I’ve been back from San Miguel (SMA) for 6 weeks, which is just how long I have already booked for next winter. It’s in a different part of town, a 15 minute walk to the Instituto where I’ve been invited to offer the Great Trials course again in early March. I feel like I’ve climbed into a canyon and up a mountain since then. Being able to look at pictures of the house my friend Esther and I have rented for next winter has gotten me through some long stretches of grey, bleak weather. The last few days have felt like spring is beginning. I look at my gardens every day to see what’s sprouting. I haven’t quite got a plan together about how to clean up the winter detritus and get some new bulbs and plants in the ground. The last 2 springs I’ve hired someone to do that but it has left me feeling a bit disconnected from the earth so this year I want to at least be a part of the process. Ideas?
Meanwhile back at the arm. When I was told – post SMA – that my only options were three: (1) learn to live with intense pain; (2) have an artificial elbow replace what I’ve got now; or (3) have my arm fused … it stopped me short. I knew that getting my right arm back to work was going to be a huge challenge and a long journey and yet I wasn’t really prepared for such dispiriting news. I tried to incorporate the advice I’d get from Pema Chodron: “When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.” I’ve certainly felt like I’ve had more than a fair share (although I know that shares aren’t really comparable at all) of disappointments to deal with in the past bit of time. I kept telling myself this wasn’t “the end of the story“, but it took a week or two to get past the sense of hopelessness. During that time I kept daily notes on what I’d done and the level of pain – on a scale of 1 to 10 that I was experiencing. The physiotherapy I’d been doing didn’t seem to be helpful so on the surgeon’s advice I discontinued that. I also kept a list of questions that I wanted to ask my family physician. Made an appointment to see her, and dragged myself down to her office. The big question of the day was based on my overall philosophy which is that there are always more than 3 options. She sent me to a new physiotherapist and helped arrange an appointment without much waiting. The day I walked into that office I wasn’t excessively hopeful that this new physiotherapist’s assessment would be much different than the surgeon’s. She spent about an hour and a half with me that first day. I gave her access to the medical records that laid out the past 27 month’s arm history. What blew me right out of the water – and past my sense of desolation was the warmth and generosity of spirit of this terrific woman along with her vast array of knowledge and ways to approach this bony pickle. I left her office that day feeling that the sun might return and that I might be able to find a way back to arm-health and strength. I’ve taken a 3 week hiatus from swimming and working out so that we could establish a physio plan and make sure that the trainer and the physiotherapist were on the same page. I went back for a last workout before my break, proudly flexing my right arm. I know that I still have a long way to travel before I can do the things I need to and want to do, but at least there’s hope. And I return to the JCC this week to continue the work “at hand” to use an apt expression.
Hope is really what I’m thinking about a lot these days. Helen Keller said that “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Samuel Smiles, Scottish author and government reformer adds this: “Hope is like the sun, which, as we journey toward it, casts the shadow of our burden behind us.” That is just how the past few weeks have felt. With this new treatment easing the pain my joy had room to come back. Dauntlessly I began preparing for Passover by sending out an SOS email saying that I needed help unpacking all of the bins my son Motti had brought up from the basement, and within minutes a new friend and my cousin Albert said that they’d “be there” … and they were. Albert even volunteered to return at the end of Pesach and help me put everything back. The next day another new friend came over and spent the day in the kitchen with me making chicken soup and matzo balls galore. I’m thinking that when we open ourselves up the universe answers. With this support I’ve had 2 beautiful seders and 1 terrific Shabbat dinner with friends and family who are all hoping for the day that we can all experience freedom. The realities – mine and the alternate reality – don’t seem too hopeful these days, but I think that we’ve got to believe the English moral philosopher Bernard Williams who said that “there was never a night or a problem that can defeat sunrise or hope.”
I just took a little break to have a walk to meet a friend who has kindly bought some organic coffee beans and Mexican hot chocolate for me. As I strolled past the houses on my street I looked at their gardens where sprouts of life were just starting to reappear. Isn’t it truly amazing that after a cold, long winter there is still life in the earth that’s strong enough to reappear as the sun’s rays warm the ground? There’s a lesson to learn from this. Woodrow Wilson said it well: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” The plants in my garden know this. Now it’s up to the rest of us to form that vision and find our own ways to enrich the world. No matter how bleak a picture of the world that Trump is giving us, we need to stand together in believing that we can build a better, more peaceful, more caring world. Just as the shoots in the ground know what their job is, so we must also know what the task at hand for us is. Wilson also said: “There can be no equality or opportunity if men and women and children be not shielded in their lives from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they cannot alter, control, or singly cope with.”
If we can work together I think that Wilson’s words can ring true.
Seven years ago I flew into Washington, D.C. for a day so that I could attend Jon Stewart’s rally to bring back sanity. The rally has ended, but not the need. Jon Stewart … we need you!
I won’t give in to the exigencies of what is ahead of me physically. I certainly am not prepared to give up on the potency of our efforts morally and spiritually. I can only hope that I have lots of company on this journey.
Wishing you all a blessed last days of Passover and Easter.