Thursday, November 22, 2012

Blessing the Day

In the barrage of today's thankfulness, I read the following piece on my friend Meghan's Facebook feed. It captures, in so many ways, exactly how I feel today, one day away from celebrating a year from the last day that I sat in the chair, last day with chemicals coursing through my body in the hopes that I would be well for years to come.

One year down, five more to go before I can really breathe and think it's done. It feels like a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

So much beauty in this piece. And so much thankfulness for each person who has brought me so far.

Marge Piercy
The Art of Blessing the Day

This is the blessing for rain after drought:
Come down, wash the air so it shimmers,
a perfumed shawl of lavender chiffon.
Let the parched leaves suckle and swell.
Enter my skin, wash me for the little
chrysalis of sleep rocked in your plashing.
In the morning the world is peeled to shining.

This is the blessing for sun after long rain:
Now everything shakes itself free and rises.
The trees are bright as pushcart ices.
Every last lily opens its satin thighs.
The bees dance and roll in pollen
and the cardinal at the top of the pine
sings at full throttle, fountaining.

This is the blessing for a ripe peach:
This is luck made round. Frost can nip
the blossom, kill the bee. It can drop,
a hard green useless nut. Brown fungus,
the burrowing worm that coils in rot can
blemish it and wind crush it on the ground.
Yet this peach fills my mouth with juicy sun.

This is the blessing for the first garden tomato:
Those green boxes of tasteless acid the store
sells in January, those red things with the savor
of wet chalk, they mock your fragrant name.
How fat and sweet you are weighing down my palm,
warm as the flank of a cow in the sun.
You are the savor of summer in a thin red skin.

This is the blessing for a political victory:
Although I shall not forget that things
work in increments and epicycles and sometime
leaps that half the time fall back down,
let's not relinquish dancing while the music
fits into our hips and bounces our heels.
We must never forget, pleasure is real as pain.

The blessing for the return of a favorite cat,
the blessing for love returned, for friends'
return, for money received unexpected,
the blessing for the rising of the bread,
the sun, the oppressed. I am not sentimental
about old men mumbling the Hebrew by rote
with no more feeling than one says gesundheit.

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree

of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.

Attention is love, what we must give
children, mothers, fathers, pets,
our friends, the news, the woes of others.
What we want to change we curse and then
pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can
with eyes and hands and tongue. If you
can't bless it, get ready to make it new.

Excerpted from The Art of Blessing the Day by Marge Piercy. Copyright� 1999 by Marge Piercy.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If it is available to you

At this shala, the heat meets you halfway up the stairs as you lug your heavy but really good mat up to practice. Slight fluttering of the "new girl at school" feeling creeps in. Walk in deposit belongings, move into the room and find your spot amongst the breathing, the movement, the work of each person stretching and delving deep into their own individual relationship to the work.

Today I grappled with the stop. I grappled with the embarrassment of not being able to do something well the first time. The bulletproof side of me that likes to show my best face was spitting mad. The mind of self doubt that ridicules me for not having practiced in the past eight years tried to sit on the mat with me far too many times. I would get a pose (elation!) then fall out of it (disappointment.). What came easy to me was delicious, what came hard was bitter. 

There is a phrase that you hear in yoga, "If it is available to you", that describes going deeper into a pose based on your body's readiness for the movement. It's a phrase that rings true for me in the journey of my personal life as well. It reminds me that I may not be ready for everything at once, that it's the testing of what is available that is important. That trying is the key, that accepting that it's not time is the reality.

I think about this "if" and I couple it with the "when". "If it's available to you" tells me to be kind to myself in the present moment, not to be frustrated and to turn away from things that are hard to move through. There is the now and there is the future, the "when it's available to you" that will come with sticking to it, be it the practice or the work of becoming that will pay off. It will be available to you at the right time.

Pushing through the awkwardness and disappointment and self-talk and sticking to it is how you get there. Not running away from it because it's not easy. Believing that it will be available to you is the key. And when you get there it will not be perfect, you may have moments of getting it and moments of falling out of it. Even in this new space, there will be more to accept in the "if" and a new set of challenges that will place you back in the future of the "when".

We are not static beings. Life is not linear. Our humanness is our becoming.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Am I Better Off? Hell Yes.

The room was darkened and I was nervous, waiting for the biopsy that everyone had assured me was "routine, they do these all the time now, don't worry!" To pass the time and grind down the worry, I was chatting up the young nurse who was prepping me for the procedure.

"This must be a tough job working in the breast care clinic," I said. "How is it?"
 "Mostly good," she said. "Of course, you get your cases. Like last week we had a mother of three come in with breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. She didn't have insurance and was scared to come in. And the sad thing is that she was only 24."

A chill shot through my body. 24. Three kids. Lymph nodes. Cancer.  This is a story I would hear time and time again during my treatment. Along with "scared to come in" followed by "no insurance".

I'm reminded of another conversation that I had with my mom, sitting on our respective beds in the hotel in Houston while visiting M.D. Anderson for more cancer treatment. My mom and I had a rough road of it politically, pretty much being on opposite sides of the fence on every political issue. I figured this was the time that I could find something we might agree on, universal health coverage.

So I asked her, "Mom, what would this be like if you didn't have Medicare or supplemental health coverage? How would you be dealing with this treatment and all of these costs?"

She replied, in true Suz fashion, "Well, I'd just die quicker."

[Before you think the wrong thing, you have to understand that my mother was completely comfortable with the idea of dying. She'd lived life to the fullest, had the love of her family, had a strong belief in her faith.]

Pulling out the big guns, I said "Well, what if it was me? What if it was me and I was leaving David and Ava?"

"That would be different," she said.

Today I get to go to the polls and to a (routine, don't worry) mammogram*. Because I have an employer that chooses to provide me with health insurance, I have not lost my home due to this health crisis that has rocked my world.  Because I have resources and wealth accumulated from my family, I was able to handle the costs associated with my care.

The startling fact is that 40% of bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses and being under-insured.

The startling fact is that we are the only industrialized nation to tie health care to employment.

The startling fact is that if I lose my job my COBRA premiums will go skyward to unreachable heights.

The startling fact is that only in recent years and because of this presidential administration I will not be denied coverage for a pre-existing condition.

I am always amazed that people vote against universal health coverage and then whip out their Medicare card like it's no big deal, that making it over that golden line of seniority somehow makes them different than that 24 year old mom whose two children deserved more too.

I guess I am rattling around in this space today. And I feel like I am not going to convince anyone who hasn't already made up their mind that the current Obama administration has been good for us.

Am I better off than I was four years ago?


I am healthy and alive. I have my home through all of the medical expenses. My kids have a mother. I got to see the physicians I needed to see to restore my health. I have a job, and an employer who sees fit to give me healthcare. It seems a ridiculous thing that my health, my ability to seek treatment, my ability to save my own life would be tied to my employer's willingness to afford me such a benefit.

So today I go to the polls to vote for Obamacare and what it will provide for women's health. And I go get a mammogram to hope to hell that the cancer hasn't come back.

And I am thankful for both.

*I guess when you get a tissue-based reconstruction, you have to get an annual mammogram in order to make sure there hasn't been a recurrence. Crazy, right?

Friday, November 2, 2012


The heat rolled in liquid waves off of I-35 as we blew down the highway, bandannas on our heads and beers in our hands. Wide as the road, Sharleen's gold '76 Cadillac convertible "Darcy" danced through the shimmer as we took Texas by storm that summer. We were in that middle space between highschool and what comes next in life, driving out the past few months of our lives with deep conversations and hundreds of miles back and forth between Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and beyond.

Sharleen was the sister I never knew I needed. Twins of different mothers, we had the kind of deep and intense relationship that highschool girls have when they are wrestled off to boarding school and left to their own devices. Even at 13, you could tell her soul was a thousand years old. Late nights in our dorm room, we would sit up talking through the stuff that carried heavily with us; sometimes painful and challenging relationships with our mothers, dads who were intense, loving and often difficult men, what it meant to escape to the big city from small towns and all their complexities. Sharleen was, in many ways, my first true love: the person who knew me best in life, the person I bared my heart and soul to, the person that I learned to fight with and work it out all the while knowing that she wouldn't haul ass no matter how bad it got. She was, and is to this day, the person I can trust most with my heart.

Because I write this blog as much to document a bit of my life for my children as I do to hammer stuff out, I am tempted to tell all of the Auntie Sharleen stories here so that they will some day read what this friendship has taught me. Like the time I picked up the mail to find the card I had sent back to her, returned out of anger and hurt over a rift that nearly broke our friendship, written with a note of explanation on the outside that made it impossible to not hear her message. How that act of persistence and love taught me that people who love you will ride through the rough shit and take the lead position, even if it's painful and sad, even if it means they have to be the one willing to prove what you are worth to them. That trust is borne of those acts.

Or the time I turned around in a crowded church at my brother's funeral and saw Sharleen and her entire family there, completely unannounced, having journeyed at great expense from different states just to stand with our family. That being strong for someone is sometimes quiet and deep and subtle. That solidarity means everything.

Or the many times we sat through death together, celebrated life together, flew to each other for advice and a steady hand even though months had passed between communications in our insane lives. That once built, a strong friendship transcends all other things and becomes a fortress, a port, a refuge, an oasis. That people who you have let into your heart can be your best guides, for the fundamentals of who you are as a person, what is best in you, does not change.

I've struggled to write this post for some time, actually. I began it after a trip to see Sharleen earlier this year and have sat at my computer trying to compose it over and over. There is no way I could begin to capture what this woman means to me, no way. I remember sitting in a darkened movie theater in New York City, a plastic cup of surreptitiously procured wine in my hand, watching the movie Beaches with my best friend, this woman that means so much to me, this person with whom I share a connection that will never be broken. I remember tears rolling down my face at the thought of losing her, just as they are now. I remember thinking that I could never thank her enough for what she has given me, what she has taught me, and what I hope to give to her in return.

These blessings are deep. I am so lucky.