Good morning — it’s still, barely, Thanksgiving morning here. I’ve got some acorn squash in the oven (roasting itself with butter and brown sugar), and am getting ready to start making an apple pie.
This is a miracle.
Not the pie. I mean, I make a pretty good apple pie, but what feels miraculous today is the fact that I know that after I finish this post, I will stand up, move over to the kitchen, and start working on pie crust. After spending the better part of the month in the land of pain (lower back spasm which transformed into significant sciatic nerve pain down my right leg) which has kept me from writing, from walking, from much of my work — today, for the ability to write this, for the chance to stand in my kitchen and work with dough, I am grateful.
And I am grateful for you, here, for the pains and stories in your body, for how present you can be with those old songs. We don’t always want those songs, and yet those songs in our bones carry our whole lives.
I am still hurting, as I sit in this chair and try to find a position that will quiet my sciatic nerve — if I contort this way? If I fold my legs like so? what if I turn here? — and I stop often to breathe. But the pain is so much less. I can walk without my back seizing up and stopping the whole world, snatching away my breath. Now, walking just feels like something is digging deep and dull into my right hip bone; the outside of my right foot numbs, then releases, then numbs again. I take Sophie out for a walk, then come back inside and lie myself out on my bed, flat on my belly, soothing the quiet shout that has risen itself in my leg and lower back.
This is better. This is so much better than it was. You likely know what I’m talking about. As I tell people what’s been going on for me –where I’ve been, why I’ve been out of touch–I hear their stories and solutions: have you tried acupuncture, massage, walking this way, use ice, use heat, call this chiropractor, just rest, take good care, I know what you’re going through.
I know what you’re going through.
In these moments, I feel less weak, less alone. I have had mornings when all I could do is sob in fear and impotence (could someone please tell me the female-equivalent of impotent?). I was terrified that maybe I would not get better, despite the physical evidence I was experiencing: every day, the pain shifted itself, opened into something new, released one part of me even if it then claimed another. I wanted to write here, I wanted to write into exactly what was happening to me (instead of engaging the story in the past tense), but my writing came so slowly over these last couple of weeks — and I couldn’t sit for long at the computer. And so I had to sit, without words, with the stories and songs my body was communicating to me. I couldn’t write myself into my experience. I couldn’t step away even the distance between the pen and the page. I had to just be in my body.
I tried to get curious about the pain, curious about what stories my sacrum, the bowl of my pelvis, my lower spine wanted me to hear. I didn’t want to hear them. I didn’t want to hear those stories. Then, I wanted words for them, wanted to understand why this pain and why now. I looked up interpretations for sacral pain, lower back pain, chakral blockage, all that. But it’s like looking online for an interpretation of one’s dreams: how can someone else tell me about the intricacies of my psyche’s idiosyncratic nomenclature and image-language? Sure, I can pull from descriptions of cultural archetypes, but the final analysis is my own work to do — and if I couldn’t write the story of the deep sorrow that was breaking itself through the base of my pelvic bowl and screaming down through my right leg, I would have to just feel it.
I thought about how storying something helps me get some control over it, and get some distance from it. These past couple of weeks have been a time of immense intimacy and presence with my own body, a time when all I could do was focus on my body’s needs. Pain is immedia-cizing, presencing. It brings us into the right here right now goddamnit.
So, today, on this day we are meant to attend to our gratitudes, I am grateful for this body. For all she has held. For all that he has helped me to story and helped me hold while I couldn’t yet story. For all it carries and releases.
I am grateful for the friends who helped, who offered their skill and hands and love and suggestions, the friends who massaged me, the friends who told me about their pain and helped me move through mine. I am grateful for a profoundly generous sweetheart who has carried and lifted and eased. I am grateful for checkins and patience as I missed appointments and dropped every ball because I just couldn’t even hardly hold one for awhile there.
I am grateful for this work, for this fear, for this presencing. I am grateful for the words that are in me to offer, and for the words offered by the writers I get to work with. I am grateful that I didn’t have to cancel one workshop during this time of pain.
I am grateful for all of our body stories, for the profound work our bodies do, holding what we need them to hold (even without our understanding that need). I am grateful for your words today.
Consider a small prompt: be with one of your body’s stories today, but don’t write it down. Just be aware of it. Notice a small pain or twinge or place of ease in your body, and take a moment to breathe into that place in your body — what is the story of that sensation? Just allow yourself to experience whatever arises. Maybe tomorrow you will write that story, and maybe you won’t. For now, let the story live a slightly larger life, outside the confines of that particular muscle or knot or nerve bundle. Let it expand into your breath. It might be a difficult story — just notice that, keep breathing, let the story move through.
Thanks, today, for you, and the creative majesty of your survival.