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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Happy Birthday, Clint

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Today would be Clint’s 82nd birthday, and I wish he were here to celebrate. I wish he had stayed healthy and strong and virile, so we could grow old together. I wish we were celebrating at fabulous restaurant, drinking fine wine and holding hands across the table. But he’s not here. It’s only me.
I’m here, in the now. I have my memories, precious and dear, and I hold them in my heart. There is a place in my soul were Clint lives on. We are together in a way impossible in life, I think. There are no misunderstandings, no arguments (which were seldom), no illness and helplessness, no crippling stress. I no longer fear his inevitable death and the emptiness it left in my life. 
When he died, I suffered in such a way my body turned on me. My fibromyalgia was worse than ever, and I never slept through the night without pain. I had a series of autoimmune disorders that began before he died. I had eosinophilic gastritis and was on steroids to control the pain for almost a year. I suffered stress-drive atrial fibrillation six months before he passed away. I was exhausted from trying to hold up the plane, prevent life from taking its course. 
After Clint died, I had an ugly rash called lichen planus. I lost my balance and my memory and was nauseated for two years. I went to work one day and didn’t know what to do. In short, my body and my brain shut down, forcing me to stop, to live in the moment, miserable though it was.
It was four years after losing the love of my life when I began to believe my life could go on, that there was room in my life for happiness if only I would embrace it. That was two and a half years ago, and I was in the throes of Parrish’s severe mental illness. He was in a hospital in Atlanta after his first suicide attempt, and I was wondering what I could do to make life easier for him. 
In the very act of getting outside myself, I made a decision that was good for both of us, and we moved home to Saint Simons Island, my hometown. The first year and a half were rife with the stress of caring for Parrish. So often during that time, life seemed to consist of a series of roadblocks to happiness, but through it all, I became conscious of a sense of being grounded, a feeling I never knew in Macon after Clint died. 
Parrish’s sudden death set me back, and I fell into a deep hole of depression, wondering if I would ever find a way to climb out. His death reactivated my grief for Clint, and I spent months hiding from my losses. I sprinkled Old Spice on their sweaters and wore them around the clock. They wore the same scent, and the smell brought them back to me in a soothing way. I drank too much and didn’t eat right. I rarely slept and binged on Netflix until my vision was blurred. I could not see past my pain.
Then, last fall, I remembered meditation, its centering power, its ability to put me in the moment. But I had to learn all over again. I got out Parrish’s copy of 10% Happier by Dan Harris and read it in one sitting. I bought Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness and followed the instructions and did the exercises in order to refresh my long-neglected practice. 
I began to meditate regularly and include Metta Prayer in my daily life. I set realistic goals, hoping to meditate for only five minutes at first. Some days I meditate for longer, but no matter how much or how little time I spend in the practice, I am more centered in the moment and more capable of letting go of the negatives in my life I can’t change.
I remembered good habits I had let fade into the background and began frequent walks on the beach. Implausibly, I had forgotten the beach was there for me, the place I turned to, as a child and a young woman, for solitude and reflection and healing. In a real way, my walks are a form of meditation. Breathing the salt air alone is comforting.
After years of chronic pain, I am comfortable. I don’t wake in the night with burning pain. My thinking is clear and reasonable, and I feel good about my life. I look to a creative future I once thought impossible. 
Clint would be very happy. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Sand Art Courtesy East Beach and The Atlantic Ocean

Shells are not the only treasures the ocean leaves when it flows out. The other today, at dead low tide, the I noticed the receding water had carved works of art in the sand. I don’t ordinarily take my phone when I walk; it just seems somehow counterproductive. The beach is my cathedral, and I certainly wouldn’t take a phone to a church building. But for whatever reason, I had it tucked into the back pocket of my jeans and was able to capture this image.
I’m presenting it to you from all four angles. What do you see?






   
                                 


Please click on the "Post a Comment" button and describe what you see in each image. The first person to leave a comment will see a button that says "No comments." I'll post the results next time. Remember, I'm in Facebook Rehab and won't see comments you leave there. Only those here. My blog posts are automatically posted to FB and Twitter when I publish them. Thanks.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas

Lately, when walking in the edge of the sea on East Beach, I have taken Clint and Parrish with me in my imagination. Clint is 41, strong and athletic, and he is holding my hand. We are completely in love. His head crowned with blond curls, Parrish is 5 and running in and out of the shallow waves, stopping to inspect shells and pieces of driftwood, calling us to inspect his finds. The sun is high and bright and we are brown with it. This fantasy comforts me, takes me to a time when there was no hint of how sick Clint would become or that Parrish would fall victim to severe mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction. I am content in their love. The smell of the ocean is in our noses; a gentle breeze from the southeast is soft on our shoulders and tousles my hair into ringlets. We are happy, washed in the healing sea air, kicking the water that runs up on the sand in clear sheets edged with sea foam. 

Yesterday, Christmas Day, I once more took the two most important men in my life with me to the beach we all so loved. Before leaving my house, I collected some ashes from each of their urns and mixed them together in a small bottle, symbolically reuniting them in a way that never happened in life. They were estranged for years. Clint resented the pain Parrish’s illness inflicted on me in the same way he resented any force in my life that wasn’t positive. If they had lived, the probability of them reconciling was remote, as much as I wanted it to happen.

As I was making my way from the Old Coast Guard Station north toward Gould’s Inlet, I stopped occasionally, kissed the bottle, and sprinkled some of their ashes into the warm water of the incoming tide. They both so loved the sea. As I made my way toward the inlet, looking down in my usual way, scanning the sand for an olive shell or a sand dollar, I was surprised to look up and see a pall of fog just ahead. I walked directly into it, head high, and breathed in the salt of it, the weight of it, feeling somehow freed by it.

I turned and began my way back, savoring the sand between my toes and the uncommon warmth of the water. After a few minutes, the sun was in my eyes. I deliberately parked my sunglasses on my head, hoping to catch a few of its rays on my pale cheeks. 

As I walked back toward the parking lot, I came on a snowman, or I should say, and sandman. He was perfectly proportioned, Santa hat sitting jauntily atop his round head, reflective sunglasses in place on his carrot nose, and the artist had given him teeth made from a cockle shell. His arms were driftwood, and as I stopped to admire him, a woman hung a red glass Christmas ball on one of his arms. 

Merry Christmas

© 2015 cj Schlottman

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Contentment



     It’s a sunny fall afternoon, skies blue and a sweet-tempered breeze ruffling the leaves on the oak trees in my yard. I scoop hulled sunflower seeds into a green plastic cup and pour them into the feeder that hangs from a chain outside my window. Chickadees in their black caps along with house finches and tufted titmice scatter as I approach but return before the back door closes behind me. They flit and hover around the perches designed to collapse when larger birds touch down. A chickadee clings to the chain, waits its turn as others sort out the pecking order, decide who eats first.
     A painted bunting, magnificent in its clear vivid hues of red, green, blue and yellow, the first I’ve seen this year, flies in to join the fray. I am transfixed. He restyles the image and it morphs to high definition, the other birds fading into a dull backdrop. He feeds, occasionally looking around, stays long enough for me to take a poor quality photo through the window. And he is gone.
     Out in the yard, at the feeder filled with whole sunflower seeds, cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, the occasional bossy jay, even a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers feast at their own table. The small birds feed there as well, given the opportunity. Six mourning doves inch their way across the ground below, salvaging seeds dropped by the others. A single brown thrasher creeps up on them and they scatter, some lifting their round bodies up into the branches of the ligustrum that lines the fence. The bully moves on. After all, he prefers insects to seeds.
     Glowing iridescent green and red in the sunshine, a single ruby-throated humming bird perches at the water station and drinks. He returns to hover at the cobalt blue feeder I have hung, a source of the nectar he needs for energy. He disappears, no doubt foraging for insects to gorge upon as he doubles his weight in order to survive the journey across the Gulf of Mexico.
     I sit and watch the dance being played out before me, surprised to know I am content, happy in this moment of my life. Contentment has eluded me for so long, I hardly recognize it. I embrace it, cherish the cascade of ease and comfort and belonging it pours over me.


Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cycles of Tides, Cycles of LIfe


For the past several days, I have been taking a short walk on the beach every afternoon. For the most part, the tourists are gone, and with children in school, well, it’s quiet and feels like home, like when my best friend, Mary Ellen and I were teenagers basking in the sun, baby oil and iodine slathered over every inch of exposed flesh to intensify our tans.

Yesterday afternoon at 4:00, the sun was shining on Meadows Drive, despite a weather forecast that predicted rain. So, I climbed into my Yukon and drove the beach, or almost to the beach. As I made the left turn onto the East Beach causeway, rain began to fall and big drops splattered my windshield. As I got closer to the Old Coast Guard Station, the rain intensified and I turned around and came back home, where no rain was falling and their was no evidence that any had fallen at all.

I’d been working on my memoir for most of the day, so I returned to making the necessary changes for me to alter its structure to include Parrish’s almost continuous difficulties along with the events and stress of the last few years of Clint’s life. It takes more work and a different focus to incorporate the two, but it’s necessary for the book to make sense, to tell the entire story. It’s the only way I can make the reader understand the tightrope I walked between the two most important people in my life. 

I’ve been mining old journals for content in order to make the chronology work. Reliving that time, reading and processing what I recorded in my notebook is exhausting and exhilarating at once. I made a timeline of the first five months of 2009, and began to see how it would work. After years of thinking my story would be told in two separate memoirs, I am finally convinced, along with some encouragement from Rosemary Daniell, my writing mentor, that both stories are so intertwined they cannot be separated.  

Having already begun the first three chapters, I am working to integrate Parrish’s many crises into the events I had already written down. It will work. I know it will work, and I am more excited than ever to be writing this book, and I just might be overcoming some of the fear I have experienced around the writing of it.

At 6:00, I drove back to the beach and parked at Massengale Park. There was sun and a cool breeze, so I kicked off my sandals and walked to the water’s edge and dug my toes into the wet sand and wiggled them around. Then I turned north for my short (with respect for my knee and back) trek from there to the Old Coast Guard Station and back. No shells to pick up, only light rafts of wrack washing ashore. 

Each time I go to the beach I am flooded with memories of Clint and Parrish and the rest of the family when life was uncomplicated and unsurprising. Long before we ever considered that Parrish might develop a severe mental disorder and Clint would have an operation from which he really never recovered, sunbathing and swimming and shelling and walking to Gould’s Inlet and back were standard weekend activities. Even when our lives in Macon were filled with work and other responsibilities, we drove to The Island as often as possible, just to be on that very beach. At summer’s end, we were all tan and healthy and happy.

There is something about the dependability of the tides. We have experienced spring tides for the last few days. That happens when the earth and moon are aligned and the waters of the oceans bulge in their direction, creating higher tides than usual. Our spring tides have been augmented by heavy rains and a northeast wind that pushes the waters farther in to shore than usual. So, the high tide water line is almost in the dunes. 

The steadfastness of the tides and their predictable cycles of lows and highs creates a sense of stability in me. Knowledge that they ebb and flow in a regular fashion combined with the sheer energy of the ocean grounds me in the fact that life is so much more than I. Perhaps the regularity and constancy of their cycles quenches my longing for a sense of permanence. The chaos of my life for the last ten years has been unpredictable and painful and at times so unbearable I contemplated suicide. In my muddled and disorderly and confused depression after Parrish’s sudden death, I lost sight of the fact that the ocean is practically at my doorstep and is always open for business. There is no limit to what depression and loss can cost. But, at last I can walk on the beach and breathe in the strength of the ocean, soak up some vitamin D and be infused the negative ions that are so soothing to the soul. I am content in the the very knowledge that it will be there tomorrow, waiting for me, be the tide high or low. 


Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman