Sunday, August 31, 2008

Covenants and Flowers

Mid-morning on a late-summer day. Not too hot yet. Before lunch, I walk down to the former brier patch to admire my earlier 10 days of work swinging a machete and collecting and burning the tangled cortex of stems and thorns to make a shaded clearing at the forest’s edge. I feel good about the clearing, and I don’t really mind the tiny shoots of new briers already popping up; I’ll deal with them later.

I thought about my visit a day earlier with a doctor at the Veterans’ Administration primary care clinic in Tyler. It was my first physical in more than 15 years; the doc told me my cholesterol readings were the best she’d ever seen, but that my blood pressure was “horrible, horrible, horrible” and immediately – right on the spot – put me on medication.

At lunch after my peaceful visit to the brier patch, I sat at the “world-famous” Dairy Palace in Canton wondering whether the garden burger or one of the potato chips would push my blood pressure over the wall and splatter red onto the three busloads of pilgrim junior high students from Covenant School in Dallas. They chattered noisily (and, at that age and in a group, inevitably) in the dining rooms, eager to get to church camp.

As I tried to read a newspaper, one of the girls who’d already eaten came and sat at my table, quickly joined by two of her friends. All three shimmered with life and energy.

“Can we sit here,” the first said.

“Sure. Why,” I said.

She said her friends at the next table weren’t cool. I said I wasn’t either. She said I was. We chatted for a while, except for the quiet one who I finally told, “You talk too much, don’t you?” She blushed; the other two answered for her. One pointed at the photo of two Olympic gymnasts and their coach on the front page of the newspaper, and said – playfully – she was “that” one: Shawn Johnson. The other said she was “this” one: Nastia Liukin. The third – the quiet one – pointed to the older woman.

I enjoyed their presence, and didn’t shatter or burst blood all over them.

Later, I stopped by the Reclamation Station recycling center – a meaningful place – and spent $11 on two plastic pots of yellow rain lilies, one of red turk’s cap, and one of pink climbing rose to plant near the former brier patch. I hope they will bring some color to the green and tree-trunk brown at the edge of the forest. Rain lilies are also called “fairy lilies;” turk’s cap is “bleeding heart,” and that particular rose is called “new dawn.”

I am stressed, I suppose. A simple fact of modern life. Some of the high blood pressure also came from simply being in the doctor’s office. Some is hereditary. I need to get a bit more aerobic exercise, which I started even before the visit to the doctor. I need to relax a bit, which includes listening – really listening – to more music, and which includes gentle pleasures. After decades of nutritional abuse that ended about a year and a half ago, I thought I might have to change my diet again, but the only real adjustment in the balance, it seems, is to eat more fruit and to eat fresh vegetables instead of sodium-filled canned ones. Balance is an important word.

With the medication, my average blood pressure over the past couple of weeks is down to an average of 121 over 71. My pulse is a relaxed 60. My weight is good – from 250 down to 165 in that year and a half.

I wish I’d told all of this – and so much more, including how much I enjoyed their brief company – to those three seventh-grade girls. I could have told them to clear out the brier patches from time to time, chatter a bit but not too loud, be friendly when you can and cautious when you must, dream a little, plant some flowers, eat right most of the time, relax and listen to some music, believe in balance, etc. I wish that what I would have told them would nurture them well and that they would grow up strong and bring joy to themselves and the world. I consider that wish to be one of the silent promises we make to ourselves and to others.