Friday, September 24, 2010

Bird Talk

Sam and I took the birds to their annual physical this week.  They were quite nervous and the Cockatiel was very mad that I couldn't find his travel cage.  He loves to look out the car window as we drive.  Instead I had to put him in a cardboard box.  The Parrot went into her travel cage very easily, but she doesn't like riding in the car.  We made it okay and, once in the exam room, I let them both out.  

There we sat waiting for the doctor.  The Parrot on my left shoulder reminding me what a pretty bird she is and murmuring bird jokes in my ear.  The Cockatiel on my right shoulder alternating between ignoring me and hiding under my chin.  And Sam sitting with his vibrating tooth brush and laughing at us.

It was a perfect moment.  All four of us chatting away together and enjoying each other's company.  

It struck me that two of the members of this conversation are completely non-verbal and the third (the Parrot) doesn't really have much to say for herself beyond  "Hello" and "Pretty Bird." 

That makes me the only one of the four of us who thinks talking is an essential part of life.  I REALLY like talking and thinking!  My mother likes to say that I came out of the womb talking.

Yet I'm sitting in a vet's office having a stimulating conversation with three of the most significant personalities in my life.  Charley is a great person to talk to, but he's gone all day and when he comes home he'd rather take a nap or play his instruments.  I mostly talk to these three.  And they are happy to listen to me babble.

"Oh what a noble mind is here o'er thrown," I thought.  "I can feel my brain shrinking."  Still, it was a perfect moment.  We were all three having such a good time together.  

Maybe words are not so great after all...  No.  They're still pretty terrific.  

Saturday, September 18, 2010


Years ago I met a woman who had cared for her daughter at home until the daughter's death.  She told me that, during her many years as primary caregiver, she learned the value of "cleaning her pipes".  Every few months she would go on retreat and just cry.  She said "Why?" was not a question she bothered with much.  She just cried.  Then she slept.  Her husband didn't understand why this was so important, her friends worried about her, but it was the single biggest piece of advice she had for me as a new mom with a son with profound disabilities.

I don't remember this woman's name!!!! But she is one of my wisdom figures.  I think she was the first person (not counting the Book of Job) who told me that "Why?" is a pointless question. It just drives one crazy and never gives an answer that satisfies.  I took her advice on the retreat thing and did indeed go on retreat one day a month for years.

Then my dad got sick, and then he was murdered and Ben got married and my life sort of shifted.  I haven't been on retreat in over 5 years.  So when I realized that summer was almost over and I was so far beyond exhausted that I didn't even remember what exhausted felt like.  I knew I needed a break.  But there isn't a lot of money for a vacation.  That's when I remembered this woman's advice and the fact that, at one time, not too long ago, I was a Spiritual Director.  If anyone should know where to go on retreat, it is me!

So I started calling places I used to know and was startled to find that there are actually people in these places who remember me!  I don't remember me, but they do.  And I booked a 5 day stay at Sinsinawa Mounds, Dominican Conference Center.

There, with the help of a very wise and funny director, I began to let go.  Here in the city with my stressful life, I don't realize how tense and wired I am.  There in the peace and quiet, I suddenly felt like I had electric current running through me.  I couldn't settle, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't think.  I just vibrated.   I was in shock.

There's no huge event in my life that caused this shock, it's the cumulative effect of everything.  I don't have Post Traumatic Shock Disorder, I have Chronic Traumatic whatever.  

Sure enough, after about 24 hours of vibrating, I suddenly crashed and I cried.  And then I slept.  I slept, I ate, I walked, I ate, I knit, I slept, I ate, I slept, I knit, I slept.  Then I cried some more.  Then I knit.  Then I slept.  All the journals and books I brought with me lay unopened.  I did buy three more books and bring them home to read...

(I love these words.  "Wired" as in I was vibrating with electricity and adrenaline.  "Shock" as in hit by lightning that was attracted by the electricity running through my nerves. "Crashed" as in a bullet train hitting a mountain.) 

The only thought I had was that humility is knowing who I am.  I have limitations, I am not God.  I have gifts which are given to me by God.  I am nothing more (OR LESS) than simply me.  

Humiliation, on the other hand, is something that happens to me when I forget who I am and try to be someone I'm not.  God, for example.  Or Martha Stewart.

Sr. Ellie, the wise and funny director, suggested that I feel empty because I have let my gifts lie dormant.  Perhaps that is so.  Perhaps I am so distracted by my attempts to keep Sam going and the house picked up that I neglect to use my gifts.  What are they again?

5 days is not enough.  I could have stayed 3 weeks.  I'm back home and am still struggling with the desire to sleep and knit and sleep and eat and sleep.  I have a few other things to do, but I'm trying to remember to focus on what is most important.

For me.

I am so grateful for the wise women who always seem to come into my life just when I need them most!  I would say that my "pipes" are cleaner now, but still a bit clogged.  I need to take seriously the advice of the wise women and put myself and my gifts a bit higher on my "to do list".