Lines written at the Hospital

I am here,

sitting cross-legged

on your bed,

staring out and seeing nothing —

except you lying in your bed

at the hospital.

 

I see your old

faded teddy bear

on your dresser.

I wish you were

that wide-eyed child

in awe of the mysteries

of the world.

 

The crisp white blanket

and the chambray sheets

on your bed

are rough against my skin.

I pull my knees to my chest

and rest my head

against my knees.

 

I do not think I have ever felt

such pain in my Soul.

I used to think it was

empty and dark

inside

but now it aches

from seeing you hurt so

body mangled and distorted.

 

My mind is numbed

by the thought of your pain

and the strength you have

to go on, despite the pain.

 

My heart sinks when

I think of how

you have hated this life

so much that it led you to this.

But what keeps you

chained to this shallow existence?

 

I have been told

time and again

that love heals all things;

however,

my past, future, and present

are ever-affected by

your presence in my life.

How can healing begin when

you will not let my love

seep deep within your being?

 

Spring 1994

Lines written while grieving

To MHS

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Creating a Compassion Society Out of Suffering

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Thich Nhat Hanh opens his book No Mud, No Lotus with these words:  “In fact, the art of happiness is also the art of suffering well.  When we learn to acknowledge, embrace, and understand our suffering, we suffer much less.  Not only that, but we’re also able to go further into understanding, compassion, and joy for ourselves and for others.”

If you live with pain or disease Thich Nhat Hanh’s words are the cliff notes version to what you might learn in pain management or MBSR or CBT or even DBT.  Life is going to happen and suffering is your choice.  In the midst of chronic daily pain or especially in the midst of acute pain, I would want to punch someone for telling me that.  I wouldn’t do it but anger might take over how colored my view might be at the moment.  I remember saying to someone, in a very hateful manner, “meditation, that $%^ doesn’t work.”  And it wasn’t true.  It was just I was so deeply frustrated, anxious, in pain, and fearful that I wasn’t even treading water anymore.  I was drowning and it didn’t seem to matter to anyone.

The one thing that I have learned in the past six months is that we ask way to much of people who are ill and struggling.  What do I mean?  I think back to living on my own for my job and having no one around to stop at the grocery store because I was dehydrated or picking up a prescription that a doctor called in after hours of waiting and being in pain for days.  I remember sleepless nights because I was afraid I would not wake up for work the next morning, having no sick days and working in an unkind environment that had no flexibility for problems like that.  I would get so anxious, I would have 6 alarms set so that I would finally crawl out of bed.

And what about med changes?  I worked and got a higher degree and completed half of a second degree while living with chronic daily pain and the subsequent med changes.  Has a doctor ever had to get to work on time or “played well with others” after being put on 5 different meds or even adding one or two meds or taking one away?  Sometimes, you aren’t sure if the meds, the side effects, or the illness will kill you first?  Please hear me, I’m not saying that doctors are wrong in what they do.  I’m just not sure they maintain their compassion while doing it.  How can they?  A patient is going to scream out in pain when you reset their leg, but you still have to do it.  You end with a bit of a callous on your soul, in order to save your soul.

And all the things that people have suggested, (similar to things I will say in this blog), are tough to do when you are wondering how you are going to pay a bill, or what you can eat that won’t make you throw up, or losing a document at work, or feeling utterly alone in your misery.  They are tough to do when you don’t even have your basic needs met (Think Maslow).

Nhat Hanh says, “If, however, we are preoccupied with the fear and despair in us, we can’t help remove the suffering of others.  There is an art to suffering well.”  And that is what I am trying to learn how to do.  I have a disease that causes me to be in pain; that won’t change but I can live a lot better with it than I had been.

But all that worry and day to day stuff, my friends, all of that is suffering.  Well, they are all hassles and my interactions with those hassles (the fear, anxiety, fretting, etc) was suffering.  And much of it needless but given our society today, it is very much a real concern for so many people.  Why is it so tough for so many people to get disability?  Why do sick people have to fight with insurance companies?  Why do we have to move away from our communities and our families, are safety nets for things like work?  I am thinking back to another time, decades ago, when people who were ill were at home, when family and a community took care of people rather marginalized them?

I think back to when I grew up.  We lived in the same house as my land lady and when she was diagnosed with cancer and my family took care of it.  It was a labor of love because that’s what you do for others.  We helped with getting groceries, giving medication, feeding her, changing her, etc.  Her kids came to visit but they lived 45 minutes away and we were right there.  There were two adults and a high school senior (my sibling) and they took turns.

But in today’s world with living so far from work or not knowing neighbors or grocery stores in the suburbs and rural areas are so far.  And people have so many more medical appointments.  Why do we not have a national system for this?  You want to help put people to work?  You want to take people’s social security away?  You want people to work until they are 76?  Why not pay retired people to help their parents or church members or neighbors?  Why not employ a stay at home mom to check in on a neighbor and make sure they are taking their pills?  Or pay their gas milage to pick up a few groceries?  Why don’t we think about those who are not active, producing, and healthy?

Thich Nhat Hanh, (or Thay, as his followers call him affectionately – Thay is Vietnamese for teacher) says in No Mud, No Lotus, “The hardest thing to practice is not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by despair.  When you’re overwhelmed by despair, all you see is suffering everywhere you look.  You feel as if the worst thing is happening to you.” Can you imagine having some of the pressure taken off, not worrying about how you are going to get to an appointment in the snow or how you are going to drag yourself to the store while you’ve been vomiting all day?  Imagine what it might be like to have someone stop by and make sure you had a pitcher of water by your bed and to let you know that you are not alone.

Think about it.  You might not be able to sit in an office all day if you are ill or maybe you are retired and don’t want to work all day.    You might not be able to go to work every day but what if we took the concept of care teams, like AIDS patients did back in the 80s and applied it more globally?  Now, back then, it was friends of the AIDS patient, often times because family had abandoned the patient.  But what if we had local hubs where a retired person could work once a week, similar to a hospice volunteer.  They could stop by and make a pot of soup or a paraprofessional could make phone calls to an insurance company for a patient.  We need to wake up and think about the elderly baby boomers who set trends, changed the world (for better and worse) and think about our new world.  We don’t manufacture anymore, let’s face it.  And I don’t care if you were a coal miner, a returned vet, or a young person, you could play a part.  We could help to end some basic suffering in the world.

The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism state, “There is suffering, there is a course of action that generates suffering; suffering ceases; and there is a course of action leading to the cessation of suffering” (From No Mud, No Lotus).  There is a lot of pain and heartache out there in the world.  We have to look creatively at how to solve today’s problems.  One idea is to come together as a community again.  And let’s face it, until our country moves to something like a few countries have just moved to where all citizens are given a stipend to live alleviate basic needs, we have to think of merging old worlds and new worlds.  We can be there for each other, even make some money doing it, and help raise each other out of suffering and aloneness.

So, tonight, I ask you these things:

  • If you didn’t have to worry about a pay check, what would you honestly be willing to do?
    • Would you visit a neighbor?  Make a pot of soup?
    • Would you take a community member to the doctors or stop by and pick up some cans of soup for an elderly person?
  • Why can’t we help people rather than marginalize them?  Why can’t we move to a society that is more inclusive, where people don’t have cracks to fall through?  What if we made a few extra pb & j sandwiches for the kids who stand outside our door waiting for the bus?
  • How do we move from our pain and more importantly our suffering to help others?
  • How do we foster a sense of belonging in those who have been told don’t matter?

 

May all beings be at ease and know an end to their suffering.

May all beings feel whole and know they are cared for.

May all beings be given the time and space to heal as thoroughly as they need.

May you be safe and at peace.

 

 

 

 

Losing

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About all I can hear is

the sound of the white birds.

I can hear cars in the far distance

and a couple of giggling children

across the river, but all I really

hear is god.

I hear the sound of the water

being splashed by the water fowl’s wings.

But all I really hear is god.

 

I sit where we sat only two months before.

The sun shines as brightly

as it did that day and the

winds have come back to greet me,

but now gloves cover my chilled

fingers and now you are not

before me, sharing your warmth and your life!

 

The sky and the water are about

the same color blue.

And the grass though sprinted with

more fallen leaves, is still as green.

Today is thanksgiving day and I sit

upon the bench we sat on once.

 

I saw you tan and glowing

much life still circling through you

and I was filled with joy,

even knowing that soon I would sit

on this bench and write a poem or letter

to you that no postman will be able to deliver.

 

How can one young as I,

have lost so much in such a short time?

And soon,

I may lose my sister?

 

11/26/97

For:  LPG

 

Shall We

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Shall we dance?

No, stand still and feel

My heart expand.

Shall we run?

No, this is the place for

Staying, breathing, and

holding space.

 

When time is unable to be

Outwitted, it is hard to

Hold unbounded space

For another

Or one’s self,

Hard, but not impossible.

 

Shall we count the stars?

No, be silent and be filled

With the luminosity and the Universe.

Shall I lay still?

How can I when your music

Sweetly saturates my core

Senses and opens me to new realms.

 

When time is unable to be

Outwitted, seconds feel like

Centuries, and just one breath

Can send the wheel spinning,

Creating lifetimes of birth and death,

Spontaneously helping us to break free.

 

Shall we die?

Yes, but not unto each other,

But rather

Into each of our new selves.

Shall we rush to love?

Yes, what else could

This life be for, other than

Cultivating loving?

 

When time is unable to be

Outwitted, there is only

Time for love.

 

1/2/04

 

 

The Breath of Transformation

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The bell of mindfulness

Invited me to wake up

And remember my breath

For just one moment.

I knew the news before

I heard her voice.

This messenger held no

Surprises for me.

 

Breathing in,

Breathing out,

A transformation takes place.

Breathing out,

And releasing,

Just releasing,

Until departing becomes arriving.

 

I checked the calendar

to see if today was an auspicious day,

For some reason,

Any reason,

To help me make sense

of this awaited loss.

This present moment

Was arising and descending

Right before me.

 

I knew that my dear new friend had,

in one breath,

become a part of my ancestral heritage

and my future all at once.

I bowed to him with gratitude and honor.

I knew to see his smile again

All I needed to do was close my eyes

And smile as I had when he was

there before me just a few hours before.

 

I hear my own voice in my mind ask,

“Friend, are you there?”

A full and jovial voice answered

with no hesitation,

“Friend, I’m neither here nor there.

I just am.  That’s all we ever are.”

And with a tear and a smile I said in return,

using his own words,

“I like, I like it

It makes me happy

when someone believes. . . ”

And I knew we were now one.

9/20/2003

For TM

The Empty Chair

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There is now for us,

An empty chair

That sits and waits

For no one to return to it.

 

Our circle once cast by chance

Is now broken.

Despite our wishes and prayers

We grapple with reality

As our hearts and minds

Attempt to make sense of

What we cannot comprehend.

 

We know, in our lives, that

People are not with us

For a lifetime, but often

For only a time in life.

Too often this goes unrecognized

In our world

And we miss the simple grace

That accompanies sitting together

In the circle.

 

We struggle in the midst

Of days flurried with activity,

To make room for silence,

To appreciate our small blessings,

And catch glimpses of our most profound lessons.

 

Today, we take the time to honor and embrace

The common that may be sparked

As one soul crosses another’s path,

Even now as we sit in the circle

Where the empty chair awaits

For no one to return.

12/1/2004

For Shelley