Coming out of Doors to Search for Spring

The vernal equinox will happen in three days.  The sun will again be due north of the equator in its annual journey across our sky ~ well, that’s not the way it happens. The science-teacher within my varied teaching repertoire would explain to students that it is Earth that journeys around the sun  changing its axis-shift, resulting in an ever-changing angle of sunlight. What I ought to have tagged on to that simplified explanation was that, in time, the students will themselves reach such an age that they will return to their childhood observations and perhaps choose to believe again in the geocentric perspective, where the universe as seen in the night sky seems to revolve around the earth.  That is the egocentric stage that I’ve rejoined.

Why do we revert to childhood beliefs in our December years? We spend much of our adult life gaining knowledge and more sophisticated understandings of our environment, and acquiring the specific vocabulary necessary to explain away what it is we see around us. But in the quiet moments of watching the night sky, whether “en plein air” (a French expression my artist-friend Lynne Schulte taught me, describing paintings that are done “in the open air”) or as seen beyond old windows. In my case, that includes the rising moon and constellations seen through the east-facing green house windows that shelter my friend Mary’s herbs and flowers through the cold winter months, adding color to my days and oxygen to our indoor air.  It is so easy to understand that the moon is rotating around us, as in fact it is; but to assume that the sun also rotates around us is against scientific comprehension. Still, it is what we do visibly observe, from our static position on our Earth.

I revert to my teacher self when I need to reassure myself that I do understand the revolution and rotation of our planet. I do know that our solar system is heliocentric, revolving around our sun, which is one of billions of stars in the infinite universe.  I learned that as a child, and so the memory is clear and comprehensive. But I also learned of those before Galileo and Copernicus, the geocentrics led by Ptolemy of ancient Greece believed that the earth is the center of the universe.  Then I learned later, as an adult, that Einstein’s theory of relativity cast doubt on both the heliocentric and geocentric theories.  And so I wonder, as an older adult: is there a geographic center of an allegedly-infinite universe? Does infinity have a center? Theories are just that – theories, left unproven for millennia and eons.

I can remember the sequence of my beliefs … that as a child I could observe only that the sun and moon both moved across our sky.  Next came schooling, and an abstract understanding of semi-abstract drawings of concrete models of our solar system. As an adult, I was able to view an actual scale model at the Boston Museum of Science, and the described distances and sizes clarified some of that understanding. And then I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and realized that Einstein is the current author of our present comprehension of the universe, but that he, too, may one day be surpassed with the next genius’s theory.

I have read that the short term memory loss is not a loss of intellect, but a loss of access. In practice though, that is of little comfort. I’m writing about this because I can. Is it hubris to take comfort in being able to channel my former self and remember things that I once believed and then grew beyond? Or is it a defense mechanism … something that can protect me from the realization that I have, finally, forgotten more than many people have learned, as a wise man once said of me in my last decade of teaching. He meant that observation as praise, not ridicule. I understand the truth of that now.

As I wrote in response to a Facebook Post about the public’s insensitivity to people with invisible illnesses (like depression, disorientation, confusion and memory lapses): “I now have no sense of direction, no sense of time, no short term memory and sometimes no sense of past vs. present or future. Calendars and notes are essentials. But most essential is Rick.”

I have not encountered insensitivity … people are patient with me. Rick models patience for them, and they generally follow his model.  He reminds me of appointments; he guides me as one would guide a blind person through corridors and hallways of large buildings, hospitals and the like … for though I have not lost my sight, I have lost my sense of place … there are many places where I would stand still and wait to be found, having no idea of my own as to which direction would be the right direction. “Turn left,” he will quietly say. “Step down at the curb.” I am not annoyed; rather, I am grateful that he sees my invisible need for directions.

He reminds me of things that I need to do, like taking medications or eating lunch.  He helps me remember people’s names when I’ve met them recently and can’t remember. He is aware of when I need to sleep in and when I need to be up and moving, and gently keeps me on track. He is such a blessing in my life.

That I can continue to write books, make quilts, buy fabric and notions for my new quilt shop and keep track of inventory and yet can’t remember someone’s name that I just learned a moment ago … that I can balance the checkbook and help write out the checks for paying the bills and respond to people’s questions while I can’t make a decision or offer a suggestion … that I can understand why these lapses are happening but I cannot accept the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. The Facebook post of a friend that termed it invisible illness is what helps me to understand the incongruity of my skills and my inabilities … at least as well as anyone can understand the structure of an infinite universe … in the present … for now. Until the next genius theorizes it differently. For until someone can shift the mindset of the medical world, and let them see the anomalies among patients with multiple sclerosis and treat each one differently, the treatments will remain as shots in the dark, unfocused and ineffective. And the disparity between what I can do and cannot, and what I have (Rick) and have not (memory) will remain unsolved.

cedar_waxwing_5This morning, as we left for a doctor’s appointment, I found the tail feathers of a cedar waxwing … the beautiful bright yellow along the back edge of the tail reminded me … angels are around … when feathers are found. There are no fermented crab-apples in the tree  out front this spring, for the weather has been bitter and the air too dry; all have fallen off of their branches. In some years the Cedar Waxwings come in February and they feast for a day before moving on. The bird who lost his tail-feathers may find our feeders. Rick keeps them filled. The sparrows will share, as they do with the cardinals and chickadees.

I am blessed with Rick’s strength and love. It is and will always be enough. I am grateful and most often have prayers of thanks.

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