Quarantine Scenes

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“We Read to Know We’re Not Alone”

-Sir Anthony Hopkins,

as C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands

 

 

Last week, I was supposed to meet Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, during our college’s annual arts and literary festival, Sensoria.  We had been anticipating her visit for months, then COVID 19 struck.

I listened to a podcast this morning featuring her work.  She reflected on the iconic song, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  She remarked how this song is relevant, but the songwriter got one pivotal point wrong.  She explained, “What Woody Guthrie forgot is we ARE the land”.  

This quote struck me as a teacher.  I sympathize with our students, but my feeling is we ARE our students right now.  We are all in this together. I am not dealing with the magnitude of their pressures, however, I feel at one with them.  Their issues are different, but the feelings of uncertainty and collective grief are the same. I just read my students’ posts on our Blackboard Discussion Board and my heart just hurts.

I want to say to my students:  

I see you.  I am listening.  And, I love you. Is that too much?  I don’t care.  

I want to take this time to share a love letter to my students for their bravery, devotion to their families and their fight to stay in our course despite insurmountable challenges at this time. 

To my students who are parents:

I hear you when you say that you have kids at home and it is hard to concentrate.

I am with you when you say you are scared.

I can understand your raw frustration when your kids are screaming and fighting in the background of our WebEx chats.

In their own words:

“The part of adjusting when I am doing school work now is that my little one is hanging on my hip.  That is the biggest challenge. In a matter of 4 days, I have decided to follow the governor’s orders and stay home, to not only protect myself, but mainly my child who is under age 2. I had a job four days ago and now, I have lost my job. This is the biggest change adjusting to.  I am back to being a full time mom, with a child stuck indoors and finishing this semester. As far as how am I feeling, I think stressed is the perfect word.”

“My son and I do yard work and go hiking and kayaking to pass the time by.”

“If I was to worry it would be for my four-month-old little girl. The only thing I need from you all is to keep all of the frontline medical workers and first responders in your thoughts. They are the real heroes during this pandemic.”

To my students who are worried about their grades:

I hear you when you say you are not good at English- though I would argue that you are.

I am with you when you say you didn’t sign up for an online class and you are uncomfortable with technology.

I can understand when you say it’s hard to write about things right now.  My brain is also full of static.

In their own words:

“To be most sincere I’m not feeling that great. I’m a high school senior and all I wanted was to at least graduate after 12 years of hard work and endurance. I feel like the one thing that I have left has been taken from me and it has been very hard for me trying to figure out my life, from working.. making enough money to survive.”

“Dropping out of high school in the first half of junior year gives me a different perspective. I knew I was never going to experience walking across the aisle for a diploma, go to a prom, or enjoy being a senior. I also lost contact with a lot of friends from high school because I didn’t see them anymore. Going to CPCC everyday in a way fixed it, as I enjoyed seeing everyone on campus and because it is such a small campus, I feel like I knew everyone. Now, it feels like I dropped out all over again except this time, it wasn’t a choice.”

“I can agree with you about the grades. I was not doing so well with my chemistry class in person.  How am I supposed to do well online?”

To my students finding out they are suddenly unemployed:

I hear you when you say you are afraid you can’t pay your bills and you worry about putting food on the table for your children.

I am with you when you say your uncertainty is crushing.

I can understand your anxiety being at an all-time high.

In their own words:

“My job had to shut down, which has been the largest source of my stress because I now have no income. I am unable to file for unemployment because my job did not file taxes, so after learning that I will not be able to receive financial help by the government during this time, it added a lot of stress.” 

“I feel deeply for local businesses who have had to shut their doors because I am in the same boat. My job is owned and operated by all Vietnamese people whom I love deeply, but there is a large language barrier. My boss has been coming to me every day asking for updates on what is happening throughout the world and specifically our county because they do not understand the news. Over my time working with them, I have taught myself how to communicate effectively with them so I have been explaining what is going on. We have been shut down for over a week now and we thought it would be just for 2 weeks, but after the Governor’s update from last night, it will be for at least another 30 days. I had to tell my boss and co-workers this information and they were devastated and asked how can they could continue to afford to live and it broke my heart to have no answers for them.” 

“I am in a similar situation. I work with kids in an after school program, but because school is canceled there is no after school program, and I am currently jobless at the moment. The whole situation is less than ideal. I didn’t even get to say bye to the kids, I just had to up and leave.”

I am also very proud of my students for so many reasons. 

I am proud of your kindness and how you stand up for your fellow students.  From sharing recipes you found on Pinterest, to yoga websites, you have been there for each other.  When one of your classmates told us he was getting bullied for being of Asian descent during this crisis, you were tenacious in your support of him:

“I am also Asian and I feel a little afraid of going out in public.  Although, nothing bad has happened to me yet and hopefully never will.”

“Though I am not Asian, I go to a Chinese church.  Don’t worry. Most people here are very nice and even if someone is being mean to you for no reason, it is just because they’re not smart enough, so don’t concern yourself with that.” 

“We can use our written communication skills to encourage and uplift others. Not only through technology, but also the old-fashioned way of writing letters. Words are powerful. We all have the ability to support others during this time of uncertainty.” 

I am immensely proud of how you have used the research skills you have learned in our class to be able to find credible sources during this pandemic:

I think a lot of people who get their news from a single source are really missing the full picture, and I am glad for this course for helping me to understand that. For example, it is good to understand that the polls showing confirmed cases are not an accurate depiction of the spread of the virus, since we aren’t testing everybody that is sick.”

“This course has helped me to look for what information is actually reliable and what side of the story some news outlets may be leaving out. It also has helped me to ensure I am fact-checking information I hear from other people since many people are panicking and spreading false information. For example, I had heard from someone that pets can carry the virus and first took that as a fact, but when I was politely challenged by my sister, I looked into it more and found that the CDC has no evidence claiming that pets can carry the virus.”

“I have easily been able to identify false information, and even try to tell my parents they are receiving false information from certain sites, and they do not believe me!”

This student even called out a fellow student for using Twitter as their primary news source:

“Also I don’t think Twitter is the best place to get your news unless it comes from a well known and reliable source. It’s just more believable that way. Not to say that other lesser known news or information sources don’t have the potential to give out quality information. I wish you would have specified exactly what the bits of information are that you have gathered from Twitter and later compared to other news sources.”

I am proud that ALL of you called out people in your age group about not observing social distancing regulations.  You are getting a bad reputation in the media and it is not fair.  Not all millennials and members of Generation Y are irresponsible. Students, like you, are leading the way!

“It bothers me to see friends and people I know defying the guidelines and posting on Instagram saying “ItS cOrOnA TiMe” and “SoCiAl DiStAnCiNg” when people are dying and they are being selfish by unknowingly spreading the disease.

I think it is so unfortunate when you see videos of people on spring break or just out and about not taking any of this seriously. The longer people ignore the CDC and WHO, the longer we will all have to be in quarantine.”

“Nonetheless, having this time to stay at home has given me an opportunity to really settle into a more present lifestyle, something that I have been trying to improve upon as a student. I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home and spend more quality time with my family and build stronger routines for every aspect in life such as wellness, and self-care. Also, being allowed to continue our education online and finish the semester as strong as possible is also a blessing.”

“My family and I watch both American and Serbian news from home and it’s astounding how differently the virus is portrayed in different areas of the world. Over in Europe, there seems to be a much more urgent vibe to the situation and more panic, while in the US we have kept pretty calm about the situation up until now.”

But, some students observed efforts to work together during this crisis:

“This pandemic has affected almost every nation on the planet. What has been amazing to see is that nations and leaders that otherwise have been adversaries have reached out to one another to offer aid to fight this disease. Humanity is simply reaching out to others and offering help and support when it is needed most. I think that through this course, we all have a positive outlet for learning and furthering our education which is a productive use of time while our lives are all affected by this pandemic. Being that the course timelines and expectations have changed, it is important to reach out to other classmates when needed and to offer help when you have the chance.” 

“I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we need to come together as a community. In times like these, we are really able to see how much our well being depends on the actions of those around us, and who we choose to have around us.”

“More than just being kind, which should be a trait that everyone has regardless, we need to rely on each other and lean on each other. Martin Luther King Jr. had a wonderful quote that is especially true in times like these, ‘Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world, a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.’”

Remember

By Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

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As mothers and daughters, we are connected to one another.  My mother is the bones of my spine, keeping me straight and true.  She is my blood, making sure it runs rich and strong.  She is the beating of my heart.

                                                                                        -Kristin Hannah

Mom would have been 79 years old today. 

I was feeling melancholy, remembering her special day would be coming and I found myself thinking about her hands. 

Mom’s hands were strong.  She could open up any jar in the house.  She was a dental hygienist for 40 years, so her hands were battle worn.  They worked in tight places all day long with sharp instruments and lifted heavy x-ray aprons.

Her strong hands were the only ones I wanted to rub my back when I was sick. When I had severe asthma growing up, her hands would pound on my back.  This was not an abusive situation. These were the 1970s where there were no inhalers like we use today. Mom’s hands methodically thumped on my back to release the pressure in my lungs and allowed me to breathe.

One day in elementary school, my teacher called me “dummy”.  Although this condemnation would hurt any child’s feelings, the wound was deeper because I had always liked this teacher for her hands.  They were like my mother’s. When I cried that night in my mother’s arms, I remember her saying, “No, honey. Our hands are different. Mine are the ones that are smacking her in the face for saying such a thing to a child.”  Always the fierce Irish mother.

I am not the only one that reveres her mother’s hands.  Fanny Singer, daughter of renowned chef Alice Waters, recounts memories of her mother’s hands in her memoir, Always Home:

“One of the most distinctive things about my mother is her hands, though I would imagine that the hands of anyone’s mother would seem distinctive to them.  Those are the hands, after all, that soothe us through so much of our childhood, that change our diapers, and swaddle us and hold us, and comb our hair, and apply unwanted sunscreen and antiseptic and band-aids.”

Singer also commented about the strength of her mother’s hands, “But, there is also something in the strength of her fingers – whether it is innate or from the years of kitchen work – that I find especially unusual.  In this, her hands are a sort of mirror of her determination.”

The author’s reverence for her beloved mother’s hands are surprisingly the same as mine:  “But if there’s a portrait of my mother’s hands that is most etched in my mind, it is the way she holds a piece of fruit as she deftly slips the skin from its flesh….The finger-feel, the knowledge in her fingertips, strikes me a singular, though I know it is the gift of many chefs:  determining the difference between lusciously yielding flesh and a fruit that is over the hill.”

My mother and I had similar hands and feet.  A bit of useless trivia, for sure. But when we were in hospice with Mom and the nurse asked us to continuously check to see if her hands or feet were turning blue – that would be an indication that the end was near- I couldn’t help seeing my own hands and feet.  Part of me was dying in that bed right along with her.  

That scene lead me to write this poem:

Heartbeat (Hands, Feet in Drumbeat)

Same hands,

Kneading meatballs together 

Same feet,

Walking in the sand

 

Same hands,

Waving goodbye, leaving for school

Same feet,

Strolling through London

 

Same hands, 

Admiring wedding bands

Same feet,

Fatigued from dancing

 

Same hands, 

Holding chubby baby hands

Same feet,

Running through the grass

Different hands, 

Full of IVs

 

Different feet,

Running through the ICU

 

Different hands, Different feet, 

Turning blue

 

Different hands, Different feet, 

Saying this final farewell

 

Different hands, different feet

Different…

Happy birthday, Mom.  I will miss you and love you forever.  You and your beautiful hands.  

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Excerpt from:  Singer, Fanny. Always Home. Knopf, 2020.

Drawing:  Special Bunny from Gail Adinolfi

RV Chronicles #2 – Tablecloth

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As I drove home from work, I thought to myself:  We haven’t had much rain lately.  I need to water the flowers and garden before leaving on our trip tomorrow.  If you’re an English teacher, you might call this thought “foreshadowing”.

We left on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon.  The RV was packed to the hilt and the kids were buzzing with excitement.  We were heading on a one-week RV trip, with the first stop being Stone Mountain, North Carolina.  Stone Mountain State Park boasted some pretty amazing hiking with a great mountain feel. We were excited to get into the fresh air, and capture some beautiful sights.  

As we headed north, the sky started to turn cloudy.  I checked The Weather Channel app and it said rain. OK, I thought.  Periods of rain, but there had to be some breaks, right?  I was still so optimistic at this point.

We set up camp at our rather bare bones camp site, a concrete slab with an electric hook-up.  No water. No Wi-Fi. No problem.

It was cloudy, but no rain.  So, I set up the picnic table with our brand new tablecloth.  I fastened the clips to keep it in place and…..CRACK. Lightning very close by.  Kids ran into the RV like the outside world was a house on fire. I took the tablecloth in and waited for the storm to pass. I tried to check to see if the weather was going to be severe or if there were any tornado warnings, but we had no Wi-Fi.

We ate some delicious pizza my husband made and set up dinner on our RV dinette.  We all viewed it as an adventure – seeing the torrential downpour outside, while safe and warm in our home away from home.  We played board games and waved to our neighbors in the campers next to us.  

There was a strong rain throughout the night.  It was hitting the roof of our camper really hard and the wind buffeted the camper.  No matter. We were snug in our beds and I was feeling so grateful for this home we made in our little corner of the forest.

The next day, more rain.  Again, wanted to check the weather forecast because it felt like we were sitting ducks if there was a tornado.  I suggested taking off and heading somewhere that might not have any rain- somewhere further west. Also, wanted to find a campground with Wi-Fi.  It just felt safer to have some tether to society. As you can probably tell, I am not an outdoor girl. No one would accuse me of being Cheryl Strayed or anything.  

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My husband is always up for an adventure and the kids were game, so off we went.  The weather forecast did not look good for anything in western North Carolina. Perhaps Tennessee?  We’d see what we would see.  

We decided to stop in Boone, North Carolina, as it is one of our favorite places.  The campground where we stayed was on top of a mountain and promised beautiful vista views (and Wi-Fi).  As we climbed the mountain, we encountered more rain and fog. Vista views may have to wait until the weather cleared.  Still the rain slowed a bit. Perhaps an al fresco lunch at the campground?  

I took advantage of the break in the rain and the tablecloth came out again.  I have to admit, I was becoming a little hell-bent at this point. We were going to eat outside if it killed us.  Well, not killed us per se. But, you get the picture. We were going on the second day of being in close quarters.  Fresh air was needed. Again, I clipped the tablecloth to the picnic table. We ate outside for a total of 2 minutes.  Really? The first bite out of my sandwich aaaannnnnddd…..DOWNPOUR.  

We stayed in the camper for lunch and dinner that night.  The rain was relentless. As we were hanging out with the kids, my phone made a loud alarm noise.  It was, hold on to your hats, a mudslide alert. Conditions were favorable for severe mudslides in our area.  The alert said look for downed trees, power lines and avoid areas of high elevation.  Umm….would that include mountaintops?  

At this point, I had enough.  The kids were anxious messes as they feared our deaths by mudslide.  Mark and I were beyond tired and disappointed. 

And, there was that damn tablecloth amidst the chaos, folded neatly in the open cupboard and full of promise of happy outdoor eating.  It taunted me from its perch like a smug little shit, if only you could use me, Elizabeth…  

Don’t judge me.  Cabin fever will do this to you, too.

I announced (well, really growled)  that everyone was going to bed. Enough of this day!  We’d figure out a plan tomorrow.  I went back to our bed and flopped on the mattress.  I tend to be a bit dramatic at times, I know. As my arms fell, I noticed a damp spot at the head of our bed.  “Who drank something in our bedroom!?” I yelled, accusing the kids of spilling something. No one confessed. However, upon further investigation, the window and wall were wet as well.  There was a leak in the camper.  

Mark and I got towels and stuffed them into where we thought the leak was.  We went to bed in a camper that felt like a sinking ship. For real. I had the wetness to prove it.

We had to head home the following morning due to the leak and everyone was relieved.  I looked at the weather and noticed this major storm would blow over in a few days. We would try to resume our trip later in the week.

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Drawer

20181127_152912(0)Recently, my family and I decorated our Christmas tree.  As we were hanging the decorations – relics from family vacations, kids’ crafts, fancy bulbs from my childhood made from beads – I held each one and lovingly remembered all of the experiences each decoration represented.

As I was adrift in memories, I realized something.  Gratitude comes in many packages. I was grateful for the little hopeful faces that gave me their creations, the parents/grandparents who went to great pains to make these bulbs and the many fun adventures we were able to take with our family.  

It occurred to me that gratitude is like these decorations.  You have to pull it out of the drawer, dust it off and let it breathe.  Acts for which we are grateful are abound, yet we don’t acknowledge them so often.  Rather, we may choose to focus on the not-so-happy aspects of daily life.

For example, Christmas has become a complicated holiday for my family and me.  My mother died at Christmastime two years ago. Sometimes when I see our outdoor lights shining through the window against our dining room wall, I think about the people who came to our door to deliver meals to our home while she was in the hospital.  When the cold air of December blows in my face, I think of how it did the same thing walking to the car after days and nights in the ICU.

It’s not our fault.  Our minds tend to go to the negative – what we haven’t given, what we haven’t gotten, how much we have missed, how much we have to overcome, etc.  Critical analysis is part of our everyday experience.

But, I realize that I cannot live in that space – the place of regret, loss, guilt, negativity.  It leaves a dark imprint on everything in my life. My kids get very anxious when they hear me complaining too much.  They are like little mirrors, showing you the result of when you allow negativity to permeate your lives.

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Gratitude is everywhere, impelling its way into everyday life.  My husband came home the other day and told me about a story he heard on talk radio about a reluctant and crabby person who was forced into keeping a list of things for which he was grateful.  He begrudgingly wrote down some half-baked ideas, “glad I got up this morning”, “glad I’m breathing”, etc. Then, he started to get into keeping this list and got more creative. The radio announcer said this hesitant observer now has thousands and thousands of items on his gratitude list now and he is not stopping.  He remains excited about recognizing the gifts of living.

Gratitude seems like exercise – you have to remind yourself to do it, and do it often. The benefits will not happen unless you perform those moves of mindful reflection on a consistent basis.  So, like getting on the treadmill to remain healthy over the holidays, or reluctantly going to the gym in the rain or snow, try gratitude training.  In the words of George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo, you could be flexing your muscular kindness.

Garden

20180614_171002“What is called genius is the abundance of life or health, so that whatever addresses the senses, as the flavor of these berries, or the lowing of that cow, which sounds as if it echoed along a cool mountain-side just before night, where odiferous dews perfume the air and there is everlasting vigor, serenity, and expectation of perpetual untarnished morning,—each sight and sound and scent and flavor,—intoxicates with a healthy intoxication.”

Henry David Thoreau’s journal entry, 11 July 1852

There is a healthy intoxication in North Carolina during these sweltering days of summer.  Farm stands abound with fresh produce and it is the time to try out new recipes. Each summer, my daughter and I plant a small garden in our backyard full of herbs and tomatoes.

I have been researching foods that help reduce inflammation associated with RA.  My sister gave me an excellent resource, The Anti-Inflammatory Diet and Action Plans by Dorothy Calimeris and Sondi Bruner.  I have found that some of my favorite foods/herbs (basil, strawberries, spinach, pineapple, cherries) might help with inflammation.  My go-to fruit lately has been cherries, much to the delight of my Michigander husband.

I have been trying some of the recipes from my new cookbook and wanted to share some of them with you.  I have been making a lot of smoothies lately. With temperatures rising to 100 degrees, something cold really hits the spot.  This smoothie is my current obsession:

Cherry Smoothie, serves 1

1 cup of frozen, no sugar added, pitted cherries

¼ cup frozen raspberries

¾ cup coconut water

1 tbsp of raw honey (try to get local honey for the pollen, which helps with allergies)

1 tsp chia seeds

1 tsp hemp seeds

Drop of vanilla extract

Ice (optional)

In a blender, combine all ingredients until smooth.

So, I made this smoothie for my husband before one of my son’s soccer games.  As he tasted it, he said, “is this alcoholic?” Umm… no? FYI…Watch how much vanilla extract you put in this smoothie.  I misread the recipe and added a teaspoon of vanilla extract, not the drop that the recipe called for. It does taste alcoholic when you do that.  Not bad, but definitely not the drink to have at a Saturday morning soccer game. Lesson learned.

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The next recipe is an unusual entree, but I promise you it is delectable!  Again, I’m a little obsessed with cherries lately. They are just so sweet and fresh!  I found this recipe for Chicken Breast with Cherry Sauce and my husband made it for me.  It is unbelievably good, healthy and celebrates the abundance of the season:

Chicken Breast with Cherry Sauce, serves 4

1 tbsp coconut oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 scallions, sliced

¾ cup chicken broth

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

½ cup dried cherries (I used fresh cherries.  They made for a little more liquid. See step #5 below.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees fahrenheit
  2. In a large, ovenproof skillet over medium high heat, melt the coconut oil.
  3. Season the chicken with salt and pepper.  Place the chicken in the pan and brown it on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.
  4. Add the scallions, chicken broth, balsamic vinegar and cherries.  Cover with an ovenproof lid or aluminum foil and place the pan in the preheated oven.  Bake for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  5. If you are using fresh or frozen cherries, transfer the sauce into a saucepan to reduce the liquid – making the sauce thicker before transferring back to chicken.

Exploring new recipes makes this transition exciting.  I am able to find better ways to eat clean and preserve my health.  Oh, and I also made Lavender and Honey homemade ice cream from the lavender in our garden.  I won’t add that recipe. It was unbelievable, but definitely not anti-inflammatory or healthy.  Sometimes you just have to indulge. And I was still honoring the abundance of our garden.

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Print

20180525_062420Someone gave me Rheumatoid Arthritis. I know the culprit. It is my friend who has an office a few doors down from mine at work, and she was diagnosed last year. In the past year, I have seen her suffer. However, I never really understood her condition. Until she gave it to me.

Of course, I am kidding. But, my little joke provides some levity to the situation.

I will call my friend, RA Sister. Her journey has been anything but easy; she has had fatigue, multiple medicine issues and “bad days”. And I witnessed it, having a front row seat to her pain.  

The fatigue seemed to hit her quickly. Our normally sunny girl turned pale and worn out. She kept up her positive attitude, but you could tell she just didn’t feel well. I checked on her and could tell when she was having a better day and a bad day. The bad days were multiplying. Still, her smile was apparent every time I saw her. She also continued to sport joyful shirts, such as one featuring her favorite succulent plants.

RA Sister is not one to complain. AT ALL. You would never know her hard days. She soldiers on with a smile and despite her pain, she continues with her rather demanding duties at work, shares innovative teaching ideas and her beautiful poetry. Tough as nails doesn’t even begin to describe her. Her fight is an inspiration.  

She started using the hashtag, #soulfight, last summer. I thought it was such a great title for her condition. Soul fight. Fighting for her very soul. My other friend from work and I cheered her on. We sent her encouraging memes and always tagged our missives with her hashtag. We were there for her. But, were we really?

There are times when I apologize to my RA Sister. I tell her I had no idea what she was going through. Now, I completely understand and feel a little guilty for not being there for her more.  She laughs at my guilt, waves her hand and says, “how could you know? How could anyone know?” Even in our conversation the other day, she said she’s mad at her body. I get it, Sister. Truly and deeply.

When I was diagnosed last March, I was in shock and she was my first phone call. I started the conversation with “you gave this to me!!!” She laughed and launched in with a lot of encouragement, support and information. She stayed on the phone with me for over an hour, empathizing and caring for me. Little did I know, she was sitting in hospice at the deathbed of her father. Throughout our conversation, she did not share any of her personal trauma. She focused on me and took time out of her misery to help ME. Yes. She’s that type of friend. And, she gives the most considerate gifts.

For Christmas one year, she gave me a print that she painted for me. It means the world to me and currently hangs in my writing room.  The quote on the painting is from Elizabeth Gilbert and it says, “Be a weirdo who dares to enjoy.” This painting reminds me of her artistic and vastly creative spirit. For her birthday this year, I returned the favor of giving her a photograph I took of lanterns I saw at Christmastime. They were so beautiful, just like my RA Sister.

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This summer, RA Sister is embarking on a cross-country journey, with her three beloved dogs in tow. I am excited for her and the many adventures she will have. Brave? Yes. She will no doubt infect everyone she meets across the nation….with her buoyant and kind spirit, not RA.  

#soulfight

Hands

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I have my mother’s hands.

I always admired how strong and beautiful her hands were; whether she was rubbing my head as I drifted to sleep or when she playfully pinched me, they always felt like home.  I even wrote a poem about how we have the same hands entitled, “Heartbeat”.

My dad has long, graceful fingers.  His hands are very elegant, though he probably would not like me to describe them as such.  You see, he’s a fan of John Wayne and all things macho and manly. But, his handsome hands always provided strength, comfort and safety.

I like my hands.  I consider them one of my greatest assets.  You know, when teenage girls start assessing their favorite body parts, most girls would mention their legs or other areas.  My hands were my crowning glory. They allowed me to write.

I treat my hands well.  I give them lotion at night, and always wear gloves when gardening or washing dishes.  My husband says I have doll hands because they are “little and beautiful”. However, that compliment has become a little suspect since Kristen Wiig’s famous small hands skit on Saturday Night Live.  My friends comment on my hands.  One of my dearest friends, I’ll call her ‘Soul Sister’, always says I have “freakishly soft hands”.  She owns a CrossFit gym and remarks how those bars would tear my sweet hands up. If that is the case, I do not believe I have a future in CrossFit.  My former roommate, let’s call her ‘Southern Sister’ wanted to make a shirt out of my skin. Yes. A shirt. Who knew she had Hannibal Lecter tendencies?

Now, my hands are rebelling against me.  

Hands communicate so much.  Italians know this kind of non-verbal expression.  Everyone in my family talks with his or her hands. It’s like the old adage, if you tied our hands, we would be mute.  If I am in a tense situation and do not want to give away my emotions, I actually hold my own hands – like I did when I was little, holding my own hand while crossing the street.  I have an independence streak.

I went to my first rheumatologist and the first thing I noticed were her hands.  She examined me with a light touch. I felt so afraid, yet safe because how she was handling me.  But, then something totally changed. When I started asking my questions, she waved her hands- as if she was shooing me away.  She even began taking our her stethoscope and examining me mid-question. I would ask about complementary therapies, and the hand would swat the air to punctuate her dismissal, “you don’t want to waste your money”.  When she told me the medicine she was prescribing had side effects that affected the lungs, I told her about my asthma and how my mom died of complications from pulmonary hypertension. She waved her hand and said, “that doesn’t matter”.

Each swipe of her hand cut into my soul.  I was completely vulnerable and in pain. And, it was clear this person did not care.  There is nothing more soul crushing than needing help and not getting it.

I decided this rheumatologist and I were not a good fit.  I opted to find an integrative rheumatologist because I truly feel that such a condition is best treated with a combination of medicine and holistic remedies such as wellness, diet and stress management. I really wanted a healthcare provider who would understand what I needed.  I found that someone.

This rheumatologist spent over an hour with my husband and me on our first appointment.  He went into great detail about my options and what the plan was to help me in the short-term and long-term considerations.  He anticipated all of my questions, so I wound up not asking him anything. This situation is unheard of as I always have a ton of questions.

The best part?  He gently took both of my hands and said, “we are going to make you feel better – and even stronger.”  I knew then I was in good hands.

Heartbeat (Hands, Feet in Drumbeat)

Same hands,

Kneading meatballs together

Same feet,

Walking in the sand

Same hands,

Waving goodbye, leaving for school

Same feet,

Strolling through London

Same hands,

Admiring wedding bands

Same feet,

Fatigued from dancing

Same hands,

Holding chubby baby hands

Same feet,

Running through the grass

Different hands,

Full of IVs

Different feet,

Running through the ICU

Different hands, Different feet,

Turning blue

Different hands, Different feet,

Saying this final farewell

Different hands, different feet

Different…