Tag Archives: healing

My wishy-washy goals for 2016

I made it into the new year, fingernails torn from clawing my way out of 2015. To quote Dickens, “It was the worst of times.”

But two days before the end of the year, after a visit to the ER for my son, shelling out several thousand dollars for a new transmission, and another damn death in the family, I went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health.

I cried most of the way home from the doctor, it seemed such an incredible, desperate relief.

I had a plan to make formal resolutions for this new year. I love ritual, and New Years is full of it. I had a plan to write a liturgy to share with my friends, complete with lighting a fire to burn away the past and welcome in the future.

candles lasalle(photo credit: Mary Rodriguez)

But I haven’t made my resolutions yet. Not in any formalized way. I’ve read enough soft psychology and business books to know that goals and resolutions should be actionable, quantifiable, audacious, yet achievable.

And what I have been thinking about is how to heal.

Healing from the absolute typhoon that was the past year.

Because the clean bill of health seems to be the first, not the last, step toward healing. And it has left me carrying a lot of baggage.

I was at Target several weeks ago, to grab just a few things, and slowly I found my arms filling up with more and more items. I had foolishly walked past the carts and the little red plastic baskets, thinking it would be only a quick trip, and surely I could grab everything and be on my way.

At the point when my third item hit the floor, I circled back to the entrance of the Super Target, getting in the lion’s share of my 5,000 steps for the day, and sighed with relief while dumping the contents of my arms into the shopping cart.

target shopping cart

I think I do that in life, too. I grab on to items as I walk past. Clean eating? Yep, I’ll take some of that. New solution for a perfectly tidy home? Make mine a double. Look sexy in less than 30 minutes a day? If I shift this around, I can squeeze that here. Take on another project for work? Well, I can’t say no to that. Squeeze in some time for friends? Check. Oh, yes, and let’s not forget the strategies for becoming a perfect mother.

None of those things are bad. They’re just, well, heavy.

My typical response is to throw up my hands, dropping the items, and exclaiming that I never really wanted this shopping trip anyway.

But that’s not true, and more often than not leaves me sheepishly scrambling for those items later, when people have stopped staring at the scene I’ve created. Because the truth is, I do want all those items.

So anyway, I’ve been thinking about what it might look like to put the items in the cart this year. To acknowledge that there are so many things that I want to be and to do, but they don’t all have to be held frantically right now. To give myself a little grace and celebrate getting to the gym even though it means eating takeout for dinner. To acknowledge that I can either do my hair or do my make-up, but not both. To go on walks and get some sleep. To ask if I really want to eat that second half of the chocolate cake, and if I do, to eat it, and if I don’t, to save it for another day.

To live with a little less panic and worry. To live with a little more kindness and grace. To let go of some of the baggage.

Because I’m healing, but I imagine I will always be healing.

So maybe my resolution this year is to always get a shopping cart at the front of the store. It’s seems like a good idea to let grace carry some of the load.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

I am a (needy, tired, sick) Strong Woman

I have been sick since March. It started with an infection that has lead to three surgeries, with at least one more on the way. I found out I would be needing those surgeries on the same day that I found out we would not be getting the house we’d been under contract on for five months. The house for which we had packed our belongings and listed our home.

It also happened to be the same day that I found out I was being summoned for jury duty.

It’s been that kind of year.

pain quote

I didn’t know what it was like to have chronic pain and discomfort until I had chronic pain and discomfort. I’m used to being sick until I’m not, taking time off of work or activities if necessary, stopping for a few days, and then resuming normality.

The problem with chronic pain is that there comes a time after which you have to resume normality without feeling normal.

It’s been that kind of year.

If I don’t think about it, then it’s easy to pretend that everything is alright. But then I catch myself sitting in front of the refrigerator, cutting off slices of cheese to eat, one after the other. Or sitting at my computer, clicking “buy” before the alarm in my head goes off to remind me that I don’t really have the money to spend. Because eating and spending are a really good distraction to feeling.

And the key to pain management is making it possible to stop feeling pain.

Two months ago I got a message in my inbox from a friend, telling me that she was sending me a t-shirt that said, “Strong Woman”. There have been a lot of moments in my life when those words would have resonated deeply within me. Like immediately after running my first ten-miler, or the moment my son’s perfect slippery body was laid on my chest after a day and a half of labor.

But it hasn’t been that kind of year.

Last week, on the same day, three of my friends reached out to me to check to see how I was doing. I didn’t know, until I knew, just how much I would crave this sort of help, while at the same time avoiding it because where do you start? If I think about what I need, it starts pulling the yarn until the whole sweater of need is unraveled, and I’m not prepared for that level of nakedness, and I’m not good at knitting.

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But to avoid becoming a hermit, and to honor two of the friends I truly care about, I went to a going away party last weekend. Many of my dearest friends were there, and I found myself sitting at a table with a fellow mom, one I’m still getting to know, but whose honesty I’ve appreciated. Her daughter is enough older than my son that she has good insights, but not too much older that she can’t remember. We started talking about potty training, and the diapers that leak in the middle of the night all over the bed.

She offered an idea of solving the problem, but I think she could tell right away that I was not in the mood. Maybe she could see the holes forming in my sweater. So she said, “But you’ll know when it’s the right time for you to make a change.”

It was so little, but it was also grace. Permission to not have to solve the problem. Permission to have this be hard. Permission to be needy. Permission to know when to heal.

And a reminder that this is just a moment in time.

What my friend didn’t know when she sent me my Strong Woman t-shirt is that it would arrive two days before my third surgery. I woke up the morning of the surgery and pulled the shirt over my head. It’s the kind of shirt people notice, and several strangers read the words aloud as I walked past them in the hospital. I didn’t know why I wanted to wear the shirt that day, only that it was necessary.

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Two months later, looking back, I think I wore it as a reminder. A reminder that it has been that kind of year. I have been sick, I have been in pain. I feel needy and I feel weak.

But none of those things tells me who I am. Who I am is a strong woman.

A strong woman with a beautiful, messy sweater of need.

A strong woman who, when it is the right time, will heal.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

In the aftermath of horror and in the midst of grief, we must dance to heal and survive – or bake cakes.

Baking Cakes

Baking Cakes in Kigali  by Gaile Parkin

Cakes.  Birthday Cakes.  Bat Mitzvah Cakes.  Graduation Cakes.  Christmas Cakes. Humans the world over bake cakes to honor, to celebrate, to mark an important ceremony.   The cutting of a cake at a wedding is a symbolic, social ritual: the bride and groom cut the cake together and share a piece  to symbolize their union and their promise to forever provide for each other, before distributing it to wedding guests. Cakes signify celebration and sharing, no matter where one is from or what language one speaks.

Gaile Parkin’s soul-warming story centers around cakes and celebrations  in the most unlikeliest of places:  Kigali, Rwanda, scene of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. The novel opens only six years later, in the living room of a philosophical  and “Professional” cake baker, Angel Tungaraza.  Angel is a pragmatic, hopeful and proud native Tanzanian, who has relocated to Rwanda with her husband, Pius, and their five orphaned grandchildren to build a new life after the death of their only two children.  Angel is undergoing the “Change”, putting on weight, but still enthusiastically creating colorfully-iced cakes which she sells to friends and neighbors to help support her family.

africa cake

Parkin’s debut novel was first published in 2009 and is divided into 14 chapters.  Each chapter centers on a specific celebration and Angel plays the role of the “everywoman” cake baker as the stories of the celebrants, the attendees, and Angel’s family, friends and neighbors unfolds.

Angel is determined, good-natured and warm-hearted and seeks to help other others find their inner strength and rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the genocide, “”those hundred days while violence was tearing this country to pieces like a chicken on a plate”. Much of the narrative centers on Angel’s apartment block in Kigali, the home of aid workers from around the world and native Rwandans whose paths cross and whose lives intertwine.  These characters experience a shared humanity despite their varying origins, races, traditions, and cultures.

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Despite the many beautiful cakes, celebrations and seemingly simple stories, painful, heart-wrenching pasts lurk in the background and the complexity of our world emerges from the pages with startling clarity.  At its core, the book tell us about love, acceptance and the ability to look forward and celebrate a hopeful future in the wake of an HIV epidemic, mass murder, suicide, and hate.  It also looks hard at the ideas of truth, unity and reconciliation and what it means to not only say, but live, the words “Never Again.”

As I was glancing through the pages of this book while writing this review, I realized how much this story – and Angel – stuck with me, even though I first read it 3 years ago.  It is an engaging read – but the hope in this book is a vital force and simply encouraging.   The ability to make something positive, especially at times when there is little hope and much to mourn, is an essential tool to living this gift of our life on this planet to its fullest.  It brings to mind a favorite philosopher of my husband’s, Zorba the Greek, who, after his son died, danced  –

It was the dancing When my little boy Dimitri died…and everybody was crying… Me, I got up and I danced. They said, “Zorba is mad.” But it was the dancing — only the dancing that stopped the pain.

I think Angel would have baked the cake for Zorba’s dance party – and there would have been even more healing and hope.

Suitable for ages 14 and up.  It is helpful to have some background of the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 prior to reading (or, like me, you can always zip to the web).

-Karen261755_10150290602379874_2436766_n - Version 2