing this spiritual during the Civil War? I learned this song as a child and I was comforted by the repetition and simple melody. Of course no one explained the origin of the song, we were too young to understand. Or were we? Maybe we were steeped in whiteness, and black skin and black history were simply too far from our rural Iowa experience. But that’s a different road, and I want to talk about the comfort I get from this song today.

The cadence and repetition feel like a pendulum swinging back and forth, back and forth. The feeling is the same I got when I sang “rock a bye baby”to Tyler. I fell asleep, he did not. So Michael rowed and rowed till he got to the other side. I will be getting on a very large boat on Saturday, but I won’t be rowing it. I am going on a cruise to the Panama Canal with stops in Costa Rica, Columbia, Grand Cay and the Cayman Islands. So I guess I will be getting to the “other side” when we pass through the Panama Canal. There could be milk and honey on the other side! Milk and honey, prosperity and abundance, I’ll take it. This trip is a “stretch” for me: my first cruise, I am leaving the country, and I can’t swim.

One day I came to visit Roger at Meadowlark Assisted Living and he was having a low energy day and was napping. I peaked in and his eyes were open so I laid down beside him. And before I knew it we were reciting nursery rhymes and singing all the childhood songs we remembered. Roger had dementia but childhood memories were intact. We went from “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to “B-I-N-G-O was his Name” to “Jingle Bells” and somewhere in our musical journey we sang “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore”. I know Roger got to the other side on November 1, 2015. To milk and honey forever…

Michael rowed the boat ashore, halleluja
Michael rowed the boat ashore, halleluja

Sister helped to trim the sails, halleluja
Sister helped to trim the sails, halleluja

The river Jordan is chilly and cold, halleluja
Chills the body but not the soul, halleluja

The river is deep and the river is wide, halleluja
Milk and honey on the other side, halleluja

Michael rowed the boat ashore, halleluja

 

Michael Row the Boat

It Plays The Same

Isn’t it weird the best “protest song” about Donald Trump is a rap slam by Eminem? You Tube it. He speaks for me, profanity included, I can’t say it any better. This is comforting to me, to be able to “hear the message” delivered in a way that is unfamiliar to me. The heart of the matter is not for sissies, but I really hear it and feel it. This makes me think about how we communicate, how we talk to each other. I am using “talk” loosely as texting, tweeting and emailing are ways we talk to each other.

There are some rules: Don’t interrupt. Don’t type in all caps, (Donald). and then that odd axiom about listening to what someone is saying. So wait a minute! Silence and listening, or pausing before responding to a text or tweet or hitting SEND, are as important as what comes out of our mouth? It turns out that what we don’t say is as important as what we do say. Sarcasm is a special way of talking to each other that is meant to communicate contempt and is usually easily understood by both parties. How we say something can communicate something other then the words we say. It’s so complicated and messy, it’s a miracle we can talk to each other at all.

There’s this little thing called motivation, why am I talking or W.A.I.T.. Am I trying to tell you how much I love you, or trying to convince you that you are wrong and I am right? There are times when motivation to listen and and try to understand is dangerously low. Of course in the heat of an argument all bets are off; I don’t want to listen to you and I want you to understand me and see I am right! Words can build someone up, or tear someone down. Considering how powerful words are and the maturity needed to handle words with care we could use a “speaking” license just as much as a driving license. A yellow light means proceed with caution whether you are driving or talking, a red light means stop or shut up and listen. If the light is green, proceed but still look both ways. I am talking now and I need to be aware of speaking respectfully and honestly. Yelling and screaming at someone could be ticketed as reckless talking, endangering the hearts of others. Talking too fast for conditions, speeding through a conversation, drunk talking…

Rap and/or tweets can be the vehicle to carry a message. What does Eminem rap and what does Donald Trump say on Twitter? We don’t have to listen to either one if we don’t want to, but both are attempting to communicate with us. Eminem says that Trump is “orange” and doesn’t give a “shit” and when I figure out what Grump is saying I will let you know!

 

It Plays The Same

New and Improved

You have 15 updates, my IPad informs me. How can I have so many updates? I just updated a few days ago. It seems in the world of apps everything is always being updated or improved. The shelf life on computers is very short, there is always a better model (details leaked) waiting to be introduced at a big news event. In the world of advertising “new and improved”is standard sales talk. Fashion is quickly out of style and there is a new style that is trending. Phones are constantly being updated and pretty soon “Beam me up Scotty.” will be reality. Old or older models of phones and computers are referred to as “fossils” Think about it; we may be dated by anthropologists using the Apple phone( 6,6s …10…infinity) uncovered in layers of rock.“They must have lived in the IPhone 10 era, just before climate change destroyed human life on earth. Hard to believe that some doubted science and fought for “fossil fuels”.

So absolutely, new and improved is good in medicine. Self-improvement sounds like a good idea, we can always improve and change, but what about the belief that may be underlying our drive to improve, our belief we are not “good enough”. There’s a problem with feeling we must always be improving and bettering our lives. As humans we are flawed and perfection is not attainable. There are some people who believe they are perfect, but they are crazy! I can get so focused on “fixing” myself and believing I am 10 pounds away from perfection I forget to pay attention to today and withhold self-approval. I will be O.K. when the scale registers what I have deemed my goal weight, when I can speak 3 languages, climb mountains and be a professional singer and banjo player. As if!

I am realizing the “I’m not good enough” belief is not really all that motivating for me. In fact, it can be an impediment to realizing positive change. Maybe it would work better if the starting point were “I love and accept myself just as I am.” and I want to make changes that reflect my self-love. I don’t mean I love myself in spite of the fact that I am ugly, stupid and fat; it means I stop labeling myself as ugly, stupid and fat to begin with. I don’t have to earn “good enough”, I am already good enough just as I am. This is quite a stretch for me after years of most definitely, most decidedly not being “enough”.

So what do I do with all the time I used to spend on improving myself and failing to improve myself and beating myself up for lack of willpower? I probably have to stop saying I am really bad for eating that cookie and relax my shoulders and my body and explore how GOOD ENOUGH I truly am. Wish me luck…

New and Improved

To Give Care

There is no interview, no resume is required, and that dreaded question about your strengths and weaknesses is not asked, but before you know it you are hired for the hardest job of your life: you are now a CAREGIVER. Someone you love, whether it be your spouse, your parent, your sibling, or your child, is ill or injured and needs to be cared for. If you had read the job description you would never have applied for the position, especially if you are caring for a loved one with dementia. The hours are 24/7 and the grief is daily and deadly. Sleep is optional, heartbreak is required. The position requires bottomless patience and cheerfulness. On a positive note , no one will check your references , but if you were tempted to lie on your resume it WILL come back to bite you in the ass.

Roger is riding in front of me on the bike trail and I think his calves are huge! I can’t keep up with him on the bike or hiking trail. He slows down because I yell “Wait up!”. Coming down the hiking trail he usually got very talkative and this is when I learned how Roger became Roger. He described his childhood Christmas ( he loved the tree lights) and what he and his brother did for Halloween (think a pillowcase full of candy) and his father (S.O.B.). We compared our “favorites” and things we hated. We talked about cars; Bugs, Superbees and Chargers. He was surprised how I recognized cars as well as any man he knew. It’s an odd talent I have. We talked about work and the crazy people who inhabited our work lives. We bitched, we laughed and we listened to each other. We got angry with each other sometimes, but it usually ebbed away as we hiked down the trail. These memories are “new” for me, they were buried under years of caregiving, decline and grief.

I remember the “before he got sick” Roger more and more. I can see that devilish grin, that goofy look and hear him say “Hi Dinker.”, his version of “sweetheart. Roger had a temper that could flash like a flame thrower. He would scorch a few acres and then get steely quiet. We were both so imperfect, so human. He put my engagement ring in a bag of jelly beans and insisted I try all the “new” flavors. I didn’t swallow it , so we got married. Memories of Roger as he declined and was swallowed up by dementia are still very raw, but I can feel the memories shift to our life together before dementia struck.

Was I a good caregiver for Roger? My resume for being a caregiver would never have got me an interview. My skills were lacking and I doubted my own commitment, would I?could I? do it. My life experience? I loved Roger fiercely. It turned out this was all that I needed.

 

To Give Care

For Will

I never thought I would be comforted by the roar of Wills’ Harley as he left for work in the morning and came home at night, but that’s what happened. The music late at night took a bit to get used to, but soon it was white noise and I fell asleep. Will was my neighbor and we shared a wall and our lives for 10 years. He would have been 32 in December. Will took his own life last week and his light and spirit lives on in his family, friends and me. The tears come when I remember Will is gone and I haven’t heard his Harley for over a week now.

Our dogs were neighbors too . Decker and Sophie got extra big dog biscuits that were stored by my patio door. I remember Will trying to get my temperamental and scared dog, Roscoe, to warm up to him with little doggie treats . He dispensed the treats over the half wall between our decks, Roscoe is little, but fierce. When Will crawled through my small kitchen window because I locked my keys in the house, Roscoe nipped him to express his gratitude. I got suspicious one evening because Will seemed to be watering for a l-o-n-g time so I called and since Will was in the mountains (!) we figured that one of the dogs had knocked the spigot. Armed with treats, I visited Sophie and Decker and got the water shut off! Sophie also loved to play in the sprinkler and we had some laughs watching.

We shoveled each other’s driveways and sidewalks. Will did more than his share of shoveling snow, especially after my husband Roger got sick and passed away. Sometimes Will cleaned the snow off my car; he was so tall he could reach the roof of my SUV. I liked to pay Will back with sweet stuff like cake and muffins. He never had a problem with his appetite! And of course his reputation as a grill master was well deserved and the smells were very mouth watering.

And the women! Will was quite the ladies man, but he usually managed to date the same woman for a year or two…. I didn’t like the break ups because there was this awkward conversation where I asked why I hadn’t seen so and so for awhile, and Will shared they had broken up. Sometimes I could see how disappointed he was that things just didn’t work out.

There were many “Hi, how are you?”conversations and longer ones when we had a few minutes to spare. Will was a camper and an outdoor kind of guy. I wondered about his big rubber boat in the driveway! Lots of coolers drying out on the deck.. I liked his red truck better than his newer one, it fit his rugged lifestyle better. One of last things Will did for me was kill a big rattlesnake on my sidewalk, 10 feet from my front door. My rattlesnake killer said he hated to kill a living thing that was just trying to avoid humans but he had to do it. There was his deep respect for nature that kept him in the outdoors.

Will was my neighbor and he shared his world with me. I will pull in your trash cans from the curb to your garage as I leave in a few minutes. I will miss him every day. Good-bye Will.

Always your neighbor,
Danita

 

For Will

5,832 Hours in a Day

How many times have you said or heard, “I wish there were more than 24 hours in a day.” Our wish would come true if we lived on Venus which has a day that is 5,832 hours long! This is the longest “day” in our solar system. A year on Venus is actually shorter than a day on Venus. Google it. Imagine, 243 Earth days is one day on Venus! Surely this would be enough hours to get it all done. Could we/would we allow our lives to be so busy with all our activities that even 5,832 hours in a day would not be enough?

Downsizing, minimalism and tiny houses reflect a desire by some people to live more simply and not be controlled by “things”. If I did not own a car I would not have to shop for it, put gas in it, wash it, get the oil changed and work x number of hours to pay for it and insure it. Less time devoted to car care, but would I really have more time left for my interests? Maybe not if the bus system is poor and it takes me an hour by bus to get to my destination and I could drive there in 10 minutes. I could read on the bus or catch up on work and then I could spend less time at work, but no one ever spends “less” time at work! Since we really can’t “make” time we are left with 24 hours a day, take it or leave it.

I have 86,400 seconds (check my math) in a day, just like everyone else. Human animals must sleep, and I am not getting enough sleep at 6 hours a night. I can go to bed earlier or sleep in longer and since my alarm clocks are doggies with pea-sized bladders my only option seems to be go to bed earlier. It’s hard for me to understand that sleep isn’t doing “nothing”, it is rest for the body to replenish energy and brain cells. It seems the contest is who gets the least amount of sleep because they have so many “important” things to get done: i.e. I get by on 4 hours of sleep, I usually just get 3 hours and that is enough for me, I just close my eyes for a few minutes and doze and I am good for the day! I hear myself say “I’m too busy, I don’t have time to do a, b or c, and I’m so tired.” Of course I’m tired, I’m herding myself all day, sometimes with a cattle prod, to be in the same corral as the busy, big guys. Do I even want to be penned up with the busiest of the busy? What if I only do “a” and leave “b” and “c” undone?

“Sorry I haven’t _____, I’ve been so busy!” I don’t have time to hug my child, listen to my spouse, ride my bike or just do nothing. Imagine not having enough time to do nothing? It could be worse, we could live on Saturn which has a 10.7 hour day.

5,832 Hours in a Day

A Needle in a Haystack

When something is almost impossible to find ( like that missing favorite earring) we say it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I know that feeling! The last few months I have been looking for my lost compass, and I’m starting to think I may even be looking in the wrong haystack. I need my compass to navigate! My intuition is on vacation in Mexico, and logical thinking is just too, too…logical. Which direction is my “true north”.

Change forced upon me or as a result of “non-decisions” has often brought me random chaos. Being spontaneous can be a good thing, but behaving like a runaway train is not. I’m lost in a forest of “shoulds” and the sun doesn’t reach the forest floor if I am people pleasing. So I need to know how to make a decision, but perhaps more importantly I need to get a clue about what my choices are. I don’t have an unlimited number of choices, but I also know I often limit my choices because of my “limiting” sense of unworthiness. Either or decisions could be broadened to include more than two choices. I could have chocolate, vanilla AND mint chip ice cream, but maybe not all on the same day. I could live in Colorado or Iowa or I could live in Colorado and Iowa, spending a part of the year in each state. I am considering the “and “ option seriously, but this does not mean that I believe I can have it all! What fun is it to be absolutely sure I am making the perfect decision? My experience is that there is no sure thing and life’s surprises may be way better than getting what I want.

Most of you probably remember the “Where’s Waldo” books. He was hidden on the page amid hundreds of other little figures. So maybe I can write my version of “Where’s Danita”. There’s Danita walking her dog Roscoe with her friend Larraine and her dog Hector. Theres Danita on the exercise recumbent bike at the Senior Center. There’s Danita at her favorite coffee shop writing, or reading or having marathon talks with her friends. There’s Danita at Elderhaus facilitating the caregiving group and gently promoting sharing from all members. So at this point in time I am choosing these activities and this is how I spend my day.

Whether I am aware of it or not, my life is just a series of choices and decisions. Over the years I have made many decisions about a million choices. Now I worry that some of those choices don’t fit anymore, and I need to make some changes and face more decisions. Meanwhile I lost Danita (myself) on the page of life. Because of years of therapy I am less concerned with “how” and “why” I got here or there. Starting from “now” the question is “where” do I want to be. I am talking about where I want to be geographically, emotionally and spiritually. So if you see me, point me in the direction of home. If you find my compass please return it, I am offering a reward .

A Needle in a Haystack