By Marika d’Ailly
I love the rain when it comes down in sheets, especially in our climate with its long sunny dry spells. As a child in Holland I would listen to the rain when I was lying in bed – this felt comforting, peaceful, just me snug under the bed-covers with my Mam’s nursery rhyme about rain humming through my head. Now eighty years later, in a totally different environment, I sit in my chair with my feet on a stool and watch the raindrops streak down along the windowpane.
Life the last few weeks took an unexpected turn – to put one foot in front of the other became a challenge. Without so much as a warning a sciatic nerve made sure I slowed down. It said STOP and life changed. After the first few days of panic I started to wonder what this was all about. It became immediately clear to me that a new phase of life was presenting itself – leading up to the big unknown?
I never questioned my mobility. When I am tired I sit and with a nap in the afternoon all is well. My body or my unconscious or whatever obviously had something different in mind. Within two days I was transformed into an old lady, bent forward, holding on to the table then a chair in order to get to the kitchen counter.
Finding the frying pan meant bending forward, which could send a searing pain through my back. The mixing bowls on the second shelf in the cupboard became out of reach and opening the fridge door demanded my body to stand squarely in front of it and I had to use two hands to open the door. To prepare something to eat had become an exercise in perseverance. Every task necessary to look after myself was a challenge now. All the dishes I needed daily had to remain on the counter within easy reach.
As I am fiercely independent, I was administered a blow of major proportion and this was beyond my control. My resistance became compromised. All my life I have been able to deal with life’s challenges and knock-outs, but this time I was lying on the floor and had trouble getting up. The issues concerning our family became overwhelming and I wondered if I could stay in this house under these circumstances. Every step forward and each thought in my head became excruciatingly painful – what was I going to do?
Out of pure frustration I called Chris. Three tomato plants were crying out loud to be transplanted. They had come from Isis, who had started them from heritage seeds with loving attention. A get-together was long overdue regardless.
Twice a call to 911 was very tempting those first few days, but what good would that do? I am very critical of any medical intervention, especially at this time of my life. I realised I was better off within my own sphere of judgment. My daughter-in-law drove me to our local chiropractor and I walked out better than I came in. We returned two days later without any improvement. A visit to my doctor followed plus a form of massage, all within days. After these visits it became clear to me that I was totally on my own; life’s normal had shifted to a different level. So what does this situation force me to do? SLOW DOWN!
After a busy winter season I looked forward to – less, but less of what? My plan was to hike in the mountains this summer with the Ramblers and my elderly friends. My property asks for constant attention and I am forever foraging wild greens to compliment my dinner. I like to play scrabble every week in the library and love to be part of whatever comes my way around town. But those first few days I couldn’t even get anywhere by myself.
Years ago, in my fifties I broke my leg. Because of complications my total recovery took a year. In hindsight that event turned out to change my life. I remember how I had fallen twice before in a peculiar way, in the house and in the garden, until the third time, tripping over a bone in the evening I was successful. In June school was out and a nice girl came to help. She lived close by and could drive me everywhere. As a result I got to know her mother and this developed into a friendship. This encounter heralded a new path in my life and from the start I was well aware that there was more to this than just an accident. The timing was significant; I couldn’t move, one thing led to another in the months to follow. Eventually I went to all the courses of bio-dance and that changed everything. It taught me to follow my own inclination and listen to my own inner voice and shed a lot of nonsense I carried with me from the past. I learned to dance my own unique dance.
This was thirty years ago. As soon as I was getting over the shock of my new normal I started to wonder about today’s lesson. With this in mind the circumstances became a lot less threatening. Slowly I was able to get myself in a more desirable mode. As I tried to walk I could feel the connection with the ground underneath my feet. After a while I could walk without pain first thing in the morning – savour the feeling, stretch a little and enjoy the moment for whatever time it lasted.
My normal routine used to be a walk with my dog Yacta at 6am for about an hour. I would feed him and be on my way. Today I get dressed in measured steps, walk to the garage door, place my right foot down one step then the other one, bend forward carefully in the hope my back allows me to open the lid. When he is done he looks at me “come let’s go”. All I can do is just stand there, wondering myself what is next.
With unusual warm weather my vegetable garden needs watering every morning. I love my veggies. I normally grow enough to feed myself all winter. As it is a way from the house, in what used to be a corral for the cows, I have to make a decision – can I walk there and back without aggravating the problem? With my walking sticks I head in the direction, place one foot in front of the next with concentration, trying to relax and enjoy the exercise. The gate is at the best of times heavy, but it also has a chain and can be held close without lifting; as long as the deer can’t get in. In order to open the faucet I have to bend, get the hose, fiddle with it and water where necessary. The hose has a leak, so I can’t forget to close the faucet before getting back to the house. Whatever effort this takes, my veggies are happy and so am I. The planted trees look so truly established these days after abundant snow this winter and moisture in the ground, followed by heat and sufficient rain. The bees are buzzing everywhere. They love it here surrounded by acres of pure nature. The flowers bloom in great abundance this year. There is so much to be thankful for.
Each day my energy level and pain tolerance are different. I move when I can and sit when my body wants a rest. This regiment asks for constant attention. Stretching exercises are important, so are cold packs. With my new reality firmly in front of me I have to look at my options for the day. What does my body allow me to do. What do I have to do in order to keep myself and my house clean and eat properly. I also need people and time away from home.
Chris showed up. In his methodical way he handles the over-grown tomato plants ever so carefully. He makes sure they are fertilized and are supported in their new environment close to the house with easy access to water. After a few additional jobs are done we sit down for tea and embark on a worthwhile conversation. To connect has never been a problem between us. When he leaves after four hours another of his interesting books lies on the table, this time – How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan – how appropriate. His comment – “you might enjoy this”.
My new realty also asks for a lot of rest, pain is exhausting. The chairs I use have additional pillows and on the table next to my bed I have everything I need. My extra set of reading glasses come in handy and a little gadget to help my muscles to relax is within reach. My cell phone dangles around my neck the whole day – just in case. Life has reduced itself to the most basic activities; it now has an simplicity it never had before. Every step and movement is measured and in between there is space, space for what – space to simply be – to stare out of the window and think about life. How has my journey been, what triggered major decisions? I am well aware how the circumstances of my first breath hugely influenced whatever followed. How and when will my last breath propel me into a different reality and how do I see that?
After Chris has left I use my gadget, rest on my bed and stare for half an hour at the aspen trees shimmering in the wind with the clouds above. His book is waiting. As if this was orchestrated this book is exactly what I need at this moment – it is about the interconnectedness of everything there is. It is about dimensions out there we have chosen to dismiss. Based on research we start to rediscover and appreciate what every society in the world has known all along. Looking at my own ancestry and background, I can see their short-sightedness and criticism of those less educated and their disdain for the wisdom of the “primitive” cultures around the world.
With my head in the right place and my focus in the right direction, my life creates its own meaning now in a different way. It is really very simple – just look – with open eyes. Whatever is out there in space and time is worth investigating, with a great amount of respect of course. But all along the general consensus has been that in the end it is all about Love.