Sunday, September 25, 2011

October's Coming: Are You Aware?

photo: Carolyn Meyers
Anyone who’s had breast cancer (or loves someone who has had it) is “aware” of the disease. So when October rolls around each year and those phone calls, marathons, and flyers start coming around, reminding everyone that it’s “breast cancer awareness” month, I just want to close my eyes and ears. Yes, I know all about breast cancer, I’m perfectly well aware of it, and I don’t want to think about it anymore, thank you very much. I’ve never been a big advocate of pink ribbons, pink bracelets or pink hats. Actually, until I had breast cancer, I loved the color pink. But now it sort of makes me cringe.
            So why, you might wonder, did I then partake in an event this past weekend, the sole purpose of which was to promote breast cancer awareness and raise money for the breast cancer nonprofit Susan G. Komen? Well, to be perfectly honest, one of the reasons was because it seemed like a great excuse to hang out with my brother (whose idea it was to attend). The other reason was because the event was held in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains, at a lovely lake, and involved kayaking into the middle of the water and forming a huge “raft” of nearly 2000 kayaks and canoes. In fact, we were trying to beat the Guinness World Record and apparently we did! Go to for details.
            So it was a lovely day and wearing a pink hat and bracelet seemed a small price to pay on my part. A funny thing happened, too, while I was sitting in my kayak in the middle of that raft of humanity, all of us gathered there to support a cure for breast cancer. I looked around and noticed that there were people of just about every age, size, shape, color, gender, etc. because (yes, we’ve all heard this before) breast cancer—or any cancer—isn’t just about the person who “gets it.” It’s also about their parents, their children, their spouses, siblings, friends, lovers, neighbors, their co-workers, and anyone else who loves or knows them. Breast cancer is not just about some middle-aged lady in a pink T-shirt and pink hat: it’s about everyone.
Participating in this event did make me more aware, not only of the way cancer touches so many lives, but of the larger issue of what we are doing to this planet to make this possible. The more we poison and abuse our environment, I believe, the more this cancer---and other types of cancer—will grow and spread. In fact, in just the past year I have learned of so many more friends and acquaintances who have been diagnosed---one as young as 23—that it boggles my mind. Every time I turn around, there it is. My prayers, every day, are filled with people whom I personally know who have cancer. And I imagine that yours are, too. (If you don’t pray, I know you’re sending out healing vibes.)
            Thus, no one has to remind me about breast cancer. But sitting in my kayak on a sparkling blue lake, I was reminded of how we are ALL in this together. This raft will sink or float depending on what we as a species do. Will we continue to torment our planet, or learn to nurture, replenish, and respect this sacred orb upon which we live?
            The fact that nearly 2000 kayakers showed up at a remote Adirondack lake gives me hope, and hope is certainly part of the equation.
            If the spirit moves you during the month of October or any other month, go to Susan G. Komen ( to make a donation, or drop one at my special cause, Army of Women ( But even more importantly, let’s do everything in our power to stop poisoning our planet—which, we now know for certain--is a not-very-roundabout way of poisoning ourselves, and the ones we love.
 Kathy and Carolyn at Fourth Lake

At last count, 1,925  kayaks and canoes (plus passengers) at the One Square Mile of Hope breast cancer fundraising event for Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Inlet, New York. The event will be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

R U My Guru?

The other day I was driving up a road and noticed a sign for a place called “Perpetual Academy.”  As I passed by, I thought to myself, that’s exactly the school I’ve been in for most of my life. In fact, the older I get the more I seem to learn, and I’ve finally figured out that just about everyone I meet has something to teach—whether it’s my dear friend who recently gave me instructions on how to get rid of fruit flies (without banning fruit) or another friend’s husband (a right-winger who gets me so fired up I have to really utilize my patience and diplomacy skills).
             I was listening to a lecture by a famous “sixties counter-cultural” guru a few weeks ago, and he said the very same thing. In fact, he made the observation that a guru--one who brings “light to darkness”-- could be anyone. It could be your husband or partner, your kid, or even your plumber. (And the funny thing is it could be your plumber who teaches you something about tolerance, Latin, or fine wines—you really can’t predict what you’re going to learn from a particular person, and it’s a mistake to assume that the guy bending over your toilet is only on this earth to offer tips about faucets and drains). That’s the great thing about learning—it arrives in many shapes, sizes, and forms, and many times you just don’t see it coming.
            It’s that back-to-school time of year when kids are trotting off with new backpacks and sneakers, but to me the most fascinating aspect of learning is indeed its perpetual quality. Math facts, the ABCs, and chemical equations are just the tip of the learning iceberg; I didn’t really begin to crack the books until many years after formal education, when I married, had kids, and began working in the real world outside the classroom. And some of the most important lessons I’ve learned didn’t come in grad school either—I learned them after my cancer diagnosis, or in my yoga classes, or when I listened to the words of the Dalai Lama. As time passes the more I’m aware of how far I have to go before I really master the most important lessons in life—the ones that have to do with compassion for self and others, for instance.
            Out of curiosity, I looked on Perpetual Academy’s website but I couldn’t read it; the text was in an Asian language. But I figured it was just as well, since I don’t really want to enroll in a structured program. Besides, all I have to do to keep learning is get up in the morning and open the door: Gurus, it seems, are around every corner.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Past, Revisited

For the past few weeks, my husband has been transferring our old VCR tapes to DVDs in an effort to preserve them for posterity (though most likely he’ll have to do it all over again in a few years when the next technological advance makes them obsolete). In any case, each time I’ve passed by the TV screen while he’s been playing the tapes, I’ve been mesmerized.
            I’ve watched snippets of my children (now grown men) throwing water at each other in the bath tub, clips of me nursing my babies, pictures of my now-deceased parents, photos of various friends and family members who looked—twenty years ago—stunningly gorgeous and young.  I could only, actually, watch so much before I began to feel anxious and sad. After all, we seemed so happy then! My mother was alive, my kids were little and sweet (though feisty as hell), and I didn’t have a single gray hair! Times were certainly happier then.           
            Or were they? The films show only one side of the story, don’t they? The birthdays, the anniversaries, the first joyful baby steps. Obviously no one was taking pictures when the boys were hurling objects at one another, or when my husband and I were quarreling. Yes, pictures tell the story they want to tell.
            I was thinking about these family photos this week when the newspapers were inundated with photos of 911. I understand that as a collective we need to commemorate this horrific event (just as many need to reenact the crucifixion of Christ by watching a Passion play every year), but I wonder, is it really good for us? Is it really necessary?
            One of the tenets of yoga is a practice called vairagya. It’s about letting go. It’s about letting go of the pain, grief and memories of the past, letting go of suffering and attachment to pain (as well as attachment to pleasure). I’ve been working hard at this for the past ten years, and so at this point in my life, I wonder how much value there is in looking backwards. Some towns are even blasting sirens for a minute in remembrance of the 9ll victims. For some of us, those sirens will be a release of some sort, and a tribute. But for others it will be a revisiting of unrelenting fear and torment.
            At the conclusion of my Kundalini yoga exercises, which are sometimes incredibly difficult, my teacher often says, “Let it go. It’s over.” As I recline on my back in resting pose (Savasana) recuperating from the amazing feat I’ve just accomplished (or tried fruitlessly to accomplish), I’m grateful that the pose is in the past, and that I’m in the present.
            Though I know this may be controversial, especially on this day of national mourning, I for one would like to use this time to be here now. Yes, respect the lessons of the past, learn from them, celebrate the beauty and bravery of the lives of loved ones who have passed on. And then let go. Vairagya.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Summer's End

Yes, I know summer is not really over until September 23rd, the day of the autumnal equinox, but in my book summer ends when the town pool closes. Summer, on my personal calendar, also officially starts at the town pool—when it opens on Memorial Day, and comes to its zenith at the 4th of July fireworks, which can be seen perfectly from my pool chair underneath the willow trees.
            The reason I have these self-imposed restrictions on the dates of summer, is because of my kids. Until I became a mother, I didn’t really experience the seasons in quite the way I do now. But with little children, Memorial Day meant a parade (and, since all three of my boys played instruments it later meant that they all marched with the band), and Fourth of July meant fireflies, fireworks, and glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Labor Day was always the official last day before the closing of the pool and thus the official end of summer. Now that my kids are grown I still abide by these parameters.
            Until now. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, our town pool was flooded a week ago and won’t re-open until next year. This has put an unwelcome twist on my end-of-summer timetable (of course, Irene did much more extensive damage than town pool closings; many people in my state and others are still dealing with the havoc).
            But back to the pool for now, which this year opened several weeks after Memorial Day due to an electrical fire on the grounds, and is now closing a week early, thus totally tipping over my internal seasonal apple cart. I could moan and cry about this, but I’m not going to (after all, boo-hooing about a pool closing is pretty lame when some folks' homes are ruined).  Instead, I’ve invited my "pool" friends (who are actually year-round friends) over for our annual end-of-summer pool party (sans pool), and I’ve decided, this year, to adjust my summer clock and head for the beach next week (I don’t like crowded, hot beaches in the summer, anyway, so September is a better time to go). 
            Anyway,  apple picking, leaf gazing, deciding what to be for Halloween, and working in the yard without getting bitten by thousands of mosquitoes is just around the corner.  In fact, I’m so looking forward to Autumn that maybe I won’t even feel a bit depressed when I wake up on Labor Day and realize there’s no good reason to put on my bathing suit.
            I view this as yet another opportunity to let go of plans and expectations and make the most of what I consider to be the last day of summer. And even though our celebration won't be pool-side this year, we can still get together and toast the happy fact that Irene is no longer with us.