Thursday, December 8, 2016

On Humility, Humiliation, and Pain

In my life, seeking after the virtue of humility has usually meant that humiliation would come along as an intertwined and uninvited guest. I've seldom been able to grow in the former without experiencing the latter. My most recent lessons occurred after being an inpatient in the hospital for the removal of a brain tumor, and then subsequently having to endure a second surgery because of complications. 

There are several types of pain we all collectively endure-mental, spiritual, emotional, physical...and each of us tend to be better at handling one type over another. In my case, I can handle emotional pain (both my own and others) like a champ-an Olympic multi gold medalist really. Writing that might knock off some of those humility points for me...but it's the truth. Throw the worst human suffering at me and I will be present with strength and calm in the middle of it. 

Physical pain, on the other hand, has been the type of pain I have gone to great lengths to avoid in my life. I am an absolute wimp in the face of physical pain and tolerate it very poorly. Thus, it seems to come my way fairly often. Despite the opportunities to try improve going through it, I have yet to do so. 

The thing about physical pain is that it can turn into a beast- destroying the capacity of our intellect, manners, discipline, and logic to hold back the very primal part of us that wants to be out of that pain. After the surgeries, there was no stiff upper lip or quiet virtuous suffering when the searing pain really hit and the pain medication had worn off. I remember vividly thinking, "I had this procedure to fight for more time, and now all I want is for time to speed up." Hearing a nurse tell you that your medication isn't due for two more hours is almost the worst thing to fall upon the ears of someone in ghastly physical pain. There is no relief. There is no clear thinking. No prayer comes easily other than, "dear God, please make this stop." The directives from the surgeons included one that I wasn't allowed to cry because it would mess up my stitches and packing.  So I moaned, and clenched my sheets, and yelled into my pillow. 

Physical pain doesn't follow an allocated medication dosing schedule. And, when medication is due, it doesn't necessarily mean you are getting it right then...because the nurse has 17 other patients who also need her/his help. When the nurse does come in, and they give you the medication, and stroke your cheek, and give a word of encouragement, a huge wave of gratitude hits- because there is a slight reprieve for an hour or two. The cloudy thinking from opiates is still more lucid than the primal thinking at the height of physical pain. 

In moments of lucid thought, I tried to think about people in the world who had no help for their pain. I offered my pain for them, I prayed for them, I felt sane. But in the heat of the unmedicated overwhelming pain- my prayer (and capacity for articulate verbal skills) wasn't capable of being "other focused", it was a desperate continual, primal, mental, emotional, and spiritual cry for it to all end quickly. In much suffering I was able to laugh, smile, and be joyful...but it was a struggle to find any kind of authentic smile when the beastly grasp of physical pain took hold.

Enter Humiliation... 

When a 20 year old young male nurse aide came into my room and asked me if I wanted him to give me a bath, my jaw just about dropped to the floor. I realize in modernity that both men and women are aides and nurses, but it shocked my sensibilities and sense of modesty to the core. I declined...and I waited for two days until there was a female aide on duty who could do it. Any semblance of modesty, I possessed, however, was something that quickly went by the wayside. Every day teams of doctors and nurses were pulling off my gown throughout the day to check wounds, to chain drains, to look at stitches, move and adjust sensors, give me shots in my stomach, take blood, pull catheters etc. They all had a job to do and they needed to move expediently through the patients. While it didn't phase any of them, the lack of privacy over my body bothered me a lot at first.  After a couple of days, I was too tired and too weak to care about the lack of modesty any longer. No one reties the back of your gown after they get done working on you. When I had to go to the bathroom, it was with help, and I didn't even have the strength to reach my arm behind me to try to tie the gown or even to try to hold it closed. The mental hierarchy becomes just walking across the room and back. It's strange you know (when we are in states of health and wellness) to imagine that walking ten steps will feel like running five miles (while on fire). The exhaustion that sets in after major surgeries feels so incompatible to any other experience.  

Many pain medications can cause severe constipation and impaction. When the pain of that reached its crescendo for me, it was the middle of the night. I was not calm, not polite, not casually ringing my bell and asking the nurse to pop in. No, I was crying and doubled over in my bed yelling, "Oh my God, please help me! Please help me right now!" Physical pain is trickster full of surprises. Just when you think you've experienced it in its will turn at you with its beastly laugh and say, "I bet you've never felt this before!" Then it will deliver on its promise and hurt you in an exquisite manner never before imagined.

My male nurse came running in and he ran his hands through my hair and very calmly whispered, "Don't worry dear, I'm here. I'll help you through this. Everything will be okay." Despite his compassion and care, I strongly desired to turn down his offer of help (because I knew what was coming and what it would entail).  Any sense of propriety I had left went by the wayside, and I had to enter into a deeply uncomfortable intimacy- a male nurse watching me in a state of raw agony as I sobbed from the crippling physical pain, and from the deep humiliating embarrassment that he was going to have to give me an enema. I realize that's a very gross and deeply personal thing to share. Here's my rationale-that experience was the pinnacle of post surgical humiliation for of the greatest humiliations I have experienced in my adult life actually. It made me realize the rawness and littleness of my humanity. Of my vulnerability. Of my desperate neediness. Of my weakness. Of my total dependence on this other person for any kind of immediate help and relief. My nurse was professional and kind beyond belief, but I was so mortified I couldn't meet his gaze for the next 24 hours. 

Wisdom was growing in that suffering, and I entered into a new level of understanding myself, of recognizing another layer of the interconnectedness of each of us in our humanity at the most basic level. Pain is quite an equalizer for all of us across the board. My nurse could sit with the physical sufferings of others as I could with the emotional. He helped to heal me from debilitating pain. Pain that had turned me into a version of myself I didn't recognize. He worked with me so I could finally raise my head at that beast and say, "you don't get to win anymore today." The lesson here is how quickly the pendulum can swing for any of us to go from being put together, high functioning healthy people, to experiencing a desperate embarrassed neediness on the very basic level of physical care and dependence on others. 

On The Roommate

My third day in the hospital I had a roommate assigned to my room. She came in yelling at someone on her cell phone, turned on the TV and blasted the volume (the TV hadn't been on once since my stay) and proceeded to behave like a character off of the Jerry Springer show.

My initial reaction was not a Christian response. It was comprised of anger, disdain, and negative judgment. I desperately needed to sleep and could not because she would not turn off the television nor use headphones. The nurses told me there was no policy in place for TV shut off during sleeping hours (like 10pm-6am). This roommate kept yelling at people on her cell phone and I couldn't block any of the noise out. I paged the nurse and asked her to move me anywhere else on the floor or to do anything, and she told me she couldn't.  I started to weep and whimpered, "I just had brain surgery, I NEED to sleep and rest." She apologized but told me she was helpless to change anything. 

A few hours later, a woman (the roommate's mother) came into the room yelling profanity at her and began to kick the roommate in her bed and berate her in a horrible manner, telling her to "get up out of that effing bed right now." The nurse came in and the roommate's mother physically attacked her. She hit the nurse! Security was called and the mother was dealt with and the roommate was moved.    

It was only as I reflected on the events that had just transpired that an authentic Christian response formed in my soul. Mercy, humility, and charity, came rushing in like a tidal wave. I imagined what it must have been like for my roommate to grow up with that kind of parent, the behaviors that would have been learned and passed on. I mourned for her and for the lack of decent and authentic love and care she had not received. I contrasted that against the gift of my own very supportive and loving family. Any trace of disdain melted away and my heart ached for her, especially for her to be attacked in the midst of her own physical pain, by her mother-someone who should be a tender and nurturing presence to and for her. 

The experience made me realize I didn't have the worst of it when it came to pain, even though it sure felt like it in the heat of the moment. My physical pain might last for a few weeks or months. But I was surrounded by loving support and caring people to help me through it.

But my roommate...what she went through, not knowing the experience of unconditional love and acceptance by her own mother, feeling unloved and uncared for...that was a far greater and longer lasting pain that needed remedy.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Into The Gloaming

Fact: It's pretty much a sin to ask for any other brand of ketchup in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, besides Heinz ketchup. My best friend Katy jokingly asked the Uber driver (who was in the process of telling us the Heinz story) "what if I ask for Hunt's ketchup instead?" The driver looked at us seriously in the rearview mirror and said, "don't do that."

I used this fun fact as a conversation starter with the MRI technician today. She leaned in close to my face (which at the time was in a contraption resembling a Hannibal Lecter mask) and whispered as though she were confessing, "I like Hunt's better. I know it's wrong, but I do." 

It feels surreal to be here...kind of like walking around in a dream.  Last night I stared at Katy as she was lying on her bed and said, "I kind of want to pretend that this is one of our vacations."  She and I have traveled so often together, that we know one another's rhythms the early stages of a friendship, you have to learn all the basic things when traveling together-managing shower schedules, the right amount of talking/alone/quiet time, dresser and closet divvying, who gets what bed, eating plans etc. After 16 years, we have a familiar and comfortable rhythm and I am maybe now more aware of it than ever...because it is just so easy to be around her. My needs are markedly different this trip, but the rhythm isn't altered.  

I need her to do a lot I can't do right now...pick up anything I drop, help me carry things, walk more slowly, go talk to people for me.  I've also asked the impossible of her, which she has mastered with aplomb... to find that perfect balance of when I need humor and distraction, and when I just need to be quiet and pensive. Somehow she has it down so well and it is so so refreshing to laugh through the pain. At this point, and especially accelerated in the last two weeks, is the physical pain. Pain and I are old friends, but it's bringing something new to the table when it hits on all the physical fronts.  My head hurts all the time. All the time. And there is nothing I can do about it but pray and try to distract from it. It is indicated not to take any kind of medication the two weeks prior to surgery. My eyesight is impacted. 

Tonight I tried to eat a piece of California roll, and saw three of them in my vision field. In my attempt to eat the real one, I accidentally bit the mirage instead, and soy sauce dripped down my nightgown. It was a pretty funny sight, and finding the humor in the situation when pain is bullying your life, is really one of the best medicines. 
Everything hurts- my legs, my body, my eyes. Right before a seizure, I feel like it must be similar to what an acid trip feels like. Katy quips comments to me like, "if you fall, try to hit the floor okay?" so I will laugh. And laugh, I do. It's difficult to eat food, but I am trying to eat an abundance these last couple days because I won't be eating anything solid for the next two weeks. Since I feel out of control...I find myself trying to seek power in small meaningless ways. 

Katy is a very easy going person, and she knows me well enough to know that...when I'm emphatic about putting the ginger into the soy sauce...she might say something logical like, "huh, you put it in the soy sauce? I've always thought it was for eating separately to cleanse your palette between the different types of sushis."  Then, I might give her a withering look...because I am annoyed that she is right and that I still want my way. She doesn't physically roll her eyes and laugh at me, but I know she might secretly be doing so in her head. 

Katy raises an eyebrow at me with a half smile and drops the ginger into the soy sauce. Suddenly, I am at ease and I lean back on my bed contented and relaxed. It is so dumb. You guys, it is so dumb. But I needed control over something in my world, and today it had to be ginger.  But these are the little moments of true love. These are the small and seemingly insignificant ways we lay down our own desires, wishes, and let go (even when we are the one who is right) because we know we can make the other person happy just by something as dumb as ginger placement. 

In the last couple weeks before I left Anchorage, I quintupled my socializing schedule and tried to see so many people who are dear to me and whom I love.  But I am naturally quite introverted---and usually spend a great deal of time alone and in quiet. When I don't get that necessary recharge time, I find myself irritable and easily annoyed. Coupled with poor sleep this week, I haven't felt much like my normal self, just really grumpy. There were so many nurses and doctors to talk to today. They all wanted to talk about Alaska. 

I had a lot of tests today- get undressed, get dressed, get into a gown, get dressed, get into this different gown, this contrast will make you really hot and make you feel like you are urinating, this contrast will make you feel really cold and uncomfortable...I tried to mentally go to a place of gratitude and thankfulness for access to this medical care, but I finally felt anger today. Anger that I was in Pittsburgh, anger that I can't bend down, anger that people want to talk about Alaska and all I want to do it try to figure out what to do with the massive thought I keep perseverating on...that life as I know it might end or be permanently altered in two days. Before this week, I could push all of this out of my mind, or tell myself what I have been telling other people---that you can't emotionally account for the varied surgical outcomes.  I think that's a true statement, for awhile.  But now that it is staring me in the face, I feel impelled to think about it. I have been ruminating on it- What if I die? What if I have a stroke? What if I am paralyzed or lose my eye? What if I have cognitive deficits that change how I think and act? 

On the deepest level I feel peace. However, it's the lack of control I have (to actually control anything that happens on Friday) that is difficult to wrap my mind around. I think, for the most part, I've made peace with uncertainty. "Thy Will Be Done," is the truest and most sincere prayer of my heart. However, being a planner and slight control freak sometimes, doesn't make these last preparation days easy...God doesn't stretch us in the ways we are already Gumbyesque, God pulls us where we are wound like taut rubber bands. Speaking of God...I had a beautiful experience today between medical procedures. I made my way to the 11th floor chapel and was delighted to plop myself in front of the tabernacle, and just to sit in quiet prayer for a couple hours. That was very restorative and calming. I'll try to head back there on Thursday for awhile as well. 

Tomorrow, I am calling Dr. Garner's office to find out what the MRI result is.  I am curious to know if Cordelia has grown at all. Also, I don't know what time my surgery is going to be on Friday. Evidently, they schedule the time the day prior. I meet with Dr. Gardner at 2pm EST on Thursday, so I will know after that when I will be back on Friday. These surgeries last from 4-16 hours...depending on what they find.  My tumor is on the basilar artery, so I imagine it might take a little more time to remove. 

Also, guys...just now, while I was writing this, I realized I should probably shave my nose hair! Oh my gosh, is that a thing? Wait, no. That won't work. Nair? Depilatory? How do you even do that? Trim it for sure...but if Dr. Gardner is going to operate in my nose, it shouldn't be hairy right? I mean...I'd shave my legs if this was leg surgery. I need to Google how to best remove nose hair. And so I'll leave you here, because I obviously have something important to accomplish tonight!

Love, ~Anastasia 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Walking In Beauty

I don't know how to start this post. It has been percolating for weeks and there is so much to choose from about my gratitude to family and friends...I haven't been able to figure out where to begin.

Perhaps, I'll start with a story about Kaladi Brothers (a local coffee watering hole for you non Alaskans) and Tiny Koop. 

You know those people in the grocery store you run into and say, "hey, let's go get coffee sometime," and you totally mean it in the moment, but you never actually do go out for that coffee...because it would mean having to get to know that person, and making time to leave your den of solitude, and finding time in an already busy life, and it might feel a little awkward. But then upon later reflection you're sort of wistful about the whole thing and wish you had just done it?

This coffee date story begins with dear Tiny Koop. Tiny Koop was a chaplain when I worked at the Police Department. She was a bubbly blonde and had a smile that lit up a room as she joyfully darted in and out of offices, pausing to check in with all of us to see how we were faring. My memory is of smiling at her a few times or waving a quick hello, but we never really chatted too much or exchanged more than pleasantries. A couple years later, we became facebook friends. Say what you like about social media, one of the fantastic things about it is that you can get to know people in new ways...their quotes and quips, stories, photos of their families, their "likes."  (I don't know if that's a thing or not to look at the list of things your friends like? Or if that delves into creeperland? I enjoy seeing what my friends like...and sometimes I'll add one of their liked items to my own list...for example "Princess Bride." OF COURSE I like that too. That band? LIKE!).  After you read a friend's wall posts several times a week for a couple years, you get a sense and appreciation of their character and who they are in this sliver of an online snapshot. It's perfectly realistic that some feel a lot closer to others through this medium. Especially, when people are honest and real in what they say, and don't just give you their life highlight reel. A level of vulnerability can certainly lead to increased feelings of intimacy and knowledge of other people.

Tiny Koop has been through breast cancer twice, several surgeries, grueling treatment regimes, then more surgeries. When I found out about my brain cancer diagnosis, she was one of the first people to ask me if I wanted to meet up for coffee.  I told her I wasn't ready yet, but that I would try to call her down the road in a few weeks. I thought this was going to go the way of..."we'll have a cuppa someday..." but the first day I woke up unable to keep my balance or walk normally anymore, I texted Tiny Koop for that coffee date. 

For a moment, tangent jump with me to the subject of 'being proposed to.' You know how there are certain situations that we react to, in the same manner every time?  Well, every time I see (on television, in a magazine, in a book, in real life) someone being proposed to in a very public way (especially at a sporting event)...I cringe with the kind of discomfort that permeates every cell of my body.  If you know me well, you know that I think public proposals sound like a ghoulish nightmare, and you probably also know I would be mortified beyond belief to have something like that ever happen to me...especially a proposal (it should be intimate, just the two of you, no audience...I digress). For those of you who may be thinking, "Hey! I was proposed to in public and loved it...mea culpa!"  Save that for the raging extroverts and entertainers of the world I say.  My main point is to emphatically emphasize that having any attention drawn to me in a public place (IRL) is not my idea of a good time ever, never, never, ever. Of course, there was no way for Tiny Koop to know any of this about me when we met up...after all, we were going to be starting at the 'get to know you stage' of the relationship...sort of. 

When Tiny Koop started the kind of personal journey that changes a person indefinitely, I followed along online via facebook. I often wanted to know how she was every week, what to pray for her and for her family, how she was feeling each step of the way.  I remember actually tearing up and crying a bit while looking at a facebook photo of her the first time she made it up a hike, on a mountain she loved, after surgery. Or watching her change through the stages of chemotherapy...blonde, bald, grey, frail, weak, tired, loved, fighting, pained, faithful, strong. When she allowed me and others to watch and learn, and metaphorically sit at her feet to observe how she was maneuvering through great suffering...I did. It was at a distance...frequent post "likes" and the occasional private message to let her know I was thinking about her and praying for her...but it was also so much more...because I was allowed to witness from the periphery what she was experiencing. And she was candid and real. It changed me. The vulnerability she offered in her human experience led to a feeling of connection and intimacy with her and dare I I began to love her. 

Don't we all wonder how we would move through something like that if it happened to us? Or, if we have previously been a support person to someone we love through such an ordeal, doesn't it touch on those memories of our own experience(s) to watch another move through it? This kind of suffering brings up those core existential questions for so many of us...

Who will love me through such an illness? Who will be there for me? Who will accept me when I am needy and must one sidedly take and take...when I cannot be in a position to equally give in the relationship? Who will it be safe to be weak in front of? Who can see me in my frailty? Who will accept me when I am not funny? When I don't feel strong? When I cry? When I am angry? When I am in pain all the time? When I need help with simple things like carrying items or feeding my pets? Drinking and feeding myself? Going to the bathroom? Changing my clothing? Making my bed? Who will help care for my children? Who will be a support to my spouse? Who will accept us when so many of the things we think makes us "us" get stripped away?

Wow, that tangent turned into several of them, but let's circle back around to the coffee shop. When Tiny Koop came into Kaladi's, I was nursing a terrible headache. She was too, and it was oddly funny and bonding as we tried sitting at various tables to get just the right one where the light wouldn't hurt our eyes. Then she said something that was simply so her..."sorry I'm late, Anastasia, I had a wild bunny situation in the back yard." How can I say something is "so her" when this is the first time we have sat across from each other face to face? Because I spent years learning and listening to who she is... in a different medium. I had a good and much needed laugh at her animated recollection, and we launched into an excellent and real conversation about where we each were. 

She surprised me at one point when I was talking about how I was feeling. I said, "It could be worse, I could be in a country with no medical care, or no pain medication."  She gave me sort of an exasperated look and quipped, "I'm really surprised you're going there. Suffering is suffering. Pain is pain. It is okay to hurt without trying to minimize it."  It was like a quick verbal slap across the cheek...not in a mean way, but in a "wake up and pay attention kind of way."  I realized I had been saying that for other people...well mostly.  I do want to have a sense of gratitude and I am fully aware that I am exceedingly blessed in medical care etc.  But also, and I think this is the little nugget of wisdom in this post...I had been saying that for other people... to try to make it not seem so bad or uncomfortable for them. To not be a Debbie Downer or a complainer. To make it easier for them so that they would still want to be around me. So they would still stay with me through it. But Tiny Koop blew me out of the water. Because the basic message she was freeing me with was, "No honey, go ahead and hurt. It's okay to say it hurts. It's okay to say to others that you are in pain. People will still stay. Be authentic. You don't have to compare your pain and say someone else's is greater, so yours doesn't count."  It has been strange to me in analyzing my own psyche, that I needed permission for that. But for whatever reason I did...and now I have stopped trying to minimize the bad days, while being very mindfully appreciative of the good days. 

So, she and I have this authentically open and honest talk and deep sharing, and then she says, "now I can give you your present."  

A feeling of DREAD takes over, and the cells in my body do a 180 degree turn and start to tingle with disdain.  I can sense what is coming next and I want to get up and bolt out of the coffee shop as quickly as possible. As her broad smile gets bigger and her loving eyes look down at me, she stretches out her arms, while I try to force back the daggers from my own eyes that want to shoot out at her. 

Here it comes. 

I brace myself. 

And, there, in the crowded coffee shop, Tiny Koop stands up and begins to serenade me A capella at the top of her lungs with, "The Glory of Love," by Bette Midler. I mean... Beaches! In a coffee shop! In front of total strangers! Was she trying to kill me?! 

"This is a song I've been singing for a long time.
It's like an old friend.
But, you know, I think it,
it's only recently that I discovered what it's really about."
You've got to give a little, take a little,
and let your poor heart break a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
You've got to laugh a little, cry a little,
until the clouds roll by a little.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
As long as there's the two of us,
we've got the world and all it's charms.
And when the world is through with us,
we've got each other's arms.

There's not a good describing word or phrase in English for feeling several strongly conflicting emotions simultaneously. I was mortified, irritated, exceedingly grateful and humbled, bowled over by her boldness and kindness, effected by the lyrics, rising emotions, and the congested uncried tears about our struggles. It was like an emotional kaleidoscope that kept swirling into different patterns. 

I stood up on my shaky legs with my throbbing head and I wrapped myself into her waiting embrace and hugged her. Settling into embarrassment and thankfulness while many eyes watched us. And, I held on tight. Then, I became aware that I no longer saw anyone else. I didn't pay attention to them. In that moment it was just the arms of my friend and my cancer surviving sister. 

Right then and there, she sang truth into my ear, which was nestled tightly against her shoulder, 

we've got each other's arms... 

Love, ~Anastasia

Friday, October 21, 2016

Use The Good China

Recently, a friend asked me if I had any advice based on my new found time-is-precious-beyond-understanding wisdom born of my current health predicament. Without pausing for much if any thought, I found myself saying, “use the good china.”  There’s absolutely no originality on my part in that comment…I’ve heard and read it several times from others who've had near brushes with mortality. But, it’s an important message that bears repeating.

Stop waiting for the day you are going to have a dinner party sometime in the future, or a big family dinner that comes around twice a year.  Use your good china right now! Use it often! It doesn't decrease the specialness, I promise.  Make yourself a nice meal, put it on your china, take a tray in hand and go read your book, or watch a show (unless you are practicing the art of mindfulness-in which case sit at your table and enjoy the act of eating).

Now a little bit of a tangent...I’m a super weirdo about dinnerware.  You know how most people who need new dinnerware actually go into a store… look at a few patterns, pick one they like, and then go home and use it?  LIKE. A. NORMAL. HUMAN. BEING.

For me it takes on a more significant gravitas…like, “which dinnerware defines me as a person?” (Men, hang with me through this part...I promise there's a golden nugget of wisdom at the end) 

It’s beyond ridiculous ya’ll, but it is what it is.  So, for the last two years (smh that I actually wrote two years and meant it) I have been trying to pick a set of dinnerware. An activity that should take maybe a day at most, has taken me a couple of years. I want to have a set for life, and so it has to be the right one.  Several different boards for dinnerware grace my Pinterest page- one for the Portmeirion (English), one for the Vietri (Italian), one for the Gien France (you guessed it...French), and one for the Polish pottery. My modus operandi has been to pause at each brand, look through the different patterns, while simultaneously trying to imagine myself at the table with family and friends, (using whichever pattern was occupying my thoughts), at the various holidays and get togethers of the year.

One of my goals before having brain surgery has been to pick a dinnerware brand and pattern.  That goal didn’t sound as pathetic in my mind, as it does via keyboard. The good news is…I've done it!

This afternoon, my mother, Gilbert (my trusty sidekick walker) and I drove through the blanketed beauty of the first freshly fallen snow in our town.  I have been singing Dean Martin to myself all morning… “Let it Snow,” and “Walking In A Winter Wonderland.”  It was simple contentment and joyful giddiness at the powdered trees, and precious time spent with my mama.

We meandered into one of our favorite stores and I looked over the vast displays of china and pottery with curious unrest. My eyes paused as they landed on the Portmeirion Botanic Garden pattern that has been my dishware for the last sixteen years. It felt like a sad goodbye, as though I was looking at a different version of myself that didn’t match who I was any longer. 

As years have gone by, I’ve been turning more and more into a homebody hobbit (minus the gross hairy toes). Friends have been encouraging me to get plain white dinnerware. “Classy” they say. “Elegant and versatile.” “You’ll get sick of a pattern.” I stare at the white displayed selections with my face scrunched in disdain at the thought of practical utilitarian rationale. 'White dinnerware definitely *does not* define me as a person,' I ponder seriously to myself (as seriously as one can be about such a subject...anyway). I can’t do it-even if it's logical.  Standing there, leaning on Gilbert, I begin to wonder if other people ever have this kind of stream of consciousness standing in front of displays.

“What do I want?” I chant this mantra over and over to myself.  I want beauty, artisanal work, colorful, tasteful, rustic but elegant, good quality, kind of hobbity… chemistry.  I want chemistry! That's it! But...with my dinnerware? Self, what are you talking about? They are plates. You’re being a little nutso here.  But that was the truth. I wanted dinnerware I found really pleasing because I know enough about myself--- to know that looking at a pretty plate with dinner is enough to make me quite happy most days. That’s why this quest for the right dinnerware was so important. It’s that perfect trifecta of something being beautiful, a hand made piece of art, and serving a utilitarian purpose that brings me such tremendous joy.

You see, when humans are just awful to one another, and I’ve had to deal with horrid pain and terrifically bad stories in therapy sessions with clients... I can come home, and see beautiful dishware in my cupboard and think, “But look at this! Humanity may be full of flaws and we may do horrible and base things to one another, but we simultaneously have this higher part of our nature that makes winsome artistry like these plates. The right dinnerware is a profound sign of hope for me.  It's taken me a long time to try to explain out loud why I couldn't just grab something attractive and be done with it. This is why. This is the much deeper significance I haven't been able to articulate. As silly as it may sound, this type of beauty helps me to constantly remember what we are positively capable of, and is a source of hopeful edification. Eureka, for being able to finally name it.

All of the sudden, my eyes landed on a stand-alone display.  As in a movie sequence I moved toward it like a moth to a flame (well, rolled and hopped and schlepped along if we want to be technical), and there I stood in front of the Polish pottery display, while a ray of light came down out of the ceiling and heavenly music played while billowy clouds gathered at my feet…

Okay, not quite like that. But in that moment, I knew with perfect clarity that Polish Pottery was my dinnerware destiny. I picked up the heavy pieces and ran my fingers over their smooth surfaces. I imagined the artisans creating the patterns and designs. What were they thinking about as they painted each piece?  Did they ever wonder who their work might go to? Were they heavy in thought over happenings in their own lives as they completed the minutia of the brush strokes? Was it a mindless activity for them? Do they know how much their gifts of artful details matter? Do they take for granted that they can create such beauty so effortlessly? 

Staring at the various patterns, I made a bold decision. 'I’m not going to pick one pattern', I thought. Why limit myself?  I loved the look of all the patterns displayed together. I’m going to get as many patterns as I want and mix and match them at will.

I picked up a plate with a butterfly. ‘Definitely this one,’ I decide. Then I thought the better of it and put it down.  ‘No, you can get the butterfly plate after you get home. After you have the surgery, and after you return to work.’  Give yourself a little goal. Earn your butterfly plate.  So, instead I pick out two luncheon plates to finally start my new dishware collection.

When I get home, I know I’ve made the right decision.  I sit down at my laptop to write my blog, with my dishes in a plastic bag next to me on the couch. I take them out, smiling from ear to ear.  The beautiful designs are not something I could recreate on my best artistic day. My finger traces the names of the artists Edyra K., and Joanna K., on the back of the plates. A little prayer goes through my head and I ask God to bless them, and to, in some small way, let them know their work and gifts are appreciated and cherished here on the other side of the world.

Love, ~Anastasia