On that day

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel,

For the tyrant shall be no more, and the scoffer shall cease to be; and all those alert to do evil shall be cut off – those who cause a person to lose a lawsuit, who set a trap for the arbiter in the gate, and without grounds deny justice to the one in the right. …

And those who err in spirit will come to understanding, and those who grumble will accept instruction.

Isaiah 29:19-21, 29 (NRSV)

A case of real life intersecting fiction

One of the many things I like about using the DuckDuckGo search engine as an alternative to Google is that its home page includes Pocket, an informative selection of intelligent, substantive articles, many drawn from magazine archives, rather than fluff about celebrities and sports.

This morning’s Pocket, for example, included a 2015 Narratively article by Lilly Dancyger, “Planning My Father-Daughter Dance Without My Dad.”

What especially caught my attention was the ways Lilly’s experience intersected with my novel, What’s Left.

Like Cassia in the book, Lilly lost her father to death when she was 11, and like Cassia, she dressed largely in black for years afterward. (Whew! Confirmation I had that part right.)

Unlike my novel’s character, though, Lilly dropped out of high school, sought relief in alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and embraced a dim future. The homeless were some of her favorite companions.

In contrast, Cassia had a large extended family that stayed with her, even when she kept pushing them away. Yes, she had struggles with her mother much like Lilly’s, and she skirted some of the self-destructive behavior, but each of the three aunts on her mother’s side of the family found ways during her difficult teen years to break through to her, as did several of her first-cousins. In today’s world, few are so fortunate, not with our fractured nuclear households.

Moreover, through her aunt Nita, Cassia also had her father’s trove of his professional photography to sift through, each shot reflecting his thoughts and feelings.

What Lilly presents – and I didn’t – is the workings of guilt within a survivor. As she declares, it merely “isn’t just about feeling unjustly lucky to have lived while someone else died; it’s guilt for going on without them, guilt for changing and growing and becoming a person they never knew. Any milestone is tinged with their absence, any joy feels like a betrayal, like you’ve forgotten them, if only for long enough to laugh at a good joke or enjoy a good meal. But as long as you’re in mourning, your life is still about them, and in that way, they’re still there.”

Lilly’s experience came to a head in planning for her wedding and trying to decide who would walk her down the aisle, if anyone, and who would share that first dance with her at the reception.

That wasn’t the case with Cassia, who instead chose to remain single. But Lilly’s words burn, all the same, as they point to another dimension my novel might have developed.

Cutting down on caffeine

My other big dietary change – beyond the Healthy Heart stuff – has been cutting my caffeine intake to one cup a day.

If I’m to take a prescription to counter an unrelated medical problem, the caffeine has to be greatly curbed. Seems it counteracts the medicine.

This has been major. I’m a writer, after all, and a retired journalist. My habitual intake had been three to five mugs a day. Café au lait mugs, a third to a half filled with milk.

It’s the way I wake up and also the way I continue through the day. Or did.

I’m still waking up to a café au lait mug. We use dark-roasted beans or Spanish ground coffee, essentially espresso. It’s rich, flavorful, and stands up to the milk and sugar I add – enough, as I joke, to turn the brew into chocolate.

By chance, I came upon an instant coffee substitute – Cafix – at the local natural foods store, and this serves nicely for the second round.

By midafternoon, though, I’d really like a jolt of the real stuff. That I miss. Many days I find myself taking a nap instead.

Should we go to half-decaf on the real coffee itself? I feel that’s cheating.

Or cut out the coffee altogether? Now we’re talking daily ritual, as in showering or dressing.

Or just use a demitasse and take one quick gulp?

No, I’ll just resolve myself to slowly sipping the one I have. Down to the last drop, without complaining.

Well, then. Salud! And top of the morning to you, too.

Adjusting to a Healthy Heart diet  

You vegans out there, take comfort. Your cholesterol levels must be amazing.

After my near-miss non-heart attack, or whatever we want to call it, my diet’s undergone some drastic – even painful – redirection.

Look, I don’t want to sound like a victim or act the martyr, when it comes to food, it seems like everybody has some kind of limitation. Ever try to plan an all-inclusive menu for any social gathering nowadays?

Still, looking at the American Heart Association’s Healthy Heart guidelines has me thinking of perpetual Lent along the Greek Orthodox lines. Heavens! At least I can still have my daily martini, with the definitive stuffed olive.

Red meat is limited to once a week, and that includes pork. Three eggs, which you’ll find hidden in all kinds of food, and a microscopic amount of butter, which is likewise infused, as well as cheese – yikes – they’re are also out! (Well, we have found low-fat cheese. Ain’t quite the same. And while egg whites are allowed in unlimited amounts, it’s the yolks that have all the flavor.) So there went my three main fallback ingredients when I had a hunkering. A good omelet used all three, easily. Thank goodness mushrooms are still OK in other combinations.

Look, before all this there had many days when we didn’t touch any meat – nada – and I was perfectly happy. But now?

Let me tell you about the first time I stopped for fast food at breakfast and thought the muffin was allowed. Bonk! Or a doughnut. Ditto bonk!

At home, the butter I’ve loved has given way to apple butter or jams and jellies. That’s fine, though I still look at that yellow stick on the counter with some lusting. Oh, God, do I!

But six months into this routine, I had lost weight I couldn’t afford to lose. I had lost appetite, too. My wife and I independently came to the same conclusion: I needed to get more fat into my diet. We’re still working on it.

A stent? Seems everybody has one

Get to a certain age and the conversation often shifts to personal health issues. (Sorry ’bout that.)

I am surprised by the number of people who tell me about their stents, for instance. This matter of running a probe from your wrist and up your arm into your heart is surprisingly commonplace. It’s also amazing what relatively small community hospitals are doing nowadays. (OK, ours is now a subsidiary of Mass General Hospital in Boston … like the best. Not that I really considered that at the time I was being wheeled off to God knows what.)

But that leads to other things like learning that my clerk at the hardware store and I have the same cardiologist, or did till said doc moved to Florida. (Well, that has to be a hot market for cardiac work!)

It also brings up others who say that they, too, felt no pain … thought it was a breathing issue rather than a pending heart attack.

Or that their cholesterol levels, like mine, had been normal.

As a factor, I’m convinced stress was a major component in my case. Seventeen years between marriages, with all of the relationship uncertainty, along with working under relentless deadlines as I did at the newspaper must have taken a toll. Besides, I wasn’t getting regular exercise in that period, other than dashing to and from the composing room.

As one buddy said, if you lined up a hundred guys our age, he would have been the first to be tagged for this problem and I would have been the last.

Well, he’s had a few health issues, but cardio hasn’t been one of them.

For you younger readers, take warning.

Cheers! And good luck …

First anniversary of a big day

On this day a year ago, we woke up to a big snowfall – the biggest of the season, as it turned out. It was coming down like crazy, and I was even hoping to get out on my cross-country skis, at least do a few loops around our yard, unlike the previous year.

Thought I’d clean off my wife’s car first and the steps and walkway out front, just in case.

But that’s when I had to stop and try to catch my breath. I’d felt this sensation, something like what I’d heard asthma described like, several times in the past few months. I thought it was the aftermath of a nasty bug the previous fall, and several people in the know said it sounded like a walking pneumonia. Once, in particular, it hit me at the end of a length in the indoor swimming pool. Another time, while carrying a three-year-old down from Mount Agamenticus. After the third time, I went in to see my primary care physician, who said my lungs sounded fine, ordered an X-ray, and scheduled a stress test. Oh, yes, and if the symptoms returned, go straight to the emergency room.

Yeah, yeah. Just what I needed – more inconclusive tests.

So as the snow hit just two days before the stress test was scheduled and the symptoms returned, I figured I could ride it out until my appointment.

That’s when my elder daughter showed up. “My Prius is cleaned off and warmed up. Get in.” My wife seconded the motion, and reminded me they had my doctor in their corner.

OK, drop me off. I’ll give you a call when I’m done.

Remember, there was no pain. No chest pain, especially. This was a breathing problem.

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