Leap day

pool_closedAT SOME POINT, I’M going to have to admit that I have crossed the line between recovering from surgery and being a normal person. (Well, my normal.) How do I know where the line is and when I’ve crossed over? I feel like I have. Not in every way, but in most ways. I’m no longer in pain, aside from the near-constant muscle ache associated with rebuilding my sliced-through abdominals. (It’s amazing how much those muscles do for us! I never realized.) My stamina is good, not great. No swimming or yoga or long bike rides yet. My body is not the same as it was, but it will never be the same.

My stream of visitors wishing me well and bringing me food and flowers and driving me to appointments has dried up, as it naturally should, leaving me with boatloads of gratitude and friendships old and new that I’ll have to take an equal role in sustaining. Oh yeah, that. This is a good development. It means I have to start actively participating in my life again.

I’ve been passively social, you might say. For so long, I was waited on, pampered, treated so well, with no need to make plans or decisions for myself, with no calendar day holding more than one or two easy things to do. I was healing, and that was enough. Now, I’m not only tying my own shoes; I’m doing pretty much everything I need to do to get through my suddenly busy days. This is good, too.

GameOfLife1How did I get so busy so fast? I went back to work two weeks ago, a little sooner than originally planned. I was kept busy with a big freelance copy-editing job and studying for an exam. I sorted through a lot of medical bills. I did the laundry and cleaned my house. Life, in other words.

I’m done with the freelance job, and the test was taken last night, so I suddenly find myself with time opening up again on this, the “free” day we’re given once every four years, possibly to make more room for squeezing in the summer Olympics and a presidential election.

I know it’s not really an extra day, it’s just how we name things; but it can be fun to think of Leap Day as a freebie, just as we can celebrate that extra hour we get with Daylight Saving Time. Thinking, What will I do with my extra day? is a good way of reminding ourselves how precious our time on this planet as human beings is. I’d rather do that than treat it as just another day. Don’t we do enough of that already?

Leap-Day-CalendarSo, I’ve decided to use February 29 to get over the idea that I have no time for writing. I’ve been keeping my hand in it over the last few months, what with the Caring Bridge website and, okay, two blog posts on here and some writing in my journal and even some writing at work. I’ve also been reading a whole lot of good writing and sent a couple of short pieces out and edited my friend Alan’s novel.

All of it counts as something—inspiration or contemplation or learning or honing my craft—but the harsh judge within me feels like I’ve not done a lot of “real” writing in all this time, by which I guess I mean fiction. I’ve not worked on my novel or written any new stories. I’ve felt a little stuck in that sense. Maybe I need to find an online course.

But then I tell my harsh internal judge to shut the fuck up. (Applause.) I’ve been busy healing my demolished body, growing a liver, and gaining back (so far) 20 pounds. (More applause.) And nurturing the most wonderful connections with friends and family and my  cat, Emma, studying and teaching Dharma, vacuuming, and working in the yard. The weather has been wonderful!

How we spend our days—yes, this is life.

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Life

If there’s one thing I’m learning by playing my 1970s record collection, it’s this: sometimes the songs you found so profound as a 14-year-old sound ridiculous decades later; and sometimes they mean even more. Case in point:

What does it mean to live a meaningful life? It would be nice, don’t you think, to not be that person we’ve all heard about who expresses regret on their deathbed, regret for having wasted their life. It’s a rare opportunity we have here.

Maybe it’s just the Northern Californian in me, but I like the idea of daily affirmations. They can work to steady your course, make you happier, and bring peace of mind. One thing that works well for me is gratitude — to spend a little time each day in thanksgiving, noticing and being thankful for what I’ve got. I have never once found a shortage of things to point to. I find that it puts my life in perspective, and that can be a humbling experience; and IMHO, the world can use a little more humility.

Dave X Robb in the yoga room at SFOEven better, though, are outward-looking reflections that go beyond our individual selves. I heard of a good practice this week: Each morning, set an intention for how you will use the day to make the world a better place, and remind yourself not to engage in any behaviors that are harmful to others. It might help to be specific about these daily goals, but it probably works just fine if you keep it general.

At the end of each day, reflect on how you did. What did you do today to help someone? Did you cause any harm? I also like to take a moment to notice who went out of their way to do something kind for me — we can learn a lot from others.

It all sounds very do-goody, I know, but isn’t that the point? Sure, life can be hard. It’s not always fair. We all get overwhelmed at times, and sometimes it can feel like a struggle just to take care of ourselves, much less others. But if it’s always about oneself, it might be a good idea to ask how much of that is just self-cherishing drama. And it’s not about being selfless. I believe we benefit ourselves greatly when we benefit others. We’ve all felt it, right?

"Tighter, Tighter" by Alice and KickingHow often do we stop to appreciate the good fortune we have to be here, alive and kicking? But not just that, alive and thinking, caring, loving, and learning, together. Really, what are we doing here? The first step in finding some meaning is asking the question.