When I launched this new site back in August, 2020, my intention was to post an essay a week. Yes, looming retirement would allow me the gift of writing time to express my thoughts on the small moments that compose my life. Instead, my writing dribbled to a slow and inconsistent leak, this being the first time I've posted anything in almost 4 months. Sigh. The best laid plans of mice and men . . .
To say, "2020 took a toll" seems trite at best, even when considering the difficulties I've faced. Yes, I've experienced loss this past year and some of my losses loom large. The vast majority, however, are insignificant when compared to the pain that so many have suffered. It's not a comparison game ("who has it worse?") but is instead a chance to reflect and learn and grow from the rollercoaster on which we've all been riding. As a teen I loved the thrill of carnival rides at the Manatee County Fair, especially when the carney would scream, "You wanna go faster?" and my friends and I would respond with a rousing, "YES!!!" All I want to scream now is, "Slow down. Please slow down."
The death of my mom, the sale of our family home, my retirement, family difficulties, being so far from our new grandson and his parents, racial inequity that grieves me to my core, tension with friends and loved ones over political divides, loss of community, and the isolation of COVID were just a few of the events that took me to dark places in the past year. As one who at times struggles with depression, darkness was too oft my companion. Instead of retirement being the beginning of a whole new chapter, it allowed me far too much time to over-think and worry.
Around the same time as my retirement, I began to experience a range of medical symptoms that perplexed and frightened me, especially in the era of COVID. Many doctor visits, blood tests, COVID tests, and examinations later, I was diagnosed with autoimmune Type 1 Diabetes and autoimmune Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). Both conditions have left me weak, discouraged, in continuous pain, and twice in dangerous health crises. I struggled with constant "why me?" and "why bother?" mind games, all the while trying to maintain an "everything is fine" face to those around me (except for Devan, who saw me at my meanest, my most demanding, my most fearful yet loved me without ever hitting the pause button).
So here I am, a month into treatment. and because of Grace am finding many reasons to be grateful. I have access to excellent healthcare and doctors who listen and work with me to find the best treatment for my specific needs. My system has responded incredibly well to insulin therapy and I'm learning to jab my tummy four times a day without flinching (or crying, which I confess I've done a lot of). I've been given new empathy for those who live in poverty and do not have access to adequate health care or funds for healthy foods critical to proper diabetic and RA care, leading me to commit to be more involved in this fight for basic human rights that should be available for all. (My entire eating regimen has been revamped; eating truly healthy is incredibly costly and out of reach for far too many Americans.) RA is debilitatingly painful, making me realize I've never shown true understanding of those who live with chronic pain. The truth is I have no idea what another is going through and rather than judgment should extend patience and grace, knowing that assumptions do lasting damage to relationships. Especially during this season of COVID, I should be willing to extend small acts of concern, however inconvenient, never knowing when someone could benefit from my sensitivity.
I am one of the fortunate ones--I did not lose a husband or sibling or child to COVID as so many have. I did not get the virus myself. I have not lost sons to racial violence. My husband didn't lose his job. While I have not personally experienced the tension of tens of thousands of teachers as they navigate simultaneously teaching in person and online, I've seen the toll it has taken on Devan. I have much to learn and my health journey will be challenging, but I have even more for which to be thankful.
Here's to 2021; may it bring joy and hope and repentance and reconciliation. May I practice courage over fear and dispense love over judgment. May we all.
Post-Script - so many folks have been more than generous with their prayers, time, and love towards me in the past few months. Julie and Diwa, who take my frantic phone-your-nurse-friend-calls regardless of the hour; for Mignon and Kathy and Lauren, Black women who have shared their wisdom with grace and patience (and Mignon for your reminders to self-care); for Rhonda who asks hard questions in love that force me to face truth; for Phil who has given me good diabetes advice through his caring calls, even advice he sometimes fails to heed himself; for Rachael and Liz who personally reached out with their diabetes and RA stories; for Kate and her family whose December luminaries encouraged me more than she/they will ever know; for Marian who reminds me constantly through her life that grief is necessary; for Noah whose life is a tonic; for Nathan who while job hunting takes time to care for me in practical ways; and for countless others who have prayed and supported and loved me above and beyond. I can't list you all because I have that other affliction--"old lady brain"-- but know you are appreciated.
So this is me at 61; diabetic, arthritic, filled with hope for the future, and resting in Grace.
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11