Is it Really so Important to Label Ourselves and Others?

My four-mile saunter today wasn’t quite as exciting or as heartening as yesterday’s. The pack weight was the same, the distance the same, but various parts of me ached at different times. (I haven’t been able figure out how to stop the slight chafing of the shoulder strap, but it’s possible it’s a design defect of the pack since it was mentioned in at least one review.) Still, I met the challenge. And the whole experience was fabulous in its own way.

Although I might be sore, and I might be staggering a bit after all that effort (I have a hunch I didn’t eat enough yesterday), my mind is at rest.

It’s always a joy getting away from the city, even if my “wilderness” is just the expanse of desert beyond the neighborhood. Out there, by myself, there are no labels. There is just me, whatever that might be.

I sometimes call myself a writer but only when it pertains to my books. I don’t call myself a blogger even though I blog more than write. I don’t call myself a hiker even though I hike more than blog. I don’t call myself a dancer even though I dance more than hike. And I don’t call myself a sleeper even though I sleep more than all of those activities put together.

Most especially, in today’s world where gender is such a hot topic, I don’t bother to place myself anywhere on the gender spectrum, nor do I place myself anywhere on the political spectrum.

I am.

What more do I need?

What more do you need?

Is it really so important to label ourselves and others?

I’ve been deleting “labelers” from my Facebook page, even those I’ve kept because I thought it diplomatic not to delete them during past purges, but I am tired of all the labels we slap on others. Ists and isms. Gender classifications. Political views and identity politics.

Even if people deserve being called racist or sexist or ageist or bigot or anything else, why say it? Labeling makes us feel superior because we, of course, are none of those things. Labeling puts people in what we feel is their place, and keeps us from seeing their greater (or lesser) truth.

One thing that grief taught me is that we are all works in progress, even those we dislike or those who anger us. We are all on our own personal Ferris wheel, filling every one of the buckets, but the wheel keeps turning and so all the buckets are us at various moments during the day, at various times during our lives. It’s only when someone dies that the Ferris wheel stops, allowing us (perhaps) to see each of their many parts. By labeling a person, you put a spoke in their Ferris wheel as relates to you, stopping it at that particular view of the person. You never see all the rest of the buckets. Never see that beyond your label, the wheel keeps turning.

I tried to explain this to a friend who insists that I am opinionated, though I do not think I am arrogantly and conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in my opinions. (Which is the definition of opinionated.) And every time she tells me I am opinionated, she uses the same example, “You don’t just say ‘I don’t like Meryl Streep,’ like other people do, you say, ‘I hate her.’” Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I ever thought about the actress, can’t remember the last time I spoke her name, can’t remember the last time I saw one of her movies, but apparently, years ago when we were discussing movies and she was extolling Streep’s virtues, I said I hated the actress. And forever after, in my friend’s mind, that proves I am opinionated.

(As an aside, I told her that the one-time friend who called me contrary was perhaps the most contrary person I ever met. The person who called me negative was so negative I could barely handle being in her presence. Before I could suggest that this friend turn the opinionated finger to herself, she said, “I can see where this is going.”)

So, here’s a thought. What would happen if everyone stopped labeling everyone else? Calling someone racist ignores all the blatantly unracist things the person does. Calling someone leftist ignores . . . etc, etc, etc. But even if they were consistently racist (or whatever label you put on them), why say it? It might not make the world a better place if we stopped the labels, but it sure would make Facebook a much more pleasant place to hang out.

Meantime, there is always the desert, where there are no labels. Just sand and wind and sun and me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Feasting!

I hadn’t planned on doing anything for Christmas this year, but somehow I am ending up feasting again and again, and the day isn’t even here yet.

It started last night with Pasta Night in a Box (a complete salmon pasta dinner that I fixed last night and shared with my landlord), continues this afternoon with lunch with a friend (and the beautiful flowers she gave me!), and will and end on Tuesday after Christmas when I have a tea party with my dance teacher to share a gift basket I received from a relative.

Meantime, there is tonight. Since I hadn’t planned on doing anything for Christmas, I obviously had no intention of cooking a Christmas dinner (Christmas Eve dinner, to be exact), but when turkeys went on sale for so cheap that I could buy a whole small turkey for the price of a pound of ground beef, I went ahead and bought it. I am pretending I don’t know about the horrors of turkey farms, and anyway, the poor thing was already sacrificed, so the least I can do is honor its gift. To that end, I stuffed the turkey with celery, oranges, carrots, and apples, and am currently crockpotting the bird, as well as making turkey soup, and cranberry sauce with oranges, apples, and honey.

That’s a lot of cooking for someone who planned to enjoy a lazy couple of days.

Still, it was fun cooking — I haven’t really had a kitchen in a long time, at least not the sort of kitchen I wanted to spend any time in. (The kitchen in my last place was so encrusted with grease, there was no way to ever get it clean, no matter how much I scrubbed, and when I was on the road, the only “kitchen” I had the use of was my Solo camping stove.)

The one thing I had planned to do — go out to dinner with a few friends, I cancelled out on. I just couldn’t face another long wait standing in line. Maybe not the best reason for saying “no,” but I seem to be doing that more frequently lately. (It’s not as bad as it sounds — for most of the past seven years since Jeff died, I’ve tried to say “yes” to almost everything that came my way in an effort to feel as if I were living, so saying no is a nice departure.) Since I now have the day free (I won’t even have to cook since there is plenty of pasta left, and there will most of the turkey and cranberries), I am considering hiking to a friend’s house to deliver a gift. Six miles round trip. I wonder if I’ll make it, though stoked with all this feasting, I should have plenty of energy.

We’ll see. Meantime, I need to go check on my turkey.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

All I want for Christmas

Unlike you — or should I say unlike some of you — I did not go shopping today. I did get a burrito at a taco stand, though I don’t think that actually counts as “shopping.” Instead, I again spent the day at my storage unit, clearing out more of my things. After getting rid of three carloads of stuff, the storage unit looks even fuller than it did before. (Admittedly, a Volkswagen Beetle carload is not the same as an SUV carload, but there should have been some obvious indication of all the work I did.) I still haven’t gone through everything — I only managed to get to about a fourth of what’s in the unit. The rest is packed in tightly, but little by little, I will find a way to get to it all.

Next I have to clean my room. Much of the stuff I need to sort through I brought here, so the room looks like a mini storage unit. So unattractive, and such a mess!

But that’s a project for tomorrow.

Tonight I’m writing this blog and drowning my sorrows in sparkling apple/peach cider.

Not that I have any real sorrows at the moment other than the very sore muscles and aching ex-broken hand from all the lifting. There’s nothing I particularly want. (Lucky you! If you were thinking of getting me a Christmas present, you are now off the hook.) And, considering the amount of stuff I still have, there is apparently nothing I need.

The few things I do want are more for the future, and I am making a concerted effort not to worry about things I cannot (or will not) change right now. When the time comes to worry about money or . . . anything . . . then I will. So even though someday there will be things I need, I don’t need them now.

Of course, there’s still that impossible dream, but that’s not about wanting, either. It’s more about doing. Striving toward a goal. To that end, I got my backpack out of storage, and beginning in January, I plan to stash a gallon bottle of water in the pack, and see if I can walk around the block. (A great tip I read once — use water to weight a practice pack, that way, if you get too tired or sore, you can dump the water to lighten the pack. There will be no dance classes that first week in January, so if I destroy my feet carrying that extra weight, I’ll have plenty of time to recuperate before I need to use them again.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Mature Adult and Hiking

I received an early Christmas present yesterday. Well, technically, it wasn’t early, I just opened it early. I figured since I was grown up, I could either act like a mature adult and save the present until Christmas or act like a mature adult and do whatever the heck I wanted, and I opted for the latter. And it was the perfect time to open the gift and the perfect time to enjoy the book. (Since I love this particular gift giver’s wrapping, I wrapped another book in its stead, a perfect example of having one’s gift and reading it too.)

The gift? The Creaky Knees Guide to the 100 Best Easy Hikes in Washington. Isn’t that a perfect gift to prepare for my May adventure to the Pacific Northwest? Most of the hikes listed do seem easy enough for these creaky knees, but some seem difficult even for the pre-creak set. Eight miles round trip with a 2,880 elevation gain? Yikes!! Not a beginner slope for sure.

Just because a hike is easy, it doesn’t mean getting to the hike is easy. In one case, the directions call for a drive of 14 miles on a washboard road, and then another 3 or so on what sounded like a barely navigable dirt track. That is simply not an option for my poor ancient VW. The bug looks pretty and runs well, but the welds holding it together are 46 years old. Yikes, again.

And then there is the little tidbit I found in the book about a private hiking club in Washington with $5,000 a year dues and a mere 63 members. The sole purpose of the club? To stealthily grade, or rather de-grade the roads to their favorite trails, making the roads all but impassable, in order to keep the trails to themselves. More yikes.

The most daunting part of the book is the admonition against solo hiking. This isn’t the first time I have encountered that rule — every single tip sheet for hikers talks about the dangers of solo hiking. Apparently, “do not hike alone” is the number one rule. For everyone, of course, except solo hikers, who love being out by themselves. Yes, things do happen to solo hikers. Bad things. But bad things also happen to people walking in the city, solo or otherwise. (It was in the city, in a parking lot, that I fell and had to endure the absolute worst injury I ever suffered.)

I’ve already broken the solo hiking rule (being the aforesaid mature adult and doing whatever the heck I want) — I’ve hiked a couple of hundred solo miles (not all at once, of course) in various wild places, and many hundreds more walking in the Mojave Desert — the rather tame part close to town, though rattlesnakes and coyotes and jackrabbits carrying jackknives do abound.

I won’t give up solo hiking, no matter what the rule, nor will I give up my absurdly impossible dream of a solo backpacking trip on one of the iconic trails. Hiking in a group is too dangerous, at least for me. As a straggler who hikes my own hike, stopping frequently to drink in the ambiance or to take photos of nature’s artistry, I often have to hurry to catch up to the group, and so end up going much faster than I feel that either I or the trail can handle. And there are too many times groups cross creeks or rivers that are more than I want to attempt, and usually some well-meaning folk end up trying to help and merely land me in the drink. And if I hike in a group, I have to hike when and where they choose, regardless of what I might want. There is definitely a place for companionable hiking — I have done many hikes with others that were enjoyable — but that is not the same as being alone with the world, feeling connected to the world, breathing in the essence of the world. Of course, the first time I meet a cougar, I’m sure I will rethink this lofty position.

Meantime, like any mature adult should be, I am safe inside, comfortably ensconced in my armchair, reading about hiking in far-flung places and dreaming of being out in the wilds.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Truth of Me

Once I saw a plaque that said, “What others think of you is none of your business.” At first, I recoiled in disagreement, then I thought of the various ways that what other people think of us is our business, and now, finally, half a decade later, I have come to agree with the sentiment.

During the past few years, different friends have accused me of various heinous character traits. One accused me of being negative, one often told me I was contradictory, and one, more recently, said I was cruel. And somewhere in there, a relative more than once called me an ungrateful bitch.

I’m sure, along the way, others have called me other not-so-nice things, which luckily, I don’t remember. No one (unless of course, she is a negative, contrary, cruel, ungrateful bitch) can bear thinking she is such a ghastly person. I don’t suppose it will come as any surprise that I seldom have anything to do with any of those people any more — it’s too hard to live down to their expectations.

And truly, what they think of me is none of my business. Those adjectives reflect more their own experiences at the time than mine.

On the other hand, I do tend to believe people when they say I am kind, or special, or very interesting. While I am lapping up the accolades, a small voice in the back of my mind whispers, “if you ignore the bad things people say about you, shouldn’t you also ignore the good?”

Ah, but it is easier to live up to the nice things since I do think I am kind. Or at least, I try to be. And I do want to be special and interesting even if those traits are more of a reflection of the speaker’s specialness and interestingness than mine.

So what’s the truth of me? I was going to list what I thought were my not-so-admirable traits along with the good ones, but decided that maybe what I think of me is none of my business, either.

I’ll just be. And leave the thinking to others.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Dreams and Dreaming

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. Not night dreams, so much — I really don’t like dreaming except in the rare case of a dream that seems to mean something but doesn’t really, such as my white dream. But the other kind of dream — cherished aspirations, ambitions, or ideas — that’s what I’ve been thinking about too much lately.

I had a bit of an insight today, though considering my cold, it could be more of a fever dream than a true insight: I wondered if maybe it’s time for me to put away the dreams of the past, impossible or otherwise, and create a new dream, something I’ve never dreamt before. But that assumes a dream is important to have.

Do we need dreams? Dreams seem counter to a life in the now, a life that goes with the flow and accepts what comes.

But we are never just one thing or another. Well, you might be, but I’m not. I often seem to be straddling the line of two opposing ideals.

While the ideal me thinks it’s important to live in the now, just flowing as life unfolds, the pragmatic me thinks and plans.

While the ideal me loves the idea of striving toward an impossible dream, the practical me realizes that impossible means impossible, and there is no reason to waste energy reaching for an unreachable star.

While the ideal me loves the idea of living a completely disciplined life, always eating the right way, exercising and stretching and doing weights almost every day, writing every day, being always kind and thoughtful and caring, and oh, yes, making a living, the realistic me realizes that I can only push so much without getting sick. (That’s what happened this time — I was doing too much and in my weakened state, caught a cold.)

While the ideal me loves the idea of a wildly spontaneous life, whether living in place or setting out on a journey, trusting to the universe and fate that everything will work out, the fearful me thinks I would end up on the streets (and not in a good way). On the other hand, if I did the practical thing and settled down somewhere, the fearful me thinks I would stagnate.

What I end up doing, of course, is always struggling to find a balance, which goes against all my natures. (Not the balance part, that I believe in, but the struggling part.) And thinking too much. I always overthink everything, and blogging every day gives me an opportunity to voice those thoughts.

I still have the strange idea that if I don’t do something spectacular with my life, I will be wasting the freedom Jeff’s death has given me, though part of me realizes that life itself is spectacular. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the spectacle.

For that, do we need dreams? I don’t know. I just know I want . . . something.

Even while writing that last sentence, I find myself thinking, maybe even overthinking, wondering if the wanting is part of my grief cycle. If Jeff were here, would I still be wanting something — wanting to be something — that seems just out of sight? I don’t remember ever having dreams while we were together — apparently, just living our shared life was enough.

Maybe eventually just living, even stagnating, if it comes to that, will be enough, but for now, I still cling to the wondering. And the wandering.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Not a Flowing but a Flowering

If I hadn’t challenged myself to posting a blog every day for fifty days, I wouldn’t be sitting here at the computer trying to write  . . . something. Anything.

Normally, I would have gone to dance class today (ballet and tap, it would have been), which might have given me something to write about, but I woke with a sore throat and didn’t want to push my luck by going anyway — everyone I know caught cold this fall, and some people have had it for months. Not that I want to whine about being under the weather — that gets old. Actually, I don’t want to whine at all. I’ve been feeling good lately — I’ve spent many hours hiking in the desert, and I always feel most myself when I’m walking, especially when I’m walking out in the wild. Perhaps it’s the rhythm of walking that brings me to myself, or maybe it’s the wild inside connecting to the wild outside.

But today is not a day for walking. Or hiking. Or being any kind of wild.

It’s a day for . . . I don’t know. Just being, maybe.

I’ve been scrolling through my archives looking for inspiration for today’s blog post. My challenge was specifically worded so I didn’t have to write something new — I just had to post something. But I couldn’t find anything that spoke to me about me today.

I feel such a slug at times, as if I have always just flowed through my days, accomplishing not much of anything (which, though we seldom admit it, is living just as much as anything else), but I look at those previous posts and see not a flowing but a flowering. Adventures and explorations galore. A multitude of life-changing losses. A few life-changing gains. And yet, oddly, none of those things seem to have anything to do with me.

Each day, it seems, I am born anew, a woman with not much of a past, a woman with an unknown future. I was going to write “a woman with not much of a future,” but who’s to say what will happen? I remember times when nothing seemed to happen, such as the long years when Jeff never seemed to get sicker, never seemed to get better. And then suddenly, he did get sicker, and just as suddenly he died. During all those years when we would talk about his being gone, I could never have imagined what my life would become. And that was a mere seven years ago. Three years ago, my father died, and oddly despite my occasional nomadism, I am mostly living the same life as I did with him, though without responsibilities and in a different house, and I could never have imagined that, either.

The days continue to flow, but to what purpose, I don’t know.

Maybe a new flowering.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Anniversary of a Dubious Miracle

I’m  not one for remembering dates of my anniversaries and such — the practice doesn’t fit well with a live-in-the-moment attitude, and besides, I seldom know what day it is anyway, and it’s almost impossible to remember what you never knew in the first place. For example, I have no idea what day I met Jeff, and even though I knew at the moment that he would be important to me (I just didn’t know how important), it never occurred to me to mark the date. Years later, when I did want to know, I could only remember that it was the first or second Saturday of August that year. (I wonder if it ever occurred to me before now to make the connection — he came into my life on a Saturday, and left it on a Saturday.)

Still, with my penchant for not paying attention to dates, there are some things so stunningly ghastly that the date can never be forgotten. Jeff’s death, of course. And also the destruction of my arm.

A year ago today, at this time, I was perfectly perfect (in my own overweight way), but by the end of the day, I would have sustained such a devastating injury that from one minute to the next, my life would never be the same.

If there is such a thing as a miracle that brings horror rather than joy, this particular event would have to qualify.

It started in dance class a month or so before the date. The class was going to perform a couple of dances as part of the local college end of semester dance concert, and I did not want to be a part of it. For days, weeks, the class members badgered me to change my mind, and I remember almost crying when I finally told them to leave me alone. “If I do it,” I said, “Something awful will happen.” I did finally agree to be understudy for one particular dance since if any of the principal dancers couldn’t do it, they would be in big trouble.

They finally left me alone, but then a whole string of events occurred. First of all, instead of being at the beginning of December as it always is, the program was scheduled for the middle of November. Second, a major wildfire destroyed the venue of my teacher’s grandson’s wedding, causing the wedding to be changed to the same day as the performance. And one of the best dancers had been absent for a couple of months due to an illness that threatened her grandson’s life.

And so, there I was on that fateful night.

Even then, all would have been well, but just as I turned to cross the parking lot between two cars, the motion-activated lights went out. (I guess from the lights’ perspective, I had disappeared.) Next thing I knew, I was on the ground, screaming in utter pain. When I finally was able to look to see what had happened, I discovered I had tripped over a parking berm. Instead of the parking lines lining up with the berm, they lines forced the cars to park in the space. (Utter idiocy!!)

Well, I finally stopped screaming in pain, and started screaming for help. And not a single person came, not even the security guards who were supposed to be patrolling the area. I considered going back inside to get one of my friends to help me, but after going through all the aggravation to make sure the class could perform, it seemed contraindicative to get them riled up. (And anyway, I didn’t want to trudge that long distance back to the performing arts center — what if there was another unseen obstruction waiting to trip me up?) I considered calling an ambulance, but since it was a Saturday night (Saturdays are sure fateful for me!!) with sirens already sounding in the background, I feared it would be a long time before I could get help. So I wrapped my destroyed wrist (with the bone sticking out) in my veils from the dance and drove myself to the hospital. (At the time, it seemed logical, but now I shudder at the thought.)

And events still conspired to exacerbate this “miraculous” event. For one, the surgeon on call at the hospital told me my elbow wasn’t broken, and as it turns out, it was broken in so many places I eventually had to have the elbow replaced. For another, the surgeon only put on an external fixator without fixing the bones, so that when I finally had the necessary surgery, scar tissue had already began forming. Luckily, this on-call surgeon didn’t want to perform the follow-up surgery, so he sent me to a specialist. That surgeon didn’t want to perform the surgery, either, so he tried to pawn me off on a specialist’s specialist, but when he couldn’t find anyone else to do it, he reluctantly agreed to do the surgery.

At my final follow-up appointment with the surgeon, I thanked him for taking care of me, mentioning that I knew he didn’t want to do the surgery, so I especially appreciated his fixing my elbow/wrist/arm. He laughed and said, “I really, really, really didn’t want to do it.” He went on the explain the difficulty — with a normal wrist fracture, the radius is still connected to the elbow, but with my injury (a pulverized wrist, a shattered elbow, and more than a dozen breaks in the radius due to all my weight landing on the wrist), the radius was unconnected to any other bone (not even to the ulna, since those connecting tendons had also been destroyed in the fall), which made the surgery horrendously difficult. And then, there was the problem of it being an “old” injury. (Even injuries a couple of weeks old apparently cause problems for the surgeon because of the necessity to scrape the scar tissue from fragmented bones.)

Although he told me it would take two years to get back partial use of my hand, wrist, and elbow, I didn’t believe him. But today I do. After a year, I can do many of the things he didn’t think I’d ever be able to do, such as open a door with my left hand. He’d also said I “should” be able to type and drive again, but the tone of his voice expressed doubt. He also said I’d have chronic pain in the ulna (which hadn’t been broken) and the fingers (which hadn’t been broken but which had been pushed out of line) and he was right about that. He also promised arthritis, which is apparently nothing I can avoid. But that won’t come for awhile.

Meantime, after the fear of never being able to use my hand/arm/wrist/fingers, and despite pain and a deformity that apparently only I notice, I am grateful to be able to type, open doors and bottles, drive, carry sort-of-heavy items, and oh, so many things.

In the end, it wasn’t the fall that was miraculous. In a strange sort of way, it was inevitable. The miracle is that I am doing as well as I am.

So as it turns out, this is not a day to remember horrendous event and mourn the loss of some mobility, but a day to give thanks for being able to use my left hand/wrist/elbow/fingers at all.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Seven Years and Seven Months

Seven years and seven months ago, Jeff, my lifemate/soulmate, died after a long illness, catapulting me out of not only our coupled life, but the very house we shared for decades. After dismantling our home, getting rid of what I could and packing the rest, I went to stay with my father, who needed someone to be there for him. Although he was mostly able to look after himself, he was getting feeble enough that he needed someone in the house to make sure he was okay. And me, being newly loose in the world, undertook the task. If he were alive, my father would be over a hundred years old, but he died three years ago today, and once again I was catapulted out into the world.

I’ve become somewhat of a nomad, or maybe I should say a serial nester. In the past three years, I’ve lived over a dozen places (and those are only the places I’ve stayed more than a couple of weeks. If you include places I stayed a week or less, they are too numerous to count.) Because I’ve spent most of the past couple of decades taking care of friends and relatives, my financial situation is precarious, so I should be trying to find a place to settle down and get a job, but . . . well, I’m not. After the emotional rigors of the past ten years (starting with Jeff’s rapid decline and my mother’s death and ending with the fall eleven months ago that pulverized my left wrist, destroyed my left elbow, and smashed my radius, leaving me with a deformed arm, and wrist and fingers that don’t quite work the way they should), it’s nice to just go with the flow — not trying to do anything, not trying to think anything, not trying to push my recalcitrant spirit into a semblance of vitality. Just drifting.

Occasionally I correspond with the newly bereft who discover me through my book, Grief: The Great Yearning. They appreciate knowing they aren’t alone in how they feel, and they seem to find solace in my words. And that’s all I have left of grief now — just words. (Well, that and compassion. Not everyone comprehends the total horror that one lives through after the death of the one person you shared everything with, the one person who anchored you to life, the one person who understood you.)

Oddly, in the same way that I can no longer “feel” the exact pain of my arm when it shattered, I can no longer actually “feel” the pain of new grief. I remember not being able to breathe. Not being able to think. Not being able to get a grip on the immense agony of my grief. I remember feeling as if I were standing on the brink of the abyss, remember thinking that if I reached out far enough, I could still touch Jeff. But I cannot actually recall the feeling of new grief itself.

Even more oddly, I’m not sure if the man in my memory is the real Jeff. Has my memory of him changed over the years to fulfill his changing role in my life? I no longer know, and don’t want to know. To try to resurrect the real him, if only in memory, will eventually lead to losing him again, and that I can’t handle.

So I drift.

I am doing what I can to exercise my hand, wrist, elbow — I won’t gain the maximum usage of the joints for another year, so I am still diligently following instructions. And I am still taking dance classes. And slowly, I am gaining strength, better balance, and maybe even a modicum of grace.

What I have not been doing is writing, even though finishing my decade-old work not-in-progress tops my to-do list (or would top my to-do list if I had one. A to-do list seems the antithesis of drifting.)

Although today is the anniversary of my father’s death, it is Jeff I think of. If Jeff hadn’t died, I would never have gone to take care of my father, would never be where I am today.

Drifting.

This photo is twenty years old, the only one ever taken of me, Jeff, and my parents. Although I am the only one still alive, that “me” in the photo is long gone. I don’t even remember being her. Maybe she’s just as lost as the other three.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

No opinions. Just being.

Day three of trying to live in the world right before my eyes, a world uninfluenced by anyone’s opinion, not even my own.

The key word here is “trying.”

Unfortunately, lately my head is filled with a whole lot of opinions.

For most of my life, I lived in my own sphere of influence. Or rather, Jeff’s and mine. We were researchers. Thinkers. Truthseekers. We tried to find the reality beyond opinion, beyond the accepted lies masquerading as fact. The truth was seldom found in the current world of that day, only coming to light years later after a whole lot of research.

The first years of grief after Jeff’s death protected me from outside influences because that all encompassing pain left no room for anything else. And then came the near destruction of my arm. For almost five months I seldom saw anyone, seldom talked to anyone. To escape from becoming mired in my own mind (even worse, a mind that was fogged by opiates and the long-lasting effects of anesthesia), I started reading all sorts of articles on the internet, mostly those showing up in my news feed on Facebook.

To my horror, I found myself reacting to things that had nothing to do with me. Other people’s opinions about race, politics, gender, and a whole slew of other issues. Opinions about these issues even spilled over into discussions about writing (which up until then had been fairly neutral, the only arguments coming from those who wanted to destroy all rules of writing and those who wanted to adhere to every rule). People started exhorting writers to be inclusive, to be political, to use their fiction as a way to influence the world.

As if everyone else’s problems were also my problems.

I used to be color-blind. I remember telling my mother about a woman working at the local grocery store, a woman who struck me as being particularly kind, and after finally finding the woman, my mother said to me in exasperation, “It would have helped if you had told me she is black.” My response was a bewildered, “She is?”

Well, people convinced me it was racist not to give people the honor of their race, when in fact it was more of a matter of a selective memory and poor observational skills. (I once got in an argument about some guy’s beard. I swore he didn’t have one. And guess what? When I turned around and looked, I saw that the guy had a huge beard!) Apparently, I remember people and things more as impressions than actual images.

Then people convinced me that noticing people’s skin color was racist. And that my friends being generally white makes me a racist. And that my being white (or actually, sort of a pale pinkish yellowish beige) is in itself racist. But just because someone thinks something does not make it true. I’ve come to the conclusion that we are pack animals, and as such, we tend to pack together with those of our own kind. Sometimes our own kind is of our own gender or our own race; sometimes it is a group of all races who happen to have affection for one another; sometimes it is a group of writers or walkers or dancers. Bias is not racist. Or sexist. Or whatever. It is merely the “pack”age.

But here I am blathering on about things that don’t have to do with me. At my age, I am who I am. I take those in front of my eyes at face value. What other people think about the so-called issues is their problem. What they think about me is their problem.

Opinions are easy. Everybody has one.

Truth is hard. Truth is that tiny space where all opinions overlap. Or maybe truth is that even tinier space where there are no opinions.

That’s what I’m reaching for. No opinions. Just being.

 

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.