Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Downsizing My Life: Door Number One

Downsizing My Life: Door Number One
One windy day last October I tripped over a leaf-covered obstruction in the sidewalk and broke my wrist. Looking back, my painful wrist was the first catalyst I can identify that began to steer my thinking in the direction of a major life change. Since my accident, I can no longer do a lot of things I used to be able to carry off with panache.

Just yesterday the man I hired to do some yard work I can’t handle any more, stuff involving a wheel barrow and pitch fork, asked me, "How did you ever get in the recovering furniture business?"

My son was five. My daughter was a senior in high school, getting ready to go to college. I was a Mom on my own. I had enrolled at the U of M to start work toward a Master’s degree. Got a job. Put Ben in daycare. After a nightmarish two weeks, he and I agreed that daycare didn’t work for us. I withdrew from school. I quit my job. There had to be a way I could support my family using skills I had learned growing up, at the same time doing something I enjoyed. For a few months I supported us by hemming blue jeans and replacing zippers in ski jackets. It was hand to mouth.

I continued to focus on sewing and in a few short months things came together in a wondrous way. I bought a commercial sewing machine. I learned upholstery. I moved to Poulsbo, Washington and started a successful business, specializing in antique restoration. All these years later, after a move back to my hometown, I continued my business on the High Line. But then I fell and broke my wrist. The break healed but RSD, a nerve disorder, set in. Much of the physical work I was used to doing is now difficult or close to impossible.

Then in early spring, my son was diagnosed with lung cancer. A young man with cancer is not the way things are supposed to be. But nobody is immune from a hit from "not the way things are supposed to be". He became my second catalyst. His doctor sent him home to write his "Bucket List". As we talked about it, Ben reminded me that I had wanted to devote more of my life to my painting and writing.

You have to understand, I have the most wonderful and patient customers in the world. "Get healed," they said. Furniture piled up in my shop. I ran away from home and went on an extended retreat. When I returned I had made the decision to change my life. I would finish the work for the customers I had committed to and then to lock the door to the Recovery Room.

At the rate I could work one-and-a-half handed, I figured closing that door might take as long as six months. That door might stay cracked open forever. So I called my friend and colleague Steve, a furniture upholster from Silverdale, Washington. This week Steve rode out on the train to help me with my heavier projects. I can handle the smaller jobs. And then I my life and identity as an upholsterer will be at an end.

Working with furniture, making wonderful but shabby old pieces new and stylish, has been a part of my life, the love of my life, for almost thirty years. Yikes! I must have subtracted wrong. Nope—twenty-nine years. It will be like losing a limb. Can I do it? I want to. I have to. I will.

I’ve always liked the cliché, when one door closes, another door opens. And that may be true for you, but in my life, I generally find multiple doors, none with a neon flashing arrow pointing "Choose Me", from which to choose. Remember Monty Hall in that old television game show, "Let’s Make a Deal"? Remember the "Big Deal" at the end of the show, where contestants got a chance to trade their booty for the possibility of grabbing something of greater value, behind Door Number One, Door Number Two or Door Number Three. We viewers held our breath as the contestants pondered which door to pick. We wanted the best for each participant. For the contestant who had won the washer and dryer, we wanted the Biggest Value Deal of all, the brand new shiny red Cadillac convertible, gleaming with chrome. What satisfaction we vicariously felt, when they chose the door that opened to the best deal of all. What a finale.

So I will finish my work and close my shop door. I am confident Life will present me with Doors Number One, Two and Three to choose from. My show is just beginning. Oh, the anticipation! Which door will I open? It doesn’t really matter. Every door opens to vast possibilities. Life, let’s make a deal. Bring on the doors.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 30, 2013

The Quantum Physics of Communication

The Quantum Physics of Communication ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Several years ago I read Gary Zukov’s "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" about quantum physics and relativity. Inspired, I devoured a dozen other books on quantum physics. Go ahead. Pick yourself laughing off the floor. Did I understand these books? Well, no. But I gained a deep sense of patterns of energy, of dancing with imagination and, most of all, the interconnectedness of all things, human and otherwise.

Whenever I feel myself a bit off center, not quite in plumb, not balanced, I look slantwise at patterns in my life to see where I have pulled a plug and disconnected myself.

Three months ago my son Ben, who lives in the Seattle area, was diagnosed with the Dread Disease. Ben and I have always maintained an unusual sense of closeness. The parallels in our lives are woo-woo spooky. I break my wrist; Ben’s arm hurts. Ben gets sick; I can’t sleep. You get the picture.

The Terrible Treatment left Ben shaky, emotionally, mentally and physically. He chose to wall himself off to focus on healing, to conserve what little energy he had. He told me he needed to break all communication with me. He assured me he would contact me again when he felt strong enough. Here’s what happened when Ben pulled the plug as it were and he and I were no longer connected.

Once I got over my hurt feelings, I could understand my son’s decision. When I’m sick, I tend to hole up and wait for the illness to pass, rather like an old dog, curled under the porch, licking its wounds.

I could not be with him. I could do nothing for him. But I had to do something. So I ran away from home. I drove to an old haunt, Pacific Beach, on the far Washington coast, a place more isolated than Harlem. It was the perfect retreat, no phones, no television, no radio reception, no internet. I spent days walking the sandy beach and listening to the surf. My son had disconnected from me. I disconnected from the outer world.

My daughter talked me into flying on to Mazatlan in Mexico. I spent three weeks, still in retreat, still walking the beach and still listening to the wisdom of the surf.

But here’s where the interconnectedness of all things visibly broke down. I had taken my cell phone with me. The fourth day in Mazatlan my phone died, dead, kaput, nada. Now I was disconnected from everyone. But I am comfortable in Mazatlan. The world went on turning. Day followed night. Be happy. Don’t worry.

Upon my return to Harlem, I had to be in touch. I broke my retreat. I ordered a new phone. Fed-Ex delivered it a half hour before I left for the Elected Officials Workshop in Billings. So I took it with me, went to the Verizon store while there, and activated it.

As Mayor Bill and I drove back into Harlem he pointed out the new Nemont cell tower on the edge of town. When I tried to use my Verizon phone, it locked onto that rival tower and I could not complete any calls, in town, out of state or out of the country. This led to hours and hours with Verizon technical support folks. I now know their names and their children’s names. Finally every function except for international calls had been restored. I want international service. Like a bulldog, I hung on. Turns out the company that owns the tower does not have international capabilities. Ca sera sera.

Finally, the evening of Mother’s Day, Ben broke his long silence. We talked for two hours.

Ben said, "Mom, I had a brand new phone for work. Cost $650.00. I dropped it on the pavement and shattered the case. Parts flew everywhere. Replaced it with the same model. Four days later I dropped it in the toilet. Had to get a third. It’s the ultimate. You can run over it with your car. It will withstand a thousand pounds collision force. You can drop it six meters underwater for six hours and it will still work. At the same time my work provided a new laptop. While I was moving stuff around in the back of my car, the laptop slid out of the unzipped case, fell to the sidewalk and cracked the frame. What do you suppose is going on?"

So I told him of my phone adventures. "It’s just a dance around technological limbo, the relative interconnectedness of all things. Don’t worry. It’s the Wu Li Masters at play."

Ben laughed. "Mom, if the phone doesn’t work, we can send smoke signals."

Ben feels weak but is responding to treatment. We’re grateful. We have hope.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 16, 2013

Revisiting Graduation, Fifty Years Later—Impressions

Revisiting Graduation, Fifty Years Later—Impressions
I walked into the empty gym at Harlem High. Not the same gym from which I graduated. Not the same school, but one rebuilt after a fire twenty-five years ago. The "Little Gym" and band room are the only remaining portions of the old structure. Bleachers flanked both sides of the gym floor. A balloon-lined pathway separated rows of chairs. At center back, a huge circular entrance arch, festooned for celebration. To the right the band was practicing in the bleachers. Chairs on risers for the graduating Senior Class angled right front. To the left, a podium, chairs for administrators, teachers, speakers. In back, The Honor Drum.

The band is newly formed. I listen, impressed, proud how far they’ve progressed. Shook conductor’s hand. They should be proud. Several students even play two instruments. I talked with some parents. Harlem shows pride in what it’s built.

Back out in the hallway. Some impressions. Families, grads, milling. Nervous with anticipation, fear, excitement. Hugs. Tears. Cameras flash.

Parents, friends, neighbors file into gym. Find chairs. Fill bleachers. Band plays without cease. Buzz of celebratory talk fills the air. Sounds of welcome rain pound the roof. Last minute stragglers enter. Peer over shoulder at clock. Quiet settles. Heightened anticipation.

Band swings into the Processional March. Pomp and Circumstance. One by one, step, step, step, grads enter. Pause beneath arch for photos. Beautiful young men and women. Sons and daughters. No longer children. Unashamed tears run down the face of a father seated before me. Proud of son. Look around. All eyes misty. Smiles. Grads with bashful grins. Confident. Hesitant. Soup of emotions.

The Ceremony begins. Rite of Passage. The Welcome. Greetings. Salutatory and Valedictory addresses. Funny. Intelligent. Grown up.

Commencement Address, by Harlem Grad, Rick Haluszka, Class of ’08. Humility and Purpose. Life will repeat those words. Humility and Purpose. Life, the continuing education.

During the Honor Song, memories of my own graduation intrude. May 23, fifty years ago. Class of ’63, Harlem High, the "Little Gym". I remember the speakers. Not the words. Remember classmates I haven’t seen in all these years. I think of classmates I see nearly every year. New-found friends built on an old foundation of shared school years. Wish they were here with me to share these moments. We were less sophisticated. Walked with the same pride. Same Rite of Passage.

Scholarships and awards given. Diplomas presented. Mortarboards flung into the air! Hugs. Kisses. Guys’ gentle punches. Enfolded in family. More photos. Class of ’13. Graduated.

Today a Senior Class. A unit. Together these twelve years. They think they will be together forever. Tomorrow scattered to winds of individual choice. Some leave Harlem. Some stay. Some re-unite in later years. Friendships endure. Shared school experiences, a bond which cannot be broken.

The depth of my feelings surprises me. I see every person, class after class, through the years, here in this gym, this day—vital to their school—vital to their community—vital to one another. The love. The bonds. The ties. The legacy of small town, small school. The Gift Harlem gives each grad—The visceral sense that every person is important. Each one carries this Gift into his and her world. Precious foundation. Strength. Humility. Purpose.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

May 23, 2013