Thursday, March 20, 2014

Promises, Promises

Today is the first day of spring, according to the cycles of the sun, the tilt of the planet, the turning of the wheel. Equinox-- when all things are equal, and the dial is switched, wherever you are, marking the turning of the season.

It snowed here in Vermont today, large heavy snow flakes that looked more like mini-snowballs, or maybe instant icicles as the snow landed on already slick packed snow. We have about 2 feet all tolled on the ground, and this snow today felt like a big f-you to the promise of spring.

Promises, promises. I imagine some jilted girlfriend in my reckoning of the unfulfilled promise. Too many disappointed lovers taught me long ago to hold back on the promise. Instead, I opt for a range of possibilities, and a healthy dose of hope.

playing with Forrest, 2011
It's a season of promises foiled. My father got a kidney transplant in November, and had been quickly adapting to a new-found freedom from dialysis and all its effects. For a full 2 months he was looking towards life after quarantine more mobile, more energetic, more. The promise of this incredible risk paying off, this incredible gift being accepted by his body, was palpable in his speech, his glowing face. Health was within reach.

And then came the stenosis, and the specter of lost energy moved in for the duration. He's looking at a valve replacement, and holding onto the daily gift of his life in the face of a lot of uncertainty. Is there a promise on the other side of this risk? Is there some imagined guarantee for this next step on the medical tilt-a-whirl? No, not this time.

Something's changed with my father, with all of us, since the transplant. In another post, I wrote about transformation and resurrection. There is a palpable sense that this level of risk has been entirely worth every single day of the life my father has now. The ability to be present has presented itself. Suddenly, there is now. Before the transplant, I think we were all waiting, and the waiting meant we weren't really aware of what was happening. The discomfort of dialysis, the abbreviated visits, the risks of it, felt entirely wrong. And I am also grateful for the dialysis that kept my father alive for a year before this miracle kidney came along.

And it happened. A kidney did come, and that wasn't a promise, at all. When he was offered this kidney, he jumped, and I mean truly jumped at the opportunity. There wasn't anything that was going to stop him-- not just completing dialysis, not night driving, not anything that was challenging to him. He got there, he took the risk. He saw the risk as a promise, and it paid off. His new kidney is well, so well in fact it's as if he never had kidney function issues at all.

What does this wellness mean in the face of a heart stuck and slowed by plaque accrued through dialysis and age? It's not an easy one to figure out. I've been walking around angry, sad, confused. And then I talk to my father on the phone, and am reminded of the life so earnestly lived, now that the space has opened up for him to live it.

My father talks to me about his music, his art. He talks to me about the moving of the seasons out his window, the frozen lake, the birds, the photographs he is taking. He talks about how he has a quality of life in these months since his transplant that he never thought he would have again.

When I was little, like 8 or 9, my father and I would go running together along the road by Narragansett Bay. The first mile was a glorious down hill skip, while looking at suburban houses and yacht club boat races. We reached Gaspee Rock and had a flat run for the second mile, down through more expensive and tree lined streets, by the entrance to the club, and out to the point. And then we turned around. I would do well until we reached the hill. And though I tried, my father, more often than not, would carry me up that hill on his shoulders.

I'm not going to make some metaphoric leap to my father carrying me, even now, as he lives these different days. It's not like that, we're all adults now, and I don't think I need to be ashamed of my sadness and frustration.  I will say, however, that this journey is a long jog with a lot of hills going up. We reach a plateau, and then the next step is shown to us. No certainty, no promises. Just one step at a time, and often those steps are laborious. I realize now that there are no promises of this time, and to have them, would be as bad a plan as a promise of flowers in Vermont on March 20.

So let go of the promise, the expectation. See what is. We will see, if we are lucky, what is next.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On Knowing It's a Leading

So I just got home from a long day at Woolman Hill, a Quaker retreat center in Deerfield, Massachusetts. I attended one day of a weekend gathering of Friends who hold a concern for climate change and environmental issues. I made the compromise with my partner to go only for one day, and managed to do it. I drove 2 1/2 hours each way, and spent a full day in worship and discussion sessions with 30+ Quakers from around the New England Yearly Meeting-- the regional association that connects individual meetings to each other.

That's an 18 hour day. But I'm wired now, or maybe filled with the Spirit of the day. Sometimes it's hard to tell.

The gathering was well ordered-- which is Friendspeak for well organized and responsive to the needs of those gathered. For me it was an introduction to New England Quakers. Though I was raised in Rhode Island, and have spent most of my life in New England, I have never been a Quaker in New England until now. There is a whole new layer of this region that is opening up to me. I am intrigued, and interested in learning more over time, at gatherings like this one, at the annual gathering of Quakers in the summer that happens somewhere in New England. This year it is in Vermont. I am feeling lucky about that.

Discussion was lively, and I'm glad I stuck around for the evening session, even with the resulting return to my living room by 12:30 (now 1:30, with the leap forward). A moment struck me so sweetly, so powerfully, from this last session that I would have hated to miss.

One of the participants stood, as we were discussing paying attention to where our hearts lead us in responding to the needs of the world, wondering about if we can get a 'leading'-- again, Friendspeak for  the pull of ministry in our lives-- from another person. She shared that a loved one was struggling with a life threatening illness, and she felt led to be with her and help her. She was asking if this leading was possible, and if it was enough. As she asked this last part, she began to express emotion, and the rawness of her concern for her loved one.

The drop in the room was palpable. In another post I have written about leveling down, where a member of a group surfaces a conflict, issue, struggle, truth that brings the group to a deeper level of understanding about what is happening. This was a level down that I could feel with my body.

The response of other participants, and one of the facilitators, brought us deeper and through. The immediate attention to her, the outpouring of compassion, and the naming of what was going on with her in the context of our work together, was genius, was very well ordered indeed.

I think it is pretty clear that on a rational level, a human level, the care for those we love is so crucial to our wellness, our wholeness in the world. But the guilt and powerlessness of feeling like this care is not enough, is somehow not noble enough in the face of the largeness of something like climate change,  can be paralyzing. This Friend who shared her concern and story was surfacing something for all of us-- a fear that no matter what we do, no matter how natural and right that doing is, it will not be enough. And this fear blocks our knowing-ness of the authentic leadings that are calling to us.

In this gathered group, contradiction to this paralysis, as well as loving understanding, brought us all to a place of compassion for ourselves in our lives, and made the connections we needed to hear in order to feel like we would not have to abandon ourselves to this work. In fact, we are a part of this work, and our loved ones, our home meetings, our families, are a part of this great turning work we are building in our own ways.

Something else that was shared over and over again during the day was that we need to build love, we need to say yes to it, and by loving more completely, we will see a way through. I have a lot of resistance to this, because it sounds pat to me. Demon cynicism raises his head.

But in the context of this leveling down, I am seeing love differently. If I love more completely, see loved ones all around me, both human and non-human loved ones, what then will my leading be? To respond with love to the illness of loved ones is natural, right, and true. And if that loved one is a pasture? And if that loved one is an ancestor wronged, seeking reconciliation? Or a stream, blocked by ill use?

The call of an authentic love, leading us to care and bold response, is powerful, and there for us, when we listen and open to its working in the world. I am grateful for the teachers who showed me this today, and this discipline is one I hope to live into, as this phase of life takes root on this land and in the community.