Wednesday, May 2, 2018


42, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything. This is truth according to ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,’ anyway.

Today is my 42nd birthday, and I have to say I kind of agree with this statement. My youngest sister Kate brought the above snippet to my attention, and it’s been making me smile nonstop today.

My birthday has been spent on my sister’s farm, sitting outside on a rocking porch swing watching huge carpenter bees buzz by my face, listening to the sounds of frogs and other creatures I’ve never seen, and watching creepy turkey vultures circling some poor animal out in one of the fields.  This morning, standing in the shower looking out the window, tears streamed down my face, as I saw a blue jay for the first time…and it was so magnificently beautiful. I am holding out for a screech owl (which, I hear are oddly small and cute), and the experience of thunder and lightning (scheduled to be showing up past the midnight hour tonight).

Earlier in my life, when I went to visit new places, I sometimes used to long for that lifestyle to be my own. It’s easy to romanticize something far different from your own way of being and living. This is one that tends to stick with me however…a quieter life at a quieter pace. Mindfulness is easy here-the succulent taste of a sun warmed strawberry against my tongue, the sensual pleasure of closed eyes and a perfectly warm breeze rippling my dress against my legs, and whipping my hair against my face, the utter ridiculousness of looking at said hair in the mirror after a day in humidity has turned it into a blonde cloud of frizzy poof.
Staring over at irises in the garden swaying in the breeze as their shade of purple interplays with the greens and blues of other plants, my mind drifts to Vincent Van Gogh, and I imagine him a couple centuries ago, trying to capture their magic on his canvases. Then, to early perfumers who have tried to capture the scent of the beautiful flowers. Isn’t that the reason so many of us love scent…it ties us to memories and remembrance.


Yesterday, I went shopping for some Levi shorts and grabbed the size I thought I wore, and was twice incorrect. I fell down on the floor of the dressing room and started laughing hysterically when I slipped on a pair of size 0, and they fit. It really was literally hysterical, due to a resolved twenty year thinking error that the right dress size was somehow going to make life better.  After many many years hating (and I do mean hating) my body, I was finally exhausted enough to throw down the white flag and surrender. Sadly, it took going through brain cancer to give me a complete body image overhaul. My body suddenly became something I cherished, and wanted to protect and nurture. 

It was likely I was going to suffocate or fly off the handle with rage if I had to hear one more woman say, “I was so bad yesterday, today I have to be good” when talking about eating food or a pleasurable food experience. Inadvertently, I was a member in a club I didn’t want to belong to-the ‘happiness is out there, and eludes us, and we can’t be happy with ourselves until we are at this place, and this size, and someday manage our food self-control…” I made a simple decision not to drink the Kool-Aid of
lies and misery any longer.  

This happened by reading books written by women I believed live well, and those who have demonstrated they know how to love living their lives. I made an effort to adopt the behaviors and practices these women engaged in, into my own life, and tried to live as they live. It involved an end to any form of dieting or restricting certain types of foods. I practiced mindfulness, I fixed my inner monologue and the way I spoke to myself, I challenged my irrational beliefs and expectations, and I planted a metaphorical garden of forgiveness for some things that needed resolution in my life (obviously not a real one…I kill plants). I took on the responsibility of my behavior as totally my choice-my actions formed my habits.

Over the course of two years I learned how to heal my body and mind, and God gave me the grace to move into a new stage of life. Lab results were not ignored- I hopped onto thyroid medication and bio-identical progesterone, and realized I was not powerless to change my health, and couldn’t blame genetics, my thyroid, or anything else in my life. I could become the woman I wanted to be, with determination, putting forth effort every day, and not getting stuck or stagnating when things were difficult. In my mind, it all comes down to wanting one thing more than you want the other. I wanted health more than I wanted the immediate comfort of trying to fill a void with food. The self-control to have a little of something delicious more than mindless excess began to come fairly easily.

I began cultivating things I wanted to learn about. My schedule is usually jam packed, and it’s difficult to find much free time at the moment. So, I work it into my life in small ways...ten minutes of my lunch break is often spent reading a new page about an author, or an animal, or listening to a snippet of an audiobook I like. Each day, I find little ways to create small pockets of joy and learning.

Most of all I think you have to have a really good sense of humor and playfulness to navigate suffering. As I was sitting on a grassy knoll this morning, my best girlfriend Christi called to wish me a happy birthday and to catch up.  Suddenly, a Fed Ex truck came speeding up the dirt road.  In happy exclamation, I said to Christi, “Oh yay, my padded underwear is here!” She took a moment to make sure I was saying what she thought she heard, and we burst into peals of laughter, while I explained…well, we can’t control where our bodies lose weight, and unfortunately, mine was lost from my bottom-to the detriment of my physical comfort. It actually hurts to sit down, because my bottom is really boney now. So, the other week I Googled, ‘how to help boney butt pain,’ and up came the suggestion of padded underwear.” The side-splitting laughter that ensued made a wonderful memory for us. I mean, we’re not talking crazy Kardashian level padding or anything, just enough to be able to sit down comfortably without pain. 

My goal over the next year will be to find some exercises I enjoy like Pilates and hiking to get stronger. Physical health is directed so much by our mental and spiritual health.  I had to learn this lesson pretty far into life- but I know that there is a potential I could live through several more life stages. If I live until 84, I have four decades of adventures and experiences ahead of me- I want to get there in the healthiest best shape I can.

I am quite glad for the lessons of cancer. That probably makes some people bristle- especially those who are dealing with it in some form in their lives-themselves or a loved one etc.  For me, it completely turned my life around. It took me to the deepest recesses of my soul, it turned my life inside out, and it solidified for me that love and connection are the most important things I need for the rest of my life. I was able to learn lessons that some people are not able to learn until they are elderly or on their own deathbeds.

I tell the teenagers I work with, “I wish I could go back and say xyz to my teenage self,” or “I wish you could hear this lesson that is important for you to know.”  When I have spoken with my friends who wish they could go back and say “xyz” to their 40 something selves…I have listened. I have taken the wisdom that many decades more of life has taught them, and I have adjusted my sails accordingly.

This birthday does feel like the perfect age to me. Staring down at the long scar marking my right thigh, my hand runs across it with calm satisfaction. I am more beautiful this year as a woman than I have ever been-strong, resilient, faithful, wise, silly, kind, smart, loving, playful… and, this beauty...has nothing to do with my pant size-that’s the hilarity of it all. This beauty comes in finally being at peace.

Celine's Dion's song 'I'm Alive' is my theme song for the year ahead. 


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