Last Friday I stepped out my door, lurched down the stairs in my building, and went for a walk. Within the first 100 steps, I experienced new and strange emotional reactions to something so terribly simple as going for a walk down my block. I feared I’d fall, I feared a kid on a skateboard would bump into me or someone might beat me up, I feared a bicyclist might hit me or a dog might leap up and put its paws on my stomach. So many fears for one small person taking a simple walk down the block!
As I walked, I grew more familiar with my new limitations, aches and pains. I also slowly felt my envelope of of pain-free and reduced-fear activity expand ever so slightly. In the end, I walked more than a mile into downtown Santa Rosa and bought myself a ticket to the matinee of the new Blade Runner. (It’s very contemplative; so relieved in this ADHD-age someone is still doing slow & contemplative on the big screen.) And I probably grew a bit as a human through this process.
Seven days ago I had hernia-repair surgery. The walk, two days later, was the first time I’d been out and about on my own with my newly-sore, cut-open and compromised abdomen. Every movement I made (or tried to make) reminded me why we call this our ‘core’ – my abdomen came into play when I tried to blow my nose or sneeze; when I tried to walk faster to catch a traffic light so as to cross an intersection; any time I tried to roll over in bed or sit up or go to the toilet. It was a newly-humbling experience, to feel so very vulnerable. I’ve spent something like 1/5 of my life in places with poorer resources and support for the vulnerable and weak than right here, yet it’s here that I experienced one of my most jarring moments of fear and vulnerability.
A good reminder to take nothing for granted. This, for me, calls forth a response of gratitude & appreciation for all that I do have. Especially since I know my friends, colleagues & interlocutors in other settings don’t have many of these blessings and advantages. At the start of November, I spent a week being tour guide with the Forced From Home exhibit, in which I and other staff who’ve worked in field positions with MSF guide small groups around several stations depicting the realities of having to flee one’s home, and what one might encounter along the way. Before we opened, most of us tour guides seemed to agree that what we most hoped our groups would take away from the exhibit was an abiding sense of appreciation of what we do have. (Shout out to all the clinical colleagues who take care of me & keep me safe during my most vulnerable moments in the field, btw…)
(If curious, check out this article with a quote or two from me:
– I’ll have some more photos up from Oakland me doing the tour thing, at some point in coming weeks/months…)
That week guiding tour groups through the exhibit in Oakland was especially poignant for me, because my home city of Santa Rosa is still in the long and painful process of recovery from the wild fires. Like me, several local friends have commented that we are reluctant to drive (in my case, bike) around the most-affected zone – or take photos there. It feels almost voyeuristic, and possibly disrespectful of direct human pain and loss resident in those areas. My surgeon’s office is in one of the large buildings that survived the first, most destructive fires. A week before the operation, I biked the eight miles from home up to his office for my pre-op consultation. This post is mostly full of photos I took that day – along Redwood Highway north of downtown Santa Rosa. The burn-related photos were taken on November 14, five weeks after the first fires struck. At one main intersection (the photo just above), the buildings at three corners were destroyed while a gas station at the northwest corner stood, as did the construction site immediately west of it. This was all visible from the waiting room in my surgeon’s office. And I saw an unusual number of people who, like me, were standing to look out the windows from this higher vantage point, scanning the hills and taking stock.
The fires, like my surgery, remind me of my own vulnerability and human frailty. They also remind me of my many blessings, friends, gifts and joys. One of my best friends dropped me off & picked me up after surgery – he and his extended family also hosted me the following day for Thanksgiving surrounded by three generations of kids, parents & grandparents. (The photo just below is of a woozy-looking me with Howard, at my apartment after he brought me home.) My mother is recovering wonderfully well (knock wood) from her own, far more serious surgery. And I have fundamentally safe streets with sidewalks down which I can stroll, appreciating fall foliage and now all the displays of Christmas decorations going up, as I steadily rebuild my body’s strength and capacity in preparation for what I firmly expect will be an enjoyable end of year holiday season with friends and family. My Unitarian-Universalist congregation has focused on faith, this month: in what do we place our faith. I choose to have faith that the sun will continue to rise, that seeds will continue to sprout, and that it is always good to be kind and generous to those around us. Even if this makes me wildly crazy in the eyes of the pessimists among us, I find it simply so very much more enjoyable to be kind than not. I hope you’ll join me 😊. Peace.
Above, me on that vulnerable first walk after surgery and some of the red fall foliage that I’m so over-the-top in love with; below, Cardinal Newman HS athletic fields with a burned hillside behind. Below that, two photos from the Ft Ross area which I just happened to have on hand from a trip with another visiting friend a week or two earlier. For those who don’t know: Ft Ross is a totally cool state historic park documenting the southernmost imperial Russian presence on the west coast of North America; including this rebuilt Russian Orthodox church. SO cool.
The bay area, which I call home and return to between assignments or even on vacations during an assignment when possible, has its icons. There the golden gate bridge, which I cross every time I go to my own physical home after flying into SFO. There’s the corner of Castro & Market, with its massive rainbow flag as a statement to the world that the city’s LGBTQI (did I forget any of the currently-accepted letters?) population is proud and not about to creep back into some box just because some people don’t much like us. There’s Mt Diablo, forming a triangle across the bay as the highest peak in the immediate bay area — visible behind that rainbow flag, down below. There are vineyards…and this year, there’s rain in the vineyards! And snow in the mountains, though I’ve not yet been to see it myself. Perhaps I’ll make it to the mountains after this assignment, before it all melts. Something to keep in mind.
In any case, I was recently back amongst these icons for a final vacation during the current assignment. When the weather was sufficiently clear, I walked or biked around and appreciated the greenest vistas I’ve seen in years, since California’s been in a drought that’s grown more severe year by year for a decade or so. As it rained on my way back to the airport for the flight back to PaP, I photographed one of Sonoma County’s lovely hillside vineyards through the bus’s rainy window. On the way up, I photographed the GGB through the bus’s reasonably clear window. And I took as many photos of flowers as I could: so much was in bloom! I’ll admit I’ve been overworked at work, depressed in real life at home about what’s become of government and “civil” discourse in my native land, and generally rather tired. So I’ve not taken out my camera much. But I do usually have a phone with me and I’m now on instagram (paulbsrca) so every now and then I remember I can snap something with that, then pop it up on instagram. But I remain more of a long-form guy, so here I’m assembling stuff from both camera & phone, to share some of what I’ve seen and thought lately. It’s always lovely when I know folks read and appreciate what I share. Thanks…and let’s all try to add a wee bit more beauty and pleasure into the days and lives of those around us…if that’s not too bold a suggestion. Peace. 🙂
So smw, slt has again left the continent and headed off to work. This time our work really won’t be anything we document on here, so both to clear my own to-do list, and to leave my friends with a sense of how well-rested I’ve become from these past two months in my spiritual and now literal home of California (well, literal in the sense I actually have a home there waiting for my return, not in the sense I’m there at the moment or expect to be for the next few months…), I’m giving a you a scrapbook of shots that piled up since my return from the ABQ wedding in mid-August. The bay, the golden gate bridge and Marin headlands as seen from Fort Mason; various scenes of Napa and Sonoma counties as seen from hikes & bikes around new new home base; some shots from a couple days last week (!) in Los Angeles – back to Topanga Canyon & the fountain in Grand Park on a nearly-full-moon night (the next night, we stood out on my balcony up north to watch the lunar eclipse at 3AM, how cool was that?!)…and scenes of the bay’s wetlands around Palo Alto as seen when I had the privilege of riding along for some training with my friend Amy who’s getting herself trained to fly a small plane.
If you’re curious about the work, there was a PBS frontline documentary filmed in early August at that project where I’ll very soon be working; from Europe I’m unable to launch the link but I’m fairly sure if you’re in the US you can find it here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/ebola-outbreak/
As the man says, be well, do good work, and keep in touch. It’s certainly what I plan to do! Cheers.