I love planting things. I love growth in all things. I am actually a farmer’s daughter and have a vigorous green thumb but by the time I came along, as the youngest of four daughters, they were off the farm and my Dad took up upholstering. He had a job delivering furniture and was a kind. inherently intelligent man without an education, who had a deep faith in his God. He wanted a better life for his family and went into the furniture store after hours because the owner let him try his hand at upholstery. He had a knack for it and eventually moved his family to California on very little money. After several years of hard work, he had an upholstery shop behind our house. It was in what was once our garage so he worked close to home. I have such fond memories of that shop as I played with samples of textile fabrics as a little girl, playing store with my friends. One of my childhood friends is always reminding me I had a great imagination. Little did I know how much I would need it one day. Oh, and on rare occasions I helped out by sweeping out the shop for Dad. I often gazed in amazement as my Dad would put upholstery tacks in his mouth and then proceed to spit them out onto his tack hammer as he needed them. I have often wondered how many of those he swallowed during his lifetime. When the power staplers were invented, it took a lot of the fun out of it…at least for me.
Those were happy, carefree days of skating on metal skates, riding a bike and listening for the Helms Bakery truck to come by with it’s delicious assortment of donuts, cream puffs, pastries and breads. I remember the enormously long racks the driver would pull out of the refrigerated truck and the delicious wonder that lay within. There was also a salesman who came to see my Dad who always had Double Bubble chewing gum in a large box in the trunk of his car. Such happy, carefree days in Sunny California. We even had a huge palm tree in our front yard my Dad planted as a young tree and eventually sold, many years later, to a developer in town. The tree was huge by then. The old house was moved and a new shop was built. The memories remain.
I don’t remember any suffering from ailments in our family in those days, except me. I did have rheumatic fever as a child from a severe strep throat infection and had to go to bed for almost a year. I remember my precious Dad cried, my Mom pushed on as usual and my sisters were all older and leading lives of their own as teens and college students. I guess that is when I began to realize life was not perfect. I was embarrassed by being “different” than the other kids I knew. I lost contact with many of them during that year as I had to be homeschooled. That was when homeschooling was not the “thing” as it is now. I had a tutor sent out by the school. I suffered continuous joint pain, had to be taken to the doctor every week for blood work as the doctor’s nurse would come out to the car to draw blood so I wouldn’t have to go into the doctor’s office. I read books, watched TV and listened to music from a little record player. I adored I Love Lucy and any music by Rogers and Hammerstein. I memorized all the scores to their latest plays and movies. I can still sing right along with the scores of most of them.
It’s an odd thing to feel so out of step from others and be the odd man out. Pre-teens and teens thrive on togetherness, fads and being like their cohorts. When I returned to school, my first year of Junior High school, I was different, shyer and more withdrawn.
I have fought infections of the throat and sinuses for most of my young and adult life but somehow it became the normal life for me. Stomach pains were another given in my life, probably exacerbated by ten years of a painful marriage, ending when I was thirty. It wasn’t until I was forty years old that my current rheumatoid conditions struck in full force and when they did, they took me down. They took me down in body and spirit as they smashed my career as an RN. I was lost for the first three years. Pain in my rear end which I eventually learned was sacroiliac pain as well as low back pain tormented me. I couldn’t sit, I crawled into bed on my knees attempting to get comfortable. I practically had to be extracted to get out of the seat of my car because my legs were numb from any length of time in the sitting position. I cried, I grieved and I asked “why me?” I had been brought up to be a person of faith and had always felt God loved and cared for me. As a young child I talked to God and always felt His presence in my life.
I have always felt close to my Creator, and felt a sense of guidance in this world. I continued to struggle to work although it had to be on a part time basis. It was difficult, it was painful and I tried to avoid sitting and walked as much a possible while on duty as a House Supervisor at two different hospitals. I crawled into my car after a shift and cried all the way home, all the while asking myself how much longer I would be able to work. My husband was and is always there for me with his understanding, love and nursing mind since he is also an RN.
It is the complicated nature of rheumatoid disease they can be very difficult to diagnose. That pause causes doubts to set in for most of us as they did for me. Was I really sick? Is the pain as bad as I think it is? It took several years for me to get a beginning, tentative diagnosis and many years after that to get some firm answers. Many medications and even more physical therapy sessions later, I would temporarily improve but the original problems continued. That’s when I realized it was here, this “thing” and it was here to stay. Of all things to have, pain in one’s backside. I have always had a good sense of humor and thought, “Well, why not see the humor in it?” It wasn’t going away and I was stuck. I was stuck “right where I live”; in more ways than one. I was wrought with confusion, discouragement and yet, there was always an awakening deep inside my heart that caused me to wonder where all of this was going to lead.
That’s when I began to see life differently, and began to write. I loved nursing and always felt led to use my nursing career and my previous education as a literature major in college. Anytime I prayed and sought answers praying, “Lord, please help me find a new way to go.” “Write”, always came to me. I had frequently kept journals so it wasn’t a foreign concept to me. I journaled my angst, my fear and my hopes. Where was I to go, what was I to do with my life? One day I wrote a goofy poem about driving my convertible down Main Street and having teenagers flirt with me while driving behind me, then driving off in embarrassment when they saw a middle-aged woman behind the wheel. One of the local newspapers published it. Then they asked me to write a column for them on a regular basis. They even paid me. It wasn’t a nurse’s salary which was direly missed in our family, but it was fun. I called my column Valley View: Askew. It was all about seeing life from a humorous perspective. That column made me realize I was a bit of an eccentric. I like being eccentric. I love seeing life differently than many people do. I think it’s healthy and very good for each of us. To be an individual, to be one’s true self, is a very liberating experience. I believe it’s good for anyone but especially true for those who find life has kicked them in the can, down the road or in the soul, stealing something from them which they love. This life with chronic pain is so much more than just physical pain.
When confronted with pain of any kind we have choices to make. We can laugh or we can cry. We can moan and feel self-pity or we can communicate and reach out to help others through a similar set of circumstances. The old clock of life is still ticking at the same pace, 24 hours is still in each day and the earth still circles the sun. There are so many constants in the world to remind us of how reliable life can be we can’t really get too angry and bitter about change that comes to us. At least I choose not to. Most seeds you place into the ground sprout if you follow the rules and put them in fertile soil with water and sunshine available to them. Most critters, those with four feet and those with two, respond to love if it’s offered. These are some of the basic rules of life, like the Golden Rule we all learn as children. Change brings variables into those constants and with it the discomfiture of adjustment.
When life becomes askew, our world spins off its axis and huge change comes into our lives. I believe it is an opportunity to take a new path. It is not always easy to see what that purpose is but it is a wonderful opportunity to look for it and find out what that new road is, for you and for me. I have come to accept many new rules for life I never thought possible before I became ill. I’d like to share a few of them with you.
LIFE CAN NEVER BE PLANNED, ONLY EXPECTED.
PLANS FOR LIFE SHOULD BE SKETCHED IN PENCIL; NOT INK.
IF YOU HAVE FAITH IN LIFE AND SAY “SHOW ME THE WAY”, YOU’D BETTER HANG ON, IT’S GONNA BE AN INTERESTING RIDE AS YOU GET WHAT YOU ASKED FOR.
EACH ONE OF US HAVE A TREASURE TROVE OF TALENTS LOCKED AWAY AND NEVER OPEN THAT TREASURE CHEST UNTIL WE ARE FORCED TO. FAITHFILLED EXPECTATION IS THE KEY.
WE EACH GET CAUGHT IN A GROOVE AND ONLY GET OUT OF IT WHEN WE ARE FORCED TO DO SO OR DIE.
WE CAN LEARN TO GIVE THANKS FOR HORRIBLE EVENTS IN OUR LIVES WHICH CHANGE OUR PATHS, WHEN WE UNDERSTAND WHERE THE NEW PATH HAS LED US.
HINDSIGHT ISN’T FOR REGRET; IT’S TO LEARN AND SEE THE PATH AHEAD MORE CLEARLY.
JUST AS GOD DESIGNED EACH SNOWFLAKE TO HAVE ITS OWN CONFIGURATION, HE LOVES THE ECCENTRIC INDIVIDUAL WHO KNOWS WHO THEY ARE, WHAT THEY LIKE, APART FROM THE CROWD.
WE NEVER USE ALL OF THE TALENTS WE HAVE. THERE ARE ALWAYS SOME IN OUR “SAVINGS ACCOUNT.” THERE IS ALWAYS A NEW TALENT TO DISCOVER IN ONE’S SELF. TRY IT, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE BRILLIANT AT IT. THE FUN AND THE GROWTH IS IN THE DOING.
WE SHOULD NEVER BE AFRAID OF SOME NEW LIGHT WE FIND SHINING WITHIN US. IF THE CREATIVE THOUGHT IS THERE, AND IT IS A THOUGHT AND IDEA FOR GOOD, IT CAN HAPPEN; IN TIME, IN ITS OWN WAY AND IS ALWAYS AMAZING.
THERE ARE NO DEADEND ROADS AS LONG AS WE HAVE BREATH AND A PULSE.
NO ONE ELSE CAN SEE THE VISION YOU HAVE FOR YOURSELF LIKE YOU CAN.
YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE IN THAT VISION AND KNOW IT IS A PRECIOUS GIFT FOR YOU AND YOU ALONE.
LIFE IS SUPPOSED TO BE ENJOYED, SAVORED, AND APPRECIATED. YES, EVEN WITH CHRONIC PAIN.
ALL OF LIFE IS A PROCESS. IT CAN BE ANYTHING FROM MAKING CHEESE, COOKING, GROWING, FRIENDSHIPS, GRIEVING AND ACCEPTANCE OF LOSS. SOMETIMES WE HAVE TO STEP BACK, SHUT UP AND LET THE PROCESS WORK.
SEE THE HUMOR IN EVERYTHING EVEN IF NOBODY ELSE DOES. YOU’RE NOT CRAZY; YOU’RE ECCENTRIC.
IF YOU LOOK FOR THEM, THERE ARE CONSTANT LITTLE REMINDERS ALONG THE WAY TELLING YOU THAT YOU ARE NEVER ALONE. I LOVE THOSE INCIDENTS.
COINCIDENCES ARE JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR MIRACLES BUT WITHOUT THEIR JUICE SO DON’T BE FOOLED. TRY TO RECOGNIZE MIRACLES, BOTH LARGE AND SMALL FOR WHAT THEY ARE; REMINDERS YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE AND NEVER FORGOTTEN.
You and I are different from each other. We are each our own selves. It sounds obvious but it’s a fact we often forget. Embrace who you are unless you’re a jerk. If that’s the case, find a way to like yourself, even if you have to get counseling to do so. Most of the world experiences pain of some sort but not daily, grinding, chronic pain. We are already apart, separated by the changes pain has brought so why not enjoy it. Embrace eccentricity. Wear what you want to wear. I have to wear hats and sunproof clothing therefore I make it fun. I know for me; my eyes see all of life differently. I see the peachy hues of a geranium outside my living room window has a new bloom today. I see a potential new neighbor looking at old Gerald’s house. Old Gerald was a tragic figure who lived in our neighborhood in an ancient home without plumbing. He is gone now and his home may have new life and truly needs it. I see clouds rolling in from the sea and wonder if they will roll on or stop to dump a bit of rain on us. On my porch, I see the trails of tiny slimy slugs who want to enjoy my basil plants before I do. Goodbye slugs it’s Deadline for you today. I don’t know how to relocate slugs, do you? I notice the groundcover my granddaughter helped me plant has disturbed dirt surrounding it. It’s a clear sign the neighborhood cats have been searching for potty space. I’ll sprinkle rosemary leaves out there today because cats don’t like that and life will go on for me and for the cats. As I am writing this I look forward to tomorrow when my two youngest grandchildren will spend the day with us. Preteens both of them, they bring a delightful perspective to life and always, yes always, a laugh.
Embrace who you are and don’t let pain rob you of your individualistic ways and style. Life is a dance and we are dancing through it as best we can, just don’t let pain lead.