Folks, I know what happiness is.
Not to discount the blissful life that unfolds with a well-chosen spouse, a warm circle of friends, the love of family. I have those happinesses firmly in place.
Instead I speak of the dreaming, the yearning, for those things I have not and will damn well get. Even if I have to drag myself over hot asphalt on bloodied stumps. You know what I mean. It’s the “if only” proposition. If only I had this thing, then whole worlds would open up to me. The thing is the portal to possibility. I am as yet unfinished, feeling around blindly in the dark for the door to completion. Since self-improvement is my mantra, the tools for this constant series of adjustments must change from time to time.
My garden, for example, was once my dream and my yearning. I have it now, have had it for several years. For the first two years I was able to plant it, weed it, and care for it, though only to a limited extent. For the past two summers I’ve been physically unable to do any of those things. But that is beside the point.
Conceptually, it is far from being the garden I had dreamt of. It is incomplete, and worse than that, it is a bloody eyesore. The backyard perimeter is skirted by no less than four different kinds of fencing, none of which hide the neighbor’s backyard. The four-foot high chain link fence is a hideous and inadequate backdrop for the Asian-flavored designs I have created with two varieties of hosta and a tall, mature burning bush in the center that I have carefully pruned to resemble a bonsai tree. If only I had a six-foot high black bamboo fence behind this restful tableau, my garden would be complete.
The fence problem is easier to solve than the second one, however. My body. Know that I am quite realistic about this. I do not yearn for a cure. I’m not delusional. I will soon get surgically implanted with a baclofen pump. This device, though it will not make me bionic, climb mountains, or run marathons, will relieve my spasticity and pain without making me so weak I have to ask my husband to cut my meat for me.
The danger, the complexity, of this second problem, which makes it less solvable than the fencing, is what I might do with the possibilities of the pump in my mind. To be free of weakness, pain and stiffness I equate with the ability to build strength and endurance. I could work my garden again, I might start thinking, plant more dianthus, dig up and move some lilies, weed the hydrangea bed. My dream could extend to the grand notion of taking long walks around town, breathe in the heavy fragrance of tree sap, stride across uneven sidewalk concrete without thinking about my feet, jog across the street to peer into store windows. The way I used to before the MS. But this is magical thinking. And it is dangerous.
Zen is partly about realizing one's selfhood, identifying what we are attached to and then letting it go. I've done plenty of this over the past couple of decades, led a self-examined life and explored my spiritual side, but I am a negotiator and a skeptic. Certainly I can circumvent the unreasonable expectation of completely restored body function and still preserve the yearning for a thing not yet fully realized?
Ever since the flare I had in 2009, the one that left me with weakness, spasticity, bladder and balance problems, dizziness and vertigo, fatigue, the need to use a cane, I have spent nearly three years working up to dreaming these dreams. It was a sort of bliss, a consolation, but it has been replaced with frustration and a kind of smoldering anger. I’ve been sidelined for too long and in so many ways, more ways than I can address in this piece. Action is what I yearn for now.
For me, most things have an expiration date. Dreams, happiness, sadness, love, hate, success, failure, inaction, and yes, disability, they all grow stale and need to be replaced or rejuvenated. A pump and a fence are my next new hope, a fresh dream of beauty, form, and function. I’m still an artist and I still dream like one, sidelined or not.