Monday, July 29, 2013


This past month, with Peggy’s hard times and several friends’ birthdays, has been the sort that concentrates the mind. At this age every such event gives pause and seems existential. It turns my attention to ask ultimate questions.

What is the meaning of this?, said I to myself, said I. I am not among those who say that everything happens for a purpose with a grand puppeteer in the firmament pulling strings or that mishaps occur when planets lose their way in orbit. However random setbacks can wake up dormant strengths within.

Back in the day we could dial 411 and get the operator on the line. I once asked her for the meaning of life and she wisely replied, What city please? She might have added, I cannot reveal that information.

My habit of mind is to entertain worse case scenarios and then work my way back. Peggy refuses to go to ultimates. She lives in the present. She assumes the outcome can be dealt with it when it arrives. I’m busy anticipating and rehearsing the future. My head goes to, what if. She lives in, what is. She trusts her resources to deal with whatever shows up. I’m a slow learner. It’s only been thirty years we are together. Too bad she didn’t get me in my formative years.

These differences have surfaced as we face morbidity and whatever it is that follows. Similarly, a late birthday can become an occasion to take the measure of one’s life even if it can’t be captured fully with mere words. As for the true meaning of life I’d be glad to share it with anyone who sends me the key to their safe deposit box and a box top from Kellogg’s All Bran.

I’ve been delinquent reporting Peggy’s progress mainly because it has been nearly imperceptible to me. Maybe I’ve been too close. It’s like watching a ball game with seats on second base. Today, I’m happy to report, has been a giant step forward. She walked and then she walked some more with her walker and without feeling light-headed or sapped of strength. Then she pedaled for ten minutes which involves knee motion she hasn’t had up to now.

About fifty years ago when my daughter was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss I remember attending a gathering at the John Tracy Clinic. Parents of deaf children spoke about how their youngsters had learned how to lip-read and speak mainly through their enormous effort and the program offered by the Clinic. I thought to myself that’s fine for them but I could never imagine devoting myself so entirely to their regimen. I did, my wife did and Janice now functions in the hearing world.

I don’t do well envisioning change. I’ve just about given up on Congressional politics, religious divisions, tribal warfare, our Supreme Court, embedded racism, Republican imbecility regarding climate change etc… I expect to leave this world with only marginal hope for mankind. But the Dodgers came back from worst to best and now Peggy is back on her feet. I expect her soon to imitate Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy….I’m walkin here, I’m walkin. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Contra Naturam

In the TV/Movie version of life we get pummeled by thugs in a back alley, wake up in a trash bin or even take a few bullets to the kishkas. The next scene finds us in a hospital bed connected to I.V. drips, monitors and blipping screens. When told about a friend in need we tear ourselves loose from such incidentals, leap out of bed, check the deserted hallway and sneak out into the traffic of life to set world right.

In real life we stay put with catheter, bedpan and 4 A.M. nurses waking us up to take vital signs. Our mouths are parched. The nurses are chatting in the hall and where is that ice pack we requested three hours ago?

I prefer the movie version even if they have to send to Vienna for the specialist who, alone, has an experimental procedure which has only been tested on caterpillars in Madagascar ...  but just may work.

In fact recovery and rehabilitation are a gravelly road with potholes, speed bumps and cul de sacs. Peggy is being urged to walk through the hurt, to stretch her quads, pump those ankles and raise her knee. All of it is Contra Naturam. It’s like asking a person to walk through the nettles and brambles instead of the comfort path. If it is a movie it’s a foreign art-house film without sub-titles. It drags. It’s tedious, even punishing. All of it adds up to a happy ending but it feels like the first part of The Agony and the Ecstasy or the last half of Crime and Punishment.

In the exercise room there are about 24 folks in varying stages of disrepair, a dozen physical therapists and two service dogs. Lila and Otis. Vanity but not dignity has been parked outside. These are faces of lives lived yet with daily epiphanies still to come.  Everyone has a story. All are bent by the weather of years, roads traveled with travail. And all are levelled by their experience, brought to their knees regardless of their previous station.

The last movie Peggy and I saw before her accident was Hannah Arendt. Rather than banality of evil this is the banality of retrieval. Everyone is trying to retrieve what was, for decades, taken for granted…ambulation.

My role is to bear witness and find the point between being empathetic or pushing her to tough it out, between Dr. Schweitzer and Dr. Mengele. It is against my nature but this is my turn at Contra Naturam.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


The way of all flesh: from bouncing baby to bumps & bruises to brittle bones.  Peggy took a fall on July 1st and the architecture of her hip fractured in multiple places much like the world around us. A titanium plate and other restoration hardware holds together the fragments. Yet she has already managed to write two poems which is a kind of connectivity. Unbroken is her spirit.

She fell in love with the paramedic in the ambulance, with her surgeon and with  LVNs at the rehabilitation center. (This is Eros as a life force)

We are told that a hip repair results in a more difficult recovery than hip replacement.  Ambulation still has not happened; the first baby step is eagerly anticipated in the next few days. It will be a giant leap for all of us whose lives have been touched by Peggy.

The challenge now is pain management; to find a medication that will mask the hurt without causing nausea and send her into la-la land. If her psychic energy can translate into physical strength she will prevail. She is a force and even as she shuffles she soars with creativity.

Can poetry knit bones? To the extent that words transcend and transport I say, Yes. Peggy’s poetry is not prettified language; it confronts what is, grapples with reality, reaches for new dimensions and in the process the self becomes re-aligned and lifted. I don’t ask that she be buoyant, only that her feet be on the ground moving one after the other.

Putting these words on the page I am aware how therapeutic writing is for me as it is for Peggy. If I have put a positive spin on this ordeal it is because this is a letter to myself and I need to hear some good news.