Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Spirit Animals

I was running along the bay in San Francisco the other afternoon. It was a crisp, overcast but not foggy day. I was on the flip side of an 8 mile out and back, just going down the hill above Fort Mason that I had climbed on the way out, when a huge thing swooped next to me and alit on the branch of a cypress to my left.  I stopped, having identified it as a bird of prey. A red-tailed hawk, I believe.
It was not as if I had never seen such a hawk before, but the way it swooped in so close and landed there, then eyed me, in the middle of a city? That was different.

Hawk, SF, October 2016
Next morning, I ran before sunrise. I was running up Lombard and hit that weird dead end at the top at Kearny where you have to either break into someone's gated stairs down the big hill near Chinatown or run further up a hill around the corner to God knows where, and as I stopped to ponder what to do next I saw just ahead of me, in the middle of the street, a coyote. My head lamp made its eyes glow and I was not particularly scared. Just a little thrown off. Too thrown off to snap a photo. It finally trotted away after eyeing me for awhile. I am surprised it did not try to eat me. God knows I have enough meat on me these days to keep it hale for a good week. I turned around and found my way back to a feasible route. Headlamp was also helpful to avoid stepping on any of the homeless folk sleeping on the sidewalks.

I never get used to that. I bet they don't either.

I used to work for a mobile medical clinic in San Francisco, back in residency. We would search out the homeless in their various haunts (i.e. places they felt safest). I remember coming to work at clinic on that day we call 9-11 now. But clinic was cancelled, which I could just never quite figure out. The city was eerily quiet that day. Maybe the lack of airplanes flying over, and people just sort of huddling close together indoors. At least the people that had indoors to huddle within.

While driving home along the 101 today, there was a golden retriever in a truck. But not in the flatbed like you are picturing. He was in the cab with his people, sitting on his haunches but facing backward, and the middle back window was open. He had his paws up on the window frame and his head sticking out with the biggest smile on his face.

I count that as 3 spirit animal sightings in 3 days. Now I have always considered the whale my personal spirit animal. I seem to have intense dreams involving whales whenever something big is about to happen in my life. But I am open to the idea that we are constantly being offered messages from the world around us. We are mostly too busy with our nose in our iPhone screen to notice them. I am guilty as anyone of this. I also often stop to wonder what would happen if you plated out a culture from everyone's iPhone screens. But I digress, into potentially award-winning middle school science fair projects and my own insecurities thanks to my medical school infection and immunity professor. I only ever flush the toilet with my elbow, thanks to him.

According to my highly dubious sources, the hawk may represent being able to see meaning in ordinary experiences. Also seeing the bigger picture, having vision and intuition. It might be telling me to step back and look at a difficult situation with a new perspective. The hawk is telling me to pay attention. So I tried to ask it for more details, as I am a scientist and I want some details gorramit, but this is what it said:

I interpreted that as "See ya, sucker. You ask too many questions. Now go finish that run."

The coyote made me so happy. Apparently it is meant to make you stop taking yourself so seriously. It might be time to let go, and get on with things. Irony and a trickster spirit are its specialities. Wisdom and folly go hand in hand, and, for heaven's sakes play more often.

I told a friend about my sighting and she said if I see a roadrunner next she is calling a doctor for me.

That dog in the truck, well it could mean letting go of doubt, as there is plenty of knowledge, skill and support to achieve my goals. Also,  it is telling me to let go of material things and stay focused in the present moment.

OK I buy that last part. Has anyone out there ever in your entire life met a Golden Retriever not focused on the present moment? Or any dog, for that matter? OK, my dog Miles is often focused on getting to the beach, which is often in the future and past, but he is also an avid fan of television and likes to hump 12 year old Zoe the golden doodle in the window for all to see. So, Miles may not be the best example of the deep wisdom or spiritual awareness of dogs. He likes the Warriors (even after last night!), hates the Simpsons, and patiently watched the presidential debates. He prefers long beach runs to food, likes to lay on his back and stretch his front legs out as far as they go. He burps, snores and irritates the hell out of my teenaged daughter. He chews on good literature (literally) and doesn't mind butting my hands with his curly head in the middle of a technically difficult piano piece. He gets upset if the family plays raucous games with each other and likes to sit on our feet and lean against our legs till he slides over onto the floor. Mainly because he, like most other standard poodles, has no ass.

Tomorrow I board not one but 3 planes to go and see my beloved GodMom get married. She is just the best GodMother ever. I know for a fact she and my Mom used to hide in the bathtub, fully clothed, drinking coffee and chatting while 7 kids pounded on the door at various times looking for whatever it is kids look for from their ever-suffering parents. But aside from bath tub escapes, she, like my Mom, always has shown up. Shown up with spirit and tenderness and humor. Plus she rode on the Harry Potter ride with me at Universal Studios in Orlando a few years back. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, but she took it all in stride.

It has now been over 20 years since my Mom died. A few years after her death I found myself at a mindfulness retreat along the coast of California. I was out walking on a silent day, and there was a small wooden shed in the field on a cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean. I went in, and found it to be a shrine of sorts, with an altar and various significant pieces set there by many people over what appeared to be years. Some found, natural objects. Some photos and icons and treasure of sorts. As I sat there, I suddenly felt my Mom's presence. And then a small songbird flew in and fluttered about this small space while I sat there. It finally came to rest and we sat together for awhile. Then it spread its wings and sailed away from me.

Pay attention.
See the extraordinary.
Do not take yourself too seriously.
Consider play important, and material things overrated.
Sit quietly, and see what happens.
Show up for those whom you love, and those you don't love and those you don't even know.

Stop asking so many questions.

Finish the damn run.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Blog Before the Storm

My dogs will not leave my side tonight. I am not sure why. There is a storm brewing. It has been brewing all day. I did my house calls early in the day for fear that weather would preclude reasonable travel later. A smattering of rain, some bit of wind. No major storm yet though. It is sitting there in the air, like an about to be lit stick of dynamite. I feel like it is inevitable that things will explode, so please, just touch the lighter to the wick already.

My dogs may sense the storm. They may know of a "big one"coming. They may think I am a big piece of bacon. It is hard to say for sure.

Maybe they read the news. What is happening in the world is certainly scary enough. And the coming election is like being stuck as a character in To Kill a Mockingbird. Racism is over, right? Nope. Sexism is passĂ©, yes? Nope. Unwanted sexual contact is illegal, YES????

When I was 16, I was on a bus to the Vatican in Rome. It was packed. A man came from behind me and as I held onto the hand rail above me for dear life, he grinded into me from behind. I was horrified. It happened again in Venice, on a gondola. When I was 18, I was in college, walking home from a café at night. A man followed me, I quickened my steps, he followed closer, I got to my destination and nervously got inside. I have a dozen more similar stories. I hardly get through a day, much less a week in my profession without a comment on my appearance. It is not OK. It is not OK.

It is not OK, because I am human. Not because I am a Mom, a wife, a daughter, an Aunt, a sister.

I like to run. I like to study. I like to play piano. I like to read. I like to think I can walk in the wilderness alone. I like to travel. I like to be a Mom of daughters and also of sons.

Here is what I have been told:
To run is to be thin.
To study is geeky and not lady-like.
To play piano is to wear the right dress and to be presentable.
To read is to like chic lit.
To walk in the wilderness alone is dangerous.
To travel, as a woman, is also dangerous.
To be a Mom is to be perfect. To be an example of hard work, morality, and to make the best cookies in town (which I do, if I do say so myself). And to work but not too much. To be present at every major developmental stage. To keep your kid out of jail, and send them to a big name college. To be presentable, perfect, kind, adaptable, and pretty.
Be pretty most of all. It might become law if The Donald becomes president.

My dogs are probably mistaken. Nothing big ever happens when we expect it. But I respect their commitment to me, or my perception of their commitment. They love me, for sure. They are not filled with hate or prejudice or misogyny. They just like a good run, a soft place to sleep and the knowledge that they are part of a pack that matters.

I think my pack matters. I love my family, my community. I welcome the coming storm. I run from nothing. I run to everything. Everything that matters.

And, please, Michelle, can you run for president?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Big Business

I have read Runner's World magazine for most of my adult life. And why not? Every month there is a whole cover to cover magazine dedicated to the best sport ever! Granted, it does seem like there is a finite amount of things that can be said about putting on shoes (or not--barefoot running is in, after all) and going out the door to run. They always come up with something good though. And now there is even a new set of running magazines dedicated to trail running.

Trail running is becoming big business. There are hundreds of trail races all over the world, many of them ultra-marathons. People are starting to dope for them, so you know they are real competitions. They now have dogs sniffing the granola and gatorade at rest stops to ensure everyone is following the rules. Not really, but they might have to start doing this. They could have the athletes pee in a cup at mile 72, but their impending renal failure might preclude that, so dogs are probably the best option. I have long suspected that gatorade IS urine, derived and purified from the bladders of the athletes who advertise for them. It is magical and tastes a little like sucking on distilled kidney stone juice. Disclaimer: I am not getting any kickbacks from Gatorade corporation.

I love trail running. I am sort of bummed it is turning into such a thing, but I guess maybe I should be happy or at least a little pleased because it gets folks outdoors and has more people passionate about protecting our environment. They might be less likely to have the bumper sticker I saw this past week on a truck in front of me: "Environmentalism is a disease". When I pulled into work I immediately when to Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine to read up on the disease of environmentalism. It kept talking about how hurting the environment can be linked to the rise of certain diseases. Maybe that's what that guy meant with his/her bumper sticker? Anyway, trail running is a big business now. All the shoe companies make "trail running shoes". I used to think this was stupid till I ran the Headlands Marathon a couple of years ago, and was slip-sliding on these steep single track sandy, rocky, slick trails. I could of used some serious traction.

These days my running is pathetic. I am too sad about my son to run much, and have slowed down considerably. I suppose I will get it back at some point. I probably just need to drink more magical Gatorade.

I did visit my son, in jail, today. He is on day 61 or so. He has not seen the light of day except through a distant window. He does try to exercise during rec time. For awhile, he balled up papers to play basketball, as they had no ball. He also walks laps around the room. It takes 35 steps to circle the room. I may be choosing not to exercise as much, but honestly cannot imagine being barred (literally and figuratively) from moving my body, and from being outdoors. I get people in jail and prison are being punished, but I wonder exactly how helpful it is for making an 18 year old with addiction into a better person?

Prisons are a big business. Our president helped move along the phasing out of private federal prisons. This is a good step. The more profit in it, the more prisoners there will be, and prison is not always the right answer. Also, if you profit from someone being in prison, why would you want to rehabilitate them? I never pictured myself having a personal stake in this whole issue, but therein lies the rub. We need to care about stuff because it could affect others in our community, and maybe one day us. I think Jesus' whole thing about visiting the prisoners and tending to the sick is akin to doing the same for Him should be reason enough for the Christians in our country to give a shit about healthcare and justice equity. But I digress, and too many Christians see profit as a God-given right. Bah humbug.

Nursing homes: big business. Locally, we are facing the closure of 3 of 5 of our nursing homes, because they are not profitable. The mission of a nursing home should be rehabilitation (sound familiar?) and for those not rehabilitatable (now there is a mouthful), a place to be housed, fed, cared for, loved, kept clean, kept safe. How, exactly, should profit fit into this? I work for a program, PACE, that serves people at risk of losing their independence due to health issues and frailty. The nursing homes, under the company The Devil--oops I meant Rockport, decided last year they did not want to work with us because we "take away business from them". We found a solution to care for people who needed temporary or longer term placement for support and rehab. But my eyes were opened to the absolute folly of making care of other humans a profitable endeavor. Some things can be big business: running shoes, cell phones, um.....hold on. Do I want 10 year old in China making my running shoes or my iPhones? Dang, it is hard to be a good person in this day and age.

It is certainly an opportune time for our community to rethink how we care for seniors. I wrote about it a bit in my column this month on person-centered care. Maybe money is not the most important thing. I know Mother Teresa supposedly said "without money, there is no mission" but truth be told, the money to do good works is not nearly as much as the money it takes to please a board of directors to a big business. A community can decide to support a good cause. A community can help create change.

I am a preacher's daughter, as well as the niece of 6 other preachers, so forgive me if this is getting preachy.

Take home points:
-Environmentalism is not actually a disease. I looked this up.
-Trail running is awesome and does not take a magazine to tell you how to do it.
-For profit institutions meant to rehabilitate people are a really bad idea.
-The Netherlands gets it right. See below, if you don't believe me. This is well worth 20 minutes of your life to watch.
-I need to get back to my running.