Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 - A Very Challenging Year

Oh no, you say, not another year end retrospective?!! Well, yes, of sorts. This one, though, is composed of love and gratitude for my amazing partner, Laurie, and for all she does to make my life so rich and full. This last year she has taken on the roles of cheerleader, caregiver, Sherpa, therapist, financial advisor, problem solver – in addition to the typical roles partners play: confidant, friend, lover.

September 2, 2005
Laurie and I got together in that “in between” time for me – after the worst of the cancer treatments and before most of the side effects set in. We loved going for walks, to the farmer’s markets, to concerts and plays. We worked in the garden together. Except for some ongoing intestinal issues, I was healthy and able-bodied and often prided myself on being the “butch” in the family (in reality, we shared that role, depending on the task at hand).

Of course, much of that changed over the last few years when I began to lose my balance and mobility and could no longer work in the yard, climb ladders, or even carry bags to and from the car. Since it didn’t happen overnight, the changes for us have been gradual, but there was a point sometime early this year when it clicked with us that this was not going to get better and we needed to get some changes in place.

This is where Laurie really shines. Where I deal in denial and procrastination, she plans ahead, researches extensively and puts ideas into action. She researched hand controls the day after I put the fear of Goddess into her and our friend Nan whilst driving. When I mentioned a few times that I couldn’t imagine climbing the stairs for another 12 months, let alone the 12 years we hope to be in this house, she went online to look at stair lifts and before long we had one installed. (This was when it really dawned on me that she wants to keep me around!) She encouraged me to get going with the disability paperwork, and when that came through, helped me research new cars, scooters and scooter lifts.

Of course, in addition to all the pragmatic details, there was (is) that huge emotional component to deal with. Our lives had changed irrevocably. We were both dealing with tremendous grief, occasional depression, me with chronic pain and Laurie walking the fine line between encouraging and nagging (which she does so well). Sometimes it feels like enough to drown us.

But here’s another thing I love about her that she does so well: self-care. She has done a superb job of gathering a support system for her specific issues as a  (for lack of a better term) caregiver. She takes good care of her body and spirit with yoga, massage, meditation, good food (yes, chocolate is considered healthy). She gets to be the butch now in most circumstances! She’s gotten stronger and more capable of doing some things she never had to do before (e.g. packing the car for a trip).

Yes, this year has been filled with many trials for us. I have been blessed with a phenomenal partner who helps me navigate the rough waters with love and respect. I could not have landed in a better place.

I love you sweetie.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Courage To Do What Needs To Be Done

This weekend our choir (Aurora Chorus) performed three amazing concerts. We are 100 women singing peace, light, beauty and harmony.

This choir has become my saving grace. Singing has always been a huge part of my life – it is one of the major ways I define myself: Singer. I can’t imagine a life without singing, without performing, sharing the music, in harmony with one or with 99, and giving it as a gift to others. I’d listened to and admired Aurora for years, but knew I couldn’t commit to the rehearsal schedule and demands of learning the challenging music until I retired (I do NOT know how all you working women with families do it!). So three years ago, within a week of retiring, I was on the roster for the next singing term.

By the time I started with the choir my physical difficulties had begun to appear – walking was getting difficult, I’d started using a cane. I was easily fatigued, and tripping and falling were common occurrences. (Moments before one concert at which I was singing a solo, I tripped and fell backstage and landed hard on my knees.) It became obvious after the first concert that I would have to sit to sing – not a singing position I’m fond of, but concentrating on cues and lyrics and vocals is preferable to concentrating all my energy on staying upright.

The choir is demanding; there’s a lot of music to memorize, some of it very challenging. We have strict weekly rehearsal obligations, plus additional required rehearsals throughout the term. There are days it’s damn hard to get myself to rehearsals, and sometimes the thought of two full days of performing or rehearsing at our weekend retreat feels overwhelming. But I suck it up and I do it -- and I never regret it. The music fills me up, the community of women supports me and we share an incredible bond of the choir’s vision: Powerful women singing peace. We are blessed with a gifted conductor who draws a phenomenal sound out of a non-auditioned choir and who composes exquisite choral pieces.

I still try out for solos and volunteer to play an instrument on songs, and I’m part of a new ensemble that steps out of the choir for a song or two. In concert, this means getting up from my chair – with difficulty - and walking – with help – to a microphone or another chair or a place on stage with the ensemble. It is not inconspicuous. I use my cane, I usually have someone’s arm to lean on and I do my Frankenstein walk downstage. If I stand, I hold on to the back of a chair or someone’s arm. I’m in the spotlight and it is humbling. As I told Laurie this morning, a part of me feels incredibly self-conscious, and another part feels so proud that I have the courage to put myself out there for the thing I love so dearly. And I couldn’t do it without the love and support of my community, in Aurora and at home.

So today, I am completely exhausted, my feet and legs are so so so painful, but I am filled up and smiling inside, remembering all the warmth and joy of singing with my Aurora sisters, the delight of the audience responding to Hine Ma Tov, O Holy Night (Holly Near’s lyrics*) and Gate Gate, and the gales of laughter when, for an encore, we so seriously played our kazoos on Vivaldi’s Gloria. And the euphoria of all that work culminating in three stunning concerts.

Could I live without it? Yes, but for as long as I can muster the courage and stamina to do this, it will continue to be a vital part of my well-being because, in the words of Joan Baez, To sing is to love and affirm, to fly and soar, to coast into the hearts of the people who listen....

Bodhi svaha!

*Holly's lyrics for O Holy Night:

O holy night, the stars are brightly shining
This is the time a new year is born
Long has lived the world in fear and error pining
But when peace appears, the soul knows its worth
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Rise from your knees, and hear the people’s voices
O night divine, O night let peace be born
O night, O night, O night divine