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In memory, I return to the first morning of my arrival at East Gloucester, Massachusetts, stretch into the bleached lawn chair next to the ocean, and open my citified world to nature’s expansive healing. Desperate is my need for watering.

October’s brilliance caps hesitant waves with opulence that lap against the base of the monolithic Brace Rock; it resembles a dusky pachyderm snoozing in the morning heat, its humps whitened by decades of excrement. Against luminous skies, crowds of herring gulls honk into fly-space, while others pump their wings, catch columns of wind, gliding in somersaults and pinwheels. Like cobra helicopters, twin ravens pan the boulder-strewn shore until they vanish.

I breathe deeply in my chair, then notice surf-bubbles skittering among handfuls of sandpipers, toeing the grainy sand like princesses. Upon stringy brackish seaweed, mosquitoes crowd like irritable shoppers in check-out lines.

Nearby, splashy quilts of wild grasses, golden rod, and sumac enliven miles of bronzed granite rocks along the coast. A solitary honeybee suns upon the breast of a goldenrod spear. A rare Monarch butterfly collapses its circus wings and alights on the fringed tip of purple loose strife.

A cobalt sky smiles upon this riotous foreplay. Time hangs suspended upon boney and gossamer wings. Within this jeweled kaleidoscope, an unseen power reveals her Soul and invites surrender.

Again, it has been done. I’m washed, clean.

“And you can change in here,” said the director, her curvaceous body and shocking pink nails unnerving me as I stepped inside the locker room with my new leotard and tights.

It was a rainy autumn afternoon, 1970, following the failed synovectomies of my knees. My surgeon had regretted the outcome, but recommended total knee replacements when the technology was further refined. In the meantime, I was to exercise, keep my body strong. For some reason, I complied—even received my superior’s permission to join the First Lady’s Health Club on St. Charles Avenue, just down the street from our convent. I was thirty-six years old.

Inside the cubicle, the curtain pulled behind me, I grunted as I pulled on the skimpy outfit, black like the habit I used to wear. Whining saxophone music further undermined my resolve to go ahead with this venture. I abhorred exercising, yet I kept moving toward the workout room with mirrored walls and cherry carpeting.

Fluorescent lighting momentarily crazed my vision. In front of me stood a tall brunette looking back at me. Stunned, I touched my waist. She did, too. I smiled—My body was different, with the twenty-five pound weight loss from the surgeries. Smiling again, I greeted the trainer approaching me. I would do this.

From that afternoon to the present, exercise has buoyed my spirit, kept me functional, and cleared out low moods. It also enlisted Spirit’s love and protection to support my efforts in becoming woman.

It’s never too late to start, no matter the stiffness or pain. It worked for me, and still does.

 

 

It was midnight: winds snapped tree limbs resembling Medusa’s snaky hair beneath halogen streetlights. Panic seized me. I sat bolt upright, the comforter, in folds upon my lap. Still drugged from REM sleep, I fished for my slippers, then steadied myself against the bookshelf before taking a step with my cane. I knew what to do.

I made it to the living room, plopped upon the sofa. I began to rock, slowly curling my spine forward, then back. With repetitions, the tempo increased. It felt like I was being held in a vise from which there was no release: My chest was tight; my eyes, irritated; my mind, hostage to whirl-a-gig ideation—my unconscious was in full revolt against my terminal illness. Back and forth, the madness continued, unabated. I knew that it would slowly diminish when played out. It was a matter of time.

Minutes passed, encased in discrete concrete blocks. Then, the repetitions slowed—my spine straightened, my breathing returned to near normal. With the attack winding down, I leaned against the back of the sofa and checked the mantel clock: it was 12:30 in the morning.

This was not the first time I’ve had panic attacks: sourced in my unconscious, they nudge me toward the enormity of my terminal illness. All well and good, my Step-work, the blogging, and other activities of each day, but my attachments to this existence run deep, per Dr. Singh. My new learning continues …

 

 

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