Brotherly Wisdom Part 5: Big Red Umbrella

It’s hard for me to imagine being as young and stupid as I was in college. But at least I had an older brother, Charlie, to help me with the profound as well as the mundane. I went to school in Olympia, Washington, a place well known for near constant drizzle. Before I began my freshman year, Charlie helped me buy a small umbrella. So when I opened his gift for my twentieth birthday, sophomore year, and saw he’d given me a huge red stadium umbrella, I was confused. I thought, doesn’t he remember I already have an umbrella? He was there when I bought it!

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At the time, I didn’t understand that umbrellas are not usually possessions that last a lifetime. They wear out and break easily. Less than two years older than me, Charlie seemed to know this fact. I don’t remember what happened to either of my college umbrellas, but they’re long gone. Thank goodness for my smart big brother, who knew I’d need at least two to see me through my college years.

Mourning at Mary Poppins Returns

My father died in January 2018. I still miss him badly and keenly feel his absence. I’ve never mourned anyone as much as Dad, and I’m learning things about the grief process that I previously didn’t fully understand.

Last Christmas a friend and I went to see Mary Poppins Returns. As the opening credits rolled, I began to cry. My parents separated in early 1966. That summer, on a scorching, humid New York City day, Dad took me to see the original Mary Poppins. I’d already seen it four times, no doubt at least a couple of times with him. But we had to get out of the one-hundred-five-degree heat, and there were few affordable places to take a sweaty six-year-old.

Mary Poppins
The Walt Disney Company. All Rights Reserved.

I always thought of my father sitting through that movie for the umpteenth time as a valiant act of fatherhood. So when the credits for Mary Poppins Returns began and the music swelled, all I could think of was Dad and that day. It moved me to tears. I have countless happy memories of my father, and they make me mourn his passing, knowing my memories are all I have left. Despite my sadness, I’m always grateful that this warm, funny, loving man was my father.

SEVEN DOORS

I have a bladder condition necessitating a trip to the restroom every hour or two. One week at work, all of the nearby restrooms were out of order. To reach a bathroom, I had to go through seven different doors, some of them locked because I’m employed in hospital ward in which the door to the unit and my office door are always secured.

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Sometimes I’m so busy at work that it’s a challenge to break away to use the restroom. The longer jaunt made getting to the bathroom even more challenging. As I counted the doors, I thought to myself, This isn’t so bad. So what if it takes me a few minutes longer? It’s annoying, but not an impediment.

 

Hemingway

I found this quote in the first chapter of A Moveable Feast, by Earnest Hemingway. It’s Hemingway’s advice to himself. This is truly great writing and excellent guidance for any author.

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‘ ” Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. ” ‘

Hemingway

SWITCH IT UP

I’d eaten the same salad for lunch for years. Suddenly the thought of eating it made me gag. I loved its taste but hated the preparation. After some internal debate, I decided to abandon my super healthy, colon-friendly salad, at least for a while. I’ve switched to turkey sandwiches for lunch during the week and am enjoying my new lunch routine.

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Sometimes things that worked stop working, either for medical, practical, or emotional reasons. Change is good if it won’t hurt our health. I now need to be mindful to eat enough vegetables, something I didn’t have to think about when I ate a lunchtime salad. But I needed a break from my routine, and this is an adjustment I can live with.

GETTING OLD

I knew I was getting old when the highlight of my week was being fit for custom-made orthotics. In 2016 I’d developed painful plantar fasciitis in my right foot. With proper exercises to stretch my foot, and store-bought orthotics, my foot healed. In 2018 I developed even more severe plantar fasciitis in my other foot. The store-bought orthotics, recommended by my podiatrist, and the prescribed exercises failed to produce much improvement. Even though I’d have to pay for them out of pocket, after half a dozen months in pain, I made the appointment for custom-made orthotics.

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I guess I could be blue that my body doesn’t work as well as it once did. Instead I’m thrilled that there’s a product to ease my pain, and help is on the way. It will be worth every penny. I am getting old, but it beats the alternative.

 

YOU WILL DANCE: FINDING JOY AT AN INDIAN WEDDING

This article was first published on YoursNews.in on April 20, 2019.

For a year and a half, my friend had been inviting me to visit him in India. I knew this friend through his website, where I occasionally posted articles. I always declined his invitation. A trip to India wasn’t in my budget and held potential dangers to my health, since my immune system is compromised. Then last June, I called him and said, “Guess what? I’m coming to India!” My nephew had already gone through a courthouse wedding to a native of New Delhi, and the Hindu ceremony was scheduled for the following year. Despite my initial reluctance to travel halfway around the world to a place well known for its health risks to Westerners, I would never miss an important family event, and I began to plan the trip.IMG_0053

I’d traveled alone to Europe in 2017 and 2018, but preparing for India took my usual tourist preparations to a new level. The difference seemed like a lovely day hike on flat terrain in the spring versus rock climbing in winter. It took three tries just to successfully submit my application for an Indian visa, and I became so frustrated with the computer application, I thought I might need to engage a millennial to help me through it (a method I’d used when previously challenged by computer issues). If I drank, I’d have been chugging martinis to calm my nerves by the third try.

I researched what might be required of me to the extent possible. Everything I read stated that I needed to dress modestly, necessitating that several parts of my body be covered. This resulted in some frantic late-summer sale shopping to ensure I wouldn’t offend the locals or my nephew’s wonderful in-laws. I would also need two sets of hotel and plane reservations since I chose to travel directly from San Francisco to New Delhi. I flew from San Diego, where I live, to San Francisco the day prior to my trip to India, avoiding the risk of missing my mid-morning international flight because of local delays. I spent the night before the trip and the night I returned to the U.S. at an airport hotel. After taking care of shopping and reservations, I needed vaccinations. The preparations seemed endless, but by early January I was ready.IMG_4886

The minute I arrived at the gate for my international flight, I knew I was starting out on an adventure. There were few identifiable Americans among the waiting passengers, and instead the seats were filled with women wearing intricately patterned saris and men in turbans of bright red, deep ochre, and brown. The sixteen-hour flight might have been easier if the electronics in my seat hadn’t immediately malfunctioned. I couldn’t access any of the in-flight entertainment or turn my light on and off. The light stayed on for the entire flight, and I gave my new sleep mask and earplugs to my seatmate as a form of apology. I slept only about three hours, and the rest of the time ate the meals offered and read a good book.

I’d arranged for a limousine from my hotel to pick me up at the airport. I knew once I arrived at the hotel, I could relax. There I would rendezvous with my family and for the rest of the trip would simply enjoy whatever activities they arranged. We spent two and a half days being tourists, and a day and a half engaged in wedding events.

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Although India was not on my previous list of desired travel destinations, I will be eternally grateful that I visited this country. I saw many beautiful sights, including the Taj Mahal, The Lodi Temple in New Delhi, the vast countryside (albeit from a bus window), and several markets.

But the most magical part of the trip lay in the wedding. I’ve never been to a more joyous, moving, and loving affair. My nephew’s in-laws had trimmed the celebration from the usual three days down to two. The festivities began in the morning with a henna ceremony, which lasted until early afternoon. My family had met seven members of the bride’s family at the civil ceremony in the United States, but we were greeted by the rest of her clan that first morning. Every member of my new niece’s family whom I’d met six months earlier embraced me. Throughout the day other guests approached me to ask if I was enjoying myself or to explain the meaning of the rituals. I had no idea who some of these people were, but as the ceremony progressed, I learned they were aunts, cousins, and, in one case, the best friend of the bride’s father. I’ve never been received with more warmth or hospitality. The henna ceremony was particularly moving in its inclusivity. All the relatives partook of anointing the bride and groom with saffron. Four 20-something boisterous girls attended, cousins of the bride, all dressed in saris. They seemed to be perpetually smiling and laughing. Less boisterous but equally charming was my new niece’s best friend. This young woman had a shy smile and a quiet, lovely gravitas that I found enchanting. When describing the festivities for the evening ahead, she declared “You will dance.”IMG_4819

That night, dressed in our Indian celebratory garb, my family joined in the second part of the wedding. My niece’s best friend was right—we all danced. I reminded her of her prediction, and she and I danced together. She showed me the moves, and I followed as best I could, as happy as an auntie could ever be. There were many prepared dances performed by the bride and groom, by the bride’s friends and cousins, by a group of little girls, and by many middle-aged ladies of both families. (I had missed this rehearsal somehow, so I didn’t know the steps.) I danced with one of my uncles, also new to the family, who I quickly learned could whirl me around as if he were Fed Astaire. My family and the bride’s family were enchanted with each other, both thrilled that these two wonderful young people had found each other and that we were all now connected through them. The bride and groom’s vows were touching and heartfelt. I have never been to a happier wedding.

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The next night, the families participated in another party and the religious ceremony, which ended the celebrations. During the evening, my nephew slowly approached the wedding venue in a horse-drawn chariot. An entourage of friends and family danced in front of him while a live band played. This would be a rare occurrence in the United States and was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. The party on this night was also lovely, and I met more of my niece’s relatives, who continued to warmly welcome my family and me. Joy, whenever it is felt, is rare and precious. But to experience those emotions with many of the people I love most made my nephew’s wedding blissful.

At many weddings, countless photos are taken. While photos often memorialize some of life’s best moments, other moments are ephemeral, and no one’s around to record them or even know they’re occurring. Although I have photos of my wedding, no one knows that as we said our vows with clasped hands, my husband quietly rubbed my palms. Nor did anyone record the moment he first saw me in my wedding dress and told me I looked beautiful. The first moment I saw my nephew, I was standing in the doorway of my brother and sister-in-law’s home. My brother had him strapped to his chest in a baby carrier, and I could only see the top of my nephew’s head. But this was a peak life moment. I’ve adored him ever since I saw that reddish-blond fuzz sticking out from the carrier. I had a similar moment on the first night of his wedding. As I stood there looking at our exuberant families, I thought to myself, I would have spent thirty-two hours in the broken seat of an Do the Right Thing—Scoop the Poopairplane to be here.fullsizeoutput_cfb

For my relatives, family is paramount. I heard this sentiment uttered repeatedly by my niece’s family during our time together. Everything they did made us feel welcome. I don’t know if I’ll have an occasion to return to India, but my visa is good for ten years, and I feel comfortable with the idea of visiting again. The thought fills me with warmth. If I choose to return, I’ll have family there, and in my heart, I’ll be home.

 

 

 

ANOTHER GOOD DECISION

I’d planned to catch a movie immediately after work and had been looking forward to it all week. The film’s run was ending the next day; it wasn’t showing anywhere else near me, so that evening was my last chance to see it in a theater, which I always prefer to watching movies on Pay Per View. decisions-2709671_1280

But I’d had a busy week and was worn out. After much internal debate, I realized I needed to go straight home to rest. Shortly after I got home, I began to have heart palpitations, something that happens occasionally when my body is stressed. I’m still sorry I missed the movie, but I’m proud of myself for making a good decision.

When we live with illness, we must constantly evaluate what is good for our health and what will make us worse. The process never ends. I’m always proud of myself when I’ve made the decision to prioritize my health.

 

 

CLOUDS DID NOT GET IN THE WAY

For Unlce Jon, with much love.

My uncle Jon moved to Spain in 2016 and asked me to visit him there. At the top of the list of sights he planned to show me was the Alhambra in Grenada. It rarely rains there, but on the day of our visit to this historic fortress, it poured. We never considered canceling our plans. Nor did we complain about the rain. Jon held a huge umbrella over us, and we trekked through the ruins, the palace, and the gardens as if we were experiencing a lovely spring day. Even after I fell on a slippery step, we continued to enjoy our visit. We could have skipped the adventure or abbreviated it, only seeing the indoor portions of the Alhambra, but neither of us considered those options.e-grx1_motril_the-alhambra-palace_alhambra_2500x1250

Not everything in life goes as planned. We can either whine about things or carry on in the best way possible. Although I didn’t enjoy being soaked to the skin, the light had a magical quality that day, no doubt caused by the downpour.

When we live with illness, things go wrong all the time. We simply cannot be in the world and control all the circumstances with which we’re faced. Sometimes we have to make changes to our plans, and other times the best option is to carry on. I focus on being flexible and open. That’s how I was able to see the wonders of the Alhambra on a wet but enchanting day.