A LONGSUFFERING WEEK

By Lisa Huddleston

My husband has gone to a conference, and I’ve had a lot of time to myself this week. That can always be a little risky for one with introspective, depressive tendencies, and that I’ve spent my time being the hospice nurse for my dying cat has added to my melancholy. Honestly, I’ve spent the week thinking a great deal about death and dying. (Doesn’t that sound fun?)

Interestingly and perhaps not coincidentally, I chose this same time to pull out a book a friend had recommended to me (twice) and to begin a serious contemplation of the value of life, the existence of the soul, and The Givenness of Things (essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson.) Heavy stuff but good and well worth pondering during a week of longsuffering.

Questions have floated back and forth in my thoughts as I’ve watched my cat hang on to his ninth life with tenacious claws. What is it that makes us alive? Is it more than the working of our bodily machines? And what is it that leaves when we die? We all have seen it or rather the effects of its departure—the deflating of the tent, the darkening of the lamp. There is a point in time at which alive becomes dead. A changing of the guard so swift that the ghost is gone without so much as a fare thee well. What is this thing and when will it leave Pippin and me to rest in peace?

While that point of time passes in the blink of an eye, a heartbeat, the getting there can take what feels like forever. Longsuffering is just that. L O N G and S U F F E R I N G. I nobly wrote last week that I was going to gift Pippin by allowing him to pass away at home, but more than once I have considered calling our veterinarian to make an appointment to have him put down. Please, don’t misunderstand, if he were in great pain, I would. But he is just slowly and quietly dying. I am the one who is suffering, and it is I who wants to be relieved of this gift. (Of course, Pip can’t really express his wishes to me, but he seems comfortable enough sitting and shedding on the back porch furniture and squinting into eternity.)

I woke up this morning hoping he was gone. I am ready to remove all traces of cat life and death from my house. I can already uncover the leather sofa my husband has protectively plastered with blankets for years in order to prevent the scratches and tears Pippin and his predecessor, Dusty, were so good at making. Mom, too, has tried to little avail to protect her furniture from the stiff white hairs that weave through any fabric and resist removal as strongly as Pippin himself. I need to remind her that she can clean to her heart’s content. And finally THE LITTER BOX can go! I have hated it for 20 years and even though my uninvited outdoor cats plead to take Pip’s place, it will be gone without remorse ASAP.

But really what I want to get rid of the most is this longsuffering and painful waiting and the useless plastic bubble wrap I have wound around my heart.

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HOME SWEET HOME

By Lisa Huddleston

Sweet old Pippin, the cat I picked up in the Cracker Barrel parking lot as a kitten over 13 years ago, is dying. At least, I assume that is what’s happening. He has barely eaten more than a bite or two a day for about a week. He is drinking water, using the litter box, and still meowing like the bossy cat he has always been—but not very often and not quite as bossily. I have offered him a smorgasbord of treats from which to choose, and he has eaten some vanilla Greek yogurt, some cat food “gravy,” and a few bites of tuna, but not enough to really keep him going. I am sad.

I think of how Dusty declined when he reached the end. Weight dropped off and then his organs began to shut down. I took him to the vet, and he ended up dying in an animal hospital about a week later. I hated not being able to explain things to him, and I don’t want it to be like that for Pippin. So, for now anyway, I think Pippin will be given the privilege of dying at home—or at least living here in his comfortable surroundings for as long as he possibly can. He looks content right this minute sitting with me on the back porch listening to the birds sing and the wind blow through the chimes.

We stopped by Chuck’s folks’ place the other evening so that he could plant some sweet potatoes in the newly ordained “family garden.” His mom came out first, and they dug into garden talk about seeds and rows and mounds and dirt. I wandered around to look at the back of the old barn where the wood bows out and the indoor and outdoor meet. She asked me if I liked to garden, and I said I do not, but I was glad for those who do. And we smiled at one another.

New plantings were being watered when Mom brought Dad out to see us. He asked Chuck, “Is this your car?”

“Yes, Dad, it is.”

“Are you going for a walk?”

“No, Dad. We came to plant the garden.”

“Is this your car?”

“Yes, Dad.”

 

And the gardeners wandered off down the dampened rows.

 

“Is this your car?”

I smiled and said it was, and he asked what I was doing there.

“Going home in a minute,” I said.

“Then go. Get in the car or he’ll leave you.”

I smiled again, watching the gardeners and waiting for Chuck to finish up.

 

“What are you doing? Is this your car?”

“I’m still waiting to go home.”

“There are lots of ways to go home, you know. You can go in a car, or you can walk. You can even go in a casket. You know that?”

“Yes, you’re right,” I said. “There are lots of ways to go home.”

 

So I climbed into the car and waited for Chuck to take me home. And home is really where we want to be when all is said and done. Home sweet home.

SKUNKS AND DOGS

By Lisa Huddleston

I think I am going through an identity crisis! I’ve always scored high on the controlling or “bossy” end of every personality test I’ve ever taken until today. Today I took the Enneagram test and scored as “The Peacemaker” with “The Investigator” and “The Helper” rounding out the top three.

What? Who have I become—or who am I becoming?

Until recently, I would have blown these results off as just being an error, but now I’m not sure. Today I wonder if maybe I have changed. And I don’t think that would be a bad thing.

Dogs gotta be dogs.

As I’ve noted before, I often have to see something multiple times to really get it, and the lesson I’m currently being taught is that I am not in control—not of others’ happiness nor their health nor the world’s condition nor the lifespans of the animals in my neighborhood. I am not in charge.

This weekend the dogs found a skunk’s den near the driveway in the ditch under the iris bed. It is a place in which skunks have built before, and both Chuck and I knew what would happen if we let nature take its course. So Chuck tried to keep the dogs away. Every time the dogs headed down the drive, he would call them back until I finally said, “Are you going to be out here watching them every time they go outside? Because I know I’m not, and if we aren’t, then the dogs are going to dash down there and dig that skunk right out of the ground.”

Chuck looked at me for a few seconds then said, “You know what? You’re right. There’s nothing we can do about it.” And so we just relaxed into the patio chairs and drank our coffee. About 30 minutes or so later, Dottie came running back up the driveway with purpose in her steps. Yes, she had been sprayed right in the face, and she couldn’t wait to share it with us. And, yes, it was upsetting, but it was inevitable. Dogs chase skunks. Skunks spray dogs. And that’s part of what makes the world go round. Could we have stopped it? For a little while, we could have—but not forever. We are not in control! Dog nature and skunk nature ruled that situation, and there was nothing we could do effectively to change that.

And that’s the truth about so much of life. No matter how hard we try, we can’t stop every bad thing from happening. And it shows wisdom to stop trying to control what is not mine to control. Yes, I have my choices to make and for them I will strive to be responsible. But many, if not most, things do not really fall into that category. And just maybe I am finally learning to make peace with that.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

By Lisa Huddleston

When I was a young girl, my best friend, Marilyn, and I used to sit with crayons and notebook paper and map out a future we called, “Castle in the Clouds.” In that castle, I had a husband who loved me, children (at least 3), dogs, and a sweet homey house. I didn’t plan for riches or great adventures or notable discoveries. I wanted a simple, quiet life. And I got it all, and I lived happily ever after.

Swoosh! Just like that. I met my husband-to-be in high school, started dating him in college, and we married a year into his medical school training. A month after his first paycheck in residency, I was happily expecting baby number one, and numbers 2, 3, and 4 followed like a string of daisies–with number 2 sadly ending unexpectedly in a miscarriage. Despite that heartbreaking disappointment, most things went according to plan. Of course, we had all the typical struggles, but we lived a very happy and very good life. And it flew by faster than I ever could have dreamt.

The only problem I have with all of this is that my plans were very short-sighted. I never considered what the “happily ever after” would contain. In some ways, that makes this time of my life unhindered. I am free to create whatever I choose (short of being young and starting all over.) In many ways, that is wonderful, and I know it seems so to those who are just beginning their journeys and are longing for a day off. But in other ways, it is frightening. What does one do when all her dreams have come true?

She may have to find new dreams, build new castles in new clouds. Oddly enough that seems to have brought me back to parts of myself that were present in the little girl with the crayons, but they never made it on to the paper. Things that I could and still can do all on my own. Like writing things and making things and loving things like dogs and cats and goats! Quiet things that will not make headlines nor win awards, but will still bring joy to my heart and populate my cloud-filled dreams.

Many days I am filled with fear at even the idea of trying to make these dreams come true. What if I can’t protect my goats from coyotes or dogs–even my own dogs? What if I never will be able to learn how to warp properly that creaky floor loom I bought second-hand from a woman who taught herself how to use it (no pressure)? What if my writings never speak truth to another soul and remain forever unnoticed? What if my old dreams were for young dreamers only? I really do struggle to the point of going days even weeks without making even a tiny step forward.

Then there are days and weeks when something nudges me like an elbow in the ribs–it may be Hope but it just may as easily be Despair. I watch three “How to Warp” youTube videos that remind me that people have been weaving their own fabric for centuries. Chuck and I settle on the fence we want for the goats who will be coming as soon as they are weaned–and, yes, people have kept goats for centuries. And I sit down to write a blog post that will be read by at least a few others who will be women my age who are trying to live in the “happily ever after” days of their lives, too.

COMFORT ZONE

 

 

 

 

 

By Lisa Huddleston

 

Balance is simple on a yoga mat

Edges are clearly defined

Fingers and toes can stretch without fear of stomping

And everyone respects anothers’ space

 

In other places a comfort zone is hard to reach

Each bubble is a different size

Angry elbows crowd in one spot

While it’s the knees that cramp in others

 

And still other spaces ebb and flow

Making it uber hard to be sure

Today’s fence may not hold tomorrow’s flock

It may not be tall enough or wide enough or strong enough to keep the little herd safe

 

So we do our best in the space of this day

Fingers and toes stretching against the comfortable edge

Elbows and knees colliding with other crowded joints

And goaty-heads butting the prickly safety of an expandable wire fence

 

Woody and Me

By Lisa Huddleston

A few of you have expressed a desire to hear about my experience with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) so here it is. Last Thursday was my final session of 65, and although I enjoyed my time with the staff at my psychiatrist’s office, I was glad to see it end. I am not a patient patient.

Let’s see … here are some of the questions I’ve been asked

What was it like? Well, it felt a lot like I would imagine having a woodpecker imagespeck on your head for 30-40 minutes, 5 days a week feels like. Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was startled by the experience especially for the first few days. My head was awkwardly strapped against a chair, and my eye on the side that was being stimulated ran tears down my face. The nerves that run from my left eye to my upper teeth on that side jumped with every jolt, and I was asked to play a video game called “Text Twist” throughout each session. It was uncomfortable, but definitely not unbearable, and I decided right away that it was better to do what was required without too much complaining–I just wanted to get the most benefit from it that I could. I would not be afraid to do it again.

Did it help? My answer at this point would have to be yes–but really not as I had hoped it would. Right before beginning TMS, I was struggling through a severe episode of depression. My energy level was extremely low:  I was spending most of my time sleeping either in bed or on the couch, Mom and Chuck had taken over all of the cooking, and I was pretty much just breathing in and out. Since TMS, my energy level is up. I am cooking dinner, cleaning house (as much as ever–wink, wink), going to yoga, weaving, and contemplating the arrival of two new pets–a couple of recently-born Toggenburg goats. So, yes, it helped. However, my attitude is still pretty negative. During the past several months to a year, I have withdrawn from many if not all of the limited involvement I still had with people. So now, I have more energy, but not any real sense of a direction in which to expend it. This time my “recovery” is not like dark clouds lifting to reveal a clear blue sky (the way I have described the end of a depressive episode in the past). Rather it is a physical invigoration without the sensation of a dramatic emotional “lift.” Hard to describe, but hopefully somewhat understandable.

Would you recommend TMS? Yes, I would. I am better off than I was (although not as dramatically as I’d hoped). I had little hope for improvement without it. None of the medications I’d tried were doing much good, and the side effects they brought with them were wearing me out. TMS has been a good thing for me.

How are you now? For nearly 7 weeks, I have had a daily 3-hour job to do: get up, get dressed, drive 50-60 minutes to the clinic, spend 40 mins with “Woody,” and drive 50-60 minutes back to the farm. TMS literally has been my whole life. Without it, I am at loose ends. I met with my counselor a couple of weeks ago, because I knew that I was going to feel like this when TMS ended. I had nothing waiting for me to do. She gave me this advice, “Follow your enthusiasms.” And that is what I’m trying intentionally to do–follow not lead. And life is going okay. There is still the hope of more progress over the next couple of weeks, but this may be it. I think I can live with that. I am not sure I could have before.

Thanks for asking.

COMMON GROUND

By Lisa Huddleston

Look!

Listen!

Have ears that are open

Have eyes that can see

The signs of the times

And the voices from our pasts

Are all around

 

Ancestors

Our very own

whom Mr. Trump would trump

whom Mr. Bannon would ban

Immigrants, slaves, and disenfranchised

Oppressors and oppressed

Our very own

Call and are calling to us from their graves

 

Remember the wars of the past

Of the present

The ways your people our people all people

Died and are dying for being in the wrong skin at the wrong time

 

Do you hear them

Can you see their faces

In the bleeding cities

In the mirror

From potato fields and

killing fields

From long journeys and

Trails of tears

How can we turn away from

Turn our backs on

Turn our faces from

Those who cry today

For help

For love

For justice

 

The signs of the times

Of all times

Of what has been and will be again

If it must be–let it not be

These signs are all around

 

With clear eyes and unstopped ears

Listen!

Look!

 

And act to stop the unstoppable