Thursday, October 23, 2008

Running on empty

Our political process matters to me. Voting is essential. I have had strong feelings about candidates since my grandparents used their wide, wrap-around porch as the neighborhood polling place. I think I have now grown too old to survive another presidential campaign that lasts as long as this one. Trying to take in, as we count the days, not only what bombards us in the way of election news, but also financial woes, guesses and massive uncertainty and, here in Los Angeles, the threat and reality of fires, I have become depleted. I am not alone.

In my mind I see a guage, vertical like an old thermometer in a metal frame which advertises either soda pop (yes, THAT old) or a very successful garage. The mercury (for the sake of this illustration) has reached the top, past all the lines and numbers. Which might make one think "full" but the kind of full that so many of us are confronting really amounts to empty. We have no more room to take in anything other than gentleness, laughter, good news and rest. In conversations with a number of friends, I find that we all require greater amounts of sleep than normal. I would not be unhappy to wake up in spring and learn that I'd been transformed into a hibernating creature. My muscles and joints ache, my head feels like sponge cake that for reasons unfathomable has been left sitting in a bowl of milk. It cannot hold a thought or produce innovation.

Under the best of circumstances it is a task to find a path through life, come to recognize what we know to be our own personal truth and stand with that information, regardless of the situation. We need our energy, our rest, our clarity. I have come to feel that intentional chaos surrounds us, put there for the purpose of keeping us from the quiet in which we are able to find our way. Some years ago I recognized an uncommon virtue which I call "a capacity for stillness." In this stillness I find whatever wisdom I can access and what resonates within me as my truth. In chaos I become confused.

From now until Nov. 4 and, I can only trust, days beyond that, I have to remember that quiet is my ally and my source of renewal. Noise, news and uproar cause me to lose my bearings and my strength, I am Dorothy in the field of poppies, deflected from my purpose. None of us can function adequately in the midst of constant stress - and this doesn't even take into account all the personal crises with which we are faced, the ones that have to be processed and addressed.

I was led to stillness by losing my health which, ironically, was the result of running on empty for too long. I have come to know it as a great gift and become impatient with myself when I allow it to be interrupted by someone else whose hair seems to be on fire, but, in fact, is not. So I sleep and rest, draw and color, have calm conversations where laughter is the goal and focus simply on where next to set my foot. The tank begins to fill.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Lyndon Street Neighbors

A short update on the stair walking - 17 out of 19 days, and off to climb when I've finished typing. A day of fatigue after the show on Sept. 28 and one day of 103 degree temperature caused me to allow myself a little slack. I cannot say if it was my best idea, but it was what I could manage and I am back.

What I have found - there is a precedent, so I shouldn't be surprised - as I wobble down and up the stairs, probably creating an alarming image of unsteadiness, which is not really true for while there is wobble there is also steadiness, is the number of neighbors who have asked if they could help me, did I need a hand. In each case I've said that this is practice I have to do but so appreciated their kindness, the fact that they asked. On that first day, one neighbor was just waiting at the top of the steps and helped me manage that last increment.

Nearly two years ago my son was acutely ill and his recovery took months, during which time our building manager and many of our neighbors helped carry packages up the stairs (it was Christmas), helped me bring groceries from the car - my mobility was greater in those days - and took trash to the bin. Our apartment is built around a courtyard and kindness poured from both floors, every door. Younger tenants simply came and took the grocery bags, and our manager told me just to leave anything that needed to be trown out on the balcony where he would see it as he made his evening rounds. I thanked each for every act of kindness and eventually posted a collective letter of appreciation by the mailboxes. I don't know what I would have done without them.

Today I received e-mail which spoke of our currently uncertain times and how we have strength we may have forgotten, the strength of being there for each other. I am grateful to live among people who notice, who pay attention, who act, who care. While none of them may ever read this, it gives me the opportunity to say thank you all over again and to re-examine the difference that can be made by a single hand extended in kindness and support.