Friday, December 23, 2016

Comfortable in My Skin

The other morning, about 6am, my eldest kid and I were running in the woods. It was dark, because it is December. But we had headlamps and the mountain lions dared not approach us with our trusty and fierce poodle at our side. We ran in the 38 degree, starry morning. All was good until my kid suddenly caught her foot and flew into the air, landing hard on her hand and arm. Thankfully no broken bones but her hand got good and ripped up.

The skin. Our largest organ. Just sitting out there for the world to abuse it and for people to see it. It is a great source of money for industries of beauty. It can get you shot, depending on the melanocyte count. It is waterproof, it stretches with holiday overeating, it keeps our bones from showing and it let's the world know what we do for a living or for fun. Farmer's tan? Red neck? Calloused fingers? Smooth and perfect skin of the white collar world? The finger bump of a writer, the shorts and sock tan of a runner, the "I wash my hands 700 times per day" red and dry hands of a healthcare worker, the wrinkled palms of a bath enthusiast, the speedo tan of the lifeguard, the scars of accidents, surgeries, and births. The hickey marks of a good date and the blisters of a soldier with ill-fitting boots. Our skin can show our diseases from autoimmunity or infection or heart disease or high cholesterol, like vitiligo, butterfly rash, Janeway Lesions, or my personal favorite, atopic dermatitis.

I take medications to suppress my immune system so it does not attack my skin quite so viciously. I need to work, after all. Have you ever had poison ivy or a bunch of mosquito bites? Imagine that 24/7, head to toe. Anyway, it could be worse. But the 60-100 mg of prednisone it can take to battle my inner demons has made me lose 1:30 minutes per mile speed on average in my running. And that just plain bites. I mean, gosh yes I am glad I can still run at all, and holy moly, things could be much much much worse. But I like to run, and I like to run fast, and I just cannot anymore, because the largest organ in my body is being dive bombed with a nuclear arsenal every second of the day.

Speaking of skin issues and nuclear arsenal.

But I digress.

My daughter's hand (back to our early morning run) will heal. That is the other thing that blows me away about skin. We can shoot each other, saw open the sternum and sew it back together, get blistering sunburns, and falls and accidents and we still can heal. And even when the skin is not broken, but our hearts are torn apart, we can heal. And even when hate seems to be the new love, as cool to us as a president who is stupider than most of us and somehow therefore makes us feel better about ourselves, even with that cold, hard fact-we can still heal.

My skin, well that is another story. But despite it being the most uncomfortable organ I own, I will still keep walking around in it. My Dad, who had a heart transplant, learned to be wth a brand new ticker. My Mom, who lost a breast to cancer, learned to stuff the fake breast into her bra and head out for the day. I cannot remove or transplant my skin but I can remember the strength my parents showed in hard times, and I can also appreciate the fact that beauty is skin deep.

And although all I want for Christmas is beautiful skin, like the kind of skin where I could bare my arms and legs and back and midriff and face without embarrassment, and the kind of skin that would allow me to be a fast runner again and the kind of immune system that didn't make me bald every couple of years and the kind of skin that did not make me feel like a freak of nature, I can see that things could be worse. I just wish the world was a kinder place and that how we looked did not matter quite so much. I fear the next four years will not offer us a leader who will be kind to those of us who are not beautiful, who have "too much" melanin, who have outward evidence of disease or imperfection. I hope the American spirit of kindness kicks in and saves us from descending into truly believing that hate is the new cool thing. I hope.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


The days are getting shorter. In a couple of weeks, we will have the least daylight of the year. Already the evening dog walks and runs are in darkness. We step through our backyard cathedral of redwood trees, headlamp as lucifer, the fog as incense. The dogs are unmoved by daylight savings. At first, they demanded dinner an hour early because their internal stomach clocks were not privy to the ways of humans. They seem to have adjusted. They do wonder at the live, piney tree with honest to God sap still flowing sitting in our living room. Once decorated, they will eat at least one ornament, as if it is their sacred duty.

Darkness seems appropriate as we complete this year. Certainly no year can be all out "bad". Years do not actually have feelings, qualities or actual existence. We create our calendar, our weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds to define a life passing by us indescribably fast. Time is not real, but it is all we have. 2016 has brought us personal grief: a son in jail, death of loved ones. 2016 has brought us public grief: somehow hate has become OK, and we are soon to lose a leader of grace and decency. Also, he knows what the hell he is doing, and though one might not agree with his policies, one must at least agree, he studied for the job, and understood his duty.

Darkness might include getting rid of Medicare. So many people I have cared for over the years depend on Medicare.

Darkness might include registering my Muslim friends. Yep, I won't take that one.

Darkness might include disrespecting my brown daughter, my lesbian daughter, my son with mental illness.

Darkness might include disrespect for women.

After December 21, though, the light takes over again. It is cyclical, like many powerful things in this life. January 20 might try to be dark, but January 21 will involve women shining light upon many American cities. It is a time for us to be awake. Awake to poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.

In the realm of running, I find solace. I go to the woods and the beach and realize I am a small part of a much bigger beauty. I count, but only insofar as I am aware and awake. I count on Mother Nature for healing and for getting dirty, quite literally. Mud, sand, redwood fronds and the rain soaking my clothes and shoes and dogs into a mess of smell. The floors I walk on cannot escape the detritus of our outdoor excursions. My home welcomes what the peace of wild things bring inside.

Time is irrelevant and irreverent. But it is what we have. As a doctor of elders, a mother of precious beings, a cousin of young mothers who have been lost to cancer, a daughter of parents gone too soon, I recommend never taking time for granted.

Also, Barack Obama? Yep, he knows what he is doing, and he cares. About all of us.

I think though, we have seen the light. And no one can ever take that away from us.