When East becomes West and West becomes East   Leave a comment

When East is Not Always East and West is Not Always West

I think I made a mistake, a big mistake. An immature mistake that many warned me about.  I put away the memoir I had spent nearly three years writing, thinking, “That is an old story.  It is stale.  It is finished.  I will devote myself to writing the fresh story of the present me, the disabled me, so different from the me who was always careening about, having Important Adventures (rather like Rabbit, in Winnie the Pooh).”

I began this blog as a record of lemonade-production, since life appeared to have given me an unending supply of lemons.  I was making a lot of Self-Reflection lemonade.

But all of a sudden, what should appear on my doorstep but a grievous injustice!  I didn’t have to go anywhere looking for trouble; trouble, in the form of a Grievous Injustice came to me.

I am galvanized, the feelings of outrage like rocket thrusters beneath me.  I cannot keep quiet. I call a meeting of my nearest neighbors since I can’t attend meetings called by anyone else. Suddenly, I am five years old again, and my mother is banging on the radiators to summon neighbors to a meeting in the hallway outside our apartment.  This is winter in New York and there is no heat.  The neighbors yell in anger. Word comes that the landlord (“He should burn in hell!”) has showed up in his limo to bribe the super.  The meeting disperses so that neighbors with windows on the street can throw vegetables on the idiot in his homburg, while my mother gives me the phone to talk to the City Health Department. Trembling, I attempt to tell the lady on the phone what my mother is shouting at me in Yiddish.

So I don’t know if anger at injustice is inherent in our species, if it comes out of ideas about “rights”, or if it’s just how I was brought up.  In any case, it’s clear that disabled or not, I’m not done with it.  Looking back, I see that switching between accepting things as they are (or trying to) and fighting like hell to make them turn out the way I think they should be has been a dialectic (to use a fancy word) throughout my whole life.  The first, most important thing I did in my life was discover the East, that is the East of classical China and Japan.  I studied, I went, I practiced.  Zen, tea ceremony, flower arrangement.  Beautiful, wonderful activities.  But before very long, I was in rebellion:
“What are you doing on this mat uttering high-minded phrases in Chinese about ‘saving all beings’ when there is suffering out there you might actually do something about?”

I leave and I come back and I leave, etc., as if action and meditation were in conflict.  It’s thirty years since but I have a vivid visual memory of actually seeing, from a railway platform between London and West Sussex, the braiding of the tracks:  The train headed west switched and headed east, while the eastward bound train switched and headed west. Since I’ve done this so often myself and, looking around, see that we, collectively, seem to be doing this in countless different ways, I’ll venture to say it is a natural thing to do, a fine thing to do, following the Tao, in fact.  And that my life story, far from going out of fashion, is completely with it, and here I am, dusting it off.


Posted March 2, 2011 by judybloomgardener in Uncategorized

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Sound of a Wild Snail Eating   Leave a comment

I just finished reading The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, recommended by a reader of my blog, a superb book, a gem of a book, and it couldn’t have been more up my alley. The writer, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, is ill with a mysterious illness that confines her to her bed, although her mind is clear as ever. Isolated by her illness, she strikes up an intimate relationship with a wild snail that enters her life aboard some woodland violets a friend digs up, pots, and brings in. The lack of other distractions, her ability to focus, and her grasp of the similarity between herself and the snail, each dislocated from their accustomed lives, alerts her to the opportunity presented by the snail’s appearance in her life and she seizes it, spending a full year of loving relationship with the little creature, in the course of which she learns and shares with us the fundamental similarities between us, two living creatures, of different species, equipped with different arrays of skills and tools to meet similar challenges: how to find food and water and shelter from conditions that threaten our bodily integrity, how to find a mate and a good habitat in which to procreate, safe from predators, etc. As she explores these life tasks in the company of someone she genuinely experiences as a companion, she does something that, to me, is one of the very best things a person can do, that is, break down the walls between us and other creatures, especially those as distant from us evolutionarily as a snail. The snail’s lack of offensive weaponry as well as extremely slow pace of life enable her to keep up with the snail: It might take her hours or days to notice it had done something worthy of notice and then more hours or days to secure books through interlibrary loan that enable her to investigate the meaning of said activity. Hard to imagine her doing something like this with a faster-moving or stinging subject of study. But the implication is present that if we were able to accompany any other creature as closely as she accompanies the snail, we would find it equally true that that other creature has the same basic life tasks as we and is as well equipped as we to do so, in its marvelously unique fashion. Hooray!

Posted March 1, 2011 by judybloomgardener in Uncategorized

Inside/Outside   1 comment


My quiet practice of self-reflection has been shot to hell for the past ten days as I’ve reacted to a grievous act of injustice upon my doorstep.  The little girl, now aged 72, raised midway between the Atlantic shore, where brave young warriors set out to defeat Hitler, and New York harbor, where the Statue of Liberty held up the Torch of Freedom,  has reverted to her most typical, lifelong stance, galvanized for the fight, indifferent to the toll it might take on her body and on her near and dear.  Only the conviction:  This injustice shall not be permitted!

But the truth is I am an old lady, with a bad illness, the management of which consumes 75% of my time and energy.  I am shocked at how worn out I am simply by a few exhortatory phone calls, the penning of a letter, a two hour meeting with a handful of other old ladies.  The work, thinking through the strategy, linking up with the others, articulating the issues involved, in their complexity:  All this is easy, second nature.  What is consuming is the willing.  It WILL not happen!  I will not allow this to happen!  After so long, these last two years, softening into an alignment WITH things as they are.  I find I can accept my illness, even (I think) my mortality, but not injustice, not against a person of color, here, on my territory.

I am shocked by my own assertiveness (some might call it aggressiveness.)

I am confused.

I come from that Middle Eastern stream which some say gave rise to the conceptual world of justice, law, rights.  Moses is credited with having done a great thing by bringing down from the mountain the tablets that said Do This;  Don’t Do That, ten at first, then thousands and millions of commandments.  I was shocked to realize just a few years ago that “human rights” didn’t simply exist, that they were created, you might say invented, when I was already ten years old!  In 1948.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Penned in part by Eleanor Roosevelt.  Promulgated by the United Nations.  Still mostly unknown, unimagined, by the great majority.  But I have heard of human rights, have marched with people, especially in Latin America, “reclamando sus derechos.”. Which was why I called the meeting today:  I figured that N., the victim of injustice on my doorstep, born poor, Chicano, might not perceive himself as having “rights.”. I wanted him to know he has them, that we will back him up.

But, at age 15, I turned to Buddhism and Taoism, to studying things as they are.  As well as the passionate study of nature, ecology, evolutionary history. I sense deeply how much things are as they are, or as they unfold over time, things turning into their opposites, how you can’t push the river….
Right now, the East and the West in me are in confrontation, each holding its own.

2. Later

It’s amazing how much of a ruckus a person can raise from the confines of her bed, if she’s from Brooklyn and her mother’s name was Illaine, as in “Plizz Illaine, plizz”.  When the “dogs” being sicced (sp?) on mgmt. of GPV (where I live) are doddering 70, 80, and 90 year olds who have a hard time remembering what or whom they are outraged at…. The outcome is uncertain, even at the 24th hour.  As a result of my relentlessly pesky efforts, a reporter and photographer from the local press are accompanying N. and one of the younger GPV residents to the showdown meeting tomorrow with his lawyer and the probation officer who will, presumably, have heard from Mr. High-Falutin’ CEO.  I liked titling my latest email to him, “Egypt, Wisconsin, and now GPV.”   A great comic movie could be written about this, all us doddering elders attempting to save burly ex-gang member N., his patiently allowing us to go on and on trying to save him.  In this era of really scary terrorists, he’s so big, strong, vital, and innocent, accusations notwithstanding;  he is quoted as saying to A., an Iranian resident with little English who wept because of a setback to some of the flowers on her patio, “”How can I make you feel happy?”  It’s like being in a 1950’s British classic comedy.

3. Still later

N. and his family moved out tonight.

I don’t sing a lot, but I just found myself singing a very sad melody, again and again, and I realized, after expressing and hearing so much outrage, what deep grief we are all feeling at the loss of this magical family from our midst, that embodied the dearest of things: They were youth and vitality, sweetness, abundance, safety, fun, the embodiment of the old-fashioned American dream.  We may not have known the details but somehow we knew before all of this that N. had been the bad boy, the poor boy, the son of poor, hard-working immigrants who made it, who turned good.  Not fancy good, not college good, but just good basic work, with things like sinks and toilets.  When the toilet overflowed, it wasn’t a complete disaster because we knew N. would take care of it.  He never got rattled, always remained calm, and appeared to have inexhaustible strength and energy to do whatever needed to be done.  Day or night, weekday or weekend.  In our stage of life, we don’t need a sexy lover.  We need someone who will help us with the physical world that becomes harder and harder for us to deal with.  Not to mention that this facility is itself getting older and frailer.  N. was the ideal maintenance man.  He was good, and he was good to us.  We felt that GPV had been good to him, too, so it was all good.  Such a simple but rare thing these days that we could all feel good about.

People here tonight are definitely even more sad than angry.

Posted February 22, 2011 by judybloomgardener in Uncategorized

“It”   Leave a comment


“It” has been coming up a lot in my thoughts, mostly during the most difficult moments in my daily regimen of lymphedema treatment. “Here it is again,” I think, grimly, the first time in the day when I must rise and walk on damaged limbs, further stiffened by hours of immobility. I look wild-eyed around for some alternative but discover, again and again, that there is none. However painful, I must walk to the bathroom. Period. Lots of times, I cry out, “Aargh, aargh, aargh,” etc., like a comic book character. With this keyboard I cannot execute those spirals, stars, etc., non-letters that are intended to convey the fact that these cries of pain are beyond words, way beyond the mild “Ouch” we can use for such things as a paper cut. But, completely on the basis of Buddhist meditation practice, lately, “It” has occasionally meant something different, i.e., “This is It.” I bring to the painful moment the recollection that this is the only “It” I will ever have, the gift that Life, incomprehensible Life, is offering me. This is It. Next moment, this is It. Next moment, another It. Maybe, this time, the visit of a beloved person. Take it or leave it. Albeit sometimes begrudgingly, my decision up to now has been, “Yes! I’ll take it!”

Posted February 9, 2011 by judybloomgardener in Uncategorized

I Like Caregivers; They Care!   Leave a comment

There was an animated consultation today between my caregiver, Ana; Maureen, the woman with the industrial sewing machine; and my friend, Barbara — all passionately engaged in the question of how to rearrange the pulls on my leggings so that I stop straining my shoulders, which have lately been on fire. As I use the pulls differently in at least six different moments in my process, there were many subsets to the general question and a torrent of opinions, some wildly innovative and out of the box. The women jostled one another to get at my badly attached pulls to show how they ought to be redone. Voices were raised in competition. What fun! Innovation in action! I know that many people feel sorry for me, being cooped up as I am — and, if I had my druthers, I’d step away from this situation any day of the week, but, even so, people are people, and I notice that people in the caregiving world tend to be caring people, and that, faced with the challenge of helping a person overcome pain, their compassion often manifests in wonderful resourcefulness and creativity. Thousands of miles away and on a world historical stage, humble Egyptians were rising up to throw off oppression. The oppression here was different, but pain is pain, and I appreciated the vibrancy of the life force as it showed itself right here in my room: From pain to fullness of life! Yay!
– by Judy

Posted February 7, 2011 by judybloomgardener in Uncategorized

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Fire burning brightly again   Leave a comment

I can breathe again — full breaths, without coughing.  How sweet!  And I can eat again, diarrhea gone.  How sweet and salty and sour!  And I found someone with an industrial sewing machine to make the desperately needed adjustments to my garments that might save my shoulders.  AND my beloved grandson says he may well be going to graduate school nearby instead of faraway Scotland.  Suddenly the fires of life are burning merrily again — after fading last week to embers.  The denser parts of the body no longer compelling all my attention,  I can return to the parts that are fun, that is, the adventures of the mind.

Note to self:  Everything changes.


Posted February 4, 2011 by judybloomgardener in Uncategorized

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Thinking about exits   1 comment

Yesterday a volunteer visited to help me update my Advance Directive for Health Care. I had done one about five years ago, but what seemed remote and theoretical then seems very much more real and possibly imminent now, especially when I have trouble breathing.

I have been asking myself and a little bit others too about how we make our exits as, for sure, we all will. It’s such a big thing, letting go of everything. But it’s just on the other side of not being able to take another breath.

I discussed matters with the volunteer but didn’t complete the form. I couldn’t decide, for example, if I was or was not in favor of my doctor’s using intubation to help me breathe. At what point? For how long? There are degrees of discomfort that cause the image of a button, as in on-off button, to come to mind: Ringing pain or discomfort filling my head so much I just want to say STOP. But it’s happened again and again this past year that, as I haven’t had such a button, the moment of anguish would pass and a few hours later something womderful would happen that would make me glad I hadn’t had the opportunity to make a quick exit. It scares me to think of how many more agonizing moments may lie ahead for me. I’m trying, hard, to develop resources for those moments — Buddhist practice seems made for this! The balance keeps shifting: Sometimes life seems so wondrous that I feel I can take the big waves…. But sometimes the waves seem so overwhelming and I feel so small….