by Francine Puckly
I don’t believe in mid-life crises, but my back does. Twice in the last six weeks I’ve been the proud sponsor of a herniated disc that prefers to roam around and rest on a nerve. This pressure makes movement of the leg and hip joint impossible, unless you have an affinity for stabbing pain and cold sweats. I’m immobilized for a week’s time until the disc decides to move back between the vertebrae where it belongs.
The latest attack hit last week—harder than before and 48 hours before my eight-year-old niece and twin four-year-old nephews were scheduled to arrive for a summer visit. I convinced myself I couldn’t possibly be laid up and fought the debilitating pain all the way, determined to clean my house, wash and fold the laundry, and vacuum the pool.
Despite the pain and the tears, I pressed on. What stopped me in the end wasn’t scrubbing a shower stall or bending to unload the dishwasher—but blueberries. I couldn’t get out of the car to buy blueberries from the local fruit stand. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t reach the door once it was open. One side of my brain rationalized the situation. “They’re just blueberries. It’s not important.” But the other half of my brain screamed, “Oh, for God’s sake! I can’t even buy BLUEBERRIES!”
I sat frozen in the driver’s seat and looked for blame everywhere except at myself for not heeding my chiropractor’s advice: no lifting, no twisting, no gardening. Take it easy and let this pass. I had ignored everything and everyone. Even if all I wanted was blueberries and a clean house.
I closed the door—after five or six minutes of reaching and missing—and drove home without the fruit. I grabbed an ice pack, popped some ibuprofen, and laid down to rest. I cried for a long time—a mixture of feeling sorry for myself and releasing various causes of disappointment—while seaside piano music ebbed and flowed in the background.
Then I surrendered.
So instead of doling out frozen drinks with miniature umbrellas and whipping together lunches, afternoon appetizers, and dinners for all, I spent the time with my guests propped up on a chaise lounge unable to move. My children, niece and nephews whirled around me at a high rate of speed, shouting amongst themselves and calling “Watch me! Watch me!” to the adults as they launched themselves into the pool in various poses and gyrations. My husband took care of all of my needs, as well as the needs of our guests. While I hated not participating directly in this mayhem, I tried to be in the moment and enjoy life as it swirled around me.
Lessons, lessons. Always a lesson in life. And this weekend delivered. Because I was forced to be physically still, I became mentally and emotionally still. I saw more, laughed more, and had more meaningful conversations. I made wrong things right with my loved ones and said the things I should be saying every day. I can only imagine this is how a terminally ill person must feel!
I’m on the road to healing now, and I’m grateful to be able to perform simple movements I used to take for granted—putting on socks, turning off the lamp next to my bed, hanging up my towel. But I’m also a wee bit nervous to return to my former ways of packing every minute with motion, to-do lists, and the need (or habit) to please others. If I change nothing I am sure to experience another setback with my back and hips. There are physical changes I must make, true enough, but there are lessons in slowing down that plank stretches or core building will not replace.
Did the lesson to slow down and savor life stick? I don’t know. And that’s what makes me most concerned.
by Francine Puckly
Ah, summer reading lists. I used to enjoy creating my personal list every Memorial Day weekend in anticipation of the long weeks of summer sprawled out in front of me. I had visions of digging my feet into sand (or the grass in my backyard) and whiling away the hours with book in hand.
But as with most things in my life in the last ten years or so, I started getting carried away. I couldn’t put the brakes on. The list became a goal. It grew longer and longer. And it was impossible to complete it, leading to feelings of guilt and failure. “Guilt associated with summer reading?!” you say. Sadly, yes.
Last summer I set out to read the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon. The entire series. I couldn’t read one book of the series. I had to read them all. Why I do this to myself, I’ll never know. I read 53 pages.
So this summer I’m trying to resist the urge to stack books two feet high in the corner of my bedroom or to create a list of thousands of pages for my “summer reading pleasure”. Instead of pulling together a list ahead of time, I’m picking up a book here and a book there from the library, the local bookstore, or from friends at the ball field.
This practice has led mainly to beach reads from authors such as Elin Hilderbrand and Luanne Rice. And I’m okay with that. I’m not tackling Shakespeare or Homer or Steinbeck, but as I sip my iced tea, I’m savoring the tales that other writers have taken the time and care to pen.
Isn’t that what reading is all about?
For more blogs, check out Francine's group blog on goal setting and other writing topics at www.24carrotwriting.com.