Sunday, May 31, 2015

Annie's Diminishment

May 31, 2015

Dear Friends,

Annie used up at least two of her nine lives this week while out on an adventure.

We are unsure what she was up to when the accident occurred, but the veterinarian said that the severe injury to her right rear knee was the type of injury sometimes experienced by skate boarders, skiers, and football players—she “blew out her knee.”

You would think that now at her age Annie would know better than to undertake any such dangerous activity, but who knows? There was no evidence of other physical trauma so the specific details of the accident itself remain a small mystery.

Wherever the accident occurred, Annie was able to reach home dragging her injured unusable leg, totally exhausted and in shock. The door was open (I was potting plants), so she managed the step and the stairs (no one can figure out how), and hid under the bed. I knew she was there but I could not reach her and did not know at the time the extent of her injury.

When (after twenty-four hours) she crawled out crying for help, emergency action was clearly required.  

The week has been occupied with a trip to the veterinarian—a friend provided comfort and ambulance service. The veterinarian was kind and competent. She released Annie to come home, but it has been necessary to establish a home hospital unit for Annie in the study (no more trips up and down stairs for Annie for a while). It has also required “room service” meals, meds, and an on-going effort to persuade Annie to drink more water.  

The water project has been unsuccessful.  Annie’s rather fierce resistance to water in any form could, I suppose, be linked to her real difficulty in managing trips to the litter box with her wounded leg. I don’t know her reasoning, and efforts to communicate about the matter have reached an impasse.

Annie appears to be recovering from the shock and is sleeping well. She purred for a moment this morning when I brought her breakfast and petted her. While she is distinctly unhappy about her painful leg, she is, as always, certain that the special services she is receiving are only to be expected when a duchess suffers unmerited trauma.

Prognosis is hopeful, but it is too soon to determine how extensive the permanent damage to her knee may be. Whatever the final results are, Annie will survive (thankfully), to be petted, indulged, and duchess-in-charge, living out her diminishment in our safe household setting. Regretfully, although she does not yet know this, Annie’s days of doing spectacular leaps from the top of the high privacy fence at the back of the yard have come to a permanent end. 

Throughout the last two days I have sat with Annie for brief periods of time in an effort to keep her quiet and relatively content in her enforced inactivity. Today she went to sleep as I watched her. It was a careful sleep, her painful leg kept extended and straight. Her usual curled-up-in-a-ball sleep is not yet possible. As she slept I thought: diminishment is no respecter of persons or cats, even beautiful elegant duchess-type cats like Annie herself.

And I wondered. Will Annie, in her cat dreams-to-come, remember those fine high-flying moments when she hurtled off the high fence railing and was for a magical moment air-borne? If Annie remembers, will she be able to live both with the sadness of diminished leaping skills together with gladness for the high fence that keeps her safe from strangers (and the neighbor’s dog)?  

Duchess she may be, but not even Annie escapes the challenge of living without things that have gone away.

See you next week.


Sunday, May 24, 2015

When Shall I Tell the Truth?

May 24, 2015

 Dear Friends,

The unintended consequences of good deeds produce some of life’s most acute frustrations. The farm report this week concerns one of these moments.

I was (note tense of verb) carefully nurturing a transplanted crop of “hen and chickens,” nested in what I viewed as the “artistic” remains of a broken crock. They had not wintered well; only two small “chicks” showed sign of life. I was very careful to avoid disturbing this fragile hold on life as I cleaned the flower bed around them.

This week the people who care for the grounds hurriedly mowed the common area lawn, racing to catch a brief interval between rain showers. Despite their haste, they noticed the broken crock in the flower bed, but, understandably, they did not notice the two tiny “chicks.”  

In a generous gesture, they took time to stop and gather up the remnants of the broken crock, “helping” me in a way they were not obligated to do. 

The consequence was a good deed, a clean flower bed, the broken crockery carried to the trash, and total destruction of the environment in which I had been nurturing the “hens and chicks.”  

While surveying the disaster, I found the two “chicks” covered in the newly turned soil. I rescued them and placed them in intensive care in a small pot in the kitchen window. Prognosis is VERY poor.

I confess that initially I regarded Annie with a good bit of suspicion. Her on-going program of bathroom remodeling and my effort to garden sometimes conflict rather sharply. However, Annie was cleared of all complicity in the matter when I realized the implications of the removal of the fragments of the crock. Annie is an extraordinary cat as we all know, but even the specialness of her duchess self could not move shattered pottery to the trash.

While exonerated of all blame, Annie was mildly offended. From her point of view, my distrust, however temporary, was unmerited. How could I not trust her? Is she not the Loving Chief Cat of the Household who sits on my lap and purrs? How could I think such a thing?  

Easily, I thought to myself, remembering other of Annie’s behaviors in addition to her fine purring, but I did not say this to Annie. She appeared to be in a fine mood at breakfast this morning, so I assume all is again well in our relationship.

It seems to me that this principle of unintended consequences applies to the complex issues of diminishment. At the present time, my attention to hallowing diminishments is occupied with the unintended consequence of an action that I viewed initially as a good thing, but which in consequence is proving to be problematic.

The problem began when with good intentions I provided information about my experience of diminishment without anticipating clearly the dilemma this information might present to those to whom I spoke.

Telling the truth is, I believe, a good thing. Truth shared, however, can produce unexpected consequences, some of which can result in complications difficult to manage.

Thinking with you about the unanticipated ways in which truth telling sometimes impacts relationships. Makes for odd turns in life's path, doesn't it?

More when I see you next week.



Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Diminishment Dilemma of Honesty

May 17, 2015

Dear Friends,

Good news from the farm. Storm damage was surprisingly light. 

Snow was heavy and wet. New plants were bent almost to the ground and lost their most tender leaves; trees lost some limbs. The sun came out the day following the storm, however, and melted almost all the snow, so the “bent over” time for plants was minimal. Plants are still in shock but they appear to be recovering. None are yet standing “tall,” but they are “taller” each day.

A brief front moved through late afternoon the day after the storm, and brought a surprisingly heavy cloud cover by nine o’clock that evening, so, thankfully, the anticipated freezing temperatures failed to materialize.

Yesterday when I checked, all was well except the trumpet vine. On the trellis the trumpet vine is fully exposed and so was more damaged. Early new growth is now black and shriveling. However, this vine is not a new plant and has a well-established root system. I think that secondary growth will appear when night temperatures rise. There will not likely be much bloom this year.

I am grateful and educated by your comments in response to the diminishment material that I’m muddling through. Please continue to share.

I have been confronted this week by an aspect of diminishment in myself with which I am highly displeased, and—truth be told—embarrassed. I have unwittingly responded dishonestly to one aspect of the diminishment process.

This should not have been a surprise. Honesty has been a life-long challenge for me—much need to deny trauma I could not evade, and much motivation to use a vivid imagination to construct another more pleasant world in which to live. But conscious of these factors, I have paid attention to truth. This week, however, a good friend challenged me to be more honest in a discipleship group to which we both belong. 

She was a faithful friend in her challenge. And in responding to it, I have come to see something about diminishment more clearly. Whatever the issues that were difficult for us in our middle adulthood become more—more, not less—difficult in the aging process. Diminishment brings a problem in honesty to me.

The honesty issue emerges for me in a pattern of ambivalence that sends two paradoxical messages. In effect, I leave friends wondering whether when I say “yes” I am being truthful, or when later I say “No” to the same question is the “Yes” or the “No” the honest response? And why don’t I say “Yes” or “No” and stay consistent in my response?

The answer is one of those frustrating paradoxes—both are true, and both are honest reports from my inner world.

Diminishment is erratic—diminishment ebbs and flows, and our self-awareness of it ebbs and flows as well as we navigate the tides of change in ourselves and in our circumstances.

The specific issue around which this insight is being worked out in my life involves the discipleship group of which I am a part, and in which I have from time to time assumed some responsibility for leadership.

Do I want to be in the group?  Yes—and no. It depends. Do I want the group to change? Yes—and no. It depends. Do I want to assume some responsibility in the group? No—and yes. It depends. Do I want the group (and the necessity for choice) to go away?  No—and yes. It depends. 

Depends on what?

Be honest and say what is true is always good advice, but it is not always possible to follow easily.

What is true is many faceted, fluid, and often present in a sense that lacks language and is defined in part by the shifting context of life events.

When I sense the storm moving in, and the fragility of the life around me and in me, at that moment I see the truth of my diminished resources, and I have no desire to match strength with the storm. Do I want to garden? No—not even in the small inferno strip that borders the walk. 

But when in the sunlight I can still bend and prop a leaning plant, and watch it gradually resume its proud up-reach to the sky, do I want to garden? Yes.

Yes, of course—resilience bubbles like champagne through my system. At that moment, here is the truth I can say: Storms last only for a time. That which is bent can be straightened. Something is better than nothing.  Do what you can with what you have where you are. Choose life. Have a party.

Diminishment makes it difficult to say clearly who we are. Identity suffers. 

Diminishment alters unexpectedly the aspect of truth that we can see and say. 

With brutal immediacy diminishment juxtaposes what was, what we wish to be, and what is. All are real, all are true, but not all can be translated into language of reason or the reality of logical choice.

Be honest, my friend encourages me.  Good—and biblical—advice.  So . . .

Yes.  I will tell the truth—the truth that I can see in the moment and that I can fit into words. 

Is that truth enough?

I cannot promise that I will be unchanged tomorrow, or see truth this way in every day to come.  

See you next week.