And on the other hand...

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Sunday, August 28, 2016


Two-and-a-half years ago I thought I had written my last post here (a little uneasy because I just stopped--would my readers think I just vanished or perished?)  and yet such changes have occurred, oddly undocumented (except obliquely on Facebook), they are beginning to demand description.

Life was chugging along through middle age, my career in its mature years, moving toward eventual retirement, having navigated menopause and survived the Bush administration, a Hawaii condo mortgage paid off, vague plans to remodel the unit for sale and move back to the Mainland near our son in the Northwest US, weird Portland, to be precise.  I occupied myself in the empty nest years with work, play, taking courses and occasional overseas retreats in China.

One ordinary Hawaii winter night, just on the eve of Year of Horse 2014,  I came home from a Chinese painting class to hear news that my son, on the eve of his 40th birthday, had been hospitalized an ocean away, as a result of a stroke.  Ironically, in my class,  I had been painting horses, learning calligraphy for ma nian (horse year), but never expected such a kick in the head.

Next day, I tearfully, apprehensively, cleared up some details at work and booked a flight to Portland that evening.  The next two years -- Horse and Goat-- challenged me in ways no other life milestone (deaths of parents, marriage, career building, raising that child) ever did. It has been the worst--and best--two years of my life, now completely different, in activity, residence, relationships.
This seemed so wrong--shouldn't it have been the other way 'round?  The next day, in a state of shock, I put things in order in my office and flew to Portland reading the kindle version of Jill Bolton's book, "My Stroke of Insight", recommended by a biology professor and friend. I had heard of her, scoffed a bit at her YouTube video, which made the effects of a devastating cerebral event like an embolism or hemorrhage sound a little like a desirable kind of sudden enlightenment.

In some ways that has proven true, but only after we began learning new vocabulary: hemiparesis, aphasia, neuroplasticity (my new favorite word).  To say nothing of participating in tough activities like rehabilitation, support groups, physical, occupational and speech therapy, home care, and a kind of discipline I hadn't enforced since my son was three years old, all the while needing to remind myself that I was not the victim here. He was the one who, in hospital, appeared to be speaking Hindi, had to be moved from his bed in a sling, and whose right arm was like dead meat hanging from his shoulder.

After a three-week hospital stay and a similar period in a fine rehab center, he came home to a new apartment without stairs (and clutter).  I returned to Hawaii, his Dad took over intensive language drilling and PT for four months until I joined him in retirement (almost as good as joining him in matrimony).  The very day after my last day on the job, July 1, 2014, I left Hawaii, more or less for good, swapped places and roles with my husband and began a new chapter of six months of recovery--not just for my son, but for me in a way.

In December 2014, we concluded a deal on a house in Oregon, I returned to Hawaii for six weeks to oversee the move and to ready the condo for sale.  After a full year of chaos, I came back to Oregon with our two cats and a container of 31 years' worth of accumulated "stuff"--a somewhat embarrassing load--I had had only three days to prepare for the movers, who took another three to load a container for overseas shipping.  I regret leaving some things behind; I am puzzled by some of what I retained.  At the last moment, I realized there was room for TAO 61, my precious vintage Miata, in the shipping container, but her clutch had failed just days before the shipping date. I donated her along with the cat car, my husband's 20-year-old XJ-6 that was in a constant pricey state of restoration. They have been replaced by a rough and ready old Mazda 626, a ubiquitous car with longevity rivaling TAO 61's, purchased for $1,500 as a temporary vehicle in lieu of a rental, and a sturdy red Ford Ranger, almost a necessity for home-owning--and image--in the Northwest. All of the cars, the donated, and the new, each have clocked more than 250,000 miles on their respective odometers!

Today my son is well into a good recovery: his wit has returned with a surprising Zen master attitude (the bit about enlightenment may be true), though he still is a little wobbly and is working on his right arm with a therapist for whom he would do anything. We are well settled into a home that has easily absorbed our "stuff"--moving from a 1,200 SF high rise apartment in the woods, into a three-story, 3,000  SF house with yards and forest, a deck and a hot tub--for $10,000 more than what we got for the condo--has been like living in a mansion.  Space to move about! Storage! A studio for me! An office for him! A fireplace! A kitchen we both can cook in at the same time!  And yet, by mainland standards, this is still a small house.

So here we are.  Each sentence in the preceding narrative could be expanded with detail to several blog entires, with photos.  I may actually do that.  It would be called a book.  I think this is the beginning.  I might call it "The Long Slow Pivot."   All is changed, but the human factors, the spiritual factors, have not. The brain can break, but the spirit need not follow. Who we really are persists despite what happens to us, despite what things are acquired and discarded.  It is to honor my son's perseverance, my husband and his father's strength and wisdom, and my many friends' support,  that I even share these thoughts.