On Mountains

I grew up a child of the sea. I’d sit on the rocks, pretending to be the little mermaid, staring wistfully out over the ocean. She ties a string around my heart and tosses the other end to the horizon. She pulls me away, draws on my yearnings. She makes me restless. She is unpredictable and hides life, and death, in her depth. She is a capricious seductress.

I never knew what it meant to love the mountains, to call a place home. The mountain folds me in, protects me. I can lie cradled at the top, close to the sky, and vertigo sets in, although the mountain does not let me fall. I can hold the circle of the world in my mind, but for a moment.

I’ve never known the steadfast, the heaving of earth to reach the sky, the world so alive around me, the suck of mud, the intoxication of the loamy earth and pine and water and lilac. The world turns around the mountain, the storms rage, but the mountain weathers all. The forest sings, the light of the sun casts shadows over the crags, the mists rise, and the world seems to sigh.

I know now what Gatsby was talking about now, when he knew that “his mind would never romp again like the mind of God” (Fitzgerald 117).

I know now, what it means to love the mountains and to call a place home.

Nothing Like Death

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I’ve seen death. I have mourned before. I have been at the bedside of more than a few of those dying, as a CNA and later, as a hospice nurse. I see death in the ICU, often brought too early and violently, or quietly, with those placed on vents and lingering. Death is always close at hand in my life, in my work. I have an established, somewhat comfortable relationship with death. That is something that I consider an honor.

But there is nothing like death to give one pause about life.

I learned at a very young age to attempt to live a life without regrets.

I went to your service Grandpa. I went down to a family I hardly know, one splintered and hurt and broken, to people I haven’t seen in more than a decade, and stood next to them on the beach where you’d requested your ashes be spread, in Barnstable.

It was a grey day, cold, and we were all there, trying to make sense of it. The grief and pained memories, the conflicts laid aside for just a moment. The color guard was there and I covered my head with my scarf and stood to one side, trying not to cry, but getting the sniffles anyway. Its the lacrimal ducts that funnel your tears down to your nose and make you all snotty when you cry.

Damn lacrimal ducts.

The bagpipes played and I thought for just a moment of how you would have loved that, how you loved Scotland and the woman that you loved from there. How that love story never really ended.

My uncle waded in up to his thighs and opened the box that held the rest of you, letting your ashes dissipate in the wind. Appropriate that you wanted to be burned, your body a betrayal to the very end. Its gone now and you’re free.

Down at the waters edge, I dipped my hands into the cold sea and touched them to my lips. Its a good place Grandpa. As good a place as any, because you are everywhere and nowhere now.

I realize that you never brought me here. I realize how much of your past you kept hidden from me. Perhaps to protect me. You never wanted the drags of the past to creep into our relationship.

I wander how many people would describe you as gentle, as a worrier who always fussed over them. As loving unconditionally.

Not many, from what I have experienced. And yet that is how I knew you. I keep inside myself the stories, the stories of you, the joy of you. I will be the keeper of those stories, of the knowing that, in a way, you made peace through me.

I’ll be fine Grandpa. But you always knew I would be.

Coming Home

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Japan was more than I possibly could have imagined. A complete adventure, right from the very moment our journey started. Fifteen minutes we were supposed to board the plane in Lebanon to fly down to Boston and then New York our flight got postponed for three hours.

So Scott’s parents drove his car over and we drove to New York to catch our 0100 AM flight to Shanghai out of JFK, which we made in time. Over the course of that 14-hour flight there was a heart attack scare that I blearily went to try to help out in. When I returned to my seat I opened the window to find that we were flying along the Northern Lights, a miracle which is beyond words to describe. There was green and deep purple underneath that, moving like visible sound, graceful, fading, streaming along in a current.

Our whole journey remained that way. From exploring Scott’s old haunts in Okinawa, savoring soft velvet whisky nights with Issey-San at his bar, Sammy’s Kiwi, and strolling along the South China Sea, to Kyoto, walking in a hushed enchantment through the bamboo forests, the cherry blossoms blooming, and everywhere a sense of peace and elegance and wonder.

Coming home has not been easy.

When I started this blog, I was reeling in shock from the recent election. Trump becoming president completely rocked my world, my visions for my country, my belief in the future. How could a figure that I, and so many others, find despicable, who spews and promotes ignorance, hate, greed, and so many other negative things, be the elected leader of this country. I started this blog to convince myself that, in some small way, my voice still matters.

That didn’t quite go as planned; from being exhausted in making the big move into the ICU for my career to getting used to living in rural New Hampshire during the winter to family matters and not feeling motivated to be a triathlete anymore, things didn’t go as planned.

I’ve returned in time for Spring. And to go to my Grandfather’s funeral.

Its been scary. Coming home felt overwhelming. I didn’t feel quite ready, stepping into the chorus of IVs, the keen of family members grieving their loved ones, the endless questions and  procedures and scans and drawing of blood to answer those questions. The so many minute steps that earn me the hatred of my patients but with the hope being that the end result is an answer. And hoping that it is one that they, or their loved ones, can live with.
I want to remember and always feel what it is to have all my senses so titillated, to see the furls of water beneath my feet on the vermillion bridges arching over those misty emerald mountains and ancient shrines holding with hushed breath the wisdom of years and worship and reflection, with the smell of dirt and cherry blossoms and the hint of sea in the salt-tinged fog.
But that kind of joy, that kind of fullness of being, is right here, in savoring the texture of every moment. I’ve been so good at setting goals and meeting them and always striving. In always having to accomplish something. I’ve been good at setting goals and getting overwhelmed about them. But now I’m finding myself wanting something else. And realizing that the art I want to devote myself to is simply a life well-lived. That I want to make friends and a community and a home, here. I want to dwell in and appreciate the gifts I have. And they are plentiful.

Enough

Life has been a bit chaotic lately. I went through orientation in the ICU and last shift was my first shift as a solo duckling ICU nurse. A huge goal of mine realized. And realized quietly, without fanfare, with me still feeling at times like I don’t really get it. That, somehow, I still haven’t “become a critical care nurse”.

But I have. I’m here.

Life has been chaotic for other reasons though too- (mhrm, the state of the country). Friends are getting married, having babies, medical bills pop up, cars break down, and a slew of other things. I’ve had my fair share of freak-outs.

On top of all that, I signed myself up for a 70.3 mile long triathlon that I don’t feel prepared for. So I got myself a coach. Who is now holding me accountable and now I’m finding myself getting onto my trainer to actually ride my bike, sometimes after a 13-hour day at the hospital, and I find myself asking why.

The uncertainty of this country and where it is headed, being afraid of the instability, and then constantly berating myself for not being where I wanted to and feeling like I’m not quite making it (financially, emotionally, in my training) have undermined my sense of wellbeing.

Right now, I don’t know what I want. I can remember why I signed up for the 70.3- because I’d just finished a half-marathon and I wanted that thrill of accomplishment that I got at the end. Suddenly though, that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason. The money and time it takes to compete in a triathlon like that seem selfish to me. Those resources could go towards being more financially sound, volunteering and investing in my community.

The point is that right now, I don’t know. But I do know that despite the fact that my car is in the shop right now and I’m stuck at home, the local triathletes in the area pulled together, despite not knowing me at all, to get me a ride to their meeting tonight. And during my run today, the sky was blue beyond the bare branches and I breathed and my body moved and I got to keep going. I’ve got people I love and who love me.

And besides, we leave for Japan in a few days.

 

 

 

 

I guess I’m a narcissist…

I was scrolling through facebook (and breaking perhaps the only New Year’s Resolution I made, to stop wasting so much GODDAMN TIME on social media) when I came across this gem. People Who Post About Fitness on Facebook Are Likely Narcissists, study finds. Really? I thought. How are gym selfies any worse than regular selfies?

 

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But here I am. Guess I’m a narcissist.

Articles like these are floating around all the time; millennials are frequently banged for being the most self-centered generation to pop up on the planet. But here’s the thing: the data for this study that the article sites is actually a thing. A big thing. As in this data that they glean from your facebook account allows them to come up with a very comprehensive picture of who you are. Which is important- because that data is being used. In fact, it was used by a company that Trump hired to help run his campaign: Cambridge Analytica. Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, boasts that “We have profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America—220 million people“. They know who you are. And how to get to you.

I was very curious about all this stuff. Curious enough to let the thing run over my own profile (not that that hasn’t been done and I haven’t already been “profiled”) to see what they came up with. I didn’t like it very much. It was like reading a creepily accurate zodiac trait analysis. You can try it for yourself here: https://applymagicsauce.com/ never fear, you’re not just blithely giving them your personal information. They already have that.

I started using facebook when I was 18- before I really had an idea of what all this meant. I was still trying to figure myself out. I’ve been tempted lately with all the negative information out there to delete it. But the information is already there. So here’s the thing: I could just stay off. Cut it out of my life and stay away. But social media is also a tremendous opportunity. Sure, I share pictures of myself on bikes and at the gym and running races. And a lot of my friends do. But so many of us use it as a tool to reach out to a larger community: people share their sweaty gym selfies and exercise photos and where they like to run to give and get support.

Living in a rural area like I do, its a way to stay connected to other people who enjoy the activities that I like, and, in a sense, to feel like part of team. I’m a member of a triathlete club, a trail-running group, and several other outdoorsy/exercise related groups on facebook. The posts that I see in these groups offer support, inspiration and motivation. When I first moved and didn’t know anyone close by, these groups helped me feel less isolated.

It is easy to demonize social media, taking selfies, and “over-sharing” via the internet. It’s also easy to become disheartened, to feel isolated and disempowered, especially in the tumultuous social and political environment that we are now living in. So this is my response- I’m going to keep taking selfies and sharing them. I am going to be conscious of the presence that I have on social media and the image that I project of myself. And I am going to use social media as a tool of empowerment: to support and share, to educate and be educated, to take part in the reciprocal responsibility and privilege it is to be part of a community. We can either let them use this stuff to tear us apart or we can use it to connect to one another.