Choose Joy

National Geographic photo of the day--Outer Hebrides Scotland

I can grumble with the best of the them. There can be camaraderie in shared grumbling, as well as an exponential increase in dissatisfaction as everyone shares their misery. Some relationships are based on collaborative cynicism, dark humor and just plain complaining. Whole TV series and movies have featured this approach to life– i.e. “House”.

But I know better. I’ve seen where grousing leads and I feel it aching in my bones when I’m steeped in it. The sky is grayer, the clouds are thicker, the night is darker–on and on to its overwhelming suffocating conclusion.

I have the privilege to choose joy, to turn away from the bleak. I can find the single ray of sun and stand in it, absorbing and equipping myself to be radiant when others need it more than me. It is not putting on a “happy face” — instead joy adopts me, holds me close in the tough times and won’t abandon me. Though at times joy may be temporarily behind a cloud, I know it is there even when I can’t see it.

It is mine to choose because joy has chosen me.

Listening to Owls

Last night was clear with full moonshine and the owls were busy hunting on our farm, calling back and forth to each other, comparing notes on where to find prey.

Thankfully they were not calling my name. At least I don’t think so, nevertheless their hoots haunted me.

A coastal tribal legend has it that if you hear an owl call your name, your death is imminent. I’ve had no recent brushes with death, thank goodness, but as a doctor turned patient over the last two weeks, I’ve had cause to consider the preciousness of life and preservation of health.

The first was dutifully going in for my annual screening mammogram which became a two hour marathon of the radiologist asking for various wedge and coned down views, finally resorting to an ultrasound to determine that a small simple cyst had developed under a nipple and did not, from its appearance, need further investigation. Whew. My worry meter, working overtime through all the imaging, slid back to zero.

Then a subtle vision change in one eye resulted in an appointment with my optometrist who confirmed new vitreous floaters and opacities, but also noted an abnormal retinal artery in that eye. The next stop was the retinal specialist who documented a small retinal “wrinkle” and tear, but was more concerned about the artery which appeared to show some previous injury, whether from a clot or atherosclerosis was not clear. Initial screening lab work for diabetes, lipids, sed rate and metabolic functioning looked okay so more specific testing was ordered (D-dimer, C reactive protein) with elevated levels suggesting I am at risk for clotting, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, not to mention possible hidden malignancies causing a hypercoagulable state. As a 57 year old with hypertension whose family history contains plenty of cancers, wayward clots, unfortunate strokes and one sudden death heart attack, this certainly got my attention. The worry meter has gone into overdrive. Now I’m going through testing of my legs (no clots but lousy incompetent deep veins), carotids (no plaque) and next week my heart (to look for valve issues and emboli). Whether more testing is warranted beyond that has yet to be determined, so I’m sitting in the uncomfortable position of feeling just fine, thank you very much, but that is my denial kicking in.

There are no good reasons for retinal artery problems. They are all bad reasons. As someone on blood pressure medications for a decade and having gained weight I don’t need over the years (just in case of an unexpected serious food shortage, right?), I consider myself sufficiently warned. Besides aspirin, fish oil capsules and lipid lowering agents, I must change how I take care of myself or things will change for me without asking permission first. The doctor turned patient has been given a chance to make a difference in at least one patient’s future, or I’ll be no use to any patient.

The owls may not be calling my name but their hoots haunt for good reason. I’m listening.

Pressed for Time



Three years after her death, I’m slowly sorting through my mother’s packed up possessions stored in one of our farm outbuildings. Some boxes I am not ready to open, such as the 30 months of letters written by my newlywed father and mother while he fought in several bloody island battles as a Marine in the South Pacific during WWII. Other boxes contain items from too distant an era to be practical in my kitchen, such as the ones labeled “decorative teacups” or “assorted tupperware bowls”. But I do open the boxes of books. My mother was a high school speech teacher during those war years, and she had a good sense of a classic book, so there are always treasures in those boxes.

Recently I found the 1956 Webster’s New Dictionary of the Twentieth Century that I grew up with. This book was massive, easily weighing 10 pounds, and served as a booster seat for haircuts, a step stool for trying to reach the cookie jar on the kitchen cupboard, and of course, for looking up any obscure word that ever existed in all of history. Or so it seemed.

It was an amazing tome. And as I flipped through the pages, I found some old familiar friends that were neither black nor white nor read all over.

Wildflowers had been carefully pressed between the pages–over two dozen specimens paper thin themselves, their existence squeezed into two dimensions–still showing faint pink or blue, or purple color, almost exuding a long ago fragrance from a summer over fifty years ago. As a child I regularly wandered out to our fields and woods to gather crimson clover blossoms, buttercup, dandelions, daisies, wild violets, wild ginger, calypso lady slippers for bouquets for my mother, and she would select the most perfect to slide between the pages of the dictionary. Occasionally she would pull out one to gently paste on a hand written card she sent to a friend.

Here were my perfect flowers, preserved and pressed for time, just waiting for the middle aged me to rediscover them lying between wonderful words that I love to roll in my mouth and type on a page. They are too fragile to paste to a greeting card, or even to handle due to their brittleness. They need to stay right where they are, for another generation or two or three to discover.

I am pressed for time, becoming more fragile, perhaps more brittle than I care to admit. My mother and father have blown away like the puff ball seeds of the dandelion, on to other horizons, but the sturdy old dictionary is going nowhere. It will be passed down, its delicate passengers preserved inside, a long ago far away summer afternoon of flower gathering to be shared as a great grandchild opens the book to look up a favorite word sometime in the not so far off future.