Sarah Orem with arms outstretched embracing sky
Sara embracing both clouds and sky

By Sara Orem
Sara Orem, Ph.D, is a longtime OLLI instructor, member and volunteer.

Last week I had a Holter monitor pasted to my chest after the technician warned me that he was going to torture me (by sandpapering my chest to create enough roughness so that the monitor’s adhesive would stick). The day before I had the monitor installed, I noticed that my urine was the color of dark chocolate. Noting this to my three medical specialists, I wondered if this was something I should be worried about. The message went out Saturday morning so I knew that I wouldn’t hear anything before Monday.

Meanwhile I was supposed to be pushing a button on the monitor every time I could feel an atrial fibrillation, and noting the time and circumstances in a journal I would return with the monitor after two weeks. It’s been a week and I’ve made no entries, though I’ve had plenty of fibrillations. I’m sure the cardiologist will be frustrated with my non-compliance. But I can’t do everything; can’t drive back and forth from my home to Kaiser’s medical facilities 3–4 times a week, travel to see a friend who is slipping into some kind of dementia, change my medication cocktail for perhaps the fourth or fifth time in two months and live my (somewhat normal) life.

Buddhists say that awareness is like the sky, with each passing thought or feeling like a cloud. The thoughts and feelings come and go. The challenge is to “note” them and then release them. My sky has been pretty crowded with clouds over the last few weeks and months. I use a Headspace app at night to listen to a sleep story when I get in bed. The story often begins with a “noting” exercise, and I’m pretty good at noting the worries and fears that have made up most of my clouds of late.

But I’ve also had some stunningly beautiful skies. A lunch with my oldest and dearest friend and a bunch of others including one of my own old boyfriends (at 84 I guess he no longer qualifies as a boy). We laughed and talked about the last few years, the gap since the last time we were together. We had beer and sandwiches at an outside picnic table with warm breezes floating around us. The hospitality of my dearest friend’s friends. The concern and then the laughter of my oncologist who promises that we are close to the correct ingredients of the medical cocktail (the latest change to affect the color of my urine). The daily calls of close friends. The entrance into my life of a helpmate who cooks, cleans, helps with organizing (EVERYTHING), and is a joy to have around. My husband’s humor.

I am loved. What a blue, blue sky this is.

Sara Orem, Ph.D. is a longtime OLLI instructor, member and volunteer who facilitates workshops for older adults about vitality in the aging process. She also leads the Vital Aging Interest Group that is open to all OLLI members. Sara originally published this post on medium. It is republished here with her permission.