October 2009

I can just see the ridge above the river. It’s bathed in fog following a heavy rainstorm through the night that took off tree branches and left them like flower petals at a wedding, dribbling down the hillside toward the rose bushes. When I let the dogs out, they barked at the intruders then ignored them since they didn’t move like a good raccoon or chipmunk (Bo’s favorite thing to chase). We needed the rain. The neighbor called and said it was snowing where they are but we kept a pretty constant 48 degrees. We’ve put up the irrigation system for the winter so it’s good to have rain to soak the ground before we move on into what might be a harsh and early winter.

I’m focused on the weather, something I have no control over and must just observe.

The irony, of course, is that I control nothing except my attitude. I say that often enough at retreats, book signings, events. And yet I struggle with accepting it when the world is a turning place, as T.S. Elliot once wrote as he described God as “that still place in a turning world.”

September’s been a turning place. Jerry was hospitalized twice, first for the gall bladder surgery that didn’t go quite as planned and then 10 days later for a blood clot and infection where the gall bladder used to be. During the first hospitalization, a good friend was also hospitalized and I met her in the ER to offer moral support. Jerry had just been released but we stayed in Bend to be close to the hospital to make sure everything “worked” before we headed home. We had Caesar with us, the Cavalier Spaniel, during Jerry’s stay, so he became quite well known by hospital staff. He lays beneath my feet even as I write. At least I could be there for my friend and for Jerry.

For Jerry’s second adventure in medicine, we were reminded that the gall bladder was once hitched up under the diaphragm, and was attached to the liver. When each breath Jerry took brought on spasms of pain (this for a man who has root canals without Novocain) I called our pastor’s wife (a nurse) and then his doctor. Both directed us to the nearest ER in The Dalles, 52 miles away. We spent the night there as they ran tests, and the ER Doc talked to his surgeon. They found an abscess that would need to be drained and it was decided having it done where he’d had the surgery would be best.

I drove us home arriving at 4:30 AM. (I know. I wanted to just drive to Bend but Jerry wanted a couple hours of good sleep before being cut on again). We slept two hours then headed three hours to Bend where he was admitted again and they inserted a tube through his liver to his abdomen to drain what was a blood clot and infection. I stayed with our friend who had been hospitalized earlier…she was still recovering at home, too. We came back to the ranch on Friday. The tube is out. He’s still having lots of pain and is on antibiotics but we’re hopeful this is “it” and he’s on the uphill swing. He missed the opening of deer season, the first time in 40 years.

After the first surgery, my satellite dish died so those of you who might have tried to reach me, couldn’t. Then when the new dish was installed much higher on the house, thank goodness, my internet returned but my website and email died – so those of you who might have tried to reach me, couldn’t. It was a frustrating time followed by Jerry’s emergency.

While driving those long distances between hospitals, I listened to NPR as long as the signal lasted. After all those years of driving to Warm Springs and back I’m pretty certain where I’ll loose the program and where it’ll come back in on another station. The news gets a little scattered that way and in between I have time to think. We listened to a program on sustainability and I heard a farmer in the Willamette valley comment about a hope he has to keep some of his land as agriculture but to build housing around it, not unlike European villages where people live in town then go out to work their fields. The other person was from a city council who hated to see the farmland go, who loved this farmer’s efforts through the years to promote local products, provide biodegradable bags at his roadside stand even before they became popular, that sort of thing. He was sad to think that a farmer with that attitude of sustainability would now think of development.

What the farmer responded was that he works 96 hours a week on his farm and has his entire adult life and that isn’t sustainable for him or his family or the next generation. So he has to look at doing things differently. I missed the rest of the program but his comment on personal sustainability struck home.

On my old computer keyboard the word “refresh” was right next to “home” and to get to “home” you pushed the “up” arrow. Quite obvious, really, that to be refreshed, I need to look up. And outward. Find the joy in Jerry’s recovery, accept that I have finite limits, that I need refreshment daily to sustain my life. It’s strange to me, but when the unexpected swirls around me I let soothing routines go. I stop exercising. I stop my daily devotional time. I don’t contribute to my listservs. I cease noticing the little things. I start demeaning myself about canceling commitments, being a terrible nurse, then escalate to whether I’ll have the stamina to meet my obligations for the next week or next month or even next year and still meet needs on the ranch and of course, for Jerry. I prevent the Psalms from restoring because I don’t read them. I don’t even write.

Yes, I did take the dog for a walk each day of Jerry’s hospitalization but instead of taking in the mountains, the scent of sagebrush and juniper, listen to the geese flying overhead and feel the cool morning air against my face, I made up my to do list in my head.

So there you have it. I diagnose my problem, identify what will address it and then fail to act – because I lack the energy clearly not a sustainable plan to alter that turning world.

But then Providence moved.

So I walked around outside after getting Jerry settled back at home. I took pictures of our “trough” garden, the converted cow watering tanks Matt and I planted earlier this spring. I’d thrown wildflower seeds around the outside of it too and loved the effect of blending tiny flowers and the towering cosmos bending purple against the metal troughs. We’ve enjoyed lettuce, tomatoes, eggplant, herbs and just a pleasant corner to look at, off the deck. The potatoes should be ready before long. I didn’t get a single zucchini…now that must say something about my purple thumb! But it drew butterflies and bees and me, taking in this little plot of sustainability.

The dogs brought toys to me and I threw them. I’d had to cancel a number of events this past month as I didn’t want to leave Jerry without support through this recovery. Tossing toys and watching the dogs race across the lawn made me laugh and I realized I hadn’t done much of that of late. That brought on further thoughts of sustainability; our sustainability here on this ranch.

Finding refreshment rather than energy depletion from this pleasant place is an on-going challenge. At times this month, I haven’t even had the energy to walk outside to marvel at the trough garden that Jerry poo-pooed when I proposed it this spring. He wanted something big, if we were going to go through the effort of having a garden; but big I knew I couldn’t sustain.

I can’t sustain big in anything if I fail to let healing practices make their way into my everyday. I think that’s the wisdom for caregivers everywhere. We have to care for ourselves as well as those around us if we’re to keep moving forward and not just survivng.

So I send you this morning a photograph of my garden and my dogs. I’ve read a devotional in one of my favorite books Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner. He wrote of the light in darkness from Isaiah: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light bringing a reminder that darkness is what a lot of our prayers are about, mine included and how much I need the healing warmth of that light. A favorite Psalm came to mind: The Lord knows my lot; he makes my boundaries fall on pleasant places and I no longer felt alone. Refreshed, in fact, for the first time in days.

I will write today, finishing preparations for a retreat this weekend (Jerry will have company throughout!) I’ve handouts to prepare for my appearance at the Nature of Words in November http://www.thenatureofwords.org/ – I hope you’ll come. I’m also gearing up for a workshop I participate in with Bob Welch on the Oregon Coast in February – I hope you’ll consider signing up for that as well. Visit http://www.bobwelch.net/ and click on Beachside Writers. I intend to take the dogs for a long walk.

A weight feels lifted as I give myself permission to cancel events if necessary and to slow down even more in what I schedule next year. My brother and his wife will visit from Minnesota in three weeks; Jerry’s daughter and her husband will visit in November. I’ve finished the copy edits for An Absence so Great, the sequel to A Flickering Light. I await comment on my contemporary book I’m doing for Zondervan; and am working on the next historical book, as yet untitled.

Jerry’s come by to have me put salve on his wounds. They’re healing. The fog appears to be lifting from the river canyon and everything looks crisper following the rain. The wind chimes barely bump against each other in an otherwise still day. The weather seems to be changing. I’ll let that sustain me for this day.

Warmly, Jane