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Saturday, March 06, 2010

After my talk ended tonight, a lovely young women slid into the chair beside me and slipped this photo into my hand ... .

It was taken during the Sixties (not sure what that "70" means at the bottom of the snapshot). It surely was taken at the annual weeklong Stebbins Institute at Asilomar on the Monterey Peninsula during my Coffee House/Bob Dylan/Joan Baez period which was preceded by my "Little Brown Barbie in the Burbs" period of the Fifties. If it does come from the year 1970, that's close enough to trigger these memories:

This was the year that the keynoters were Rev. Paul Sawyer, Dr. Robert Kimball, and Author Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters; the week Tom Wolfe wrote about in his book, "The Electric Acid Kool Aid Test". I recall feeling as if the entire week should have been off-the-record! A group of UU ministers packed up midweek in a huff and went home -- outraged! It was a week of seeing free spirits publicly skinny-dipping and the persistent rumored use of LSD. It was also the summer of the Trips Festival in San Francisco. The Summer of Love, the Diggers, and the birth of unprecedented social change. What a time it was!

We actually rode with Mountain Girl, Ken Babbs, the Hermit, and the rest of the colorful Pranksters into picturesque Carmel-by-the-Sea on a brilliantly-painted bus named "Fur-thur" with a loudspeaker blaring "Revolution!" from the roof of the bus causing well-dressed and -coifed tourists and shoppers to stop dead in their tracks and gape in slack-jawed disbelief! And, yes, my children were included in the journey as well. I recall telling Bob to watch everything closely since this may be important. How prescient was his Mom? I can still remember the combined feelings of pure joy, excitement, and fear -- delicious!

I remember one evening just before dark -- sitting on the dunes singing my songs to Kesey as he lay sprawled upon the sand on his back; hands clasped behind his head -- with a piece of adhesive tape covering his mouth. Printed in crayon on the tape in a childlike hand was the word, "Hello!" He'd said not a word, but plopped down beside me silently pointing to my guitar -- motioning me to play. As I sang the last notes he jumped up and continued toward the ocean with tear-stained cheeks. He'd been on his way to the painted bus parked near the breakers when he saw me sitting alone. Such a moment it was. I watched as he resumed his walk along the path when he suddenly stopped to pick a small bouquet of wildflowers and returned briefly to where I was sitting to present them with a deep bow to the unheard sound of trumpets! Ken Kesey, the Pied Piper of the era. On the bookshelf in my bedroom -- between the pages of my copy of Sometimes a Great Notion -- that fragile little gift remains. I last took it out the day I learned of his death. Romance? No. Just a lovely vignette; one of the many that have enriched my life; an exquisitely tender stand-alone moment in time.

How little we know about what may or may not lie ahead in this Grand Improvisation called Life -- and how little it matters as the days, week, months, years, and decades unfold with little rhyme or reason. Looking back now, I wouldn't have had it any other way. Living life in a constant state of surprise has added to this phantasmagorical miracle of existence.

Not been mentioning Dorian in recent posts ... still trying to come to terms with our new reality ...

In the quiet of my days -- just every now and then -- I allow myself to stop the hurrying; turn off my cell phone; try hard to shrink into anonymity (to the extent that this is possible these days), and try to wrap my brain around what the coming days will bring ... .

Had confirmed by our visit to the orthopedist on Friday that -- despite the scheduled corrective surgery that will take place some time over the next few weeks, the damage to Dorian's shattered legs is permanent. Though healing is taking place, and she is now using both a wheelchair and a walker, "significant rotation has occurred in both femurs, and that they are out of alignment" -- requiring the upcoming 4-5 hour surgery that will not correct the damage caused by the accident, but without it, her knees will become the problem over time. The surgery won't correct the damage from the impact, but will lessen her pain and may slow the onset of arthritis. (Then came the usual chilling recitation of possible risks following surgery.)

That's a lot to deal with for us both. She's handling it well, probably blessed by her mental deficits, but there are subtle signs that reality is beginning to seep through the fog and she's being affected by the more-than-3-months spent in nursing homes (4). I visit daily (a drive from Richmond to Berkeley) during my lunch hour, and signed her out and brought her home once to visit with her beloved cats who are now my housemates. She's learned to make it up the 16 steps to my condo with little help (the learned techniques are miraculous). Her walk has always had a forward thrust, but now she's stooped as well, "...I need to see my feet so that my dropped foot doesn't turn in too much." According to the doctor, the problem foot is due to nerve damage -- either from the impact or from the first surgery -- and will not recover.

There are some bright places in all this: Her mental retardation is less of a factor in the nursing/rehab facilities where she's lived the past several months. There is so much dementia in that environment, that she is less unlike those around her than in the general population. In fact, she is exuberant and hard-working and is rewarded for every achievement by the really fine physiotherapy staff. Her natural warmth and productivity (she's crocheting like a madwoman!) lights up the place. She knows the names of almost everyone on staff, and her gregarious nature opens doors and creates goodwill. She's assertive enough to be able to get her needs met quite well. For that I am eternally grateful (and I allow myself -- and the good nuns at St. Vincent's Academy in Santa Barbara -- credit for that).

Because the pedestrian/auto accident that brought the injuries involved a city-owned vehicle, there are no insurance problems. The police report also contains an account by a responsible witness. Responsibility has been accepted by the agency and we have a compassionate and trusted attorney handling the case; the cousin of a good friend. Her medical claims are being handled by MediCal/MediCare -- an amount now soaring into the stratosphere, though I've tried to not focus on any of that. As a true child of the Great Depression, when financial considerations get above about $5,000 I tend to get a nosebleed!

On the down side: While Dorian is adapting to this new reality incredibly well, I've regressed to Super Mom to a distressing degree. After a lifetime of teaching her independence and the ability to survive in the world beyond my lifetime, I've now become a hovering nose-wiping forehead-kissing "Mommy" who will soon reduce her to a 6 year-old if I don't learn to back off and stop undoing all that painful hard work. Even as I watch myself making an infant of my daughter, the will to stop the behavior is sadly missing.

Maybe it comes from not having been at hand when this all happened. I was in Mendocino (and out of cell phone range) for that weekend and only learned of her fate three days after the fact.

Guilt?

But common sense would certainly suggest that the risk was always "out there" and that awfulness happens randomly ... .

Maybe the fact that we've escaped all these years is something to be appreciated ... .

But then that's too rational. I'm not into rational today. Maybe I need to use up more of the irrational -- then peace may come.

Meanwhile, it's Saturday morning and I have these socks to match and accumulated papers to toss ... and a talk to give tonight at Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church in Walnut Creek at around five ... .

Photos: Dorian in Special Olympics athletics programs; before.

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