Sunday, July 20, 2008

No Regrets

Hiking Adventure

Mountains raise my blood pressure – in a good way. The night before I often can’t sleep on account of excitement, and this one lived up to all expectations. We started talking about Katahdin before the family reunion -- no, back in 1999 when hiked up the Abol trail and looked longingly down the Knife Edge trail, then turned to descend down the trail we had come up on. “Some day I want to hike that trail,” I muttered. July 15, 2008 that hope was realized – a kind of celebration of my father’s birthday – he would have been 84 the day before.

At the LaClair family reunion on the 13th of July, we found out my cousin John and his companion, Cindy had hiked it days before, and we found out my second cousin, Teresa Bradburn and her husband Kevin Wright were planning on hiking it. We all talked Katahdin, what to wear, which directions to take on what trails, how long it would take, etc., etc. David did some research on the internet and noted the comments posted. But it all came down to us four who were hiking it together on the 15th. Teresa has had four knee surgeries. David protects a weak knee also. It would be their call, but I weighed in with, “take the most aggressive hike up, and the knife edge down.” In the end it was decided to take Chimney Pond to Cathedral up and Knife Edge to Helon Taylor down, roughly 10 miles round trip, not really very long, but rigorous.

Pictures will attest that when we finally got to the Cathedral Trail we went up, boulder to boulder, hand over hand. It was fun; the steeper, the better, and we had the trail mostly to ourselves. Clouds played along the top edges of the ridges, and so we didn’t hurry. We hoped our 6:30 AM start would not be too early -- that we would have some open views when we reached the summit. About 11:30 we checked the time. Folks in offices were not yet on their lunch breaks, and we were at the top of the world (in Maine). My silent prayer for safety was half realized. Time to sit and look off and consider the strength and majesty of this giant tumble of rocks and the fragility of us little people crawling around on its’ shoulders. It would be here for years uncompromising to the seasons passing; some of us would not.

The great aspect of this hike was that there was to be no let down in the descent. There was still the knife edge trail – ragged, rugged, and narrow, dropping off on both sides precipitously, and then the ridge down. We went slowly – there was no other way to go. The Canadian women ahead of us were keeping all four on the rocks, and there was no passing lane. It was good- all good, and when we reached Panola, the last peak on the knife edge, there was deep satisfaction. The rest of the way was “a walk in the park” in comparison. I relaxed. Never do that. Two and a half miles from the parking lot, I slipped on some loose gravel and broke my fall with my left wrist. When I picked my hand up, my wrist was is an odd position, and pain was rushing into it as it swelled before my eyes. “Oh, no,” was all I could say. I sat for a few minutes, sinking deep within myself, and waiting for some “solution” to emerge from among the four of us. I could hear Kevin’s clear voice, “….That needs an x-ray…I broke both my wrists at the same time…ibuprophen and ice.” I had ibuprophen in my pack and Kevin got it out for me. I heard David’s voice talking about a splint, then settling on a sling. I knew time was ticking away, and I needed to get up and move off. There was no solution but to walk down the mountain. Kevin took my pack, Teresa took his, David made the sling, offered to go in front and to lend a pole, but I needed my full concentration and to see the ground.

It’s interesting to watch the thoughts go through your head in a situation like that. All was quiet behind me. The hike’s euphoria had dissipated quickly. We were each in our own thoughts. My went like this, “ Maybe it is not so bad…but if it is broken, the pain could get pretty bad….Father, will you help to keep the pain manageable and help me to not do any further damage?...Hmmm, I asked for your protection, what happened? I know you have permitted this…. help me to bear this well….no swimming….this is the height of summer…one more step….easy now, just go easy…I hope this doesn’t ruin the hike for Teresa and Kevin…what if this had of happened on the knife edge…I need to get my arm in cold water, how far is that brook…” And then there was just grim silence and step after step. I wonder what the others were thinking. Teresa was dealing with her own pain I’m sure, and I became her sister in the last mile of the hike.

The pain did not become unmanageable until the dead of night, well after the emergency nurse practitioner at Millinocket Regional Hospital had looked at the x-ray, announced a fracture in both the ulner and radius, and splinted me up. It was not really unmanageable, just too much for regular doses of Advil to keep up with.

When something like this happens, there can be all kinds of second guessing. No so for me. I have no regrets. I read in my little books that our afflictions do not “spring out of the ground” and if received in faith, good learning is possible. I’m going for that. This next few weeks will be another kind of challenge, but not so different really from the trail on the knife edge.

LaClair Family Reunion

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Missing Piece

I don’t know how others see life, but for me it is a bit of a puzzle, in more ways than one. Growing up, one has to figure out what part they play in their family; they have to figure out what the “rules” are, spoken and unspoken and eventually they have to figure out if they agree with the family rules. They have figure out who they are and what they value, what they believe, what they are going to do with their life and how they want to live. There are pieces to put in place as to who to love, who is trustworthy, and how much to give in each relationship.

By thirty or forty, many of the pieces of the puzzle of life have fit into place, and some kind of picture emerges. Here I am at forty eight and my life puzzle has come together in a way that leaves me largely satisfied. Sometimes though, there are some missing pieces. It has happened this way for me.

Out of a family of seven people, three were women – my mother, my sister and myself; four were men – my father and three brothers. I have strong bonds with my sister and my mother. My father, on the other hand, I wanted something with him that I never could have, and I have failed to develop any relationship with any of my brothers that was both healthy and lasting. Both of my grandfathers died before I had any real connection with them and both grandmothers were important figures in my life. I had many aunts and uncles – the aunts usually standing out as strong and individualistic; uncles fading into the distance with the exception of one or two. Out of many cousins, I’ve stayed in contact with a couple of the female cousins.

Over the years, it has become apparent to me that I have this huge longing and yearning for a strong, respectful, deep and affectionate relationship with a male family member. As a little girl, it is her father she wants to adore her and protect her. That cross-gender relationship sets the stage for the future. It tells a girl she is worthy of love that will someday come from her husband. My understanding is that it works the same way for a boy. A strong connection with his mother creates a sense of confidence and security. Failing that, a cross-gender sibling might do. Failing that, one has to learn with no modeling. Good luck, you’re on your own.

I’ve been on my own, and have flailed around a good bit. My good husband has been patient with me as I struggled to believe myself worthy of his love, and to step into my place beside him and not behind him. He’s waited as I moved through anger and depression trying to “get there.” I hated myself for many dark years, but Light comes to dark places and it feels so good to step into the daylight finally and decide to believe the overwhelming evidence that no matter what, each person is worthy of love and has a purpose to live out. Just being here is enough. What a relief. I did not need my father or brothers or husband to supply that piece that was missing; I turned my back on needing anything further from them in that regard. I would take it straight from God and nature. The end. Right?

Well no. Like a tooth that had been pulled, there was a vacant place, a missing piece, an empty hole in my life. It was okay I decided –people adjust to all kinds of deformities and deficiencies and live beautiful lives still. On I’d go. I cannot tell the exact moments of any big realization in my life; they have come on me as the dawn. I accepted the notion that every individual’s presence in the world is enough to qualify them for being loved, learning to love, and living an abundant life. Once the belief was installed in my heart, I began to live it, and life has gotten better and richer and fuller. I have felt free and have gone on from one new learning to another. Bounding over fences, drinking from new streams, sniffing flower after flower, admiring the color and taste of purple that breaks forth in nature and is my color and taste --symbolic of the rich wine of life I’m now living.

But here now, what is this? I pick up this puzzle piece and look it over. It is a small piece, but look at the shape….and the coloring is just right….could it be it is the missing piece? Where did it come from? Where has it been? It’s been lost somewhere, no matter, it’s been found!

What is it about my cousin Dennis that convinces me he is a missing piece to my life puzzle? Being first cousins, our genetics are similar. The first thing to notice is that we both have gray hair and neither of us have decided to alter it chemically. Underlying that one decision is a set of values that run parallel to each other. When I first talked with him on the phone, we had no idea what each other looked like, having not seen each other for decades. “I have gray hair,” I blurted out. Though I have gray hair, I do not think of myself as old, just naturally gray. I want my eyes to smile and tell the story of wisdom and contentment gained over the years.

Dennis has an athlete’s form, and while I do not, my whole food, plant diet and active lifestyle have trimmed me down without any effort on my part. So what? Well, this means we have the physical ability to work together and play together side by side. Now we’re talking about companionship which is of high value to me. We’ve snow shoed in the winter, wired lights in the spring, kayaked and roofed in the summer, and there is water skiing, biking and swimming to look forward to. We both like to be active and we both like to work. Too much relaxing, and I feel useless, restless, heavy and flat spirited. I like to work, to learn to things, to accomplish something – it helps my mind and temperament. So does Dennis, and he beats me at it.

Dennis is a quiet guy who does his job with faithfulness. He pays his bills, lives by his word and can be counted on. He does not like shows and crowds of people. These are qualities we both value.

Tenderness. We both have soft spots inside us, lots of feelings, lots of untapped family-style love floating around that has been distilling for years. We say words we wished we would have heard years ago from our fathers or mothers, brothers or sisters. They sound so good. Those who have always had an “I love you” from family can never know the sweetness of those words when heard at last for those who have not. Once you have it, you don’t ever want to lose it. It means so much; more precious than gold.

We both have wanted for acceptance inside our families. Dennis’ family doesn’t know him, much of mine doesn’t know me. We don’t really know each other, but there has been awakened a desire to know and a desire to be that acceptance and love to each other that we never realized at the beginning of our lives, and now is the time we’ve been given. Somehow we are drawn together like two magnets. It is not about sexual attraction, as the world would like to snicker and gossip about. It is not about obsession either. It is about deep holes in our lives that are being filled up slowly day by day. It is about an unbelievable moment in time when two missing pieces were found and fit together into the puzzles of our lives.