Some people have spiritual journeys. Like the woman at the pool today. She gave me a copy of her book, the one she’s self-published about her awakening. Praise and bible verses sing their glory from the pages. She told me Satan still tempts her sometimes.

I’m going to have to read this because we’re neighbors. We need each other more than I need the security of my convictions. I’ll learn about her journey. No matter how indirect its impact on my life, a person’s story is a big deal. Reading a slice of it is a small task.

Lately, my journey has strayed far from the spiritual. I’ve gone on a physical detour, as if I’ve stumbled upon some hidden hatch and tripped into my own body. I wander through this wondrous machine, in awe of what I’m witnessing. Connections! Understanding! Everyone needs to hear about this transformation — You! Yes, you! — because it could be this good for you too! Really! This one simple set of practices could give you back life you didn’t even know you’d lost!

Because who doesn’t love hearing yet another opinion about how to improve oneself?

Continue reading “Conversion”


Bouncing Back

streb fly 2
STREB/Ringside: Photo by Lois Greenfield

Maybe the talisman doesn’t save us after all. Maybe something suitable just happens to be within reach at the moment we need to be saved.

When it comes to rescue, coincidence can look a lot like fate.

Several months ago, I “threw my back out.” An uber-intense workout involving a particularly brutal instrument of torture called Jacob’s Ladder twinged something in my lumbar region. Within hours, pain immobilized me.

Continue reading “Bouncing Back”

Lapping at Edges


In the neighboring lanes, retirees walk the slow churn. Sinew writhes under mottled hips, hearts chug in their loose cages of hollowing bone.  We turn the creaking millstones of our musculature and send low ripples along the surface.

Mid-afternoon is a world apart from evening here.  During the late rush, fierce middle-aged racers tear a wake between ropes.  Teen divers knife skyward before the plunge.

Now, the most animated bodies in the water are a half-dozen preschoolers gripping swim bars and kicking with all their might.  The rest of us sway.  We are seaweed, we are prey.

I stir the lapping shallows.  My feet somewhere down there take the long strides of a sleepwalker.  A faceless predator closes the distance of its asymptotic approach, forever almost crossing over into awakening.  The water is a tar that grips.  Also, it buoys.  These competing forces are reminders of its latent power.  So too are the lifeguards with red floats who pace the edges and peer into our unsteady depths.  Even as we come to it to carry us over our pain, we all know that this pool could lay any of us down for good.

Rinsed and combed, up from the locker room and out through the lobby I limp.  Lopsided steps favor the right leg and give the left a breather.  Even with easy breaststroke, the busted hinge in my left knee pops and yelps.  But I’ve moved, I’ve worked up an almost-sweat.  This is energy, back for a throbbing moment, a reminder of what it felt like before.  What it may feel like again after the surgeon fiddles with the clockworks and seals me up.

But even if the repair is unsuccessful or — as is inevitable — temporary, here is water.  This is reason enough to be grateful.

As I plod out the sliding doors, a man enters. Lurch-clunk-lurch-clunk, towards the welcome desk.  Another ancient one here for the healing waters.  He leans on a cane.  Thin layers of marbled skin drape from thighs and elbows.  Around his left knee, a black brace.  The red flesh trapped inside grates at its confinement.  He moves with such care.  Lurch-clunk-lurch-clunk.  His eyes are fixed on that low place on the floor one meter ahead, a place all too familiar to me now that avoiding a fall is more appealing than the vanity of vigor.

As I hobble past, I point to his knee and say, “I’m getting over one of those too. Thank goodness for the pool.”

He looks up at me.  His face cracks like the lid of a chafing dish.  Something in there simmers and pops,  steam and all.  A slow grin.  “I bet you didn’t get yours hitting a deer while riding on a motorcycle.”  He chuckles.  His wink, an invitation.  He holds his gaze a second, another.  Then he turns and limps on.

A buzz shivers through me, potent and odd and all the more startling from its unlikely source.  Out the sliding doors and into the parking lot.  Sun licks my shoulders.  A breeze cuts through the damp hollow where my hair lays across my neck.

There are no old folks here. Not broken bodies, no lost days.  We long for what we are, even now.  We are all younger than we imagine, as raw as we have ever been.

We are all being born.

We face the open water.  We surrender.  We surge.

Photo credit:  Uncertain origin; possibly from Triathlon Scotland

Injury Reconstruction

Crouching Aphrodite

Follow me here: your brain will begin to change as you do.

– Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

The gait is an oddity.  You scoop now, or maybe swoop.  To walk forward, you have to cover distances along the vertical, an axis you’ve rarely considered. It is as if one torn hinge down below popped a hasp hidden along an adjoining edge.  The door swings upward now.  You must believe in this way of opening.  You must be willing to shift the fulcrum and lean against places you thought were solid.

Adaptation reconfigures the concept of self-reliance.

You are unable to chase down your wild one.  You find people who can. The children of the neighbors whose names you vaguely remember, they invite you because you invite yourself.  Their friends come, chatter and thump, with chocolate glass and athletes’ names stitched onto their backs.  Meat hisses and blackens over a grill.  Your little man plucks a fallen tree from the ground and hurls it across a blossoming acre of sky.  The other one rips a PVC frame from a soccer goal and turns on him.  They tear around the side where ropes and fence posts swallow them up.  Inside, girls scream.  Grease pops, a baby reaches with his crystal mouth for a slice of fruit left on raw wood.

You scale concrete steps and marvel at mechanics which you thought your birthright.  Undeserved, as is every blithe entitlement.  Fleeting, as is every aspect of the truth you trusted enough to ignore.

Pain is a flavor like coffee gone cold.  Good coffee, though.  Oil gleaming on jeweled beans.  Smoke at the edges.

Your joint is a broken tongue slipping around the memory of speed.  This is a small inconvenience.  You are grateful in a wholly unexpected way to those who have tripped over this earth in imperfect bodies.  All the ones who have scrabbled with impossible latches that bar the way to gardens too narrow anyway, or too terraced.  You thank them for every smooth paving stone, every ramp, every handrail.  You are ashamed of your earlier blindness, that disability of of the unimpaired.

The lips of those who see your hitch at first pucker with scars.  Then they chuckle them loose.  “This is just the beginning, you know.”  They are your comrades in arms.  In hips, ankles, in sciatic nerves.  Together with these allies in mortal combat, you watch an enemy front advancing over the horizon.  It moves fast.  It swells in on your flank.

Defeat is inevitable, a foregone conclusion.  You resist nonetheless.  You hold it off and clutch at your inch of territory even as it shrinks in your grip.

You lift your arm and ride its arc.  It will go too, soon enough.  It is here now, though, that crescendo, that cascade.  You lift your ears to the buzz (engine, wasp, feathered wings dipping then gone) and let heat squirm against your bare face.  This wash and flurry grates awake sinew that in its younger, uncracked state felt barely anything all.

You may return to ignorance.  Luck, they say.  This could heal without blade, just a dimming of pain, a steady return to familiar physics.  You welcome the liberation of your attention.

But you know better now.  You know that luck never holds out.  Bones will hollow.  Fluid will vanish from the eyes and reappear in lungs, in ankles, in tiny bubbles scurrying through veins.  Forward motion is a fleeting state.  As is independence.  As is hubris.  Soon you will need bodies stronger than yours to escort you across your days.  The same will happen to your children and neighbors, to your heroes, to everyone you’ve ever loved.

Like the shattering of childbirth, this crack and shift will fade.  Like childbirth, its footsteps will echo.  Its ghosts will walk your body’s locked corridors.

Keep all the hinges oiled.

Hold the keys close.

Image: Crouching Aphrodite (Venus) at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme (National Roman Museum)

19. Things I Can Still: The Go

It took two injuries in three days.

For an hour, the floor became the only place I could safely be. My Mister, mother, and boss all encouraged the recline. Horizontal I stayed. They helped me to bed. Eventually, I hobbled to the easy chair. With laptop. With novels. With quiet punctuating the growl and jabber of construction workers welding outside my window. With the first birds of spring punctuating the quiet.

This is not a familiar mode. Stress begets sweat. When the engines are firing — even more so when they are flagging — the default setting is to slam the heavy bag or pound the streets. Dance, climb, lift, go go go.

Not now.

Now it’s this: Two howling muscles on the right side — lumbar and erector — keeping company with the perennial scapular pain.

Now this: Only stillness.

Sleep comes. Caffeine goes. Sleep comes harder. Eight hours. Then nine, then ten. I struggle upright through a fog like rheum, fumble for the Advil, then surrender again. Flannel sheets. Sweet relief. An afternoon nap gives way to a labyrinthine descent into oblivion.

Three days of sleep nine years overdue. Sleep I haven’t know since Bug put down roots in my naive womb.

It took two injuries.

It shouldn’t take even one.

This stillness belongs.

I inch open the door. Who knows the cost?

Welcome. Please come in.

Please stay.


How far away can I go and still be connected?
What can I — and do I — want to do for myself?
And exactly how much of me am I willing to give up for love or simply for shelter?

At several points in our lives, we may insist: I’ll do it myself. I’ll live by myself. I’ll solve it myself. I’ll make my own decisions. And having made that decision, we then may find ourselves scared to death of standing alone.

– Judit Viorst, Necessary Losses

Sometimes, we don’t even know this old push-pull is operating until our minds yank us into position and force us to see.
Or, in my case, the body does the yanking. At the start of the new year, it all comes rushing, this longed-for independence. No men are waiting in the wings. The ex has moved on to a new girlfriend. The condo is galloping towards me. What happens? I fall.
And fall again.
And end up in urgent care.
In a cast. On meds. Then in a splint. Unable to work for days on end.
Then wrench my back. And suffer mightily.
And retreat to the safe but suffocating confines of my family’s care.
Some part of me refuses to step forward into the open mouth of adulthood. A long-ago self insists that this is too much. It wobbles. I slip. My center of gravity tilts. I stumble. I need. I reach backwards and downwards for the kind of help that children demand.
Fear is a clever thing. I does an end-run around rationality. It kicks the legs out from under the boldest stance.
And so, I convalesce. I gather strength. Someday soon — Next week? Next month? — I will be able to come to a sitting position on the side of my bed without grasping for a handhold, without gasping for breath. And then I will make my way down the stairs. Out the door. Into the wide open day.
I just have to keep acting against the illusion of falling, the trickery of my fright. Alone is never alone, not really. All around, these kindnesses. These people. These approaches moving in the opposite direction of rapprochement. This mind more powerful than fear.
These ways forward I have not yet found. These secrets, waiting to reveal themselves.

Viorst, Judith. Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow. Fireside, New York: 1986

Pressing Need

Press for Help.
This is printed on the big red button in the surgeon’s room. If I do, will someone pick up my son? Get us to school and work in the morning? How about a hug, a hot meal, a belly laugh? God knows I could use all of the above. Right now  my right hand is numb and 1/4 of my index fingernail has just been sliced away. I don’t imagine I’ll be in very good shape by the time the lidocaine wears off. Driving is going to be fun, what with the splint still on my left arm from an unplanned encounter with gravity during a recent roller skating session.
All of this from a little splinter picked up at the lake. Don’t I get extra points for playing in the dirt with the boys? Maybe someone will send a car around with a driver and a mini-bar in back. I am tempted to press. Alas, I am fizzing in a beaker of peroxide at the moment and the button is a bit out of reach.
What’s with this obsession, anyway? As I sit effervescing, I consider the trend in my ruminations of late. It has probably been present from the start, but I am only just now becoming aware that it is a rather frequent house-guest.
It comes around, weaving itself into every third of fourth thought. The ache for it is as palpable as the rebellion against it. Wanting it. Needing it. Being afraid to ask for it, expecting it, letting go of hoping for it. It has taken on a psychic presence, if not physical one, in my life. It is like the absent father. The elusive love. Like the damned splinter. I wonder if others have such a complicated and dysfunctional relationship with it.
A poem from March sums up the crux of the struggle:

it is true
no one is coming
for me
after all.
The only thing
is to lay fresh sheets
across my son’s bed
and piece the bits
of the wish
still forming
at the back of my throat
into a nest
for him.

Perhaps I don’t even know what help looks like. For sure, it is abundant in all corners of my life. My co-workers are constantly offering to assist with projects and they follow through on everything and more. My folks are still letting us stay in their home.  Bug’s projects clutter every corner of the house. We eat as a family. My parents take the kiddo and walk the dog when I have transportation issues or a late work commitment. I have a great counselor, an attentive realtor, a thorough and available doctor, and a dentist who calls me up personally to set up appointments and never fails to ask me about my housing search. Friends are constantly offering up get-togethers and outings. All around me is a strong web of support.
So, what is it I am really after? Assistance? Rescue?
Maybe I have made the simpleminded mistake of blurring several discrete desires into a single entity. Perhaps help, like “green” or “free,” is a catch-all for any number of things. A good friend? A good night’s sleep? A sense of belonging? A sense of peace?
In any event, on Sunday morning, the laser-tag outing organized by the single parenting group was a no-go. Bug grew nervous about the thought of running through a big, dark room while large children shot at at each other. Without a plan in place for getting together with buddies, I started to feel that half-numb ennui set in. Good. We can just spend the whole day at home in our pajamas. Such laziness nice in its way, but only in moderation. We do a lot more of it than is healthy. It should come as no surprise that I have no one to lean on when the going gets tough.
As we lazed in our jammies in the sunny piano room, I could still hear the echoes of my earlier calls for help.  This post from a few weeks ago details a complicated childcare kerfuffle that left me grappling with the hunger for help in the context of friendship. In it, I came to this realization:

As a single parent, I can’t give my kid a big college fund or a house with a yard. I can’t give him a nanny or a bunch of siblings. At least I can give him friends and grownups who will be there for him no matter how loony his mama is.
I may have a thousand excuses for why I don’t reach out to friends on a regular basis. All of them boil down to me being too pooped.  Just like fatigue begets fatigue, isolation breeds isolation. Every day of putting it off is another kilo added to the resistance. The way around it is not to give in to it but to grit your teeth and do the opposite.

It was my own commitment that came resounding back to me. Resolving to try a little harder, I peeled myself off the couch. No laser tag?
Press for Help.
I picked up the phone and called a girlfriend instead. “Would you and the boys like to meet outside somewhere for a play-date?”
She agreed.
When we arrived, her kids were pulling on socks and coats. Everyone was ready to tumble out the door. Everyone, that is, except my girlfriend. With two busy boys and a pile of family commitments of her own, she was a wreck. “I didn’t get much sleep last night,” she sighed, fastening on the tough face. I know it well.
Suddenly, I realized something strange. I had actually gotten good sleep. Not just that night, but the night before as well! What an odd and happy gift, this feeling rested. This feeling. . . what is it? Capable? Energetic, even?
“I’ll take the boys,” I said.
She was skeptical. I would be, too. We are all Superwoman, we are all loathe to show our vulnerabilities. “I’ll meet you there?” She offered. Clearly, I would have to insist.
Press for Help.
“Don’t be silly,” I said, bustling the boys out. “We’ll have a great time! Sleep, then we’ll talk.”
Wow. What a gift, to be able to offer someone else the very thing for which I had been aching! This buoyed my spirit  more than I could have imagined. Three boys crammed into the back of my little car. We zipped up to the lake, played on the playground, collected sticks, meandered. The little ones raced on the train tracks while the biggest kid hung back with me and strolled through the sunlight. All three of them found their way to the sandy shore and hunkered down, digging for clams and pirate treasure. One of my favorite things in the world is to wander out into the dirt and trees without a destination or a timetable. It’s even better to have a trio of mud-happy kiddos to keep me company.
So what if I came home with a splinter? I also came home with bright faces and happy feet. We stumbled back to the friend’s house, filthy and thirsty and weary. She arrived right on our heels with three bags of take-out Thai. We ate together, gabbing until well after dark. The little ones disappeared to play X-box. The big guy lingered at the table to talk Dark Knight and school gossip.
I was happy and fed, worn out and among friends. It was only a moment and it was fleeting, much like this one right here. As I fizz and tingle in the orthopedic surgery wing, the nurse and I gab about our kids. He is gentle, laying out the gauze and reminding me I am doing an excellent job.
This may be a tough week but help abounds. I am coming to see that it is a bottomless source waiting to be tapped. Sometimes we draw from it. Sometimes we give back. Sometimes we have to push a little against our tendencies in order to invite it in.
We reach. We press. We never know what will answer the call. Sometimes, we happen upon those perfect exchanges that warm both hands. We emerge a little tender, perhaps, and with a few bruises to show for the effort. But this is how we peel ourselves open. This is the way we become whole.