Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sorry, Not Sorry

Caldera Retreat Center, Oregon, Blue Lake

I ran and wrote with 30+ other women in the wilds of Oregon, near a caldera lake that reflected all the trees and sky into its impossibly deep self, near a rushing stream insistent and serene and rapid all at once.

Caldera derives from the latin caldarium or caldaria, meaning a room for taking hot baths, or maybe a cooking pot. When magma erupts from a volcano especially rapidly, the support crumbles and a big depression forms, kind of a sinkhole. Complete collapse leads to stunning, almost mystical bodies of water. This particular body of water was decidedly not hot. Some of my retreat-mates did skinny dip one early morning in it, and I suspect their screams were heard in California.

Lauren Fleshman led us in running. She is wise and kind and funny and multitalented. One workout we did was "the predator", involving 2 minute fartleks back and forth on a dirt road at noon, wherein you found the last place you stopped a fartlek for the next one and changed directions. Thus someone was always being chased or chasing someone else. We started with warm up exercises to wake up the body and fast twitch muscles. We were hands on the dirt road, knees in the dust and when running dust kicked up and clung to legs, leaving a dirt tan at the end of the day. "Oh yeah, you will get dirty during this workout. Sorry-not sorry", said Lauren.

"Not sorry" came up as a theme, as women tend to apologize a lot. Notice this next time you are with a woman. Especially younger women. I see myself doing it less as I age, and my geriatric patients almost never at all, but almost never means there are still apologies, mainly for bothering me about something that ails them (what exactly am I there for as a doctor other than that?).

Marianne Elliott led us in writing. With her lilting New Zealand accent, she helped is to write wild and true. She is unassuming and inspiring, an advocate for human rights, a powerful presence. Plus she runs well. Lauren writes well. In fact, all of the women at this retreat, from all over America and the world, run and write with passion.

That is about all I can say about the retreat, because it was sacred. And although that may sound hippy-dippy, you will just have to accept it as fact. Sorry, not sorry.

One thing was this woodpecker. I was planning on meditating on the deck of the A frame where I was staying, early one morning, coffee cup near at hand and the light settling on me from the east, rising through the bent pines so gently. "Tap, tap, tap." I am instantly distracted. Opening my eyes I look to my right and there on a log is Woody the woodpecker. I decided that day to meditate on the red-headed woodpecker. He-she had this attitude which was frankly hilarious. So sure about where it was knocking on the log, first one place, then another, then over to this tree, then back to the log. At one point a squirrel was running up near Woody and he-she puffed out breast and feathers and raised wings to look threatening. Squirrel retreated. Sorry, not sorry, but this log grub or whatever it is that is worth pecking at bark for existence, is MINE.

Another thing was a 10 mile trail run. Now I run trails regularly, living in a rural place with endless running loveliness. But on my 10 mile trail run I fell three times. It wasn't like a slow motion "oh-I am fallliinnnggg" sort of thing. I just found myself face in dirt thrice, no warning. It was a metaphorical bonanza, the falling and getting back up, the falling and not giving up the run, the falling and licking dirt like it was humble pie. I was a bloody mess by the end, but Lauren patched me up and I added another thing to my bucket list (check-being administered first aid after a trail run by Lauren Fleshman). I figured out with Lauren's help that it was the polarized sunglasses, which I never wear at home on trails, as I run in the shadows of redwood giants. My eyes, not the best at baseline anyway (having been offered corneal transplants which I declined, sorry eye doctor, not sorry), could not discern root from rock from shadow.

Beneath her feet
Undulating roots
Rocks squat cowardly in shadows, then
Rise up and grab from
Beneath her feet
Separated as they are from trail
With an inch of rubber
Shoes made for gripping
Beneath her feet
Are also apparently made for flying
Then falling so
For a period of time there is nothing
Beneath her feet
Which normally carry her with confidence
So her eyes can gaze
At prehistoric monster-leafed plants and not focus on what's
Beneath her feet
Which love the unpredictability
Which trail offers over boring road
And at least the landing is soft
Beneath her feet
Soft, iron-tasting dirt
Mixing with iron-tasting blood
Where she leaves a bit of herself
Beneath her feet

There is so much to be learned from falling and failing and flailing, all of which I feel an expert. Recently, like in the last week,  Donald Trump's lawyer threatened to sue Berkeley Breathed. He was making fun of Trump, I suppose. A couple of things ran through my mind as I saw Breathed's response, which was to promise to cease and desist because he would rather not be sued by a rich and powerful asshole (side comment-I have respect for the presidency, but I just cannot cannot cannot respect the current president in any way, shape or form, sorry, not sorry). The things I thought were: DO NOT BE SORRY, MR BREATHED! People have been making fun of presidents since the beginning of presidents and we live in the United States of America, where freedom to criticize is one of our rights. I also thought, hmmmm, can this guy not take a joke? Can he not be humble? Can he not find himself face in the dirt and get up and dust himself off and continue on the crazy-assed road he calls his life? Finally, I thought, no he cannot. And he is teaching our children the following: admitting failure is for losers, you do not have to strive for excellence to do one of the most important jobs in our country, and a nerdy cartoonist with a penguin fetish is scary to the leader of the free world.

It was good to retreat, but I am back now, and I am not apologetic for my indignation about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Pact. Whether or not you care about the beauty of the Earth or the right of its citizens not to find themselves under water or scorching to death due to climate change, it seems we could all agree that the end of life on our planet is a pretty grim prospect, and certainly not an economic advantage to anyone involved. I am not apologetic about my slowish running pace, because I have a disease with shitty drugs that have altered my body. Good news on that front, as a new potentially miraculous (ha ha , as a doctor that is pure folly, but as a patient one can hope) drug for my condition was recently FDA approved, and prescribed for me. I am currently wrestling with insurance to get the elixir to my hot little paws. My indignation about recent healthcare proposals is personal and political. My elder patients and my child with a pre-existing condition and my own little self is bound to be screwed by the overhaul being proposed by the Republicans. I do not apologize about my indignation, because I have been in the trenches and I am telling you now, whether or not you believe poor people and sick people have a right to have a chance at health, we can all agree that economically it would serve us better to care for everyone equitably so not so many dollars bleed onto the floors of our over-burdened emergency rooms and hospitals. Because we all pay for those under and uninsured folks in our own premiums.

It was good to retreat, but I am present. I am armed with some workouts to spark my speed engine, which has been sitting rusting in the corner of my proverbial garage for quite some time. I am present to my need for daily time in nature and meditation and woodpecker gazing and music and sitting and talking with wise and gorgeous people. Like my artist and philosopher friends of 28 years who came to visit this week and filled my heart and mind and funny bone to the brim with gratitude.

It was good to retreat, but I am not sorry to be nearly back to my daily routine. I do so love life, and though the pain is intense with illness, a son in prison, and a megalomaniac in the White House, I found in retreat that a falling down, a deep depression from hot magma boiling away all the supports can lead to a indentation that fills with the clearest water that reflects all the goodness around it and invites stillness, awe and abandon.

Naked abandon. Sexy? Nope. Sorry, not sorry.


  1. Beautiful. Thank you my friend. For sharing our cabin and sharing this. Keep up the sorry not sorry. And reminding others of it too.. Love, Petra

  2. Chills! Goosebumps on my cheeks. And so many moments of laughter too. Thank you!