Monday, September 9, 2013

Down on the Blue

I'm looking at a small white scar on the inside of my right knee and remembering how I got it one summer when I was about eleven. It happened in the White Mountains of northern Arizona, on a little homestead where my grandma lived. She was my mother's mother, and hadn't lived there for very long. But we (my two sisters and my brother) came to stay with her for a week or so. My dad was attending business training in California, with my mom along for company.

After leaving the main road near Alpine it took a full hour or more to descend the rocky, unpaved, 24-mile road down to the Blue. The Blue was a scattering of small ranches and farms, one tiny store that was closed when we went by, and a small river of precious water. My grandma's little cabin had a kitchen/living room, a bedroom, and a screened porch where us kids slept.

Notice I didn't list a bathroom -- there was a white outhouse down the path towards the garden. We always went there in groups of at least two, carrying a stick and listening hard for the warning rattle of a rattlesnake or rustle of some other creature. We opened the outhouse door carefully with the stick to make sure no wild visitor had come in for shade, then took turns standing guard while one was inside.

We were told not to be silly by being scared of the outhouse or wildlife, despite the story we had been told about Grandma getting trapped in there one morning for more than an hour by a skunk (probably rabid) that refused to leave. We also received a caution to watch out for Black Widow spiders, because Grandma had killed a BIG one in there. We were supposed to stop acting like city kids and remember we came from good pioneer stock, who had lived under much harder conditions.

Then we heard a story about Grandma's grandmother who had crossed the plains in a covered wagon as a girl, collecting buffalo chips in her apron by day to build the campfire at night. She would have loved to have that outhouse, or the well with a pump that brought water into the kitchen. We had electricity, a small refrigerator to keep our food cold, and a small stove to cook our oatmeal and stew. Grandma managed to make us a lovely strawberry shortcake with that stove, even if she did accidentally put too much vanilla in the homemade whipped cream, beaten with an old fashioned hand-cranked egg beater. We had a lantern in the evenings on the porch, and sunlight to wake us up in the mornings. We had each other. We had it good. I came to realize it WAS good down on the Blue. I could even feel some of that good pioneer stock flowing through my veins.

One morning we decided to go exploring a little with Grandma's encouragement. The dirt road to her home continued on to another rancher's property and a barbed wire fence and gate that kept his cattle where they belonged. The gate was tall and too hard for us to open, which we would never dream of doing anyway, in case the cows got out. But between the gate and the post was a gap wide enough for kids to squeeze through. My brother went first, my older sister next. When I was easing myself through I suddenly felt something like a fierce bee sting or an insect biting my leg. I looked down to see blood coursing down my leg into my tennis shoe. I realized I had managed to scrape my knee against a stray barb from the barb wire attached to the post.

I started yelling and crying, sure I was going to die on the Blue. I'm a fainter, so I don't really remember how I made it back inside, or if I ever swooned (love that word, hated doing it). But I know my grandma comforted me and cleaned up my wound. She said it was deep enough it could probably use a stitch or two. She offered to get out her sewing kit if I wanted. She had worked many years as a nurse, so I knew this wasn't an idle threat. Reassured it would be fine with just a bandage if I was careful with it, I opted for no stitches. She said I should get a tetanus shot when I got home, but that I would be fine.

And I was fine. My pioneer blood won out. I survived my injury and even enjoyed the rest of the trip. I arrived back home in good health. Now here I am all these years later, with a little white scar that has remained, despite all the growth and changes and challenges my body has gone through. If it's true that all the cells in our body are replaced over about a seven year period, then that little scar has been renewed over and over and over. I'm still the same me despite all the changes. The essence of me is still here.

Now here's the weird part: despite the evidence that some things never change, this little scar also reassures me that I can always change for the better, that it's never too late to improve. My healthy body that was able to heal from that wound can still work for health today. My diabetes doesn't have to be a death sentence. My body is a miraculous vehicle for my spirit, designed for a healthy life if I make the right choices.

Three months ago I started eating a much healthier diet consisting mostly of raw or steamed vegetables (heavy on the green ones), fruits, beans, seeds and nuts, and rolled oats. I do allow myself a treat day now and then, just for sanity. I also started swimming three days a week, with hardly a miss all summer. I can now swim a mile! My blood sugar is down, my blood pressure is down, my resting heart rate is down, my weight is down, and my dress size is down. My confidence is the only thing up. The ability to grow and improve (and cope) has always been there.

That being so, the same principle must be even more true for my spirit, my inner self. I know my body will finally wear out, but my spirit won't. I am an immortal being having a mortal experience (not an original thought of mine, but one I love). While I look forward with confidence to a glorious resurrection, I know that meanwhile I will always keep my identity, always be my unique self. I can also always keep growing and improving, purifying and becoming more spiritually mature. That's the plan, the whole reason for being here: to learn the lessons and grow, and keep growing.

The dollop of peanut butter is learning to smile and laugh through it all. We have it good.