An Open Letter to My Son’s Friends at the Prom After-Party Weekend
May 14, 2018
21 Days of Yoga
May 17, 2016
Where the Light Enters You
February 6, 2019
January 13, 2019
In Japanese tea ceremonies, when a treasured bowl breaks, rather than throw it out, shards are joined with lacquer and gold, reminding future users of the lessons to be found within imperfection and the richness to be gained from misfortune. This Japanese philosophy, called wabi-sabi, is seen as an opportunity to find beauty in imperfection and embrace the wisdom in change. Wabi-Sabi honors the imperfect, the impermanent, the humble, and the incomplete. Wabi-Sabi challenges us to face the fractured places in our lives and do the work necessary to activate our own healing. If you're curious, Wikipedia does a pretty good job of explaining it, as does this article: Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Philosophy For a Perfectly Imperfect Life.
Ten days ago, I had orthopedic foot surgery to relieve chronic pain stemming from a condition I was born with called clubfoot, another Google-able term, for those who are interested. Basically, the bones in my left foot formed in utero in such a way that, had they not been operated on when I was an infant and again throughout my childhood, I would have remained deformed and most likely been unable to run, dance, or even walk. The operations were successful, but as I reached adulthood, they resulted in pain that eventually became so unbearable, I opted to go back under the knife. On January 3 my doc fused the most problematic joint with metal pins and some bone from my heel, then cut a big ol' chunk of muscle out of my calf to release the tightness that restricted my range of motion. Yeah. It fuckin' hurt. A lot. To my credit, I did not scream and wake the neighbors (as I had done following my last surgery in 1989). I did request and receive a ticket on the Percocet train to deliver me from Hell, but after only three days visiting the Land of the Opiated, I came back to TylenolTown with a side order of Co-Q 10 and daily doses of meditation-as-narcotic. Earlier this week I was back on my yoga mat, and tooling up and down my street on my KneeScooter named Rover. I walk on crutches to get through narrow spaces like closets and bathrooms. I got my toenails painted Paint the Town Red, for my root chakra.
I have sobbed. I have felt lonely, isolated in my pain, needy and vulnerable. Balancing on one leg, I have learned how to prepare lemon water and coffee, apply mascara and feed the cat. Things that are still really hard to do: get a bowl of cereal or soup from kitchen to table, answer the door before the person ringing the doorbell has already left, find the m&m's that Conan hid in the pantry (Nigh impossible, even for bi-peds.) And here's what I haven't tried yet: grocery shopping, stairs, imagining what I will do if the doctor says the operation wasn't successful. It has a 90% chance, so I'm choosing to focus on that.
I've binged Outlander, read four books and started two more, and made a list of Five Favorite Movies for Rewatching. I've started on a knitted beanie three times then ripped out all the stitches. I've sat outside, doing nothing. I've played Uno and Madden and 100 Blocks on my phone until I can feel my brain turning to the consistency of the compost at the bottom of the pile. And I have written.
Bad poems and decent poems and cover letters to accompany poetry submissions. Grocery lists for someone else to shop for and letters and long emails to old friends. Plans for the retreat I'll host in March. Exercises and gratitude journal entries and directions for folding origami bowls. I write in the spaces between the colors in my "Adult Coloring Book." By writing through the pain, I write my way into healing.
About six weeks before the surgery date, I had serious second thoughts. (I was going to say cold feet, but some puns are such low-hanging fruit, even I can't stoop to pick them up.) I had read an article by a famous yogi who suffers from Crohn's Disease. Though her condition is incurable, she regards her suffering as a choice, a tool that allows her to see the world through an empathetic lens, a way to relate to the suffering of all others. I have two respected friends in the healing community who weren't supportive of my decision to get the surgery. They believed there were alternatives and proceeded to suggest every modality I had already tried to relieve the pain: "helpful tips" from massage to frozen Coke bottles to apple cider vinegar and hoodoo voodoo medicine mamas. All merited, yes. And if your hoodoo voodoo fruityoatgranola lactic acid from South Korean yam milk, organically sourced and flown in on the back of an albatross works for you, I am so bananas-in-love happy for you I can't stand it. But that shit stopped working for me years ago and I wanted relief. Do you know how tiring Chronic Pain is? Ex. Haust. Ing. Buuuut, there were still lingering doubts within me that the pain was there to teach me the lessons this yogi continued to learn from her Crohn's. Maybe my pain was my broken bowl to bear. Maybe I was supposed to find the beauty in the imperfection. I spoke to my sister about it, my husband, a trusted friend, and another yogi mentor of mine, and do you know that they all said? Fuck That.
Yes, noble. Yes, honorable. Yes, saintly. But last I checked, I was human. So I showed up at the surgical center at 6:30 that January morning and presented my cracked bowl, the one I was born with, the one that had reduced itself to shards. Over the years, bone capacity in my foot had deteriorated to the point of containing only 10% of "normal". I could not stand unaided in Vrksasansa or walk to the mailbox at the end of my street without searing darts, throbbing aches and and a dull throb that screamed out for prescription anti-inflammatories or tequila or both. Now all that is supposed to have been fixed. I haven't seen the result yet - the entire extremity is still swaddled in bandaging. But the scars that are under there will reveal themselves to be permanent signs that will always serve as a reminder of the unseen pain so many of us walk around carrying, literally, every day. I look forward to turning the scars, old ones from childhood surgical cuts as well as these most recent ones, into art. Maybe I will work them into poetry that a tattoo artist will render visibly and indelibly on my skin. My scars will be my gold.
I pray the pain will not return. I will my body into healing and my brain doesn't know the truth between reality and what I tell it is true. You are healing, I say to my bones every day. You are channeling every ray of positive energy through the porosity of my spirit. The heat you feel in the center of those cracked and repaired places is the woodfire in the kiln of restoration. This poetry of self-convincing is the necessary work I must partake of, to waken myself to the cation of pain. And I vow to never forget the challenge of walking on my own two damaged feet to get here, and walking out stronger, faster, more centered and stable than ever before.
And that's not just the work of a skilled surgeon, though deep and utmost is my gratitude for him and his nurses, and every doctor and physical therapist and Reiki master and massage therapist and trainers and my fair share of voodoo goddess moon worship gong baths too. That's the work of the deep inner journey to freedom, the belief in myself and my own body's intrinsic ability to get back to symmetry and homeostasis.
Though I don't have statistics and quotes to back me up, (Ted-Talker, though I have tried to be in front of my bedroom mirror, I am not.) I firmly believe in all the studies, and I've used them in my Yoga for Creative Writers workshops, in yoga classes for domestic violence survivors, and on the baskbetball court.
I used to coach 7th-9th graders at the YMCA. As they were poised at the free-throw line, I used to call out, "See it in". They knew that by this I meant for them to see the ball going through the hoop in their mind's eye before they ever even launched the shot. This kind of training is every bit as important as dribbling drills and Shoot-Out games at the end of practice.
I am seeing it in, the "it" being my perfectly healed foot, fused joints, looser, elongated tendons, bones ready to run, to climb, to stand and walk and dance, body parts breathing a sigh of relief they've held onto since their debut. And in that sigh is all the breath work of the slowing down I've been blessedly forced to do, the pulse-counting, lungs expanding, poetry writing, musing and ruminating and suffering, because yes, there has been that too, perhaps more than my fair share, but who can say what is fair? All the exhaling, and the story-holding, prayer-hands-folding, waiting for the healing to take hold and cement itself in those fused bones.
I'll be the one in the airport security line, beeper going off because of the metal hardware under my skin. And I won't even mind removing my shoes, showing off my hard-earned scars, pride of my process, reminder of pain, of past, of the remarkable ability to accept the incomplete and turn it into an honored place within us, not of suffering, but of overcoming.
May you be healed on your never-ending journey to restore the broken places, to line them with silver and gold, to take part in your own reparations. Keep walking, keep breaking, keep breathing.
This is how we get from pain to perfect:
howl, gasp, grasp, swallow, bear.
Hour between dog and wolf
Everything bends around reality’s parabola.
This is the dissonance, sickening sadistic cacophony
shattering crackles of glass
wind chimes of bone on bone, jam shimmied gears grinding
when the mind slips over the edge into a trick of haze,
the bright eclipse of buckshot shattering shrapnel,