A Bit of Happy #1

When I was little my mom had places where she would mark our growing. I loved those pencil marks on the wall; seeing myself grow. There were many mornings when I would wake up and run to my mom first thing, announcing my thrilling news: “Mommy I grew! I grew!”

I would grab a pencil in one hand and her hand in the other, and bring them both to the wall, eager to see a mark just a little higher than the last to prove my growing to myself and everyone else I could drag to that sacred spot. I remember my mother trying to explain to me that I wouldn’t have grown in ways I could see in just one night, but after repeated (and persistent) pleading: “Mommy I grew! I know that I grew!” I could sometimes persuade her to check me against the highest mark on the wall one more time. Sometimes my mom would make the pencil mark just a touch higher than the previous one to quiet me. Not knowing this, I would walk away with an intense feeling of satisfaction. And happiness. I loved growing.

This year I have been confronted in my present with practically every trauma of my entire life- in fact, most of the members of my family have. Life tends to cluster in seasons that way. This is how our souls are watered so new joys can sprout, I suppose, through our own tears. This year I’ve irrigated!

If I thought it would help someone else to go into any of these things here, uncomfortable or not, I would. Thankfully- for me at least- I don’t get that feeling. But there is one part of this experience that I will share. Perhaps you will understand it now. If not, you will understand it later when the time is right for you.

I realized in these last few weeks that each time I was forced to face the truly horrible- horrible I had already tried to forgive and forget, learn from and release and move on from- that it was a gift from my Father in Heaven. It was as if, understanding the deep childhood need that has outlasted practically every other particle of my soul, God brought me to a place where I could perceive the evidence of what I have wanted so very much all of my life:

I grew.

 

A Bit of Happy #2: A Reason for the Dark

When I started this series of 30 happinesses, I intended to write them up in a month. I never thought it would be particularly easy. One of the reasons I was doing it in the first place was because my day-to-day life was incredibly hard and wasn’t looking as though it was going to be getting any easier. Seeing the hard was easy. Seeing the happy was hard. I wanted to focus on the happy in my life.

There was definitely more happy in the span from November to now than is recorded here, but my best happinesses during this time period have tended to be extremely private ones: happinesses with long backstories that are intertwined with other people’s lives in ways it wouldn’t be right for me to share here.

On the other hand, if I had to choose one word to describe this past year it would be: crippling. As disappointments and discouragement mounted so did the difficulties. It wasn’t just one person or one area of my life being affected, and it wasn’t that they weren’t life or death, because several of them were. And then on top of that, like a bad tv series, banquished foes came back into my life AGAIN.

I try to be patient, truly I do, but that last had me hollering to the heavens, “Oh come on!”

One of the things that convinces me of a premortal existence and a heaven to go back to is the innate understanding even small children seem to have regarding what is fair- along with the deep and profound frustration we feel when we realize so much of this world is not. I believe it’s because we sense that our souls originated in a place that was, and will be in the end.

Life hasn’t seemed fair, though it hasn’t taken more than half a second for me to recognize that I have things so much better than so many, in so many ways. That said, it’s been dark days on top of a lengthy span of dark days.

One night when I was completely shot, not knowing how I was going to be able to force myself on because nothing I did seemed to make the slightest difference in what was happening in my life and the lives of the people I love, a thought came to me: Without the dark, we couldn’t see the stars.

It isn’t that the stars aren’t there all the time- what changes, is our ability to see them.

For centuries men and women have relied on the stars for navigation and beauty and hope. I got the impression as I lay crying, that the dark in my life was a gift to help me navigate my life with greater clarity and assurance.

This realization didn’t make my difficulties resolve themselves. By itself, it didn’t make me happy, but it did give me the strength to get up the next day and to keep trying, despite everything, once again, and it fueled me again the day after that.

This week marks the centennial of the beginning of WWI. My great-grandmother Helen has been on my mind constantly for months. I have a few precious pictures of her at the only time in her life when she found it easy to be happy. In most of them, she is being held by or smiling at the young man behind the camera. She was married to that man for three days before he was shipped to France. Within weeks, he was killed while administering medical aid to a wounded soldier in the Argonne.

As a child I found it odd that the adults around me could not understand why she spoke of her time as a nurse so often. “It was only for a few months,” my grandmother would complain.

My great-grandmother lived into her nineties. She lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, Korea, Vietnam, the rise of the Iron Curtain. She was informed that her only son was killed in WWII and held memorial services for him- twice. She lived in a city known as Little Chicago because of the mafia influence there. Her brother was mixed up with some very bad men. She outlived her parents, her siblings, and two husbands- the latter an alcoholic who was haunted by his own WWI experiences all of his life. Her son would be plagued similarly (from WWII) for much of his own. She was not known for being a happy person, but she was magical with me.

My great-grandmother understood things. More importantly, she understood me. Several of my most cherished memories of my childhood were the times I spent with her. She treated me as a young lady able to appreciate and understand precious things. The older I grow, the more of myself I find has been planted by her. Many of the fruits finally budding in my life now are there because of her. They are there because she was there.

So many of my great-grandmother’s days were torture for her. When I hurt because the man who loved me best died when I was seventeen, I think of her. When I get to experience an elegant meal and use my special cups, I think of her. When I get to experience something new but feel prepared for it, I think of her- because she took the time to prepare me to appreciate a number of things, to be intrigued and excited by them instead of closed off and afraid of them- when I was a preschooler and a toddler.

This past month when I realized that it was never going to be easier for me to walk if I didn’t make the effort to walk now, I thought of her. Each day that walking ten minutes on the treadmill took me the better part of ten hours, I thought of her. And the days when it got harder instead of easier and I wanted to chuck the whole thing- I thought of her.

I was prepared to experience things both wonderful and heartbreaking because of her and her life- the life she lived when it hardly seemed worth living, around people who didn’t understand her, missing the people in her life who did. She lived it when she was sick and when she was well and while the world looked like it was being blown to pieces.

Her dark became some of the stars that shone in mine.

Thank you, Helen, for enduring long enough to provide me with the gifts of sweet and lasting love and happy.

A Bit of Happy #3: A Puzzle and the Proms

Fall is my favorite season. I begin looking forward to it from about April on, but July and August have something brilliant to offer as well: The Proms.

Each summer Britain hosts orchestras and performers from all over the world. You don’t have to be a classical music nut to enjoy the Proms. In many instances the Proms could be subtitled: Music for People Who Don’t Know They Like Classical Music. There is an astounding amount of energy there, something you can sense even from a great distance.

I would love to attend a Prom in Royal Albert Hall someday. Until then, I listen to them via BBC Radio every year and you can too.

I pull out a challenging puzzle- one I might not have the patience to do otherwise- and put it together while being transported and educated by the announcers and the performers I listen to over the internet, imagining myself in a different time and place (and outfit) as I do. It’s a great stay-cation and can be started and stopped whenever you need to.

This year marks the first year the China Philharmonic Orchestra is performing at the Proms. This is significant for many reasons, but I’ll stick to one. During the Cultural Revolution in China, musicians and music teachers were persecuted and even imprisoned for having played or taught Western Music. Listening to this orchestra playing and premiering orchestral music in the UK at such a brilliant level of musicianship, knowing a little about what life in China has been like, brings tears to my eyes and makes me very happy.

* Here are some tips for newbies to the orchestral scene to enjoy a bit of Proms happy:

First off, you know more about orchestral music than you think you do. If you’ve watched old-school cartoons or practically any movie with a soundtrack that’s moved you, the sounds of an orchestra have already worked some of their magic on you, so don’t get hung up about what key a piece is in or its form or even its composer- just let it move you.

Listen to one of the BBC clips that give you insight into the performer or composer or what the piece was written for or in response to; it helps.

Feel bored?

Pick out one instrument and see if you can follow that instrument’s sound throughout the entire piece. Sometimes this will be simple and sometimes this will be tricky. Be a real detective here- don’t lose your man!

Pretend the composer was hired to create a soundtrack to the movie of your life story. Which part of your life is this part of the music depicting? Did it suddenly highlight a moment or a feeling you weren’t expecting or an experience you had almost forgotten? Don’t care for this particular composer? Who would you hire instead? Why?

Conduct the music yourself. Try to match your movements to the music as it speeds or slows, whispers and roars. (You’ll likely find that simply waving your arms about for 15 minutes solid is more aerobic than you thought it would be, it can also help relax and release sore back muscles.) If you are competitive, have a contest doing this with your family and/or friends and see who can conduct the longest.

Not every composer, instrument, or piece will speak to you. That doesn’t make you unmusical and it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy another one. Explore. Look up the name of a composer you’ve heard of or an instrument or your local symphony on YouTube and see where it leads you. Give yourself permission to stop mid-video and skip to another one whenever you want.

Try playing a musical instrument. I don’t mean buying an instrument necessarily or signing up for lessons, I mean trying to make a few notes on an instrument, any instrument. ( Or get creative- one of my brothers can get three notes out of a garden hose.) Oftentimes attempting something helps give us a greater appreciation for it and for those who do it. In the process you may discover a talent or an interest you didn’t realize you possessed.

A Bit of Happy #4: Being a Toy Reviewer and Tester

Earlier this year my sister-in-law started a business that makes German and Swiss toys that develop STEM skills readily available to those in the United States. (Simply thinking about the many language and paperwork issues she had to navigate her way through in order to do it makes me tired. Let’s just say that my sister-in-law is AWESOME.)

Many of you know that math, science, and engineering skills are not my strength. Neither are a lot of tech/computer skills. I’ve been attempting to rectify this on several fronts, but after talking with my sister-in-law, I decided that toys could be a fun way to help me to do it with less grr-RAHR. So, for the last few months I’ve been buying, testing, and reviewing some of the toys she offers on her site at Wasatch Inventors & Explorers.

Simply taking pictures and video and getting them on the computer has required me to get more this century with my tech/computer skills. It is remarkable what we can do nowadays, but I confess, I’m getting there through a lot of trial and error and grr-RAHR!

When I was younger, we went through several lean years where Christmas gifts for the kids were underwear, socks, and- one year- a new bath towel for each of us. These types of gifts get you looks when you answer your friends’ questions of “What did you get for Christmas?” but they were needed and (unintentionally) character building. All these years later, I still don’t take nice bath towels for granted. As an adult, I’ve come to see this as a real gift, especially since now we don’t just have nice towels, we have towels washed with fabric softener.

I remember the first time I experienced this wonder. I was in China, staying at the apartment of a super-kind and generous ex-pat with some of the members of my study abroad group the night before we flew back home. We spent the entire evening sharing and gushing about the luxuries we were experiencing: toilets! a shower head! silverware! a real mattress! (My bed in the concrete room I lived in with a roommate in Nanjing looked like a real bed, but my initial meeting with it soon taught me otherwise- pain immediately zinging up my spine as I sat down on it with an alarming *thud*. I felt like a fairytale character each time I slept on that bed… I became the princess in the “Princess and the Pea”, waking up bruised all over. *smile*)

Back to the towel. My roommate rushed up to me and another friend, pushing a bath towel against our faces. “Smell this! Feel this!” she cried. “The towels have been washed with fabric softener!”

I’ve looked at towels washed with fabric softener as one of life’s most delightful luxuries ever since.

I know, I know- what does all of this have to do with being a toy tester/reviewer and happiness? Because my friends, those experiences make my current experience much more astonishing and satisfying to me now.

Nearing forty I am experiencing toys I never knew about when I was young- and couldn’t have afforded if I had. It’s an interesting experience with a difficult tangle of thoughts and emotions immersed in it. As a little girl I loved the book Heidi. As an adult, I received a toy in a box that was shipped directly to me from Heidi’s Switzerland. That my friends, is awesome.

But what is also awesome is that I am not too old to play with it. I am not too old to learn from it. I am not too old to share the joy of the experience.

Because my uptime is limited and my hope-to-accomplish list is so long, I struggle to take time for fun. I try to use my time wisely and well. Something I’ve had to learn over this past year especially, is to purposely include time to explore, to daydream, and to have fun because it helps me do the necessary things better, with a better attitude and in a happier frame of mind.

By buying, testing, and reviewing toys I am taking time out of my everyday to explore, learn, and have fun. I also help my sister-in-law a little by doing it, and, by extension just a little further removed, people who have mental and psychological disabilities. Because the toy I mentioned receiving in the box from Switzerland, a musical marble run by Xyloba, is crafted in a factory that offers people with these kinds of disabilities the dignity of work.

These last few months I’ve been able to be something that as a child I never expected to be: a toy reviewer and tester. That would absolutely thrill my five-year-old self. It gives me an excited buzz as an adult. All of this, along with the memories of where I’ve been and how far I have come have, for me, been a special- and especially needed- bit of happy.

(If you are interested, one of my reviews is already up at http://www.wasatchie.com/blog There are more reviews coming over the next few months- some with audio and video even! The toys I am reviewing are built to last and are child and adult-friendly so they can be played with and enjoyed alone or as a family for years to come.)

A Bit of Happy #5: My Own, Private Shakespeare Garden

I can take only a very small amount of credit for the completion of this project that I’ve had in mind for several years. This winter, my stepdad built a raised bed garden for me with dimensions that make it so that I can take care of it all while sitting down. He filled it with good soil, and then he and my mom went on a search for plants they thought I’d like to put in it, keeping their eye out for unusual varieties. Then, they helped me as I needed so that I could put the plants into the bed last Saturday.

A few weeks ago, Aldi had a special on stuffed clams on the half shell. We ate them over the past few weeks, washed and boiled the shells, and then I used Sharpies to write Shakespearean quotes on them to be placed near the relevant plants. Some references took some creative connecting. Dill, tomato, cucumbers, and eggplant didn’t register any hits on Open Source Shakespeare; but pickle, plant, and some of the variety names did- like Juliet and Rose and Black Cherry (all varieties of tomato plants).

My Shakespeare garden looks a bit bare at the moment but I’m not worried. I left plenty of space for my plants to grow because once my plants take hold, they have a tendency to turn Amazonian on me, like this English violet that began as a plant I could hold in one hand, and grew into one with individual leaves not quite the size of my hand:

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

That’s a quote about violets from Twelfth Night written in the clamshell, by the way.

With my gardening track record, several of the plants will die on me. I’ll fill in with my kitchen scrap gardening efforts as needed. Here’s part of my kitchen scrap onion plant that multiplied on me (with a quote from All’s Well That Ends Well- Mine eyes smell onion; I shall weep anon.).

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

Here’s a look at some other plants and quotes:

Created with Nokia Smart Cam          Created with Nokia Smart Cam          Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

I’ll leave you with a famous quote that captures why I enjoy being out in nature and gardens:

 

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

 

An abundance of reasons to be happy.

A Bit of Happy #6: Christian Ferras Playing Sibelius

I first discovered Jean Sibelius (among many other wonderful things) in Tennessee. I love libraries, but I will always have a special fondness for Nashville’s for this reason (along with the fact that it is housed in one of the most magnificently beautiful buildings I’ve ever been in- yes, I fall in love with beautiful buildings and hurt among low-roofed, might-as-well-be-windowless ones).

I returned to Georgia just in time to attend a performance of some of the works of Sibelius. I was on a date that afternoon I remember now as I think back on it, a date that I had only agreed to on the strict condition that the guy I was set up with would take me to this particular concert. (It was free- I’m not that mercernary.) My date was a tremendously good sport about it. He agreed to take me early and sat with me in the balcony through the entire rehearsal before following me down the stairs to the orchestra seats so that I could hear it from front and center during the actual concert. Not many guys have that kind of symphony sitting power. AND he let me enjoy the entire concert freely, without making passes. But I’m digressing.

That concert was a revelation to me, and I fell in love with the Sibelius Violin Concerto, never to recover.

It’s funny how we lay things we love aside, especially since these very things have the power to nurture us. I guess it happened with Sibelius for me around the same time that I had to quit playing in a community orchestra because my heart was acting up like anything a few years ago. That disappointment made anything connected to it feel like daggers and loss and I couldn’t bear losing anymore of me.

Then today happened. I was studying German a little in bed, and someone who was explaining a tricky bit (of which German has many) mentioned, what to him, was a very common proverb: Knowledge comes from what you add, wisdom from what you remove. I sat for several minutes completely dumbfounded because, thinking about it, he was right. Knowledge has come to me in many different ways, but wisdom has only come to me after losing someone or something important to me. For the first time in a while, I felt very, very lucky.

It made me think of someone who I have found to be funny, charming, and astoundingly wise. And guess what? This someone has suffered loss too, from a condition that makes his bones break easily. He’s in casts and hospitals a lot- but you wouldn’t know it from this:

or this:

 

Then tonight when I was looking at something else, a memory came back to me, and for the first time in a long time, I re-watched this:

 

… And I felt scrubbed clean on my insides.

Other people play this concerto, but no one else’s performance of it affects me as deeply as Christian Ferras’ does. Perhaps it is because, like Jean Sibelius, Christian Ferras suffered from dark moods that severely affected his work and his life- there is some connection- an inherent understanding of sorts between them- of something that is in music and in life because it has to be.

It’s dappled beauty. It’s dappled happiness.

Because the light times add to our lives and the dark times remove something from them; and frequently they are mixed up with each other, overlapping and competing for our focus and our hearts.

Somewhere amid the turmoil, the hurt, and the sorrow- if we allow it- great wisdom and tremendous beauty come.

Which is why the Sibelius Violin Concerto as played by Christian Ferras helps me to fall in love with Sibelius and life all over again.

A Bit of Happy #7: People Who Heal

Two years ago I wrote about the healing that was happening in Ethiopia at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. A fistula is an injury sustained during childbirth that leaves a woman leaking urine and body waste through her vagina. Not only do these women suffer through a traumatic childbirth without adequate medical care, often losing their babies during delivery, but because of the fistula they are then outcasts and isolated, often losing feelings of value and self-worth and respect in the process.

The fact that fistulas can be fixed is a blessing. The people who devote their lives to helping these women heal physically, mentally, and emotionally are earthly angels to me.

I was near death before my first heart surgery. My mom has been reminding me of how sick I was then almost daily lately, as I’ve struggled with my heart acting up along with the return of my capillaries opening up leading me to bleed internally for no good reason. Neither of these things are fixable for me. They come, they go, they stay as they please. The doctors have done what they can for me. Living for me has meant learning to live with these things without becoming emotionally destroyed by my physical limitations. It isn’t easy, especially since these things tend to flare up the moment that a dream I’ve been working towards for a long time is nearly within reach for me. It’s incredibly frustrating.

Something that helps me heal is seeing the people who are out there, helping to heal others. My first heart surgeon was like this. When finances were becoming precarious for me and for my family, he made my mom and me a promise that I would get the care he would give to any member of his family whether we could pay for it or not- he would make it happen. He and his staff did.

They helped save my life then and because of the love with which they did it, they help save my life now. It’s a beautiful legacy.

I’ve been able to give a few piano lessons here and there over the last few months. The pay has made it possible for me to do something that I’ve wanted to do for years: I’ve finally been able to donate a little to help women who need healing and that same kind of love that I’ve been lucky enough to receive in my life. I mention this only because I’ve had several people ask what they can do for me. Right now, there really isn’t much that can be done- mostly I need to rest and allow my body the opportunity to heal the best that it can- but if you are so inclined and are in a position to give a little something financially, it would make me very happy to know that some very special women will receive the loving medical care they need to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Fistula Foundation is an A-rated charity. They help train doctors, build operating rooms, buy medical supplies, and fund fistula surgeries in 19 African, Middle Eastern, and Asian countries. I hope you’ll consider it.

Because people who heal and who help others to heal are a heavenly form of happy.

A Bit of Happy #8: Citrus Trees

The weather has done its best this year to kill off all my plants. Thankfully, I was able to share the fruits of them and even share some of the plants themselves with friends just the same. One of the sweetest messages I received on my phone last year was a photo of a plant I had given to a friend that had shot up and was producing like mad in my friend’s yard, which made her excited and very happy.

We’ve lugged our citrus trees and my mango plants in and out of the house many times this winter. The next pineapples I plant will be kept in large pots so that I can do the same with them (dastardly ice storm in a climate where you aren’t supposed to be!). I don’t mind starting over so much. I’m getting much better at my kitchen scraps taking root the first time (the blessing of many failed attempts in quick succession).

I love citrus trees. No place really feels like home for me without them. I got this idea of the good life early on, visiting my grandparents in Tarzana. Their backyard, like many of their neighbors’, smelled of pool, cement, dog, lawn and magnolia, citrus trees, and berry bushes. Add music, an ice rink, a personal library, and quiet to that and you’ll pretty much have my personal definition of heaven on earth. I got pretty close to that ideal when I lived in San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Fresno, and have struggled to find it ever since. Hence, why my mom buys citrus trees for me whenever she can.

We’ve built up our current “grove” to a lemon, a key lime, and a tangerine. Our lemon tree is the oldest and (currently) the most generous of the three. We had a harvest of over sixty-five lemons from it last year (I gave some of the branches and flowers from it to friends throughout the year, otherwise there would have been more). The lemons we get from it are fragrant and surprisingly sweet, as the heating repair man and his family will readily attest. My mom made lemon curd from some of them that was positively dee-lish and had one of the young men we know aching to come over to learn how to make some of his own with us.

I love the fruit but my delight of delights in citrus trees is in their blossoms. Elegant, white, with a fragrance that is fresh and transports me to many early happinesses, I love citrus flowers- especially those from lemon trees. In Fresno my bed was next to a window that allowed the scent-sations from our pink lemon tree to waft in to me. That coupled with watching the light awaken a watercolor painting above me to shades of day and dusk, made my recovery from my first heart surgery much easier for me than it otherwise would have been.

It’s difficult for me not to hope deep down when I have citrus flowers budding and bursting open about me, which has made the recent profusion of them very welcome in my life, especially recently.

I’ve been much closer to my ideal life several times before, years before, but I can’t really be a deep shade of miserable with so much life and beauty at my fingertips. It’s my mom’s and my stepdad’s gift to me with each new tree that they bring and are willing to tote in and out when the weather is maddening, because they understand and love me. It’s a very special bit of my happy in a place that otherwise rather refuses to feel like home to me.

A Bit of Happy #9: The Memory is in There

Years ago when one of my nephews was just a baby, we had a game we liked to play together. Now that he is back from Poland, I had the chance to spend some time with him in person for the first time in a long time. He knows I’m his aunt, we’ve talked and Skyped over the past two years, but he didn’t remember me.

But then again, he kinda did.

Memory is a funny thing. I started playing the game I used to play with him with the toddlers in our family and he ran over to me like a shot. Something in him opened up, and in that moment he was that baby and that toddler with me all over again, remembering the love and the trust he felt being around me back then, and radiating that love and joy back to me now.

That’s why traditions and rituals are important. We don’t remember everything, but if done right, we remember the love.

I think about that in regards to a little girl I know who I helped for a time. Like me, she loves pretty glasses and goblets. One day when I gave her one filled with water, her mother worried a bit. She was little. She may break it. But I sensed in her a little of myself at that age and I remembered my great-grandmother and how she treated me then, trusting me with some of her special things from a very young age. I remember how that made me feel. I remembered the love. So I gave this little friend of mine the goblet. To her family’s astonishment, she still has it-intact. She drinks from it at the dinner table every night. In time, the goblet will almost assuredly break- life is like that- but hopefully the love and the joy she feels in these moments now will continue to come back with every sip she takes from a fancy glass for the rest of her life. I know that that’s how it has been for me.

My little friend, like my nephew, is likely too young to remember me at sight for the rest of her life. But she and my nephew are not too young to remember a game, a goblet, and more especially the gift of being understood and loved. The memory may be buried deep, but it’s in there. And that, like my memories of my great-grandmother, makes me very happy.

A Bit of Happy #10: Reading, Russian, and the Soviet Union

I taught myself to read when I was four and have read fairly easily and happily ever since- until the last few months that is. It’s been hurting a lot to read just lately. I often have pain after reading one page. War and Peace and numerous other books don’t read well that way. That put me in a bind with several of my projects. It’s likely that it will only get harder for me to read as time goes on. That is difficult. It makes me want to push and use what I have before I lose it, but being sick for so long I understand something else too.

Lots of movies that depict people who are seriously ill portray them living full days for the first time in their lives. You can live a filled-to-the-brim day here and there, but I don’t know of anyone, especially someone who is sick, who can keep that pace up for any length of time.

In the movie that best portrays what it really feels like to be seriously sick in life altering ways, The Doctor, one of the characters who is dying from cancer stops the man who is trying to help her get her “full day, crossing-off-the-list-of-something-she-wanted-to-do”. It turns out that she is tired of racing and pursuing. She just wants to enjoy where she is, now.

One of my biggest regrets is how I treated myself my senior year of college. I had been bleeding internally for nine months. I had surgical cancer tests over my Christmas break. I came back to finish my degree as organ after organ stopped working properly. My heart meds stopped working. I didn’t appreciate at the time just how sick I truly was, but I was consumed with grief and frustration that after so many years of working and planning I was not turning in work at the level I wanted to. I was not living up to my potential.

I rode myself so hard those last few months in ways I never would have dreamed of doing to anyone else. I finished, but at a high cost to myself both physically and emotionally.  This last bout of really sick I realized I had an opportunity. Fun as it may be to watch people in movies get a chance to relive a pivotal moment in their life, this time getting it right, we don’t get that opportunity in real life. But we do get the chance to learn from those moments and alter how we live now. This time, I’ve tried to treat myself the way I wish I had treated my college senior self- with patience, gentleness, and compassion. It required changing some expectations I’ve had for myself.

I’ve come to the conclusion that for books with audiobooks available, I will listen to the audio versions of them and call those books read. I’m saving my eye time for ones I won’t be able to experience any other way but reading them slowly myself. I’ve also reached a point where I can appreciate that being able to read in short spurts can actually be a blessing. I absorb the ideas sometimes better that way. I think about them more deeply while I wait for my eyes to be up for the next reading of a page or a paragraph.

I’ve also had to come to terms with the fact that I am a woman who deludes and disillusions herself cyclically. I can beat myself and be beaten with a reality stick regularly and the dreams and delusions still manage to find a way up and out. And I cling to them willingly, knowing that they help me forward, even if it is only for a few hours or a few weeks. I go into it knowing full well that there will be disappointment later on. When it comes I struggle and cry it out, then, after a few days or a few weeks depending on the circumstance, dream and lead myself on yet again. And fail yet again. And try yet again. Because I’m still living and quitting is like killing yourself before your time.

I realized much of this consciously this afternoon, in front of a bookcase in a thrift shop. The disease that could blind me and that is making it hard for me to read should, realistically, make me stop looking at books. But my love for them is too deep. So there I was, waiting for my mom to finish, looking at the titles and dreaming of the possibilities. I grabbed one and held it. This is my shopping test. If holding an item while I shop makes me feel tired or iffy about it, I put it back. Then there was another one. Simplified Russian Method. The last few weeks I’ve been playing from Russian piano methods. The music I can read; the rest has been a closed book to me. I don’t like not being able to read a book about something that interests me. This is why I started studying German. This is why even as I struggle to read in English, I bought the book that would help me read Russian- because I’m crazy optimistic like that.

As a child, I was fascinated and concerned about what went on behind the Iron Curtain. I marvel and rejoice when I’ve had the chances to learn about, talk, and interact with people from countries like Estonia, Bulgaria, Russia, Poland, and Moldova- countries that once fell under the heading of the Soviet Union. Having access to them, their talents, their books, and their learning- what a blessing! Which is why I’ve added Russian to my languages that I want to be learning, and why I will be saving up for ice dance lesson DVDs from a Russian woman who coached the skaters I want to skate like, even though I’ve just recently been able to start walking again, and won’t have access to an ice rink for who knows how long. These things spark my soul, make me want to reach higher and try harder- but even if I never reach the heights to which I aspire, I am finally reaching a place where, like the woman with a brain tumor in The Doctor, I can also enjoy not chasing, but appreciating and enjoying and sharing what I have been given right now. And this time around, because of what I learned, there’s a lot less suffering and a lot more happy.