My 45th Birthday Celebration
While this post could easily encompass my frustrations with last week’s appointment with my neurologist, my increasingly worsening chronic headaches, and my continuing inability to sleep, I’m going to leave all that behind. Because this week, I turned 45, and I have a lot to be grateful for.
On the actual day of my birthday, my parents took the day off from work to drive up so we could “Do what you want.” Hm…It’d been a long time since I actually thought about what I wanted to do, as opposed to what I felt I needed to do to improve the quality of my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The one and only thing that came to mind was the irises, Van Gogh’s “Irises”. This painting was on loan to the Minneapolis Institute of Art in honor of their centennial as a musum, and that was all I really wanted to see.
Someone later asked me how it was, and my response? “It’s pretty.” When you’ve seen the original compositions of so many amazing Impressionists over the years, most of them are. Pretty, beautiful, amazing, awe-inspiring…Although on this trip through the Impressionist section of the MIA, we discovered a Monet that wasn’t pretty at all. A painting of dead pheasants…Why did he feel the need to capture the presence of four murdered birds lying on a table? It reminded me of how the news that inundates our daily lives is always filled with death and fear. I was completely taken aback by this “new to me” side of Monet and began to think about all the other brilliant paintings he’d created throughout his lifetime. I realized that even though he painted something that in my opinion was completely senseless, it doesn’t take away the joy I experience when looking at some of my favorite Monet masterpieces: the water lilies, his portraits of his first wife Camille, even the sun setting behind the haystacks…
How many of us hold onto the mistakes? The frustrations? The words people have said that were hurtful rather than helpful? And then dismiss all of the other qualities we appreciate. I understand when enough of these troublesome triggers are committed time and time again, it may be time to move on from that person. The changing of the guard when it comes to relationships is a very real issue once someone is diagnosed with a disability.
I strongly believe it’s essential to treat others the way we want to be treated. Or at least we should! So today, I’m grateful for many things that fill my heart and define who I am; my Cervical Dystonia does not define who I am. It places limitations on me and is a full-time job, but I want to engage in conversations about the rest of my life. Those things that make me happy to get out of bed in the morning! These blessings change on a daily basis, and some remain the same. But here they are.
Seven years ago today, my boyfriend at the time and I adopted two amazing dogs. When I brought the second boy outside at the adoption event where the first dog was already sitting on the grass with Steve, they both literally melted into our arms. Today, they live with me, and I’m so blessed to be their mom. If I had to identify one positive consequence of living my life with a disability, it would be the fact that I get to spend every day with Speckles, Morey and my cat Bennie. They climb underneath one another to vie for my attention. They jump up onto the couch and settle in on a pile of pillows, much like the Princess and the Pea (only these are my Princes). And they give me hugs on a daily basis. I am the luckiest mom in the world!
Morey Starring as the Prince and the Pea
The day after my birthday, I went to Courage Center in Golden Valley for my very first session of working on my pool therapy exercises without my physical therapist. I “graduated” from my 12 sessions a couple weeks ago, and now I’m on the 12 sessions a month plan. At least I hope I can get there that many times, so that my insurance will cover half of the cost. Only time will tell, but it’s a start. As I neared the water’s edge, I quickly discovered that all of the other people who were managing their pain in the warm water pool were a part of something bigger: a community. My first few steps into the pool were greeted by the smile of a man I had met at my last PT session. We talked for a few minutes and then I made my way towards the deeper end to do my walking. “If I’d known you were going to be here, I would’ve brought you some vegetables from my garden.” I looked up, and there was a friend I’d made at the Chronic Pain swimming class the week before.
And the very next morning, she did just that. When I arrived in the locker room, there was a big paper bag with my name on it filled with carrots, green beans, and a squash. I placed my small baggie of jalapeño peppers in the same spot, so she’d have something to take home too. In the pool, people introduced themselves and carried on conversations. An old acquaintance was there with his parents, giving me new respect for him and his commitment to caregiving. By the time I got to doing my exercises, I’d already been there for 20 minutes. The conversations never stopped, and there was always someone new who wanted to chat. It really was like going to coffee hour, only we were all using some sort of floatation device in a pool. Watching 20-30 adults ride around on their colorful horsies as they take care of their physical needs, in addition to their needs for belonging, is truly a blessing. And being one of them makes it even better!
Then there was the text I received from a good friend in Oklahoma City, whom I was blessed to meet at the New Orleans Writing Marathon during the summer of 2014. “I’m coming to Minneapolis in November for the National Writing Project Conference! We’ll get to spend my birthday together!” she wrote. This news definitely warranted a telephone call rather than a reply via text. It was like we were school girls planning what we were going to do for our Friday night sleepover. I am so excited for her to visit Minneapolis and to be able to invite her into my home.
In addition, I’ve been waiting for years to get a drawing of some sort from one of my young relatives. You know, something I can hang on my fridge with pride and smile every time I look at it. Well, this was my week! My “adopted” niece who turned one a few months ago sent me a drawing for my birthday. She is the daughter of a dear friend, which is why I describe her here as my “adopted” niece. However, that isn’t how I think of her. I consider her to be part of my family. How nice to be able to display her first piece of art for me, and I expect many more will be composed in the future!
Finally, another friend and a friend of that friend showed up to my house yesterday with buckets full of cleaning supplies. They had offered to come clean my house a few weeks ago, because this friend knows the challenges I have when it comes to doing daily cleaning. And what a job they did! It’s fun to be sitting in my house, surrounded by objects containing so many memories; yet, they’re displayed differently than they have been for the past 10 years.
Right away, my friend said, “We’re going to do the laundry!” So while my blankets, bedding, pillows, and clothing were swirling around the dryer, they were cleaning every inch of my main floor. It feels so good to not have papers spread all over the floor, a constant reminder that I need to fill out medical forms or file them all away. Not only that, but our friend brought the three of us an incredible lunch. For seven hours, these amazing women cleaned, often with one of my dogs or my cat acting as their shadow. To have a friend offer to do something like this is incredible. When my parents come over and my mom gets out the vacuum, I am grateful for that one act alone. Now these acts of generosity are compounded by someone who had never met me and wanted to help. My heart is blessed with so much gratitude, and I was grateful long before I knew how long they were planning on cleaning. Unless you have a disability or live with someone who does, it is very difficult to understand how offering to help with something as “boring” as cleaning is like winning the lottery. And there was plenty of laughter to go around, while the wheels in the washing machine spun round and round all through the day!
One of my hopes has been to do little things for others that may not seem like much, but they make me feel good. Taking a bunch of organic jalapeño peppers from my garden to a class last week brightened the days of three people who took them home. Cutting some brown-eyed susans from my raingarden and delivering them to my mom, my neighbor, and a friend with cancer. Calling and leaving messages for people just so they know I’m thinking about them, even though my head may be pounding and I know the call will have to be short if they pick up the phone.
My hope for you is to think about something you can do for someone. Perhaps, it’s someone you know with a disability or a potential terminal illness who physically cannot do the daily activities most people CAN do. Maybe it’s someone you know is going through a difficult time emotionally. Or it could be spreading good cheer to someone you may or may not even know. What could you do? What are some ideas for acts of service that you wouldn’t normally consider, perhaps with a specific person in mind? It is a wonderful gift for us to be able to give. It is just as great of a gift when we are able to receive, without feeling like we have to give something in return. Being grateful and expressing it is something we can give every day. Not only does it make us feel good, but that goodness spreads. Isn’t that what we need in this world? For the good to be the center of attention, leaving the news of horrific events as a relic of the past. Without a doubt, these blessings are what make me get up in the morning. What about you?