Priorities I

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Priorities. From Merriam-Webster, the condition of being more important than something or someone else and therefore coming or being dealt with first.

I hate that word. Priorities. I especially hate determining what is and what is not important. It seems so horrible. I look around and see this big fantastic world, full of great and wonderful things. I see a small dangerous world too, full of horrible and sad things. How is any of it, any of it, not important? There are Fish and Games wardens who hunt down people that mistreat bugs. Bugs. When one was asked why he might risk his life to bring down people dealing in black-market butterflies, just bugs, for crying out loud, he said that it was precisely because they were bugs. They were helpless. There was no one to stand for them, to protect them. Bugs need the Fish and Game wardens because they are bugs.

People often look for silver linings. It’s what we do, hope in desperate times, the good even amongst the bad, celebrating the grace that has been given to us. Job, after all, stated that he knew his Redeemer liveth. But at the same time, Biblical personages often didn’t do only that, or that first. In times of trouble, they grieved. Clothes rent. Sackcloth and ashes. Why do I even mention this? It seems like it’s become a thing in some Christian circles to expect a person stricken with some sort of affliction instantly to go leaping around, praising God, and qualifying for sainthood. It feels like it is expected sometimes, that word but. As in, I may have lost my sense of taste and be green all the time, but look what I’m saving in food costs!

There’s nothing wrong with silver linings. We all need them. We all look for them. Eventually, we can all learn to simply see them, like the beauty of a dew-drenched spider’s web on cold, wet, foggy morning. Equally, there is nothing wrong with being able to look at a situation and clear-headedly determine that it sucks. This is not the same as sliding into a dark place, staying in a dismal situation without attempting to change it. Of such dangerous patterns of thought, truly desperate courses of action are born.

Right now, however, I may mourn that being in pain has forced changes in my priorities. Which is more important, taking this library book or that one home today? I can’t carry both. Which is more important, doing the dishes or the laundry? I don’t have energy for both. Which is more important, finishing my paper or prepping for my class? I don’t have the mental acuity while meds are being adjusted for both. Which is more important, going to church or the grocery shopping? Time with my friends or time asleep? Home with my extended family over the holidays versus the agony of multiple flights with luggage? Beg some family to come to me for a short visit, but then not see other family members or important people from home?

It is all important. All of it has always been important. All of it will continue to be important. I can’t do it all, though. However badly I may want to save every single butterfly or moth, I am simply not capable.

We all have to pick what we prioritize, no matter what we do in life, who we are, or what are physical state may be. Sometimes we make those decisions unconsciously, other times only after much inner turmoil. It is the curse of those that live a full life and one full of caring, I believe, to struggle with these choice. It is perhaps a better curse to bear than the opposite, that of the abyss of apathy. However, it seems that people suffering from medical conditions have to make those decisions constantly and nearly always consciously. It means facing the pain of choosing one important thing over another, over and over and over.

Please be patient with yourself. Please, others, have patience with us. Thankfully, the future of the monarch butterfly does not rest on a single butterfly alone. It won’t take the pain out of the decisions, no… but I am not responsible for saving every single butterfly or moth by myself. Sometimes it takes a lot of titanium butterflies, standing up for one another, supporting one another. It is not always the great strength of one but the combined small strength of many. Please, be patient with yourself.

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Titanium Alloys

Titanium never occurs in nature in its pure form, but is found as an ore, bonded to other materials.

My friends and family have been titanium. Better than gold, if you ask me, that shiny yellow malleable stuff that dings and scratches if you look at it wrong. They bend. They support. And when I ask for help… and sometimes even when I don’t quite manage to ask for it! … they’re a framework of strength.

I am grateful to each and every one of them. I can’t count all the times, I can’t name all the names, there have been so many. Those who recommended foods until I found things I could eat, who had me over to dinner even knowing that I’d be sucky company just so I could be around humans. The ones who message me late into the night and the ones who talk me through the days. The ones who listen when I cry and when I try to be brave, and see through both. The ones who kindly and without any sort of condescension literally physically haul me through places, who let me sleep on sofas when I can’t make it home. Those people that pray, near and far, every day. Those that journey thousands of miles to watch me sleep, do my laundry, take out my trash. Those who are battle buddies. It takes a profound amount of strength and courage to do this for anyone, friend, family, stranger. I have been all three to my squad of helpers at some point or another. Their kindness is overwhelming, their compassion and strength more powerful in its own way than whatever is wrong with me.

Titanium, even once refined, is often alloyed with aluminum or other metals — and it is often these alloys that are put in the highest stress situations, in planes and implants and space vehicles. Because these couplings, these alloys, are stronger and lighter than each element individually. Perhaps there is a reason that titanium is never found in nature as a pure element. Sometimes we have to stand together.

DSC_0312Adaptations I

Photo: Monarch butterfly … most likely. 🙂

Many consider the tasty viceroy butterflies’ mimicry of the color of the poisonous monarch butterfly to be an adaptation. This adaptation helps protect the viceroy from being gobbled by hungry birds…

My dishwasher is now my best friend.

It wasn’t always this way. You see, at one point in time, I figured that as a single women raised in a drought-stricken area, I could do the sensible thing and wash the plates and cups by hand. Fill up a sink, drizzle of colorful soap, swirl dish in soapy water … good to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still all for saving water. But now, I sometimes have a limited amount of time and energy. The dishwasher isn’t that much more inefficient than me on a slow day, anyway. Into the dishwasher the dirty dishes go, hey presto, they’re clean, and I can just grab them from the nice, no-stretching-and-lifting-above-my-head racks. Adaptation.

Elevators are a gift from a saint called Otis.

It wasn’t always this way. I figured that the energy for an elevator could be better spent elsewhere, that it should be saved for those who really needed it or to reach levels above, say, ten stories. As buildings above ten stories have not been a major part of my life, that approach worked. But now, I’m sometimes too tired to take the stairs. I’m too uncoordinated to manage the slick steps and short railings of the steep flights in some of the buildings I navigate every day. I’m too green to handle the twirls, switchbacks, and narrow landings. At least if I make a humiliating mess of sick in an elevator at a college, I can blame it on a drunk undergrad, right? No??? Oh well. But there are elevators, and I take them. Adaptation.

Clean clothes are in the laundry basket. Dirty clothes are on the floor. “Ironing” is under a pile of heavy books.

It wasn’t always this way. Laundry was on a schedule. Clothes were neatly pressed. But now, not so much. Life’s Too Short To Fold Your Underwear was a book given to me by a friend. I actually do fold my underwear. Doesn’t mean that I haven’t now gone out and bought a whole lot more of it, because instead of running loads once a week, or even every two, if I’m really hurting, or meds are being changed, or there’s some social event that I really want/need to attend that will take my energy, or any other combination of a lot of other things, the laundry may not get done. Less is not more when it comes to drawers. And yeah, clean laundry may sometimes sit awhile before I get around to folding it. Adaptation.

It wasn’t always this way. But it is now. I tell myself: Accept. Adapt. Survive. Butterflies do. There’s no shame in becoming orange with black veining instead of some other color if it keeps you alive. Butterflies do, and they still fly free.

Pain I … or, Let’s Play “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things”

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What pain can do your world. Butterfly, black and white.

I hurt, and I’m so tired…

Bubbles. I love soap bubbles, shimmery iridescent floating spheres. I miss the days of soap dispensers with liquid soap instead of luxury foam, because it’s so much harder to blow a bubble out of your fist for a child when it’s foamy soap.

Bright flowers, which seem to attract me as well as the butterflies I like to photograph.

My camera, such a powerful tool. Maybe one day I will put it to work in the service of something bigger than flowers and bugs…

Colored pens, a joy to write even nothing with… and tolerable even to write something with, like the endless travails of homework.

The smell of dinner cooking when I walk in the door after a long day.

Fresh cookies, so hot they scorch, still so soft they are hard to handle.

Any soft, horizontal, and safe surface after I’ve been conscious more than 5 hours.

Sweet sunlight of peach-orange-pineapple smoothies.

Wind on my face, from a breeze to practically gale-force; even the air is nearly alive in this wonderful world.

The feel of an icicle, a smooth spear of water-glass, slicker than one from a warmer climate would have thought possible, and more dangerous and beautiful as well.

Snow falling in dizzy spirals from the light gray winter sky.

Trees patterning leaves against the sky.

The feel of tree bark, sometimes smooth, sometimes so furrowed I can climb straight up without branches.

Worn red edges, towering castles, juddering shoulders of rock in a desert, shaped by wind and rain into an austere landscape of persevering loveliness.

Winter sunrise, a bowl of a sky so fragile a shout might break it, that lovely frozen dome of growing light.

Playing a piece of music, in an orchestra: the sudden roar of noise and delight at the work so intense you could scream from the thrill, gold fire of brass and mahogany of the deep strings soaring together with the frantic blue piping of high winds.

Butterflies, flit gleams of color on wings.