Friday, March 25, 2016

The Journey

                                           My 70th birthday bouquet, on the porch.

  I can be glad I have the south porch my mother built onto this house. I go there in my power chair and sit in the sun and enjoy the sky. There are crowds of birds and squirrels feasting in the mulberry tree in summer or, later on, from the bird-feeders in the snow. There is a track of storms coming down across the northwest or up from the south which keeps us and the trees and the crops and pastures hydrated. I pray for those suffering in drought, monsoons, floods, landslides, hurricanes, tidal waves, famine and war. I pray for the people in ambulances, life flights, hospitals, nursing homes, hospice care, home care and refugee camps.
     I am a Carmelite, a third order religious sister; prayer is what we do. We recognize God’s power as creator and operator of this world and that He appreciates the attempts we make at conversation and in the stories we write and that He uses all we offer of our own suffering. We have at the center of our lives of prayer that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died on the Cross to teach us that there is life after death and reason to hope. He even left us His Body and Blood in the transubstantiated bread and wine by ordained Priests at every Mass to help us follow Him.
    This may seem extreme, but Christianity is the only divine idea extreme enough to surround and contain all of life, including illness. Best of all, Carmel is extreme even in the Catholic tradition. Carmelite regulars, the nuns who live in community, are voluntarily confined behind a grille to eliminate distraction, to protect that pure life of prayer. Sisters in other orders may become teachers or nurses, also with prayer, but the Carmelite charism is simply to pray. We like it that Jesus points this out to the sisters Martha and Mary in Scripture, “Martha, Martha, you are busy about many things, but Mary has chosen the better way.” Mary’s way was to sit at His knee, listen and learn what He taught, which was to pray.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How I Get Here

    Anyone who has no experience, yet, with having lost the ability to walk, drive, bathe, do laundry or go shopping without significant assistance, probably can’t imagine what it’s like, as I couldn’t either, until gradually it happened. I was like you, going places and doing things, working for a living and traveling at will. But then, after a broken right leg left me needing a walker -- from which doctors discerned the onset of multiple sclerosis -- and a broken left leg 10 years later which put me in a wheelchair, I have discovered the literal meaning of St. Francis’ serenity prayer. I can’t pretend this discernment came easily nor that there was no kicking and screaming involved, but on good days I do have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
    So, I can talk about my day-to-day solutions for problems I never even knew existed until they became mine. For example, my living quarters -- once the conventional layout of bedrooms with beds in them, a front room with seating for visitors and an office with computers -- are now entirely configured around the requirements of a motorized wheelchair and the hospital bed in the living room. Alongside said bed on the right is a three-tiered table filled with everything essential from bathroom, bedroom and office. Alongside on the left is the multi-lift extension arm (named Lieutenant Fancy) which can pick me up in a sling and place me into the motorized wheelchair, or back to bed when I choose.
    What this room does is it provides everything a nursing home could if it wanted to (but doesn’t) without the call bells, crowds and rules.
     What it also means is that when Lieut. Fancy lifts me to the motorized wheelchair, that wheelchair, named Big Gorgeous (in an attempt to keep on its good side) rules. With leg rests extending out front, Big requires a substantial turning radius. I learned this the hard way. If Big hits a wall, it doesn’t stop just because there’s a wall, or a door sill or a cupboard in the way. No, it leaves its mark. It will have you remember that it’s been there. A motorized wheelchair rider, once properly trained by the wheelchair, learns to anticipate such collisions and to try to stop in time, but even then this indomitable machine may coast a few inches further, just for fun.  
    But, what Big gives you in return is that all-important, much cherished gift of mobility. You took it for granted when you had it. You misused it and abused it and made it wait. But now, your motorized wheelchair lets you get around again. You can stand up at your exercise bar. (Yes, I can still stand.) You can even go outside the front door if you want to, or into the hospital HandiVan for doctors’ appointments if you have to. Larger trips to out-of-town appointments are more rare, since going anywhere in the car requires scheduling the assistance of a good and careful driver who is also a caregiver. (And yes, I do have such a person on my speed dial.)
   However, there are no more impromptu car excursions solo, not even with the hand controls I had installed after the first but before the second broken leg for no better reason than to take pictures of sunrises in my own time, on my own terms. I can still drive; I just can’t walk or get to the exercise bar or into the car on my own! And falling again, say the doctors, will break the hip. So I avoid that. But I have learned what disablement teaches, which is to be glad that I ever could dance, that I ever did ride horses and fly airplanes, or travel in a motorhome to Texas for the winters. Because now, I have the technology with which to generate little masterpieces of memory (well okay, masterpieces to me) from those many better days.
    Best of all, I can still write-- albeit with voice type dictation and JAWS screen reader technology -- but still, it is writing. I can still take pictures. And once again also, now I can share it.