Archive for February, 2014

Measuring Time

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

My brother David went into hospice care a month and a half after he turned 55. Six weeks later he was dead. I’m going to outlive my brother.
It may seem an odd way to measure time, but I do compare myself to my brother and where he was in his life. I just turned 55. I imagine if I was in that position, of drawing down my life, seeking medical help to survive a few more days, planning for the end looming larger with each trip to the emergency room.
After considering how big and hard and overwhelming and scary and sad that all was, I try it on and then the distancing begins. I would like to live a long life. And I work hard to make that as likely as possible. David died at 55, and our mother died a few days after turning 60. She was ill from congestive heart failure for 13 years. She had a damaging heart attack at 46, and lived the rest of her life less fully than she would have otherwise. She was sick a lot, weak most of the time, and eventually (by about my age) unable to work.
I can’t help but compare myself to them, especially my health and wellness and fitness. I walk a few miles almost every day. Because I like it, and it is often more convenient than driving somewhere, and my dogs need the exercise. But also because I want to live.
I count servings of vegetables and fruits, I eat foods I know will prevent cancer and heart disease. Because I love eating this way, passionately, but also because I want to live a long healthy life.
I think about what my mother did at my age. She was also writing, she was considering the larger questions of the meaning of life, what happens once you die, how to live as fully as possible. But when I’m out in the woods, flying around town on my bike, making love with my sweetheart, traveling and hiking and making new friends, I often reflect that she was not able to enjoy these things at this age. The fear of overdoing it, being incapacitated, having to call for an ambulance, always was in the forefront of her mind.
When David was right about this moment in his life, he went into arterial fibrillation and would have died without his pacemaker and defibrillator. That episode resulted in some long hospital stays, eventual surgery, days spent sedated with a ventilator, and then coming back home to hospice care.
I measure these moments.
It so totally sucks that both of these lives were cut short, and that they were marked with so much time being incapacitated, so many nights spent in the hospital. So many close calls and the pain and knowing life would be cut short. Even worse that both my mom and David haven’t been here to see what happened next, to do what they loved, to be with the people they loved. What would they have created and done if they had had that extra time to be well and strong for the years they deserved to live?
It is a bit surreal to outlive my older brother. The obligation to use every day, to live my life, to create and do and love more fully rests heavily on me at the same time it is an ecstatic state that fosters a deep awareness of the preciousness of life.
I cannot take the simple act of living for granted.
There are indeed many mysteries in life, and in this world. I’d like many more years to confront them, learn them, and go deeper into the many meanings and ways of being. The importance of that, the value of living fully, is made larger by the death of my brother, and also the last almost 21 years that my mother has been gone.
They both lived their full lifetime, but also too short a time. When I helped a client die who was 104 I experienced the contentment of letting go after a very full very long life. When I volunteered so many years at hospice I met thousands of people who died, most of them in their 80s and 90s. The more jarring and difficult deaths were of children, or middle aged people who were at the end, and not the middle after all. So many deaths are too final and too soon.
It is an odd way to measure time, comparing my life and my vitality to another. But where that leaves me is in this reflective state, and also inspired. As I’ve written this the sun has risen and this new day has come.
Taking nothing for granted…

Yellow Soup and Ann Arbor Pedestrian Safety Task Force

Monday, February 24th, 2014

I arranged a social gathering for the newly appointed Pedestrian Safety and Access Task Force. Our first Meeting will not take place until the end of March, and that seemed to long to wait to get to know some of the people I’ll be working with. And a social event seemed to be a great way to break the ice (Ann Arbor is very much in need of ice breaking in every way possible, especially the ice on the sidewalks to help pedestrians be safer). Social events are also allowed under the Open Meetings Act, so I didn’t have to invite the whole city to join us.
Five task force members were able to make it, as well as two spouses/partners and one of the young kids of a member.
I planned a simple meal – soup and bread. Here is the soup recipe which turned out better than I expected. It is an idea adapted from A book written by Francis Moore Lappe’s daughter, I can’t recall her name or the book though.

The original recipe called for canned or fresh tomatoes, I didn’t have any so I successfully substituted canned coconut milk.

In a large soup pot saute 2 large onions, chopped, in olive oil.
Let the onions cook for at least 15-20 minutes, so they are just beginning to brown.

Add to the pot about 4-5 potatoes cubed, 2 carrots chopped, about 2 cups of red lentils well rinsed, and about a half gallon of water. Let cook for about 30 minutes. Add more water if needed, the mixture should be thick but still very liquid. After about 30 minutes add some greens -fresh or frozen – about 1 to 1 1/2 cups cut into smallish pieces.

After it is well cooked – about 30-45 minutes – season with about 2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp crushed cumin seeds, 2 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp coriander, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cayenne pepper, other mild chilis as desired.

If I had had celery I would have added that with the other veggies.

After about 45 minutes, and once the potatoes are soft, add two cans of coconut milk. Heat thoroughly, about 10-15 minutes, and you are ready to serve.

Freezes well, or eat leftovers for 4-5 days.

The key to making this a great soup is using so many onions, and cooking them thoroughly at the beginning.Everything else can be changed – but not that.

It was a very nice introduction for the group and I look forward to a very productive and interesting year!

I served it with cornbread, a good whole wheat sourdough loaf would have been even more perfect.