Saturday, April 23, 2011

On Lilies and Life

The Calla lilies look almost too perfect to be real. They spring up every March and April along the fence in our side yard. Planted by someone whose name I do not know, they thrive in spite of my neglect. I neither water them nor tend them. My dog pays them a little more attention. He methodically tramples them under his big goofy paws in the hottest part of summer. Then he flops down on top of their cool green leaves and sleeps all day in the shade.  Certain that they can't possibly rebound from such abuse, I watch the fence line dubiously year after year. And the lilies bounce back greener, denser, more vibrant every Spring. It defies reason, but there they are, rioting and gorgeous. They make me happy. 

Tomorrow is Easter, the culmination of another Holy Week, and I can't stop thinking of the lilies. They remind me of life and of the Life.  "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:" (John 11:25) And I recognize the miracle of life that springs up again and again in my soul. When I feel thirsty or trampled down or doubtful, He pours out living water or takes my hand and raises me up or whispers hope. And I bounce back year after year, greener and more vibrant. 

Tomorrow I will sit in church and sing--hymns of wounded hands and an empty tomb and that bright morning that followed darkest night. In my mind I will picture the stone rolled away and the linens carefully folded long ago in far away Jerusalem. But mostly I will picture the lilies blooming in my own backyard--reminding me of life everlasting and eternity that begins today. Here. Now. Again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Core Strength

Wendy carries a clipboard and her work wardrobe consists of t-shirts and running shoes. No wonder she always seems cheerful when I show up for our appointments--it's 2:00 pm and she's still in her sweats. Sweet.
Her smile does not fool me though. She's there to kick my trash, and she always thinks I can do a little more. Usually she's right. Five years ago I would have laughed at the idea of paying good money for a personal trainer. Hans and Frans? Thanks, no. Work out in an air-conditioned gym? Lame. I would rather ride my bike up to Del Valle or run with my dog or swim laps or hike Brushy Peak. Yeah, well, five years ago I couldn't have really told you anything about Parkinson's Disease either.

Prayers are answered in a lot of ways. Sometimes the answer involves a clipboard and lot of work and some pain. Wendy is one of those answers. This is not about sculpted abs and toned triceps, it's about being able to manage the stairs in my house and use a keyboard and tie my shoes. It's about being able to body surf with my grandkids and whitewater kayak in Alaska in August and Lindy Hop with Bob and ride my bike to Yosemite next Spring. So Wendy works me . . . hard. Some days I just want to lie on the mat and cry or take an ice pick to the Bosu ball. But Wendy reminds me that, "When your core is strong, everything is stronger." So I keep working . . . hard. And the pain pays off, gradually. It always surprises me when I  find that I can bear more weight or do more reps or maintain my balance better that I could eight weeks ago. Why should it surprise me? Wendy knows her stuff. I wish I had a dollar for every time she has said, "Keep your core engaged!" But I have something better to show for it than a fistful of singles--core strength.

Lately I have thought a lot about my other Core--my capital 'C' core--that singular essential center of  my being that is not vulnerable to Parkinson's disease or any other physical limitation. If anything, Parkinson's has helped me put on spiritual muscle. But soul-building is hard work, painful even. Sometimes I just want to lie on the path and cry. Then a quiet voice reminds me to keep my Core engaged. So I keep working . . . hard. I work to trust God and to love His children and to hope tenaciously. I apply myself to patience and optimism and inner-stillness. Most of the time I cannot perceive my own progress. Now and then, though, I find myself surprised by a deep serenity and stability pooling inside me. I can bear life's weight better and keep my balance no matter what the world throws at me. When my Core is strong, everything is stronger.

Someday my Parkinson's will outstrip even my best efforts, and Wendy's expertise, at core training. That's OK. It will never outstrip my opportunity to develop Core strength--capital 'C' Core.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011



Powerless. I am powerless against the New York Times. Not the whole thing. I can walk away from the front page, especially if the news is bad. Sports Page? No problem, I check the MLB standings, and skim the stats. Done.  On a vulnerable day, the Weather Page may suck me in for a while. Why, you ask? Who knows? Something about checking the temperature in Oslo and the humidity in Managua makes me happy. (I think I mostly love it because it makes me feel a little better about my outrageous California mortgage payment to realize that while I hop in the pool on an April morning, they’re still wearing thermal long-johns in Sniezka or sweltering in Ahmedabad.) 
My helplessness starts and ends on The Puzzle Page. For a capable (somewhat), productive (sometimes), and intelligent (debatable) adult I have a stunning lack of discipline when it comes to The Crossword and KenKen.  (Eight Across: “Period between Shaban and Shawwal”; seven letters; starting with an ‘R’.  RAMADAN. Writing the bold block letters in pen makes me disproportionately happy. And why can I not resist KenKen? I don’t even like math, but show me the freebie “3” in the corner and I’m a goner. ) Pen flying, I cannot stop until every square on every grid has a letter or a number in it. Don’t even think about pulling me away to brush my hair or scramble eggs (warm breakfast at my house means I leave the milk out.) Nope. Not until I figure out the “region conquered by Phillip II of Macedon” that ends in a ‘Y.’ Aaah, Thessaly.
Most days my benign, if slightly geeky, addiction to the puzzle page doesn’t cost me much, maybe twenty minutes. But I don’t really have time for it. Maybe that’s what makes it so irresistible–that and the chance of actually completing something, anything, in a single morning.  As a writer, I start many things and finish few. Multiple projects simmer in my mental kitchen at any given time.  Juicy words and free-floating sentences and brilliant half-thoughts twine and dance in my head by the thousands. Some converge and take shape.  Others splinter into endless variations on a theme that never quite settles down and becomes something.  Even the ones I seize and hold captive on the page take on a life of their own and often defy closure.  Contrast that with The Crossword—that lovely masterpiece of symmetry and order. Each clue has an answer. One answer. Words and letters are tightly contained in tidy boxes on a carefully constructed grid. Nothing slops over or slips away or slumps into nonsense. Twenty minutes seems a small price to pay for the empowering illusion of mastery over words, that fleeting third of an hour when everything falls into place. It’s the least puzzling part of my day.
What benign addiction helps you get through the day? Is your writing an orderly process or a literary free-for-all? What’s your best “writer’s tip”?
photo by trs 125
This post originally appeared on The Peanut Gallery Speaks

Friday, April 8, 2011

Hatchet Job

You know those moments when you're aware that your life is totally in someone else's hands? You have no option but to trust the skill and training and common sense of another human being. Like when your flight experiences landing gear malfunction. Or at the top of a Class IV rapid in an open raft. Or as they wheel you in to the OR for emergency surgery. All you can do is pray that your surgeon didn't cut class on the day they covered hysterectomies or that your pilot got 100% and a gold star on his forehead for acing the "Emergency Landing" simulation with a cool head. Or that your river guide didn't throw any magic 'shrooms in his omelet that morning (fat chance on that one, but you can hope.)

Well, I had one of those moments this week and survived. Barely. And it wasn't (isn't) pretty. But I had to trust her. I don't have the skill or training to do her job. So I stayed in my seat, trying to remain calm while she worked. And she worked--actually created a piece of work. On my head. Yep. It's the week of the really, really awkward haircut.

Ironically, I don't worry about my hair much on a day to day basis. Low-maintenance is my middle name. (OK, not really, but if I had a middle name I'm pretty sure that would be it.) This week, though, I needed a  confidence boost. I am speaking at a conference in three weeks and I thought a nice fresh 'do would provide a little lift. D'oh. I ended up on the wrong end of a pair of scissors wielded by a stylist who needed to talk. I guess she figured that as long as she kept snipping, I would keep listening and giving sympathetic feedback. She had a captive audience/therapist that she could hold hostage with just a few flicks of her shears.

I had removed my glasses, so I didn't fully see the extent of the havoc she wreaked until it was too late. But whatcha gonna do? Say "Put it back! Now!"? When even my near-sighted eyes could discern that we were approaching the point where the hair on my head was shorter than the hair on my legs, I started to pray. She must have seen the look of panic on my face, because she stopped clipping and pulled out her blow dryer to dry the stubble that remained. I headed home to start damage control. Still working on it. There's always the option of wearing a paper bag on my head for my speaking engagement. That would be a first, no doubt.
Hey, Dallin Oaks delivers great talks with much less hair than I have. Besides I learned a few things:

Lesson # 1--Never look for self-assurance in a salon chair.

Lesson #2--It's worth the trouble to put in your contact lenses before getting a haircut.

Lesson #3--It's just hair! It grows. You want longer hair? Put on more mascara.

Lesson #4--The paper handle-bag from the Verizon store is the ideal size to fit over an adult head. Bonus:
the clean, professional black/white/red graphics will match with almost any business ensemble.

So, do you have a heinous haircut saga? Make my day and share it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

April and a Number of Things

So what's not to love about April? Daffodils. Asparagus. Daylight Savings Time. Easter Eggs and Opening Day. General Conference Income taxes. (Oh yeah, income taxes. Well, five out of six ain't bad.) Calla lilies and artichokes and sandal weather. Cherry blossoms and my birthday. (It's OK, we're still ten for twelve.)

I remember the first poem I ever memorized. My Little Golden Book of selections from A Child's Garden of Verses had dog-eared pages and no back cover--I had literally loved it to pieces. Mom read it with me in her tilt back chair and we learned the whole book by heart.

The world is so full of a number of things,
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Scoff if you must. Call me Pollyanna and find yourself some soul-blasted-world-weary emo poetry that you think describes "real" life more accurately than Robert Louis Stevenson's sunny little couplet. You can keep your so called "Realism."  Not that the troubles and tragedies and terrors of this anguished world are not real. They are real. I know that. But they are not the only realities and their seeming prevalence does not diminish other real things: faith and hope; authentic joy and triumph; waking up next to the love of your life every morning. Integrity and compassion and generosity are as real as corruption and callousness and self-interest.  Light still chases away darkness, even a little light.  Ugly things are "reality"--just not the only reality. Georgia O'Keefe said, "Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get to the real meaning of things." Real things, any number of them. Like a daffodil. Or an artichoke. Or another April.

What do you love about April? How do you focus on the optimistic face of "reality"?