"It gives me great pleasure indeed to see the stubborness of the inorrigible nonconformist warmly acclaimed." - Albert Einstein

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I aspire to a stubbornly incorrigible nonconformity. The degree to which I have achieved my aspiration I leave in the capable hands of those whose wisdom and humilty exceed my own.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A Student Again

As my official day of retirement, April 1, 2012, approaches I have mixed feelings about this involuntary retirement. I would have chosen to keep working and yet I am thankful that there are resources to help me when I no longer can work. I am still feeling challenged by episodes of guilt and shame for not working, even though I know that there is no guilt or shame attached to my situation other than what I impose on myself. I am doing things around the house which helps to make me feel useful and productive, and I am doing some writing and a lot of reading too. I really don't think I have actually starteed my grieving process yet. It all still seems so sudden and unexpected to me and I keep thinking that something miraculous is going to happen and change everything. Intellectually I know that is not going to happen but apparently my intellect never told my emotional self so part of me is still waiting for the surprise ending. One of the things that weighed heavily on me was the way in which I left work. I went to work on February 2, 2012, wasn't feeling well so I went home. Later that day I went to the doctor and was hospitalized. I have not been back to work since. There was no ritual or ceremony to my retirement. I really never thought of myself who values ritual or ceremony but I found that there was no touchstone for this transition in my life. The other day I was informed that my office is throwing me a retirement party. I was very pleasantly surprised. I am looking forward to the party (Friday March 30, 2012 at 5:30 at Caffe Mela in Wenatchee). I am touched, yet again, by the support of my colleagues and friends. I have been truly blessed even though it is hard to think so whenever I have to attach myself to the pump or see another doctor or submit to another medical procedure that gradually erodes what is left of my dignity. In the end I believe that my life is full of gifts and treasures and that my health issues are what they are. Becca has a job interview today. She is excited and nervous and then later on today I am teaching Becca to make scampi, Alice's favorite Italian meal. It is another gift to me that I get to teach my daughter to do something that I love, cook. Next weekend we make a traditional Italian Easter bread. So my task for the foreseeable future is to learn how to be retired and to submit to the grieving process. I have always taken great pride in that I am a lifelong learner committed to growth, so this should feel more natural and comfortable than it does right now. More to learn and miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Cooking With Becca

My daughter Becca is 22 years old. I am a real foodie and love to cook, bake, can, shop for food, and eat things I have never had before. For years I have been offering to teach her how to cook. Just a couple of days ago Becca was watching an episode of World's Worst Cooks on the Food Network. One of the contestants said that the reason she was competing was that her grandmother had wanted to teach her how to cook and she was never interested. Now that her grandmother is gone, she wants to try to learn to cook so she can reclaim that part of her heritage. And it must have touched Becca. She asked me to teach her how to cook. Yesterday was our first lesson and as in any good Italian kitchen lesson one was pasta and marinara. I was so excited to do this with Becca. I showed her some basic techniques but she did most of the work. And she was really into it too, not just going through the motions to satisfy me. Becca made the fresh pasta and marinara, though I think that there wasn't enough garlic or onions (as if there would ever be enough garlic or onions for me). When she was done it was a beautiful thing to see the meal my daughter had created. I so much wanted to share that particular meal with Alice and Becca. It would have been the most special meal of my life. I had to settle for letting them enjoy the meal and tell me how good it was. Rebecca wants our next lesson to be cooking shrimp, probably a shrimp fettucine. Becca really doesn't like garlic (how Italian can she be if she doesn't like garlic?) so scampi is out. And for Easter I plan on teaching her my grandmother's recipe for a traditional Easter bread called cresca. It is full of meats and cheeses and, when I could eat, was probably my most favorite food in the world. I will just have to resign myself to the role of passionately interested spectator. Thank you Becca. Asking me to teach you to cook is one of the best gifts you could have given me.

It Is Official ... I Am Retired

I just got word yesterday that my retirement has been approved and I am officially retired. I took this news with mixed feelings. I would prefer to be working and in any case this is not the way that I wanted to retire from my career as a child welfare social worker. I loved my job. It defined me as a competent, caring, compassionate, professional. I had the respect of my colleagues and peers and the people in the community with whom I interacted on a regular basis. On the other hand, I know that I am not physically or emotionally capable of doing this job any longer. I feel weak and ineffectual. I knew my role and took pride in what I did and I know that if I tried to return to work it would be as a weak and ineffectual person, in a field where mistakes can be costly to children and families. And now I am done. Just like that. I never thought I would like some ceremony to mark this transition in my life but the way that this has come about for me is a bit unsettling. I would have preferred to have some ritual to mark my more than twenty years of work being a strong advocate for keeping children safe. This has gotten me thinking back on my career. I can remember specific cases with clarity, while others have been forgotten or I have just vague memories. I can remember specific children and take pride in the work that I did. What will define me in the community now? What kind of respect will I deserve as a reluctantly retired social worker? Can I be a competent, caring, compassionate, professional retired social worker? Will this gain me the respect of my fellow retired persons? It also occurs to me that this should be a happy time for me but there is genuine sadness in my retirement.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I spent the morning fussing with the insurance company, contacting a state agency about my retirement, and wading through a massive stack of paperwork for my SSI application. When I got done I was physically exhausted so I rested a bit. But then I felt guilty and shameful. Feeling guilty is my new thing these days. There are days when I almost feel like I could go back to work and I feel guilty and shameful that I am applying for disability. When I do the laundry and the dishes I feel guilty and shameful that I don't also do the housework and take care of the yard. I feel guilty and shameful that Alice is working hard and helping to care for me and I am at home most days being retired, which I never really wanted to be doing, at least at this point in my life. I regret that I am no longer able to work and resent that I got cancer, had complications, regularly get pneumonia, and cannot eat or drink anything by mouth, and so I feel guilty and shameful that I must have done something to bring this on myself. I see my daughter helping to take care of me and I feel guilty and shameful that I am not taking care of her. All this guilt weighs heavily on me. I try to practice mindfulness and be present to the moment but I obsessively think about the past and future. I think about my job that I loved; playing golf which I loved; cooking and eating great food that I loved. I think about what will happen to my family now that I can no longer work and support them. I think about all the things I can't do, or at least do easily, and all the places I had wanted to go aned now can't go very easily and I resent that I am bound to medical technology that limits my life. And I feel guilty and shameful. Intellectually I know that most, if not all of this, is the random workings of the universe and really isn't my fault, so I feel guilty and shameful that I have this burden of guilt and shame. I know that all this guilt and shame will not cultivate the mindfulness to which I aspire, but it is what I feel. I am intentionally committing to be mindful and present and to let go of the burden of my guilt and shame, but it seems very sticky. It doesn't want to let go too easily. When I have sticky stuff on my hands I use soap and water and it comes off. I suspect that there must be a metaphysical equivalent for this sticky guilt and shame and I think I know what it is. I am surrounded by a great cloud of friends and family who are supporting me and I know that I need to reach out to them, without feeling guilty or shameful that I am bothering them, and ask for help when I need it. And throughout the day I need to periodically remember to just be here now. No obsessing about what is past or worrying about what whill happen in the future, just this moment, which is given to us all as the present. If you are reading this then you are probably one of the people who I rely on for help and support, so for my sake, please get off of the computer and start sitting by your phone! Or you could call me if you like. I'm probably home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Accidental Buddhist

Yesterday my daughter, Becca, was driving me to yet another medical appointment. This one was for a brain MRI to determine the extent of the nerve damage from my radiation treatments almost eight years ago. Becca told me how she thinks that everything happens for a reason and that if I had never gotten throat cancer she would not have developed into the mature person she is today. I do agree that Becca has matured incredibly since I was first diagnosed. It came at a really unfortunate time, as if there is a fortunate time to get cancer. Becca was just starting high school and her parents were largely occupied with other things. I told Becca that I do not believe that. The universe is random and there was no higher purpose in my getting cancer. I don't believe in a deity who manipulated my health so that Becca would mature beyond her years. Becca responded that she chooses to believe that things happen for a reason, and then, just when I needed to hear it (I was preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself; however, in my own defense, it is one of my best things) Becca told me that she thinks that the point of life is to live each moment and that we can all choose to be happy. A smile spread over my face and I told Becca, "You're a Buddhist." Becca, who has rejected all organized religion, protested. But I explained that her statement, which I really needed to hear, was consistent with Buddhist thought, teaching, and practice. I have been practicing and evolving into Buddhism for almost twenty years, and I had to have my deaughter remind me to be here and present and to choose to be happy. And once again the student teaches the master. I was, as I so often am, so proud of Becca at that moment. I have to confess though, that I was also proud of myself. I know that she got that type of thinking from someone and as the only Buddhist in the house I am quite willing to take credit. But mostly, I was deeply touched that this young woman who I have loved and cared for over the past twenty two years is capable of having a rational, intelligent conversation with me. I enjoy being wiht my daughter more now than ever.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Stubbornly incorrigible technology

My laptop computer is being stubbornly and incorrigibly slow this morning so I am trying a first for me; posting a blog entry from my iPhone.

I spent some time this morning sorting through some more bureaucracy in my pursuit of being declared disabled by the state. My doctors and family, and I suspect my co-workers already know that I am disabled. Now it is just up to the bureaucrats to concur.

I was dreading trying to sort through this imposing and intimidating stack of government paperwork. I secretly hoped that if I stalled long enough and whined and complained loudly enough it would either just go away or someone else would do it for me. I was genuinely intimidated by the task before me. But I decided to discipline myself into taking on this task.

I made my telephone call and the paperwork was not nearly as imposing as I had thought. I had built up expectations in my mind of this monster bureaucratic nightmare scenario and found that it was in fact quite easy to manage.

And that is how it often seems to go for me. My expectations of problems often exceed the reality. I am sure that there is a lesson here. A lesson for which I did not ask, but will help to cultivate my mindfulness just the same.

And the laptop is still stalled out.

Too Late Now

It's too late now. My laptop finally caught up after I had already mastered the task of creating a blog entry from my iPhone. This does bring me to another issue worthy of reflection though.

We live in a society and culture that has come to expect instantaneous results. We are not very good at waiting. I cannot imagine what our ancestors even just fifty years ago would have made of the way that we live today.

Cell phones that play live television or radio; instant communication virtually anywhere in the world and in many notable cases even beyond our world; securely faxing documents in minutes as opposed to the postal mail getting it there within a few days. How could we even explain this to our ancestors. And I think that their first question might have been, "Why?"

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone he had a challenging time marketing it. At first no one, not even businesses, could envision a practical use for the device. Bell ended up installing some of his new inventions in public places so that people could experience this device. It was yet another act of genius.

It was only when people got to experience the technology for themselves that they began to realize the implications for the wider society. Gradually Bell's invention has become perhaps one of the greatest inventions of all time and is now so commonplace it is difficult to imagine life without phones and every thing that has proceeded from this technology.

Perhaps, though, it would be good for us to take a few moments a day to appreciate the moment. To be mindful of just this moment without worry or care about what has happened or will happen. Perhaps we would benefit from not expecting instantaneous results, even if just for a few moments a day?

I think that I shall try this today, just not now, because I have to post my newest blog entry.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Time for a decision

I have been trying to post a new blog entry every two or three days, so I decided to discipline myself to write another post today, even though I am struggling a little bit.

It has been a challenging couple of days for me. On Monday I was diagnosed with pneumonia again, just about two weeks after getting out of the hospital with pneumonia. This is seriously getting old and monotonous.

The fact that I cannot seem to remain healthy for any significant period of time has gotten me depressed and down. The last two days I spent mostly in bed feeling sorry for myself.

I am still feeling sorry for myself, but I decided to discipline myself today. I got up and got dressed, got myself ready for the day and have been up and doing a few things around the house.

I am falling back on my Buddhist teaching, specifically that I am the author of every next moment. I may not be able to choose my circumstances, but I can and do choose how I will react to my circumstances.

It feels good to be able to share this with others in person and digitally on my blog. I have received several very positive comments about my blog and appreciate that people seem to be reading it.