Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

A Longer But Later-Than-It-Should-Be Update (Sorry!)

September 10, 2013
We are blessed with wild turkeys this year.

We are blessed with wild turkeys this year.

Well, here I am at last, over three weeks post-mastectomy.  I’m sorry to be so long in posting, but sitting at the computer was (and still is) a bit tiring.  In addition, despite being neurotically careful in my clicking and anti-virus software, I got a really nasty computer virus called a rootkit that rendered my computer unusable.  I’d never even heard of a rootkit, but trust me, they are very, very bad indeed.   I couldn’t help but notice how much rootkits are like cancer cells—they spread in a particularly insidious and stealthy way.

The truth is, I’m not even sure what to tell you about how I’m doing.  I really don’t know how one is supposed to feel three weeks post bi-lateral mastectomy, so I’m uncertain whether discomfort and pain (which I am still experiencing) is to be expected at this point.  I will say that my breast surgeon (whom I like very much, by the way) certainly appears to have sewn my incision very tight indeed.  I hope what she tells me about how much our skin can stretch is true.   I actually was feeling better after my surgical drains were removed, but unfortunately developed something called a seroma, which occurs when fluid collects in the surgical cavity.  My surgeon drained it, but it began to fill again only two days later, and the discomfort is discouraging.  I should mention, too, that during surgery, my heart went pretty wonky and, unfortunately, it continues to be so, which means I’m having to take heart medication that works well, but keeps me from sleeping.  A heartbeat regularly in the 150 BPM range along with poor sleep are not optimal for healing, I suppose.

I’ve always bounced back quickly after injuries, surgeries, childbirth and such, but this has been different.  I thought I’d be doing more by now than lying about like a big, useless slug.   It’s been humbling.

The funny thing is, I often feel like people are disappointed when I don’t say, “Great!” when they ask me how I’m doing.   I feel like apologizing for the fact that I’m still hurting, that I’m feeling tired.  But then I feel annoyed.  Why should I have to put on some kind of happy-face front when I’m not feeling that way? I’ve got breast cancer, for Pete’s sake.  It’s not that I’m being negative—those who’ve been around me since the mastectomy would tell you that I’m been quietly cheerful and positive.  I still feel enormous joy when I walk up the driveway and see the goldfinches, with their funny, squeaky-toy twittering burst forth like bright sparks from the sunflowers, outraged that I’ve interrupted their sunflower seed snacking.  Yep, for sure a positive attitude helps…but it doesn’t change the fact that I feel weary.

Despite the seromas and such, I’ve had good news, too.  While my pathology report wasn’t perfect, I was thrilled to read that the lymph nodes that were removed during surgery were clean.  That was very good news indeed, and I’m grateful for it.  I know I have further treatment in store, but I’m not certain exactly what it will be.  I was a bit unhinged when I saw the medical oncologist last week, and he mentioned that dreaded word “chemotherapy.”  With the clean lymph nodes, I thought I might avoid that.  We should know more in three weeks after yet another analysis (called on Oncotype DX) is performed on my tumor.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to take pleasure in the good things—in having unfettered time to read, in the hint of fall in the evening air, and in still being able to laugh.  And I’ll be forever thankful for kind and loyal family and friends who listen and allow me time to grieve and feel sad, while encouraging a positive healing spirit.  As always, I’m grateful for goldfinches, for sunflowers, and for the cool, cleansing breezes blowing through our open windows—somehow making me feel that everything will be okay.

A Very Brief Update

August 13, 2013
sunflower (2) (799x800)

Tom planted sunflowers for me this year. This one bloomed first—on the day I was diagnosed with cancer. I went out to clear my head after the doctor called, and this was the first thing I saw.

I am very grateful for all of your kind expressions of love and concern—they mean a great deal to me.   I am especially thankful for the prayers going up on my behalf and all positive thoughts sent my way.

I’ll be having a bilateral mastectomy this week—on Tom’s birthday, in fact.  I hate that the surgery fell on his birthday, but he says the best birthday present for him is having the hope that the surgeon will find and remove every last cancer cell.

I am very sad and very scared, but also more than ready to get this cancer out.  I’m looking forward to seeing the faces of my three beloveds when I come out of the recovery room.  Not only will my three favorite people in this world will be there, but Ariel will stay with me at home for a week and Benjamin will be there for several days.  That in itself will be healing I’m sure.

I would appreciate your continued good thoughts and prayers.  As soon as I’m coherent enough to do so (pain meds make me really dopey), I’ll let you know how things are going.

A Somewhat Less Than Cheery Post

July 26, 2013
A little chipper I captured earlier this spring

A little chipper I captured earlier this spring

Well, I’m still here, more or less, for better or for worse.  I apologize for not commenting more on your blogs.  I think about you often, but the truth is, I haven’t felt well for a few months now, so I’ve saved my energy for the countless chores the summer season brings (gardening, mowing, weeding).   Commenting (and writing emails) has always been very hard for me anyway—it literally takes me hours—because in the same way that I find talking difficult (and I do), I find commenting so, as well.  It’s too much like talking.  I can write an essay more easily than I speak.

I assumed it was just my heart acting up again.  I’ve had arrhythmias in the past (and had catheter ablation surgery for it), so I worried that I’d have to have that again.  It finally got bad enough that I went to the doctor for the first time in nine years.  They did find heart irregularities (mostly related to sleep apnea) for which they gave me medicine, but they found something else, too.

They found breast cancer.  Invasive lobular carcinoma, in fact.  Unfortunately, lobular is a sneaky kind of cancer—it tends to not show up on mammograms.  Mine didn’t.  It showed on ultrasound just enough to do the biopsy. Next week, I’ll have a breast MRI (which is the most definitive imaging technique for invasive lobular carcinoma) to see if it’s also in the other breast (which loblular often tends to be).  This will help me decide what kind of treatment to have.  I have hard choices ahead.  Surgery is a certainty—either lumpectomy with radiation or a mastectomy, depending on what the MRI shows.

Initially (in fact, right up to this very moment ) I wasn’t going to share this on my blog.  I honestly felt I couldn’t bear to write about yet another crisis in our life.  After a while, you start to feel like a freak—like there must be something seriously wrong with someone who has such bad luck, and you feel something close to shame.  So you withdraw—at a time that you most need a loving hand to hold.  I’ve told very few people so far—mostly those I’ve known for years, whom I trust to love me no matter what.  I’m afraid I have no words of wisdom or inspiration right now.  I’m all spent.  Truthfully, I’m posting because I want to sincerely ask for your prayers.  Or if you aren’t the praying type, your very best thoughts.  I think I’ve never been in more need of it.

It’s funny that I say that because I’ve never felt more angry at God than I do now.  There, I’ve said it.  Might as well–He knows it anyway.  And I can’t seem to pray for myself.  I can pray—easily—for others (and I do).  But not for me.  Every time I try, I start crying and can’t stop.  But, despite my anger (which, in part, is born of faith—how could you be angry at someone you don’t believe exists?), I still believe in prayer.

And yes, yes, of course I know I should be thankful for all the good in my life.  Trust me—I am.  I’m human, so as humans, we’re subject to crazy, conflicting feelings.  “What the heck, God??” can co-exist with “Thank you, God.”   So along with my screaming “Why?” I whisper, “Thank you.”  Many times a day.  In fact, just now a mockingbird, still young and breast-speckled, landed in the shrub next to the window, looked in at me, and cocked his head.  He looked so comical, I laughed out loud.  And said, “Thank you.”

I don’t know when I’ll write again.  After the MRI, when they’ve gotten a better look under the hood, I expect things to start moving pretty fast.  So if you write me, and I don’t write you back, please don’t think I don’t appreciate it.  It’s just that now, I’m trying to stuff my addled head with enough information about breast cancer treatment to make an informed decision about my own care.  There’s a lot to read, and it’s hard reading.  Not only because it’s full of medical terminology that makes my head spin, but because the stories that so many brave ladies tell on the Breast Cancer Discussion Boards break my heart.

So, if you’ve read this far, I thank you for not turning away.  And I’m grateful for every single good thought and prayer for me you send into the firmament.  I can’t seem to bring myself to plead my cause with God, so I need you to do it for me. Please.  I’ll take all I can get—greedy supplicant that I am. And I thank you with all my heart.

Grateful Praise #2: The Star–My Christmas Story (and A Love Story, of Sorts)

January 31, 2013

The sun outshines it (2) (800x576)

It’s been almost three months since I last posted, and as is usual for that situation, I’ve made an already long time longer yet.  That’s because the more time there is between posts, the more I feel that I must write something brilliant to make up for my slothful ways which means, of course, that I become paralyzed because, well…nothing I write seems brilliant enough.

But who wants to hear yet again about my silly neuroses?  How about a Christmas story?

Yes, I know that Christmas was, like, over a month ago, and possibly no one wants to hear a Christmas story in almost-February, but that’s what I’m feeling thankful for right now, so I reckon a Christmas story is what you’re getting.  Even worse, I suppose, haha, it’s not even a fresh Christmas story.  It happened two years ago.  Nevertheless…

Longtime readers of my blog know that we’ve had a bit more than our share of hard times, so I won’t rehash those.  Suffice to say, it’s sometimes been a challenge for us to stay hopeful, though we have remained ever thankful for our many blessings.  So, two years ago a few weeks before Christmas, when Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe some good luck?”

“I’m afraid I’m fresh out of good luck, ma’am,” said Tom.  “But how about some elf magic in the workshop?”  (As most of you know, Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man is a carpenter and handyman, and I have more than once been the lucky beneficiary of his handiwork.)

I thought for a second and said the first thing that popped into my head.  “Well, you know I’ve always wanted a star.”

We’d talked about it before.  Ever since we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, known as “Star City of the South” (because of the huge illuminated star that shines over the city from atop Mill Mountain) I’d been yearning for our own star.  But we’d had a lot on our plate since then, and there had been scant time for star building.

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man frowned.  I could tell he had something a little more modest in mind.

I was about to tell him it was okay—something else (maybe some shelves?) would be fine, when I thought No.  A star—a big glowing, shining, radiant star—was exactly what I needed.  What we needed.  Something to remind us that there is always hope, to help us remember to always keep our eyes steadfastly on the light.

Tom sighed. “Okay…sure.”  He’d seen that look in my eyes before. “A star it is. I’d better get started.”

It took him a lot longer than he thought it would.  Stars—at least the kind that perfectionistic carpenters that take great pride in their work make—are harder than you’d think to construct.  Thank goodness we had a couple of crackerjack mathematicians in our family to consult about angles and such (Thanks, Benjamin and Cameron!)

I stayed out of Tom’s workshop in the weeks it took him to make our star because I wanted to be surprised.  I actually had no idea what it would look like, although I did know that this was not going to be some quick cardboard cutout covered with tin foil.  All I had asked was, if possible, to make it so it’d still look pretty in the daytime.  And to make it at least big enough that our neighbors could see it.  You know, in case they needed a little hope to hold onto as well.

When he brought the star out, his smiling handsome face shining right in the middle of it, I cried. It was splendid.  It was beautiful.  It was absolutely perfect.

The stars of the show! (2) (590x800)

Star Man--My hero (2) (587x800)

We got it up just in time for Christmas that year.  And after Christmas was over, we couldn’t bear to take it down.  So now it stays up year round.

We illuminate it, of course, during the Christmas season.  After all, that’s what inspired it.  The bright, shining star that led the shepherds and Wise Men to the baby Jesus is a beacon of hope and faith and salvation to many.  But we turn it on at other times, too.  It shines to show friends, traveling in the dark, the way to our home, and it glows to welcome our children back to the fold.  We turn it on to celebrate happy times and we turn it on to give solace in sad.  But mostly, it’s to inspire hope.  To help us (and perhaps others) remember that even in the gloom, there’s always a light somewhere.  To remember always to keep our eyes fixed on that light.  To remember that God is there, even when we can’t feel His presence.

And, too, when I see it, I think of who made it for me.  Anyone who’s been through extended hardship and pain will tell you that it can bring you closer to those you love, but it can also push you apart.  To be honest, it’s been a little bit of both for Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man and me.  I’m not ashamed to say that—to pretend otherwise would seem disingenuous.  Looking at the star and remembering his dear face right in the middle when I first saw it reminds me of the love that brought us together twenty-six years ago.  I know that that love is still there, even when obscured by weariness, by sadness, by pain.  Sometimes, it’s a matter of remembering and focusing on the good, on the light.  Sometimes, love (the lasting kind, that is) is a conscious and committed choice.

I say “sometimes” because, as someone who stayed longer then I should have with an abusive man, I am painfully aware that sometimes, the only healthy choice is to leave, when you can clearly see that there is no light left in your relationship.  My years with Tom have been hard in many ways, and there are cracks, but…oh!…there is so much light shining through those cracks!  And I believe that when you both choose to turn to the light and remember the good, to be generous and forgiving, love and hope can and usually will prevail—love over hate, light over darkness—shining even in the darkest night.

Bright and shining star (2) (800x600)

(12) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Benjamin Gets a Job!

July 13, 2012

Benjamin takes a big bite of a big cookie. (It was the birthday cookie I baked for him, and he ate every crumb.)

There is great rejoicing in the Blue Ridge Blue Collar household tonight.  We have even broken out the Welch’s Sparkling Grape Juice for a toast.  Benjamin got a job!

I have mixed feelings, of course.  The job is in Charlotte, NC, which is a huge city with a very high crime rate.  A big change from his deep country roots.  But I’ve always prayed that Benjamin would land just where he is meant to be, and although I’d hoped it would be nearby, God had different plans.

God, it seems, often has a different road for us to take than the one we planned to travel.  And so it is with Benjamin.  But he’s excited about the new journey he’ll soon embark on, and so are we.  We are truly happy for him.  He’s come so, so far, and I think he’s now pretty well-equipped for traveling.

So, I am grateful for Benjamin’s new job.   I am grateful for your kind thoughts and prayers for him, dear friends.  I am grateful to know that God will be with him every step of the way.  And I’m grateful, beyond measure, for Benjamin.

(11) Thirty Days of Grateful Praise: Shared Laughter

July 12, 2012

This is how I sometimes look in the morning before makeup and coffee. Minus the hat.

Benjamin drove me to the post office this morning, and while we were sitting in the parking lot, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t looked in the mirror before I left the house.  So I had no idea if I had egg smeared on my face, mascara ringing my eyes, lipstick on my teeth or something else out of place. So I asked him, “Hey, Benjamin…is my face askew?”

He looked startled and said, “WHAT??” I realized what I’d said, and we broke up laughing.  We both pictured one of those Picasso paintings where one eye is where it’s supposed to be but the other is down where the nose should be and the nose is where the ear should be, while the other ear is only vaguely ear-like.  We imagined my face like that which made us laugh even harder.  Then after we got home, we were in the kitchen when this fly that’s been bedeviling us for days landed on the edge of the counter.  I said, “Mister Fly, your days are numbered!”  And I got the swatter and whacked that fly as hard as I could.  Post whack, we peered at the edge where the fly had been. There was no sign of him, but a closer inspection revealed the unmistakable evidence (fly guts and a little whiskery leg, if you must know) of a direct hit. But we could not find the…umm, rest of the fly.  Anywhere. We looked high and low—in the stove burners, in our morning coffee cups, on the floor, and in the sink.  It’s always nice to know where a big, squishy dead fly fell, but seems particularly important in the kitchen (especially if you have, say, cookie dough nearby with chocolate chips and raisins shaped very much like flies,heh heh).  Alas, no fly.  So I got the fly swatter and we started re-enacting, in slow motion, the killing of the fly with Benjamin using his knowledge of physics to determine what arc that the dead fly’s body might have taken.  It was then that we fully grasped the ludicrousness of the situation and we cracked up again.  As we laughed, I felt one of those little rushes of love that mamas are prone to with their children, and I hugged him.

Afterwards, I realized how much those little everyday, ordinary moments of shared laughter bring you closer to those you love.  For the most part, you’ll later forget the details, but the impact and cumulative power of those moments is far less fleeting.  Warm shared laughter, I think, just strengthens the already strong ties that bind you to the ones you love.

I think I’m particularly mindful of how profound these moments are for us because it hasn’t been long since Benjamin and I were not doing much of anything together but talking and crying. Things were very difficult and intense in the months after Benjamin got out of the hospital.  His breakdown was devastating—both to him and to those who loved him and helping him towards the light was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  So I savor our easy laughter, our gentle teasing.  They are sweet, blessed moments of grace, and I am profoundly grateful for them.

For Dork Optimists Everywhere

June 28, 2012

(My fellow dork optimist, Sue Heck)

Here’s where I’ll confess that I wrote this almost a month ago and was just about to post it when something unexpected and quite unpleasant happened to us that on the face of it should have been a simple matter but turned (through no fault of ours) into a grueling and draining situation that really put the sense of hope and optimism I wrote about below to the test.  I was feeling so discouraged and disheartened that it seemed almost disingenuous to write about my sense of hope and optimism when I was feeling quite the opposite.  It’s important to me to write true and honest here, and so far, I have.  And, truth be told, I’m still feeling a bit cranky.  But I realized that maybe the Thirty Days of Grateful Praise exercise I mention might be the very thing to pull me out of my funk.  So here goes…

I really don’t watch much television, but there’s one show about an average, ordinary middle-class family that I love.  It comes on right in the middle of the week (Wednesday nights), is set right in the middle of the U.S.A. (Indiana), and is called (perhaps not surprisingly) “Middle.”

I love it because it’s so real.  Although the lives of the Heck family are often messy and far from perfect, almost always in the end, love and hope prevail. (Not unlike the Blue Ridge Blue Collar family, I guess).  I find all the characters on the show compelling (though I often want to throttle Axl, the arrogant oldest son), but I really, really love Axl’s younger sister, Sue.

It’s an odd thing perhaps for a middle-aged woman to choose as her role model a barely-out-of-middle school teenage girl (who’s just a television character, at that), but I have.  Sue Heck is my role model.

Sue has an enduring (and completely endearing) optimism that remains steadfast no matter how many times life knocks her down.  And life knocks her down a lot.  Although she almost never makes the cut, she continues to try out for everything at school.  Although the “popular” crowd in high school rejects her, she cheerfully continues to be herself.  And although her brother Axl belittles her, too, she continues to love him as he is.  Sure, sometimes she has moments of despair and discouragement, but she always bounces back; she is always steadfastly resilient. (In fact, I think Sue’s picture should be beside the word “resilient” in the dictionary.)

In one episode, when Axl was continuously disparaging of Sue (in the way that older brothers can be), Sue was so persistently sunny and hopeful in the face of it that even Axl finally had to show a grudging admiration.  “You’re like this…dork optimist,” he said to Sue.

Benjamin happened to see that show with us, and afterward, laughing, he said to me, “That’s who you are, Mama…you’re a dork optimist.”

Now I suppose not everyone would be happy to be called a dork optimist, but I was honored.  And I guess it’s true.  The “dork” part, I suppose, applies since that’s the way the world often regards those of us who don’t conform to the norm and insist on being ourselves.  And I’ve always been blessed with the ability to find humor and hope in bleak situations and to find joy in the smallest pleasures.  It doesn’t take much to make me happy.  I was like that as a child, and I’m like that now.  So often, I still find the greatest delight in the very things that others dismiss or overlook.

So, in honor of Sue Heck and dork optimists everywhere, I’m going to do something a little different from my usual long, rambling, occasional posts.  I’m going to write (starting sometime soon) a little post every day for at least thirty days, naming thirty things big or small that I’m thankful for—thirty things that give me joy.  We’ll call it “Thirty Days of Grateful Praise.”  Of course, I don’t expect anyone to comment every day, but I’d be pleased to hear from you during that period about what makes you happy. What delights you—big or small, silly or serious, shallow or deep?  I’d really love to know your simple pleasures, too.

After all, we dork optimists need to stick together, right? :-)

Twenty-Five

May 24, 2012

(This is the very first place we went on our honeymoon 25 years ago—Chestoa View at Milepost 320.8 on the Blue Ridge Parkway)

Our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary was last week, so Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man took the week off to celebrate.  The original plan for our 25th was to retrace the steps of our honeymoon, hiking the same trails and staying in the same hotels.  We weren’t able to do that this year, but have definitely put it on our Things-We-Really-Will-Do-Someday-When Life-Isn’t-So-Hectic list.

Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man loves a road trip, though, so we decided to take a daycation or two and follow wherever the road might lead.  He particularly loves a curvy, twisty mountain road that goes up, so up we went into the higher peaks and ridges of the blue and green mountain ranges that surround us.

Instead of detailing our week, though, I’ll post photos of a few of the wonders we saw on our wanders.  And I’ll tell you about the honeymoon we’d originally hoped to re-create—the one we took twenty-five years ago.

(This is the same enchanted trillium forest we saw on our honeymoon 25 years ago)

By the day of our wedding (a courthouse nuptial), we’d saved a little over a hundred dollars between the two of us for our honeymoon.  Now keep in mind that this was in the days before you had to take out a loan to buy a tank of gas.  Nowadays, a hundred bucks would barely get us from Winston-Salem (where we lived then) to the mountains and back, but in 1987, we filled up the tank on our 1967 Volvo 122S and had plenty left over. We had no particular destination in mind—just a yearning for higher ground.  So we headed west with the idea that we’d head home when the money ran out.

I call that honeymoon our Magical Mystery Tour because I honestly cannot remember how it is we managed to travel the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, stay three nights in hotels, and actually eat on a hundred bucks, but we did.  I do recall that we only ate once in a restaurant and that the hotels were all quite modest.  And also that Tom always smiled his most charming smile, told the hotel clerks that we were on our honeymoon, and asked for (and got!) a discount.   But I don’t recall any more of the practical details than that.

But what I do recall is that I never felt deprived.  I remember thinking that I could not imagine a better four-day honeymoon than this; I could not imagine being happier.  We hiked to mountaintop after mountaintop, fed each other from the grocery bag of snacks we’d brought along, and drank gallons of ice-cold mountain water.

We were so full of hope and faith then—a miracle in itself for me since I’d previously experienced a difficult marriage to an abusive man.  I’ve been thinking this week how fortunate it was that we could not see the hard road that lay ahead of us.   Even if we had, though, I don’t think it would have deterred us.  We strode confidently into the future, hand-in-hand and certain that together, we could handle anything that came our way.

And I suppose you could say we have.  Handled things, that is…but only by the merciful grace of God.  We’ve had a hard time of it, I’m afraid, for most of our twenty-five years—illness, injury, job loss, natural and unnatural disasters, too little money, and worst of all, the loss of so many of those loved ones we held most dear.   There are scars, and sometimes, it’s very hard to feel hopeful, to have faith, to trust.

But broken as we are, we are still walking hand-in-hand.  Not striding so confidently now, I suppose.  Our steps are far more tentative and cautious, and sometimes we falter.  But we’re still climbing upward , vigilant for danger, yes… but for  beauty, too.  And still believing that something splendid, lovely, and worth the long and difficult climb lies ahead, just around the bend.

To Give To the Light

April 26, 2012

In the past, during the month of April (which is Autism Awareness Month), I’ve written about our experience with autism—about helping Benjamin as he learns to navigate the world. And I’ve written a lot about ways in which he’s felt rejected by that world and about the importance of teaching our children to be accepting of those who march to a different drumbeat. In the past few months, I’ve written about the pain of seeing your child suffer and the heartbreak of feeling so helpless to stop the suffering. There have been so many times I wished I could rock Benjamin for hours like I used to. When he was small and didn’t yet have the words to tell me what he was distressed about, rocking was our way of connecting. It was something I could do that helped, and sometimes it was just as soothing to me as to him.

So now I want to talk about hope. The last nine months have been the most difficult months I’ve ever gone through, but also the most rewarding. Benjamin’s journey back to wholeness has been arduous, and unfortunately, much of the help from outside sources we were hoping for didn’t happen. So, as when he was small, I’ve often felt as though it was largely up to me (by the grace of God) to help him into the light. So much of our profound journey together would be impossible to describe, so I won’t try. A couple of posts back I wrote this, and it probably describes it about as well as I can:

In Benjamin’s journey back to wholeness, he and I have had a lot of conversations about the importance of being your authentic self, even when people reject that self. Indeed, my children will both tell you that the #1 Mommy maxim they heard from me throughout their lives is the importance of being true to yourself. Hard for all of us, but especially hard for an autistic person like Benjamin. As an autistic person navigates the world, they are constantly challenged to conform themselves to the world in ways that are often difficult and in ways that may not come naturally. So their struggle to conform, yet maintain that inner core of authentic self, can be exhausting. And often discouraging. Benjamin’s working hard to learn that balance.

 And in helping him, I’ve often been reminded of my own need to remember the truths I know about myself, but sometimes lose sight of when I let the world pull and push me off balance. That equilibrium is so easy to talk about, but so hard to achieve. And that struggle for balance, as I tell Benjamin, is something we all have in common. It’s something we all share–whether we’re autistic or not. The important thing is to not lose sight of who you are or the sense of your own beauty. And to remember always who you are capable of becoming.

I love the recent picture above, but not because Benjamin is standing beside a fancy car, looking like Mr. Success. (the Infinity was neither ours nor Benjamin’s, by the way!). I love this photo because Benjamin looks so genuinely happy. He was about to head for an interview there—his first—which went very well, although he didn’t get the job.

But he’ll he heading to an interview in Raleigh next week—his first long trip alone and his most promising interview yet (he’s already done THREE phone interviews at the company, so clearly they like him). I’m telling you that because I’d like to ask for your prayers and good thoughts for him, please. We are very excited, but a little nervous, too. It’s a big step for him…and for us.

Benjamin and I recently realized that it’s been nine months since he first got sick. For both of us, his transformation in that time has been so profound as to seem like a rebirth. So with his birthday coming up soon, we talked about how wonderfully symbolic it would be if he ended up getting the job around his birthday, making his recovery period a sort of nine-month gestation.

Four years ago, Ariel wrote a wonderful Mother’s Day tribute to me on the blog she had at the time. I’ve gone back to it during difficult times when I needed help remembering my own worth and value, which means I’ve clicked back to it a whole, whole lot. I love the poem she wrote as a part of it, and have realized that it has meaning now beyond what she intended. Here’s an excerpt from it:

“Both times she gave birth,
she did so naturally. Each contraction
was a fiery push and pull, the urge
to keep us close and the need
to grant us to the world in an excruciating exit.
In Spanish, to give birth is
“dar a la luz,” to give to the light.
When I learned the phrase, I said it over
and over in my head. Voy a dar mi niña a la luz:
I am going to give my child to the light.
I imagined both a sacrifice and offering,
the greatest favor and the greatest risk.”

I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say I’m a bit anxious about Benjamin’s big step next week. But, as I did almost 23 years ago when he was born, I am going to give my child to the light. Benjamin’s birth 23 years ago was difficult and painful, and his rebirth in the past nine months has been often just as hard. But now, as then, all the pain was worth it. Well worth it. And I’ve never regretted it for a second.

Finding Our Way Up

March 7, 2012

Back in late October, we took a hike that, while only two miles and small compared to the hikes we used to take, was big in its significance to us.  Since Tom injured his knee a year ago, he’d been unable to hike,  and we both keenly missed our usual treks to favorite trails up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and elsewhere last summer.  And since Benjamin broke his back the previous summer, he’s been reluctant to subject his still vulnerable spine to the rigors of a mountain hike.

But Tom’s knee has been slowly healing, as has Benjamin’s back, so the late October weather was a perfect time to give our long-unused hiking muscles a little workout.  I researched many trails before finding one that was challenging enough to test our mettle, but easy enough to be free of undue pain.  I found the perfect hike on Bearwallow Mountain, a privately owned mountain south of here, part of which has been placed in a conservation easement so that folks like us are free to share the beautiful views from the grassy pasture at the top with the lucky cows who graze there.  The summit of Bearwallow is 4,232 feet above sea level, so the elevation gain is considerable.  But the new trail, built by volunteers from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and other groups, is so skillfully built (with switchbacks and gorgeous rock features) that we climbed with ease.  Thank you, volunteers–we are so grateful for your work!

Here’s a wood duck we encountered on the trail.

To our delight, the asters were still blooming and the honeybees still buzzing

Though it was late in the season, there was still color sweeping across the top of Bearwallow. 

I loved how these trees, bowed but not broken by the wind, almost seemed to be growing from the rocks.

Some hikers online warned of possible rogue cows on Bearwallow, but all the bovines seemed peaceful to us, if quite curious.

Because of all the communication towers on top of Bearwallow, as well as a former fire tower, there is a gracefully winding road to the top, which we traveled for our journey down.  I felt sad when our hike ended, as it was the first time in a very long time that I’d been able to, at least temporarily, shake off the sense of constant disquietude that has dogged me for a long time now.  I was worried at the start of the hike about Tom’s knee and Benjamin’s back, as well as anxiety about other troubles that seems to gnaw at my gut almost constantly.  But somehow, watching Tom and Benjamin ahead of me climb the trail with strong and sure steps, helped to ease that gnawing for a while and I felt at peace.  And the beauty of the trees and mountains and rocks and sky as far as the eye can see at the top, along with the placidity of the curious cows, filled me that day with a joy and serenity that I had not felt for a long time.  Even now, I feel a sense of comfort and well-being,  looking at these pictures and remembering how I felt that day when I laid down my burdens for a while.

I guess we need to take another hike…soon. :-)


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