As Fate Would Have It

As Fate Would Have It

I guess I should have predicted my fate over this, our annual solstice pivot.

Several months back, when confronted with the news that I had no cartilage left in my right hip joint, I chose surgery to replace the degrading bone on the very auspicious date of December 21.  I would ‘go under’ when everyone else was retreating for the holiday season and take a full three weeks apart from the world of doing.  As I lay in the hospital bed that night recovering from what felt like a full scale attack on my physical form, I spoke an intention out loud.  I would “let this hip replacement journey transform me from the inside out.”

In that moment, my ask felt reasonable enough.  For why else go through something so traumatizing, albeit to live henceforth with less pain, and not invite a broader change of scope to one’s life?

Listening intently from their watchful place, my ancestors, my angels, and whoever it was that heard my possibly drug-induced but coherent prayer responded with “So be it.”

“Furthermore, let’s clean out the far reaches of your closet.  It’s the solstice, the start of a new year, what better time.  Yes, it’s more that you planned for, but when has a request for transformation ever gone exactly as planned?  As you must remember, Lisa, it doesn’t work that way.”

I didn’t actually hear their somewhat didactic response then, or even later.  Given what transpired, it’s what I know they must have said, but wasn’t prepared to hear.

It took me a little longer to leave the hospital.  My blood pressure was too low when I would try to stand up and I’d lose my balance.  Finally, an occupational therapist appeared in the afternoon of the next day and was the first person to greet me by reaching out to hold my hand and ask how I was doing.  Awash in tears of relief for her humanity, I felt the torrent of fear moving up and out.  And with her help, I finally took my first steady steps and met their requirements for sending me home.

Those first few days at home, I entered some kind of opiate portal and submitted to total dependence on other people for sitting on the toilet, changing out ice packs and bringing in home-cooked food.  I think it was day 5 that I felt the beginnings of a cold which, more than insult to injury, also felt slightly ominous.  And then just a week after surgery, my dog Athena and sweetest companion of 9 years, stopped eating.  The next 5 days shot me into another dimension entirely as we received her diagnosis of severe anemia, followed by that of incurable lymphoma.

At this point, the hip surgery seemed like the smallest of potatoes.  I and my close friend—a recently anointed Florence Nightingale–started sleeping downstairs because Athena wasn’t getting up anymore and I couldn’t bear to leave her side.  My son came home from Hawaii only to be greeted with the news of Athena’s rapid decline and, after some time wrestling with and trying to reject our new reality, we scheduled a vet to come to our home and put her to sleep.

Not so fast, sayeth the ancestors.  You asked for transformation, remember?  So sometime after midnight, my dear canine friend started struggling to breathe, just as they had warned she might.  With no ability to ease her suffering, we held her as she labored, reversing the work her mother must have done while birthing her.  It was beyond excruciating.

I would never have chosen this for her or for any of us.  It was as agonizing a process as I have ever been through and ‘helpless’ can’t begin to describe our surrendered state.  Yet bearing witness to suffering of this scope, the suffering any one of us may face before death, is transformational, far more so than having a portion of the largest bone in my body replaced.  In fact, these two events are decidedly not even in the same league.

Stumbling around in the middle of the night, we, the chosen three, wrapped her body in a sheet, laid her under the Christmas tree, surrounded her with lit candles and sat for a long time in silence.  Sleep came eventually for some of us, infusing my son and ‘Nurse Nightingale’ with just enough energy the next day to dig a hole between the three maple trees out back.  Finally, we laid her to rest amongst all her favorite things, a ritual worthy of any ancient royal.

I spent the rest of the day with no access to the small, petty things.  Brain congestive crap like grievances about my work, worries about paying health insurance bills soon to arrive, regrets about not calling a vet sooner, and wonderings about how long it would be before I could do the most basic of hamstring stretches.  Nope, my ‘small self’ had been zeroed out.  It was absolute liberation, not a tether in sight to my conditioned, anxiety-ridden ego.

I did start to wonder if this wasn’t exactly what it felt like to take a hero’s dose of psilocybin; it sure felt like everything I’d ever read when the ego stops clutching and the expanse of who we really are opens up for us onto the endless savannah of deepest memory.

Could I stay in this place?  I didn’t think so, but I could already sense that accessing it just for a time was expanding my circuitry.  I may not remain in this profound equanimity but I could soak in the memory of it, and maybe call it up again on my own.  And for as long as it lasted, I sat on a new perch, looking out, awash in gratitude.

A week has passed.  I’ve made a slideshow of every photo of Athena I could find.  I still reach for her ears in the morning and miss her generous wiggling every time I walk in the front door.  Yet a deeper truth soothes my soul.  Athena’s death, though excruciating to witness, has become a gift 1,000 times over.  All three of us present that night found new places inside we have never met before.  We’ve shed layers of old skin to make room for bigger versions of ourselves.

And as each of us expands, I believe so shall the many friends, relatives, colleagues, and humans in general with whom we cross paths.  Our new patterning will prompt new patterning with the world around us.  Through osmosis.  Through the phenomenon of morphic resonanceThrough plain ’ole love, damnit.

So, here’s an idea.  Just one among many.  Faced with this formidable tanker ship of political discord, ecological devastation, and untenable disparities, let’s see ourselves as one of Buckminster Fuller’s metaphorical ‘trim tabs’ and claim our power as single individuals to slowly but decidedly steer this ship in a new direction.  And when offered the opportunity, for there will be many ahead, stay fully present to the depth of your own or someone else’s suffering.

Even when that suffering looks like anger, blame or lashing out, do not look away or change the subject, but give it your full attention without trying to fix it or offer superficial palliative.  If it feels unbearable, therein lies the medicine.  Suffering, yours and that of others’, will not last forever.  We just need to stay with it long enough for it to morph, as it always does, into something new.  To make the transformational journey, we all need a loving witness.

So be that.  And you too will be transformed.

Like all gifts of transformation, I know this possibility in my bones.  Maybe also in the titanium femur head now resting inside my right hip.  Yes, I do now know this one….most assuredly.

Love to all, Lisa




Lisa Fitzhugh

As Founding Partner of Creative Ground, Lisa's work activates healthier, thriving people and teams. She is also the Founder and previous Executive Director of Arts Corps, an award-winning program combining arts learning and social change.

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Thank you for the musings, Lisa. On the day of my 52 birthday, it gave me the ideal opportunity in the course of the ordinary day-to-date to be reflective. I am reminded of Dostoevsky’s lines from Crime and Punishment, “Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.” None of us want to live in a state of constant pain — we continually strive for comfort and happiness — but there is a strength that is undoubtedly found in surviving hardship. Some describe it as perseverance in the face of adversity. This articulation typically preferences a logical process. Your approach seems to be an emotionally-centered activity that requires reinvesting oneself in the personal truths that make life worth living. For me, these would be love above all else. Empathy when love fails. Hope to wipe away doubts. Informed action to effect change. Acceptance that we are part of something greater than ourselves.

  2. my dear…I follow thee…walk ahead…beside…and free. Lovely and powerful writing. Thank you so much for your courage and strength to feel, to express and to connect. Bless you.

  3. Thank you for this update on what is going on for you. Very inspiring! Light, peace and love to you <3

  4. A testimony to the alchemy of the soul. From the depths we scoop to the surface previously unimagined life, now on its way to light. Beautifully scribed.

  5. Beautiful. Thank you. LOVE to you my dear friend. So much LOVE.

  6. This is beautiful Lisa , suffering in life , passing through the eye of the needle rather than skirting around it, appreciating the depths of despair to which we all go in pursuit of truly living and loving brings immense joy and closeness ….this is what what I believe. I’m sending you baskets of good energies and hope your healing and grieving bring you peace and a sense of calm. I hope I see you again, Mary

  7. Dear Lisa from Pukoo,
    Stumbled over your piece/peace in the margine of my Facebook page.
    So astute in revealing your sensitive self. I am edified; not only with your feelings but the content.
    This will be our 8th year to return to Pukoo, although we will be staying at Kawella with friends.
    We will just miss the Makihiki Games arriving on the 26th of January; we leave on the 6th of March.
    Every walk on the beach will conjure your presence… We just got a note from David & Phyllis–
    their stay overlaps ours. They have to stay on the West End now.
    We will all miss Zoomie and his companion dog. Uncle Ed is safe in the old folk’s apartments in town.
    This will be the 10th anniversary of Teri Waros’ shop. Hope to see Zellie. We have her latest CD.
    Lisa, small wonder your hip atrophied—you have carried the world on your heart.
    I will always appreciate your support years ago… Please actively love yourself into health.
    Please write more in your convalesence. That would be healing for us all.
    With gentle love,

  8. Very well written. You are so strong !

  9. wild wise sad beautiful whisper :||: LOVE

  10. Your courage, humility, and ability to express this depth of love and loss is extraordinary Lisa.
    In gratitude for you and walking this journey together. Sarah♥️

  11. Lisa,

    Thank you so much for sharing such deep thoughts and feelings with us. My heart goes out to you. I can’t imagine losing my pooch. Though I have said goodbye to many others each dear friends loss is just like the first. I’m also hoping that you’re on your way back to moving about and now without pain. You have such a rich and giving spirit. May the deepness of your recent experiences and loss lead to you sharing your special gifts with even more love and caring.

  12. Dear Lisa – I read this today, on what would have been my beloved older daughter Elizabeth’s 29th birthday. I savored it, allowing myself to sob, to feel the depth of the grief – yours and mine, and also to FEEL the beauty of transformation that these numinous experiences allow… Thank you for sharing this, for asking, for noticing, for being…
    much love, Lucia

  13. Dearest Lisa, I read this yesterday as I was leaving for a celebration of a good friend’s life well lived. I had been invited to “say a few words” which took on even deeper meaning as I carried your beautiful thoughts and grief with me. Amidst the feast, the celebration, the music and song and the 100 or more friends and family present, I thought there must have been a gigantic bright light that we were all inside because the love and aliveness was so palpable. Thank you for your courage to plumb the depths. I am a better person when I read your words. I adore you, sweet friend, now heal…much love, Sarah D.

  14. We love you Lisa! You inspire and help many! Thank you for sharing. Your strength gives others strength. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for all you have given.

  15. Intensely sad and beautiful and just what I needed to read. Thank you for sharing. Sending love your way. I am so very sorry for your loss of sweet Athena.

  16. I read your non blog with tears of sadness and joy. I felt like I get it, but then realize how much I don’t understand. I recognize the frustrations of inevitability but you’ve buoyed my resolve too. This is what’s it all about isn’t it? Thanks for sharing so deeply Lisa. Keep writing – it’s so beautiful.

  17. Ah Lisa, you give me so much to ruminate on here…thank you and love to you!

  18. Your life and presence has rearranged and morphed my own and I’m sure many many others I love you and I thank you.

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