Two weeks ago, I recognized myself. Same face, same hair, same body, pretty much, that I’ve had for years and years.
Today I am bald, having shaved my head for a play. And on opening night in said play, I miscalculated a fall from the set and transformed my right ankle and knee into much larger and more painful versions of their former selves.
I look like a pirate now. (Don’t say anything about pirates not being bald or lame for the most part. I’m irritable and impatient. Some pirates are bald and lame. Let’s leave it at that.)
I have a new compassion for women who are bald for chemotherapy reasons. No one comes up to you and says, hey, you’re bald. No. What they do, after an involuntary bugging of the eyes, is desperately manufacture a close-to-normal face with a tight smile, and then flee.
I have been frustrated with the leg, which is healing at the same pace that glaciers used to advance. My house is littered with tensor bandages, a variety of braces, and a cane which I can never find.
I spend fifteen minutes a day doing one-legged downward dogs, one-legged spinal twists, one-legged forward bends, one-legged planks. I miss two-sided yoga.
This sounds whiny. I know it does. And the whining cannot help me physiologically or in any other way.
So. A brief manifesto.
I love my body. This is not an opinion. It is not vanity.
It is a declaration, a statement of intent, a decision.
Love is a verb.
No matter what I see in the mirror today, I will love this body. It’s where I live, it’s my spirit’s method of transportation, it’s the greatest teacher of some of my greatest lessons, among them pleasure, patience, self-care, loving what is, not caring a whit about the opinions of others, and trusting my own instincts.
I will do my best with this body, knowing that my best changes day to day depending on whether i’m feeling like an irritated pirate or Eckhart Tolle.
And I’ll trust that this body knows what it’s doing, no matter what it looks or feels like, and is always leaning in the direction of being well. Because trust makes me well. I know it does.
Do you love your body? Could you love it more?
Thanks for the conversation,
I’m pretty certain my friend Edna has never met Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk with whom I spent a week in silence a few years ago.
My guess is that, if she did meet him, she would think he had good stage presence, lousy vocal projection, and a sense of style and colour that left something to be desired. She would only tell him about the good stage presence. She’s graceful that way.
She would not be interested in his slow, meditative walk. Edna loves nothing more than to pull up to my clinic on her bazoo (her name for the Cadillac of all motorized chairs) at an absurdly high speed, wearing a scarlet leather jacket, sunglasses, a long scarf, and a cigarette, looking like a female Jimmy Dean.
Her biggest, fastest bazoo became unreliable last year, so for some time she’s been on a smaller, slower version, which offends her sense of style. She has no interest, even in her late 70′s, in becoming an old woman.
Which may explain her swearing. When I asked her a couple of weeks ago how she felt about Christmas, she said one word (four letters, begins with f), loudly enough that I was concerned for the more sensitive people in the waiting room.
All of which may or may not begin to explain why she had a stroke on December 24th and left the planet on the morning of December 25th.
I write that and just sit here, stunned.
Because I don’t get it, yet. I don’t get that she won’t be in today, wearing a fabulous fur coat, fabulous earrings and necklace, and fabulous purse (last time a large, purple purse that she acquired when she retired from teaching, in an era, she said, when you had to buy the purple shoes at the same time. This was the first time she’d worn that purse since. She must have a hundred beautiful purses at home.). She would also be wearing a fabulous defiance about the *&^%ing holidays, *&^%ing winter and this business of growing old.
I keep looking out the window, waiting for her to pull up to the curb.
Thich Nhat Hanh says that when I look in the direction of the bazoo, I’m looking at the place where a beautiful cloud formation was this morning, or six days ago. In this case, a cloud that looked like Edna.
He says that while I’m looking in the direction of where she was, flying down the street with calculated recklessness, the real Edna, the current Edna, is off in another direction, calling, Darling, look over here! Here I am!
He says I can’t see her for staring at where she was, and what she was.
So. Edna. You crazy, gorgeous gem of a woman. I will not look out the &^%$ing window for you anymore today, if I can help it.
I will look everywhere else, though, in the direction of anything with style, anything swearing, anything fast, anything with great stage presence.
And I’ll listen for you.
Thanks for every conversation we’ve ever had.
(Here I am, here I am!)
I may have mentioned that I recently visited a yoga class during which I was kicked in the face by an eager headstander. It was a hard kick. I staggered a bit.
I may not have mentioned that I had not done a headstand of my own for about 20 years.
This all changed yesterday, in my regular yoga class.
Led by our teacher, we set ourselves up against a wall and did all the prerequisite stuff: got down on hands and knees, hands clasped at the wall, elbows on the floor shoulder distance apart. Then knees off the ground, on forearms and feet now. Then walked our feet a bit closer to our hands, bums up high.
Raised one leg, and then jumped with the other, the idea being that our legs would make it all the way up to the wall.
Mine didn’t. My jump got me about two feet from the floor.
Second jump, same thing.
After my third try, the teacher came around and asked if I’d like help.
The weird thing was that despite being all by myself at the wall, I was still afraid of being kicked in the head. Kicked by what? (This made me laugh, because most of my fears are like this one: afraid of being kicked in the head by something that happened once, a million years ago.)
So I said yes, I’d like help.
I did my little jump, and he lifted my legs the remaining forty miles to the wall.
And Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, for the full minute I teetered up there, I was an Olympic athlete. (Your head doesn’t even touch the ground in the headstand. Did you know that? That’s Olympian.)
For that minute, my gut hung out, wobbling in front of the whole class like an epileptic sea mammal. My shoulders started to shake about 1.4 seconds into it. And every drop of blood in my body accumulated behind my eyes. The world was kind of watery and upside down. I loved it.
And then I fell over.
This morning, as soon as I got to my office, I closed the door and tried it again against an empty patch of wall.
It only took two jumps to get up there. By myself.
I tried again an hour later. It still took two jumps. And I learned it’s better to take my clogs off first.
I tried once more five minutes ago. Again two jumps.
If I had to give my life a title, today, it’d be, Almost There, The Story of Trying Despite Being Kicked In The Head By Ridiculous Fear.
Stay tuned for the Sequel, which will be called, Up in One Jump, My Gold Medal Event At The Solo Olympics.
I’ll bet you have your own Olympic event this year.
I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks for the conversation,
Avery is about four years old. She comes into my clinic with her mom.
One of Avery’s favourite things to do is find one of my office stamps - the kind that stamps my clinic address on cards and magazines and envelopes - and stamp it all over herself. She stamps it on her hands and arms and clothes and neck and face.
I’m a bit flabbergasted, watching this. I love her singlemindedness in covering every bit of bare skin. I love watching her mom smile while this goes on, knowing she’ll be ridiculously busy washing it all off tonight. I love the permissiveness of it, remembering how strictly I was raised, and how there’s no way this would have happened when I was a kid.
I get a kind of vicarious thrill from it all.
And it makes me wonder this: if I could design my own stamp, and stamp it on my forehead, what would it say? It wouldn’t be my clinic address, that’s for sure. I can think of a few things.
I am not as uptight as I look today.
I am kinder at heart than I am out loud.
I make heaps of mistakes, but I mean well.
I love it when you make me laugh.
I’ll love you forever if you help me see all of this in a better light.
You are beautiful. I’ll do my best to see this even when you don’t.
I wish you could know my kids.
I want to do a lot more with my life.
Love wins every time.
I’d need a big forehead for all of that, but there you go.
What about your stamp? What would it say?
Thanks to Avery and to you for the conversation,
So I’m in this play called Marvin’s Room, having been cast about three days ago as Marvin, a man who never actually appears to the audience, and who has no dialogue. Not one line. He makes sounds (he’s had a stroke), but that’s it. He’s behind a scrim, so you might see his silhouette if you’re in the first couple of rows in the theatre.
On paper, the role is a tiny one. But it’s turned out to be huge for me.
Cause the first time I was on that table, making those struggling sounds, the sounds that happen when your language circuits have been fried, I thought, jesus, this is my grandfather. My Gump.
My Gump had a stroke when I was a teenager, and sounded just like Marvin afterward. He’d wave his cane around and whack my grandmother if she was within reach. He didn’t like being mute, and I’m not sure he liked my Gran much at that point. A lot of his softness disappeared with the stroke.
I was an idiot as a teenager, and didn’t think much about what his life might be like, unable to say good morning or show me your headstand (he was in his 60′s when he showed me how to stand on my head) or why the hell is all of this happening to my body.
As an idiot teenager, I just thought, this is what happens when you’re old and irrelevant.
Anyway, he died when I was 21 or so. I was a pallbearer and I remember the coffin being inconceivably light. He was hardly there at all by the end.
So I feel as though I’ve been given a chance to be with him again, and do it more humanely than I did the first time.
Yesterday, I bought Marvin a pair of pyjamas to wear during the play. Never mind that no one will see them. They’re a kind of Wedgewood bue with a white pin stripe, and with blue piping. Light, soft, handsome. Like my Gump.
Here’s to being together even when that happens 25 years later.