Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swedish in Seattle

I spent half the morning wandering through secured doors, convoluted chutes and circular corridors, attempting to get the lay of the land. My compass star? The Starbucks in the main lobby, around which Swedish Hospital – Cherry Hill revolved. I stopped for a cup of yogurt and stepped into the walled garden bordering the cafeteria. Three weeping cherries stooped, skeletal and barren, awaiting the strong-arm of summer to pry its way between cement towers and force the spring that seemingly bathed Seattle, to their minuscule plot. Weeping cherry trees, Swedish – Cherry Hill... I get it. I was in Swedish for four full days, training nurses. I turned to miniature weeping Japanese maples, heads bowed and branches gracefully bent as if in prayer. Their new leaves like gnarled fists uncurling, released by winter’s grip. Squatting to read a small bronze plaque set between them, I was caught unawares: Sisters of Providence. Sisters of Providence? I had worked at the Sisters of Providence hospital in Anchorage – a full lifetime ago. “Was this hospital a Sisters of Providence Hospital?” I inquired. “Yes. Swedish bought it a few years back and has eradicated nearly every sign of the Sisters.” I mentioned Providence over dinner to a chorus of similar sentiment. I was saddened that new owners would obliterate versus honor the fruits of their labor and the Sister’s memory. Eradicate may not have been the intention, though clearly it was the impression of the community. On the hill chosen by Sisters long ago, I paused at a sixth floor window, taking in bruised skies and a sleeping city’s shadowy skyscrapers poking through a nocturnal blanket of fog. Why can’t I find Mt. Rainier? Perched over the city, Rainier is only visible, weather permitting. And like most populations that dwell in the shadow of a great mountain, word rippled through its denizens when the weather broke, the clouds parted and the mountain in all its glory, stood its ground. Get thee to a nunnery. There are many reasons to join a convent. A want and call to serve God is but one. A family’s hedge on life eternal and one less mouth to feed is another. It was the proper place of repose for the deeply contrite and indubitably pregnant. And until modern times, the cloister was the sole source for women’s education. Circumstance surrounding induction into the Order of the Sisters of Providence takes nothing from their contribution. A band of women in the yet untamed lands of the Pacific Northwest built a home to house and nurse the sick to health. And in the absence of health, offered prayer, comfort and care until death. I walked more erect; my gait gained bounce for the ground was suddenly familiar. I'd found my bearings in friendly territory, this was Providence. “Have you ever had a catheter that you could get medications into,” I pointed, gesturing forward, leading them through my seven-minute talk, “But couldn’t get blood out?” The small group of nurses nodded silently. Nurses are eager and apt students; teaching nurses, people who care and care to make a difference, is as easy as it is pleasurable. “That’s a problem. You should never have a catheter into which you can infuse but can’t get a blood return. We call that a partial occlusion, most likely caused by clot, and we want you to treat that sooner than later.” “Are you Swedish?” someone blurted. Do I look Swedish? Monkey volleyed sarcastically, fully expecting an answer though thankfully, he was unheard. I smiled a knowing smile. “We at Kaiser are very incestuous,” I have said more often than not. “We l-o-v-e being trained by one of our own.” A familiar family crest begets kinship and a willing attitude. “No,” I answered, “I am here with a team of people visiting from California, to train in all three of your hospitals.” I boarded my plane after days of traipsing down their halls, never once having glimpsed the mountain. Airborne, Mt. Rainer rose to meet my climbing jet. She gathered herself from the lowlands like a woman gathers full skirts and crinolines to rise. My eyes were drawn to the fall of her shoulders, her curves, her flanks and the aura of ice crystals that sparkled with magic and mystery. A domed cloud cupped her crown and reached with creeping tendrils to shoulders and breasts covered by a perpetual shawl of snow and ice. Substantial hips and flanks wore an apron of white that would soon give way to summer’s lush and fecund lands, the fertile valleys that skirted her feet. The breeze that whistled through concrete seracs perched on Cherry Hill carried the frigid fragrance of Madam Rainier. Mesmerized by the mountain, I stared unblinking as my mind wandered, hopscotching over previous days. United beneath one flag, Swedish-First Hill and Swedish-Cherry Hill are twin sons of different mothers. I suddenly understood her question, Are you Swedish? as a variant of: friend or foe. I had wrongly assumed Swedish, friend. Beneath blonde Swedish skin, behind shiny, new letters emblazoned at the circular entrance, beat the pulse of Providence. They did not eradicate the garden nor the telltale, small bronze plaque. On Cherry Hill, they had yet to still the heartbeat, vanquish the loyalty or banish the passionate champions for the mission of the Sisters of Providence.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christmas/NY/Birthday/Easter Muze

Hauoli Makahiki Hou, Gung Hee Fat Choy, Happy Birthday & Easter. In what has become my own holiday tradition, here is my annual letter. I hope its arrival finds you healthy, happy and living a life you love. If not? We should talk. This from my journal: Christmas was. I worked at Mercy General on Christmas and the following day. The hospital is a nice place to be on Christmas and working was far easier than trying to figure out what to do with myself. I don't have many holiday traditions here in California. My holiday traditions are alive and well in Honolulu. If I have one Californian tradition, it is to work on Christmas. Some people imbibe for anesthesia, analgesia and amnesia to the hole in their soul on Christmas. I work. At the very least, I contribute to those in need; it reliably fills my hole and tosses me theirs. I did go to John's home for Christmas dinner and I'm glad I did. John and Evan are friends of many years. They blended their families, adding sundry & stray friends for a spectacular party. They could easily become part of my Christmas tradition. Next year I'll take my gifts, to open them there. ‘Tis a bitter pill to open gifts alone. No charge, no fun, empty... not meaningless and only coz I say so. Lest you think I regret the choices that have me solo... fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy. I am hardly alone and regret not. But this year, I ached with each air mile between me and mine. All the best to thee and thine. The beckoning of and my longing for the islands grew through the Advent. I approached the Holidays with an unexpected sense of dread and complete disregard. In concession to the season, I hung Christmas hand towels in the guest bath and kitchen. I, known for listening to Christmas carols in the heat of August, refused – as if my reticence would halt the march of days and Christmas would wait for my mood to swing in its favor. I watched my friends gather their families with jealous yearning, scanned my 2009 calendar for an opportunity to fly west into the easterly Pineapple Express, and electronically increased the coffers of Hawaiian Air. So once again, I begin writing from on-high, 29-stories on-high, with a waking city at my newly manicured toes. I write from the bustling edge of Chinatown, sandwiched between Honolulu harbor with Aloha Tower, the river with its temples, and the freeway that holds the mountains from spilling to the sea. Honolulu, a modern mecca of glass and girders punctuated by ‘Iolani Palace, Kawaiaha’o Church and other spare vestiges of an indigenous people. Honolulu, I am home. Here’s the update: In 2006, I took The Wisdom Unlimited Course, a course designed to distinguish/develop adult as a possibility versus adult by default. It identifies where we stopped growing and began living - not into a world filled with possibility - but into a world of expectations and inherited ways of being. It is a course that, to a man, is insidiously and contextually life altering. In April of 2008, I accepted the position of Registration Team Leader for the 2009 Wisdom Unlimited Course in San Francisco. That entails managing a 25-ish person team of volunteers committed to filling the 2009 Wisdom Course. My team is awesome, makes me look good and managing volunteers… is a little like herding cats. I am learning to plant myself in my commitments and have empowering conversations when I don’t wanna, I don’t care and I don’t feel like it. Managing myself IS the challenge - like playing chicken with a cobra. In June, I began the Partnership Exploration Course – a 10-month course held in LA. Partnership examines the ‘types of conversations’ in which I engage. Are they inherited conversations like the scarcity conversation inherited from a world in which, until recent times, there was never enough? Are they generational conversations like: women are chattel and naught but for their husbands, therefore, it’s all about finding a husband. Are they genetic conversations like: Can you be a woman fulfilled when you fail to bear children? Are there conversations that I won’t/can’t/shouldn’t have? Where are my edges? Am I willing to have meaningful conversations about abortion, relationships in the context of leaving people with the experience of being loved, lifestyle as it relates to health, and racism – particularly as it relates to an African American President and the seemingly racist views of some family and friends? Am I willing to have conversations that affect those I love, like my reluctance to say “I love you”? If I am naught but my out-loud conversations, if my world is a word-match - what am I saying? Every eight-weeks I flew to LA for a Partnership Course weekend where I dined with my f-a-v-o-r-i-t-e niece, Lael. (Lael often reminds me that she is my only niece, to which I always reply, “That’s beside the point.”) I also spent time with life-long friends Dorene & Steve, who have been pivotal, fellow voyagers since my sixteenth year. As we age and confront health challenges, it is wonderful to commune and acknowledge the contribution we have been, and continue to be, for one another. During a 10-month period, both courses had me attending 11 weekends, either in LA or SF. I’ve had team calls on Monday, Wednesday and every other Thursday night, a coursework party on Wednesday, and lastly, a seminar on Thursday. I have described the year as ‘awful’ but that is inaccurate. It was a year that stretched me beyond my comfort zone. I learned that I am quite a solitary fellow, a content cave woman, primarily inaccessible and unavailable. The extent to which my commitments demanded exiting my cave was uncomfortable, challenging and stressful. I learned a lot, my capacities increased exponentially… and it was hard. I am learning patience and generosity for myself and others. For relief, I focused on that which sustains me: my work, writing, exercise, key relationships, and sought ways to insert them into my frenetic schedule. During the warmer months, I commuted to work via bicycle and train and pedaled the 20-miles home once or twice a week. That worked well until the autumnal fall-back of time. So I began running through lunch, three days/week. That has been a Godsend, helping me manage with a bit more calm. Writing has been more problematic. I am consequently covetous and protective of mornings off, when I am inaccessible and unavailable to the world. I left hospital nursing in January 2008 for one of Kaiser’s clinics. I am currently micro-managing diabetes patients for a pod of eleven doctors in adult medicine. The work is interesting and I have spent nearly the entire year learning to manage my patient load. I initially approached the job with “Yes!” as my context. “Yes! My job is to say yes.” Then I was completely overwhelmed with patient volume and the many spontaneous requests to see and outreach patients. I’ve given many of my patient’s nicknames and our telephone conversations are fun. Within Kaiser, patients can email their healthcare providers. One of my funnier patients is ‘the Rockstar’, a 50-something year-old man who lost one leg to diabetes. He emailed recently with a question to which I responded, addressed to ‘the Rockstar.’ I paused, knowing the message would become part of his permanent medical record… and sent it anyway. I may have to rethink this strategy of patient care but my patients love it, my docs love the service I provide and I’m having fun. Those who really know me, know that ‘play’ IS the primary imperative. I continue to work 2-3 days/month for the open-heart team at Mercy General. That is a job I LOVE. It engages all of me, requires all of me and it’s hard. I love the critical nature of my patients. I love the fine balancing act and narrow therapeutic window of their care. I love matching wits with and occasionally outsmarting nature. I love keeping pace with the cardiologists and sometimes getting all their work done before they round, leaving them with little to do. “Bits, (Bacon-bits) you’ve done all my work!” they say. I win! I love that at the end of the day, I’ve made a meaningful difference in the quality of a life. That I love the nature of the work is apparent to all, it rubs off - to the benefit of everyone. I tell my friend Dr. Arthur (whom I call Father Christmas) that coming to work is like Christmas. “I come to Mercy and feel love and cared for.” People are always so happy to see me and I am hugged and tended even as I am there to attend to others. Passionate play… A Zen poet said, “A person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and play, their labor and leisure, their mind and body, their education and recreation, their love and religion. They hardly know which is which and simply pursue their vision of excellence and grace whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them they are always doing both.” Passionate play at its very best. Such is my intention for myself. Speaking of play, last summer two buddies and I trekked the final 40-miles for MY completion of the entire 220-mile John Muir Trail (JMT). I’ve hiked that trail to its completion in 40-50 mile sections. Buddy Bill is missing the southern-most 40-miles, so this summer I return again to Mt. Whitney, for Bill to touch its top, for his completion of the JMT, and most assuredly, for the celebratory filet mignon at The Seasons. One week in the high Sierra? Sounds like heaven, my annual sojourn to touch the face of God. I have always required some form of sanctuary within my home, some place to withdraw and ‘return to quiet.’ Now, my home IS that. Feeling quite isolated in my office, I cut a 6-foot doorway through the wall between my office and living room, connecting the entire house. My living room was quite small, the doorway enlarged it and… I love it. This year I plan to install a see-through fireplace between the living room and master bedroom in preparation for knocking out the back wall and turning it to glass. A conservation area replete with pond, stream and resident coyote, presses to my back fence. Glass would allow that in and me out. I am more out than in, it is congruent (a word-world match) that my home allow the outdoors in. I have recently set-up a blog site. THIS represents a crack in my shell, a chink in my armor, a willingness for others to know me. How so, you ask? Through prose, I am more forthcoming and revealing. When I share my musings, I share myself. I have come slowly... reluctantly to this but I am here now... and I shall test my willingness to be vulnerable, forthright and contributory. The blog is two-fold. It is my coming out, my willingness to share the inner workings of my secret life AND as opposed to dumping a small novel into you email’s inbox, if desired, you will be touched w/a link: My family in Honolulu grows quite old. My Uncle Bill is 94, sharp, witty, reads the stock page and still races pigeons. My mother walks slower, my father has lost his appetite. It is interesting to observe the conversations we are willing to have and my capacity to be with the conversations at hand… or not. Though we have been long-lived, as I bid each a fond aloha, I do wonder if and when we shall meet again. Joi gin, the Cantonese say, ‘Again see.’ Can I set aside my resistance and attachments to leave them feeling loved, acknowledged, honored, cherished, heard and known? Wasn’t that the game I declared for 2008? This from my letter of January 2008: What I am committed to in 2008, is gracefully taking on life with grace and graciousness, of creating community with my eye on inclusiveness, and leaving those I touch feeling loved, acknowledged, respected and honored. Cherished and adored is icing on the cake. What I won’t do for cherished and adored. Hell, I’ll even throw some icing atchya too! (Obviously, still LOTS of work to do.) Thank you for your loving contribution to my life in 2008. It is rich and rewarding... you made it so. I love that you love me, thank you for doing so. Thank you for letting me love you, I intend to perfect that. Promise. Hauoli Makahiki Hou & Gung Hee Fat Choy = Happy New Year. Happy Birthday and Happy Easter. With Love and Aloha, Lorin aka Lori, Lor, lb, Monkey Gurl, Wiz Monkey, Bits, L & # Ps – find me on facebook: Lorin Bacon. I will be migrating to a new email address once again: My yahoo account will remain active for many, many months.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Surprising End

A Violinist in the Metro--- Wash, DC [] A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule. A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping, continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen but then looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work. The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the while. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on. In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, and no one noticed. No one applauded nor was there any recognition. No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before he played in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston. The seats averaged $100. This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post, as part of an social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context? One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written; how many other things are we missing?
lbz commentary: oooooooooooooh! goodun! This is indeed a Wisdom Unlimited Course Weekend-5 conversation... my access to the Eternal and the Eternal's access to me. Does the Eternal knock... do I hear... and if so, do I open the door? A veeery worthy and worthwhile conversation!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

4.5.09 Palm Sundayz Muze

I rolled to my side, to peer at the arms of my oak reaching into a predawn sky. Not a breath of wind stirred its leaves. It’s Palm Sunday. I remembered the tale of Jesus riding into the city, fanned with palm fronds. Hosanna! Palm fronds to shade him from the desert sun? Palm fronds fanned as a hedge against scorching heat? Assuming world climates have not drastically changed in the last two millennia, the weather was neither blistering nor inclement on that early spring day. For as I write, Jerusalem is a cool 67 degrees with a light west-north-westerly breeze. Had he any idea, as he received their accolades, of the torture and mutilation awaiting? Have we learned anything since that fateful day? Our weapons are cleaner, our killing more sterile and… as a species our interest in power, control, domination, war and murder continues. What did I give up for Lent? I gave up ice cream – though it was by default. Unconscious and hardly painful, I don’t think it counts. Beer, wine, and dancing drop into the same unconscious/painless slot. Running – ouch! I did give up running for Lent though it was forced by illness – I would never willingly give up running – not for no one! I have nothing at stake for Lent… seemingly little at stake for Easter… and the game is yet at hand. Looking… You?