Wednesday, July 28, 2004


In some ways, it was the perfect day. I slept a good, hard sleep on the purple Thai mat spread across the hardwood floor in the common room. Overcast morning shed its bright whiteness through the window like a pale neon lightbulb. At the hospital, three patients agreed, for a record number in one day. The dapper old masseur, the “don’t take nuffin’” borderline homeless woman, and tough Mrs. Anthony with the squinty eyes who used to hide corn liquor in the graveyards for her parents and ain’t scared of anything.

Nearly finished the Wednesday NYTimes crossword (dedicated to Jackie Onassis Kennedy) and downed a latte for pump and power. Armed with my caffeinated good mood, I scoured the apartment and prepped for the party. Received calls from everyone dear, far and near. And the guests came. And kept coming. Over 2 dozen people showed!

I am now officially closer to 50 than birth.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

On the Eve of my 25th Birthday

Lightning slashes through the sky as rain washes the asphalt black. The swoosh and slosh of tires along the road rises up to my 10th floor window, ebbing and flowing like an urban tide.

I sit here alone in my enviously large dining/living room, typing in the corner by the kitchen. Below me, the garish pea soup yellow table, half covered in papers and books and electrode leads; behind me, a single lightbulb glares loudly into my left visual field. I consider turning it off.

The whoop of an ambulance siren, the low buzz hum of the stove vent that I forgot to turn off—these are the sounds that keep me company on my last night of 24.

What a year it was! I studied massage. I went naked in the hot springs. I moved to New Haven and started medical school. I dissected a dead body. I cut my hair. I became a sister. I took care of my grandmother. I experienced the cancer diagnosis of two important people in my life. I fell in love with babies, starting with Jessa Maya. I got my white coat. I learned how to do a history and physical. I started my first research study. I went rock climbing outdoors for the first time. I caught a shark with my bare hands. I had a crush on a boy and went after him. I made peace with my father’s wife. I came to terms with my adulthood. I began to believe in my intuition and wisdom. I paid rent and lived in an apartment. I fully healed from my college-borne eating issues. I began to make sleep more of a priority. I stopped enjoying drinking alcohol. I got addicted to Starbuck’s for good. I learned how to play guitar. I kept in touch with old and new friends. I sang with Mizmor Shir. I had no sex. Or foreplay. Or any kind of play. I went on dates. I started dressing less like a scruffy college kid and more like a pre-professional. I learned how to take care of myself.

This coming year, the year of 25, will be bigger and better than 24. 24 was a year of transition, of changes, and of inner growth. Now I’m smarter, sexier, and sassier than I was this time last year; and the coming 12 months will reap the fruits of this updated version of me’s labors. That’s right, year 25 will go down in history as the first year I was truly and completely Myself. The Year of Rebirth, or renaissance, as it were. I do feel as if I have completed a chapter in my life and am about to begin a new one. When I have more time, I would like to recap the last 25 years and come to more profound conclusions about this era. For now I’ll just mention it and hope that I return to the subject someday.

"You are the taste in every lip, the intention of every path, you swing
your great heart out, and put your shapes in the air. Half crazy is not
nearly enough for you! The sacred letter alif turns into a circle, the rim
of a wineglass. We must not be afraid of what anyone might say. Be the
source, not the result!" - Mevlana Jallaluddin Rumi (13th c., Sufi)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Paradox of Sue

Scene: Outside of the bathroom at Koffee 2:

“That’s a pretty necklace. I’m Jewish. It’s a Jewish star, right?”
Yes. Thanks.
“Yeah, it’s real pretty. Delicate like, you know? I’ve never seen one like that.”
Yeah, my dad got it for me in Israel. It was made by an artist I think.
“I’m Sue.”
Hi, I’m Rachel.

Do you live in New Haven?
“No, Hamden. But in the New Haven section.”
“Do you live in New Haven?”
Yeah, I’m a student here.
“A student?”
A med student. Medical student. I just finished my first year of medical school here.
“Oh! … Do you know what kind of doctor you want to be?”
No, no, not yet. I still have three years to go.
“Plenty of time to decide”
Exactly, plenty of time to decide.

What do you do?
“Oh, I’m retired.”
Ah, so you just enjoy life then.

Um…what did you do before that?
“I was a diet counselor.”

Uh….great! Did you enjoy it?
“Oh yes, and I was very good at it. Calories, fat—I had all those numbers memorized”
Well…that’s great—very necessary. I’m sure you helped a lot of people.
“Yeah, well…now I’m on a diet myself. To lose weight. (beat) I was thin when I was a diet counselor.”
Mmm…so since you retired, you, ah…
“Gained a lot of weight.”
I see. So what diet are you on?
“My own diet.”
Oh, what does that involve?
“Well…for lunch I eat a banana. For breakfast, a donut. And for dinner, two pieces of a gefilte fish and a salad.”
(beat) Well, whatever works.

Well…I have to get to the bathroom…
“Hey, I’m sitting over there in the other room, if you want to come over and chat.”
Uh, well, I really have a lot of work to do, and stuff…sorry. But maybe I’ll see you around. Nice meeting you, Sue. Good luck with your diet.

Friday, July 09, 2004

My Life Without Me

Writing about today is never the same if I do it tomorrow, or any other day besides this one. Never again will I feel the sweet pain of the sad movie I just saw, just so. “My Life Without Me”—a young mother of two girls, aged 4 and 6, dies a swift but fully alive death of ovarian cancer. I have often tried to imagine my mother as the little girl who lost her mother. It is inconceivably sad to me, for to me my mother not only gave me life: she is my life, in so many respects. Not having her would be like—well, I guess something like not having a father. But my grief was reversed—I mourned his loss and then he entered my life. What a stsrange way to have a relationship with someone. Kind of like the way Alzheimer’s takes away the life you’ve lived in reverse, ultimately rendering you back to infancy, without memory or identity or any sense of time but the now.

It never occurred to me before seeing this movie what a tragedy mourning is. People die every day whose deaths are never fully accepted. Take my grandmother Gertrude—her death altered the course of my mother’s life, her identity, her personality, everything about her; and even though she was barely old enough to form permanent memories, she still carries the burden of grief to this day. In fact, Trudy’s legacy has lived on through me, her second granddaughter, even though we missed each other in this world by thirty years. I wonder what she was like, and although I’ve never actually sleep dreamed of her that I can remember, in my thought dreams she helps to train me as a healer—she is the wise medicine woman elder that my mother is becoming. See, we always turn into our parents, no matter what.

So what I started to say in the last paragraph is that we the living rarely seem to consider what the dead would have actually wanted us to do with their deaths. Of course, when we think about our own deaths, we hope that they will make some impact on the world; it’s no use living if our deaths make no difference to anyone. But after the initial shock—who wants a sad funeral? Sure, it would be sad, but that’s no reason not to laugh. Laughing doesn’t clash with anything, even funerals. Well, maybe sometimes sex, but I’m not suggesting that anyone have sex at my funeral. Unless it’s the best way they can think of to celebrate my life. I can’t imagine anyone I know who would think that. Maybe I should find new friends. Or maybe not. Anyway, I see a big garden filled with bright flowers and white tableclothed tables bearing all of my favorite foods: teriyaki tempeh, steaming bowls of fresh green broccoli and the sweetest yellow Jersey corn-on-the-cob, ice cream sundae stations with mountains of the purest whipped cream, olives like they have in tubs at the supermarket deli bars, a felafel stand straight from Israel with all the good toppings like pickles and peppers and hot sauce….well, you get the idea. Then inside is a huge circular room plastered with pictures of my life, stories, my possessions. And they’re not just for the looking. People can take them, so they have something to remember me by if I haven’t given them something already. My eulogy…you know, the saddest thing about dying when you’re very old is that most of the important people in your life have already gone before you. Maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to have a very small funeral without much todo. Maybe it means that you’ve already directly impacted the world and—no wait, many people still keep on making a difference up to the last breath, no matter how old they are. Ah, whatever, this is useless musing. I should probably stop wallowing in all this death and go to the party with Gretchen and Dave. As I’ve been trying to say in spite of my compulsive tangentalizing, those who have died don’t wish us to stop living just because they have. If anything, we must now live twice as hard, to make up for their lost time. Soon, everyone could be living fully expressed, juicy lives to the max, with infinite love and laughter, and no regrets.

Amy was the girl I saw today who is deathly afraid of menstruation. She hates it so much she has dieted and exercised her way to amenorrhea for all but her first year of puberty, when PMS hit her like a punch in the face and she couldn’t handle the changes. I can’t tell if she wishes she were a boy, or a perpetual child, or an alien who lived on a planet where women didn’t menstruate. Yet so many of her thought processes and feelings resonated with me—sometimes I wonder.

It’s so sad for Amy. So in control, yet helpless against the driving forces of nature and her body. Does she need someone to get inside her world and understand her, or does she need to be smacked into reality and given a wake up call that she’s acting like an idiot and missing out on life?

At the other end, I met Mrs. Gaudrou, who had a heart attack on Monday night. She has lived 73 years, yet she still hasn’t found healthy ways to cope with her stress. If I live that long I hope by then I’ll be tickled pink and joyful all the time, or at least happily sad. No need for stress after all that living. I’ll wear purple every day, like they say in the poem. And I’ll never step foot in a hospital, unless they’ve gotten much better than they are now and have started serving massages and whipped cream as part of standard care.