Friday, September 8, 2023

 I’m calling this “the summer that wasn’t.”  It began in mid-July with severe back pain which I attributed to muscle spasms (correctly, it turns out).  Three subsequent visits to the hospital emergency department followed by three days as an in-patient determined that the spasms were the presenting symptom of a "closed wedge compression fracture" in one of my thoracic vertebrae - - subsequently accompanied by an amazingly painful bursitis in my left hip.  

It seems that the medical tool box is somewhat limited.  I went through a succession of  pain remedies that reads like drug encyclopedia - Dilaudid, valium, morphine, oxycodone, Gabapentin and three different muscle relaxants (none of which helped the spasms) - - accompanied by drugs to offset the side effects of all the above - anti - nausea drugs (that made me vomit -go figure!) to combat the effects of the muscle relaxants; laxatives to combat the constipation from the opioids.

In a matter of two weeks I consumed more drugs than I have taken over a lifetime.  None of them particularly effective.  Feeling toxic, at some point I decided  “enough is enough” - and proceeded to “de-tox.”  I substituted acupuncture, massage and physical therapy.  Only now, approaching mid-September, is my body feeling like my own again.  

Throughout it all, I kept affirming to myself  “There is meaning in this.”   Only gradually is it becoming clear.

Late in the process, I began reading Pema Chodron’s book, “How We Live Is How We Die,”  each page a gently forceful reminder of the impermanence of all things.  Each page an invitation to  focused awareness on the continued transitoriness of life.

Her thoughtful writing is providing me a positive frame for this strange interlude in my otherwise exceptionally healthy life.  Nothing is permanent. Change and transition are the most dependable reality in life.  The body I inhabit now is not the same body that entered this painful health crisis nearly 2 months ago.  I have been moving through a transition.

Now that pain and the accompanying remedies are no longer fogging my mind so much, I can broaden my perspective a bit.  The first Republican debate of the election year has happened.  Indictments have been handed down.  Many folks have been booked on a variety of charges. Trial dates have been set.  Legal arguments about trial venues are being argued.  No matter how we try we cannot escape the “trump effect” on the news cycle. 

In the broader world, climate activists are hard at work all over the world in their attempts to raise a resistant human consciousness.  Groups like Rabbis For Human Rights continue their work in behalf of  social justice for all human beings in Israel.  Reproductive rights groups  are at work on the ground in behalf of women’s rights to their own bodies.  The increments of progress seem infinitesimal at times given the enormity of the issues - and yet, what we see now as intransigent problems are not solid rock.  All of life is in continual transition. Indeed, if I read Pema Chodron correctly, life IS transition.

Learning to live with the fluidity of constant change, of moment to moment transitions, of using the breath to become aware of how irresistible this transitoriness is - that is the challenge for me these days. 

So - a little illumination comes out of the “summer that wasn’t.”   A summer of relative isolation and almost mind numbing boredom at times - a summer of almost static stillness - a summer of “angelic visitations” in the form of dear friends, of compassionate doctors and nurses, dietary aides and, especially, the kind gentle man who emptied the waste basket in my hospital room, assuring me with thumbs up in mostly Brazilian: “It will be OK!” - -  a summer of wise and devoted care from family - - All of us in transition from one way of being into another - - all in relationship with one another.   Maybe a vision for this world we inhabit together?

With a little more patience, it might actually be exciting!!

Vicky Hanjian

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