Horizons

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A couple of weekends ago, I went to a ladies kayaking trip that started with a tour of Waterhole Canyon and a short hike out to the Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. I took the picture above with my 10 or so year old, crop frame, digital SLR, and a borrowed wide angle lens from my father in law.  My husband has a better camera, which I often borrow, but I felt less nervous taking my older camera down the river with me.  I was really happy with the photo, even though the bend is photographed a thousand times a day, and my photo is in no way unique.  I held my camera in the air high above my head in the hope of getting an even better shot. Because I did that, the horizon was pretty unlevel.

I am married to a photography professor, and he would probably never have published a photo like that.  He constantly drills into his students to level their horizons when they shoot. If they miss it, it’s an easy fix in post. I have loved photography for a long time, too, and I know this about horizons.  But I was in a hurry when I processed the photo. I have a job, four children, and am taking a college class this semester, so I am often in a rush when trying to do something I love.  So when I corrected the horizon, it was still a little off. You can see it here:

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I went ahead and posted this imperfect picture on my husband and my photo page on social media. Almost immediately one of my husband’s past students came online and started criticizing the horizon.  I can understand his distress. He saw it on Alex’s page, and he knows darn well that Alex knows better.  Unfortunately for me, this student did not know what an insecure emotional small child I am on the inside when it comes to my photography. His words were devastating. I made a joke about it, and he came right back with critical words again. So I deleted the post. It is embarrassing to admit how thin skinned I am.

Even worse, it reminded me of a time when I was younger and made an unappreciative comment about an incredible quilt that was very detailed. It wasn’t my style at the time, but it was still an amazing feat of craftswomanship.  The quilter leaned in and politely pointed out that she reads the comments.  I immediately felt terrible, but I was SO grateful to her for helping me realize that behind the screens we consume every day are real people, with real feelings. When they share something they create, it is a courageous act of vulnerability.  I hope that I am wiser now, and more respectful to those who open themselves up that way.

Now that I have had time to step back and look at the big picture, I remind myself that the trip was not exclusively about the stunning beauty we were so lucky to see.

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Waterhole Canyon

It certainly didn’t hurt to be surrounded by breathtaking sandstone and emerald water. The sun melted away all of our cares. We ate food out of cans and pouches, and some of our apples baked like they had been in a solar oven.

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Glen Canyon Dam

Sure, it was grounding to feel small in contrast to the engineering feat of the dam. The natural wonder of the canyon and river gave me a healthy sense of my own insignificance. My tent mate got me up in the middle of the night to look at the milky way surrounded by the canyon. That was pretty magical.
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What I really loved most about that trip, though, was not the photographs I took away. It was the stories I heard, the new friends I made, and the old friends I came to cherish even more. So, if I share a picture with a flaw, and someone doesn’t like it, I guess I’ll be okay. I have a lot of friends who will probably still let me float down the river with them another day.

I’m Sick

It has been a couple of years since I have come up against the fact that there is something wrong with me, and I have no control over it.  I guess that is a bit of a fatalistic view, because I absolutely can decide what I eat every day, whether I take my medicine, what time I go to bed, how much I exercise.  But as far as those lifestyle factors getting rid of my illness, my doctor tells me it is “not expected.”

I go through varying stages of grief with this problem. At first I was very angry at my body for betraying me. One of my core values has always been good health. I love eating healthy food, exercising, growing food in my garden, and I even love having good mental and emotional health.  I think I appreciate these things because good mental health does not always come easily for me. That is probably why I have placed so much value on healthy eating, exercise, and lifestyle habits. There are so many things I can do and have done to maintain good forms of health.

At my first appointment when I was diagnosed with my illness, my doctor told me that this was not my fault. Tears started streaming down my face. I have done so many things to preventatively maintain my health, and none of them worked.  I am seropositive with rheumatoid arthritis, and no matter how much bone broth I brew, no matter how many walks or bike rides I take, and regardless of the sunshine I gather, I can’t change that fact. It’s not my fault.

When I was first diagnosed, I told quite a few people in my family. They started telling me stories of people who were diagnosed with RA, and then did X, Y, or Z, and it went away.  I found these stories increasingly frustrating, because so far, I had not found A, B, C, X, Y, or Z to be effective. In fact, I even called my counselor, whom I love dearly, and who has helped me in so many ways, and she told me that she was diagnosed with it incorrectly, and that I should get a second opinion.

So why am I talking about the thing that pains me  most in my life on my gratitude blog? I need to talk it out because there are some things I am grateful for in this journey, and here they are:

Acceptance. I thought I knew what acceptance was before I had to accept this part of my life. I was wrong. I now know what it is to deal with something I never thought I would have to deal with. I remember the darkest morning of my journey, when I couldn’t squeeze my shampoo into my hand without pretty excruciating pain.  I had been trying so many different things. None of them were working.  And the voice inside my head finally said, This is your new reality.  I had to accept that my life has changed to one that includes this pain.  I had to decide that I would keep getting out of bed every morning, and keep showering, even if sometimes I just felt like not doing that. I had to accept that life sometimes is what it is. And accepting it really helped.

Connection. One of the things that has come with my illness is that I have to lean on my partner Alex more. I have always been extremely independent. I don’t like to need other people. I don’t like to ask for help, and even when it is offered my natural inclination is to say, “No, thank you,” and struggle along myself.  I would rather carry a large anvil across town to the piano park than call someone and ask to borrow their truck. I don’t know why I am this way, but it makes it hard for some of the people closest to me to feel connected.  Oddly, I love it when people ask me for help. I guess it is because when I help other people, I feel connected to them. So I am grateful for my illness because it has forced me, in a way nothing else could, to rely heavily on my husband Alex. I couldn’t get by without him, and I can’t express my gratitude for the deepening of our connection enough.

Empathy. As someone who enjoyed pretty good health for much of my life up until the last few years, I used to be less patient than I should have with people who were going through health problems. It is ironic, because I have a whole pile of nurses in my family who are so loving and always caring for everyone they talk to – “Here, I have this Health Thing, and I want you to try it and see if it works.” I don’t know where the nursing wentI didn’t get it in my blood. I think I got a little bit of acid in my blood, so maybe that’s where the stupid arthritis came from. But I digress. Since experiencing times when I couldn’t get out of bed, and had to call people and cancel things that I was in charge of, I have grown in compassion for people who Just Can’t.  It’s okay to not always be able to do everything. Captain Marvel is fiction. I am not her, and I don’t have to be. I don’t have to expect anyone else to be her either.

My Hands. If you google RA, there are some pretty scary pictures of what it does over time to joints, particularly the hands. Having those images in mind, every day when I use my hands or sometimes even just look at them, I’m deeply grateful for them. I’m grateful that I found  my love of quilting earlier in life and have made so many, and still have many more years of quilting to look forward to with fully functional hands. Medicine will make this possible, and I guess that’s one more thing to be grateful for.

So, hi. My name is Jenny, and I have RA. I am grateful for all the things I have learned from having this illness.

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For the Love of Your Mother

Tonight, I came upon my love of my daughter. She is a night owl, and has been from birth. She biologically wants to stay up until between 10 pm and 2 am, and sleep in until between 8 and 10 am.

As a baby, she stayed up until those late hours every night. As a toddler, she came over to her door and cried to be let out at bedtime until she fell asleep on the floor next to the door. I always felt terrible having to open the door and slide her out of the way to put her back in her bed.

Now she is an early teen, and she has spent the tween years perfecting the art of chatting me up when I come to say goodnight. “Are we doing anything tomorrow?” “So, how was your day?” “Is anything fun happening tomorrow?” “Did you know this really interesting story that takes me forever and a half to tell you, Mother?”  Okay, I’m paraphrasing on that last one, but you get the idea.

I, on the other hand am a morning person. I tire naturally around 8 or 9 pm, and drastically run out of gas at around 10 pm. I wake up without an alarm clock before 7 a.m. quite regularly. Early in the morning I feel bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to face the day.  Exactly the way my daughter seems to feel about 9 pm.

We went to the river the other night, and the kids found tadpoles, and even a frog in that awkward teenage stage who hadn’t lost its tail yet. When we were done and got home after Normal Kid Bedtime, Daughter was ever happy to take a leisurely shower, and do heaven knows what in the bathroom for another hour before I finally went and nagged her into bedtime submission.

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Go to bed child, or you’ll be sleeping with the frogs.

Sometimes I think of our relationship as a sort of tragic romance, or maybe momance, since she and I love each other, but can never find the magical way to be together when we both feel great. Tonight during her excessive bathroom ritual, I started an angry tirade in my mind, as I often do. Imagined angry tirades are a fun  hobby, what can I say? I imagined my lecture to her, Daughter, these are the circumstances under which you are allowed to get out of bed and approach your exhausted mother: 1. Your bedroom is on fire.  2. You are bleeding. 3. You are crying. (At this point I started to realize) 4. You are scared or worried.  You have any problem that a mother might be useful in discussing …

I discovered that my love for my daughter overcomes the multitude of her late night sins. It doesn’t matter what is troubling her, I will be there for her, because she is my daughter. Even if I’m tired and grumpy, I love her and I want to hear what she has to say. What if she didn’t want to talk to me? That would be the worst. So my gratitude today is for these things:

I have a daughter.

She wants to talk to me.

My love for her is so deep that it surprises even my most jaded, tired, 11:00 pm mom self.

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