Your Weekly Diversion, Week 52

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Week 52 has arrived and I’m pretty late in getting to it. I’m not sure why my blogging year is up before January 20th, but so it is! It’s been a busy week for us, nothing worth noting here, but plenty nevertheless. The news continues to create stress and distress, especially the devastating mudslides in Southern California. It’s heartbreaking to see the damage and even worse to learn about the deaths of people and countless pets. Sometimes it feels as if Mother Nature is trying to shake us loose with earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, fires and floods.

 

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Hillary Brooke (1914-1999) (photo from Wikipedia)

My first diversion this week is a tribute to a woman I knew in childhood, actress Hillary Brooke. She was an actress, first noticed in “New Faces of 1937” and she appeared in Abbott and Costello sketches and even had a role in the ‘70s TV show “Soap” and My Little Margie” decades before that. Her name was Hillary Brooke. I met her as a friend of my godmother, a lovely Englishwoman who worked as a diction coach in the film industry and taught Hillary her distinctive, plummy British accent. She was born in Astoria, Queens, after all! Hillary gave me my set of Mary Poppins books, and took me hitchhiking when I was about 12 years old during a stay at my godmother’s mountain cabin, after walking back from the little town center tired us out. She had a dog, a black Scottie named Barney. Hillary was the most glamorous, fascinating woman I’d met at that time. Growing up in Southern California, I met quite a few people in the entertainment industry, most friends and clients of my father. Hillary was the first, and I remember her with love.

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Photo by Peter Landers, Wall Street Journal

Okay, next I have a weird diversion for you. In Japan an unusual version of Coca Cola is grabbing attention. Called Coca Cola Plus, it contains a high fiber, laxative additive that fans believe allows them to eat unhealthy food and not digest the fat, thereby leading some to dub it “weight loss cola” as opposed to regular or “fat” cola. If you have trouble accessing the WSJ article here, since they have a paywall, TimeOut Beijing has the goods. And the text in the second link is funnier!

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Now, remember Superstorm Sandy? So does the City of New York, and the City as an investment entity recognizes climate change as the result of fossil fuels raising the planet’s temperature. Therefore, the City is severing ties with their fossil fuel investments. This divestiture could be a huge deal in global economics and spur positive change.

And there’s no one like Bob Dylan to remind us that A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.

Cheers, all, and…

Namasté

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Getting to Cloud Nine

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I’m not sure where to start with this. So I’ll start where I think it begins. We moved from New York City to rural Pennsylvania last summer. We eventually got a new MD locally. Then in May I was hospitalized with diverticulitis, a very painful intestinal infection. I was given excellent treatment in our local hospital and I was out the next day.   My primary doctor had been concerned about a serious abdominal condition other than diverticulitis, so in the ER they did a CT scan with contrast and found a couple of possible problems while confirming the diverticulitis diagnosis. I was discharged with referrals to cardiologist, colorectal surgeon, and pulmonologist. The pulmonologist referred me to a neurologist due to migraines. I saw them all.

I was off asthma meds for the first time in many years while in the hospital. I imagine they were waiting for me to complain of breathing problems to give them to me, but I didn’t have any, even with the gorgeous, big floral arrangement my colleagues at work sent me. Time was when I would have been sneezing and wheezing with flowers in the room.

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When I went to the pulmonologist and told him I hadn’t used any steroids or rescue inhaler, or even any allergy meds, in a week, he was impressed, but he also ordered pulmonary function tests and a CT scan of the lungs. I went to see him yesterday for the results. He brought out copies of the tests and said to me, “You do not have asthma!” and he explained the numbers. He said I no longer need any asthma meds, not even a rescue inhaler.

I’ve taken a lot of medications, many very expensive, for asthma and respiratory allergies over the past 35 years, which is over half my life: albuterol and its newer spinoff ProAir HFA, Advair (at the highest strength), Breo, and Symbicort (also at the highest strength), Singulair, Zyrtec, and Flonase, and others both over the counter and prescribed. I’ve been to the ER with asthma attacks, although thankfully not for decades. I’ve been on inhaled steroids and courses of prednisone for about 15 years and other asthma meds since my son was in grade school. I have the skin of an 80-year-old, in that it tears and gets purple bruises incredibly easily, and about five years ago I sustained a spontaneous fracture of the femur at the knee, all probable side effects from long term corticosteroid use for asthma.

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So I’m on Cloud Nine that I’m so much healthier than I used to be, and I credit this to several factors:

  • Being vegetarian for the past 8 years and almost totally vegan for 5 ( two of my new doctors are vegetarians, so I have solid support to continue a plant-based lifestyle).
  • Meditating almost every day for the past 6 years, a practice known to boost immunity and improve health.
  • Following the spiritual practice of Buddhism that helps me cope with stress and keep life’s challenges and changes in perspective.
  • Having wonderful and supportive friends, many of whom like myself are healthcare providers who have stressed to me the importance of self care and getting answers.
  • Working out regularly in the gym and taking more walks over the past year.
  • Meeting a holistic New York medical doctor before we moved, who urged a healthier diet, exercise and supplements over prescriptions whenever possible.
  • Moving out of the city and into a less stressful, more rural life.
  • Closing my solitary New York psychology office and opening one in East Stroudsburg, PA where amidst wonderful colleagues and staff I thrive.
  • Getting a whole new look into my health with all new medical providers, including the very thorough medical work up I was given at our local hospital.
  • Having access to good healthcare, thanks to Medicare and before that employer-provided health insurance. At this time of uncertainty over affordable health coverage for millions of Americans, I am most grateful for this and hope that goodness and compassion for those in need will prevail.

So I do like to end some of my posts with a good tune. This one feels just right, and I choose it in part in memory of a good and soulful man I treated for nearly 20 years, a man who grooved to the Motown Sound and whose passing I sadly learned of today. Danny, this one’s for you.

 

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They are Everywhere

UPDATE: I just reread this post after more than two years. It merits sharing again, especially in this new, frightening climate of political extremism and the threat of diminishing entitlements for those who need them most. — Shielagh 2/23/17

They are everywhere. 

The Four Noble Truths: – The truth of suffering – The truth of the origin of suffering – The truth of the end of suffering – The truth of the path to the end of suffering

 

I cannot help but see how they suffer. I am not sure what the blessing is in suffering through homelessness and hopelessness. I see them on the subway, asking for money, food, Metrocards, help, hope. I see them sleeping in corners and in doorways, laid out awkwardly across subway platform benches that are uncomfortably partitioned for four. I see them at the end of subway cars, sleeping or pretending to sleep, surrounded by bulging bags of their things, some with a plastic hospital bracelet on one wrist. Flip flops in winter, dirty feet in slippers or worn-out shoes, sometimes in wooden surgical boots. Reddened, swollen ankles blotched and shiny with edema. Often and more now than before, I see well-groomed men sitting behind polite cardboard signs asking for compassion, for a hand up, bus fare home, a meal, as they read a book or magazine, avoiding eye contact. Groups of grimy kids sleeping on cardboard with dogs or cats, their cardboard signs asking for money for food or a hotel room before the next storm hits. I see the long, matted blond dreadlocks about begrimed, drawn faces of kids young enough to be my grandchildren, skateboards under arms and sleeping bags and backpacks weighing them down as they move from place to place, rousted by police or in search of something much needed right then. I see the African hair, wild and long, grizzled into shaggy beards framing dark, dusty faces. I’ve seen men and women, in couples and alone, sleeping against buildings in midmorning in mummy bags or bedrolls, their things in bags about them, the smell of old urine strong by the nearby broken payphone enclosure. Once I looked up from my own thoughts to see an old woman defecating into a plastic bag between the bike rack and the litter can by a busy intersection downtown. I didn’t want to see. I felt her suffering, a reality that seemed to say, there is nowhere else for me to go.

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Homeless man on the F train

I see the bloody socks, the bandaged hands, the haunted faces, the vacant eyes. I see the plastic rosary beads around scrawny necks, the cigarettes, the brown-bagged cans and bottles, the battered paper coffee cups hopeful for change. I hear the  guitarist on the subway platform singing a Neil Young song as tenderly and tunefully as Neil himself. I watch as passersby waiting for their train or heading towards the stairs drop a dollar into the guitar case, or hurry by unaware of the fragile life of the man behind the instrument. I have seen him for at least ten years now. He no longer has teeth. I have given many dollar bills over those years. Once he stood near the stairs crying and asking if anyone could help him get new guitar strings before the music store closed, saying someone had damaged his guitar at the hospital. I gave him a five and told another woman who stopped, looking worried, that he sings as beautifully as Neil Young. He was too upset to respond and kept weeping. There is something very broken in him now, because between his haunting songs he sometime yells and screams at no one in particular about world injustices, thoughtless people, all the “motherfuckers” and “assholes,” whoever and wherever they may be. I am sure he suffers greatly.

I hear the crazy rants, the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, and see the dirt, the empty eyes, the pathos written all over the faces. I used to tell myself they were students in a sociology class, running experiments to see how others react to homelessness, poverty, need and hopelessness.  It’s been a very long time since I comforted myself with that fantasy. I know there are police patrols and pairs of homeless workers who travel these streets to see who needs help, but many withdraw from them and are not seen. When winter comes and rough weather prevails, vans traverse our streets with workers trying to get homeless men and women into shelters for the night. Places they’d rather die than go, mostly. Addictions, experiences being robbed, histories of abuse, compounded fear and layers of hopelessness scare them away from shelter and often from helping hands up and out of their despair. Such suffering.

I hear the pleas on the subway cars as we rattle between Manhattan and Brooklyn, from the tall man in fatigues asking, “Can you help a homeless Veteran?” From a small dark-eyed woman with a large child on her hip, both with doleful expressions, who stands in front of each passenger holding a sign that says, “I am deaf and mute. We need food. Can you help us?” And the young woman with several children in tow, repeating the length of the car, “My house burned down, we have nothing. My children and I are homeless, can you help?” Sometimes while the person is traversing the car, an announcement comes over the loudspeaker reminding us that it is against the law to solicit on the subway. “Ladies and gentlemen soliciting money in the subway is illegal,” it drones. Ignore the suffering, it suggests. Others will see to it.

I don’t always, but I’ve offered what I can, a Metrocard with a few trips left on it, a little money, a protein bar, a sandwich, dog or cat food for a homeless person’s animal companion. And when money or food or something else is offered, they nod and sometimes say, “Thank you.” “God bless you.” “You are very kind.” And when nothing is offered and they stand at the doors as the train comes to a stop, I’ve heard, “You folks have a good day now.” “Hope you never know how hard this is,” and “God bless you.”  And then there was the weather-beaten old woman I once offered a plastic container of holiday cookies that I’d planned to share at the office. She screamed at me incomprehensibly and batted away my offering with as much force and rage as if I’d pulled a knife.

They tear at my heartstrings, and their suffering fills me with fear from depths unknown, fear of destitution and homelessness, fear of extreme isolation and loneliness, fear of rejection, fear of untreated mental illness, fear of surrender to hopelessness, fear of losing faith in my ability to manage, fear of losing the belief I will be taken care of if ever I cannot take care of myself, fear of giving up and giving in to addiction, fear of illness and parasites and dirt. Fear of growing into very old age alone and defenseless, of outliving savings. And my practice has taught me that it is out of fear that aversion grows. Every day I aspire to be free from aversion, attachment and indifference. I am learning to see past fear and into fellow beings, beings whose lives are as transitory as my own, to see their suffering, to have compassion, and to remember that within each of them learning and growing and karma are also taking place.

So I read every single day, and recite aloud most days, the Buddhist text of the Metta Sutta. I often read it in the morning during my subway ride. My version says, “Let none deceive another or despise any being in any state,” to despise no beings–none, to have loving kindness for all, no matter how small or great, no matter the circumstances. To love each being, human and otherwise, “freed from hatred and ill-will,” to love them all dearly, as a mother loves her only child. How difficult this is to do, and yet how important it is to try.

And today this is my practice.

Namaste

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