In Passing

January 19, 2023

Yesterday I was informed by a dear friend, Jay, that she had rather suddenly lost one of her close friends to death. That friend had apparently been relatively healthy, but in only a matter of a few weeks went from active and engaged to departed.  Jay stated that mentally she understood what had just happened but emotionally she was not coping well because of the suddenness of the loss. 

A few hours later I received a packet of writing from a dear friend of mine who has been living with a progressively deteriorating health condition for many years. He has soldiered through the  steady decline with an amazing adaptability and retention of positive attitude. What was evident, however, in what he sent me was the fact that the core elements that he has retained as his sense of identity are now under attack. He is experiencing difficulties with all forms of communication and becoming an unwillingly isolated shut-in.

In my initial response to Jay, I spoke about the difference between losing someone suddenly and watching a steady decline, the latter situation giving one an opportunity to adjust emotionally as well as mentally to what is coming. However, that latter situation also implies or imposes awareness that the friend suffering the decline is indeed suffering over an extended period of time. What I mentioned to Jay in my initial response was the ambiguity that I have lived with for many years over the “better” way for a life to end. It seems that for the person who is departing this life it must be easier if the departure is relatively sudden. No living with pain, no agonizing over things undone, not really any time to guilt trip oneself, which I realize may or may not be the case, there being no means to ask after the departure whether the person did in fact experience regrets, or depart in peace.

For those of us left behind after a quick death, similar questions can nag at us. By contrast, when there is a lingering illness and progressive decline, the person experiencing the challenges may or may not value the time provided and the advance notice that whatever activities or communications have been neglected can be put right before death. The friend or family member standing beside or watching the decline also has time to sort things out if they choose to do so. Working in home care for many years, I watched all sorts of variations of the slower passing and saw family member caregivers who treasured every moment of their connection to the dying individual. I also saw family members impatient for the end to come, feeling overwhelmed or angry or just immeasurably sad that their loved one was suffering and in pain. 

For myself, I have tried to live by guidance received from my grandfather when he was near the end of his life. He said then that he had only two regrets, one being that it would have been better for my mother, his daughter, if he had remarried but he never found a woman he wanted to commit to. His other regret was that he never learned to play the mandolin. At that time, when I was in my late twenties, I undertook to try to live in such a way that whenever my end came I would have no more regrets than he did. 

I’m comfortable in saying that at this moment I have achieved that goal. I recognize that the goal is a moving target and that I need to be mindful to stay in this space of no more than two regrets. Doing so helps keep me honest in my interactions, respectful of others, and sufficiently self aware to keep myself motivated in pursuing my own next steps.

I cannot speak for those who care for me with regard to what they would prefer, my rapid and unexpected passing versus an anticipated steady decline. That choice seems to be a very individual one for each of them. I do think that living by the mantra of minimizing regrets (making prompt restitution when we err) can benefit us all, so that however an end comes, whether our own or a loved one’s, the transition can be smoother and less emotionally painful for all who are involved in the passing.

May it be so.

Voicing It

January 17, 2023

I am finding that the different free voice to text options currently available to me differ rather significantly. The app built into my Samsung Android phone works very nicely for text messages with few errors and little need for me to make corrections. The Google Docs app that I’m using to create this blog post persistently does not capitalize after a period. I don’t know why. I have yet to find any settings options that would let me instruct the software to capitalize after a period. Fun and games in the new to me world of tech. (new paragraph) That didn’t work either,

So I stopped dictating and edited including starting a new paragraph. I wonder if the length of pause in my dictation following a period is what triggers a capital? I just tried it. Now I need to try it without starting a sentence with I that does regularly get capitalized. Didn’t work.  nonetheless the software does reduce demands on my very painful right arm which is what has led me to try to learn a different way of creating posts. I am very aware that my thoughts flow much more smoothly directly from my brain through my fingers to the keyboard. Stopping to monitor how the software is performing impedes my thought process. One more challenge associated with the ills of aging that I am trying to appreciate as a nudge into continued engagement with an uncertain future.

 In the larger scheme of things I am very fortunate with little to complain about and much to be grateful for. Overall I still have good health and my lowest energy down days are not so severe as to prevent me from accomplishing at least the basics of my everyday routines. Also, those more serious down days are relatively infrequent or at least spaced out and not piled one after the other to the point that undone tasks stare at me and guilt trip me. 

However tedious and somewhat unsatisfactory this voice to text software is, it is nonetheless a gift that I am grateful for as it does allow me to keep to my commitment to myself to resume reasonably regular posts. the difference in how my brain functions, speaking rather than writing, is something to explore. (I just had to stop dictating and correct text that for unknown reasons began appearing in italics). I am reasonably certain that if I need to continue primarily doing voice to text writing I will want to find a program that functions more smoothly.   ( Once again the italics appeared for no apparent reason.)

I think maybe the auto save somehow triggers the switch to italics. At least that seems to be a possibility. I don’t have a lot of patience this morning to play with the software but I did want to put something up on my blog to at least indicate that I am committed to resuming somewhat regular communication and posts. I hope that by the next go round I will have better command of the software and be able to actually reflect on things rather than just report on them. In the meantime I wish all my readers and followers good days and good inner connection.

Transitions

January 10, 2023

After a 3 week alteration in the pattern of my days, I am once again at the start of a renewed sequence of “here and gone” transitions as my husband returns to work from a holiday break. We had houseguests for the same period, so I am shifting from a four person dynamic back to five days of solitude and two of companionship. We have been in this pattern for several years, with occasional disruptions for vacations or more extended periods of solitude when my husband travels overseas. I am therefore somewhat surprised that this Sunday evening on my own feels unfamiliar and has me at a loss how to navigate it.

****************

It is now 2 days later and I am experimenting with voice to text in Google Docs. I had to stop writing Sunday evening because my dominant arm is frequently extremely painful and prevents me from typing. This is my first effort at writing by speaking. I am told that the end result will be a more natural written document though at the moment it seems contradictory for my brain to have to think and translate into spoken words what previously flowed effortlessly from my brain down my arms and fingers onto the keyboard. 

I just requested a new paragraph but didn’t get it and had to stop and play with the software to obtain what I asked for. I will now try to pick up the thought that I ended with on Sunday evening regarding the odd unfamiliarity of being back in a pattern that I had taken a break from for several weeks. With the additional insight of these two successive days, I realize that I was not really at a loss as to how to navigate the transition so much as I was a little out of practice at doing so. It seems to be an aspect of getting older, that I notice shifts in routines and am slightly disrupted by those shifts in ways I don’t recall having to manage even just a couple years ago. Which makes the new learning associated with using this speech to text software an interesting challenge and different kind of transition then I was considering when I first started writing on Sunday.

 I’m very grateful for the existence of this software as I know many others are.  One of the members of my  book group spoke about how her dyslexic daughter has relied on this type of software not just to see her through her own studies but now to function as a teacher. We commented on  the different types of brain function that lead people to need voice to text and the different skills that are called upon in using it. Since I have a long-term interest in neuropsychology and what is now referred to as neurodiversity, experimenting with myself in this transitional learning process should be interesting. The first thing I am finding is that there are some tricks still to be learned in order to have this software capitalize the first word after a period. It also seems to randomly capitalize words, perhaps because I put emphasis on them? Much to learn. Which, after all, is a most salient illustration of living with and adapting to transitions.

Uncertainty

January 2, 2023

I have been thinking about, and feeling my way through, this topic for a couple weeks with each day revealing a different aspect of it, or presenting me with a new challenge to consider. As I type, I am aware I may not be able to complete a full post. Not because I don’t know what I want to say, but because one of the constraints on my daily life (intermittent severe pain to my dominant shoulder, arm and wrist) may stop me from typing.

Covid, post-Covid uptick in flu and RSV, unpredictable weather, unstable economic conditions, and a general increase in threats of all sorts (Will Russia deploy a nuke in Ukraine? Who will next host mongers of hate and violence here at home?) all contribute to an overriding atmosphere of uncertainty. For most of us, uncertainty brings with it an uptick in fear, as we fight against loss of control and try to find ways to ward off the worst potential consequences of that loss.

I have been reading essays and opinion pieces about some of these social aspects of living with uncertainty, and have responded in letters to the writers, or to the editor, at the several news organizations that publish the journalists I choose to follow. None of them have taken on the sources of uncertainty that are the main concerns for me these days. The closest any have come is to mention the aging of our population and the lack of adequate support for the many more people who are both older and living alone. In that context there has also been discussion of burnout among health care workers, including doctors who are leaving their profession, worn out by overwhelming caseloads and corporate directorships that dictate quantity of visits and hence revenue, over quality of care.

I am grateful for personal circumstances which suggest I will not be left alone to face the increasing limitations of aging. Though I am alone 4-5 days each week now, I can call on my partner to be here within 2 hours, should the need arise – and we are talking about a change in home base that would permit him to be at home with me each evening.

Stopping due to pain – hoping it is temporary and I can resume later this morning.

Well, that break was not a few hours, not even a few days or weeks, but more than a month. Limited energy forced different priorities for my time and/or I have been still trying to do most of the activities that have given me satisfaction or pleasure and a sense of purpose in my retirement, leaving nothing for writing. I am hopeful that starting the new year with a post will set the tone for 2023 and help me implement my desire to once again be an engaged writer.

Help for achieving that goal comes from a friend who has included me in the group of “beta readers” for his manuscript on living with and managing pain, and from another dear friend who has been using self hypnosis to cope, for a number of years with a level of pain she describes as “screaming”. I have much to learn from them, and from my own inner wisdom, as I seek to continue being “of use” to others in ways that are effective but less demanding of my limited energy.

So the very personal aspect of uncertainty I am now examining in my spiritual practice is that of learning to be maximally focused in the immediate now. For a person raised by a German Virgo father to plan well ahead, with two or three backup alternatives as the means to manage uncertainty, becoming able to just be, in the now of time, is essentially to shed what has been part of my core identity for all of my adult life. As I write those words, I hear the inner voice of my spiritual teacher assuring me that the mentally formulated concept of a core identity of planner is a total illusion – my core identity is Soul or spirit, all knowing and able to manage whatever life brings to my attention, so long as I keep my attention where it needs to be – in the present moment, open to being shown each next step.

So that is what I am taking as my task for this new year. Not a resolution, with its associated sense of mental discipline in order to be implemented, but rather a suggestion for where – and to what – I give the nourishing food of my attention. 

Here. Now. For each set of circumstances that arise for me to navigate.

So be it.

Re-Engaging

November 8, 2022

I thank the members of my book group, and their input to a discussion of the Arbinger Institutue’s book, The Anatomy of Peace, for pushing me out of silence and back to a commitment to write, post, speak up. I have been aware of how withdrawn I have become, and given myself a variety of explanations for my changed behavior, not recognizing when the explanations morphed into excuses and my silence ceased to be healthy.

In my defense, I will point out the many letters I have written back to columnists when something I read in their opinion pieces triggered me. What I did not do, and now intend to undertake, is to share those responses here, probably with additional commentary that updates the ideas to today’s context.

Not because I expect my words to “make a difference”, but because I expect of myself to resume living by my long held belief that my purpose in this life is to manifest as best I can the Truths I know. For me that manifestation process has largely been verbal, whether speaking with friends, engaged in counseling with clients, managing an agency, writing newspaper features, or posting to this blog.

In allowing outer world circumstances to silence me, I have perhaps not betrayed myself, in that I have reoriented and reprioritized values, and can claim that I have used the time to make an important transition on my inner, spiritual life Path. But I recognize as well that my silence has extended longer than it needed to. It is time to resume speaking up, speaking out.

To begin, I will pose a question that has floated around me and my close circle for some time now. What is the difference between being older and being elderly? And why is being an elder a term of respect in many contexts, while being elderly is so often portrayed as being feeble, dependent, no longer valuable?

I am definitely older. I am not averse to being termed an elder, with its connotations of wiser, experienced, knowledgeable. I have spent much of the past couple years fighting with my body, and thus myself, about becoming elderly in the negative sense. It is challenging to learn how to remain an engaged, contributing individual when pain and fatigue dominate one’s awareness. I have found it especially challenging in the present socially contentious, nay viciously ugly public times.

What I can do, and am no longer willing to excuse myself from doing, is add to the positive, hopefully encouraging and creative content floating in the ether. The more seeds scattered, the greater the chance of a productive harvest.

Another Uncertainty

July 27, 2022

I’m puzzling over my current inability to generate an essay or post without something triggering me to respond to another’s thoughts. I have written quite a number of letters to columnists, or “to the editor” in response to articles (mostly in NYT or Atlantic) that, on rereading, I find to be thoughtful and probably appropriate to post, with some edits to clarify the content to which I have responded. What keeps me from creating posts on those same topics which I have been reflecting on for some time? Have I retreated so far into pandemic initiated solitude that I no longer feel a connection with any audience (a necessity, in my experience, for finding my voice) so that I am only able to respond to someone I’ve read?

Maybe…

With plenty of time to start practicing piano, I have not done so – until now that I have committed to play duets with a friend who will be visiting, with his guitar, at the end of the year. A deadline and an audience in place, I have begun to sit down for at least a short session of music as close to daily as I can prod myself to undertake. Am I so undone by the loss of work deadline pressures that I can’t commit to something I want to do, without a target date?

Maybe… 

Or am I simply not yet adjusted to the transition to retirement after being multiply engaged with work, housework, family, social obligations, etc?

Maybe…

So how long does such a transition take? Is there a standard? If so, does the standard take into account Covid lockdown and a need, due to age, for continued precautionary limitations to activities?

I don’t know. Maybe…

Walking to the mailbox this morning, I recognized that my many letters of response to opinion pieces or other news feed items are an exercise of intellect, whereas my posts have most commonly been expressions of inner reflection, or insights gifted from spirit. So am I, of late, giving too much attention to mind and not enough to Soul?

Maybe…

A recent increased interaction with Quaker acquaintances and friends has challenged me to clarify how I perceive the relationship between inner spiritual unfolding and outer expression of spiritual beliefs. Both my Quaker (and far distant Jewish) values and my ongoing spiritual Path dictate being engaged in the world, though not focused on finding one’s worth there. Rather, one’s outer daily environment is both a source of lessons, and the outlet for manifesting one’s growing awareness of spiritual Truth.

Intellectual understanding (represented for me at the moment by reading and responding to well reasoned opinions on affairs to the day) has its place, but should not overshadow time spent in inward contemplation – “seeking that of God within” in Quaker parlance, “checking in” with the Master and Soul, as explicated by my Path.

So are my questions about motivation, reasons for writing, use of my now abundant free time a reflection of an as yet unresolved issue of self identity? Am I in the process of transforming my sense of identity, of Self, from being rooted in what I think and do to what I Am?

Maybe…

Reflections on Motivation

May 20, 2022

For years, while working more than full time, I kept up a regular weekly posting to my blog, mostly reflections on circumstances encountered in my daily interactions. A friend just recently commented that I was so busy then, that I needed the blog posts to organize my thoughts. She was probably correct. I have experienced myself as someone who needs “an ear”, preferably a trusted friend or my spouse, so that I can hear myself working my way through whatever concern needs clarification, using the feedback to refine and define my perception. Lacking that in-person ear, writing things out has also served me well as a means to achieving clarity.

Enter retirement, and Covid isolation, and a spouse who lives away the 5 days of the work week, and one might think I would be that much more engaged with posting to this blog. Not so. With a great deal more free – and largely silent – time, I have instead seemingly become mute. I read steadily, back to my childhood sick bed years of a book every 2-3 days, and I play solitaire (current undefeated streak at Free Cell approaches 700 games), I follow an assortment of news and opinion newsletters, tend to my chickens, go for walks when the weather and my health permit, and do the basics of house chores necessary to keep things running here, and my husband’s second home at his work location stocked with his preferred meals. 

Yes, I talk to a few people each week – my acupuncturist and massage therapist, and a couple of dear friends with whom I have an established regular call. I also talk to a limited number of people with whom I am engaged as a part-time contracted worker, assisting the NM Caregiver Coalition and – just lately – those who participate in a weekly, via Zoom, Quaker Worship Sharing group. None of that answers my question to myself of why I have not, in the more than two years since retirement, not resumed posting regularly, particularly given the Covid imposed dearth of opportunity to talk out my concerns.

I had thought, pre-retirement, that I would be able to devote energy to small home improvements – planting flowers in the entry area, refurbishing my kitchen, clearing out years of accumulated stuff. I have made some inroads in all those areas, but not come anywhere near completing the tasks. Whatever I thought I would gain from doing so has not materialized. Instead, partially perhaps because of an unanticipated decline in energy and increase in daily pain, I have been avoiding the endeavors to not be confronted with my decreased capacities.

At first, it was easy to say I would get back to them when I recovered from the first health issues. By now, having experienced a seemingly endless cycle of two steps forward and one-and-a-half back, I am trying to accept that recovery is a myth akin to pre-pandemic normal. My new normal appears to require a degree of flexibility that goes counter to my lifelong mode of accomplishment – organized, planned, scheduled and with Plans B and C pre-mapped in case something (usually another person’s decisions) make the initial schedule unsustainable. With very little scheduled in any week, and no advance warning of better or worse energy/health/pain days, I seem to have lapsed into non-accomplishment of even something as seemingly easy as writing regular blog posts.

I am unclear what underlies not just my lack of writing, but my lack of overall motivation. I really want the kitchen refurbishment, but am defeated before I begin by the non-response of those workmen I manage to identify. Two plumbers have both said they will schedule me, but weeks go by without a call. I should be on the phone, badgering and pestering until one of them wants rid of me enough to come – but I don’t find myself with motivation to expend my limited energy being a nuisance. With the not-feeling-well days coming unpredictably, I am hesitant to enroll in a class, or schedule volunteer activities when I may not be up to keeping the commitments. I am still waiting for a day when both the unpredictable New Mexico spring weather and my energy will match, to set out bulbs and pansies in the pots I arranged last year.

None of which explains my disinterest in writing.

A friend with whom I am mostly linked by our common engagement as writers just recently asked me what I have been working on. She sets herself the challenge of a poem a day every April, has self-published quite a number of books, runs a LIterary Salon now and keeps a regular writing schedule despite her own health and energy issues and those of her husband. I had no real answer to give her, other than mentioning some thought of resurrecting a project sharing creative ways people have found to outwit the limitations of Parkinson’s. I did not recognize and hence could not admit to my problem with motivation.

The question did, thank you Sharon, prod me to examine what has been immobilizing me and, as I am grateful to acknowledge as a blessing, once the question was clearly posed, answers have begun to emerge. They lie in a need to completely redefine how I assess my sense of self, how I shed restricting core identities that have served me productively as a self-reliant and successful worker but which do not pertain to an older, semi-retired individual.

I may not yet be properly motivated, but I am interested to see what emerges.

Empathic Excess

March 7, 2022

I know there is a condition (sometimes labeled compassion fatigue) of excess of empathy producing its opposite, over time, in the person who has generally been open, accepting, willing to see another’s viewpoint and vulnerable to feeling their pain. I know because I recognize that, contrary to my habitual way of being, I have been notably intolerant of late, managing not to express my disdain only by withdrawing from engagement, staying “out of people’s way” and trying to minimize my following of news and other online activities. I haven’t been very successful with that last, still reading many of the stories and opinions in my inbox daily news feeds. I have, unexpectedly, been far more successful at insulating myself from the cares and needs of characters in novels, by ceasing to read them. It has been a puzzlement (to use a term from a favorite story, “The King and I”) that I have become impatient with reading, when that activity has, throughout my life, been my preferred means of escape from my immediate circumstances. 

My childhood was not a happy one, an only child living with a rageaholic mother and an emotionally absent father, and prone to catching every illness passing around, so that I spent a good deal of time alone in bed, in my room, with the radio and books for company. The few activities I could engage in that my mother would not interrupt with a physical or verbal assault on me, were using the toilet or being ill, and reading. Not being a stupid child, I quickly learned to take a book with me into the bathroom, shut the door and sit on the toilet reading – for so long a time that when I finally stood up I had a deep red ring on my behind and my legs were numb. In retrospect I perceive that I probably also fell sick more easily and quickly because of the household stress, and the fact that the ensuing days alone (my mother had a deep fear of germs and would not enter my sickroom) bought me a break from my standard role as her scapegoat.

What I only realized a day or two ago, after weeks of shutting books abruptly after reading only a few pages, is that I can still enjoy reading – just not “serious” books. Lighthearted mysteries, with a touch of humor in the writing, still engage me even when I can see through the plot lines almost from the beginning. Knowing how it will all turn out does not diminish my interest in seeing how the author unfolds the story.The key word, I am sure, in the above sentence was “lighthearted”. Anything more realistic as to characters and their motivations, even mystery novels by some of my favorite authors like Louise Penny, bring on my sensation of being overwhelmed by unwanted emotions. Not just negative ones, any emotions stirred by the excellent writing and delineation of character. 

I have been replacing reading with very specific, limited conversations with a select few friends and acquaintances who are able and willing to discuss abstract ideas, philosophy, or spiritual processes without requiring of me that I solve any problems they may have in living their values. 

In the course of these exchanges, and participation in Quaker Worship Sharing, as well as attending to my daily spiritual exercises, I have come to see my detachment from emotions as a positive indicator of progress along my chosen Path. I seem to be functioning as required on the physical plane, doing my routine, no thought required homemaker chores and offering appropriate support to those around me who request my input. I have been enjoying dialog on the mental plane (reasoning, knowledge, intellect) including giving my analysis of issues or interpersonal concerns when they are requested.

With distracting tugs from the emotional plane effectively shut down, my attention can remain where I wish it to be, developing and maintaining  a spiritual perspective on my life. Aware of the frequency, in the past, of periods in which I felt as though I were teetering on the edge of a precipice, at high risk of plunging into irredeemable depression, and needing to use anger to fight my way back to safer ground, I find that I am now increasingly comfortable with this more disengaged way of negotiating my remaining days.

I do still care about people and broader societal challenges, but most days the caring is more detached. To borrow an image from one of the teachers on my spiritual Path, I am increasingly able to walk along a beach, hear the cries of a swimmer in trouble, throw out a life buoy and tow the swimmer to shore and then walk on, without attachment to how the rescued swimmer proceeds with the remainder of their life. Diametrically opposite to the alleged ancient Chinese belief that if you save a person’s life you are responsible for it forevermore.

Given that my professional career has had me in the role of helping others, and my current part time work still calls for that engagement, I find it an interesting challenge to not drift back into emotional attachment to “what is going on in the world” whether that world is the near one of my friends or the far one of international conflicts. I know from past experience that I am actually better able to assist, when asked, if my ego is not engaged with an outcome, and if I therefore merely offer a new perspective, or make a suggestion for next steps, leaving the implementation to whoever has asked for my input.

Is this new way of being an upside to chronological age? Given that I have also, lately, been rather forcefully confronted with the physical downside of aging, I have to hope that the benefits of detachment will also imbue a revision of self concept, as I figure out how to become comfortable with being an old person.

Wish me well – and success at this endeavor  – please.

Out of Silence

February 20, 2022

I had thought my part time job was taking the time meant for blog posts. But it is not so demanding as to leave me no writing time. I had thought pandemic isolation had stilled my ability to observe and comment. But my inner voice remained audible. I had thought there was no longer much point in posting reflections, year after year, that have mostly been one way communication from me out to ??? But I have no interest in engaging with “social media” type dialog that so frequently sinks into diatribe and vitriol. Perhaps a speck of my being wanted to see who, if anyone, would reach out to me via a comment posted to the blog site, to ask if I was okay, still alive? But I seem to have already known that was unlikely from outside my immediate circle of friends, as my life pattern has consistently been that, if there is to be a connection, I must initiate it. Very, very few people have checked in on me unless they wanted/needed something from me.

It is only just recently that I have begun to recognize my public (and to a large extent also private) silence as due to the need for a serious reconsideration of who and what I am now that I am semi-retired, with less energy to cope with more physical limitations, less accepting of deadlines, more engaged with inner spiritual goals yet finding it challenging to let go of a life pattern of attending to others’ needs before seeking to address my own.

Into this examination came a just published column by Tish Harrison Warren in the New York Times speaking to periods in her past when reading, a primary love and satisfaction, became virtually impossible. I have been aware that, along with not writing, I have lately had unaccustomed difficulty staying engaged with reading. As for Tish, books have been my companions, my escape, my primary pleasure since I began to learn to read at age three, sitting on my Grandpa’s lap and following along as he read “I Went for a Walk in the Forest” aloud to me. Now I have found myself reading only a few pages, even of favorite authors, before setting the book aside to engage with a crossword puzzle, or to extend my undefeated streak of Free Cell. Thanks to Tish’s essay, I see the why of what I had observed but did not understand.

“Sitting with a book requires some level of compassion and energy. A reader sits with the thoughts, stories, insights or opinions of another. She opens herself empathetically to the work of another human being. And I didn’t feel I had the requisite compassion or energy to do so.”

The proximate cause of Tish Harrison Warren’s loss of ability to enjoy books is different from mine, but the experience is virtually identical, including in the way, step by step, she recovered by engaging first in reading short pieces before resuming books. I have begun following, and responding with letters of commentary, to several NYT columnists as a means to counter not just Covid imposed isolation, but my retirement triggered energy crash and loss of my sense of self.

As I responded to the Harrison Warren essay, “You hit the mark, for me, when you mentioned lacking the empathy, compassion, and the energy these take, to enjoy reading. Along with retirement and disconnect from interpersonal interaction, I confronted the difficult questions of retirement. Who am I without my professional role as a caregiver? Of what value has my life been? And what of value do I still have to offer now that my body is tired and resurrecting all the old, healed and forgotten but not gone injuries and pains of my nearly 80 years of living?

Escape from a difficult family life into books was my path since childhood, making it even more disconcerting now to find that escape denied me. I am mentally yelling at Elsa, in Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds” to open her stupid mouth and speak up for herself, then tossing the book aside. I think I would not pick it up again were it not for the fact that it is my book club’s choice for our next discussion meeting.

I had not considered, before reading your essay, that my own inner dis-ease was the source of my new inability to escape into books. I am relieved to learn my experience is in fact a common one, and that I can hope to not only find my way back to the pleasure of reading, but also to that of writing. I will not close down my blog site just yet.”

And so here is a post, after long silence. Step one, writing as well as reading short pieces. I may need to use other responses to recently read columns, in order to resurrect the habit of posting, as I am using the reading of those columns to resurrect my ability to find the compassion and empathy necessary to read books and engage once more with a wider world.

Or maybe not? Maybe I will find that engaging outwardly is no longer so important or rewarding as is withdrawing inward to “dip into the Divine spiritual current always flowing, if only we take time to seek it.”

Alone, in Silence

December 13, 2021

I started to put together a post incorporating some of the letters I’ve written in response to columns I have been reading, mostly from the New York Times opinion section – because I don’t seem able to write without a prompt these days. Not that I don’t still have thoughts, or reflections about the events in my life and the larger world – but I seem to have lost the habit of sharing them unless I read an opinion that I either disagree with and want to counter, or that I agree with but think would benefit from enlargement. So I write letters to the writers, knowing that it is unlikely I will get a response, and equally unlikely that my comments will be published and reach an audience.

What has changed? My degree of solitude, primarily. What I felt I never had enough of before retirement and Covid (quiet, alone downtime) I now have so much of that I feel as though I’ve forgotten how to initiate a conversation. My part time work gives me what amounts to a script that I follow when I make outreach calls to engage caregivers with the NM Caregiver Coalition programs. The teaching and care coordination I do with participants also largely follow an established script, and involve more listening and giving feedback than expressing opinions or leading the conversation.

I’ve always been more of an introvert than a socializer, probably because my childhood was nearly as solitary as my daily life now. An only child in a household of the old school, where children were to be seen and not heard, and in fact seen only when a parent wished to assign a chore. Otherwise I was best protected from parental anger by spending my non-school hours in my room, usually reading. Not the sort of conditioning that teaches how to initiate conversations, reach out to build relationships, or make friends easily. Over the many years since, I have acquired some of those skills, at a basic level most commonly yielding success when my circumstances foster frequent enough interaction to grant the opportunity to get to know others, and they to get to know me. 

Not, by any means, the circumstances I now function within. Working from home, living alone during the week, minimizing my time “out” in public in accord with the health and safety guidelines we are encouraged to embrace as our “normal” lifestyle for the foreseeable future… not circumstances that promote conversations and, for me at least, circumstances that instead push me back into being minimally seen and rarely heard. Easier to read, do crossword puzzles, play solitaire – the same activities that filled my childhood – than to figure out how to keep initiating conversations (via blog posts) that only rarely evolve into social interaction.

That is mind trying to sort out and understand its present state. The proper activity for me at this time, however, is not to understand, elucidate, converse or write so much as it is to accept the alone-ness of this period as right, proper, a gift to be cherished for its offering of the opportunity to simply Be. In gratitude. Moving towards enlightenment. Baraka bashad.


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