Friday, November 18, 2011

How to do Good

When I follow a blog it's because I find there a real person living their life. A young mother with sick kids, a middle-aged cancer survivor with a sense of humor, a Zen student thinking about big life changes -- they have to do with lives I've lived.  From here, their lives are full of energy and interesting. 

There isn't much action in my life -- I'm sick again, depressed again.  I balance enduring pain with taking pain medication, my stomach is upset by the antibiotic, I can't drive, I'm lonely, I'm afraid I'm going to have to have that major surgery after all - I hear you clicking on to another blog as I write.  No one wants to listen to the internal struggles of that old person, or the same old frustration, the small triumphs of patience with the medical system, the envy of younger people who have goals and plans.  It's a bitch.  But for me, struggling to come up with some positive spin, some way to cheer you up so I don't depress you, has become too hard.  So has enduring the positive thinking of people who still believe you can do anything with enough determination. They don't know what neurochemical depression is, period.

Last week we stopped by the church to see if my pink rain-jacket was there.  It was the most useful and best coat I ever had - bright warm pink with a multicolored flower lining to the hood - I always got comments on how cheerful it was. And the arms were cut big, so it would go on over the fleece jackets I have to wear right now, since I can't get things on and off over my head because of the broken right arm. Worse, it had in a pocket my elastic gauntlet, a half-glove I wore on the right hand to minimize swelling - that's the arm with lymphedema. That coat is somewhere, but we've looked everywhere we go and can't find it.

I ran into Rev. Mark in the hall, and he asked me, "How are you doing?" like he meant it.  Maybe this is what makes a person a minister.  That ministering to the people who have dropped out of life and become invisible.  I told him, how it's hard, and we had a five or ten minute talk.  Mark is a trained professional.  Like other ministers in our church he doesn't dispense wisdom, he engages with you, shares and listens.  I was so down - sick as hell again with a UTI, discouraged - I could feel the bolt of healing it gave, like a shot of warm light.  That and a homemade dinner from an understanding friend got me through the week.

If I could give one lesson from old age to those who have not yet been dropped down on this foreign plain, it would be, be open to seeing and hearing your old mom, your grandma, the 90-year-old lady next door.  To do that you need to be open to your own discomfort with the realities of aging and sickness, your realization that you too could be suddenly disabled, confused, too tired to shower.  Just listen.  Don't do that reactive thing of rushing on or saying some imperious thing that will fix it.  (What you need to do is . . . ) Maybe that half-deaf old lady has done everything possible for her loss of hearing and there isn't a good fix.

If you want this in spiritual terms, it is love, or it is paying attention.  Maybe they are both the same thing.
p.s. Then there's persistence. Tom insisted we stop by the Spine and Sport clinic, who said on the phone they didn't have the coat.  And there it was, hanging on a hanger on the coat rack. No gauntlet in the pocket.  So.


  1. Forget the positive spin. If we love you and your writing, we love it because of your honesty. We love it because it is you - whatever the colour of your mood. You are human, alive, awake. That's why we read. That's why we love who you are.

    Letting go of that spin is hard. I still find myself tangled at times. More often than not nobody objects - in fact, they seem to beautifully come together.

    Wishing you peace and relief from your pain very very soon. You know where I am. xx P

  2. Sharing the truth, sharing what is useful, what is *really* helpful. Thank you, DG.

  3. great post. this is life, the good and the bad. I am not attracted to the happy, happy blogs so much. that is not real life.

    and it enlarges my heart I think to read your words, they are so real, the exhibit our human vulnerability. I have been sick, I have had cancer and felt afraid and discouraged. And I think you are so right that people try to move away from the discomfort by offering the encouraging word sometimes.

    I have a friend who is anorexic and quite ill now. I call just because that's all I can do. I know how long the days can be and how just to hear a voice (she lives alone) is good.

    much metta to you. just read the other day that the dukkha we encounter is not our fault. somehow I find this helpful to remember when things go awry .

    I also love listening to dharma talks when I feel down. I like Gil Fronsdal or Ajahn Brahm.

    metta to you, Jeanne

  4. Oh, yeah..everybody else is fine and you are not. Don't you think you are setting yourself up for failure? Have compassion for yourself, and know that really no one can live your pain.
    Anyway, check out the interviews on
    Good luck.

  5. I'm sorry things suck again. Depression's been my friend, on and off since I was 15 so I can relate to that loneliness and feeling of weightiness. However, you've got some very real things to keep you down these days (which is not to say that the other things are NOT real).

    I don't know but the lost coat really resonated with me. I had a grey hoodie before my Mom died. It was very warm, and had sleeves that could be folded down so I could even cover my hands. I loved it, and it had a little fabric yellow cancer daffodil pinned on it, that I'd donated some money for to a very old woman in the grocery store. After my Mom died, the coat disappeared. I'd never lost a coat before. It was such a saddening thing trying to replace it.

    Silly, but sometimes it's the smallest things that give us joy.

    (do you drink lots of cranberry juice?)

  6. I second Pixie -- I'm kind of old now myself though not too ill yet -- I'm on chemo for hep c and my Dr. expects me to be healed by June -- I read your journal because I count on you telling it like it is ... love, James

  7. The one thing that always amazes me is that whenever I see you in real life - your smile that brightens up the whole room, and I wonder...who is that person??? So you see, I read your blog to get to know you - a part of you that you probably don't readily share with me and others in the quick moments of our lives. And guess what? I like both parts of you! Thanks for another great post, and for letting me listen.