Monday, May 19, 2014

A Stinging Interruption

I was sitting at the computer engrossed in writing when I felt a slight movement on the back of my thigh. I dropped my hand to brush away what I thought was a little spider. Just as my fingers touched my leg I felt a sharp needle-like puncture followed immediately by the searing pain of a hornet sting. I jumped up and headed to the bathroom to start First Aid. I have a problematic reaction to insect bites that starts with considerable swelling and winds up with an itchy rash that lasts for weeks. I have a prescription cream to use on that, but I can often mitigate the damage with immediate intervention.

I quickly covered the site of the sting with After Bite, which is primarily ammonia. The puncture was bleeding so that got my attention next. Eventually I covered the rapidly swelling area with Anthistan, an excellent salve that Melissa brings me from London. As my thigh began to throb, I decided to take a half dose of Benadryl and went to the freezer seeking the immediate pain relief of a cold pack.

Needless to say I lost my momentum and abandoned the computer for the rest of the day and what became a week. I had started my writing session by fine-tuning some paragraphs on trees for a future post in my series on Wonder. Then I turned to my current chosen subject of the difficulties and unexpected interruptions life presents to me and potentially to anyone trying to use their time both productively and happily. The hornet provided the perfect example. After the First Aid and before the soporific effects of the Benadryl sent me to bed, I did return briefly to the scene of the attack. First I checked the kneehole area of my desk with a flashlight. Finding no flying insects, I quickly sat at the computer, named the abandoned file, and saved what little I had already written for an essay highlighting the practice of mindfulness. So perhaps I was still being present to the moment. Now a week later, the worst has passed although my thigh is decorated with a bright red rash that so far I have managed not to scratch. I am ready to face my fear of a second attack and get back to work.

My approach to writing is to do a lot of thinking first, and then as a subject emerges I go to the computer and write in a stream-of-consciousness style without any regard to length. Sometimes the first draft is twice as long as the finished essay. Since this creative effort was so rudely interrupted and shoved in a different direction, I decided to include that first paragraph just as I wrote it:

After a lifetime of organizing my days in terms of obligation, duty, productivity, responsibility, service, caretaking, and measuring up to the expectations of my mother, teachers, friends, husband, children, employers, communities, I have arrived at a time of life when I waken each morning to the realization that this day is mine to live and I will be the one to make the choices and navigate the unexpected challenges. That is one truth that I live with. I also live with a counteracting truth that it takes most of my energy to be alive and healthy. I make many of my choices because I understand what it takes to feel healthy and I want to feel that way. I make other choices because I want to be happy, and being happy comes along most readily when I feel well and when I have used some of my time to attend to my spirit and to turn my attention to practicing compassion.

Ironically, I had just typed that last word when the stinger plunged into my thigh.

Among the many choices of wasting time, losing time, managing time, passing time, or using time wisely, I opt for the latter. However that can easily create a tension with my commitment to living in and being present to the moments of my life, which is the essence of mindfulness. Maybe some other day I will return to what I have discovered about using time well, but I’m letting this unexpected delay dictate a different direction.

My ten years of living alone have presented me with an unending series of interruptions or challenges that derailed carefully thought-out plans and moved me steadily toward an acceptance of living in the moment. Although the years have brought some losses, the net result has been expansiveness in my experience of living. I have identified these helpful verities that guide my daily choices:


  • The basic priorities for my good health are adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
Corollary: I learned from my friend Kitty Couch how important it is to cook for yourself and to be creative, even adventuresome, about it.

  • Meditation, contemplation, and prayer are all essential for the health of my spirit.
Corollary: I think of it as the rest, nourishment, and exercise for my soul.

  • A clean, uncluttered environment promotes a peaceful mind.
Corollary: If I can’t keep up with the housework, I can provide a job for someone who needs it.

  • Embracing the unexpected reduces stress, as does recognizing when a prior commitment has to take precedence.
Corollary: It’s good to have some boundaries as long as you are kind to all; as the late Sherwin Nuland said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

  • I need to pay attention when Nigel knocks my hand off the keyboard and tells me with his piercing eyes that it is time for a walk.
Corollary: His sense of time is better than mine, and he always lives in the moment.

Nigel just came to get me for a walk; I checked the clock and he was right. That interruption was way better than a hornet sting!