As Life Unravels

Whidbey artist Pam Winstanley does amazing work with silk.

Whidbey artist Pam Winstanley does amazing work with silk.

Prayer flags, made by a friend, have been fluttering their good will and compassion in my backyard for a month now. I love the idea that these silk flags, vibrant but fragile, are doing their best for the universe in the short time they’ll be here. They’re a daily reminder that my life, too, is impermanent.

Earlier today at a happy hour celebration, I watched a woman in her early sixties sit before the candle on her birthday crème brulee and wonder aloud what to wish for. “There’s nothing more that I want,” she said. “I have so much joy in my life. I just want it all to remain as it is.” This is, of course, a wish we’ve all had at times, one that is never granted.

Life moves on, and it’s for the best. Frayed silk, sun-bleached color—dissolution has its own stark beauty and a reason for being.

This week, I learned a valuable lesson from a physical infirmity that is practically synonymous with aging. There had been intermittent pain in my right foot. I thought perhaps I’d strained it in the warrior pose, but the pain reoccurred over the course of weeks, was worse in the mornings, and was sometimes acute. I went to a doctor and told him, “I think I may have arthritis.”

“At your age?” he said. “Of course, you have arthritis. Sooner or later everyone has arthritis.” He told me to continue the exercise, especially in the morning, and to ice the foot afterward—excellent suggestions—and then he offered me a prescription for a pain medication.

I didn’t want a drug—the pain wasn’t that bad!—but then he gave me some sample pain pills, which were free and an insurance I could carry in my back pocket.

This was all good, but there was little change in the state of my foot.

A couple of weeks later, I received some clues about dealing with osteoarthritis that I wouldn’t hear from a doctor, and which now seem to be working.

The first was from a friend who asked how much I weigh, divided it by two, and told me that was the number of ounces of water I need to be drinking every day. “Clean water,” she said. “No chlorine. Filter it if you have to. Go to a health store and get the drops you put into water to make it alkaline.”

This woman, whom I hadn’t seen in decades, was in my face about water. “You take a vow,” she said. “You promise me—and I want you to call me in two weeks and let me know you’re doing it.”

So, I retrieved my plastic water filter from the back of a cupboard, bought the drops, increased my daily intake of water by about three hundred percent—and within a week of my drinking seventy ounces of water a day, my right foot became noticeably better. There was less pain.

The second clue came while I was on an outing to the Seattle Art Museum with a couple of colleagues from work. I’d brought along a bar of premium European dark chocolate, in case we needed a snack. Then I remembered that one of the women no longer eats chocolate. “It’s her right toe,” the other woman said. “She gets pain in her right toe whenever she eats chocolate.”

Her toe? Why would chocolate have anything to do with her toe? But the toe is so close to the foot, and then the woman herself explained that it was her arthritis that was being inflamed by the chocolate. Arthritis… foot…

I said, “I’m going to try it!” I fished that candy bar out of my purse and handed it to the only person present who still ate chocolate.

That was a week ago. I let go of chocolate and, within a couple of days, my foot felt almost normal. Most of the pain is gone, most of the time.

Many people will tell you that dark chocolate is good for you, and indeed it may be, if what you eat in a day is no bigger than the size of a Hershey’s kiss. I was doing one or two lines of chocolate from those three-and-half-ounce bars, both after lunch and after dinner. I ate lots of fresh, green, organic vegies, but I also ate lots of chocolate—not such a healthy diet.

Of course, I don’t know that stopping chocolate and increasing water is what’s healing my foot, but I’ll keep up this new regime for the time being. Right now, I’m not even tempted to do otherwise.

And I’m actually grateful for the arthritis. I’m taking much better care of myself than I was only a couple of weeks ago.

My point is that the unraveling that happens in our lives may not come in a way we would have chosen. No sane person making a birthday wish says, “What I really want is pain.” But when pain comes, it brings us gifts—that we receive, I think, as long as we keep flying our colors as best we can.