Transitions smitions, Enough!

All right, it has been a year now since I resigned from leading The Wisdom Course for Landmark Education.  At first it was such a delightful thing.  My time was once again mine.  And to top it off, my husband had resigned from leading the same course and we were both freed up to do things we hadn’t done before.  We had (and have) a lot more time to be with each other and to do whatever we want to do.

My kids have prospered in this past year.  It was nearly a decade that I had been on the phone a lot, travelling frequently, and occupied by my accountabilities and suddenly I was there and available to them.  It has been good.  They have blossomed and our relationships have become quieter, stronger and I am more in tune with them.

I am thrilled with the difference my being more available to them has made.  My daughter is thriving in school.  She has blossomed into a responsible, self managing teenager.  I just love her and I have grown so much with her in this past year.  And my son, well, he has continued surfing the teen years and is doing it very well.  What I love most about being more available to him is that I am observing him and watching him grow.  He is now pulling more and more for his independence and I am so lucky to be a part of this young man’s life.

As for my husband and I, well we watched the entire Mad Man series, and are looking forward to the season premier later this month, the entire Guardian series and we caught up on a lot of other television.  We go to bed earlier, get up earlier and spend more time together.  That may seem very ordinary, but to us being able to sit on the couch, side by side, with our legs intertwined, holding hands, just being together is like pure decadence.

My house is clean, I do it myself, with the help of my kids on their chore day.  My garden is tended, I am waiting for the plus 700 bulbs I planted last Fall to blossom.  I have connected with friends in my community and have Friday morning coffee with a group of women who are delightful and a lot of fun.  I go to my yoga class three times a week and I am a class advisor for my son’s class.  This Sunday I’ll be coaching the first tournament for my daughter’s club volleyball team for which I am the head coach.   In addition to this, I have been working on completing my degree, though I must admit things in this domain have slowed down over the past few weeks.

It has been a great year of what I would call “down-time” after the years of balancing a family with extensive responsibilities and being available to and leading hundreds of people in their discovery of what matters most to them and then having it happen in their lives.  This year has been a good thing.  It was the right thing to do.  I am stronger, healthier, my family is tighter and calmer.  And yet lately it has all come to a place of “ENOUGH!”  It is time to….   What?  Well, that is the question.  What is it that is next for me?

As a Wisdom Course Leader I remember telling people that answering the question – – what is it that calls you in life?  What is it that touches your heart and while you are doing it time stands still?  Answering that question is something that only the questioner can do.  It is my turn.  Only I can answer that question and *&%$#@ I don’t have an answer!  I have come up with many possible answers which have all fallen flat – – Yoga Instructor, Transform the School’s Athletic Program, Athletic Director, Political activist and more.  Lately I have surfed the non-profit sector and have a couple of speaking engagements and a workshop scheduled to support Volunteer Coordinators in managing their volunteer programs.  That last one is fun and something I am continuing to explore.

I have thought lately of another Landmark course I participated in just before I became a Wisdom Course Leader.  It is called Partnership Explorations.  What I keep thinking of is one specific conversation where Angela (then my course leader, now my friend) said we are going to take you farther and farther away from shore – – where you cannot see land and we will have you become more and more comfortable with being there – in the unknown.  In that moment, as I have shared with many people over the years, I found that statement so unnerving, so threatening that I was ready to leave the course, but I didnt’.  Thanks to my friend Tina, I stayed. And I am glad that I did.  The course and having the skill of being in the unknown has been extraordinarily valuable to me.  But here I am, in my life and I seem a long way away from shore.  Can’t leave, don’t have an answer and I am ready… ready for some excitement, to be swept away by something that touches my heart and lifts me into action.

So… I ask, when will it come?  Some say that there is no answer to that other than it will come when it comes (that has been my answer too).  But somehow, just writing it here helps.  It is good to just say it out loud (even though I am writing to whoever it is that reads this and then, maybe no one will).   I love coaching people, I love leading and performing, I love having my life make a difference for others.  I love being with my children, I love having couch-time with my husband.  I love tending my garden, being with my friends and practicing yoga.  And there is this place in my heart and maybe it is out there somewhere in the eternal or in my connection with all of it that keeps whispering……. But  I just can’t hear it.

You know, today in yoga something amazing happened.  I was doing my handstand practice (I really love that I can say that I can do a handstand, even if it is at the wall) and my teacher Rachel said, look down and press the top of your head into the wall.  I did and in that moment I could pull my feet away from the wall and all that was touching were my hands and the top of my head.  At first I was thrilled.  I did it again and then again.  And then I noticed that my mind couldn’t quite make sense of it – – what just happened somehow, in my mind defied logic.  I was physically able to do something that I had been trying to do for months – – pull my feet away from the wall.  I wonder now, maybe, just maybe that is all that I need.  Maybe I only need to press my head into the wall (instead of beating it) and let my feet move away naturally.  Whatever that means, I am not sure but it is fun to think about it or consider it. 🙂

We’ll see how things progress.  But for now, thank you for reading.  Thank you for listening.


On my drive

I was coming home last night from visiting Betty.  Her rehab in the nursing home is progressing.  She feels better than a week ago, she is getting stronger.  She said it would be a miracle if she can go home by April.  And it will be.

The forty-five minute drive on Ridge Road from Horseheads to Trumansburg is one of my favorite drives.  The rolling fields, old homesteads and barns are breathtaking in every season.  Each time I drive that road I am filled with awe.  Last night it was dark.  I couldn’t see the scenery but the silence of the road, and being the only one on it for at least thirty minutes of my drive was a new, peaceful way to experience this drive I love.

I was listening to satellite radio, as I often do.  I roam the channels. Sometimes looking for relaxing SPA music, sometimes Classic Rock and Roll or varying types of Blues or Jazz.  When my kids are in the car, they take over the roaming duties, looking for current stuff.  I enjoy listening to what they like to listen to.  But last night, I had the channels all to myself.  I came onto a station that was playing songs I listened to as I became an adult.  Back then I thought I was an adult already — but that is another story.  Singing along I noticed how my voice isn’t as good as I used to think it was.  I conversed with myself in my thoughts: “If I took some lessons I could actually be pretty good.”  “Yeah, but not good enough to be a real singer.”  “Agreed.”  Then I continued on down the dark road comfortable yet at the same time pondering over the various conversations I had just had with Betty and her daughter, Nancy.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, family differences, bank accounts, her breathing, doctor’s appointments, Betty needing to advocate for herself when the staff give her meds she doesn’t need, the food being served not being adjusted to someone who is diabetic with high blood pressure, water retention from congestive heart failure and other complications – – last’ night’s meal was a chile dog on a white bun, potato chips, a piece of cherry pie and a small cup of canned fruit cocktail.  Salt, sugar, little to no fiber, how can this be part of a rehabilitating environment?  The issues to deal with when caring for someone elderly you love are great.

All of these thoughts were there, in the background and as always, after my visits with Betty I was poignantly present to the gift that life is and then, an old favorite came on the radio.  “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas.  I turned up the sound and sang along.

“I close my eyes

only for a moment and the moment’s gone.

All my dreams

pass before my eyes of curiosity.”

As I sang I thought about how the moments in my life have come and gone, continually.  I thought of  how sometimes I have thought situations were unbearable or that that they would never pass. I felt trapped.  And then, that too passed.  It all passed.  Everything in my life up to that moment (which has now passed) when I was thinking these thoughts.  And my dreams.  How many I have had and they have come and now passed.  Traveling and living in Europe. Learning Italian, working for the United Nations, becoming a mother – having two beautiful children. Returning to the US.  Loving and caring for my children all the way through the difficulties of my divorce and along the way finding a man that was part of a dream from long ago.  Marrying him, leading transformational programs for hundreds of people, building a beautiful home, returning to school, working with people, making a difference, bringing my voice to issues that really matter to me and to the world.  Being known in my community as a resource. Life is rich and my dreams have been many.  My dreams have been full.  Whatever I have been willing to dream and hold has past before my eyes, I experience it and then… I dream some more.

“Dust in the wind, all they are is dust in the wind.”

Like Betty, someday I will be facing the ending years of my life.  All that she dreamt, like me, has passed before her eyes.  She has had a rich life.  She has loved and been loved.  She has laughed, cried and now she is resting, working on getting stronger so that she can continue to dream.  And then she, like I, will die.

“Same old song

just a drop of water

in an endless sea.

All we do

crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see.”

This was when my eyes teared up, my voice cracking as I continued to sing along. The beauty of life and the slipping nature of how it continues on.  How thinking that what matters is that conversation from a year ago or that thing I need to do next week or next year, when really what matters is this moment right now.  That this moment is a moment well spent.  That we are present, experiencing it, experiencing the love surrounding us, the beauty of the world and the people who are important to us.  That moment passes and then there is the next one.  It is never stopping. Ever.

“Dust in the wind

All we are is dust in the wind.”

Egyptians, Romans, Mesopotamia, Native Americans, grandparents, parents, Betty, me, my children.  All of us.

“Now, don’t hang on.

Nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky.

It slips away.

And all your money, won’t another minute buy.”

I had never heard the lyrics this way.  Don’t hang on.  My first thought was Betty.  Don’t hang on.  This moment, right now is passing by.  Another will be here to follow.  Enjoy each moment with her as they pass.  My children, right now are growing, learning becoming more and more independent.  “Don’t hang on.  Nothin’ last forever…”  All of it is changing, moving, slipping by into that next beautiful moment under the sky, on our precious earth.  Money will never change that.

“Dust in the wind.

All we are is dust in the wind.”

It seems to me that being able to come to a place of acceptance of our inevitable death is one of the most empowering things we can do. How to do that is an interesting question.  I am grateful for Betty for many things. One, being that as I walk with her through this phase of her life, she is giving me the gift of cherishing life.  Of cherishing all that I have, all I have done, all that I will do and that in the end, I too will be dust in the wind.  There is something liberating about accepting that.  I am overcome by a sense of  peacefulness, a vulnerability and a deep sense of compassion for humanity.

Hospitalists and whose minding the store of continuity.

Two days ago I assisted in moving my dear friend, Betty from the hospital to the rehab unit of a nursing home.  Betty will be 84 in April.  After nearly four weeks in the hospital moving Betty was a relief yet, it was a sad day.  The nursing home was the last place she wanted to go.  At her age many people don’t come out and she knows that.  But at the same time, with the care she was receiving in the hospital she was not improving.  So we were glad she was moving, in hopes that she would now receive the care she needed to improve.  Time will tell.

I visited Betty nearly every day.  As a close friend I was added to the list of people who could speak to her doctors and who could call to talk to anyone in the hospital about her case.  From the beginning I was vigilant to ensure there was a continuity to her care.  In the ER I made sure that her current list of meds was entered into the hospital system (the last time when she was discharged we were given a list of meds “she had been on when she was admitted” and the list was inaccurate.  So this time, I made sure that the list in the hospital’s computer was updated.

A week after she moved to her room and was treated for an irregular heart beat which peaked with a heart attack, she was still coughing severely, the main problem she came into the hospital for.  Her breathing was stressed and though her heart issues seemed in control, she was not getting better.  After talking to a good family friend who is a  pulmonary specialist I addressed her doctor, who had no pulmonary specialists to work with as the hospital does not employ one.  He agreed to speak with our friend, then ordered some tests and voila’ discovered that Betty was hyperventilating because she was breathing too fast.  She started to seem better as they coached her in how to slow her breathing down and they gave her some anti-anxiety meds.  Things were moving along and all of a sudden, new symptoms and a new doctor.  Those new symptoms got dealt with and a few days later yet more new symptoms arose and we got yet another new doctor.

In the nearly four weeks Betty was in the hospital she had 5 doctors and two specialists working with her.  The specialists were always the same and while the hospital didn’t have a pulmonary specialist, her heart doctor and hemotologist seemed to know what they were doing.

The most upsetting aspect of Betty’s stay in the hospital wasa the constant change of guard and the seemingly lack of turn over from one doctor to the next.  It was us, me and her family, who were the ones who ensured the continuity of care.

I haven’t gone into all of the details of Betty’s care here – – they were numerous and required many meetings with each new doctor, keeping track of what was happening with and for her all the time she was there. What I am left with after this stint of being with Betty and ensuring, as best I could, the continuity of her care is a new view of what it is to be cared for in a hospital – at least in our local hospital  – and from interviewing doctor friends who work in hospitals, it seems to be something that is happening in all hospitals, at least in NY State.

At one point during Betty’s stay, when the change of guard marked a radical change in care and resulted in Betty not getting some of the meds she had been taking as well as breathing treatments which eased her breathing, I called the administration of the hospital and asked to talk to someone.  It wasn’t a complaint about the individual doctors that I wanted to register but instead a concern about the organizational structure the doctors were working inside of. It seems to me that this type of structure – on for 4 or 5 days then off and another doctor takes over, and when the first doctor comes back he/she is not necessarily reassigned the same patients.  The same with the nurses.  Betty had great nurses but she would have one one day and the next that nurse been moved down the hall to new patients.

I expressed my concern to the person who answered the phone in the Administration Office and a few hours later received a call.  My complaint I was passed on to the head of nurses, which made absolutely no sense to me.  I expressed that and he assured me that he was the right person to talk to however, when I started to speak knowledgeably about what was happening to Betty, he didn’t want to talk to me because the slip of paper which had my name on it showing that I was approved to converse on Betty’s behalf, had been thrown away.

With this dilemma, in front of him, he didn’t hear what I was saying and instead defended the doctors and ultimately hung up on me. Well, I did get a little hot under the collar just before he said “I am not going to have you holler at me, I am hanging up on you now.”   He later apologized (once he discovered the missing piece of paper) and listened to what I was saying and suggested I go to the Doctor in charge of all Hospitalists.

All of the doctors and nurses cared about Betty and wanted to provide the best possible care for her.  I think, however the way in which they are scheduled doesn’t allow for THEM to provide continuity of care.  At best they can write good notes and then when they come on duty with a new patient read the notes the last doctor or nurse left very carefully.  That is something but it isn’t reliable.  People get tired, get stressed and forget things. To turn over critical information about patients is something that requires extraordinary skill – – and the amount of turn over being required by these doctors is an added responsibility which, I believe takes them away from what they are there for – – to care for the patient effectively.  To have an environment which allows for the medical staff to excel and be extraordinary doctors and nurses there needs to be a structure that allows them to do that.  This is not it.

Now the question is, what am I going to do about it?  The system is so big and so entangled that I couldn’t possibly understand it all from here – outside as a friend of a patient.  Saying something is really the only action I can take.  Calling the doctor in charge of the hospitalists is a start.  Perhaps a letter to the editor is another step.  The other thing I can do is research where there is a better hospital to plan for any possible emergencies I or my family might undergo – that is for my own peace of mind.  I could do all of these things.

One step at a time, pressed up against the resignation of being able to truly make a difference in such a large and intricate culture of unworkability.  I can chose to step or I can chose to ignore it.  Well, I guess writing this is a step, isn’t it?  A phone call is not a difficult thing to do.

“Hello, may I speak to Dr. Stellone?”

A Blog About Life and The Ingenuity of the Human Spirit

This blog is about life. It is about celebrating our humanity.  Looking at where we are today, how we got here and what it takes to alter the direction of tomorrow.  Creating new avenues that were not available or visible before.  This blog is an inquiry about what it takes to bring about new cultures.  It is about riding the waves of our current culture and way life without losing sight of what matters most and what is possible and then taking actions that bring what is possible into reality.  This blog is about human spirit and ingenuity.

Transitions are integral to our life.  From the moment we are born until the moment we die life is a series of transitions from one moment to the next.  From infant to child, to adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and old age, we transition with the years as they pass, our bodies as they age and the circumstance around us.  These daily transitions, happening moment by moment, are the stuff from which new pathways can be created. There in each moment, in every transition of our life we can do the same thing we have always done, repeat our habits which may very well be a part of our cultural history, or we can do something else.  We have the choice to forge new pathways, create new ways of dealing with situations or circumstances, we can create new cultures.  Our access are the transitions of our life.

Our greatest teachers are our children.  I am reminded of the words to the song “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.”  The adults of the world, through our words, actions and habits, teach the youth who observe them.  Parents, politicians, teachers, neighbors, writers, business owners, all of us play part in the culture that our children are inheriting.  As they move through life, the guidance we provide our youth can be to follow the flow of our culture and the way it has “always” been or we can teach them to observe, think about and chose new actions for themselves which forges new pathways for their life.  They can be part of creating a new culture.  We can teach them to think, act and speak so that they can lead the way and go beyond anything that we can imagine.