Thinking About Cancer

As we age, our bodies tend to buck and sputter on occasions when they used to run smoothly. Joints ache, as do muscles after modest exertion. We can’t run as fast as we used to, or can’t run at all. We can no longer  shortchange sleep for days and still expect to function. All these insurgencies happen gradually, and most of us accept the changes without difficulty.

Besides the age-related changes that we all experience, we are more prone to be diagnosed with any of a variety of medical conditions–hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis,  elevated cholesterol. Though I have for the most part had good health, I have been on medication for cholesterol for at least fifteen years. I’ve also had an enlarged prostate. That wasn’t too much of a concern, but about two years ago my physician noted that the lab results from my PSA tests had been gradually rising. PSA, or prostate specific antigen, is a protein produced by the prostate and found in the blood. Men with prostate cancer often have a high PSA score, though other conditions can also produce elevations.

My doctors recommended a more definitive test for cancer, a biopsy of the prostate. I was biopsied in September, 2015. It’s an unpleasant test–lying on one side, mostly undressed, curled like a comma, while a probe inserted from the rear (I’ll leave to readers’ imaginations the orifice used) snips away bits of tissue. Three of the twelve samples taken contained cancerous cells. The urologist indicated that the cancer was low grade–Gleason Score of 6, the least aggressive form. “It probably shouldn’t even be called cancer,” he said, which is not the same as saying it isn’t cancer. He recommended regular monitoring of PSA but no active treatment. It took some convincing, but I finally agreed to that plan. with the stipulation that at some point my prostate would also be assessed via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). An MRI uses magnets, radio waves, and possibly other forms of magic to produce a picture of the structures found in bodily tissue. Such an image is useful in assessing the extent of cancer.

I went in for blood work every three months. The PSA level stayed around 5. That’s high, but at least the scores weren’t increasing. The promised MRI was done in October of last year. One area in particular looked troublesome to the radiologist. It would take another biopsy to determine whether there was any cause for concern, so a month later I was back on the table trying to decide what was most disagreeable about the procedure–the indignity? the pain? the doctor’s efforts at cheery encouragement?

This time, there were five samples with abnormal cells, and one of these was given a Gleason score of 7, pushing my risk level from low to intermediate. It is unlikely that the cancer has spread outside the prostate yet. However, the progression up to this point makes eventual spread more likely. After meeting with my doctor and researching treatment options, I decided that a radical prostatectomy– surgery to remove the prostate– would be the best option. I’m scheduled for surgery in late February.

It’s estimated that each year in the US there are about 180,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 26,000 deaths from this condition. It is a common cancer: an estimated 12.9 percent of men will be diagnosed with it some time in their lives. I am not alone.

I’ve been much more attuned to people’s cancer stories in the past few months. All of a sudden, those stories seem to be everywhere. Some hit close to home: my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram. She had a lumpectomy and started chemo a few weeks ago. A friend in his 30s went to the doctor because he thought his lungs harbored an infection and he didn’t want to pass it on to his newborn son. Instead, the doctor found a cancerous tumor in his chest. He will be hospitalized for five days every three weeks for high-dose chemo.

Stories like this make me think that my cancer is nothing by comparison. It’s not nothing, though, and I’ve noticed that it has influenced my thoughts in a variety of ways. I’ll write more about those effects in a future post.

blodgett-hospital

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Cheat Days

Sweets! Image from Yummydelicious.com

Sweets! Image from Yummydelicious.com

As 2017 approaches, it’s natural to think about things we would like to change in the new year. In other words, we think of ways to improve ourselves. Many plans for self-improvement require long-term self-control. Losing weight, for example, may require a diet in which for weeks or months we deny ourselves delicious but high-calorie foods and endure hunger pangs without relenting. Fitness requires regular exercise, meaning we have to get on the treadmill or elliptical machine over and over despite our aversion to breaking a sweat. Improving blood pressure may require a tasteless low-salt diet; completing projects may require reducing social media use and turning off our cell phones for periods of time.

Self-control is no fun, of course. Whatever we have decided to give up tends to become more appealing to us. We get grumpy, and our motivation gradually erodes. Often as not, there is eventually a lapse, followed by a “failure cascade.” “What the heck,” we think. “I’ve already had one cookie, so I’ve broken my diet. Why not have a few more while I’m at it?”

A recent study proposes that we can short-circuit this pattern of good intentions followed by misery, hopelessness, weakened motivation, and guilt-producing relapse by planning to cheat right from the start. A recent article in the Atlantic describes a paper by scientists in Portugal and the Netherlands reporting on three studies into the effect of planned cheat days. In the most significant of the studies, participants were either put on a  1,500-calorie per day diet or a 1,300-calorie per day diet with a 2,700-calorie splurge day at the end of each week. As the Atlantic reports, “Those who had the cheat day reported they were better able to sustain their motivation and self-control than those who ate the same amount each day.”

The study was only for two weeks, and there wasn’t a difference between the groups in the amount of weight lost, so this seems to be one of those findings that needs to be substantiated by further research. Still, even if outcomes between approaches are the same but having planned cheat days improves my mood and helps me feel better about myself, including them in self-improvement plans would be wise.

The strategy of using cheat days is probably only useful for those areas of our lives in which exercising self-control is still taking quite a bit of effort. In my case, I don’t feel any need to have cheat days in the areas of exercising or following a vegetarian (actually pescetarian) diet; I’ve done those things so long, I don’t feel tempted to do anything different. Restricting sweets, on the other hand, still is work for me, and I would welcome a cheat day now and then. As a matter of fact, now that I’m thinking about planned times to cheat, I’m starting to plan which would be the best days for me to indulge a bit!

So, dieters, exercisers, and other self-deniers! Plan to take some cheat days! You’ll be happier (though not necessarily more successful) for it!

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Identity, Purpose, and Belonging in Retirement

Older workers preparing for retirement (or those, like me, part way through the process)  deal not only with logistics and practical questions, but also with questions regarding how to live our lives. Three sets of issues that retirees face–issues of identity, purpose, and belonging–all have to do with what sort of life is most fulfilling and what kind of people should we be. Let’s take a look at each of these three, thinking especially about how these choices reveal our values:

On a recent trip to Israel. Should I travel more?

On a recent trip to Israel. Should I travel more?

Identity

When we leave the workplace, we leave behind a major source of identity. For years we’ve been teachers or accountants or executives, but we aren’t that anymore, so what are we now? We’re told we can reinvent ourselves, meaning that we can choose who we will become. But what sort of person should I become? Should I try to cultivate wisdom through reading or attending lectures? Should I develop my aesthetic side by going to concerts or art museums? Should I foster my creativity by taking up painting or writing? Should I expand my horizons through travel? Should I focus on challenges such as climbing a mountain or running a marathon? Should I become more spiritual, praying, meditating, or participating in religious ritual? Should I focus on what gives me maximal pleasure, whether that be as a gourmand, a gambler, or a golfer? Whatever direction I take will define my new identity. Choosing one direction over another is a decision as to the best person for me to be.

Purpose

When we leave the workplace, we also lose the sense of purpose that our jobs provided for us. We’re told we should develop a new purpose. Sure, establishing a new identity gives  some sense of purpose, but most retirees looking for a new purpose are looking for more than an identity; they are looking for a way of making a difference in the world. Should I try to help the less fortunate in society, volunteering in a soup kitchen or working with the homeless? Should I try to help the next generation by tutoring schoolchildren or caring for my grandchildren? Should I become an advocate for a cause–immigration reform, healthcare reform, criminal justice reform, or any among dozens of other issues that affect human well-being? Should I take a job that would again give me a work-related purpose? Should I run for public office?  Whatever I choose to do, I’m “voting with my feet” regarding what is worth doing. I’m making a choice as to what constitutes a meaningful and valuable purpose.

Belonging

Our workplaces gave most of us not only a purpose but a sense of belonging. We interacted with co-workers on a daily basis; some of them became friends, and some even seemed like family. Our work also determined in large part where we lived; many of us moved far from where we would have lived otherwise because of work. When we retire, we must again think about where we belong. In part, that is a question of where to live. Should we move closer to aging parents or grown children and grandchildren? Should we move back near our childhood home? Or should we live in a place providing opportunities to form new relationships–a resort town, for example, or a retirement community? Wherever we live, we also have to decide with whom we’ll spend the bulk of our time. With family members? With friends, whether old or new? At church, synagogue, or temple? With others who share some interest–musicians, say, or motorcycle enthusiasts or oenophiles? As with identity and purpose, deciding where to live and with whom to spend time reflects our values. In making the choice, we are selecting certain people as the ones most worth our time.

Who should I become? What should be my purpose? With whom do I belong? When we plan our post-retirement lives, we are revealing our values. We are showing what sort of life we think is worth living. These are serious choices, ones that no one else can make for us. Best wishes in determining your new identity, purpose, and belonging!

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Caregiving: Imperfections and Opportunities

bobby-wonderful

I recently read an article by Next Avenue writer Chris Hewitt about Bob Morris’ book Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents. The book is an account of Morris’ involvement with his elderly parents towards the end of their lives. As the subtitle suggests, Morris sees himself as less than saintly in how he handled these interactions. Hewitt’s article summarizes some of the shortcomings Morris describes:

“So Bobby Wonderful is candid about Morris being unable to decide whether to cut short a vacation to visit his dying mother, Ethel; about yelling at his dad, Joe, when his father’s weak heart made it difficult for him to walk and about hoping an anti-depressant prescription for his dad would get Joe off Bob’s back.”

Morris’ struggles make me think of the past four and a half years in my life. My father, who has since died, had dementia, and my mother, who was his primary caretaker despite having multiple medical problems of her own, couldn’t do all that needed to be done so that he could remain at home. I left my full-time job and moved in with them in order to help. I remain here because, though dad is gone, mom’s limitations have grown and she would have difficulty living independently if I didn’t give her some assistance.

Those who hear what I’ve done sometimes think I’m selfless and noble. As with Morris, the reality is more complicated than that. I did give up much of the life I had in order to help, but I still held onto some things. I maintained my professional identity, for example, continuing to work part-time as a psychologist. I continued to read, to blog, and to spend time with friends. So, no, I didn’t sacrifice everything. I gave up just enough to meet a need, and that’s still what I’m doing.

For a couple years I helped dress dad, took him to the bathroom, assisted with meals, and provided him with reassurance when he was anxious. Mom provided much more care than I did, and towards the end of his time at home we had a paid caregiver three mornings a week. I didn’t particularly enjoy providing physical care. Doing that seemed all wrong, as if some mistake had been made that kept dad from functioning as he should have. I was irritated at times–when he woke us up in the middle of the night and wouldn’t settle back down, for example, or when he was overwhelmed with anxiety concerning imagined problems and couldn’t be reassured. I did pretty well at containing my irritation, though. When impatient, I still acted patiently. Most of all, I was reliable. I was there for him.

Here’s a quote from Morris:

“Most aren’t perfect and selfless children who want to move their parents in with them and have their ashes scattered at the ballet. They don’t have the vision to see what only the selfless and enlightened can know when in the middle of it, and what I only know now that the experience is behind me, making it easy to say: Caring for your parents is an opportunity.”

On March 21, 2014, about twenty months after I came to help my parents and less than three months before my dad had to be transferred to a nursing home, I wrote the following in my journal:

“It occurred to me yesterday that caring for dad is really a gift; not a burden, but something provided to teach me patience and attentiveness to human need. Help me receive the gift with gratitude.”

It took me quite a while so see the opportunity that Morris alludes to, but I did see it. With God’s help, I was finally able to receive the gift that had been there all along. Now, I’m grateful for every minute I had with dad.

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Regret

I have written before about regret, that dreadful emotion that drones on like a mosquito in the room when you’re trying to sleep. Anyone over the age of about five knows the feeling, but those of us who are in older adulthood are particularly prone to feel regret.

I recently read an article on regret by Julie Beck at the Atlantic website. Beck cites some interesting psychological studies on the topic. For example, one meta-analysis (that’s a statistical analysis of previously published studies) found that the three areas of life where people experience the most regret are education, career, and romance. So if you’re bothered that you didn’t get that degree when you had the chance, or that you took the wrong job, or that you picked the wrong partner, you’re not alone. Whatever the area of life, regret follows opportunity–if you had only one practical option, you aren’t likely to regret the direction you took, but if you had many choices some of those you passed over may well seem pretty desirable in retrospect.

Education is one of the main areas of regret. Image from Methodist University.

Education is one of the main areas of regret. Image from Methodist University.

Another interesting thing about regret is that we are likely to regret actions soon after we took them, as in thinking “I never should have eaten a whole bag of candy” while still chewing on the last piece. With time, regret over our actions fades and what bothers us more are our failures to act–the things we didn’t do but wished we had. Thomas Gilovich, a professor of psychology at Cornell University, explained to Beck that we fairly quickly forget our foolish deeds, but “the mistakes of inaction may only become clear with time.” Thus, it often takes years to figure out that we would have been better off had we gotten more education or left one job for another. When you put work ahead of your children, at the time it may seem for the best, but years later the missed school plays or soccer games can be seen more clearly as missed opportunities.

Another study, this one by Neal Roese of Northwestern University, found that people tend to have more intense regrets for mistakes that they still have the opportunity to change. Thus, during my years as a college professor I regretted not finishing a research project I had begun. Now that I’m retired and the opportunity is gone, though, I don’t think about it anymore.

Another point that Beck makes is that regret is helpful. It involves thinking about what we might have done differently. Even if it’s too late to redeem the particular situation we’re having regrets about, such thoughts help us prepare for the next time we find ourselves facing the same issues.

Gilovich makes much the same point when he says, “To live is to have at least some regrets, and if you don’t there’s a concern that maybe you aren’t learning sufficiently.” The suggestion seems to be that, if we reflect on our behavior at all, we’ll at times recognize that something we did violated our standards or took us further from achieving our goals. We’ll learn from that experience and be less likely to make the same mistake again. Regret is the emotion that accompanies this learning process. As we follow the path to maturity, it’s inevitable that we sometimes find ourselves wading through a swamp of regret. There are two possible dangers; getting mired in that swamp or detouring around the muck and thereby not learning from it. So, may you have just the right amount of regret, and may it be your tutor, not your tormentor.

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The Benefit of Almost Dying

Photo: excella-worldwide.com

Photo: excella-worldwide.com

Within the course of a couple days I had conversations with two people who had nearly died recently. Each of them was hospitalized in critical condition, and in each case family members were summoned because the patient was more likely to die than not. Each managed to pull through, but when we talked each was still quite weak and still needed a good deal of medical care for the condition that nearly killed them.

I have thought for a while that there are benefits from occasionally stopping in the middle of our busy lives and reminding ourselves we are going to die eventually. In the middle ages, there was a spiritual discipline called memento mori, Latin for “remember you will die.” The idea is that calling your eventual death to mind will help you be grateful for your life and evaluate your daily activities from the perspective of eternity. What if you don’t just call death to mind but are suddenly confronted with impending mortality? Do you still benefit?

It seems that these women did. One woman had been abandoned as a child and was depressed much of her life; she had often thought that she would just as soon die as go on living. When death was imminent she realized that she didn’t want to die but wanted to live. This was a revelation to her and is already changing how she looks at her life. The other woman is quite religious and believes in the afterlife. When she nearly died she didn’t feel fear, confirming how she thought she would react. She was reassured that she felt peaceful when confronted with the possibility of death.

I asked each of them what changes they had noticed in their lives since almost dying. Relationships were one area of change. One woman had previously questioned whether her husband and adult children loved her. Two of her three children spent considerable time with her at the hospital and the third, who lives far away, didn’t come but called constantly. “I realized how much they cared,” she said. There was an even bigger change in how she came to perceive her husband. He was distraught about possibly losing her, and this convinced her that he was with her not out of obligation but because he wanted to be there. She had harbored unforgiveness her whole life towards her mother, who had abandoned her as a child. She now has told her mother she forgives her, and feels the burden of resentment lifted.

The second woman also found that the near-death experience revealed things to her about relationships, but the revelations weren’t always favorable. On the positive side of the ledger, her husband stayed by her side and did everything he could to help. In contrast, her children started fighting over property they hope to inherit from her. She still is shocked by what they said and did during the time she nearly died.

Almost dying affected the women in other ways as well. One of them said she had always felt guilty, as if whatever she did for others wasn’t enough. That feeling is gone. She also began having positive childhood memories; she had previously thought nothing good happened to her as a child. The other said that she sees her daily activities differently now. She has more clarity about what’s important in life and what isn’t. This has helped her to focus on the important and not be concerned about the rest.

So, are there benefits to be had from almost dying? The experiences of these two women suggest that there are. Not that I want to go through what they did in order to reap the rewards! I’m hoping that practicing memento mori will provide benefit enough.

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“Sit In Your Cell As In Paradise”

I recently ran across the Brief Rule of the Camaldolese order, part of the Benedictine family of monastic communities. The first Camaldolese community was established by St. Romuald, an Italian monk, about a thousand years ago.  I was particularly struck by the first line:

“Sit in your cell as in paradise.”

I have traveled a fair amount this year. I’ve been to Israel and to several states in the US. I’ve seen some places that have some semblance to paradise, especially the desert waters of En Gedi, the tree-burdened hills of the San Juan Islands, and the peaceful perfection of my friend Collette’s suburban meditation garden. I don’t spend time regularly in any of these places, though. None qualifies as my cell. Of course I don’t have a literal cell equivalent to a monk’s residence, but I do have a room where I sleep, read, write, and pray. What would it be like to regard that place as paradise?

Peter Wenzel, "Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden"

Dictionary definitions of paradise emphasize two aspects. First, ‘paradise’ can refer to a special place created by God where humans receive blessings not available in everyday life, particularly the Garden of Eden or heaven. Neither a monk’s cell nor my room meets that standard. Perhaps an element of paradise as a special God-given place can be present in these mundane locales, though. Perhaps St. Romuald was expanding the notion of paradise to refer to any place where the monk could feel God’s presence and experience spiritual betterment. That sort of paradise certainly can take place in my room–in fact it does so regularly. Every morning I take a little time to reflect on the previous day, focusing on where I felt the divine presence, what concerns that presence brought to my attention, and how I responded. I write a paragraph or two describing whatever this examination of the day brings to mind. The few minutes I take to do this are time spent in paradise–time spent with God that edifies me.

Second, dictionaries define paradise as “a place or state of bliss, felicity, or delight,” as Merriam-Webster puts it. I’m not particularly prone to experiences of bliss, at least not ecstatic ones. For me, felicity and delight occur more often. Felicity can be a synonym for happiness, and can also refer to any condition that produces happiness. When I am too busy to spend time alone in my room–remembering, reflecting, and meditating–I feel out of sorts, as if some part of me is missing. Retreating there for a half-hour or more is felicitous for me; it results in contentment and happiness throughout the day. As for delight, that emotion occasionally occurs during my time in my room, especially when my review of the previous day brings to mind memories that are joyous or exhilarating. I may have had some delight when the event I’m remembering originally occurred, but in the moment delight is usually fleeting. I savor such things more when I’m alone, in my room.

So, “sit in your cell as in paradise,” whether in God’s presence or in the company of your own thoughts and reflections. Be at peace, and take that peace with you throughout the rest of your day.

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When Your Adult Child Won’t Talk to You

“What to do when your grown child won’t talk to you?” asked a recent article at Next Avenue. The author, Jill Smolowe, states that she takes the following approach to close relationships:

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt that the best expression of my love is to convey a keen and sustained interest in my loved one’s life, pursuits and concerns. To do that, I ask questions, try to give the responses my full attention and ask more questions.”

Unfortunately, her strategy of asking questions and listening attentively doesn’t work so well with her 22 year-old daughter. It hadn’t been working for a while, but this wasn’t a major issue when her daughter was away at college. Now her daughter has moved home and there is much more tension. Jill describes her daughter’s attitude about being questioned as follows:

“Far from experiencing my interest as love, she regards it as a disrespect for and violation of her personhood. To her, parents are to be seen, not heard.”

Jill is trying to accommodate her daughter’s dislike for being questioned. This is really difficult for her, though:

“I am trying to stay on my side of the line. But not expressing interest, let alone concern, when I perceive that my child is distressed feels about as natural to me as not breathing.”

It’s hard to tell from the article whether the distress Jill senses in her daughter is genuine or whether her daughter has only minor moodiness that Jill misperceives as greater than it is. Jill does seem to be pretty anxious about her daughter. That’s not uncommon for those who are parenting young adults. It’s much more difficult when a child of ours (whatever her age) encounters obstacles that we can’t resolve than when, as often occurred when she was young, we could do something to help her. Parenting young adults involves constantly feeling powerless.

Self-determination theory, a psychological theory about human motivation, posits that well-being and optimal functioning come from experiencing autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Jill seems to be focusing on relatedness with her daughter. However, her daughter may feel that mom’s questioning threatens the other two foundational needs, autonomy and competence.

Young adults are often motivated to defend their newfound autonomy. Most have had prior experience with a parent’s question leading to advice or pressure, so even the most innocent inquiry can make them squirm. Young adults are also striving to prove to themselves and others that they are competent. Parental questions often convey an unstated assumption that the child really isn’t capable of handling things independently. This latter issue was explained to Jill when she went to a therapist to ask how to handle the situation with her daughter. The therapist told her the following:

“The transitional moment into the adult world is ‘terrifying’ for a lot of college kids. A parent’s offer of help, large or small, is often heard as a ‘vote of no confidence’ in her child’s ability to figure it out for herself.”

When they become adults, young people face many problems that they have to resolve on their own. Some welcome parental input in the form of questions and even suggestions, but others don’t. It’s useful for parents to be mindful that their adult children need to experience autonomy and competence, and to be careful not to undermine these. Our children need relatedness, too, but they won’t choose to relate to us if they feel that we are threatening their autonomy or competence. Respecting our children’s autonomy and affirming their competence when they are in the transition from adolescence to adulthood increase the likelihood that we will have affectionate and peaceful relationships with them.

With my son Elliot. He was 30 when the picture was taken. Our relationship was good then and remains that way now.

With my son Elliot. He was 30 when the picture was taken. Our relationship was good then and remains that way now.

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Lessons from a 93 Year Old

Carolyn at Beauty Beyond Bones recently wrote about an encounter with an old man at church. He arrived late, sat next to her, and created a fuss while trying to settle in and get caught up with the service. Carolyn helped him, but was unhappy that he had intruded and fearful that others might associate him with her. Things turned around for her, as you’ll see when you read the post. There is an innocence and guilelessness about the elderly that enables them to be an icon, a window into the nature of God. I hope that, should I become an old, befuddled man some day, I can be the sort of blessing to others that this old man was to Carolyn.

BeautyBeyondBones

I had one of those experiences last night that’s going to stick with me for a long time.

Sunday night. 7:30pm. And I was going to a church I had never been to.

I moseyed in the back and found a seat in the second-to-last row, just off the aisle.

Mass started. We were about 15 minutes in, and the priest was giving the homily.

And this old man hobbled in. He was at least 90, hunched over his cane, shuffling along. And he plopped down right next to me.

Now, how can I put this delicately…his entrance was not…shall we say…discrete.

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As an elderly gentleman, his hearing was obviously going, because what he thought were whispers, actually were yells.

Is someone sitting here!? What day is it!? September 4? What’s the page number?

Now, if you’ve never been to Catholic mass, disruptions are…rare and…unwelcome.

People were looking back…

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Bloom Anyway

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This spring, I planted sunflower seeds in my mom’s yard. I planted them in three places: in the backyard, alongside the driveway, and in a mostly-fenced garden area. The seedlings soon pushed their heads out of the dirt, then grew little by little. All was going well until the stalks were perhaps a foot and a half tall. They were large enough then to attract the attention of the deer who periodically wander through the yard. The deer sampled the young plants, found them to their liking, and ate the top off every plant except those in the garden area. It looked like we weren’t going to have much of a sunflower crop.

The half-eaten plants by the driveway soon died, as did a couple plants in the backyard. A couple more, though, clung to life and started growing again. They eventually got a couple of feet tall, only to be eaten by the deer again. They made another comeback, were eaten again, but still wouldn’t die.

Eventually the plants in the partly fenced-in garden area bloomed. The stalks in the backyard were pitiable–thin sticks waving a couple leaves, the original stem amputated and no longer growing. “I should pull them up,” I thought, but didn’t get around to it.

Then, about a week ago, I was startled to see that a tiny flower had appeared on one of the side stalks. I hadn’t been paying attention, so I hadn’t noticed that a bud had formed there. The plant had bloomed in the only way that it could, off to the side, just two feet off the ground.

I’ve enjoyed the large sunflowers in the garden area. My favorite flower, though, is the little sunflower in the backyard clinging to its ravaged stalk. To me, it’s a metaphor for growing old. Most of us have spent our years not in a sheltered garden but out in the open, vulnerable to whatever misfortune might come our way. Most of us have been chomped on (figuratively speaking) at least a few times, so we bear the scars of life’s vicissitudes. We may have been tempted to give up, like some of my snacked-upon plants eventually did. But, like that stalk that eventually flowered, we started out with the potential to bloom, and haven’t forgotten that that’s what we were made for. We will never look perfect or produce blooms suitable for a magazine cover, but that’s not what matters.  If we’re tenacious enough, we may surprise the world by flowering when all hope seems lost.

So, don’t give up. Bloom in whatever way you can!

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P.S. After I wrote this, the deer finally ventured in the garden area and ate the plants there. The little flower in the backyard is still blooming.

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