Saturday, January 1, 2011

January 1, 2011 ~ Day 23

We didn't get a lot of sleep last night for a lot of happy reasons - ringing in the New Year with love and laughter and giggling kiddos who refused to go to sleep. I'm a little bleary-eyed this morning and I can state with certainty that were my children physiologically capable of sleeping in past 7am (teenage years, where ARE you? Hurry Up!) today would've been a fantastic day for a long and indulgent morning nap. Oh days of yore, with your 11am awakenings and the enjoyment of brunch with friends... how my husband and I sincerely miss you.

Still, the New Year has commenced and I feel a thrill looking out the window to see that it is going to be a gorgeous sunny day, albeit very cold.

2010 was a wonderful year for growth, which is a positive way of sharing that it was one of the most difficult years I've ever had. If you put it together with 2009, the two of them make a matched pair of earthquakes that shook me to my core, revealed many of the cracks in my foundation, and left me ripe for rebuilding with stronger stuff.

The lowlight was probably hearing in July that I might have a terminal autoimmune disease and being told to stay off of solid food for what turned out to be five weeks, until I could get in to see a specialist. Testing positive for lyme disease and its co-infections in August actually seemed LUCKY in contrast to that moment. I still don't know what will come of all of that, so there is a little bit of anxiety that lingers every day... but the experience has brought lasting gifts.

The biggest and most obvious gift I received in 2010 was Appreciation. I've always thought of myself as a pretty optimistic and appreciative person, but it's easy to approach life with a good attitude when everything is basically going well. Embracing that same positive spirit turns out to be a lot more challenging when life throws a lot of lemons at your head.

That's why appreciation has been such a gift to me... because not only do I still have it, I have so much more of it now than ever before.

I appreciate eating. I never understood before how central the act of eating is to human relationships and interactions, how the breaking of bread with your friends and family is fundamental to life. Forced temporarily to the sidelines of eating solid foods, I saw with new eyes just how many of our most sacred moments involve food. "Let's grab dinner after work!" we say, or "How about staying for some breakfast?" "He took me on a picnic, it was so romantic!" Our favorite memories of childhood involve special dishes our parents or grandparents would prepare for holidays or birthdays. The Easter Bunny brings chocolate candies. Thanksgiving is an entire holiday devoted to celebrating the abundance of food.

I've been allowed to eat 'real food' again for quite a while, and there isn't a single bite that I enjoy without silent thanks for the experience. I don't know how long it will last, this love affair I have with food, but now that I understand it has the capacity to end I treasure even more the taste of a sweet apple, the crunch of toast, the succulence of steak. And when I hear of people who are homeless and hungry, when I see photos of children that are starving, I have such a different compassion for what they are going through - because I now know what it is to be excluded from the shared ritual of eating.

A favorite memory from the liquid diet weeks? Laughing hysterically with my husband in a Vons parking lot north of Los Angeles as we used our restaurant-grade blender plugged into the car charger to pulverize an In n'Out hamburger, fries and massive amounts of carrot juice. Understandably, we got some pretty strange looks from the passersby watching us trying to figure out the intricacies of portable blending. That wasn't the prettiest drink to look at (ground beef does not blend well, as you may imagine) but it was definitely the most memorable 'meal' I'd had in a long time.

I appreciate time.
I remember as a small child how LONG every day felt, and how it always felt like I was waiting. Waiting for my parents to finish dragging me around town running errands, waiting for school to end, waiting to grow, waiting for freedom, waiting for romance. In my twenties I was always ticking off days on the calendar in the anticipation of some future event-concert-dinner-date-vacation. When the freight train of parenthood hit us with the irrational fear that we might never sleep again, we began to wait for our children to get older and more self-reliant. Much of my life has been spent biding time.

I try not to waste time waiting any more. Events in the future are exciting, and I love planning for them, but in the meantime I make a conscious effort to dive into the moments that I do have. Who knows if any of us will actually be here next week, month or year ~ so why not relish this exact minute for whatever it can offer. Even the worst moments yield microscopic treasures. My daughter may be sobbing hysterically in my arms over a lost toy or scraped knee but in that same moment of stress I can still bury my face into her soft little head and smell her sweet baby-shampoo scent. I can sit amid a stack of laundry four feet high waiting for me to fold, knowing that it may take hours to get through and will likely be dirty again within a week, but still luxuriate in the feel of the fabrics under my fingertips... still find genuine gratitude for the fact that my family owns clothes at all.

I appreciate true love. It is easy to love a person when they are of sound mind and whole body... when they are strong and capable. I would venture to guess that it is a lot harder to love a wife with shrunken breasts (34C, where art thou?) and rapidly graying hair, somewhat skeletal in appearance. My husband's vows of tender loyalty meant a great deal when we were young and hearty and full of fire. They mean a million times more now that he has seen me go from 120lbs to 184lbs to 108lbs in the course of six years. I like to joke that in marrying me, my husband has actually been married to ten different women, as my body and point-of-view seem to change so much with every passing season. The fact that he still looks at me with ardor and sees what is beautiful in my heart... how could any wife get luckier than that?

I appreciate hope. In the moment when I felt most desolate, when I'd lost faith to the greatest degree of my life, I was exquisitely blessed to find a group of sufferers healing together against the prognoses and beliefs of their highly trained and highly skilled physicians. Within twenty-four hours of being told I might be seriously ill, I was telephoned at home by the mother of an amazing young woman (now completing college) who had been diagnosed with the same terminal autoimmune illness six years ago and who is now in complete remission, having fought her way back from 60% lung capacity to win a NCAA swimming championship. (She is now applying to medical schools... someday we'll all be lucky to have her in the field!) Describing the alternate theory of an infectious cause for autoimmunity, her mother swore to me, "I believe that you will not only live to see your own children grow up, I believe you will watch your grandchildren growing up as well".

Since that day, I have met and been contacted by scores of others who have traveled the hard road back to health. They are the most optimistic, compassionate, warm and giving group of folks you could ever hope to meet... and what binds us all together is a sense that anything is possible. I've met women told they would never walk again who are playing competitive soccer, hiking, biking, running and even ascending Mt. Kilimanjaro.

It turns out that while there are no guarantees in life, anything is truly possible. "Have I not seen people cure their own cancer with the sheer force of their will?" wrote one researcher in Israel to me last February. "There are hundreds of roads to healing, you just have to find the one that fits you."

It turns out that the loss of hope is incredibly devastating, and the gift of hope is incredibly empowering. Whatever may happen, I will never let go of hope again.

In this blessed new year of 2011, so clean and full of potential, I give thanks for the miracle of awakening to participate in this gloriously messy and vivid experience we call life. For today, the meaning is simple:

Don't take it for granted, Go Live.

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