Evolving Christmases that still Sparkle

It wasn’t that long ago, at this time of year, a week before Christmas, I’d be deep into making check marks on lists and when I forgot my list, I’d make more lists. It was the one time of year that I welcomed chaos and felt like a well-oiled machine as I moved from one task to the next in anticipation of the magical few days that lay ahead. Since 1986, because I was the only one in the family with a child, an 8 month-old baby specifically, Mom said I needed to have Christmas at my house to make my life easier. I gladly accepted, relieved that I wouldn’t have to haul baby Thomas and the large pile of equipment that would accompany him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mom was handing over the role of hostess to me, a role I would hold for the next 32 years. Had I known what the passing of the gavel would mean to me over the next three decades, I would have been more gracious in my acceptance. Then again, maybe she didn’t realize it at the time that she was forever surrendering her role of hostess, although secretly, I think she was happy to pass it on and finally become the guest that got to relax, hold the baby and compliment the hostess.

I embraced the role — the schedule, the food (thank goodness for sister help on that one…), the decorating and the multiple trips to the store, the airport, the liquor store and the shopping mall, usually with babies, toddlers or children in tow. It exhausted me and energized me at the same time and I wouldn’t have changed or delegated one task or responsibility.

Our family did our big celebration and all of the present unwrapping on Christmas Eve. We changed this from Christmas Day when my kids brought home girlfriends and boyfriends that eventually became a part of our family and had other family traditions to take part in. With my kids no longer anticipating what Santa would bring them, it didn’t really matter if we opened our gifts on Christmas morning or Christmas Eve. Traditions are added, usually very organically without even knowing it and they are also let go of because they are outgrown. Arranging hand decorated cookies and carrots for the reindeer on a special plate for Santa that was only used on Christmas Eve was a part of our Christmas Eve ritual, then one year it didn’t happen. It just stopped and no one mentioned the tradition that became a bookend to starting the bedtime routine in anticipation of Santa’s arrival.

As the kids left home for college, the date for our family Thanksgiving also changed from the 3rd Thursday of the month to the 3rd Saturday. This was also a tradition that evolved after my kids began to have obligations at their boyfriend or girlfriend’s homes for the holiday. I decided that eating two meals on the actual day of Thanksgiving was a terrible idea and not fair for the hostess that got round two. My son Grant began referring to it as “Fakesgiving,” fake in the date, but traditional in every other aspect. Thanksgiving, or Fakesgiving, was also a holiday that both my Mom and my Mother-in-law graciously handed the hostessing duties to me not long after I inherited Christmas. I happily accepted and also realized that although I don’t consider myself to be a control freak, it appears that on Thanksgiving, I am. I like a specific way of preparing the turkey and its sides and prefer waiting until dark before sitting down to the meal. Tables simply look better under the glow of candles.

These are the times I look on with deep fondness and nostalgia. They are also the times that were sacrificed when I moved to Boulder and was no longer was the place where everyone gathered — the headquarters. Not everyone came back for Thanksgiving but they did for Christmas and until 2020, when none of us traveled and a lot of Christmas took place over FaceTime, my children and their partners, my siblings and my parents had all been together for the holiday and up until 2018, it was at my house. I knew I wouldn’t always be the hostess and my house the headquarters but couldn’t possibly anticipate what that would feel like until 2018, when we celebrated our first Christmas at Mom and Dad’s retirement center in one of the rooms they offer for gatherings. I was still living in Kansas City, but my sister, in anticipation of my move and my loss of the role of hostess, thought it would be a good idea to ease into our new reality gradually, suggesting that we celebrate at Mom and Dad’s place the Christmas before my move. It would be one less obstacle to maneuver in what would be a trying year of firsts after my move. She was right and although at the time I didn’t think so, a year later, when I was living in Boulder, I was grateful for one less new tradition to experience when everything at that point was new to me. We brought the food, the wine and the laughter and had a great time as we were all together and that’s all that mattered, or so I kept telling myself, but it was hard. It was hard not having it be in my house with candles lit, greenery hung and lights twinkling. It was easier and far more practical given that Mom and Dad lived 40 minutes away and no longer drove at night, which meant someone would have to put down the wine glass early on in the evening to be available to take them home. I knew that in my head, but in my heart I missed sitting in my living room with chairs pulled out of the dining room and squeezed into any place there was room. I can take myself back to a specific moment, right down to the smell of our traditional Christmas Eve meal of lasagne still lingering in the air, and random notes of Celine Dion periodically audible over the sounds of conversation taking place, punctuated with laughter. I’m sitting on the couch with a sister on one side of me and one of my kids on the other, taking turns leaning into them and absorbing the moment. The love in the air so thick that nothing else really mattered. It was my favorite night of the year.

The chaos of Christmas. The noise. The laughter. The traditions. The taking turns reading the poem on the gift that the giver would attach — a tradition that started with my Grandpa and has been happily carried on throughout the generations. It started with my Grandpa as a few lines that would give a hint as to what the gift was but has evolved throughout the years. When my kids first started writing poems, they were in grade school and by the time they were in high school and college, some of the poems were several stanzas long and the delivery often topped the contents of what was under the wrapping paper. That, along with the “pie gifts” are traditions that have held strong for four generations in my family. The pie gift originated with my Grandma (wife of the one who started the poem tradition) who would select small gifts for everyone at the Christmas dining table and wrap them in white tissue with a long ribbon that reached each individual plate. We’d all pull our ribbons to collect the gift and would unwrap them before the meal began. That tradition evolved into drawing names for the gifts so the hostess (me) wouldn’t have to buy over a dozen small gifts. Over the years, poems were added to the pie gifts, something that new members to the family either embraced or dreaded. I remember watching my father-in-law, usually a very soft spoken man and more of an observer than a participant, beam with pride when his two page, very eloquently written poem, was being read. I think it became his favorite part of our Christmas celebration. We still do the gift exchange although it has evolved into a Yankee swap stealing game, and a few have given up on the poem writing.

Christmas has changed because life has changed. We have been blessed in my family of birth to still have our original six, so the grief in feeling the loss I’m experiencing in the natural evolution of change, pales compared to the loss that most of my peers have experienced at this phase of life.

Just as my mom did over almost 40 years ago, I have begun the process of handing over my role as hostess, although not completely. Last night I hosted my Boulder family for dinner and our Christmas celebration. It was wonderful, and thoughtful and shimmering in the glow of candlelight and Christmas lights. There wasn’t the amount of chaos we had had the previous two years because my son and his wife and their two young daughters now live in Portland. Their absence and was felt, especially knowing they won’t be back to Kansas City this Christmas. Thankfully, my other son, and his wife, who I haven’t seen since August, will be. I’m learning, still, at age 68, to be grateful for what is present and not what’s missing, but I’m human and a mom and it’s the season of Christmas, which makes all the emotions feel like they’re written in bold font.

In the midst of watching my 6 year-old grandson and 4 year-old granddaughter open their gifts, I was able to pause and absorb the moment while feeling the familiar thread that began over 35 years ago — the strong thread of love, whether it’s sixteen or more people seated at two dining tables and gathering in the living room afterwards, the first to the room getting dibs on the comfortable furniture, or five people at the table with a seat for everyone in the living room. It’s the same pull of love that was still present in the room last night long after the gifts had been opened and the hugs and goodbyes exchanged. Celine Dion was still providing background music because oh I do love you at Christmas, Celine, and the wax was still soft from the candles that my granddaughter, Muna, was chomping at the bit to blow out most of the night because blowing out candles to her means making a wish. I’m guessing she is still wishing for a unicorn to ride to school. Keep blowing out those candles, Muna and I’ll keep lighting them for you.

Change is hard, no matter how it’s presented, even wrapped up in Christmas paper with a poem attached. Last night I decided to set the mourning aside for what had been and what I missed and the beautiful chaos that permeated my life every day for at least 2 weeks a year, and embrace what was, because at that very moment, it was all that mattered. As I reached down to get a ribbon from under the coffee table that had been missed in the clean up, I couldn’t help but notice the sparkle of my new sequin-covered slipper socks that Muna gave me for Christmas. My feet are either barefoot or in well-loved shearling scuffs, so the iridescent sparkles on my feet looked unfamiliar and very fancy! Change. Embrace it. Adapt it. Keep walking around in it until it feels natural and comfortable. Wear the sequins instead of well worn slippers because I think my granddaughter wants me to be fancier. Next week some of my family will celebrate Christmas with Mom and Dad at the retirement home where they live. We won’t have lasagne, or people gathered in two different rooms at two different tables, both decorated in holiday plaids accented with votive candles and greenery and Celine won’t be singing in the background. What will be present will be the very familiar thread of love, still be encircling us we do our gift exchange, some with poems and others with excuses. It’s not the same, but neither are we. We’ve aged, we’ve moved, we’ve become parents, we’ve become grandparents and great grandparents and some of us have even gotten fancy and now wear sequined slippers and that’s what I’m choosing to embrace this Christmas. Change, but with the same energy that is still the first thing that is felt in the room….love.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas filled with love, new memories and maybe something fancy.

My new sparkly side.

Two of my many gifts this Christmas.

Cars and attachments.

My top odometer reading of any car I’ve owned. Seeing the 9’s turn into 100,000 isn’t near as fun on a digital monitor as it is on analog.

Final photo.

I have never cared much about cars —their make, their model or how many horses are under the hood. I only cared if it started. In my early driving years, my love went as deep as the thoughts I had when I put the key in the ignition, while quietly reciting the mantra, “please oh please oh please, start.” If it started, and I’d say the odds were about 70%, I loved the car. If it didn’t, I hated the car and would have to think where the nearest pay phone was so I could call Dad to bail me out, which he always did, without fail. If I was at home, it meant scrambling for a ride or going for my last ditch option of calling in sick. That was as far as my caring went for cars went. I didn’t have a car when I was in high school, but had friends that did and that worked out fine because I really didn’t like to drive and preferred being a passenger over being the driver. I don’t remember buying my first car, a VW beetle (1968), but the price tag of $400 comes to mind. This seems like it should have been something I would have remembered, but I don’t, proving my point of not caring much about cars.

The first car I do remember purchasing was in 1977 and I remember it because it was my first introduction to financing. It was a light blue ’74 super beetle, and yes, adding the “super” to the car’s title was significant. It meant it had a dashboard instead of a flat panel where the instruments were located. The back windshield was also larger and the car was two inches longer than a regular beetle – hardly enough to market the extended leg room. It was $1500 and I financed it for two years, with payments of $65.00 a month — an amount that gave me a pit in my stomach.

Dad took me to Olathe Ford to help me find a cheap, safe, used car that I could afford. That meant having to walk past the shiny new Fords with stickers in the windows to get to the not so shiny used cars that were parked a football field away. It was like walking through a department store with beautiful clothing and heading straight out the back door to stacks of old clothes at someone’s garage sale. One day, I thought, I’ll be able to stop and look at the new cars and maybe even buy one.

When we spotted the ’74 VW, I was thrilled. It was an OK color (light blue), wasn’t very expensive and was relatively new (three years old) and because it was a VW, it was familiar. I learned how to drive in our family’s 2nd car, a white 1964 VW so knew the ins and outs of the car along with the quirks, and with VWs, there were many. It looked perfect and I was ready to flag a salesman over but Dad told me not so fast. He thought he recognized the car as being the same car the vice principal at the high school where he was a guidance counselor had driven. I didn’t see the problem. If he knew the previous owner, all the better as he’d have more information as to how well the car had been taken care of and why he had traded it in. He agreed, but it wasn’t that simple. Because the vice principal of the school holds the disciplinarian role with the students, they often become the recipient of pranks during the weeks before senior graduation. I still didn’t see the problem but Dad thought it would be a good idea to stop by and have a chat with the vice principal, Dr. Burns, to get more information about the car. This was the beauty of growing up in a small town. To stop by someone’s house, without invitation or warning, to obtain details on the car he had traded in, was not considered odd or invasive in the least. And so we did just that. We left Olathe Ford and drove the short distance to Dr. Burn’s house. He confirmed that yes, the ’74 light blue VW had been his and he had taken meticulous care of it since buying it as a new car a few years earlier. However, the car had been lifted up by a group of seniors and returned to its parking spot upside down. When Dr. Burns found his car at the end of the day in the parking spot where he had left it, but upside down, he took it in stride and found a handful of strong boys to return it to its upright position. He said other than that, it was a good car. Somehow that story made the light blue VW even more desirable to me. It had an interesting history that I would be adding to, although I doubted it would become the subject of pranks under my ownership.

I had a lot of history with that car. I loaded her up with all the possessions I could squeeze into its small interior and moved across the country to Phoenix. One of the guys I worked with at King Radio had a luggage rack he said he’d be happy to donate to the cause, which I gladly accepted but only if he’d agree to attach it. I strapped boxes onto the precariously attached rack and realized several miles into my journey that it had been a terrible idea because it slowed my already slow speeds down to a top speed in the low 50’s. It also added a background noise of wind whistling through it the entire journey. The car was not turned upside down by students under my ownership, but I did have my share of adventures with her.

I owned that light blue ’74 VW for six years, four years after my final monthly payment. The last two years I owned it, I commuted daily to the University of Kansas, 45 minutes from my apartment. Because I dealt with car issues more than once during those two years, my fiancé worried about its reliability and safety and bought me a Subaru. The next week, I sold the VW to the first person who responded to the ad I put in the paper. He gave me $200 less than the $700 I was asking, but I was happy with the $500. I’ve never been good at negotiating. I did not consult a blue book for pricing but rather based my price of the car on the cost of the wedding dress I had chosen ($500) and added another $200 for a rehearsal dinner dress and shoes for both the rehearsal dinner and the wedding. Later that day, I went to the bridal shop and put twenty five twenty dollar bills on the counter and walked out with my wedding dress. The rehearsal dinner dress and shoes for both, had to wait.

I still don’t care about cars, at least not much, but what I realize is that I develop strong attachments to the vehicles I own, maybe in part, because I don’t trade them in on a regular basis. We are usually together for at least four years, a long enough time to form bonds. Last week I traded in in my well-worn 2016 Rav 4 with 113,572 miles on it. I owned it for eight years, a personal record for me. I was at the dealership for a routine tire rotation when I purchased the new car. It was an impulse buy. For readers who haven’t read earlier blog posts, I once impulse bought a condo when I went into the bookstore in Frisco, Colorado to buy a book. I’m not good at making decisions but am good at impulse buys, which shortens the decision making process to something that doesn’t even feel like decision making. I started thinking about a new car in 2020 but was told by my brother, who is in the business, that it wasn’t a good time to buy as inventory was low. I assumed things hadn’t changed when I went in for routine maintenance and I saw a shiny, bright, white Rav 4 in the parking lot. I have to back up a bit here and share that while I was doing my physical therapy at Boulder Orthopedics, my view from my exercise bike on the 2nd floor, was the Boulder Toyota dealership. I watched new cars come in and go out for test drives. So maybe it wasn’t such an impulse buy. Maybe my intentions on a new car had been set while I was working on a full rotation on the pedals with my left leg. The day before Thanksgiving, I ended up driving home from the dealership in a new car and left my old car behind. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was someone on an exercise bike in the physical therapy room watching. I’m guessing not.

Before handing over the keys to my car, I told my salesman that I needed a minute to say my goodbyes. He understood, or at least he pretended to understand. I sat inside the car that I had just spent nine hours in the day before when I returned from Kansas City after celebrating my Mom’s birthday. I thought back to all of the trips I made in that car. It took me back and forth to Kansas City four times a year for the past four years, except for the one time I flew so I could see the new airport. Filled to capacity, she moved me from Leawood, Kansas to Boulder, Colorado and listened to me sigh and cry all the way to Salina, Kansas then, as if a switch had been turned on, finished the journey with hope and anticipation. A year later, I made the drive to South Egremont, Massachusetts by way of Kansas City because it was fall of 2020 and quarantining had kept me from my sisters. I missed them. I drove through eight states to get to Massachusetts, and with each state line crossed, the Covid protocol changed, from the span of full on masking outside while pumping gas, to mask shaming and denial that Covid was even a thing. She took me to countless trailheads in the Boulder area and my first hiking meet up group where I was reluctant to get out of the car, but eventually decided to put my insecurities aside and go for it — a decision I’m still grateful for. She helped me find my way around my new town, which wasn’t nearly as hard as I anticipated and got me back on the mountain roads that I had driven so often during my time in Frisco, Colorado but in the flat lands of Kansas, had lost my edge. I came home from the hospital with a new knee in her (with one of my sisters behind the wheel) and experienced the intense pain of getting in and out of her the first few weeks after surgery. I felt nostalgic and a little sad to tell her goodbye, knowing that several years from now I’ll be sitting in the car I had just bought with similar feelings of nostalgia. She’s a Toyota, not a Ford, but that day of walking past the new shiny cars with stickers in their windows some 46 years ago, did not go unnoticed.

My last car was never named, but I’m into naming things these days, which started with my new left knee. I named her Loretta. My 4 year-old granddaughter suggested Sparkles or Sprinkles or Cupcake and my 6 year-old grandson was pushing for Bud, but she looked like a Loretta to me. Loretta and Laurie… here we go. Let the road adventures begin.

Thanksgiving 2023

The “gang” less Ned, who is always the photographer.

Thankfulness. Today’s the day. I spend time every day with lists in a gratitude journal, but today is the day we get serious with those lists — the equivalent of getting out the yellow highlighter and saying it out loud. I was driving back to Boulder from Kansas City after celebrating my Mom’s 90th birthday, so had nine hours to ponder. My thankfulness list felt particularly long this year, even though it’s not been an easy year for me. As I mentally recapped my time in Kansas City with family, I wondered how many of my friends still have both of their parents? I could count them on one hand, minus the thumb and index finger. My sisters and brother and I arranged for a family dinner in the private dining room where Mom and Dad live. Mom chose a Thanksgiving dinner theme, which surprised me at first given all the choices, but when she explained why, it made sense. Our entire family has not been together for Thanksgiving since I was in college. Since my early 20’s, I always had at least one sibling living out of state and given that they always came home for Christmas, Thanksgiving became the holiday that was missed. I’m seeing the same pattern continue with 2/3 of my own children who live on the west coast. As I sat at that table celebrating Mom’s 90th, I thought about what an honor it is to be able to celebrate a parent entering their 9th decade. Four months earlier, I was in town lighting candles on a birthday cake and pouring glasses of champagne as we celebrated Dad’s 95th birthday. My family is truly blessed. Mom’s parents died in their mid 60’s and Dad’s in their late 70’s and early 80’s. They’ve created a new longevity thread in the family that I’m happy to weave my own life span into.

My knee. When thinking about it before surgery, gratitude certainly wouldn’t have been a word that I would have used. Instead, it was something I wanted to get through, passed, beyond and over with. I marked the day on the calendar when I’d be able to fly again and started making plans for when I’d get my life back, starting with my 50th class reunion at week 8. I didn’t give a thought to the lessons, the realizations and the gift that the process that began several months before the surgery, would bring. My doctor told me to get as healthy and strong as I could beforehand, and so I did. Anyone who knows me, knows that I will take a challenge to the inth degree, to prove something to myself more than anyone else. For three months, I directed my daily efforts on just that. Obsessed is a word that comes to mind, but the obsession paid off with a relatively easy and faster than expected, recovery. Since my surgery, my doctor has asked if it would be OK for him to give patients my name to call me before their upcoming knee replacement surgeries. I’m on my 3rd “patient consulting.” One more, and I’m going to have to send him a bill. Going through such a big physical and emotional process became far more than replacing an old knee with a new one. My new knee, which I named Rhoda, became the lens into parts of myself I hadn’t seen in a very long time and for some aspects, never. I was able to find my vulnerability, my strength, my compassion (for myself) and my words to document the process. My sisters came for the first week, a gift that I’ll always be grateful for, but once they left, I had a lot of time on my couch alone. My daughter would come by daily, but the nights were long, sleeping on my couch, still not ready to tackle the 18 steps to my bedroom. I would have never predicted it, but I have good memories of those evenings. I allowed myself to go deep and feel it all. I cried. I wrote. I planned and I made daily lists in my gratitude journal. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was creating my own retreat and it felt good. I also reconnected with a high school friend who was two weeks behind me on her knee replacement. It was such a gift to be able to message back and forth with someone who knew exactly what I was feeling, both physically and emotionally. And I healed. I had to cancel a volunteer trip to Tanzania and a sister trip around Colorado that had to be changed to a post op week of care for me. But I’m still calling it a journey of growth and one I’m so grateful to be on. If you saw me walk across a room or go down stairs now, you’d never know I had a knee replacement 2 1/2 months ago, but I know it because it still feels strange. Not painful, but strange.

Yesterday I joined my friends on a 4.5 mile hike that is relatively flat, although the first half of the hike is spent pacing precariously around large rocks. While walking the rocky path, being very mindful, I heard my doctor’s words “don’t fall, you’ll mess your knee up and I’ll have to go in and fix it, which you won’t like…” over and over again. In the beginning, I felt like a 90 year-old woman (no offense, Mom, maybe I should say 91…), in high heels, on ice, mindful of every step. After a short while, Dr. Bowman’s words faded and I felt like my old self again, weaving in and out of the rocks in search of the dirt. I was back. I was back with the group of friends who I first met when I came to Boulder. The friends who became my tribe and made me feel connected to the town where I had moved not knowing a soul short of my daughter, my son-in-law and my two year old grandson. The sky was Colorado blue, the weather was in the 60’s and I was weaving my way in and out of conversations with everyone in the group. I was back and although not with the strength yet to tackle hikes with much elevation, being back was enough. Thankfulness. It’s an adverb, it’s a noun and today it was a verb — walking towards the flatirons in Boulder, Colorado with a group of people who I feel connected to.

Later today, I’ll have Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter and her family. I’ll miss my west coast kids but it gives me peace to know that they also will spend some time today in gratitude for their family. As the hostess for Thanksgiving for my family of origin and my children for many years, I’d always stress the importance of the “thankfulness” part of the holiday, with the never changing menu coming in second. I tried many different approaches including 3 x 5 cards that everyone wrote what they were thankful for on the cards then the cards were placed in the center of the table and read throughout the meal. No names were on the cards so we also had to guess who wrote them. We’re family. That part was easy. In all the things that were sold, given away or thrown away before my move to Boulder, somehow those cards made the journey. I found a stack of them the other day and will wrap up my thoughts on thankfulness by sharing:

I’m thankful that we’re all sitting at this table together.
I’m thankful for pumpkin pie.
I’m thankful for Grandma and Grandpa.
I’m thankful the Chiefs are playing later today.
I’m thankful for my health and every person at this table.
I’m thankful that I don’t have to do the dishes afterwards. (I’m still puzzled by that one, because no one got a pass on clean up…)
I’m thankful that Mom cooked such a nice meal. (I moved that one to the top of the stack).

Physical Therapy Peers

It helps to have a bit of a view….

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, at 9:30 am, I meet up with a group of friends. We’re not meeting for breakfast or coffee or anything that would require talking to each other. Instead, we meet at the Boulder Centre for Orthopedics. Actually, these people I’m speaking of have no idea they’ve become a part of my twice a week circle or that I’d refer to them as “friends.” It’s best that way. It started the first time I did PT on site – week 3 post op. I arrived 15 minutes early because I always arrive places 15 minutes early. I’ve still not gotten used to the fact that Boulder is a much smaller town than I’m used to and it never takes me as long as I anticipate to get from place to place. As I sat in the lobby area that held a dozen or so chairs and looked out onto the open area with exercise bikes, weights, portable steps and a reformer-like machine, I did what I always do. I people watched, which is what I call it as it doesn’t sound as rude as blatant staring. This time and place felt different from my usual “spying” because I could see that I had something in common with many people in the room, namely the ones in shorts who were exercising a new knee. Watching them, OK, spying on them, has given me the opportunity of seeing either what’s next for me in my knee journey, or taking pride in how far I’ve come when I see the new patients, still in their hospital issued, white, and terribly unattractive, support hose. If I’m close enough to see either the steri-strips or the vertical scar that runs the distance of the knee cap, I take note because we’re members of the same club.

On my first visit, I still had the stere-strips lined up over my incision and was using a cane. A month later, in the same lobby, I’m drawn to the patients that come in (in shorts) that are using a walker or a cane, also with the steri-strips evenly spaced down the long incision. I know the pain they are in and I know the fear they will experience when the compass-like measuring device comes out because I’ve been there and it wasn’t that long ago. They have become my measuring stick for how far I’ve come. It’s a necessary part of recovery because sometimes, especially on a bad day, it’s hard to remember those days of maneuvering up and down the two steps that connect my kitchen to my living room. It’s also important for me to see the patients whose knee scar is a faint line and who are doing high reps of deep squats. They are ahead of me. They are my goal.

I’m gathering information. I’m in detective mode.

A few days ago, while working on some balancing exercises with my therapist, Esther, she told me (nicely) that I needed to focus on what I was doing. I told her I agreed whole heartedly but was a bit distracted at the moment. A police officer with a shackled prisoner in an orange jump suit, were making their way to the other side of the room, passing just feet away from where we were working. I realized I was staring, full on, wide eyed and with my mouth dropped open. Esther didn’t seem to be as distracted as I was, which indicated to me she had seen this before. She stopped counting reps and explained.
“We get prisoners on occasion who need physical therapy. Usually on their hands. If a hand injury isn’t treated soon, mobility is lost.”
“How do they injure their hands,” I asked, wanting to dig into every detail of the strange and somewhat uncomfortable situation that was unfolding in front of me.“I don’t know… well, I have ideas about it… maybe from punching people?? But I can’t say for sure,” Esther answered.
The police officer and his prisoner moved to the back of the room where the prisoner sat down at a table and a therapist took her place on the opposite side. I couldn’t see what was going on, but assumed it was the hand therapy Esther had spoken of. Unfortunately, once I had completed the exercised, Esther, had me move to a different area to work and I lost my view of what was far more interesting than people limping in with canes or walkers on what I guessed were 3 week old, knees.

Yesterday, I saw a man walk into the physical therapy room with slow, measured steps. I was on the Exercycle, getting in my 30 minutes of warm up before my session when I saw him. He was wearing the hospital-issued white ted hose and was using a walker. I put him at 2 weeks out — long enough that he was driving (he was by himself) but not long enough that he could take the ted hose off. He looked like he was in pain and I knew exactly what that pain felt like. I wanted to shout out words of comfort to him, but also didn’t want to be creepy. Thankfully, someone beat me to it and casually told him as they walked past that it would get better. That person, also in shorts, with the long scar that ran vertically down his knee cap, had just finished a round of squats with his therapist. I’d put him at 2 months out. Ahead of me. I’m getting good at this.

I don’t know any of their names, nor do they know mine, but I am connected to this group because of the scars we share. I also know where they are in their journey. We all know, but it’s possible that the others aren’t as invested as I am with their spying followed by writing about it. I’ve been coming to this place for PT for a month, but it seems like a very long time ago that I was the new one in the room when I walked in for my first sesion. It was an assessment session, with no exercising, along with measuring my flexion and removing the stere-strips. That appointment opened my floodgates of emotional tears and an intimacy that my all business, not much fun therapist probably hadn’t expected. It was my last crying episode and now I spend my time trying to get Ingrid to engage with me rather than have her uncomfortably handing me a tissue. (Esther is her assistant and is much more talkative, but my sessions always begin with Ingrid.). On one of my first visits, I asked her when she thought we might have our first snow. Weather is always a good conversation starter (I’m from the midwest after all) and although I don’t care for small talk, I dove right in with my snow question. Her answer was brief and immediate.
“Depends on where you live. In the mountains, it will be sooner.”
I let it go and tried to redirect my attempts at conversation to something I thought might interest her more. I asked her if it’s hard if her patients don’t do the exercises or after a few weeks decide they don’t need to come any more. Bingo. I hit my target. For the first time, Ingrid was animated and began to share stories that confirmed my theory of the frustrations physical therapists face with some of their patients. That is what I now reach for when I’m tired of the silence as she massages my leg followed by the flexion measurement, which no longer has me bracing but instead, puts me in competitive mode as I want to beat my last measurement. For those who have gotten a knee replacement and are familiar with the measurement, I’m at 135, or about the same as my other knee. I’m thrilled. Today, I added another talking point – my Halloween costume. I described how I added my own “artificial knee” to a skeleton unitard, complete with a little stuffing to show some swelling. She loved it and insisted I get a picture of me in it and made me promise I would show it to Dr. Bowman at my next appointment, which happens to be in a few days. I figured he should get the credit, so added the tag. It could be a business booster for him.

Exaggerated size and puffed up to show swelling, but my new knee really does look like a bikini (I used my X-Ray for reference…). Card says: “Knee by: Dr. Bowman”

As I was leaving my last appointment, a very fit man came in wearing shorts, with the telltale line running down his left knee, visible, but faint. As he and his therapist were walking back to one of the rooms, I heard the therapist say,
“We always have to tell our Boulderites that a a rest day is not a bad thing. It’s important and necessary.”
I couldn’t hear his response, but assumed the therapist’s words were directed at him. I did a quick assessment of my own rehab and recovery situation, wondering if I would fall into the “typical Boulderite” category of one who is pushing their way too hard and too fast towards recovery. For one, I drove to my physical therapy appointment, and didn’t ride my bike or roller blade or skateboard or any number of ways people in my very fit town navigate their way from one place to another. No, I’m good. I do my daily walk(s), my exercises and hop on an exercise bike at the gym for 30 minutes several times a week. I also feel no guilt if I want to chuck it all and sit on my couch and watch old movies or reruns of Friends. Those days don’t happen often, but when they do, I get the ice and the pillows for elevation and embrace them, remembering the therapist’s words about rest days. I’m an obedient patient.

Class of 1973, 50 years later

Our wearable cheat sheets…

I’m several days out from my 50th high school reunion, which means I’m still in the energetic flow of conversations I had, faces I tried to remember and hugs that took me back to times when the self that I am now was still forming. I have to grab my words before the event loses its sense of urgency and life returns to my present day normal.

Spending two evenings in a roomful of people who are the same age as me and share many of the same memories, some dating back to elementary school, is powerful and becomes even more so with time. With the exception of my siblings, my cousins and my parents, there are no other people in my life that can say they “knew me when…” and that alone gives this group of 65 or 70 people a weighty connection. Some I only talk to at reunions and others, when I see them, I’m reminded of how lucky we are that our friendships are still holding strong after more than five decades. We are not the same people we were five decades ago when we walked across the floor of our overly packed high school gym in steel blue gowns and mortar boards to receive our diplomas, but those teenagers still live quietly inside of all of us. For many of us, it’s the only age we are remembered by in this group of people.

So many of the people I surrounded myself with on Friday and Saturday night hold parts of my memories that I have forgotten. They were witnesses to parts of my life that I sometimes wonder if I’m remembering correctly or if they even happened at all. They can give me clarity — where I was, who I was with and did I look happy? They are still able to confirm my presence at the party, the dance, the sleep over or waiting tables at Denny’s. They can also tell me that I wasn’t there, even though I wanted to be, so much so that my memories may have penciled me in, because I was grounded or had family obligations. Sadly, the grounding happened on a pretty regular basis in my later years of high school. I didn’t do well with rules. I also didn’t do well with being grounded and devised my own escape routes, but that’s another story for another time.

Four of us, from four different parts of the country, all stayed with Terri and her husband, Lawson, at their beautiful farm house in the suburbs of Kansas City for the weekend. Mornings drinking coffee in our pajamas at her kitchen island, quickly rolled into afternoons, still talking, still with more stories from so many years ago. We are five women who have been friends for over 55 years. It’s a gift that grows in value with each passing year. As I sat in that kitchen rehashing not only the night before, but decades ago, there were moments that I looked around the room and we were 16, not 68. Time disappeared.

For the Saturday night event, we had name tags that had our senior picture on them next to our name. Even without the reading glasses (that most of us needed), it was easier to steal a glance at a photo than try to read a name. At the Friday night event, we only had name tags that we filled out and attached, although not everyone complied, which meant for some awkward comments of “of course I remember you” when of course I didn’t. It felt like an appropriate time to lie.

I saw a classmate who I easily recognized even though I hadn’t seen him since the last reunion 10 years ago. I approached him, called out his name and came in for the hug. He responded appropriately then discretely began to move his head to the side like he was looking for something — the something being the rectangular white badge I had affixed to my shirt with my name written on it in bold black ink.
“ You don’t know who I am, do you?” I asked him.
When he was close enough to read my name tag he said my name out-loud with surprise and gave me a big hug. There was more grace in not remembering or recognizing classmates at the 50 year reunion than at past reunions. After all, 50 years is a long time and very few of us looked like we did in high school. I had brown hair at the last reunion for starters. There were a few who hadn’t changed, or aged it seemed, but unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask those few exceptions about their skin care regimens during our brief time together. Time was short. Too short.

These people, some of them friends since my early grade school days, hold parts of the stories I’ve lost and I do the same for them. For the most part, none of it matters as it’s been such a long time, but to have a touchstone to my past that is as real as the person in front of me is a gift of time that I cherish and the reason I’ve made it to every reunion so far. I came close to almost missing this reunion though and was still on the fence four days before the Friday night event. I would only be one month out from a total knee replacement the weekend the reunion was scheduled. When I told my doctor I was hoping to go to my reunion at four weeks out, and make the nine hour drive as I knew it would be too soon to fly due to the risk of blood clots, he was apprehensive. He gave me one of those “let’s wait and see” answers, which I learned growing up usually meant no. He doesn’t know me though or how hard I will work towards a goal of something I want. I had an appointment the Tuesday before the reunion weekend and he told me he was amazed with my determination and setting my sights on my 50th reunion had worked. He said it was a go, told me to have fun and not forget to elevate and ice when I had the chance. As he was leaving the room, he turned around and asked me how many years on the reunion. I proudly told him 50, then realized how old that sounded. 50 is a big number and even bigger when talking reunions. We’re past middle age, but not ready to claim “old” or “elderly,” which is more in line with my parents. We don’t know what to call ourselves.

I’m home now, after taking two days to make the nine hour drive, to make the journey a little easier on my knee. I’m usually a barrel through, eat in the car kind of road tripper (ask anyone who has ridden right seat with me), but this time I was forced to slow down and stop every hour and a half to walk around. Given that it was pouring rain for most of the journey, a lot of those walks were through truck stops, the bigger the better. I was wandering up and down the aisles with shelves lined with camo gear for so long that one of the employees asked me if he could help me find something. I told him no. I was just browsing. I looked suspicious. Who browses up and down each aisle for 15 minutes in the hunting section of a truck stop?

My house that is almost always quiet, seems exceptionally quiet now. Unlike the two nights I spent staying up until after 1:00, I was tucked in by 8:00 on the night I got home. Granted, it was 9:00 central time, but it was still early. I was exhausted and my knee was not happy with me. I apologized to Rhoda (my new knee) and reassured her I’d be more mindful of her care once home.

I miss my high school friends. There is a fragility that lingers long past the goodbyes while wondering what the next 10 years will bring. Or are we at the point, given that we’re 68 years old, that the space between reunions should be shortened? The poster with the 60 plus names of classmates who had passed was hard to look at and hard for me to take my eyes off of. We are all the same age. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wondered who in that room Saturday night would be added to the list of names on the poster the next reunion. Reunions are a rare visual of the passage of time and it seems like the accelerator pedal is being pushed a little harder than I’m comfortable with.

When I was 14, Terri, who was hosting me all weekend, gave me a journal. It was larger than the typical journal with 8×10 pages and a black cover with gold embossed trim. It was by far the fanciest journal I owned or had ever seen for that matter. On the inside cover she wrote, “Blank pages await your inspiration. I remember being very moved by her gesture. She knew I wrote and I’m sure I shared some of my work with her (bad poetry that makes me cringe), but it was her seeing and acknowledging something inside of me that had begun to percolate, that was so touching. I filled every page of the journal that resides in a trunk packed to the brim with other notebooks and journals filled with essays and letters. When people talk about what they’d grab in a fire, I think of myself hoisting the large trunk down 28 steps, hopefully with a knee that is stronger than it is today. Before I left on Sunday, she gave me a journal she bought for me a while ago but had forgotten to give to me. Just like the one she gave me 50 plus years ago, this one will also be filled in time. It is just one of the countless threads of connection I was reminded of throughout the weekend. Threads that have woven themselves into my beautiful tapestry of life, one memory and one row at a time. I added a few rows to that tapestry this past weekend. The colors may not be as bold as they were 50 years ago and you may have to move in closer to see the true beauty, but it’s still there in all of its glory. Row after row, memory after memory. “Blank pages await your inspiration” — for living, for writing, for life. I’m still holding onto those words.

To all of my classmates who had a hand in shaping the person I am today and showed up in person so I could hug you and share memories with you, thank you. You are my “I knew you when…” friends and that, holds a lot of weight… more with every passing year.

Left Knee, Part 3

Rhoda’s first portrait (she’s the one that looks a little brighter and shinier than the other one…)

Three and a half weeks ago, I was resting comfortably in the pre-op bed under a heated blanket with my sisters and my daughter seated across the room from me. I remember commenting on how “spa-like” the experience was given the heated blanket. The nurse told me to let her know when the blanket loses its heat and she’d bring me another one, then added that the “spa-like” feeling would be short term. Unlike a spa, I had an IV in my arm and instead of the gentle sounds of nature being piped into the background, I heard doctors being paged. And I was afraid. Afraid because I knew what to expect and the warnings of “it will be painful and the recovery is long and difficult,” were hard to dismiss. (The “warning,” by the way, came directly from my doctor). My left leg was marked with an “X” to indicate it was the knee that was getting “replaced” and below the “X” was my doctor’s signature. Every one who entered the room first asked my name, my birthday and which knee was to be operated on before introducing themselves. I know it was protocol but it became almost comical. I couldn’t help but think about what my 4 year-old granddaughter had asked me a few days before my surgery.
“What if they saw the wrong knee off?”
I told her they check and double check to make sure it’s the right knee before they do any “sawing.”

My doctor had come in briefly and went over the timeline with me, answered my questions and said he’d return when it was surgery time. He wasn’t wearing the usual blue scrubs I was expecting, but instead, had on biking shorts and a tee shirt that looked like it had seen better days. His hair was smashed and misshapen on one side, I’m guessing from the bike helmet. I asked him, jokingly, if he had ridden his bike over and he said he had, but only from a nearby surgery center. Given that this is Boulder where the athleticism is constantly surprising me, that other hospital could have been in Denver.

And now here I sit, 3 1/2 weeks later, on my couch, with my legs not stretched out, not in a massaging ice cuff, but rather, in an 80 degree angle with my feet on the floor. It won’t last very long because it’s still uncomfortable, but for now, I’m sitting like most of the world sits and am feeling pretty proud of the position.

I never knew about knee flexion degrees or angles until a few days after surgery when a physical therapist came to my house and got out her measuring device — a device I would become very familiar with. The oversized protractor, that took me back to my elementary school days and trying to remember which math device was the protractor and which was the compass, now indicates to me that discomfort is coming. When I realized the angle was going to be measured every PT visit, I became competitive (with myself) and would push to get my knee to bend just a tiny bit more than I thought possible. I’ve been told I will probably never have the extension I used to, which would be bringing my heel to touch my backside as in a quad stretch exercise, but I’ll be close. It’s hard to hear things I’ll possibly never be able to do again and I hadn’t given it a thought until the first physical therapist I worked with mentioned that 50% of knee replacement patients can no longer kneel. Really? What if I was Catholic? I’m not, but what if?? What about yoga poses that begin in a kneeling position? She also told me there would be a handful of sports I’d need to give up — basketball, soccer, pickle ball and running for sport. I’m good with that given that none of them are sports I participate in, and as far as the pickle ball goes, I will now have a valid excuse for turning down the many invites I’ve gotten. And one more — skiing moguls. Unless I want to come back in because my replacement has worn out, I’ve been told to stay away from the bumps on the mountains when skiing. I don’t care about any of those things but when you’re told you should never do something again, I’m suddenly interested in women’s soccer leagues and moguls and the Boulder Marathon that was this past weekend. Of course these are activities I never would have taken part in before, but hearing that they are no longer an option if I want to maintain a healthy joint makes me feel like I’m missing out. Even the kneeling, that I may no longer be able to do, is now suddenly appealing to me. There is weight in the word “never.”

My emotions the past three weeks have run the gamut. I’ve been thrilled with my success, discouraged that I’m not further in my recovery, proud that according to the PT’s I’m so far ahead of the game that “if it was a race, you’d be on the other side of the finish line while others are still tying their shoes,” yet discouraged because it still hurts. I’m trying to be patient. I’m trying to give the pain free moments the same amount of time as the ones with pain. I’m trying.

Last week, I went to my first PT session away from my home and I drove. Small victories. Before starting any exercises, my physical therapist had me lay on the table and began removing the steri-strips that had been placed over the incision that was joined with glue. Although it had been three weeks, it still felt like the small line of steri-strips were what was holding both sides of the incision together. I questioned removing them so soon. Ingrid, my therapist, reassured me that the “cement had hardened” and the strips were no longer needed. I couldn’t see what she was doing but still felt uncomfortable with what she was doing.
“I think it’s going to bleed,” I said. As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew how ridiculous they sounded. I thought about my 4 year-old granddaughter who walked into my house a few days earlier barefoot, because she likes shoes but hates wearing them, and noticed she had a bloody big toe. I asked her what happened and did she need a bandaid? Did it hurt? Was she OK? She calmly glanced down to her her toe and said,
“Oh this? Yea. It’s fine.”
She’s 4. Be like Muna, I thought to myself while I braced myself on the table.

Ingrid reassured me that it would not bleed then gave me a towel to put over my face to give me further separation from what she was doing. When she finished, she reassured me that no tourniquets were needed (a sense of humor is a bonus for physical therapists), and she was finished and although I didn’t need to look at it at that moment, eventually I would have to look at my leg. I had shorts on (as requested) so it was hard not to see the 7 inch scar that now divided the center of my leg into halves. Tears started flowing because that seems to be what I do now when I see physical therapists. Ingrid asked me if it hurt. Not physically, I answered, but it no longer looked like my leg. I’m not familiar with my new leg and for some reason it’s making me sad. She nodded and gave me the box of Kleenex from a nearby table and we proceeded with the exercises. In between exercises she stopped, looked at me and said,
“It’s probably a good thing you didn’t go into the medical field… you know, with the whole bleeding thing and all…”
Ingrid is serious and focused, and doesn’t say much, but what she does say makes me smile.
“Yea, I’d have my eyes closed too much to be good in the medical field,” I confirmed.

I couldn’t help but think about what a friend had told me regarding her first PT appointment and how she sobbed the entire time, not really knowing why. Maybe her telling me that had freed me up for doing the same. It’s sure easier than holding back the tears. Another friend who had gone through a knee replacement a few months earlier told me not forget the emotional aspect of a knee replacement, even though the physical part is the part that gets all the attention. I didn’t really understand what she meant when she told me that just days after my surgery, but I do now as I’m trying to find ease and comfort with something that isn’t either. Ingrid told me that as much as I’m getting used to the new knee, the new knee is also getting used to me. And that’s when I named her. If I’m going to have this part of my body tag along with me for the rest of my life, the least I can do is try to become more familiar with her and giving her a name felt like a good start. Her name is Rhoda. It came to me instantly, but there could be a lot of reasons for her name. First off, the character in the Mary Tyler Moore show, who was my favorite — the outspoken, bohemian, free-spirited woman who lived upstairs — the character who I felt I had a better chance being like than Mary, the star of the show. And secondly, rodilla is knee in Spanish, and I always love giving the language I’ve spent so much time trying to learn some recognition. And so I named her Rhoda.

Before I left the physical therapist office, my therapist’s assistant, Esther, said something about a client she had come in right before me and I thought she said her name was Samantha. When I asked what body part Samantha was working on, Esther quickly corrected me and said,
“Oh that’s not the patient’s name. It’s her new shoulder’s name.”
I’m right in line with Rhoda. Given that I see my physical therapists twice a week for at least a few months, I need to make sure they are both properly introduced to Rhoda. They may also offer her apologies in advance for the pain they might inflict during future appointments.

And so my journey continues… days are slow, weeks are faster. I’d much rather be writing about walking adventures in other countries and my discoveries encountered along the way, but instead, I’ll continue to record the journey of the hinge in the center of my left leg that is forging its own trails as it learns to bend. It’s not as exciting as the walks I’ve written about for so many of the past Septembers and Octobers, but trust me, it’s every bit as hard as an 18 miles day climbing uphill, with a head wind in the Pyrenees. Just not as scenic.

Discoveries through pain

I’ve had plenty of time to think during the past week — in the pre-op room waiting for surgery, in the recovery room waiting for a hospital bed, in the hospital bed waiting to go home and now, on my make-shift couch bed waiting for the day I can tackle the 18 steps up to my bedroom. It’s been a long, painful, insightful and productive journey that has included far more than my knee getting replaced, although it’s the knee that’s getting the most attention because it’s the loudest. In the trauma of my bandaged and swollen leg that is a variety of colors, the dominant being navy blue, an unexpected lens has formed that has allowed me to witness something that extends far beyond the physical. I’ve been given the honor, and yes, I say honor even though I’m still counting the hours until the next pain pill, of observing parts of my physical journey that don’t hurt when I walk, or stand, or bend my leg. I’m a week and two days out, but already am seeing the unexpected depth of the gift I’ve been given. It didn’t come without pain or tears, but it’s here and I’m accepting it. It’s me standing at the top of a difficult ski run, afraid to go down. Walking into a party where everyone is coupled up but me. Traveling alone to a developing country to volunteer, not knowing what I’ll be met with on the other side. It’s having to ask for help. It’s feeling vulnerable and afraid. It’s fear. It’s pain. It’s a fear of pain. And it’s come in unexpected doses at times I didn’t expect. It is patience, humility, surrender, compromise and the biggest of all, love. They are all gifts — the new knee and the pain that came with it, included.

I’m learning to be patient with myself, during one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever encountered. There are physical movements that I didn’t give a thought to a week ago that I cannot do today, such as lift my leg while laying down. Even a quarter of an inch is too much. As I laid on the couch trying to follow my physical therapists directions without success, I started to cry. The therapist asked me if the pain was too much and I told her no, it wasn’t the pain. I just couldn’t do what she was asking. This, from the girl who had some of the highest kicks in drill team and up until last week, could still do the splits on both sides with ease. And now I couldn’t lift my leg even a millimeter off the couch. She touched my arm gently, told me to take a few breaths and relax. I did as she asked, while tears streamed down my cheeks. She told me that even though my leg hadn’t moved, the muscles had engaged and for now, one week post-op, that was enough. There was a lot of letting go that went on while I stared at the ceiling and cried. It was something I never would have done a week ago. Crying, that is. In front of someone I had only met a few minutes earlier. I’m good at holding in emotions that may make others uncomfortable, but not now. I’m learning that part of self care is listening to what my body needs and if that means to stop holding onto the lump in my throat and let the tears flow, then that is exactly what I’ll do.

Two days ago, an occupational therapist sat in my living room in a chair that faced my couch bed with my large coffee table in-between us. As she was talking about the finer points of self care, I noticed that right next to the patient care folder she had sat down, were the underwear I had worn the previous day, or maybe the day before. Without apologies or explanations or attempts at reaching for the small navy and white striped heap, I redirected my attention to what she was saying about self care, which was about letting go of the need for perfection and holding onto what is, even if it happens to be a pair of yesterday’s underwear on the coffee table. Self care isn’t just about feeding myself good, nutritious food and getting rest and exercise. It’s also about finding grace in the spot where I have landed, no apologies necessary.

One thing about anesthesia that is difficult is that you can try as hard as you want to recall what happened while you were under, but it is impossible. The part of your brain that is in charge of remembering is temporarily shut down with the anesthesia (my boiled down, non-scientific version from what I’ve heard and read), and hard as you try, the pieces to the puzzle will not fit, because you will never have enough of them to form a clear picture. I know the urge to recall the faces, the conversations and the order of things will eventually fade, but for now, I’m still trying to establish my timeline, missing pieces and all. What I do remember was being seated at the edge of a gurney and bending over at the waist in a cold, very bright room while an attractive doctor put the needle in my spine for the spinal block. I remember seeing the unusually large gold band on his left hand and wondered if he should be wearing jewelry while putting needles in people’s backs. The next thing I heard was my doctor telling me to open my eyes and that all had gone well. He said I’d be taken to the recovery room where they’d monitor my vital signs until I could be taken to a hospital room, where I’d be reunited with my daughter and sisters. I did better this time under anesthesia than I had 18 years earlier before a procedure when I spoke out during that brief moment of feeling warm and cushy before the lights went out. I invited my doctor to my 50th birthday party and told him he was handsome (I was newly divorced). I only know this because a nurse told me, which made me laugh and want to hide at the same time. I don’t remember inviting my orthopedic surgeon to a party or telling him he’s handsome, although it would not have been a lie. Or at least as far as I know, I didn’t. I do remember talking up the Oregon Coast on my way to recovery, though, which looking back feels much safer than birthday party invitations or blatant flirting under anesthesia. After being taken into the recovery room, I remember crying, not because of pain but instead it was an emotional release. The surrender felt both freeing and comforting. Holding on is hard. Letting go felt like floating and floating feels like the best option when everything else is hard.

Self sufficiency.
My sisters were with me for the first week and my daughter has checked in with me at least twice a day since they left. Although I had help and many offers of help, there was an element of self sufficiency that I needed and craved. My great idea to bring hot food from the microwave to the table using my desk chair on wheels as both a transport device and a walker did not impress my occupational therapist. Instead, I got a strong “ABSOLUTELY NOT” and a solution that involved closable containers and my backpack. Mealtime has me carrying my food in a backpack while my walker takes me from one part of the kitchen to the other. I’ve inserted the tiniest bit of adventure into my meal times. Coffee and any other beverage are also carried in the pack in mason jars with lids. My daughter, Emery, is often here at mealtime, but it’s nice to know I can accomplish this task solo if need be.

I’ve been going through a lot of ice for the cooling/compression sleeve that I wear on my leg whenever I’m resting or sleeping. A couple of my friends brought over a Yeti cooler that my sisters filled with bags of ice along with a bucket that I can take the water out of the cooling device and replace it with the ice, a few times a day. Finding ice the day after a winning college football team’s home game (CU), I have learned is almost impossible and once found, quantities you can buy are limited to two bags, regardless if it’s to ice down a keg or a new knee. I hope it’s an away game next weekend. On top of the cooler I have a pair of scissors and a hammer. Everything I need. Again, I have help when I need it but self sufficiency feels good.

I think we remember what we need to remember post surgery — the stuff that matters. While the nurse put my pre-surgery IV in, I remember looking to the side of the room and seeing my two sisters and my daughter seated next to each other… my line up of love. I was scared and the trio of women just feet away could sense that because I can’t hide anything from them. They know me as well as I know myself. Emery said I’d be OK, or something to that effect, but it was what she said to me after those words that stuck and I held onto as they rolled me into surgery.
“You are one of the strongest people I know.”
When I hit the wall with the pain or felt afraid in the hospital room in the middle of the night, those words — you are one of the strongest people I know, echoed in my mind giving me comfort. My sister’s embraces before they left the prep room then my daughter’s embrace and good bye are the parts of the story I remember —the parts I want to hold on to with every fiber of my being because they are the parts that matter—that are necessary.

I remember snippets. Snippets that make me cry. Snippets that make me laugh. Emery’s hug before they wheeled me off for surgery, my sisters setting their alarms to check on me every 3 hours the first few nights after I got home and touching my cheek with their hand before leaving the room. I was asleep, but awake enough to feel their presence. Drugs are a strange thing. Robin told the occupational therapist yesterday how hard the first few nights were and she and Susan would get me tucked into my couch bed and would give me my meds then say their goodnights. Robin said when she looked back the first night she saw tears streaming down my cheeks. All those emotions, finding their way through my physical body, mingling in with my emotional body and landing on my cheeks. I felt so cared for, so loved. How could I not sob?

Susan, found the quilt my Grandma made me when I was a child with many of the blocks made from leftover fabric from dresses she made for either me or my sisters when we were young. It’s well-loved and frayed in spots, but the powers of my Grandma’s love still remain in its fibers and having it lay across my body when I sleep feels like a hug. A lot of the pain I’m feeling now is similar, but stronger, to the leg aches of growing pains I experienced as a child. For some reason, I remember having them often while staying at my Grandma and Papa’s house. Thinking about Grandma tucking me into a small bed, likely shared with a sister, while rubbing my aching legs is a thread of connection I savor. These are the tiny moments that matter and are remembered.

During the occupational therapist’s first visit, the one with my underwear on the coffee table, Emery happened to be at my house when she arrived. She stood behind the couch where I was sitting with my legs stretched out in front of me and began to gently braid my hair while we both listened to the therapist’s words regarding self care. It took me a few moments before I realized what she was doing, taking me back to the days I would French braid her hair but never with the same success she had when she did it herself. She was too young to wash her hair and hated combing it, but she could French braid it like a pro. I was often complimented on my braiding skills, but had to redirect the compliments to my young daughter who was the one with the mad hair skills. Not me. I thought about that moment later that evening while working my way through pain. Emery braided my hair.

Love can be straightforward, quiet, soft, beautiful and unexpected and sometimes it can unwashed hair lovingly arranged into a braid.

Left Knee, Part Two

I’m not mad at you. I just wanted to get that out ahead of the anesthesia and the power tools. Really. I’m not mad at you. You’ve gotten me through 68 years, many of them with far more miles and elevation than I would have ever predicted. The Camino (3 times), The Dingle Way (2 times), five 14ers and countless trails in Colorado, the Adirondacks, The Berkshires, Lake Tahoe, Alaska, Oregon, California, Peru, Argentina, Bhutan, Nepal and a whole lot of other places. And that’s not counting the stuff that no one cares about like bedrooms on 2nd floors, elevators that didn’t work, apartments without elevators and simply making my way from one side of the room to the other, first by crawling on hands and knees, then on wobbly legs and finally walking without thinking about it, upright and with confidence, the audience and outstretched arms gone.

You hung in there, probably longer than I should have let you, but I thought I could fix you without going under a surgeon’s knife (or power tools). I educated myself. I read about procedures, equipment, oils and potions, crossing my fingers that I’d find the solution. I didn’t want to succumb and follow what over 2 million people a year do because I didn’t want to feel like I had failed and was taking the “easy way” out, even though I’ve been forewarned that there is no “easy” in this solution that many say is over used.

I wasn’t ready to take a part out of my body that I was born with and replace it with something that was made in a factory and sold to doctors by representatives who leave shiny brochures behind for their patients. After multiple appointments with a handful of orthopedic surgeons over the course of a decade or so, I realized it was finally time and the right exercise, machine, brace or magic potion oil was not going to be my answer. Maybe I bought myself some time with these carefully researched remedies.. You, my dear old lefty, have reached the end of this trail. For the first time in my life, I have started thinking about the loss of a body part and it makes me sad in an odd sort of way. Not to steal your thunder, but you will not be my first body part to be removed. You will, however, be the first one to be replaced. My list is growing starting with my tonsils at age four then my right kidney 17 years later along with a rib that was in the way and finally my uterus. I don’t remember the date on the uterus, but watched Princess Diana’s funeral from a hospital bed. Your presence in my body will be replaced and maybe that’s why I’m feeling more of an emotional connection to the loss. Granted, I was four when the tonsils came out and knew little more than the ice cream I was promised when I woke up and with the removal of my kidney, my only concern was how awful the scar would look when I wore a bikini. The uterus, although necessary, was more emotional and left me with dreams of being pregnant but because I didn’t have a uterus, I had to carry the fetus in a basket. It wasn’t convenient because I couldn’t ever set it down and explanations were difficult. The dreams continued off and on for years then stopped. Possibly coinciding with menopause. But you… you will be replaced, unlike the tonsils, the kidney or the uterus. I will have a new left knee.

My almost four-year-old granddaughter asked me if I got to keep the old one. I told her no. I’d get a new one and the old one would be left behind. She also asked me if I got to choose what color I wanted and suggested pink because that is her favorite color. I wonder what it would be like if when leaving the hospital you got to exit with what you came in with, removed body part and all. They technically belong to you, right? I think about the nurse handing over the discharge papers and instructions along with a small bag with the removed body part inside, probably marked with the bio hazard sign. There was one body part I inquired about keeping and it was the one I didn’t know would be coming out. My rib. The pesky rib that was in the way. I asked my doctor if it had been saved. I thought it could be polished up and made into something interesting like part of a hair clip or an artifact with my own history that would sit on a shelf waiting for questions. My doctor said no. Several years later, when I was living in Alaska, I found some caribou antlers that I sawed into pieces — the larger end making napkin rings and the smaller made graduated sizes of buttons. After a lot of sanding and polishing, they looked like marble. I’m guessing my rib could have looked similar. Again, I was 21.

No offense, but I don’t want to keep you, and it’s not an option anyway, much to my granddaughter’s dismay. There was a time though, that it must have been an easy option because at age four, which seemed to be the going age for tonsil removal, my friend kept her tonsils. They floated in a jar in some sort of liquid and sat on a shelf in her room. I felt cheated, even at the tender age of four, that mine hadn’t been saved and weren’t on display. They seemed too small for something that had been causing so much trouble in our four-year-old throats. But still, I remember that mason jar with the two white floating lumps as much as I remember my sore throat and the endless bowls of ice cream.

I feel like I should name you, but it seems like a thin gesture to name something a few days before you’re going to get rid of it. But, if I did have to give you a name, it would have to be a word that means resilient and strong, which of course are the adjectives that the rest of my physical self became in dealing with you, no offense intended. My sister, Susan, would say the knee issues started long before I’ve admitting now — as far back as 15 years ago when we were hiking a trail in Patagonia with four other women when our guide, James, asked me if I’d like to use a hiking pole?
“A hiking pole? Why?” I asked.
He told me it looked like I was protecting my left knee. I had no idea. And so I used the pole and realized that maybe he was right and taking the weight off that knee (40 pounds per pole he told me) did seem to help. On day one of a big week of hiking, I was reluctant to admit that it hurt. Maybe that was your first whisper to me that things were starting to go south.

You’ve given me a good run, both literally and figuratively and if the joint wasn’t covered up with skin, maybe I’d take my granddaughter, Muna’s suggestion and ask for pink. Pink is one of those colors that looks pretty but is secretly stronger than people realize.

You’re not coming home with me — in a bag or a box or floating in a jar of liquid.  Instead,  I’ll say my goodbyes  and offer my thanks.  You’ve served me well, Lefty.

September 12th, again, but different…

My left knee.

Last year, on September 12th, I began walking the Dingle Way in Ireland with my sister, Susan.  It was the same route we walked in 2019, also starting on September 12th.  On the same day in 2021, I was hiking in Eldorado Canyon with my Boulder friends and the year before that, I was shoveling six inches of snow from a “this rarely happens”  snow storm in Boulder.  September 12th has unintentionally become an important date for me.  All three of the Camino walks I did started on September 12th, as well as a trip to Bhutan and Nepal and a 2020 trip to walk in the Burgundy region of France, which was cancelled due to Covid.   This September 12th,  I won’t be getting on a plane.  I won’t be walking new trails or revisiting familiar ones.  Instead, my adventure will be replacing one of my body parts.   I will be getting a new left knee.  I’d rather be headed out for a 500-mile Camino walk or even a 3-mile walk to anywhere at this point, but I suppose it’s all the walks that started on this auspicious date that have played a role in wearing old lefty out.  She’s shot.  And I’m replacing her with a new and improved model.  

It’s not the experience I thought I’d be writing about this fall, but I decided it would be remiss of me to skip over thisjourney because that is exactly what it is, a journey.  It was hardly what I expected and I’d choose packing bags and making reservations over poring over pages of information about “what I can expect,” but the process of this is upheaval of plans has become my teacher. I’ve learned that adventures don’t always involve airplane flights, packing bags or new trails.  This adventure has become an unplanned journey into parts of myself that go beyond the hinge in the center of my leg that allows it to bend.  It also put into place a sad list of cancellations, including a volunteer trip in Tanzania and a wedding in Utah.  I can reschedule Tanzania, but am sad I won’t be able to attend the wedding of the daughter of dear friends of mine.

September 12th is still a few days away, but the adventure began in mid June while I was on the east coast visiting my sister, Susan.  We hiked in the Adirondacks and lefty was strong enough that I was able to revisit Rooster Comb, which I’ve wanted to do since I last hiked it ten years ago. I needed to know if it was as hard as I recalled.  Was it?  Yes, it was challenging, but my memories have painted a much more difficult hike over the years.  Or maybe, (and this is the explanation I prefer to go with),   I’ve gotten stronger.  When we got back to Susan’s home in the Berkshires, I had to cancel the hike we were going on the next day because in my heart of hearts I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace of her fellow hikers.  My knee hurt.  I had dealt with a little pain here and a little there for years, but was always able to work around it and hike to my heart’s content.  This felt different.  With all the  “a little pain here and a little pain there” that’s been going on for over a decade, I’ve slowly been inching my way to the edge and the cancellation of a relatively easy hike was me hitting the proverbial wall with my left knee leading the charge.  Time was up.  I visited a recommended orthopedic surgeon when I got home, knowing what he’d say, only this time I lingered on his words “bone on bone, it won’t get better.” Having tried several remedies that included stem cell and hyaluronic acid injections, acupuncture, physical therapy, massage therapy and a few potions and lotions out of desperation,  I knew it was time to get out my calendar and book a date.  My last hope was a cortisone injection, which I was told could give me up to nine months of relief or possibly not work at all.  I hung onto the nine months of relief  and waited hopefully until a week had passed and I called the doctor and asked how long it would be before the shot would begin to work?   I got my answer.  It hadn’t worked.  Unfortunately, I was one of the unlucky few.  Before I was given the injection, my doctor told me there was one caveat.  If it didn’t work, I wouldn’t be able to have surgery for twelve weeks.  I didn’t give the twelve weeks a second thought as I knew it would work, but I did ask if it would hurt.  He gave me a curious look and responded,

“You are dealing with bone on bone pain with your knee and you’re asking if the shot will hurt??  No.  It won’t hurt.”

I was lucky to have my friend, Jane, along for that appointment.  She’s been through  knee replacement surgery before and worked as a medical attorney before retiring a few years ago.  She asked questions I hadn’t even considered.  All I could think to ask was how long before I can hike, how long before I can get on an airplane and how much will it hurt?  I was also wondering about the scar, but kept the vanity questions to myself.  

According to the calendar, twelve weeks after the injection fell on September 12th, which also happened to be the day after my two sisters would be coming out for a visit.  I hated to trade in hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and a week-long road trip through my beautiful state for surgery and post surgery care, but it seemed to be a lucky coincidence.  My travel companions would become my home health care providers. 

A few days ago,  I was sorting out final plans on FaceTime with my sisters when Susan burst into laughter for no apparent reason.  Robin and I both asked her what was so funny and she said,

“I just had a vision…Robin and I in her Honda driving across western Kansas and eastern Colorado with a walker, a cane and a raised toilet seat in the back seat and wedged in between the equipment, our knitting.”  (Robin happens to have a friend who has a garage filled with much needed post surgery equipment and is a generous lender). 

She was right to burst out into laughter.  My how times have changed.  Normally, there would have been hiking boots and poles or snow shoes in the winter, and way back in the day, when it was legal in some states, a cooler of beers to enjoy along the way.  My two sisters, hauling equipment in the back seat of the car that will help me move across the room and trading in their Colorado vacation to come to my aid, makes me smile.  They might as well speed on their journey west.  No highway patrol officer, after seeing what they’re carrying in the back seat, would dare give them a speeding ticket.

During the time in June when I made my first hiking cancellation due to pain up until last week, my life has looked very different.  I’m not hiking and because of that, I’m not seeing my hiking friends, or at least not as often as I used to.  Instead, I have made it my summer of travel and discovery.  I drove to Santa Fe for a few nights, ate dinner alone (as noted in a previous post) and meandered my way home with an impromptu stop in Taos for a night.  I liked being in my car with little to no plans, making up my route as I went along.  It felt good.  It felt free.  I savored the “out on the open road” mentality,  although I doubt Jack Kerouac would use those words, but still… 

A few weeks later,  I traveled to Kansas City to celebrate my Dad’s 95th birthday then to LA to see my LA kids, followed by a trip to up the west coast to see my Portland kids, which included a few nights at the moody Oregon coast that fills my soul.  I rounded off the summer with a trip to Rhode Island to celebrate my birthday with Susie,  the girl I’ve called my best friend since I was 15-years-old.  It’s been a good summer.  I’ve missed the hiking and seeing my friends on the trails a few times a week, but these past few months have reminded me that the journey needs to hold as much weight as the destination.  Often, that’s where the jewels are found, but you have to be going slow enough to catch their sparkle.

This four inch area in the middle of my leg has become my teacher these past few months. I’ve learned humility, vulnerability and honesty with my impaired abilities and am working on patience.  Recently,  I’ve become strangely in search of vertical scars that run the length of a stranger’s knee cap,  because I’m both curious and nosey.  I never noticed or gave a thought to this before.  If I note a scar, my attention is then is redirected to their gait.  Is the owner of the scar limping?  Do they appear to be in pain?  In a town as physically active as Boulder, the amount of vertical scars running down knee caps is far more common than I would have predicted and not all of them have silver hair.  So far, all have had a healthy gait and none seem to be writhing in pain.  I’m holding on to that as a good sign.  

Along with the travel this summer, I’ve been “pre-habbing” my knee with daily trips to my rec center for the stationary bike and weight machines along with daily exercises to strengthen my legs.  I’ve been told all the work on the front end will make for an easier and faster recovery.   Those words alone have off set some of the “it’s not going to be easy” remarks from not only my doctor, but everyone I know who has had a knee replacement or knows someone who has.  

My 50 year high school reunion is one month and a few days post op so have a goal.  When I say 50 year reunion, it is with a gasp followed by a shake of my head because seriously, how in the world could it have been that long since I graduated from high school?  When we’re all together after so many years, we will, without planning, become 17-year-olds again and the roles will come back like it was yesterday.   Goals.  I certainly wouldn’t have guessed three months ago they would include going to my 50th high school reunion without a walker.

This is phase one of my journey and chapter one of sharing my adventure.  Somehow adding the word “adventure” makes it seem less awful.  There will be more of this to follow.

Returning to Beginnings

A good spot to meet friends.

A few weeks ago I accepted my neighbor’s invitation to a party at his house.    It was the same house,  but different owners, where I had gone to a New Year’s Eve party a few months after I moved to Boulder.   I had met Ann while shoveling my front sidewalk, our houses only separated by one house.  She told me she was shoveling our neighbor’s walk also, something that the first on up did given that the distance between the houses is so short.  A few weeks later there was an invitation in my mailbox for her and her husband, Robert’s New Year’s Eve party. She told me it was an annual event in the neighborhood and because her husband was Scottish, they rang in the New Year at 3:00 pm,  midnight in Scotland.   It was my first invite since my arrival to Boulder and I was thrilled. On December 31, 2019, with the late afternoon sun pouring through the windows,  I raised my glass to the new year, while thinking what a good year it would be.  Even the number seemed lucky — 2020.  Of course little did I know.  Little did anyone know.  

On that New Year’s afternoon, I spent a lot of time conversing with a woman who happened to share my love of hiking and had all sorts of trails and trips to share with me. I felt a strong need to seize the moment with this new found, almost friend, and make sure we had a roughed-in plan for a hike in the near future before we parted ways.  My behavior reminded me of the summer I rented a condo in the mountains for two months and not knowing a soul went into the bookstore, met the owner and was determined not to leave the store until we had a some semblance of a friendship in the making.  The word desperate comes to mind and that afternoon, I was claiming it again. I was at a New Year’s Eve party where I only knew one person and wondered what I’d do when the clock struck 3:00 and the kissing began. I started thinking about my exit plan as soon as I arrived. The front door would be the easiest way to sneak out as everyone was gathered in the kitchen at the back of the house. Every time I’d eye the front door, I’d tell myself I had to stay a little longer, at least until we rang in the New Year.   I felt like the new kid on the first day of school or the insecure girl at a Junior High dance who felt like a brown shoe amidst a sea of strappy patent leather.  My sense of awareness as to my presence and its awkwardness was heightened while I navigated the discomforts of “where should I stand?  Am I acting too eager?  And is it too soon to reload my plate?”  And then I found the woman who liked to hike so parked myself right next to her with determination and a plan. Our conversation ended when the clock struck 3:00 and we all clinked glasses of scotch. I didn’t have an invite to hike. I had lost my momentum, but that was OK. I had stayed at the party until the stroke of 3:00 and felt proud of myself for that.

Six months later, while in the throes of covid isolation, the New Year’s hostess, Ann, texted me and invited me to dinner. She told me she felt we had just started to get to know each other at the party and she wanted to be sure our friendship continued. She also reassured me that the dinner would be “covid safe” and we’d eat socially distanced and outside. When I arrived, through the alley and not the front door as instructed, I saw two set tables on opposite ends of the covered back porch — one with two settings for her and Robert, and the other with a single setting for me. She told me she cooked our meals in separate cookware and wore a mask the entire time. It was a lovely, yet odd dinner. Except for when we were eating, we left our masks on, only lowering them to sip our wine. Hearing the conversation was difficult not only because of the masks, but because we were seated so far from each other. As I was walking home, two doors down and through the alley, I thought about the effort Ann had put into insuring the dinner was safe. It had to be the most gracious, generous and kind dinner party I had ever been to. A year later, they moved to Winter Park and short of a few texts, we are no longer in touch. The new owners, who have been there for almost two years, were the ones who invited me to their party a few weeks ago. I was flattered by the invitation as I don’t know the couple well, short of seeing them pass by my house on walks or texts between us sharing information regarding a fencing company he shared with me. I gladly accepted the invitation, mostly out of curiosity to see the changes, if any, they had made to the house.

When I arrived, the house and porch were crowded with people, most at least ten years younger than me. I only knew Matthew and wasn’t even sure which one was his wife. I reminded myself that in all fairness, they both travel internationally for extended amounts of time for their jobs so are gone a lot. As I stood on the porch, that had been set up with chairs placed around the perimeter and a large table of food in the center, I couldn’t help but think back to Ann’s dinner invitation three years earlier. Although they had made some changes in the back yard, the patio was the same and in my mind I could see the two tables, one set for two and the other, on the opposite side of the porch, set for one. I couldn’t help but smile while I stood in the space between the two invisible tables. I took my “covered dish” into the dining room and was hit by another wave of nostalgia. On Dec. 31, 2019, in the middle of the afternoon, I was also setting down a dish to share, while feeling apprehensive and insecure. Had I brought something that everyone would like? What if I had to take a dish home with only one spoonful removed? This time, I was the only one in the room, which gave me the opportunity to stop and remember, without drawing attention. I set my Greek salad down, without concerns of taking a nearly full dish home and looked towards the seating area between the kitchen and the dining room, which looked very similar to the way Ann and Robert had arranged it. Only the furniture was different. I found the spot where I remember standing with an untouched glass of scotch in my hand, trying my hardest, to connect with the woman I had pegged as my future hiking pal. I wanted desperately to leave with a hiking date penciled in on my calendar, or any social engagement for that matter. I had moved to a town where I only knew my daughter, my son-in-law and my grandson, Arlo, who was not yet two, and knew that the biggest part about feeling settled had nothing to do with emptying boxes and filling cupboards. I needed friends and I needed plans on my calendar and that New Year’s Eve, I was all in, sacrificing my pride in the process. Of course I had no idea that a short three months later I’d be quarantining alone in my house for six weeks, whether I had made new friends or not. In all my attempts that New Year’s Eve to snag a friend, I lost sight of the fact that I already had one, Ann, who would later be the only other person I would see socially during my covid isolation besides my daughter and her family, and only from their car window or the other side of my yard as they delivered groceries.

Shortly after we rang in the new year with the country of Scotland, I found an opportune time to make my exit and collected my dish from the dining room that looked like it had one spoonful removed, possibly two. I quietly made my way out the front door without goodbyes because who wants to be seen carrying an almost full dish home. I walked down the sidewalk, past the house that sits in-between Ann’s house and mine and lingered on the sense of pride I was feeling. It wasn’t what I expected nor had I snagged a hiking date, but it was good.

A few weeks ago, I had mingled my way through the same kitchen, dining room and porch of the house that was now Matthew’s and his wife. I engaged in interesting conversations with people from as close as a few blocks away and as far as New Zealand and Tanzania. I didn’t worry about where or how I was standing or if it was too soon for seconds. At midnight, and with a house still filled with people, I gathered up my dish, gave my thanks to Matthew and his wife who I was happy to finally meet, and said my goodbyes. I walked the short distance through the alley to my house carrying my dish, which was empty. Totally empty.

As I walked up the steps to my back porch, I stopped to take it all in. I had felt comfortable enough at my neighbor’s party that walking in and only knowing the host hadn’t been an issue. I wasn’t trying to pencil in hiking dates or get phone numbers for friends I hadn’t yet met. None of that mattered this time while I attended a party at the yellow cottage two houses down from me with grapevines that now formed an open weave ceiling over the far end of the back yard. The same house that had a back patio that one night had been arranged with a table and chairs set for two at one end and a table for one at the other.

I had started going to an exercise studio shortly after my arrival to Boulder and a few weeks in, the owner stopped me on my way out and told me she was running a special and I could bring in friends for unlimited free workouts for the next week. I hesitated, not sure how honest I wanted to be, then figured why not and told her thanks, but I didn’t have any friends. She looked up at me with deep concern and sensing her discomfort, I quickly added, ”well, not yet!” I realized while walking out to my car that I had shown a vulnerability not only to the studio owner, but also to myself. When, if ever, in my life had I uttered the words… “I don’t have any friends” (locally, and at the present time, I’d later clarify). And who was this person who was showing such vulnerability at the risk of her pride? Is this what new beginnings, if you you’re honest, really and truly look like?

Four years is a long time and it’s also the blink of an eye. I remember the excitement I felt the first time I saw someone I knew at the hardware store and the first time I had to turn down a social engagement because I was already committed. All rungs on the ladder I’ve been climbing without even realizing it until now, when I feel like I’ve made it to the roof, which offers both better views and greater perspective. I can look down and see where I started but not where I’ll end up, which is the fun part. My earlier urgency to connect has been replaced by a calm, open-minded curiosity with no expectations, and in that process, I have quietly found my way home.