Gracefully gliding to a new position

There was no good reason for it to happen. I wasn’t driving especially fast, we don’t currently have ice or snow and the road surface wasn’t seriously wet, and no I was not talking on my cell phone. (Or texting. I’m not suicidal.) But there’s this curve in the road just before you turn off onto the gravel road leading to our house and, well, I didn’t quite make it.

So there I was, after a quite graceful slide, nose down in a ditch. We’ve had a lot of rain lately, so the tires promptly settled snugly into mud.

It looked nothing like this. (Picture from Car Talk)
It looked nothing like this. (Picture from Car Talk)

The whole situation was more embarrassing than anything else. I called Himself to bring the truck, and phoned a friend to keep myself occupied while I waited.

After a while a car drove by, slowed, then drove on. “Well phooey to you too,” I thought. But a few minutes later a car came along from the opposite direction and pulled up, and out popped one of our neighbors.

I should mention that some of our neighbors are … unsavory. We live on the outskirts of a medium-sized town, in an area where the properties range from around three to 10 acres. Some of the folk here are farmers, mostly raising cattle or hay. And then there are the others, who have lived out here since before anyone cared. One family in particular – the ones who live right where we turn off onto our private road and drive off the map – includes several felons and their wimmin and their brood, all clustered in a falling-down house, and they spend a fair amount of time (when they’re not in prison) making huge fires in their back yard and sitting around them and just being creepy. Sometimes they shoot things.

When I drive past I’ll flick a wave, just to be friendly (and by way of insurance), but what I’m actually thinking is this…

What our neighbors' house makes me think. (Pic from Dollar Photo Club)
What my brain tells me about our neighbors. (Pic from Dollar Photo Club)

So, okay, the only time I’ve ever actually seen any of them looking like that was a few years ago when I drove past just as they opened up a freshly killed steer carcass that they had strung up in their back yard. But memories like that tend to stay with you.

Anyway, the neighbor who got out of the car that pulled up next to where I was waiting, trapped in the ditch? He wasn’t one of the farmers. He came from that house.

On the other hand, he actually looked rather a lot like this…

This could be my neighbor (only this evening he didn't have a fish).
This could be my neighbor. (Only this evening he didn’t have a fish.) (Not that I saw, anyway.) (Pic from “A River Runs Through It“).

Maybe a little blonder, but that’s him, right down to the smile. And once he’d ascertained that I was okay, and didn’t need him to fetch his pickup or call an ambulance, and had verified that I was too stuck to drive out of the ditch, he just hung on out there and kept me company until Himself arrived. He told me that the person who had driven past was his wife, but she was too scared to stop so she sent him out to me instead. “She finds it pretty scary, living out here,” he commented. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I like it, being out of town.”

Then one of his buddies showed up – and ja, he was pretty stoned, but friendly and wanting to help. Soon after that Himself arrived, and the two young guys hooked the chain up to our pickup, and a few minutes later I popped out of that ditch as easy as a champagne cork coming out of a bottle.

I’ll swing by tomorrow with some steaks (I haven’t seen them butchering anything for a while) and a malva pudding. Because when you choose to live out in the boondocks, usually that’s partly because you don’t want people in your pocket all the time – but good neighbors are still worth nurturing.

Triple digits!

Picture from Dollar Photo Club
Picture from Dollar Photo Club

Oh my word – it finally happened – I got my first century! Thank you all for your support. It feels wonderful to have people who consider my nonsense worth the time it takes to read – especially when you comment! Knowing you’re out there … well, it encourages me to keep pecking away at my writing – the thing I most love and need to do, yet the thing I am most likely to avoid any time I’m distracted by happy times, sad feelings, uncompleted chores, looming deadlines, and in short pretty much anything that seems easier than actually thinking about what I want to say, and then saying it as well as I can. Run-on sentences and all. (Yes, I know when I’m breaking the rules – I just don’t care.)

A special thank you to Caroline, for being my 100th follower. Swing by her blog and take a look, guys!

Checking in

I don’t really have anything to say.

No, that’s not true. I have lots to say. LOTS. It’s piling up in notes on scraps of paper, and emails to myself, and half-written drafts. I am standing in an autumn storm of ideas – bright leaves swirling about my head, making me dizzy. Which one to grab next? Oops – grabbed two – let go, two is too many, grab another – no, not that one, how about that one? – No, too big for right now.

That’s how it is. Until I turn away, drift over to the Reader, drown myself in the words written by others – so talented, such interesting lives / ideas / problems, so dedicated and so damn disciplined about meeting deadlines – what can I possibly say that’s worth hearing inside of all that?

I cut back my Prozac dose. Sick of depending on drugs to function. So am I depressed?

Prozac makes you fat. There have to be better ways to deal with depression.

So what have I actually done just lately? I have read a lot of books. Most of them were pretty bad, but there were a few good reads and a couple of real gems.

I have spent time with my friend, keeping her company as she continues to take step after slow, steady step into the Valley of the Shadow. It looks like she will still be with us for Thanksgiving, but Christmas? Hard to say. I hope that the end, when it comes, is in keeping with the gentle dignity of her spirit. For now, she says the pain isn’t bad. She enjoys and actively participates in the life she still has. I helped her rescue a cat the other day – a sweet, skinny stray who managed to spend a few days in our guest bathroom without getting eaten, before I could hand her off to a rescue.

Himself brought home another stray dog, and we’re fostering her for the rescue we founded. Apart from that, I am maintaining my Retired From Rescue status. Burnout is a bitch, and although it’s been most of a year I’m still not ready to get back into that particular frying pan!

Koeitjie
Koeitjie – “Little cow”. She is an absolute sweetheart, and just a pup, who has clearly been well loved. How does a dog like this end up dumped?

Work continues on the veggie garden. Most of the effort lately has been by Himself and a helper, but I am the Inspirational Driving Force, plus when Himself finishes doing one last tractorly sweep of the area I will start building raised beds. Maybe next year I will actually succeed in producing the cornucopia of produce that dances across my dreams every spring! (No, I don’t know whether cornucopias dance, but probably they don’t. Yes, I’m aware that, in that case, that’s a mixed metaphor. I don’t care.)

I have been doing a lot of thinking about God and the Bible and Stuff, and my thoughts are finally coalescing into something I can write about.

Right now I am gearing up for NaNo. Because, when you are struggling to get moving, the best thing to do is to attach a rocket to your arse. So, three days to countdown, and them BOOM! … I hope.

Your turn! Please talk to me.
Do you ever find yourself stuck and overwhelmed by too many choices? How do you get traction? Are you doing NaNo this year?

How to talk to my friend who is dying

My friend is dying. The doctors have given up on chemotherapy and switched to “palliative care”. They say she may have six months, but really they don’t know how long it will be.

It has been so hard to know how to talk to her.

Two girls sit on the bench against the backdrop of the mountains

Several years ago, when she told me the breast cancer was back and had metastasized to her bones, I didn’t want to be the kind of person who avoids difficult conversations and blocks people from expressing themselves by trying to keep everything nice. So I jumped in with both feet and asked how she felt about dying, and we talked about that a bit, but it turns out there isn’t a lot to say on the subject.

The years passed and she continued to be active in our church and to volunteer for a free clinic serving our community, and she started helping at the local Cancer Center (she still volunteers there). She quit running, but she still walks almost every day. She lost weight (although she’s always been thin, so it wasn’t that obvious) and gained two attractive wigs. (She doesn’t need them any more, but she told me the other day that she quite missed the convenience of using a wig. Her hair is still very thin, and it annoys her to have to get it cut.)

I got used to the fact that she was sick, and although I loved the respite of quiet afternoons drinking tea in her immaculate, dog-free home, I saw her rarely. I checked in every now and then to make sure she was okay, and she was always busy and contented. But I avoided visiting her because it didn’t feel right to talk to her about the anger and frustration I felt as I got more and more engaged in dog rescue … because, after all, she was dying. In the face of that unyielding fact, the chaotic jungle of my life didn’t seem important enough to share.

Then, as my life spiraled further out of control, I simply did not have the capacity to help shoulder her burden. This year I hardly contacted her at all. (I don’t know why I thought shouldering her burden was my job.)

A few weeks ago I called her. She was glad to hear from me, she said, but she was too busy to visit that week. “I’ve just had people in and out non-stop,” she explained. Her sons visiting, with their families. Her sister. A steady stream of friends. Her sons again. And the folk from Hospice.

Hospice?

“Yes, I’m in Hospice care now.”

And suddenly it hit me. This is real. A day is coming, in the very near future, when the sun will come up, and set again, and in between there will be weather and traffic and conversations, but my friend will be gone.

I went to see her after her visitors had left. I took her some eggs, new laid by our hens, and nectarines off our tree. I was so scared – of what she would look like, of how I would hide my reaction if she looked like someone who was dying. I wondered what we would talk about, and reminded myself that I would encourage her to speak freely and openly about what she was going through.

She was sitting in her front garden when I arrived. Free of chemo, her hair has grown back, and there was a glow of color in her face. She was radiant.

I sat down, and asked her how she was doing. The pain is bad sometimes, but she takes meds when she needs to. It’s hard to sleep, but she has an iPad, and she spends the long nights reading emails and Facebook and checking in with friends. She’s given up driving because she doesn’t think it’s safe, with the drugs. She’s sad that she can no longer travel to other parts of the state to watch her grandsons compete in athletic events, because it’s just too hard to spend hours at a stretch in a car. She is getting lots of visitors, and although sometimes they stay too long, she loves having people around.

I told her that if ever she wanted company without having to make conversation, I’d be glad to bring my laptop to her home and simply be there. Her face lit up, and she told me she had just bought a big, comfy easy chair and installed it in her bedroom, for precisely that purpose.

Our conversation lagged into silence. I felt helpless and tongue-tied. It seemed self-indulgent to complain of the bleak wasteland my life had become toward the end of last year, and selfish to chatter about the tender green shoots that are emerging as I enter a new phase of my life. But… there’s only so much you can say about dying.

Then her phone rang. She glanced at it, clicked her tongue, and told me about an annoying problem she was having – calls from companies wanting to sell her “death stuff”. She wondered what contact list of terminally ill people they’d bought or hacked into. That triggered a memory of a telephone scam I had recently evaded – a too-good-to-be-true offer of a free cruise that culminated in a request for my credit card details.

Little by little, our conversation picked up. We agreed that neither of us was much interested in going on a cruise, and I told her about the cruise ships that annoyed me when Himself and I were visiting Alaska. She told me about her trip to Alaska a few years back, and how disappointed she’d been not to see a glacier because the weather was bad the day they were supposed to go. “I’d like to go back,” she said.

“Ja, me too,” I said. And then we were silent for a while, and I thought about what she’d just said. Because, of course, she’s not going anywhere. And then I thought about the glaciers I had seen, and about their pure, perfect blue that is like looking into God’s eye. And I thought about where she would, in fact, be going – and I remembered that there would surely be glaciers there, and every imaginable and unimaginable other kind of beauty, all shining in the direct light of God’s eye.

Alaskan Glacier

And that’s when I finally got it. There is no topic I can’t raise with her that we wouldn’t have discussed five years ago. Yes, she will soon be moving on. Yes, it’s scary, especially as the transition is likely to be painful. But she has made her preparations, and is confident of her destination. And right now she is still most emphatically alive.

I will visit her soon and let the conversation meander where it will.