March: If not now, when?


We had just gotten used to the idea here in northeast Ohio, that February was, in fact, the beginning of spring. Yellow aconite and white snowdrop blossoms had flourished and disappeared in the early warm temperatures. Daffodil leaves were spiking higher and higher. The Birdtwitterfeed had put out the word to head north already. Goldfinches began to molt, and returning robins were a bit confused as the semi frozen ground produced no worms. I even thought I heard a mourning dove last week when it became March. Or was it actually April? Just how far did I spring my clock forward? The robins are not the only confused ones. I woke up to a few inches of cold wet snow almost covering daffodil buds. My bird feeder is mobbed with finches and sparrows along with robins hopping underneath now and then to eat the fallen seeds.

If this is a lion ushering in March, then we’re not in a very fierce neck of the woods like… California? My lowland friends there are working every day to prevent serious flooding. Their home and outbuildings were built while living in a drought. Digging out trenches to channel and pump the water into the street drain is proving to be tough work. My friend said that the water table is so high, when you push the shovel into the dirt, there is an immediate lake to contend with. And then further south in the California mountains there is snow measuring in yards.

I know there are so many discouraging things happening in our country and world to be concerned about. But to finally be confronted with the powerful results of global warming on a daily basis can’t help but be unnerving as a fundamental fear. It is our planet. The earth beneath our feet. The home to billions of creatures with whom we are interwoven. All of our financial concerns, immigration concerns, health concerns, food concerns, education concerns, political concerns- all of them will be further impacted as each country will have to deal with the massive changes that must be made if we are to survive and thrive despite these ongoing disasters. There is hope we will find how to urgently make these changes. Sadly, it will be after dealing with these unforeseen consequences from what has long been set into motion.

We face each day, we give our best, and we help others if we can. Post PANndemic (and I know many people who just got COVID for the first or second time though it is now labeled ENdemic…) we are more aware of our mortality than ever before. If they can manage it, folks are taking that trip they always wanted, purchasing that car no matter how much inflation has raised the price, or finishing a languishing project- before it’s too late. We take a deep breath before the tsunami of problems overwhelms us and we think, “If not now, when?”

Of course, every eldering person already has had this same thought as our bodies begin to lose energy, mobility, and stamina. For that very reason, I decided to create two community contributions for this spring (no matter the weather outside). One is a short comic skit to contribute to Kendal’s annual performance called Spring Fling. I wrote a medieval sounding song called Ye Olde Springe Flinge and have concocted a mock ancient ritual where one friend is playing his lute and singing this song with me, and two others are suggestively flinging off their winter gloves, hats, scarves, and coats one by one to reveal their summer clothing. Yes, seniors know how to have fun.

My second project is more serious, and I think it will be unique and lovely. My friend Rebecca is an amazing wildlife photographer. We have placed some of my poems on slides paired with her photos. I will read the poems out loud as they appear on a large screen in the auditorium which will also be shown on our in-house TV channel. The last two poems will be spoken by my husband. Some years before Richard died, he had recorded them on an album I created (with my friend Cathie and others) as my thesis for my ordination as an All Faith or Interfaith minister. My Kendal community here has come to know me but, of course, not the man I lived with for almost fifty years. When those last slides are shown, I can now listen to his warm resonant voice without crying, and even if I do cry, no one will mind at all. I am grateful that I have this means of introducing him to my new friends in Ohio.

My body has not taken kindly to organizing and sitting through rehearsals for these two efforts. I knew it was beyond my comfort zone to attempt things that would have been simply fun and nourishing in the past. After these events are completed, I go to see a new neurologist to find out if he can discern why I am rapidly losing the neurological muscle information needed to sit up or walk. If I sit up for an hour or so one day, the next day I am flattened by weakness and pain and need the whole day to recover. Maybe in March 2024 there will be more open daffodils and maybe I will have seen some physical improvement or maybe not. I have joined those who say, “if not now, when?” as I look to accomplish unfinished writing projects orphaned on my computer.

As to solutions to our planetary problems, I hope that more of the world population could effectively rise up and say to those in power. “IF NOT NOW, WHEN?”

The Baton


I am looking forward to the day when I no longer need to include my medical status to you, my friends and readers. Short and sweet- with my last MRI in hand, my second opinion surgeon immediately said that yes, surgery would relieve most of my pain. I was surprised and delighted to hear this. He can do MIS, minimally invasive surgery, with two small cuts on either side of my spine at the level of L4-5. He will fuse those vertebrae, likely with a metal cage. He warned me as he must, that it could fail, and that above and below the fusion other vertebrae would eventually be more challenged. But he also said I will be up and walking the next day as well as I do now without pain. It will not help the weakness I experience, and it will still take 3-6 months to heal from the surgery itself. Though it is no longer prominent at eight months out, I am still healing from the last surgery on my neck, which was far more invasive. The biggest question is of course: when? A certain baby boy is due around 12/20 and I want to be ready. The doctor already told me he is booked into November and I won’t see him again to schedule everything until the middle of October.

More surrender is involved and so is trusting that somehow it will all work out for the best for everybody concerned. May it be so, whatever the dates on the calendar tell us!

I have been pondering two wonderful quotes that came my way from friends. One is from the poet Hafiz, a Persian poet, who lived from 1310-1390. It says: “Love is simply creation’s greatest joy.”

I love this definition to recall any time my life gets complicated. It is that direct and that simple. It is a surefire antidote to confusion and unnecessary drama.

The other is one from the Dalai Lama, applicable to today and tomorrow as the days fly by tortured by politics. “The planet doesn’t need more successful people. The planet needs more peacemakers, restorers, healers, storytellers, and lovers of all kinds.”

I am confident that therein lies our hope as my grandson enters onto the world stage with millions of other new, young people ready to take the baton, running past us into the future we fervently hope they will save.

After the Lawnmower


The back saga continues. In short, the new MRI of my low back issues did not convince my surgeon that I needed surgery and he was singularly unhelpful in having any solutions or understanding of how I could be having the symptoms I am experiencing. I think he did a very good job with my cervical operation, though his narrow view of my current presentation was puzzling to me. However, he did recommend that I see a D.O.,who is a non-surgical spine specialist. Because this other man is so highly sought after, (as I found out from other Kendal residents) my appointment with him isn’t scheduled until October 31st. I have also found another local lumbar surgeon recommended by residents, for a second opinion of my MRI. Him, I will see on September 12th.

I am still quite certain that a bulging disc touching the nerve root at L4 is largely responsible for my pain and constant inflammation. I am hoping that someone with new eyes will either confirm or deny this. If I am wrong, I hope to learn how to interperet what is happening correctly and offer me other solutions to deal with my issues going forward. In the meantime, as soon as I understood that my relief was not forthcoming from somebody outside of me, I began to renew my own resurces of self healing. My nutritionist continues to send me supplements that have reduced the pain level, I have summoned my own “mind over back pain” visualizations with deeper focus, and I am finally a legally registered medical marijuana user in Ohio. Cannabis is a great help to many with spinal pain and MS damage, and I am no exception.

All of the above tools do not eliminate my pain, but have brought it down to manageable levels. I still am very careful and cannot accomplish as much I would like to every day, but I am not in agony. It is tolerable, and for that, I am very grateful. Over time, I am having more pain-free moments, which I try to use as a template to calm my overworked hyper-alert brain-immune system-inflammation cycle. Slowly I am retraining my nervous system to communicate more quietly. Once again, my body is a Teacher for me to disengage from the physical trauma/drama of living in my body. As I have said many times before, I’d like to learn my life lessons from a different textbook, but this is the only one I have. I respect it, and so far I am learning to love it over and over again. Love is healing, active, patient, strong, and kind.

Here is an August poem.

After the Lawnmower 8/19/19


Intermittent trill of cicadas

the slightest breath of a breeze

swishes leaves of the viburnum bush

small birds twitter below 

loud honkers above

conversations flutter through the open window

air conditioning units hum across the way

At Buttonbush Pond, no rain

abandoned shores of mud 

frog eyes float in the shallows

Still, quiet, camouflaged

startled, their strong legs

push them deeper 

into what is left 

of the dark fermenting brew

Crickets chime me to sleep at night

Misty nostalgia

swirls a cloak

around another passage

evoking the past

anticipation rises 


unhurried tapestries of seasoned gold

I need only sit, and watch, and listen

Perennials and Patience

Diary 5/7/19

End of the first week of May! More and more, time seems insensible to the way I live my life. Retired as I am, I do have activities, meetings, appointments and obligations every day. I do have a changing schedule to adhere to. Without them I would feel too adrift, without purpose. In and of itself, to be aimless would be very stressful. I need to know I am accountable for interactions with others- that I have ideas, support, practical skills to contribute to the people in my community. Even my bit of garden is shared with others. But time is elusive and working on my garden is based on reality, not my desires.

I took advantage of the Annual Plant Sale that is a much anticipated feature every spring at Kendal. It started formally at 7:30 a.m. on Friday. At 7:15 the hallway where the plants were on display was already jam packed with people clutching their plants, eagerly waiting to pay for them. “Who says when it is officially 7:30?” someone asked. The rest of us laughed but soon enough, money began changing hands and the crowds continued all day as the tables emptied out. The next day there were a very few left, and I scored three more outdoor plants, half priced, which were the last to be sought after.

Other folks helpfully carted off my plants for me to the concrete patio off of the lounge area of my section of the Care Center. The door is locked from the outside, with a sound alarm, preventing anyone with dementia disappearing outdoors. That was a necessity established years before the beautiful new dementia unit was built where there is now a lovely enclosed courtyard for safe access to the outoodors. The patio door near me, however, remains locked. My helpers and I had to navigate a circuitous route through various hallways to get to the outside door closest to the patio where I can store my gardening tools and plants until I get to them. From there, my garden patch is only about 15 feet away, over the grass. It is fairly uneven ground beneath its deceptively smooth grass cover. Pushing my rollator over the bumps carrying plants, my kneeling gardening bench, my hand tools and then watering cans, required many trips to and from the patio.

I have been told that the soil here is heavy wet clay. It should have been no surprise that it was, in fact, black tarry lumps that I encountered as I went to prepare the nearest portion of my patch. Because the perennials I bought were thinnings from other people’s gardens (at a very fair price), I figured they were used to this soil for bedding, and so far, do seem to be adapting fairly well. The surprise came in working the next section that I tackled for transplanting some daisies.

Kendal had planted five low spreading juniper bushes beneath my windows, two of which are happy and thriving. One had died completely and I had Facilities rip it out. As I dug around with my used but hardy, newly purchased trowel, I encountered a rock. A large rock as big around as my arm…no a round vein of compressed gold colored clay. It was like cement even though the soggy malleable clay around it was very wet. This lump had absorbed not a drop of water. A single large dandelion root had pushed it’s way through a tiny section of this stuff; an admirable accomplishment given I couldn’t chink off even a chip with my trowel. Maybe I will place potted flowers to stand on top of this root killing area.

Yesterday, while chatting with my PT, he told me that the next county over was once known as the “Sandstone Capital of the World”. Oh. I also found out that I had sprained some muscles compensating for my weakness. My back was sore but resilient enough to be OK. My ankles are swollen from navigating the uneven terrain. I am humbled that I can garden at all. The act of pushing and kneeling, digging and nurturing, are strong motivators for me. I have not completed my efforts yet, but unlike the dandelion root, I will not succeed by forcing my way through sandstone. I am relearning patience as I regain mobility and curb my insistence to DO more. After 30 years, I see my willfulness reappearing as I emerge from a more contemplative life. My ankles and plants smile, as they patiently wait with me.


Diary 2/9/19

The emotional prelude to the first anniversary of Richard’s death has begun. Kindness from new and old friends undoes me. The smallest gesture of friendship breaks open my heart in stuttering bursts of love. I am extra vulnerable since I have understood the steadily increasing pain and inability to walk, sit, or stand, is due to spondylolisthesis (Greek for “spine + to slip or slide”). For years my vertebrae at L 4-5 have been slipping over each other and then clicking back into place. The clicking stopped some time ago and today they are permanently overlapped. L5 has shifted so far over the top of 4 that it presses directly down onto my spinal cord, severely pinching the nerves feeding information below.

This has reduced my capacity to participate in my new life here. I cannot bear to go to an informational meeting (and there are many to keep this large village informed) that is less than stimulating. Boredom keeps my pain level front and center in my brain. Only if I am truly engaged or entertained can I withstand being part of a group. Even eating a meal with others has been challenging. Sometimes I prefer to get a tray and bring food back to my room. Trying to socialize while paying attention to my meal at the same time as noting the pain, is getting harder to do. I am tired of lying around and it is good that this upcoming sad anniversary is the same date as my second meeting with a back surgeon in the Cleveland Clinic. I need to hear if, how, and when, surgery may bring me some much needed relief.

I originally went to this doctor a few months ago for the stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord. again due to vertebral impingement) in my neck, C 4-6. That, too, is increasingly causing weakness, tingling, numbness, and pain in my hands and arms. I may end up as a titanium wonder of fusions or with disc implants from stem to stern. I have steadily used every alternative method possible to deal with the early stages of these problems, thinking it was all somehow because of having MS. A lot of muscular weakness to hold my bones in place is because of past MS lesion activity. But my MS has been quiescent for several years, and now I understand the progression of compromise much better than before. Twenty years ago, I once had a Pilates instructor say, “Judi, your spine is a train wreck.” Not what I wanted to hear, but in hindsight, she was right. It is.

I am not unhappy, and when people ask “How are you?”, as we do when we pass one another in the halls, I say, “ I’m fine, but my back is a real problem.” I surely have had moments of despair as I adjust to yet another level of pain and restriction. Overall, I’d still say, I love being alive. And I do. Somehow through all the loss and total restructuring of my life, I cannot relate any longer to that piece of little Judi who always thought it would be easier to leave than stay here in a world full of suffering. After surviving my recent bout with The Nasty Virus, I was so grateful to my animal body that insists on surviving despite immediate misery. I came out of it with a renewed sense of claiming that “I am here”.

I want to experience all of life- including the attending pain and sorrow, and the despair and helplessness. I delight in joy and pleasure and hope, and the deepening peace I find within Silence. I less and less misuse my spiritual explorations as a way to get away from the pain in my back or my heart. I open to all of my personal issues and to those of being a world citizen The horror of losing species after species, habitat after habitat, resulting from the fear-induced denial and greed of our world leaders is also part of being alive in this time and place. I want to live every day as if it was the last one to bring in a new paradigm of stopping human and planetary extinction. I believe it must be that day for all of us.

I want to live as fully as I can as an antidote to potential extinction of the human race. I embrace that I am alive, even as the world as I know it, is unraveling. I welcome all the new souls coming into the world and am curious to see what they bring to the table of apparent Last Suppers. As distressing and sickening as it, I want to live through it all, giving what I can to reeducate and heal. Let us embrace reality; nurture joy, pleasure, and hope, and not delay doing our part. Take action wherever you can. Today.