Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

Wow! Kent and I have been accepted as “caregivers” on the pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash in the Tibetan Himalayas with Above + Beyond Cancer.  We have been told to expect a challenging experience in physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual terms.

The physical and cultural part I’m not so worried about. Physically, I’m healthy and in good condition.  While trekking has never been my favorite weekend activity, I’ve climbed some significant hills in my time.  I expect 18,000 feet will test my mettle (my highest climb to date was about 14,000), but Kent and I intend to take the training regimen seriously.  If I survive the training, I expect I’ll make it to the top.

As for the cultural part, I look forward to sharing in the life of people who live a mountain existence, with little or no experience of the “mod coms” we take for granted.  I’ve traveled widely enough to know that I can adapt to any sort of accommodations, the absence of plumbing, and unfamiliar foods.

What worries me are the emotional and spiritual dimensions.  As a caregiver, I need to be fully “present” for the cancer survivors who are making the pilgrimage, to get past my own physical and emotional fatigue to support others more tired than me. 

But I am a classic introvert, who needs large dollups of alone time. I suspect that solitude will be an even scarcer commodity than indoor plumbing.  I am also logical and analytical, with a decided deficit of the kind of emotional intuition that lovers of poetry are born with. And while I have studied religion and philosophy for years, I don’t much enjoy yoga and have never learned to meditate.  Will I be able to connect with the changing mood of the group as we get farther up the mountain?

My biggest challenge, I think, is not whether I can make it to the top under my own steam, but whether I can hold up my share of the emotional burden as we make the climb.

The Office of Her Grumpiness

My 14 year-old-cat, Calliope, is stalking Kent as he sits at the breakfast table, reading his morning paper.

He is the new man in her life as well as mine. She is using her feline wiles to get his attention. Threading her way between his legs, she rubs back and forth against his warm skin. When he crosses his legs, she sidles up to the foot that hangs in the air, using it as a scratching post. When he gets up to refill his coffee, she flops down where he cannot avoid stepping over her on his return.

More often than not, he stops to massage her belly with his foot. But woe betide Kent if he tries to pick her up. She will whine and flail her paws and arch her back until he lets her down. Or if he scratches her head when she’s snoozing by the fireplace or napping on cushion in the kitchen. She has been known to purr in such situations, but mostly she hisses and bats his hand away.

Kent takes it in his stride. He loves her even though she hisses.

It is embarrassing to realize how much I am like Calliope. I crave Kent’s attention. I love having him stroke me, literally as well as figuratively. But like Calliope, I often hiss when he enters my space unexpectedly. My hisses reflect nothing more than surprise … a broken train of thought … a momentary of loss of control over something that ultimately doesn’t matter anyway.

As with Calliope, Kent seems to take my grumpiness in his stride. It seems he loves me even when I hiss. But can I assume it will always be this way? Kent expects nothing from Calliope. She’s only a cat.

But I’m his partner, not his pet. Woe betide me the day that Kent genuinely needs something and I hiss at him.

Requiem for a Lost Tradition

It was a perfect moment.  Vaulted ceilings.  Stained glass windows.  A red-robed choir.  A small orchestra with strings and horns performing Faure’s Requiem.  

Lyrical and inspiring translations of the Latin text, interspersed between choral movements, added to the magic of the moment.

You could not help but be moved by the splendor of the music in that sacred space on Good Friday evening, music composed by a man of great talent who wanted to bring glory to his god.  

It was a moment made for mindfulness.  But I blew it.  

I was saddened to see a church barely half full.  I grumbled about gospel readings that were banal, devoid of the poetic language of the Faure’s text.  I complained, yet again, that so many of the awe-inspiring rituals of the Christianity of my youth have been replaced by bad guitar music and superficial gestures of fellowship. 

Once again, I failed to take my own advice.  Instead of simply relishing the moment of beautiful music, I got caught up in trying to hold on the past.  Instead of being mindful, I slipped into the realm of desire for something I couldn’t control, couldn’t bring back.

Out of Control, Las Vegas Style

I know most things in life are outside of my control. Most of the time, I take genuine pleasure in letting the chips fall where they may.

But Las Vegas seemed designed to test my mettle.

Take, for example, music. Music emanated from every imaginable space… from the shrubs lining the lake, under my seat in the restaurant, in the stanchions that hold up the pedestrian walkways. Even in our hotel room, 12 stories up, I could hear the courtyard music, 24 hours a day. It wasn’t loud enough to keep you awake, but loud enough that you knew that silence was utterly beyond your reach.

Take, for example, the tourist attractions. You can’t get to any place in any hotel without going through the casino. Fair enough. Most people in Las Vegas come to gamble. But even with a floor plan in hand, it was impossible, in most hotels, to figure out how to get where you wanted to go from where you were standing.

Take the check-in line at the Mandalay, one of Las Vegas’s tonier hotels. We watched in amazement as several hundred conference attendees waited to check in. The line circled the cavernous lobby and streamed out into the adjacent mall. Conference planners distributed water bottles to people who had been waiting for hours. Just to check in! 

The absolute worst was the gondola at the Venetian. We had to go through the casino (of course) and down what felt like miles of shop-lined “streets.” Every so often, the street forked with no indication as to which fork to take. By the time we found the gondolas–as far from the hotel entrance as it was possible to get–I hardly cared what the ride was like.  

By the time I left town, I was … what … frantic, frenetic, exhausted from a constant rush of adrenaline as I lost one battle after another against the institution of Las Vegas.  I desperately needed to do something mindless and repetitive. 

And that’s when I got it. The mindless and repetitive thing you do in Las Vegas is the slot machines. Even if you’re not a gambler. 

I left town in the nick of time.