I took a break from my work and went out for a run this morning. The weather was warmer than usual, the birds were chirping happily, and it was starting to feel like spring. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so getting out earlier in the day seemed like the thing to do.

Toward the end of the run, I got sprinkled on a little, the clouds were dark and heavy, and the wind was blowing my hair all around—but that was okay, it was good to get outdoors and be part of nature anyway!
 

Word-art that says "And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair." -Kahlil Gibran 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

February 14, 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Musings · Tags:

I started noticing an odd feeling around the middle of January. My heartbeat seemed like it had somehow gotten faster, although my pulse rate had not in fact changed and, as far as I could tell, there were no actual physical issues. As best I can describe it, my heart felt like it was knocking impatiently on my ribcage and demanding attention. I assumed this was some kind of midlife weirdness and would go away after a while.

When it still hadn’t gone away by last night, I was left wondering what sort of attention my heart might want. So I tried to relax as best I could when I got in bed, with meditation and Reiki. That wasn’t as relaxing as it ordinarily would have been. No matter where I put my hands in the Reiki positions, my heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out through my fingertips. I had no clue how there might be a message in that.

I finally just said to myself—okay, at this moment I don’t understand what my heart wants to tell me, but that is all right because I trust that my body and subconscious mind are working for my best interests and know how to communicate.

Some time passed, and I was just about to fall asleep when a thought came to mind—was there something that had hurt my heart?

All of a sudden, a furious younger self popped up from the depths of my subconscious and began yelling. “You BET there were things that hurt my heart! LOTS of them! And I’m not going to pretend that they never happened or didn’t matter because they really DID, and they were WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!”

As she went on shrieking about all the things that had been so very wrong, I felt some kind of trapped energy rising up from my heart, like dark shadows passing through my ribcage. When they stopped, it felt like I had a heap of dry, brittle weeds and twigs sitting on top of my chest.
 

Landscape with dry, brown weeds.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

My angry younger self faded away, but I still had to find something to do with the imaginary dead weeds. Should I visualize myself putting them in the backyard or taking them out with the trash? No, neither of those options felt right; and although my younger self’s grievances came from a time when I lived in a different house, the backyard there didn’t seem suitable for disposing of my virtual yard waste, either.

Then it occurred to me that some time had gone by since I last visited the imaginary village of Channelwood. Surely it would have a compost heap; after all, Ella and the other girls always kept everything very tidy. That would allow me to dump my old emotional weeds in a place that wasn’t associated with anywhere I had been in real life.

I pictured myself materializing next to Channelwood’s outbuildings. Yup, there was the compost heap, not far from a shed where farm implements were stored. I scattered the dry weeds and twigs on top, and then I got a pitchfork from the shed and turned the compost over a few times, until I couldn’t see them anymore.

Just before I finished, Ella walked by on a path not far away. She was accustomed to my unpredictable comings and goings by now, and she simply raised a hand in greeting before she moved out of sight.

After that I fell asleep; and when I woke up this morning, my heart felt completely normal. Everything from last night was clear in my mind, with one exception—I couldn’t, for the life of me, remember what past events had made my younger self so upset. When I sat down to write this post later in the day, I still had no recollection of what they were. So I guess they must’ve gotten composted!

When I started writing a recent post about cultural beliefs and archetypes related to aging and health issues, I have to confess that I wasn’t quite sure where it would end up. The plan was simply to visualize my inner Crone, ask her what she’d like to say on the subject, and wing it from there. I was pleasantly surprised when she offered to tell me a story.

Closing my eyes for a moment while I sipped my imaginary coffee, I listened. She began the tale with the traditional “Once upon a time,” and then she went on speaking in a smooth, flowing cadence…

——————————

In a far western desert valley, there lived a girl named Rose. The name suited her well because she climbed all over everything, just like the big pink roses on the trellis outside the kitchen window. She climbed pine trees, getting the sticky sap all over her saddle shoes and poodle skirts; and she climbed the high cliffs on both sides of the valley.

Her favorite spot to climb was the steepest part of the cliff, right next to a little stream that flowed out of the rocks and through her family’s small farm. A smooth ledge, almost all the way up, made the perfect place to sit and watch everything that happened in the valley. Sometimes she would lie down on the ledge and look at the clouds drifting by.

When her parents saw her up there, they scolded her about the danger. Rose had no fear of falling, and she imagined that she would keep on climbing to her favorite ledge forever. But eventually she grew up—as we all must—and her days of climbing cliffs became a distant memory. She spent time with friends, but she never married; and when her parents died, she inherited the farm and lived there alone.

She rarely felt lonely because she had a big shaggy dog, Jack, to keep her company. There were days when she felt unsettled, though, as if she had lost track of something that once had meant a lot to her. On a hot summer day, after going for a long walk with Jack, she came back to the house feeling tired and achy. A hawk passing over the farm made her glance up, toward the ledge on the cliff.

“I am starting to get old,” she said to herself, wondering what had become of the little girl who loved to climb. Had it really been that many years? Wanting to get such thoughts out of her mind, Rose impulsively decided that she might as well just go and climb that cliff right now. After all, there was nobody around to tell her to act her age.

She set off toward the cliff, taking long strides across the rocky ground. Jake happily trailed along, though he didn’t look as cheerful when Rose began to climb. She ignored his whine of concern as she pulled herself upward, searching for the handholds that once had been so familiar. It took a lot of effort. Sweat dripped down her face. The ledge still looked far away. Could this be the same climb that had felt so effortless in her younger days?

Nowhere to go but up, Rose told herself. It can’t really be that hard—after all, people say you’re only as old as you think you are.

The sound of splashing water soothed her as she climbed higher. On her right, the stream that sprang out of the cliff was flowing steadily. She placed a foot carefully to avoid a mossy rock that looked slick, and then she reached for the ledge.

Just as she started to pull herself up with aching arms, Rose lost her grip. The ledge hadn’t been as dry as she thought it was. She tried to catch herself, as she always had been able to do before; but she wasn’t nearly as slim or as limber as she once had been. She tumbled all the way down the cliff, breaking several bones in her feet and ankles.

Slowly, nudged on by Jack, she managed to crawl back to the house and reach a phone to call for help. The doctors at the county hospital patched her up as best they could; but even after they told her the bones had healed, putting weight on her feet was still painful. To get around the farm, she took slow, difficult steps, leaning heavily on a walking stick.

Almost every waking minute—which now included much of the night because her aching feet often kept her awake—Rose berated herself for having been such a fool as to think she could still climb that cliff. She also had a lot of anger toward the doctors, at first because they hadn’t completely fixed everything and, later, because they cut off her pain meds out of concern about addiction. Soon after that, she stopped going to town. It was just too hard, and she didn’t want to see anyone’s pitying faces. In fact, she didn’t want to see anyone—period.

Giving up any hope that she might ever be healthy enough to farm again, Rose leased much of her acreage to the power company for wind turbines. She arranged for her groceries and other supplies to be delivered. If there wasn’t anything perishable, she might leave the boxes on the porch for days. Nothing seemed to matter anymore.

After a while Rose’s old truck rusted out, and brambles grew around it. Weeds filled the yard. A cold snap one winter killed most of the climbing rose on the trellis. Rose didn’t care—she had no interest in looking out the kitchen window because that was the direction of the ledge on the cliff. She kept the curtains drawn and spent most of her days lying on the couch.

Jack, who faithfully kept her company, was by now an old dog. A veterinarian living nearby, whose name was Henry, was kind enough to make house calls. The day came, however, when Jack fell gravely ill, and there was nothing to be done.

When Henry came back with the urn after having Jack’s remains cremated, he also brought—much to Rose’s surprise—a small brown mixed-breed puppy.

“One of my clients was giving away the litter,” he explained in a deep, gruff voice, looking somewhat uncomfortable as he shuffled his big feet on the dusty hardwood floor. “I thought you might want him.”

“Well, you thought wrong,” Rose snapped. “Take him away.”

“Maybe just think about it for a bit, then. I’ve left a bag of puppy food on the porch.” Putting down the puppy, Henry scooted backward and was out the door before Rose realized what he was up to. By the time she struggled up off the couch and got to the door, Henry’s van was roaring away.

Rose’s first impulse was to shout something very nasty after him; but she didn’t want to frighten the puppy, who wasn’t to blame. Instead, she just said, “Oh, for pete’s sake!”

The puppy wagged his little tail happily, in the evident belief that she was talking to him. Rose couldn’t help but to smile at that; and then she told him, “All right, so it looks like we’re stuck here together for now—Petey.”

Although she gave him a name, Rose had every intention of giving him back to Henry at the first opportunity. The last thing she needed, as she saw it, was the nuisance of having a puppy around. She had to take Petey out for walks because he was small enough that he couldn’t be put outside unattended, or he’d be a tasty snack for a hawk or coyote. Leaning on her walking stick, she trudged along painfully on cold winter mornings while Petey, at the end of his leash, gave impatient yips.

As hard as it was, though, she had to admit that by the time Henry finally showed up about a month later, she was doing better. The more she got off the couch and moved around, the easier it seemed. By then, Petey was fairly well housebroken, and she had gotten used to seeing his perky face every day.

“I might keep him,” she allowed grudgingly. “Not making any promises, mind you.”

Henry just grinned.

Winter soon turned into spring, and Rose found that she had enough energy to start cleaning up the house and yard. She whacked weeds, cut back the half-dead rose on the trellis, and got rid of the old truck. Instead of just heating up random food from a can, sometimes she cooked a nice dinner and invited Henry over to eat with her.

Now that she was in better shape, Rose didn’t need to lean on her walking stick like she had before. She still carried it out of habit, though. Her pain, although no longer constant, hadn’t gone away. She still had twinges during the day and bone-deep aches that left her tossing and turning at night, often with her mind troubled by those old angry thoughts.

On a warm evening in midsummer, Rose was throwing a tennis ball for Petey to fetch. He had grown a fair amount but, still, he was a small dog—mostly terrier, she thought. She threw the ball especially far, and Petey dashed eagerly after it. Just then a large coyote bounded over a rise, heading straight for him.

The panicked dog fled toward the nearest cliff and somehow managed to scramble most of the way up. Rose ran toward the coyote, shouting and brandishing her walking stick until it ran away. Shaking in terror, Petey sat huddled on a ledge. It was the same ledge from which Rose had fallen; but, with her thoughts entirely on rescuing her dog, she didn’t even notice that until after she had climbed up. With Petey tucked under her arm, she carefully made her way back down to solid ground.

It wasn’t until Rose got back to the house that she realized she had climbed the cliff without any pain or difficulty. Climbing had felt natural, in fact—just like when she was a young girl. She hadn’t even remembered to pick up her walking stick, which still lay at the base of the cliff where she’d dropped it when the coyote ran off.

Just as soon as those thoughts came into Rose’s mind, the pain came back. But this time, instead of letting herself get overwhelmed by stale feelings of anger and helplessness, she opened the curtains wide and gazed out at a beautiful evening.

Rose sat down at the kitchen table, with a contented Petey wagging his tail at her feet. She sat with the pain until it faded into the last gleams of sunlight on the cliff, the pale blooms of the rosebush, and the stars coming out across the desert sky; and then she went to bed and slept soundly.

——————————

I put down my empty coffee cup and said to the Crone, “Thank you for the story, and for taking the time to visit with me. Both are very much appreciated!”

The Crone rummaged in her handbag for a dark red lipstick and touched up her lips before she answered. “Any time, dear. I’ve quite enjoyed your company.”

Although valentine cards, holiday gifts, and thank-you notes are common ways of showing how much we appreciate our loved ones, often it’s the ordinary days that end up being more memorable. Even when it doesn’t seem as if we are doing anything in particular, but simply relaxing and enjoying others’ company, they feel appreciated because we chose to spend time with them.
 

Word-art that says "Joy is the simplest form of gratitude." -Karl Barth 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

This is Part 22; click here to read Breaking the Ice from the beginning.
 

Ocean waves rolled gently along a virtual beach on an outgoing tide, with seagulls squabbling on the sand and a soundtrack to match. The air had a salty tang, and the thick carpet looked enough like sand that it would have taken a close inspection to tell the difference. If the sole inhabitant of the spaceship’s rec room had gotten out of his lounge chair, he could easily have imagined that he was walking on real sand; the carpet’s texture created an almost perfect illusion.

But as usual, nearly all of Woods’ attention was on the tablet in his hand. Four months had gone by since his accidental discovery that he could communicate via telepathy with an extraterrestrial creature taken from Europa, and he was still trying to work out just how the alien language functioned. With no background in linguistics, he was baffled more often than not. His subconscious mind had taken up a fair amount of the slack, however, converting some of the language’s visual images into what sounded like spoken English in his thoughts.

“The base layer of the language consists almost entirely of mathematical metaphors,” Woods said out loud, summing up the observations that he had been entering in his tablet. There also was a complicated overlay that looked like a graceful, flowing calligraphy, but by now he had given up on ever understanding any of that. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Last month, he had laboriously repeated an image of unbroken ice—which meant zero, the unknown, and probably a few other things too—in connection with parts of the calligraphy, using the ice-image to convey the question “What is this?”

About all he had gleaned from that tedious exercise was that the alien’s name was not in fact Tiny Leaf, as he had thought it to be. Rather, if he’d understood the translations with any degree of accuracy (which was certainly debatable), it was Six and a Half, Added to the Thirty-Second Part of the Whole that is Forty-Nine, Divided by Seven, Added to Three, Divided by Seven, Added to Four.

His overtaxed brain had rebelled at that and just kept on translating the name as Tiny Leaf anyway. Maybe all those numbers signified a genealogy, some kind of tribal identification, or the region where a particular family group lived. That went far beyond Woods’ realm of expertise, and he had no problem with leaving it for the linguists on Earth to sort out.

Assuming, of course, that he could find an effective way besides telepathy for the linguists and other scientists to communicate with Tiny Leaf. She had no eyes and apparently formed images of her surroundings by way of sonar, emitting high-pitched squeaks like a bat navigating through a jungle on a dark night. Although that ruled out teaching her to read by conventional means, surely a communication device suited to her needs could be built.

“Something with raised symbols,” Woods said, thinking out loud again; that would allow Tiny Leaf to identify them by touch. How to get started with such a project? He had no experience designing or building communication devices, but the ship had a capable engineer. Maybe Hioki, despite having shown some reluctance to discuss the telepathic images, could be persuaded to help. Even if he had been intimidated by the captain’s skeptical remarks or was a skeptic himself, Hioki might be willing to look into the matter further.

On the wall screen, the tide had just started to turn when Woods exited the program and left the room. He made his way along the ship’s main corridor and soon found Hioki in his small office just off the main engineering area. Evidently Hioki had spent more time than usual styling his long hair, which stuck out all over in elaborate spikes.

Stepping into the office, Woods got directly to the point, not having thought of any suitable small talk. “I believe it’s possible to communicate with the creatures who live on Europa by simply teaching them to use a waterproof numeric keypad, with both the input and output in raised symbols. Much of their language is made up of arithmetic-based metaphors.”

“Don’t say such things with the door open!” Hioki hissed, as a look of panic flashed across his face. Jumping up from the desk chair so fast that it almost toppled over, he shut the door before Woods even had time to completely process what he had said.

“It shouldn’t be all that hard to do,” Woods continued, without any clue as to what might explain Hioki’s odd reaction. “The technology exists, surely. We could…”

We,” Hioki was quick to interrupt, putting strong emphasis on the word, “are not going to do anything. And if you have the least bit of sense, you’ll forget that you ever thought about it.”

This time of year it’s always fun to browse through garden catalogs, even though spring planting is still far away. The weather around here is cold enough that I expect the groundhog will settle in for a long winter’s nap. It’s never too early to imagine a thriving, beautiful garden, though—not only the flowers in the yard, but also the peaceful garden of the mind that sprouts from planting happy dreams.
 

Word-art that says "Plant dreams, pull weeds, grow a happy life!" 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

This week I felt like I was getting into the late-winter doldrums, so I decided it was about time for some imaginary travels. A winter photo of a castle seemed just right for my digital art display. The caption identified it as the Alcázar of Segovia.
 

Alcázar of Segovia on a dark, snowy winter day. 

I didn’t know anything about this particular castle, so I looked up the history. The castle was built over the foundation of a Roman fort in the city of Segovia in Spain, and many kings and queens ruled from it in the Middle Ages. Later it became a state prison and then a military college. The castle has been restored beautifully with its medieval artwork and is now open to the public.

Looking at the photo displayed on my wall, I could almost imagine that I had traveled to Spain and was looking out the window of a hotel in the city below the castle. That put some fun into what might otherwise have been a dull winter day!

After work this evening, I took off the nail polish that I got almost three weeks ago when I went for a manicure with my daughter and her bridesmaids on the day before the wedding. That was a good memory, and removing the polish left me feeling a bit sad, but my nails had grown enough that the task couldn’t reasonably be put off anymore.

I don’t often wear nail polish, and now it seems a bit peculiar to be back to natural after three weeks of shiny rose-gold fingertips! But I am grateful for my daughter’s thoughtfulness in inviting me to go with her to the nail salon, and glad to have the memory even though I am not literally wearing it anymore.
 

Word-art that says "Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.

About two years have gone by since I rewrote my money story by sending my inner Cinderella away to start a new and happier life in the imaginary village of Channelwood. I’d say that the project was a success because I feel more confident about my finances now. Although my husband and I still have the same jobs with ordinary pay raises, we feel more comfortable talking about money. Expenses seem easier to manage, and in general, we have things better sorted.

Another area of my life that could benefit from revising outdated stories is health. I’ve thought so for a while, but my internal narratives are so jumbled and conflicting that it hasn’t been easy to get a handle on where to start. Objectively, I am in good health: I eat a reasonably good diet, get regular exercise, and have no serious medical issues. For the past few years, though, I’ve felt that my health is not what it ought to be. Annoying, persistent little aches crop up every now and again, for no apparent reason, in various places where I’ve had no injuries of which I know.

Many people would say that after age 50 aches and pains are normal, and I should just get used to that. But I suspect that some of it has to do with cultural expectations of decline—that to some extent they become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the body subconsciously adjusts its physical condition to match whatever image the mind perceives.

What was I to do, then, in rewriting my health story? The logical starting point was no different than with the money story—that is, identifying the archetypes that shaped the narrative and deciding how best to plot a new trajectory. There didn’t seem to be any single character who represented my health story when I thought about it, however.

One major positive influence on my view of aging has been a family history of longevity. My maternal grandfather, who was an active, ambitious world traveler, appeared to be in perfect health until he died suddenly at age 90 of a heart attack. If anyone had asked me then how I felt about getting older, I would have said that I expected good health and a long life. That archetype includes Star Trek’s Vulcans, who often lived for centuries and greeted each other with “Live long and prosper,” and the almost-immortal elves from Lord of the Rings, with their patriarch Elrond relating tales of long-ago battles: “I was there, Gandalf, three thousand years ago…”

Obviously that wasn’t my whole health story, though, or anything close to it. Our culture has such deeply ingrained expectations of failing health that it has become nearly impossible to think outside that box. Although I couldn’t specifically identify any older characters with aches and pains who might have taken up residence in my subconscious mind, the general old-woman archetypes have been around for millennia: the poor old lady hobbling around with a cane who depends on charity; the cackling village witch who stirs her cauldron with gnarled hands; and the Crone, who imparts wisdom to younger generations while sitting most of the day to rest her weary bones.

I decided to sit down and have some imaginary French Vanilla coffee and blueberry scones with the Crone in a sunny breakfast nook. The reason I chose coffee was because my judgmental younger self, who disliked the taste and never drank it, thought that if you needed coffee to wake you up, that meant you were old. I didn’t start drinking coffee until the long road trips to my daughter’s college soccer matches gave me more appreciation of its benefits.
 

Sunny breakfast nook with brightly colored cushions on a bench.

(Creative Commons image via flickr)
 

While I brought the coffee and scones to the table, the Crone settled herself into the brightly colored cushions. She looked sort of like me, but with deep wrinkles and thinning hair that had gone mostly gray. On the table in front of her sat a big untidy handbag like my grandma carried.

She was not one of my older selves, to be clear on that point. Every once in a while, an older self shows up in a dream or while I’m half asleep and gives me a few words of advice, but I’ve never gotten a clear view of what a future me looks like. To be precise about it, the Crone, as I saw her, represented a present-day guess as to what my younger selves might have thought I’d be like when I got older.

“I don’t mean to bother you,” I said, as she picked up her coffee cup, “but I’ve been trying to get a few things sorted in my own mind, and I’d be grateful if you can help. May I ask you to share your thoughts on what people often call the aches and pains of old age?”

“That’s not something we ever talked about in our family,” the Crone calmly noted, highlighting yet another inconsistency in my internal narratives. It was true—I had never actually heard an older person say that in real life. Although I’d seen plenty of written descriptions of old folks who complained at great length about their many ailments, how much of that was reality and how much was stereotype? And to the extent that some of it was reality, that still left me with the question of how much was culturally determined.

Sunlight streamed in through the broad window as birds twittered riotously in the shrubs. Branches waved in a gentle breeze. I ate one of the blueberry scones, which were fresh-baked and still hot, while I worked on untangling my thoughts.

“Whether or not something is part of a family story,” I said, talking as much to myself as to my companion, “that doesn’t necessarily mean it is real for people in general, or even for those in the same family. There’s so much that goes into our perceptions of reality—what we hear from family and friends, what we learn from teachers and others in authority, our own experiences, and the cultural stories that create a framework to hold it all together.”

The Crone quietly sipped her coffee, nodding as if to encourage me to go on, but not speaking.

“What I’m looking for is not so much to understand how people decide what weight to give each of these factors,” I continued. “That gets into psychology, and cultural anthropology, and the social sciences in general, all of which have their own particular research studies and metrics. Rather, what I have in mind is just to explore where I might have gotten some of my own ideas about health, and how they can be changed in the realm of imagination.”

“Ah,” the Crone exclaimed, now looking quite pleased indeed, “you want me to tell you a story!”

I thought about it for a moment before I realized that this was exactly what I was asking. “Yes, please.”

After I brought her another cup of coffee, the Crone arranged herself more comfortably in the seat cushions and began, “Once upon a time…”

(continued here)

The sun was coming up over bare trees and a snow-covered landscape when I sat down at my desk this morning to begin my work. I felt cheerful about the days starting to get longer again. Spring surely couldn’t be all that far away!

Although happiness can be found in simple, ordinary moments like waking up to a brighter morning, we do need to take enough time, in the midst of our busy schedules, to notice and appreciate what’s going on around us. Whether or not we feel happy on any particular day is not random like the weather, but has a lot to do with how we choose to look at things.
 

Word-art that says "Happiness is always an inside job." 

Nurturing Thursday was started by Becca Givens and seeks to “give this planet a much needed shot of fun, support and positive energy.” Visit her site to find more Nurturing Thursday posts and a list of frequent contributors.