Last year, when I turned 75, there was a gorgeous Shalom Center celebration when hundreds of you joined in song and laughter. For me, its highlight was being interviewed about my life by Dr. Dan Gottlieb, a skillful, wise, and profound psychotherapist -- finding myself saying out loud my hopes and fears and worries and joys in the midst of that gathering . The whole event was one of the high points in my life.
This year is very different. I don't think of it as a "low point" -- maybe a "deep point" -- because my experience in the Moss Rehab Center has been remarkable.
I have been deeply moved by seeing up close the extraordinary guts and commitment to healing of people who have lost legs, or the ability to speak, or other major aspects of themselves. I have never before been witness to so much suffering, and so much courage.
And also so much compassion, not only in feeling but in doing -- competent compassion -- from the staff -- doctors, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, aides and assistants.
Their direct human service is utterly intimate. It is bodies that are broken, and bodies that must heal. Dealing with the urine of patients who can't get to the bathroom. Holding patients who totter as they learn to walk again. Patiently repeating again and again and again simple instructions to patients who are relearning how to connect sounds – words – with meaning. Fitting prosthetic legs onto patients whose legs are stumps that end above the knee.
I notice that many many of the doctors, nurses, and aides come from other countries: The Philippines, India, Mexico, Central America, Cuba, Haiti, Vietnam, Korea. And from Black and Hispanic neighborhoods within America. Is this sheer economics? Or are they coming from cultures of compassion, closer to the villages where there is no alternative to caring for each other, from large families living in small spaces where everyone's body is sprawled in everybody's face?
And we, the patients – praising each other, laughing with each other, encouraging each other, thanking each other, watching out not to collide with each others' wheelchairs.
So I have learned a great deal. Learning of the heart and soul. Even a kind of meta-learning of the mind. For instance, I have begun to notice when my old old urge to pick up a book is a signal that I want or maybe need to turn away from face-to-face interaction. Not good or bad in itself – perhaps there is a time for going outward into face-to-face, and a time for going through an inner "worm-hole" to be carried to other worlds and galaxies. What is new is that I am not doing this unaware like an automatic tic, but with awareness that I am choosing, that there is a world of face-to-face I may be turning away from.
Going home does not mean that my learning and healing are complete. I still have a lot of inner work to do, and there is some Shalom Center work I have not been able to do in Rehab, and must turn to now. My days will be busy, including more body-time than I have been used to since I was 20. (And for that reason, I cannot simply say "Drop in." I will need to limit visits that I yearn for, in order to do the different works that I must do.)
(If you want to help out at this time of intense work, what we need most now is hiring an intern who can help me with research and connection-making, If you can contribute to make that possible, thanks! -- I can't imagine a better birthday gift.
My broken leg is healing nicely, and I have learned to hop-walk on one leg with a walker, for distances long enough to cover the first floor of my house. My urinary system, shaken by the surgery, is not yet working well. On Friday, we removed the Foley catheter – but my urinary system still was not delivering as it should, and we had to reinsert a Foley eight hours later. This time, the combined effectiveness and gentleness of the nurse who did the reinsertion, my own ability to relax my muscles more because I was not terrified -- the last time, while painful, had been much less than excruciating -- and once again, chanting in Phyllis' arms during the procedure -- eased the process a great deal.
Just this past weekend, we completed the reading of the Torah and instantly turned to reading its beginning.
Many commentators point out the importance of this sense of never-endingness, the spiral of time in which we are always returning to an old place in order to transform it and make our journey new again.
Fewer commentators point out that the passage at the end of Torah is about the death of Moses, and the passage at the beginning is about the creation of the world.
Death leads straight into birth.
And that has been my experience these weeks.
What died, perforce, was my unaware, unconscious, even uncaring relation with my body.
What I have birthed – and hope to keep growing – is a far more open heart. Open to the concern and caring that many of you have poured out to me in Emails and letters and cards, responding to my pain and sharing stories of your own. Open to the love pouring from and with my close friends, from and with my family, from and with Phyllis most of all.
Love and blessings --