I’m trying to get rid of my Christmas tree. I haven’t used her in the past few years and don’t want to haul her across the Pacific Ocean. Plus, she doesn’t stand a chance with Monkey Boy and George in the house. But I’ve had her for more than twenty years; I know this because every year after Christmas I wrap her in the same tattered sheet of newspaper.
Three times I’ve taken her downstairs and three times I’ve brought her back up. I guess I feel an affinity for the old girl. She’s seen a few holidays, waited patiently for the seasons to change, allowed two generations of cats to toss her on the floor and never lost her temper. Maybe she has a few kinks in her spine and her branches are a little off-kilter but I think she might not be ready for the trash heap. Not yet.
It’s funny which things are easy to let go of and which things attach themselves to us, snapping turtles of the psyche.
When I was a little girl, I had an old flannel nightgown I carried around with me. I would rub it against my nose while I sucked my thumb. I called it my “smoker”. I don’t know why; maybe sucking my thumb reminded me of my grandfather sucking on cigarettes. Around age seven, I gave my smoker to my parents and told them not to give it back. And then I asked them to give it back. And then I put it in a drawer myself, vowing to stop sucking my thumb. And I did stop.
Not so many years after that, I started sucking on cigarettes. It took me 35 years to stop, but I did.
I think if I can mentally tuck my Christmas tree into a drawer with both my smoker and my smokes, I might be able to let her go.
If I can’t, does anybody want a used Christmas tree?
We’ve set our departure date for August 4 and I am determined to downsize. I give each item a feng shui moment, asking it, “Do I really want to carry you across the Pacific Ocean?” More often than not, the answer is, “No.” We toss old documents, choose which photos need to be kept, which are better forgotten, give things away, delete no-longer-relevant computer files. I had four boxes crammed with old letters at the back of the closet, couldn’t bear to toss them, couldn’t bear to read them. So we had a bonfire in the back garden.
Fire: cleansing, mesmerizing, comforting, final.
We continue to wait out the ridiculous quarantine period (83 more days!) and there is an unhealthy coating of frustration mixed into the sparkling tropical fruit salad that awaits us halfway across the Pacific.
Or so we hope.
I took this photo in April at Volcanoes National Park. There were two sputtering pools of bubbly lava, far enough in the distance to seem unreal. No biggie.
I came back to Tokyo, carried on with preparations.
And then Kilauea started to kick up her heels.
So far the lava is only flowing in Leilani Estates, which is two developments away from our house, about 15 miles, a safe distance, we hope. But I have this nagging image in my head, a scene from Minions, where a T Rex is balancing on his toes, trying to keep his balance by flailing his tiny, useless arms and then…
…he topples into a pit of bubbling lava.
I can’t describe how painful it is to read the news, to watch new vents opening, creeping northwest, creeping toward our little piece of paradise.
When I asked Realtor Ron to make our offer on the house, I started to cry. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted it until it looked like I might get it. And now I might not get it after all.
But at the same time, I’ve lived here for 32 years, lived through typhoons and earthquakes and tsunami. And I’ve had cancer and will live with the fallout from that for the rest of my life. I’m finding an odd sense of comfort in that, in the way that things go in parallel, they go full circle, they usually work out in the end. One way of the other, we will move forward into whatever the future holds for us.
For now, we wait. And we hope. There’s nothing else we can do.
I find myself hovering on the edge of a knife, trying desperately not to topple over into the Land of Schizophrenia. How am I supposed to sit quietly and continue recovering when paradise is waiting for me just a hop and a skip across the Pacific Ocean?
This is the first papaya I harvested from one of the trees in my new garden. I had to wash some sort of white goo off its skin (Gekko guano? I don’t wanna know.) and artfully place some chunks of lemon to hide its blemishes, but it smelled like fairy breath and tasted like the first blossoms of dawn. The garden is young; in time there will also be avocados and lemons.
We did all the fancy tap dancing required to get the cats past quarantine. Their microchip numbers are listed on the Holy List of the Acceptable and now we have to wait 120 days. I don’t understand why. They have all been vaccinated and their blood examined by the People Who Decide These Things. They do not have rabies. They cannot get rabies. But we are told to wait and so we do, while visions of tropical fruit dance in our heads. Each night, we toast each other saying, “I don’t want to be here.”
Perhaps it is as it should be. The next three months will give us time to sort slowly and lingeringly through the detritus of 32 years of living on this tiny, delightful island. It’s harder than I realized it would be. The new house is light and airy and I want to keep it that way, so I will bring an absolute minimum of junk with me. I’ve gotten down to two small photo albums, three favorite reference books and a couple of novels. I’m picking out special items to send to people who matter, saying sayonara to things that don’t matter, making peace with separation, making peace with myself.
Everything points to this being the right move to make. A lot of things have come together in a final-feeling sort of way, almost as if Japan is giving us a gentle nudge toward the airport, tearfully waving a handkerchief at us from the departure gate. It’s been a good run, but to quote Douglas Adams, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”
I’m trading in a tiny island for an even tinier one, earthquakes for volcanoes, power tools for coqui frogs, nomiyas for luaus, salarymen for aging hippies, bicycles for surfboards, konnichiwa for aloha, Amaterasu for Pele. I’ve been making a mental list of things I will and won’t miss. The won’t list is longer.
I can’t wait to see how all of this is going to unfold.
I just returned from my second trip to Hawaii this year, this time with two of my besties, to start moving into my beautiful new house. But more about that later. In the meantime, I give you a rant, with humble apologies if this offends anyone, as I’m sure it will. On the other hand, this is my blog and I can say what I want, so if you don’t like it, go read People magazine. Or jump in a polluted lake. Or eat Brussels sprouts until they give you gas. I don’t really care. Here we go.
I am always very careful about airports. I carry no pointy things, no illicit liquids, no metal on my clothing, no balloons filled with heroin or Uzis disguised as bonbons. I always sail through security, especially since I quit smoking (exactly four years ago, not one puff since, no sir!) and never carry lighters anymore.
But this time, a man with a clipboard pulled me aside for “additional security” at Haneda airport, even though I’d already sailed through the x-ray and body scanner. A white-gloved woman made me sit on a folding chair behind a screen and swiped my palms and pockets with a little piece of paper then started pawing through my carry-on. As my annoyance boiled over into outrage, I asked, “Just what are you looking for?” and was told “residue of prohibited substances”. She apologized and said people are chosen at random by a computer.
Even so, prohibited substances? Do they really think I will fiddle around with gunpowder or crystal meth just before arriving at the airport and then forget to wash my hands? I am both suspect and stupid?
My friend Winston says he gets pulled aside for “additional security” every time, every single time, he goes through an airport. Winston is gentle as a lamb. Winston is also black. I wonder if this is the reality of all people of non-pink skin and then kick myself for allowing myself to exist inside a bubble of innocence, all the while knowing that self-same bubble is what makes it possible to cope with the world.
I understand that security has to do what it can to make the world a safer place, but how does endlessly punishing people for the color of their skin, and randomly punishing others in order to justify that punishment, do anything more than make air travel that much more unpleasant and pile one more block on the Jenga tower of injustice that the world has become? Or is this just another twist on the fundamental injustice that has always been and will always be?
When George first came to live with us, we had to take him to the vet for a general health check. We hadn’t named him yet, so we just called him Sanban (Number Three).
Among the bazillion other things we have to do to pull up stakes and start our lives over, we have to process the cats. There’s no rabies in Hawaii so the Department of Agriculture is extremely vigilant about quarantine standards for imported animals. It doesn’t matter that ours are indoor cats or that there’s been no rabies in Japan since 1956. There is one set of rules and everyone must abide by them. No exceptions. So sayeth the Dept of Ag.
I won’t go into the tedious details except to say it takes six months, minimum. The first step involves vaccines which involves several trips to the vet, always a popular pastime within the fur community. Fortunately, the vet’s office is only a five minute walk from here because they scream bloody murder all the way. The neighbors look daggers at us, wondering what sort of horrible torture we’re inflicting on them.
But then we arrive and the vet is a chubby, kindhearted woman who seems to care about our fuzz muffins nearly as much as we do.
We told her about the move to Hawaii and fortunately she’s been through this process before and can help us through it. When she finished with the first set of injections, she smiled gently and said, “I wish I could be Number Four.”
I smiled back and said, “Sensei, I think you’re a little too big for the cat carrier.”
I continue the slow, tedious journey toward recovery, one painful step at a time. And I mean that literally; the chemo left me with nerve damage in my legs which causes pain in my joints and muscles. That may improve in time; it may not. As expected, the treatment sapped me of much of my strength and energy. What I didn’t realize is how long it would take to recover, or even start recovering. Only now am I beginning to regain some of my yoga self, my balance, my poise. Just yesterday, I managed to transition from one legged dog to low lunge without thumping my foot down. It was a major victory and cause for much celebration.
My senses are still unreliable. My favorite white wine still tastes like rotting cabbages but there is hope. Last night, a drop of shower water landed on my lip and when I licked it off, it filled my mouth with rapture. An ordinary salad sent me into paroxysms of delight last week. Yesterday’s curry was the stuff of legends.
All of my hair has returned except for the part of my left armpit where I was nuked. The stuff on my head is about an inch and a half long, curly, a blend of colors. A friend looked at it and said, “You look…expensive.” I am considering keeping it this short. I like the way people look at me now.
As the Year from Hell slunk out the door, we resisted the urge to kick it’s narrow butt down the hall and slam the door with a resounding bang. Instead, we cultivate peace, calm and gratitude. The very wise Deepak Chopra said an essential element for lasting happiness is a reflective, quiet, alert mind. Peace in the mind opens the heart to intuition; your life is in a state of flow because your mind is quiet. This is the essence of mindfulness, a sort of Vinyasa for the soul.
In that state of mind, we went to Hawaii. We looked at some properties. We were deeply disappointed. The first house we saw was dark and damp. There was a riding mower rusting in the garden alongside a chipped bathtub. The neighborhood smelled of defeat. The second house had tacky paneling, filthy shag carpet and stunk of cigarettes. Then a flash of intuition led us to meet Beer Belly Man, who introduced us to Realtor Ron, who led us to this.
Our new home. Our little piece of paradise.
People keep saying we deserve this after all we went through last year. I know they mean well, but I don’t think merit has anything to do with it. What about all the other people who had cancer last year and didn’t get a house in Hawaii? What about the people who didn’t survive? Did they deserve that? For that matter, did I deserve to get cancer in the first place? Did the other people in my life, and in the world, who are coping with disease and tragedy and grief and all that is evil, heartbreaking, unfair and unnecessary deserve that?
These are not questions that have answers and I will waste no more time looking for them. Life is not logical; life is not fair. Life just is. And I am grateful to have it.
In a few months, I will bid farewell to the invasive sounds of my neighborhood, the screaming kids and motorcycles and trucks and helicopters and always, the incessant, relentless, ear-shattering, soul-crushing power tools. In place of all of that, I will listen to the sounds of exotic insects, palm fronds brushing together, lemon trees blossoming in the garden and above all, coqui frogs. Few things have ever sounded so sweet to my ears. And I’ve heard a lot of stuff.
I have read that many people find coqui frogs invasive and annoying. I have also read that one of the many reasons for NOT moving to Hawaii is that I will always be an outsider, invasive, annoying. Shoot. I’ve been existing pretty happily as an invasive, annoying outsider for more than 30 years. The big difference is I will be an outsider who isn’t illiterate. And I will be a literate outsider who is living out her days doing yoga here:
I could live another three decades. Or my cancer could return and I’ll be gone within years or even months. Or I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, or choke to death on a chunk of pineapple today. So deserved or not, this is the place for me to find peace, peace in my heart, my mind, my spirit, peace to accept my forever changed body and soul, peace to move on and make the best of whatever adventures may lie ahead.
I happened across the blog An Encore Voyage by a clever lady named Lynn, who seems to be sharing some spiritual space with me. She said:
Yoga sneaks up on you, and quietly changes the person you are, from the inside out.
She’s right. Yoga enhances your strength, balance, flexibility (in every sense), self-acceptance and mindfulness. It also brings clarity and a sense of calm.
Throughout the endless series of nightmares last year presented, I only lost it once and that was only because they’d kept me in the hospital way too long and my surgeon was a sugar-coated bitch.
When I got my diagnosis, I knew in my heart that it is what it is, no more and no less. In the early stages, I felt my own courage, bravery even, but eventually the treatment process became a matter of moving forward blindly, of not dwelling on anything, of waking up and going to sleep and breathing, always breathing, taking the time to stop and rest and then rest some more. More than anything else, what got me through it all was a sense of distance, as if all of this was really happening but not really happening to me. Yoga gave me that sense of perspective, the ability to accept being slightly off-center all the time.
I want to put it all behind me, but I don’t want to forget. I want to learn what I can from the experience. One thing I learned is that it is good to be grateful when good things happen, and it is all right to be sad when bad things happen. The nice thing, though, is that we can also be grateful when bad things don’t happen. Assuming there is some sort of balance in the movement of energy through the universe, and I do believe there is, that works out to more gratitude than sadness and that works for me.
For now, I seem to have won the battle. I am on the slow path to recovery, the little engine that could, moving into a new stage in my life that promises fun, adventure and a great deal of happiness. I think I’ve earned it.
I finished Adriene’s 30 day True series this morning. It was good, just the right speed for where I am in the recovery process, and the final sun salutation brought with it a sense of closure. As I breathed deeply into my rapidly recovering lungs, I glanced out the window at the men pouring concrete into the foundation of the new house going up next door and I gave thanks that I wasn’t them. My little space heater barely makes a dent in the frigid air so my breath fogged the window as my toes turned blue, but I gave thanks all the same. One does not wear socks when one does downward dog. Yoga must be approached with respect and I give it with gratitude and humility.
Last week I lost my Pasmo train pass, the day after I’d charged it with 5000yen. An hour later I got a call from a station employee saying they’d found it and I could come pick it up. Ah, Japan. I gave thanks.
On Monday I had a wicked scare at the hospital but the doctors went into overdrive and fixed the problem. Their bedside manners might leave something to be desired, but they know their stuff when it comes to medicine. I gave thanks, more than once.
Yesterday at the supermarket, an old lady was having a hard time with her shopping cart so I helped her with it. Not only did she not give thanks, she didn’t even look at me, just walked away with a “harumph”. Meh. Her problem, not mine, but I watched my brownie points swarm with confusion, not knowing quite what to do with themselves.
Tomorrow I board a plane for a long overdue vacation in Hawaii where I will be able to salute the sun properly, and she will cook some of the stiffness out of my joints and muscles. Then I will stuff myself with mangoes and listen to the sound of the surf and congratulate myself for surviving last year, all the while giving thanks.
I will continue to give thanks, for the sun in the sky and the air in my lungs and the blood in my veins and being able to walk and talk and see and sleep and eat and think and feel and love. Thanks.
For a long time, each new year has felt like a temporal follow-on from the previous one. What difference does a new year make? Turning the page on a calendar doesn’t mean anything. Time doesn’t care how we count it. Time just is. Time moves forward; nothing changes.
But this year is different. With a silent whoop I tossed last year’s calendar in the trash. For once, there is something to celebrate. Last year was harsh. After the initial shock and fear, there was a slow dawning of the enormity of what lay ahead. After a time, I was moving on autopilot, incapable of even thinking about the future.
Most of what I did last year was passive. I had surgery, slept in the narrow bed, I ate the horrid food (sometimes). I opened the door to the doctor’s office, week after sweaty summer week, and received my chemo treatments. I walked to the hospital day after crisp autumn day and lay still for radiation. It would have been so much easier to run away.
I spent an entire year having things done to me. I was the horse hitched to the wagon, the bit between my teeth, the reins being pulled by drivers I couldn’t see. I plodded along the trail, hoping I would reach my destination even though it seemed that each step forward pushed it farther away.
I feel as if an earthquake has shaken all the merchandise off the shelves in my internal warehouse. I see a mountain of mess, hair clips and a Barbie doll and a rubber snake and Christmas wreaths and chocolate cookies and tarnished earrings and broken dishes and knotted shoelaces and a one-eyed Teddy bear, a scratched record, some snarled yarn, a battered shoe box, a single sock.
Some of these things can be dusted off and returned to the shelves. Some can be salvaged, a bit of glue, some polish, a button. Some are lost causes. The coming months will see me sorting through the flotsam of me and trying to make sense of it, putting the pieces back together where I can, figuring out what no longer serves.
To do that, I will eat well, sleep a lot, watch butterflies flit and smell the flowers. I will also do yoga.
This is Adriene. She just started TRUE: 30 Day Yoga Journey. It’s online. It’s free. It’s the foundation I need to start getting back on track, start reminding my muscles and my spirit of what they can do, what they need, where they are going. Adriene has a an easy nature and a wonderful smile and manages to bring me back to the mat, day after day. There are hundreds of yoga classes online and I have tried many of them, but I keep coming back to Adriene. She is part of my journey.
I have been doing yoga long enough to appreciate the Zen it represents, the thousands of years of practice and millions of practitioners who have put their lives, their bodies, their faith into its calm, gracious power to heal. I know the joy of a pose feeling right regardless of how it looks, the freedom of air moving through my lungs, the pulsing electricity of blood flying through my veins, the serenity of balance, the golden, fleeting, priceless gift of each moment that no longer exists once it passes and yet is eternal in my memory.
A friend said I am a fierce woman ready to take 2018 and squeeze every last drop of magic out of it. Amen, sistah. Someone left the barn door open and I’m ready to bolt.
I happened to walk in on the Unicorn.
She was combing her shimmering mane
And polishing her horn
In preparation for New Years shenanigans.
She looked at me.
She was not pleased.
I wasn’t being nosy.
I just happened to walk in.
I didn’t know she was in the room.
She said it was all right.
I was not to worry.
It could happen to anyone.
And then this happened.
Do you know what’s worse than a burnt unicorn?
A whole herd of burnt unicorns.
Don’t mess with the Unicorn.
It will be better than 2017.
Be safe, be careful.