SCUBA

FEBRUARY 2001

I lived most of my life terrified of submerging my face under water.  An unfortunate childhood trauma.

I loved being in the water – swimming, boating, skiing – and had developed skills for doing it all without ever dipping my head below the surface.  I swam like Esther Williams and could make the softest water ski landing you’ve ever seen.

Heck, I could even shower without getting my face wet.

 

My avoidance tactics worked well until I felt the call of open-ocean kayaking.  My instructor, unwilling to accept my promise that I’d never roll my kayak, was adamant that I learn self-rescue techniques.  If I wanted an ocean permit, I’d need to overcome my fear of being underwater.

Lots of people had tried to teach me to swim.  Finally, I had a partner who could withstand my terror.  I took baby steps, learning to “roll like a log” all the while choking, thrashing, and clawing till I drew blood.  I graduated to blowing bubbles, then opening my eyes to count objects on the bottom of the pool.

It was progress, but not enough to conquer the ocean in my kayak.  Angered by the hold my fear had on me, I decided to go big or go home: I would become a certified SCUBA diver.

The classroom work was easy.  But it took weeks to don the claustrophobic wet suit without hyperventilating; several more weeks to jump into the pool and leave the weight belt strapped to my waist.  The dive instructor abandoned me as hopeless.

But my partner, having promised not to let me drown, paced back and forth along the edge of the pool as I gradually gained confidence under the water.

Occasionally fear got the best of me and after throwing up through my regulator, I’d rush to the surface for air where my partner would ask if I wanted to be rescued.  “NO!” I’d scream.  “Damn it, I want to get through this!”

When it came time for my open water certification test, we headed to the warm, clear waters of Roatan, Honduras.  My local instructor, Jonathan, was patient and calm.

He took me on daily practice dives until I was ready for the big challenge: dive to the bottom of the ocean, remove all my gear, buddy breathe from one regulator, reassemble my gear, clear my mask & regulator, and surface at an appropriate speed so as not to get the bends.

With my gear laying on the ocean floor, I came face-to-face with a moray eel peering at me from behind the coral. It was a surge of unexpected adrenaline with the potential to derail the entire event.

Jonathan took my face in his hands and signaled me to remain calm.  It worked.  I methodically completed the test, earning my SCUBA certification!

When I broke the surface of the water I ripped the mask and regulator from my face, threw my arms in the air, and screamed to the Universe, “If I can do this, I can do ANYTHING”.

It was a sweet blend of release and jubilation.  Fear no longer controlled me.

There have been times since that I’ve been scared.  And because I’m NOT DONE YET exploring life, I’ll probably be scared again.  But that’s not the point.

The point is crossing the line where fear loses its ability to control.   A photo of me in my scuba gear at the bottom of the ocean hangs in my home as a reminder.

For the record: I have pddled over a hundred miles in the open ocean and never once rolled my kayak.  I love it when life presents ulterior motives for a greater purpose.

 

 

 

 

“BAT PHONE” CALL TO GOD

DECEMBER 1995

My son had been sick for four years.  Very, very sick.  So sick that his liver was failing from all the medications he’d taken … and was still taking.  

His disease wasn’t killing him, his meds were.  Yet his disease still needed treatment.  A liver transplant was an option I couldn’t fathom.  I was scared, confused, and angry, and despite their best efforts, none of my friends or family were able to help.

It was New Year’s weekend.  My son was at his dad’s house.  I dug through his old toys and pulled out the bat phone.  Bam!  Pow!  Kaboom!  I sat down on the living room floor and placed an emergency call to God.

I said I need an answer.  Now!  How can I save my son’s life and keep his disease at bay?  God said take his meds away.  I said get serious.  I need a real answer!  God said take his meds away.  What will keep his disease from getting worse I screamed.  God said take his meds away.  I cursed and cried.  God listened.  I said is that the only answer you have for me.  God calmly said take his meds away.

It’s not that God was ignoring me … I just didn’t trust the answer.  But time was running out, and God wasn’t budging.

After hours of duking it out, I gave up – gave in – and made a deal with God.  I said, “FINE!  If that’s what you want me to do, I’ll do it.  But you better show me what to do next.”

As I pushed myself up off the floor, my phone rang.  Not the bat phone!  The one plugged into the wall.  I wiped my eyes, and answered.  My sister was on the other end, excited.  She had a new, crazy idea.  “Have you ever considered acupuncture for your son?” she asked.  “It’s a long shot, but you never know.”

But I did know!  God accepted my deal.  The very minute I agreed to trust … the next step arrived.

I knew nothing about acupuncture.  I did some research, found a gentle eastern doctor who reassured me he wouldn’t hurt my son (and would also treat me for anxiety and stress!) and approached the pediatrician for a plan to wean the meds away. 

Voila!  Within three months my son’s disease had gone into remission.  Within six months his liver was restored to complete health.  Twenty years later, he is still the picture of health.

I think there’s a story about this in the Bible.  Placing your child’s life on God’s altar. Literally.  I have been inspired to trust ever since.

I’m NOT DONE YET relying on God for answers to tricky questions.  I argue less than I used to because, quite frankly, God has never disappointed me.

And if I don’t resist … I get the good stuff a lot faster 🙂

 

 

 

 

STUMBLING INTO A WIDE OPEN FIELD

OCTOBER 1987

I did not see this one coming.  I was a 32 year-old recently divorced mom working my way up the corporate ladder as a civil engineering designer.  I was from a conservative, Catholic family.  Seriously, it took me by complete surprise when I fell in love with my secretary.

I told Catherine that I loved her, expecting she would be as thrilled about it as I was.  After all, we had spent many evenings together with our two young children, talked for endless hours on the phone, and had recently taken a weekend trip together to the beach.

Her reaction, every bit as startling as my feelings, was to quit her job the following week, pack up her daughter and move to a small town several hours away to marry a man she wasn’t evening dating when I declared my love.

In hindsight, I think I may have touched a nerve.  I’ll never know.  At the time, I was crushed, naïve, and confused.  I didn’t understand what was happening and enrolled myself in therapy.  There, I was introduced to the word “lesbian.”

Since I’d had no previous experience with that word, I had no bias and no fear.  Excited by the suddenly doubled size of my field of possibilities, I embraced this new identity by announcing it to friends, family and coworkers who – for the most part – embraced it right along with me.  I enthusiastically joined a community that up until that moment I didn’t even know existed. Over the ensuing years I’ve learned a lot about the human condition.

I entered the LGBT community in San Francisco at the height of the AIDS crisis.  I watched strangers come together to support each other and families reject sons as they lay dying in hospitals. I volunteered for an AIDS organization where I was introduced to hospice and began sitting with lonely, scared men, holding their hands while they died.  My first efforts at chaplaincy.  All that experience with AIDS would come in handy 20 years later in Africa.

I’ve learned a lot about politics.  The power of protest.  And patience.  I worked phone banks during elections, wrote countless letters to corporations and elected officials, and held signs on street corners when no one seemed to be paying attention.  Last month I sobbed as the Supreme Court award equal marriage rights to same sex couples.  Too many of the men I sat with died believing their love didn’t count.

I’ve also learned a lot about love and gender.  It’s no easier to have a relationship with a woman than with a man. Both exquisite and painful personality traits are shared equally across gender.  Sometimes women are the best dance partners and providers; sometimes men are the best cooks and listeners.  Men can be gentle and sensitive.  Women can be stoic and cruel.

By now I accept that people are people and love is love.  For me the package is not as important as the quality of connection and character.  I have come to identify myself as bisexual, all thanks due to Catherine crossing my path.

Most of the time it’s a blessing to be able to walk in both worlds.  Sometimes it’s just a really big confusing mess.  I have not mastered the realm of relationship.

But I’m NOT DONE YET.

My field is still wide open.  I trust that I have seeded and tended it well and that love will bloom again.

 

 

 

MOTHERHOOD

NOVEMBER 1983

My body did not do pregnant easily.  Having my son was a 5 year journey and every day I’m grateful for the gift of his life.  I nearly lost him half-way through my pregnancy, which may explain why I was an over-protective mom.  At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Motherhood stretched me in ways I didn’t know I could – or would want – to be stretched.  It forced me to heal my own childhood, taught me about unconditional love, and instilled in me unexpected pairings of qualities: flexibility & strength, love & forgiveness, spontaneity & structure, acceptance & limitations, and respect for grace & mystery.

Being his mom taught me how to play!  He “surfed” in my rocking chair, swam like a shark, and built blanket forts for living room camping.  I assembled bicycles, built Lego space ships, and installed a rope swing over the creek.

We took road trips, camped on the beach, made picnics on the mountain, cruised to Alaska, and visited Disneyland more times than I can count.  He tried his hand at gymnastics, music, karate and tennis; turned out math is his passion.

Learning to let go was the hardest part of motherhood: allowing him to be who he was instead of who I thought he would be, watching him stumble, helping him explore choices without imposing my own preferences, and ultimately accepting that he has a life separate from mine.

I didn’t do motherhood perfectly; it required a level of awareness and consistency that I’m still developing.  There are a few experiences I wish I could do over.  But I did one thing really well: ending the cycle of abuse.  For that – and the sheer joy of watching his life bloom – being his mother remains the best thing I have ever done with my life.  There is no love equal to the love I have for my son.

Today I admire him for his commitment to living his life on purpose, his passion for his career as a teacher, and his unwavering dedication to his family.

He is gentle, kind, strong, protective, loving, fair, generous, and a beautiful role model for his sons.

I’m NOT DONE YET enjoying this child of mine who has grown into such a fine man!

 

 

 

 

 

 

TAOS

DECEMBER 1981

I was 26 years old and visiting my brother who lived in Albuquerque at the time.  He suggested we go ski Taos.  We stayed with his friends in the Ranchitos area who had several horses, a latilla fence strung with bleached cow skulls, and a corgi named Guido who liked to roll in horseshit.

The skiing was okay – a bit too extreme for my taste – but afterward we drove out to the Rio Grande Gorge for my first view of that magnificent crack in the earth.  Standing on the east rim, freezing in the December wind, I felt the earth vibrate under my feet … what I would later come to know as the infamous “Taos hum.”

 

Much like a lover, Taos has tugged at my soul ever since with irrational adoration, frustration, comfort, the excitement of discovering something new, longing, and a need to return over and over again.

There’s a magic in Taos that’s impossible to explain to someone who doesn’t belong there.  The natural beauty, art, music, the pueblo, the vibe  … and the people … are unique.

The legend of Taos Mountain says that the mountain will either embrace you, or spit you out.  There is no middle ground with Taos.  After many vacation visits and a failed attempt to move to Taos, the mountain finally embraced me in the fall of 2009.

I pulled my moving van into the rest stop at the top of the canyon.  Overlooking the gorge, I stood on a rock, spread my arms, and felt as though I would soar.  I was finally living my dream.

Three years later, the mountain spit me out.  I’m still not clear about why.  I have wonderful friends there.  I still adore the mountain, the river, the community, the art, the music, and the magic of the mesa.

I’m fortunate to live close enough to visit often.  When I need sacred ground for healing or a lover’s embrace for my soul … I head north.

I’m NOT DONE YET with Taos.  In fact, that’s where you’ll find me celebrating my 60th birthday … hiking the rim, soaking at Ojo, dining with friends at The Love Apple. Yumm.

 

 

 

 

 

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