I’m afraid most of us live in denial when we are faced with many of the problems so many of you have shared with me over the years. Why not? We often see our bodies falling into disrepair and our minds don’t want to follow into the natural conclusion that we will continue down this road.
Sixteen years ago my sweet daughter and I took a trip to Finland to visit an old friend of mine who lives just outside of Helsinki in a beautiful little planned community. I didn’t think I could do it because of all the sitting that would be required on the plane trip. I had promised this friend to visit her one day, time’s a’wastin’ and my daughter who was named after her urged me on. My dear Jim stayed home to work and dogsit as we girls took the long flight to Heathrow in London, then caught the hopper over to Helsinki after a six hour layover. During the flight from San Francisco to London, which as I recall took 11 or 12 hours, I walked my sorry behind up and down the aisles. I would have done anything to keep from sitting on it that whole time. The whole population of the plane was asleep and I was the floor walker.
I had registered for the flight as a disabled person but that was a bit farcical because at each transfer or stop, there was some poor airline employee with a wheelchair urging me to sit on my problem. I grew tired of explaining to well-meaning, yet bored strangers why I couldn’t sit down. Goodness folks, you know I talk about my tush enough to all of you without having to explain, out of the blue, to some poor unsuspecting soul that my disability is more than needing a wheelchair. By the time we arrived at our destination I had been awake for more than 36 hours and was trembling with pain and fatigue. My friend and her family greeted us and we had a bit of a drive out to their suburb after filling out information for my daughter’s lost luggage. When we arrived at their apartment complex, my friend sheepishly told me they lived on the fifth floor and had no elevator. I contemplated if it was illegal in Finland to strangle someone if you were only visiting and had known them a really long time and concluded…yep, it was.
We arrived on a Saturday night and she had made arrangements for us to walk to church the next morning…just a mile or so. When I asked her if they had cushions or pads in the pews she assured me they did. Well, they didn’t and there we were in God’s house and I had so much malice in my heart it was difficult to feel peaceful. “Onward Christian Soldiers” was the only hymn I could think of that applied, if those soldiers were armed, that is.
A few days later was their night for the sauna in their complex. Let me explain that to the Finns, the sauna is more than a hot, steamy bath. It’s history, tradition and Nirvana. Every Finn has a sauna or three or at the least one they can use. They use them “ah buffo” or in the nude. Grandparents, children, men and women all sweating together and steaming up over hot pits of fire striking each other with branches, birch, I believe, although it didn’t really matter to me at the time. Out of courtesy for our Pilgrim Fathers, my friend’s husband allowed us females to bath alone. I have not always been a modest person but since everything I am and own on my naked person has shifted to a new and mostly lower configuration, I was resistant. My daughter who had perky, well, everything at that time, was all for experiencing it, you know the old, “When in Rome,” adage.
I was mostly embarrassed to be seen by my daughter and told her, “I don’t want you to see me because you’ll probably be looking at your future.” I didn’t want to depress the girl. Once the clothes were off, it was out of my hands, so to speak. We had this experience twice while on that amazing trip.
Besides eating far too many fish eggs, whole fish with bones et al baked into a bread, liver pudding baked with raisins and sugar as dessert and reindeer meat I can understand why you seldom see a Finnish restaurant in this country. We were spared the infamous blood pudding of that country. It was an amazing trip and one neither of us will ever forget.
My point in sharing all of this is that we never know what to expect in our futures. We’re not going to find some of it to our taste, we’re going to be humiliated by other parts of it and we’re probably better not knowing what’s coming down the pike. That old Irish expression, “If you want to make God laugh just plan your future,” is so true. Naturally, we try by seeking a good education, marrying for love or lust, and fooling ourselves into thinking we’re in charge…of something, but in reality, very little is in our control. We envision our grandchildren and our children living in success and splendor before the first time they get into trouble, get their first divorce or have the bottom fall out of their careers. We long for perfect health for them, usually forgetting they are running around with a deposit of the very same DNA that got us into this pickle.
I have recently been grimly and realistically made aware of what my future holds. Faced with decadent cartilage, thinning bones, loss of weight and height watching my pant legs drag on the floor. I know I didn’t expect to be fat and jolly until the day I parted from this world but to watch myself losing parts like a rusty R2 D2 from a Star Wars saga, can be a bit too much. I confess, to hear my rheumatologist explaining all the grim details of what my disease will do to me (Relapsing polychondritis) was a bit startling. I’ve had a look into my future and I don’t like it. The word that comes to mind is “Yikes!” I have been forced to face the future, not in its finery but in its shabbiest and most frightening appearance.
As an RN for many years, I know most doctors pride themselves on being realist, but sometimes, they are wrong. I also know most forms of rheumatoid disease do not follow the rules or guidelines. Our bodies love to surprise us, even in cases of cancer, and it’s not always bad. In this particular case the physician was trying to prepare me for the future by recommending a new, somewhat experimental drug which I will need to inject every day for two years and pray I don’t develop osteosarcoma. I have always known life is a gamble and now I have proof. If I am going to be honest with all of you and with myself, all of life is a gamble and a game of chance. Each time we get into a car, it’s a gamble. Each time we eat a food prepared by another’s hands, walk down the street or are exposed to that vicious witch, Mother Nature with all of her temper tantrums and storms. Every day of our lives we are faced with surprises, challenges and catastrophic events.
The key is to face the future with knowledge, courage and most of all, faith. Knowledge gives the armament of information we need about our doctors, our medications and any procedures we might have to face. Knowledge sounds so boring but in reality it is empowering. Reading a drug book, catching up on Dr. Andrew Weil’s latest take on your condition or taking advantage of the many millions of resources available to us in this modern age on any and all medical conditions is one of the shields to guard us. We need to do as mother always said, “Consider the source.” Beware of greed, avarice and strangely sounding “too good to be true” remedies online. I always like to check for at least two opinions on medical issues as well.
Another way we can empower ourselves is to check the level on our fear and anxiety scale. Most of what we fear will never happen. Fear can take over our lives and as the clock in the hall ticks away our minutes, hours and days; we allow fear to tie us up in knots. It’s difficult to experience all of life’s gifts which heal us if we cannot move due to fear. While you and I are trying to untie those knots, we’re missing so much that will never be enjoyed in quite the same way as it can be right now. Soaking in the beauty of a crystal blue river, watching a flock of tiny ducks swimming in the cold water, seeing a cormorant dive for a fish or observing a cluster of cloud formations float gently and lazily away from your view; these are empowering for the spirit. Hope with a touch of humor trumps fear each and every time.
The power of belief and spirit is one of remarkable confusion. No one really understands the connection but millions of us know it to be true. These temporary quarters in which we live, called bodies, is but a small part of the picture. They are annoying, betraying and troublesome, but they are not in charge.
You and I are the masters of our own universe. We must not let fear of the past or the future rule our lives, causing us to miss the marvels of today. Fear is a black fog that can be whisked away by the light of reason and knowledge. If we allow it to take over, we are mere victims and become that starving soul who doesn’t even know the refrigerator is full. We all must widen our view, turn on the light of faith and expect the unusual which isn’t always frightening. You know yourself better than anyone else does. Have confidence in what you want. Have belief in your dreams although they may need a bit of tweaking. Run or crawl or wheel away from the negative people and forces in your life. Fear is empowered by you only if you allow it to be. Open the windows, turn on the lights of reason and be informed. This is your life and you are ultimately in charge. Be sure to hang out that sign, “NO VICTIMS HERE.” No victims here. So, what are you going to do today?