OMM – Running, with a Side of Poetry

Combining poetry with a road race? Unusual. Also: genius.

Can you actually hear the poems as you run by? No, not really. Is it a total hoot to see costumed people spouting poetry from their tomes – some perched atop large boulders on the edge of the woods, emerging like sophisticated woodland nymphs or Tom Sawyer with a poetry book instead of a fishing rod, others refusing to acknowledge you as you pass, so engrossed are they in their recitation – as you amble along your sometimes-not-merry way (depending what mile it is)? 100%!

A dose of exercise with a side of culture does the body (and the psyche) good. The genesis of the James Joyce Ramble, which features poetry along a 10K race course, was a runner in the 1980s who decided that getting through James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake was as difficult as training for a road race. I can’t speak to that, but it was definitely a good idea.

I temporarily dropped my 5K or bust mantra to give it a try. It was another example of beauty in the unexpected, combining two unlikely partners and creating something brand new that is much more than 1+1 = 2. It also proved, once again, the personal growth and joy that stem from challenging yourself beyond what you think you are capable of, and the power of friends cheering you along, or running right beside you.

As they say at the James Joyce Ramble: Read. Run. Refresh. Repeat.

I’d add BREATHE.

You will be alright.

This has been another Oxygen Mask Moment.

OMM – Find Your Sanctuary

I discovered in my late teens what it means to find sanctuary. Though the word is often associated with a church, human constructs never stirred my soul or provided room for quiet contemplation in the same way that a peaceful wood, a calm lake, or a mountaintop (as long as there are not a lot of other people there) do. The combination of the effort (and endorphins) that hiking engenders plus beautiful surroundings and time for quiet contemplation has always been my favorite refuge, affording me the best opportunity to reflect and re-center.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Henry David thoreau

I read that Thoreau quote for the first time in the early 1990s while sitting on the side of a mountain somewhere in Oregon’s Three Sisters Wilderness and it has stuck with me ever since.

After years of practice I have learned (okay, am learning) to quiet the noise and find my sanctuary amidst the hustle and bustle of suburban family life. Putting your own oxygen mask on is about finding refuge and peace within. It’s been a nearly lifelong practice for me. Get outside today, breathe some fresh air, and find your way toward your own calm and sanctuary.

“All of our problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise pascal

This has been another edition of Oxygen Mask Moments by Meg

For more musings, check out Finding Sanctuary.

Breathe.

You will be alright.

OMM – Treasure of the Sea

Did you know that horseshoe crabs have bright blue blood? I was blown away when I learned that fact, this oddity of nature making my heart leap with curiosity and wonder.

They also deserve our reverence. They are survivors, predating dinosaurs. In their modern iteration, though, they are becoming increasingly endangered. That bright blue blood of theirs? It coagulates when it is exposed to bacterial endotoxins, which has both kept them alive for millions of years and happens to be the reason we have vaccines (A Horseshoe Crab’s Blood is Vital in Testing Drugs, Washington Post August 1, 2o21).

If you live on the East Coast of the U.S. (and maybe elsewhere, but I don’t know about elsewhere), you’ve likely seen the discarded shells of these prehistoric-looking creatures on the beach. These creepy/cool little armored tanks are so much a part of the seascape that I have never really given them much of a second glance, their remnants being fought over in a screeching battle by seagulls or half buried in the sand amongst the shells and seaweed, periwinkles and rocks (yes, New England beaches feature rocks) as familiar as the sound of crashing waves. They deserve a second glance, our admiration, our gratitude, and our protection.

This has been another edition of Oxygen Mask Moments by Meg

Breathe.

You will be alright.

OMM – Snowy’s!

A Snowy Owl snuggling in the dunes, an elegant, mysterious, beautiful creature.

There is so much novel and interesting out there in the world, sometimes nestled into a dune on a windy day, sometimes hiding in plain sight on your commute to work. Being aware and alert and curious brings discovery and freshness to all aspects of life.

This has been another edition of Oxygen Mask Moments by Meg

Breathe.

You will be alright.

Dementia’s Daughters

This past December, I had a wonderful experience of connection that reminded me that only if we are honest about and open with our vulnerabilities will we truly connect.

A woman living on the other side of the world found my blog and my essays about my mom and emailed me to share a little bit of her own story about being in the middle of raising young children and also caring for a parent who is losing their memory. I remember so vividly the loneliness and confusion of those early years that I was touched by the fact that I could offer some brief respite and solace to another daughter of dementia.

The first years leading up to and after my mom’s diagnosis were some of the worst of this Alzheimer’s journey, even though her disease is so much more advanced now. I assume my mom was lonely and confused, too. She knew she was forgetting some things, though she forgot more than she realized. She was aware that things weren’t always adding up, a fact that still takes my breath away imagining how frightening and painful it must be to lose pieces of yourself, to blip in and out of the world making any sense at all. It’s one thing to be lost in your own world, as she is now; it’s quite another to know that something is happening to your mind, your agency and autonomy slipping like water through cupped fingers, unable to hold onto it or to grab it back.

I am a do’er and a fixer by nature, but I didn’t know what to do or even where to start after my mom was diagnosed. She didn’t really want to – and maybe couldn’t really – deal with it. Between her cognitive loss and an instinct to protect herself, projecting toward this difficult future wasn’t going to happen. Those years manifested in a constant, low-grade ache between my diaphragm and stomach, where all my anxiety lives. Alzheimer’s/dementia is a slow-moving crash course in loss.

No Power + Responsibility = Anxiety

Inspired by the solidarity I felt with this stranger from the other side of the world, I looked back at other emails that lovely readers sent to me after my essays about my mom were published. They reminded me that I write both to make sense of my own lived experience and to discover and highlight the myriad facets our common humanity. Personal narrative, as a genre, is inherently personal. The key is for one’s personal story to resonate with others in some universal truth kind of way. The word essay actually derives from the French verb “essayer” which means “to try:” try to create meaning, try to connect through storytelling.

Over the years I have heard others share their opinion that the memory unit is one of the most depressing places in the world. When I am there, though, I feel like I am among family. The caregivers and staff do the hard and sometimes thankless work of caring for the residents 24/7. Their caregiving allows me to reprise my role as a daughter after years overseeing my mom’s daily care. All of the residents are someone’s loved one, their diagnosis another family’s heartbreak, their decline something all of us have or will experience in some way. Those who visit – old friends, children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews, siblings, and spouses – all hold stories of who their loved one was, what they loved to do, how deeply they are loved. By sharing the joys as well as the suffering of our similar circumstances we create connection and this connection creates meaning. There is easy companionship in knowing that your suffering is understood implicitly, that your grief is shared, and that you and your loved one are seen and are not alone.

The senselessness of dementia demands a quest for meaning. The connection we share and the ability to hold and share my stories with others of dementia’s daughters gives this decade of my life one answer to the existential question “why?” If I can share my story and offer solace to even just one other person, all that my mom and I have learned and lived will not have been for naught.

The Problem of Alzheimer’s by Jason Karlawish is an excellent recent resource about Alzheimer’s.

Partnering: Forge the Deep Connections that Make Great Things Happen by Jean Oelwang is a wonderful book with resources on how connecting and working in partnership with other people (versus in a hyperindividualistic silo) unlocks manifold rewards.

My podcast interview Every Path Has a Puddle or Two has some pretty decent Alzheimer’s and life advice, too, if I don’t say so myself. My momma would be proud. I learned from the best.

This poem from Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer really resonated with me.