My dear friend and neighbor, Lynne Craft, recently sent me the following message:
When I dressed for my family’s Thanksgiving celebration, I put on the bracelet that June had given me several years ago. I have thought a lot lately about the hours she and I spent making those bracelets and laughing together while you and Chuck were out biking or visiting on your back patio. I got to know her well as she shared her crafting techniques with me. She was a beautiful soul.
My two grandsons were both intrigued by the bracelet. Miles, the seven-year-old, couldn’t believe it was made of safety pins. I took it off and he carefully examined the construction.
Then he said, “This is sooooooo cool. Momma uses safety pins to hold our clothes together when they break. How did you make this?”
I told him a very dear friend of mine made the bracelet and gave it to me. She then taught me how to make them. He asked, “On our next sleepover, can we make one for Momma?”
It was so sweet, I couldn’t help but get choked up. I told him we would, and he could give it to her for Christmas.
If you ever wonder what legacy you will leave behind when you depart this earth, take a moment to examine the everyday interactions you have with the friends and family who move through your life. It may be the smallest gesture, a simple word, a seemingly insignificant shared experience that reverberates for generations to come. It may be your own grandchild or relative who stows away a memory of you that influences who they become or how they carry themselves in the world.
Or it may be a youngster you have never met, who was not yet born when you were friends with his grandmother, who internalizes your kindness and wants to mimic your talents so he can bestow his mother with a special gift—a gift that she may later share with her own grandchild.
June, our former neighbor, recently succumbed to cancer after a long and difficult struggle. A few years ago she and her husband, Chuck, had moved to Massachusetts to be closer to family. It was hard for those of us left behind to be aware of the decline in her health while being so physically removed and unable to help.
But her spirit has clearly not left us, and moments of her life will be cherished by those who knew her—and even some who didn’t. Our human engagements are as complex as the construction of that bracelet, and sometimes as tangled and inscrutable. We can’t always recognize our influence or the sway we hold. When we’re at our best, in fact, we don’t worry about how others perceive us. We forget that they’re watching.
Upon inspection, our lives are a collection of ordinary moments strung together to fulfill largely ordinary goals. The extraordinary is rare, and perhaps unnecessary. As we piece together our personal histories, we make mistakes, undo errors, are surprised by unexpected pricks to our ego or our conscience or our sense of self.
But the body of work we leave behind can only be discerned by those who loved us. What matters is not really for us to decide. As we relish time with family and friends during the holidays, I encourage you to focus on the little things—the laughter with a friend, the solace offered to one who grieves, a safety pin produced to mend a tear—rather than worrying about the lavish spectacle or the ostentatious gift. What may seem inconsequential to us today is what may eventually define us.
“I didn’t know what it was like to live pain-free until after…surgery. I was so much more productive. I was so much more calm. I could think clearly. And it made me mad because I realized that this treatment I got at 36 should have happened in my early 20s. As women, you just want to have an equal opportunity at achievement that your male counterparts do, but if you’re saddled with such a severe…issue, you’re starting from way back behind the starting line.” —Padma Lakshmi
When I read these words from author, actress, and television host Padma Lakshmi in a recent Parade magazine supplement that came in my newspaper (yeah, the ones constructed out of newsprint), I nearly stopped breathing. I had heard Lakshmi’s name, but I am not a foodie and I knew nothing about her. I’ve never seen her shows. I was not aware of the essay she wrote for the New York Times in 2018 speaking out about her own sexual assault after Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, or that she is the American Civil Liberties Union ambassador for immigration and women's rights. I did not know she was once married to author Salman Rushdie.
But here was a celebrity with a huge following voicing publicly one of my most deeply buried secrets.
If she said it out loud, I decided, I can too.
No one but my husband knows how I suffered for decades from undiagnosed endometriosis, and he only had a vague notion of how it affected my ability to function normally. I never missed a day of work or school because of it, although I did leave each early once, 25 years apart, when I nearly passed out from the pain. I barely remember a classmate leading me to my high school’s office so someone could call my mother after I had nearly slid out of my chair during advanced math class, half unconscious. That day my doctor gave me a shot in the hip of some sort of potent pain reliever. No one had any idea what to do with me.
In my 40s, I discovered that my body would go into “labor” 14 minutes into an intense run, such as when I was racing. It was like clockwork. Evidently, I finally surmised from my own research, the adrenaline rush kicked in a whole series of hormonal reactions. I usually made it to the finish line, where I would crawl into the bushes somewhere and crumble into a fetal position until the pain subsided. Then I would be fine.
Like Lakshmi, I consulted doctors annually about my troubles. I was soothed and patronized. My mother had been prescribed Diethylstilbestrol (DES) when she was pregnant with me, a nonsteroidal estrogen given to women in that era who had trouble carrying pregnancies to term. In 1971, the FDA withdrew approval of DES as a treatment for pregnant women. The medical community calls me a “DES daughter.” I have known since puberty that I was at high risk for gynecological cancers and related issues.
Endometriosis is common. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it affects an estimated two to ten percent of American women between the ages of 25 and 40. It causes immense suffering and infertility. Yet rarely do people talk about it. To address its near invisibility, Lakshmi co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America to promote early diagnosis and intervention and to better inform the medical community and the public about the disease.
Lakshmi was 36 when she first found relief. I was 49. When the pain started persisting for up to 25 days a month, my doctor finally recommended exploratory surgery. I gladly assented. Evidently there are no adequate imaging tests to identify the scar tissue that twists and binds the abdominal organs when the endometrial tissue begins to grow outside the uterus. After the surgery, the doctor found my husband in the waiting room and showed him pictures she had taken of my bladder and bowel and ureters and appendix and fallopian tubes all bound together in a sticky mess. He promptly passed out. I found him lying on a gurney next to me when I awoke from the anesthesia, being pampered by the nurses who were offering him cookies and orange juice.
I had major surgery a month later. The relief was nearly immediate. Within a few months I left behind a part-time job that was all I could manage at the time and accepted a big new job that I knew would challenge me. I was up for it. Like Lakshmi, I felt calmer, more capable, better able to handle whatever life threw at me. My career took a distinctive turn that eventually led to Murky Press. I can’t imagine any of that happening without that surgery.
Like Lakshmi, I have frequently, quietly, reflected on why I couldn’t get help earlier. I have dealt with the anger. But, as Thanksgiving once again approaches, I am thankful that my health dramatically improved 12 years ago. The absence of pain allows us to forget, but reading her story reminded me of how different my daily existence is now than it was for nearly 35 years of my life.
So this week, with Lakshmi’s prompting, I am celebrating good health. I am celebrating a decade of embracing bold actions. I am celebrating the kinder, gentler attitude my good health has permitted me. And as the niggling aches and pains of old age fail to completely quash my good spirits, I am celebrating more good years to come.
Cathy Eads, of Atlanta, Ga., battles those nighttime gremlins. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
What is it about 4:07 a.m. that jolts my brain awake and into action like it’s an officer strategizing the platoon’s next battle plan? I want to convince the hamster thoughts inside my head that, really, the best thing they could possibly do at this hour is lie down, snuggle into the bedding, and get some much-deserved deep rest. They insist, however, that it is time to remember all the things, construct all the plans, bring up all the doubts about questionable past interactions, solve all the problems that are arising, or might arise, re-hash old conversations with wittier and more intelligent input, consider what skills to include on my next résumé, etc.
I have always believed that any time before 6 a.m. is the middle of the night. Anyone can try to debate me on the virtues, or the necessity, of waking at 5 a.m. to get a head start on the day, or quiet time for reflection and a cup of warmth before the busy day begins, but my conviction will not be swayed. Y’all have fun with that. I’ll be under the covers till 6. I simply refuse to get out of bed before that time unless there is a good reason to do so, like making an international flight to an exotic destination, or surgery.
In the course of one wee-hour bout of insomnia, I carried on a mental conversation with my ex-husband questioning his judgment around his idea of an equitable settlement agreement and crafting some of the terms of my counteroffer, rehearsed the song I think would make the perfect first dance for my son’s wedding, planned what day I should sweep and mop the floor before Thanksgiving company arrives and considered how large a turkey to buy to feed them all, pondered what I could do to keep the squirrels from knocking over my pansy pots and digging out the flowers every damn day, wondered if the plumber took the old sink away so I won’t have to coordinate a special trash pickup, realized I should try to schedule a carpet cleaner to come next week… One would think this stuff would eventually bore my poor mind to sleep!
I take the whole sleep hygiene thing seriously. I know I need to be in bed near the same time every night. I limit screen time in the hour before. Strategically, I stop eating three hours before bedtime so my body isn’t trying to digest when it should be resting. I stop drinking liquid at 9 p.m. so my bladder can make it till morning. I keep the room temperature cool. I use a sleep meditation app that talks me down into slumber each night. I take a nightly sleep supplement and herbal sleep tincture that help keep me at rest all night most of the time. But sometimes this wonderful cocktail of sleep aids still cannot defeat the 4:07 wakeup call inside my mind. If it happens more than two nights in a row, I pull out the Delta 8 gummies. But then, there is the worry that at some point those will not do the trick either.
I think I need to investigate feng shui-ing the bedroom next. I’m sure that could help. I’ll Google that today, then at 4:07, I’ll be able to plan how to re-arrange everything.
Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m happiest when I’m outdoors. I crave the sun on my face and the smell of the damp earth. I want trees around me and hills butted up against the horizon.
I always assumed that I had inherited my father’s love for the woods—which he, of course, managed to turn into a career. Whether that was imprinted in my genetic code or learned during the few years I had with him, I can’t say. I do know that my sister prefers dusky light and indoor pursuits. But at a very young age I was the one swimming the icy waters of Lake Champlain or eagerly exploring the woods at Girl Scout camp in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
Recently, though, it has occurred to me that I may not be giving my mother her due for my affinity for outdoor activity. When I recently stumbled across this photo of her with her cousin near Kentucky’s iconic Natural Bridge, I thought about the other recreational activities she had told me were part of her youth: swimming at Herrington Lake or Salt River; spending time with friends at camps along Kentucky River; swimming and bowling at Joyland in Lexington; playing tennis; riding ponies.
Of course, youth in the 1930s didn’t have the abundance of organized and electronic activities available to youngsters today, so by default my mother would have spent time with friends in simpler pursuits. But having had many more years with my mother, her subtle encouragement of outdoor activity (“Sallie, go run around outside until you wear off some of that energy!”) might have made a lasting impression.
On Tuesday, I joined George Jr.’s youngest son, Jim, and four of his friends on a hike to Natural Bridge. We walked up to the eponymous arch and over to Lookout Point and Lover’s Leap, and then meandered among the impressive sandstone formations along Rock Garden Trail. Jim and I couldn’t resist stopping to recreate the nearly 90-year-old photo.
At one point as we walked, Jim gestured at the beauty around us and said, “This is my church.” It is indeed a holy and a precious place. As the earth quakes and burns, as oceans roil and the atmosphere gnashes and roars in response to humans’ irresponsible actions and unforgivable carelessness, a walk in the woods reminds us, gently and persuasively, of what we are blindly sacrificing.
I look forward to more outings with this like-minded group. And I’m grateful that both my parents helped me understand the value of time spent outdoors.
More evidence of my familial penchant for perching on rocks: