bearing witness


I hesitated before posting today’s quote of the day—because it was triggery for me and I thought it might be triggering for others.

I know Mr. Carroll was speaking politically (probably) and not personally, but it’s such a broad, bald statement that it can be taken in many ways.

In the end, I decided to post it because I believe in hosting a multiplicity of viewpoints (barring Nazi propaganda and the like). I also wondered if it might broaden current discussions going on about speaking out. Hopefully (since I really am small potatoes), it won’t stir up a sh*tstorm, but you never know how these things will go. Reasoned discourse is not in fashion these days.

You see, there is nothing wrong with keeping your silence. I know from personal experience that sometimes silence is a survival mechanism and NO ONE has the right to tell you that you must break your silence. It is completely an individual choice. Breaking silence can sometimes be immensely damaging to the psychology of a victim if forced on them before they are ready to speak. Sometimes they will never be ready to speak, and that is entirely okay.

You owe it to yourself to take care of yourself because maybe no one else will. You don’t owe the herd anything that will damage you. If speaking out helps you, then speak out. But these things can’t be rushed. They exist in a space outside time and the needs of the many. They are entirely personal until and unless you decide to make them public.

#MeToo

Random quote of the day:

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

—Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

apples4WP@@@ 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

So many caregiver conversations I have begin with, “I love my [Mom] [Dad], but…” Caregiving is a constant dance between responsibility, exhaustion, love, frustration, compassion. Unless you’re one of those lucky individuals not carefully raised with a guilt complex, guilt always comes snipping at your heels. Wanting it to be over, dreading that it will end, knowing there is no happy ending, wanting to salvage something out of this life for yourself, wanting to do the best you can, give all you can, for the one you love…

Conflicts abound.

The Caregiver Action Network estimates there are 65 million family caregivers in the U.S. If you’ve got some money, you can hire people to pick up the slack. I’d wager that most of the people doing this job do not have that kind of money. Most of us have to suck it up and do the hard day to day stuff ourselves.

I sometimes see people like Amy Grant or Katie Couric get on national TV to pat themselves on the back for hiring people to take good care of their aging parents—and la did da! la di da! what a meaningful and enriching lesson we’re learning from all this. I have to admit, it kind of…fills me with rage, frankly. They have no idea what it’s like for the majority of us, the lack of resources available. There’s not a lot of meaningful enrichment going on for those of us slogging along.

But that rage? It doesn’t do any good. It makes the job of taking care of a loved one more exhausting. Part of the learning process of doing this work is knowing when to cut your losses. You have to let go of things that deplete your energy because you need to put that energy in the right place—which is taking care of a frail human being (or two, or more) who depend on you. You have to save your energy for the physical chores, for the emotional support they need, for those tiptoe movements of life in your own self.

This is what life is. Hard choices, irreconcilable desires. Most of my life I stepped along a privileged path without being confronted by these dilemmas. Oh, I had problems, bad things had happened to me. But I failed to recognize that sometimes life is a St. Vitus’ dance: you have no choice about the movement, you just have to keep going until…things end.

It’s the dance invisible, the dance towards and away from death. But also of life, in all its hidden twists and turns, its crazy syncopations, its unknown music which takes you unaware.

I dance the dance invisible. I am not alone. It just feels that way sometimes.

Some people have a Hallmark view of illness and old age, an impression that illness ennobles people, that age makes them wise. In my experience, whoever you are if you get sick and when you get old is exactly who you’ve always been, only more so. The rare individual will transcend their illness and face impending death with courage and incredible grace. Most of us slide into it with whatever bag of tricks we’ve always carried: anger, fear, manipulation, martyrdom. Sometimes a sense of humor. Sometimes glimpses of grace with all the negatives combined. The individual mix is as diverse as the population of sick people.

And wisdom in old age? If you were a young person with a questing mind and a need to learn you might have a shot at gaining wisdom as you age. Most of us coast along on our longtime habits, preferring the solace of comfort to the burning quest for knowledge. The quest burns because it often isn’t comfortable and most of us don’t want to bother. So we just get older and our eccentricities and habits become more pronounced, more etched into our soul with deeper grooves. We learn a few things along the way, but we don’t necessarily gain wisdom. Who you were is who you will be. And if you think you’re wise? You probably aren’t.

It takes willpower to change that trajectory. You have to want to be more than the sum of your parts and the collection of your habits. That takes a self-awareness most of us never achieve.

Hot off the presses. I fear I am repeating myself, but I only have One Great Subject these days,

 

Lotus flower

Always so decisive, organized and resolute, never-aging,
confident-acting if not confident, a bubbly, outgoing woman.

Most of that is gone now. Now, I find myself with a little girl,
uncertain in her steps, both physical and of the spirit,
still reaching out to be what she was, who she was,
but finding a maze of walls between her and her self.

A great tenderness crests inside me, longing to protect,
to make her feel good about herself amidst the torment
and the tumbled-down world she tries to stumble through—
even when I’m exhausted, when the frustration is high.

I cannot swear to always being a perfect person. I weaken.
I trip and fall, but the soft lotus blooming in my heart
is a good resting place, holding us both above water.

The child I chose not to have found me anyway.
What can I do except love her and mother her?

Precious Pearl

In the gray expanse of
living
there sometimes come
moments
of incandescent pearl:
rare,
precious enough to be
strung
on filaments of shimmering
hope.
if the strand can
hold
if the strand can
endure
they may be enough to
adorn
the soul, lending strength and
sustenance
beacons in the graying days to
come

What a morning. The first of these was written right after I got out of the shower where I spent my time thinking about the state of things and feeling the full weight of it all. This time of year is wearying and I am weary, sometimes prone to despair and fits of self-pity. There is at least one profane word in this poem, if that sort of thing offends you.

The second poem was written after I’d gotten my mother out of bed, fed her, joked about the cat with her, helped her with a craft project. Being with her took the edges off my despair, made me realize what was important.

But I present them both, as both are slants of the truth.

Not for the Faint of Heart

It’s hard for the brave to be weak.
Like any wounded tiger, my mother
lashes out at those who come closest.

Most days I let it pass.
She’s old and frail and hurting and afraid,
angry and confused,
and willing to admit to none of that.
I know it’s hard.
My mother, once as mighty as the
slow-churning thighs of the earth,
has to rely now on little wheels
to get across the room.

Most days I let it ride.
Except on the days when I myself
am tired and hurting and afraid,
angry and confused.
Then I defend myself—because I’m human
and frail of spirit.

But it’s not a fight I can win.
Guilt shuts me up and down
as surely as love.
I make amends. I take the blame.

I know the real guilty party is
old age,
that cold-hearted motherfucker
determined to diminish even the strongest
and bravest,
dedicated to grinding each last particle
of dignity
from our bones
while it turns us to dust.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Like a young child she has trouble

Like a young child she has trouble
with openings and closings,
clumsy hands bungling at things;
leaves messes behind her wherever
she goes, unaware, moving on;
totters, toddles and tests her feet,
escaping the prison of the walker,
grabbing furniture to steady herself;
lights never turned off, cabinets never closed.

These things evoke my tenderness,
the mothering core of my heart,
wanting to make safe, wanting
her to feel loved and appreciated,
supported and valued.

These things evoke my frustration,
moving along behind, a steadying hand,
cleaning up, making tidy, never done,
weighed down.

I live in perpetual opposition,
love and frustration, guilt and innocence.

In the end, love trumps all.
In the moment, it is sometimes
hard to remember,
but the truest expression of my heart:
love trumps all.

Remembrance

Every new thing she see reminds her of the past,
or loved ones long gone, she the last of her line:
the way things used to be, how we did things then,
the funny thing her brother did, the tricks they played.

How much has changed.

A different world, consumed by history, lost
except in a few pale memories locked in spirits
headed away from Now and into the past tense.
The days wind down, grow fewer—whether
short or long we cannot say—
but not miles, not miles left to travel.

I listen for as long as I can,
stories told again and again,
trying to bear witness,
trying to let her know
someone still cares.

I try, but memories don’t get the laundry done,
the dishes put away, the dinner cooked.
The Now is relentless, unsentimental, unforgiving.

Someday you will regret not having these conversations.

Yes. Someday, someday, someday.

But for Now
I have many duties in my way
and steps or miles before that day.
Steps or miles before that day.

This ain’t much, but it’s all the creative output I’ve got these days. And I’m glad even for that. I call them day poems for no particular reason except that they crop up during the day while I’m dealing with other stuff. They are roughly haiku in form, though I wouldn’t call them haiku.

Trapped

between love and
aching responsibility
there’s no room for me.

***

Stress

My skin is tinder:
one tiny scratch brings a
conflagration of itching.

***

Life

will burst you wide open
though the locks on your soul
would frustrate Raffles.