Saturday, October 23, 2010

I May Not Be an Iron Chef, But I Rock the Hospice Kitchen

We don't usually have opportunities to connect with the residents of the AIDS hospice. Many come to us too late. With only weeks to live, they have no time or energy for sharing their stories or the steps of their journey to this quiet 8-bed haven for their final days. Usually most of the residents are from the streets and are at or very near the "actively dying" stage. So as volunteers, we concentrate primarily on food, clean sheets, and mopped floors.

Today was different.

Most of the 8 residents were eaters. Two were very alert. Two would have been even more communicative if only I'd known their heart languages. So today I started my shift as a short order cook. Betty even wrote down the orders so we could keep the oatmeal/boiled eggs separate from the fried egg with toast! The first hour or so we were boiling, flipping, scrambling, and buttering fast enough to impress Houston's The Breakfast Klub.

And like most family cooks, as soon as breakfast dishes were in the sink, I was searching for what lunch would be. Omega House does an incredible job of making the most of all donations. I can't begin to list all the reasons I'm impressed with Sandy and her leadership of that place. Still somedays I'm just not inspired with what I find in the fridge and freezer. I know better cooks than me could have manifested a feast out of what I found there, but I didn't see it. So I announced to my fellow vol that I was heading to the supermarket. As per her character, she gave me cash to split the bill.

Consulting with her by cell from the aisles of the store and after I discovered a special on chicken, we agreed a King Ranch Casserole was in order. Back at the kitchen counter, I overheard our trainee discussing life with one of the residents. Soon we were all engaged in hearing about histories, desires, and even funeral plans. No one tried to "shush" him. No one tried to pretend that we weren't sitting in a hospice for the dying. We all just shared information about what we knew regarding the end days. And even our youngest vol had knowledge of that.

When the buzzer rang from Bed D, I had just sat down for a cup of coffee (ok and a doughnut ... but really those things are always there and I just couldn't let them go to waste!). I rose and discovered that one of our only two female residents was awake and wondering where her husband had gone. After a brief look around, I suggested to her that he might have taken a walk.

"Ok," she said. "I just go in and out so much I had wanted to tell him something while I was awake."

Clearly, she cherished the moments when the drugs didn't take her away. So I asked a question. She responded. I asked another and her story grew longer. That's when I sat down and let the journey unfold. I left a few twists and turns later to get her a salad and grateful for the opportunity to put a story to the woman in Bed D.

Back in the kitchen, the timer went off and we pulled the brown and bubbling (as all casserole directions suggest they should be) concoction from the oven. Cheesy goodness topped chicken, chiles, sour cream and tortillas to a calorie-laden delight. Since everyone had been smelling the sauteed onions and baked goodness for almost an hour, I had a line of folks ready to test it.

Our most talkative resident proclaimed it "heavenly" and it received good reviews from vols and our favorite nurse as well. But the best moment came when our French-speaking African agreed to a taste after I pulled the word for "chicken" from the recesses of my limited French vocabulary. After one bite, he smiled up at me and said, "Yes, more."

Somedays the length of the conversation doesn't matter. Merely a connection will do.

For the Art Lover in All of Us

I marvel at beauty. This week has been a masterpiece in the making.

My massage internship resulted in views of intricate tattoos, athleticism and grace unhampered by the years, mother/daughter bonds celebrating risk, and the generosity of friends. Like a first time visitor to the Museum of Fine Arts, my jaw sometimes dropped in awe.

While some might dismiss my assessment, I know without doubt that this week my hands were instruments of good, sometimes offering restoration beyond what "cross friction for better circulation could provide" and going straight to the mystical, spiritual realm.

I know there are massage therapists who will be able to go deeper than me, endure longer than me, and ascertain causes and solutions for stress and strain better than me. But I'm not swayed. Because my newfound "ministry" isn't about being the best. I know that I give rest to the weary, comfort to the tired, and blessings to each body on my table.

I am 49 years old. I am an instrument of good. And, because of that, I am my own work of art. I thank God for the inspiration.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Campaigning for a New Way

If I had to make my living by phone banking every day, I'd call it quits.

If my livelihood depended upon me blockwalking on a regular basis, I'd take steps to make a change.

Oh ... wait a minute ... I did.

Life on the campaign trail is difficult. The work is never done. More lists are always popping up -- calls to make, doors to knock on, funds to raise, mailers to design with just the right message that help folks know a candidate ... in three paragraphs or less.

After one season, I knew the grueling pace would never be a race I could master. While my current studies keep me busy, I have found a degree of balance between fun and facts, between what I want to do and what I have to do. In the last two weeks, I've attended a few campaign events (because I wanted to, not because I had to) and standing at a distance I've had my decision confirmed.

I wonder if the public would agree that a new way is viable, that they would be willing to be educated on choices without calls, mailers, and a knock on the door on a Saturday morning. While I hear plenty of complaints about the process, the gurus bring out stats each time a naysayer suggests cutting back on campaign communications that dispel the idea that those complaints have any merit. They easily convince the campaign planners that disconnecting from phone banks or closing the door on blockwalking would shut down a successful campaign.

And what do I know? Maybe they're right.

But as for me and my ears, feet, and heart . . . we'll be going in new directions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"Live Like You Were Dying" Has Implications

I must admit to tearing up a bit at every hearing of Tim McGraw's popular country song that includes a "bucket list" of activities ranging from sky diving to bull riding to sweet talking and forgiveness. I get emotional when I think people might not realize the value of each day, that unaccustomed to sudden lost, they might assume that every day is a given.

Because I learned at a very early age that nothing is guaranteed, and had that theory reinforced when I hit my mid-30s, I have attempted to cherish the moments, to accept most challenges that come my way, to embrace the unknown and try to learn what I can.

As a result, days can be packed.

Last weekend I spent all day Friday helping artists load in to a downtown festival that happens only because the a festival staff of three, the city, and countless volunteers make it happen. For 13 hours, I ensured that I answered as many questions as possible, smiled at the weary (artists come from across the country), and took a moment every now and then to appreciate the orchestration that makes this celebration of art benefitting local charities possible.

On Saturday, I went from one side of the Houston area to the other dressed in rodeo clown attire. You haven't seen surprise and smiles until you've pulled into a drive thru in between rodeo gigs. On this day, I held on tight as a pygmy goat kept me going in rapid circles, blew tons of bubbles that little boys seemed thrilled to burst (a metaphor for my love life?) and tasted chili from 26 different cook-off teams to judge which was the best. A couple of hours later and sans the red cheeks and fake freckles of Cornbread (my clown name) I attended a benefit for a group that supports persons living with AIDS and then spent some time with a friend who has recently experienced loss and wanted to get out for a while.

Sunday I was back at the arts festival. More questions, more volunteers, and support of artists by way of water, sodas, crackers and cookies filled the afternoon hours until we finally were ready to assist with load out. Once again, I marveled at the willingness of individuals donating time and energy so that others might enjoy a great day.

When the weekend concluded I was wiped. At least I thought I was. Then I got word that my stepfather was not doing well. In ICU with complications to infirmities to numerous to list, I wondered if he would make it through the week. And due to my "to the walls" attitude all weekend, I was physically and emotionally drained.

A tear fell after a phone update from my mother. That's when the angels swooped in. Except, they were "angels unaware." The young man in massage class who was bored as we waited for our next instructions on a routine isn't usually the touchy-feely type. Yet, out of the boredom, he said, he wanted to rub my feet. One woman who knew what was happening with my family kept checking with me and took care of my back. Another lit a candle and said a prayer. And another classmate closed us off from the rest of the class so that she could practice her routine and I got quiet and a full massage before leaving.

The day served as a great reminder. I'm going to continue to remember that living has no contract, no guarantees. But I'm also going to ramp up the gratitude and be aware that others are living . . . and literally dying all around me. A pair of feet, shoulders, or maybe even a needed prayer could be around the next corner. Wonder if there's a pair of wings in my size?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Definitely Tired. Definitely.

Class all day. Prepare a dinner that doesn't reek of "I'm single and don't merit anything beyond microwave frozen diet meals." Spend time on freelance projects. Do the laundry so that clean sheets and scrubs are available tomorrow. Check in on the sick and afflicted in my family. Bed time.

I'm sure that for a few months I can do this. But "sure" is definitely not a definitive response to "definitely tired."

Friday, October 01, 2010

Massage Lessons ... I'm Learning

As when anything you want to be good -- preparation sets the tone.

The sheets are clean. The lights are low. The music is on but not overwhelming. Just a few simple acts so that the unspoken declaration is clear, "Welcome."

When you are on the table, grounding can begin. My fingers are lightly on your shoulders and then with a few deep breaths -- breathe in and out . . . in and out . . .

The transformative power of touch is underway.

In classes, I'm being shown the methods by which I can glide, compress, strip, and friction at least some of your stress away. What I can't do is wipe away the cause of the pain. The more I connect via massage, the more I wish it could be true.

How incredible to offer you the ability to identify your trigger point -- that place that's the source of pain but of which you are unaware -- and go deep enough and for long enough so that relief occurs. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally. While I can offer a temporary, physical nod in the right direction, I can't do the same with your mind.

For now I'll leave that to different kinds of therapists. But if you can't yet find the words, my table and touch are ready. You are most definitely welcome.