28 March 2015

I suppose that if I wanted to I could write something smart alecky about the stuff that's been happening in my lungs. About last week's tests and the results and plan A and plan B. About the way the lung doctor got off his chair and walked around his desk and took my hand in both of his. It's funny how this happens quite a lot. In the early post-diagnosis days, it made me feel better. I thought it was a weird form of respect, of team work, compassion even. Now I am not so sure. Now I find it embarrassing. Tedious even. Now I know that my first question should not be, how bad?, but instead, how many patients with this disease have you treated so far? But I haven't reached that level of sophistication yet. I will have another go next time. This time, I almost wept when he said, I think we can prevent further damage. This is plan A and if it doesn't work, we try plan B.

I could write something about how angry I am and how I get mad at everything and how I pick on R and how I explode at the slightest bit of imagined criticism,  all the time knowing deep in my bones and cells that this is not the way to do it. 

Instead I want to write about arrogance. Arrogance and ignorance or maybe it's one and the same. Arrogance to mask ignorance.
I want to write about the arrogance of knowing. To think that we could actually know our bodies or worse, what is good for them or what is wrong with them.

I used to be so full of that shit. I have been told I had a hard time with the childhood illnesses and that I was not the sturdiest of my mother's three kids. I don't remember. What I do remember is feeling strong and healthy as a child, teenager and later when I was at uni. Especially during those years of sex and drugs and rock and roll, stacks of unwashed dishes, sleeping in a room with ashtrays overflowing, long before the muesli revolution. We walked like hippy kings and queens on this earth, our healthy bodies at our command.
Don't get me wrong,  I cherish all the memories.

The first crack appeared when I took this one step further into believing that a mother knows best while I thought all was well when my baby was seriously ill, oh arrogant ignorance. Believe me, I have been slowly climbing down from my moral high horse ever since. And yet, it is so easy and pleasant to feel arrogant about health. To think that we know our bodies and like a child before Xmas we want to believe that health comes with cranberries or kale or ginger or turmeric, "fresh" coconut water flown in from Sri Lanka, with yoga and seven hours of sleep and pure bottled water from Fiji or the French volcanic springs. The one magic ingredient, the one magic change in our sloppy life style and all will be well.

OK this is not fair. I admit that for a long time I, too, have been a tad fanatic about a healthy diet (ask my child) and regional organic produce. I still am. But whatever, my health is slipping through my fingers. My arrogant well educated well informed fingers and all I can do is pretend that I am in charge.

25 March 2015

 (from this book)

I should be on the phone. At least. I should call two friends, one after the other. I got up in the middle of the night and put a pink post-it on my desk: call U, call A.
U is losing the ground beneath her feet with her partner falling deeper and deeper into the Alzheimer tunnel,  A has received yet another no-thank-you letter from a promising - we all thought so! - job offer and time as well as unemployment benefits are running out.
And I am sitting here searching for words and the right kind of energy and feeling to surface. But my hands are cold, the multitude of ailings hissing and kicking inside my body. Somewhere people are starving, suffering, dying, planes crash and bombs explode. Our planet is covered in festering wounds and my hands are cold and the phone is so far away right now.

23 March 2015

Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Patrick's day has come and gone and for an entire week this household was very busy and noisy. There was a short moment late Saturday night when I escaped to the upstairs bathroom to take a deep breath and my face in the mirror showed me this smile that was etched so deeply into my exhausted lines, I am still working on getting it off. Three days later.
Of course, I could go all what-has-become-of-me and this used to be a household with noise and music and banging doors and phone calls and pets and certainly more that two quiet persons going about their quiet little businesses.
I could, but I won't.
Instead, a little bit of Ireland. Here we have Philip King talking with a faint trace of a Cork accent and the lovely South County Dublin way of aspirating the consonants, especially the w.  It sounds gorgeous to my ears and it takes me about 10 mins to get back into it but considering the fact that I became bilingual in South County Dublin, this is my English.

Anyway, Philip is something of a very distant cousin by marriage to R. That whole six degrees of separation thing is a party game in Ireland. Not that he would know a thing about me.
And while he meanders on in this talk, showing off a bit and getting sidetracked, he nevertheless brings three gifts: a poem, music and a spectacular view.

First, the poem:

The Given Note

On the most westerly Blasket
In a dry-stone hut
He got this air out of the night.

Strange noises were heard
By others who followed, bits of a tune
Coming in on loud weather

Though nothing like melody.
He blamed their fingers and ear
As unpractised, their fiddling easy

For he had gone alone into the island
And brought back the whole thing.
The house throbbed like his full violin.

So whether he calls it spirit music
Or not, I don't care. He took it
Out of wind off mid-Atlantic.

Still he maintains, from nowhere.
It comes off the bow gravely,
Rephrases itself into the air.

Seamus Heaney

Next, the music or Port na bPúcaí (Spirit Music):

And finally, the view:

(I copied it from here.)

So many years ago, with our baby asleep with grandparents, we walked all the way up through the heather to look out over the Blasket Islands, on a mild summer's evening just before sunset when the air was still and we could hear the waves all the way down on the Atlantic.

17 March 2015

We aren’t on this Earth to improve endlessly, forever approaching infinite perfection but never quite getting there. We are here to notice the enormity and beauty of everything around us, and to notice each other – to notice how flawed we all are, and feel connected anyway.

Heather Havrilesky

14 March 2015

Remembering when I first watched this movie and the time I asked my teenage daughter to watch it with me many years later and knowing that she loves it and that she got the message, too.

12 March 2015


Cold, yes. A touch of frost at night, yes. But, oh, the blue sky and the birds. The racket they make, mating and nesting and breeding. Cranes and geese and have you ever watched a pair of noisy magpies making a nest? Messy doesn't come close.
It's the best time.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. 

Wendell Berry

06 March 2015

Working my way through a translation on malnutrition in elderly patients I wander into the kitchen in the utterly vain hope of finding a box of cadbury roses in one of the cupboards. But of course, we don't stock that kind of trans fat sugar decadence. No cookies, not even old crumbs, we are so fucking healthy in this household.  I cut a slice of (organic) whole wheat bread and spread a thin layer of home made (low sugar) loganberry jam on it. That will have to do.
The world is a better place again. We are so good, this kitchen is almost holy. Sigh and bloody sigh.

Some days we have this conversation:

Me: When (or depending on mood: if) I die before you, do you think you'll have another relationship?
R: You're not dying, stop talking rubbish.
Me: Seriously, can you imagine living here with another woman?
R: Shut up and eat.
Me: Or maybe a man?
R: For crying out loud, would you stop this!
Me: I hate the thought of you being here all alone, watching tv all by yourself and there's the laundry and the cleaning and the shopping and ...
R: Come on, I don't watch tv and well, I can tell you one thing, when you're dead, there will be far less shopping and laundry.
Me: See, you admit it. I could die before you and then what? Will you look for another partner?
R: Maybe. Come on, eat. 
Me: So you will!
R: Alright then: what about you, will you get yourself another man if I die before you?
Me: No. Of course not. Never.
R: Want some more of this broccoli? No? I'll finish it then.

I finish my slice of bread, which, in fact, tastes quite delicious. Still, I would very much like some unobtrusive person to come into the room now with bowl of, say, chocolate ice cream.


04 March 2015

Sometimes when I lie awake and need to calm my mind I make up lists. Memory lists, like my daughter's first shoes, starting with the pair of tiny warm sheepskin booties R made, next the soft red leather slippers from our Dutch friends, traditionally used as inlays for wooden clogs and passed on through generations and friends (see below), she learned to walk in these, followed by the first pair of solid booties (blue) and on through her first years up to the yellow sandals (with a good grip as we reassured S when she walked up the hills of West Cork one summer). These sandals were the only thing stolen from us in paradise and it happened while we were still living in the hotel among the wealthy tourists. We marvelled at the thought that somewhere deep in the rain forest a child was now walking in yellow Birkenstock sandals. It was a good thought. Still is.

So the mind wanders.
I try and match my child's face at the time to the shoes and I fail and of course, I worry. When she calls the next day, I move real close to the screen and count - once again - all the beautiful freckles on her adult face. 

The Nso people of Cameroon, I read recently, do not allow a close mother-child relationship. Childcare is the communal responsibility of the entire village. To avoid eye contact, mothers blow into their baby's faces. They have to work in the fields, they cannot afford time for cuddling and singing. 
I see it here, too. Only our fields are offices and that puff of breath, we call it education.