Category Archives: Mary Jo Doig

April 11 – A Mindful Meditation of our Women’s Life-Writing Circle

by Mary Jo Doig

© creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

We gather in our quiet, secluded space at the recently constructed, variegated-beige stone Crozet Library, bringing the life-story we have written in preparation at home. We greet each other warmly as each woman arrives, and ask how things have been since we last gathered. “We missed you last time,” or “How is your arthritis/pneumonia/or other recent ailment healing?” or “Here’s the book I promised to bring you last time,” are some recent observations I’ve heard. When we have caught up with everyone’s well-being, we transition to preparation to share our stories, written from thematic prompts given at our previous gathering two weeks earlier.

I feel a change within myself then—a melting away of all the information that flows like a river through my mind nearly all day, every day—sort of like turning off a news broadcast that leaves blessed silence in its place. A woman volunteers to read her story to begin our shared two-hour gathering. I take a deep breath and exhale any stray interior distraction that might be lingering and prepare to fully listen to her words. She speaks her first sentence and everything else evaporates except her voice and what I hear in the words of this story of her life. She reads through it all and when finished we spontaneously affirm whatever the story has stirred within us. “I’ve been in that place, too,” or “What a powerful story you’ve written,” or “My favorite part of the story was when you said, ‘this’ or ‘that.’”

I listen closely to my heart’s response to the story and then share those thoughts with the writer, as does each of our seven members. When I look around the circle at each woman, I see we are as diverse as apples on a tree. After we’ve read and heard and discussed all our stories, we plan our topic for the next gathering. When we leave this place, we go home to different communities, different churches, and varied lifestyles; we have different ethnic backgrounds and hold dissimilar political ideals; we live alone or with family members or with pets. Although we seem at first to be so different, each time we share stories from our lives—and share laughter, sadness or tears, or other emotions–comfort or celebration–we form a richer bond. We discover we are not so different, after all.

Recently, we each shared “The Story I Don’t Want to Write.” When we met two weeks afterward, we agreed that was the moment in time when we opened a clearer, deeper bond with each other. We had known from previous gatherings that when we shared difficult stories, we were in a space filled with trust, respect, and confidentiality.

I pondered our time together that afternoon while driving home, those stories that had been heard and responded to with such honor, support, and compassion. Some women had also shared their own connecting threads with a particular story. And I wondered—avid, life-long mystery reader that I am—what was that silent, deeper layer that circled between us? After all, women have been sharing their stories for centuries.

When the answer came to my heart, I knew it was absolutely right.

Our time together was not only nurturing, it was sacred.

(This piece was first published on Mary Jo’s blog, Musings From a Patchwork Quilt Life at https://maryjod.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/a-mindful-meditation-of-our-womens-life-writing-circle/)

Mary Jo Doig, a Story Circle Network member for fifteen years, is an avid reader, writer, quilter, knitter, gardener, cook, editor, and blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite mountain view from her writing room window.

February 16 – A Doctor’s Prescription to Write

 

© Anatoly Tiplyashin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Anatoly Tiplyashin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

by Mary Jo Doig

A member of our Circle of Memories Writing Group in Crozet, VA shared a story recently that delighted my heart and I thought you might like it, too.

Carolyn started her story by reading to us that her 24-year medical condition required a doctor’s visit every six months. As she and her doctor talked during her recent scheduled visit, the doctor asked what activities she participated in on a regular basis.

Carolyn told her about her three weekly exercise sessions, as well as her membership in two women’s life writing circles, one that she leads that is comprised of women of varied ages. The other is an Older Women’s Legacy writing group for women over sixty who seek to record the histories (actually herstories) of their lives and leave them as a legacy for those who follow. The Story Circle Network’s OWL Memoir Project tells us that the richest source for an accurate history of our world is its ordinary citizens, and the least documented lives have been the lives of women in our society.

“I told her that for each gathering I prepared a personal narrative, a story from my life, based either on a thematic prompt for the group, or another life story I wanted to write about,” Carolyn continued.

“Writing was not new to me; I’d been a newsletter editor in my past life. Yet now I was learning to be more candid by writing about my own life since I was also into genealogy and wanted to write to pass my stories on to my family,” Carolyn said.

“Then my doctor asked if there was any reason why I couldn’t write every day. I told her sometimes there are other things more pressing that I needed to get done before I became tired or pain took over.”

“She replied by asking, ‘Would half-an-hour be a reasonable goal?'”

Carolyn told her she thought she could manage 30 minutes a day and that, actually, it would be a good New Year’s Resolution. “We finished up our conversation and planned to review everything again in six months. As I left, she handed the Visit Summary Sheet to me and when I got it home I saw that under Doctor’s Orders she had prescribed that I write for half-an-hour every day.”

Carolyn looked up from reading the story on her laptop and said, “The doctor had asked me, ‘Percentage-wise, how close do you think you can come to meeting your goal?'”

Her eyes twinkled. “I told her one-hundred per cent.”

We all cheered our writing partner.

***

For more information on the physical and mental health benefits of writing, this link gives a good overview: http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/jul00/why-writing-is-good-for-your-health-7007

And for some unexpected health benefits of writing, here’s a Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/12/writing-health-benefits-journal_n_4242456.html

Mary Jo Doig, a Story Circle Network member for fifteen years, is an avid reader, writer, quilter, knitter, gardener, cook, editor, and blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite mountain view from her writing room window.

February 6 – A Mystical Birthday Gift

by Mary Jo Doig

butterfly1

In the early morning hours of my birth day, yesterday, I woke embraced in total darkness and thought of my mother exactly 74 years earlier. I knew her labor was quite prolonged and so I knew now, at 3am, she and I still had seven hours and 21 minutes ahead in the birthing task before us. As in that time nearly three-quarters of a century ago, I was surrounded by this same total darkness within her body. In addition, I would have been moist, too, enclosed in a water environment much like all my swims later in life in the ocean, the bay, and the sound off the shores of Long Island.

An unexpected fact rose into my thoughts: I’ve always been a rather fearful swimmer and in this moment of astonishing, fragile connection between two worlds seventy-four years apart, I question: was I fearful then? Of course, an instant response said silently, you must have felt terrified by being slowly pushed and squeezed forward into an unknown world ahead. Had some of that fear translated into the fearful child I had become? It could be so. Or not. The answer did not arrive; perhaps it was not even important.

My thoughts returned to the wonder of the moment, an experience unlike any I’d ever experienced. Gratitude to my mom for giving me life rose within and gently filled all the spaces of my heart. I thought of all her labor: my birth, and all the tasks that followed in raising her first child. I was not an easy child to raise; our relationship wasn’t always smooth although, eventually, we did work through many of our conflicts toward the end of her 89 years with us. Yet, when she died, although I’d worked before and in years after to remove it, sadly one relentlessly immovable brick remained in the inner wall I had carried through the years.
Nevertheless, in the still-dark and mystical early morning of my birth day, I knew that my 74th birthday had opened with a profound gift of grace. At the end of the day I knew that grace had filled each moment of the day.

~~~

Today, as I write about those mysterious moments, I find the gratitude that filled and softened my heart yesterday morning remains. Then it occurs to me to search for that final stubborn, persistent brick that weighed me down for decades. Today, though, I discover with joy that I cannot find it; it has disappeared forever, I hope.

I am intensely humbled and at peace with the gracious gifts I received yesterday. My favorite word, shalom, slides into my thoughts, filling them with each of the rich, diverse affirmations it gives: peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, and tranquility. I wish each of you, dear reader, an abundance of these same gifts.

Mary Jo Doig, a Story Circle Network member for fifteen years, is an avid reader, writer, quilter, knitter, gardener, cook, editor, and blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite mountain view from her writing room window.

May 11 – Mother’s Day 1994

by Mary Jo Doig

mary jo cat

I trudge from the old farmhouse, my slender arms embracing a worn cardboard box as a light drizzle is misting my bifocals, causing me to look out at a blurred world. On this, my final trip down the hill, I reflect that when Don and I said our vows more than two decades ago, we didn’t know that until death do us part might also mean the death of the relationship.

When I reach the stone wall, I turn sideways and step slowly down the broad stone steps placed more than a century ago by Scotch settlers. As I slide the final box of necessities into my car, I’m startled by a loud imploring meow. There, near my feet stands Harriet, one of the barn cats, whose long hair has, over time, become a massive tangle of burrs and knots. You look like I feel, Harriet, I muse.

The question spills from my mouth before it even forms in my mind. “Do you want to come with me, Harriet?” I say, reaching down to gently scratch her head, She—never in a car in her life to the best of my knowledge—jumps in, meowing loudly.

“Okay,” I say as I slide in the driver’s seat and turn to look at her, “we’ll take this trip together.” As I drive, the car quickly fills with the pungent odor inside the sagging barn behind us. I glance at her wide, apprehensive lime-green eyes, knowing how much she will hate her first bath. Perhaps it’s best that she doesn’t know what lies ahead.

At my new apartment, in tepid water, she squirms desperately to escape. Afterward I carefully cut away walnut-sized fur knots. Moments later she vanishes into the apartment and I do not see her again for three days.

A few months later the vet confirms Harriet’s pregnancy. “Just one kitten,” he says, adding, “and that’s unusual.” I smile, noting her bald places are filling with new growth. Her coat is shinier. She’s more peaceful.

I think: Harriet, the courage you gathered to leave all that was familiar is beginning to show good results.

_____

 

Unexpectedly, the night before a painful Mother’s Day, I wake to find Harriet in the circle of my arm. Odd, I muse hazily, she always sleeps at my feet. Then I hear her breathing and suddenly, in awe, understand she’s in labor.

Wide awake now, I lay still in this darkest of nights, accepting Harriet’s clear invitation to share her miracle. When I hear a soft whimper, I know the new kitten has arrived.

Then I hear Harriet giving the newborn her first bath. With the lightest of touch, I stroke the kitten’s tiny forehead, desiring to communicate a wondrous, warm welcome to the world. I feel the kitten move and intense joy surges into my heart as I whisper, “All is well, Harriet.”

_____

 

I named Harriet’s kitten Hilary. Today she turns 20. Happy Birthday, my sweet Hilary!

In 2000 Mary Jo resigned from a former career in the Catskill Mountains and moved 500 miles to a tiny cabin in the woods of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where she knew virtually no one. There, re-inventing her life, she lived in solitude for two years and began writing the stories of her life, many that are woven into the memoir she’s currently working on.  

Hilary thought it was a very long ride to Virginia, but she enjoyed the trip once she was released from the cat carrier. She also absolutely loves spending her own retirement in Virginia’s warm and wonderful climate.

July 20 – A Beautiful Cornea

by Mary Jo Doig

The nurse places my IV, explains what will happen, and wraps me in two warm blankets. The anesthesiologist follows, telling me he’s giving me Rohypnol, the drug Michael Jackson used. I raise my eyebrows, “But I’m going to have a better outcome, right?”

He chuckles. “Yes, you are,” explaining, “you go under swiftly but you quickly become conscious again. I’ll use this when the doctor gives you an eye injection to numb it.”

“Okay,” I say.

He leaves, then Dr. O arrives, smiling, a blue cap covering her dark hair. “Good morning, how are you feeling this morning?”

“I’m fine and so ready for this,” I say happily.

She questions me about any illness symptoms that could prohibit our plan and finds none. I ask about the donated cornea. She smiles joyfully and says, “It’s a beautiful cornea.”

What moving words. Tears fill my eyes as I ask how I can thank the donor’s family. She replies, “I can give you the donor bank address, and you can send a letter that they’ll forward to the family, who may or may not contact you.”

“That’s what I’ll do,” I say.

She nods, and within minutes I am in the OR at the University of Virginia surrounded by a professional team.

Eight months ago I had routine cataract surgery that exacerbated my dormant corneal disease, Fuchs Dystrophy. My then-doctor counseled I might have complications. I did. Since then I had viewed my world through a cornea seemingly covered with waxed paper. It was my worst nightmare: I was visually impaired.

Weeks slipped by as I retired from my career, moved two counties away, and found new medical providers. Dr. O–Leslie Olsakovsky–is highly regarded in my state and, after we consulted, I felt deep confidence in her ability; also the intelligence and compassion she emanated.

Now, awake for nearly all the forty-minute surgery, I listen to her efficient interactions with her team. I ask an occasional question, articulating with difficulty due to anesthesia, and she answers. Sometimes I feel pressure and, sensing this, she asks the anesthesiologist for a slight increase. Soon she is done.

I recover for an hour and John takes me home, where I lay supine for 24 hours so the cornea will well-adhere. Lying on my back becomes a deep discipline and, frequently during that long vigil, I silently convey gratitude to my donor for our sacred bond.

The following morning, Dr. O looks into my eye and says, “It looks beautiful. You are doing very well and you can anticipate a dramatic change in your vision during the next twenty-four hours when the air bubble dissolves. ”

This morning, 50 hours post-surgery, I cover my left eye and look out at my world. For the first time in eight months the brilliant blue sky, the lush greens of trees and grass, the lemon yellow of my favorite day lilies–all are exquisitely clear.

Dearest donor, we see these miracles together now. You are forever part of me and I, you. Thank you. 

Mary Jo Doig is an avid reader, writer, editor, and aspiring blogger. She lives in a small, eclectic town in Albemarle County, Virginia where she has an exquisite view from her writing room window.

August 5 – Silent Gifts

by Mary Jo Doig

“Everybody’s forgotten about us down here,” the chunky young man said to me, his brown eyes sad. “I didn’t want to hurt my back working in the coal mines and wind up disabled with no insurance.” We sat in the dental triage tent at a Remote Area Medical mission in Wise, Virginia, one of the poorest parts of our state. For three days, more than 1700 volunteers gathered from all over to donate free medical, dental, and vision skills to thousands of uninsured men, women, and children.

For most of my time there, which started at 5:30 am on Friday and ended about noon on Sunday, I was a “runner,” charged with the compassionate handover of each patient from their current station to their next. My cherished friend John and I were taking dental triage patients to hygiene, fillings, or extraction stations, then passing them on to the next person for their care.

It was the brief walk I took with each patient that I remember most. I would ask their name and give them mine, shake their hand, and look into each pair of eyes. Most smiled as I said I was here for the first time, then asked if this was their first time. Some were returnees who come annually for this, the only possibility for their care; others were first-timers, like John and me.

“I’ve been blown away with what I’m seeing happen here,” I’d say, my
heart filled with emotion. Most responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes, it’s wonderful what people are doing for us here,” then look at me and say, “Thank you.”

Tears well as I remember saying softly, “Please know it’s an honor for me to be here.”

John and I didn’t know what to expect when we decided we would go. We just wanted to go. Now, in hindsight, we are still awed by certain memories, like the young, very pregnant mother of four, there to get her decayed-to-the-gumline teeth removed. She’d traveled here, then made an unexpected visit to the hospital when she thought her water had broken. Fortunately it hadn’t for, if she’d been admitted to the hospital, she would have needed to wait until next year for her much-needed care.

I remember so many faces and stories. Nor will I soon forget hearing RAMs founder, Stan Brock, tell us the night before the event opened that he hoped one day the people in our country would not need these services so he could take RAM to more third-world countries.

It will take time for me to emotionally process what happened last weekend. Yet what was so unexpected and welcomed, was the deepest sense of us all being one large group of humanity–those who gave and those who received–and how we each gave overt as well as silent, unspoken gifts to each other.

There was also the humbling reminder that how, in the flash of a moment in time or fate, we could all so easily change places.

Mary Jo Doig is a life-writer, editor, reader, gardener, knitter, and quilter whose day job is coordinating a volunteer dental program at the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic in Lexington, VA.