Monthly Archiv: October, 2015
I had some time this week to visit with a friend of mine. She’s quite a bit older than me (double my age or so) and we’ve known each other a long time. Some of the stories we tell each other we’ve told before but we don’t let that bother us. Sometimes, despite the hours and years of talking, we run into stories we’d not thought to tell. I knew she’d had cancer and a breast removed a few years ago. I knew she’d had her appendix removed in emergency surgery at age 86. But until this week, I’d never heard this story.
My friend was on a gurney, prepped for the surgery to have her appendix removed. She was waiting in a hallway with the anesthesiologist beside her. What they were waiting for she wasn’t sure, but there they were when a woman a few doors away came storming into the hallway. The woman was in her sixties and completely naked from the waist up. My friend says there were white round pieces taped around her chest from whatever monitors she was being hooked up to. She was angry and loud, with ample breasts swinging. The hospital staff wasted no time in escorting her uncovered self back to her room.
With the hallway quiet again, the anesthesiologist leaned down to my friend. “Should we worry that you’ll put on a show like that?” he asked softly.
My friend, one of the few senior citizens in the ER with appendicitis that year, says she doesn’t know what came over her. “I couldn’t put on a show like that,” she saidback, “I’ve only got one.”
Anesthesiologist lost the ability to speak. When nurses asked him what had happened, he could only point to my friend. He was laughing too hard to answer.
We live in a very risk adverse culture. Safe schools, safe fun, safe kids, safe world. Because if we are careful enough, no one will get hurt. Ever. We make allowances for risk only under the category: calculated risk.
But safety isn’t enough. We need love. And love is the fly in the ointment. Because love is a calculated risk only if you calculate that all your expectations are guesses unobligated to attach themselves to a single one of your calculations.
I organized a work day recently, which among other things involved some crews with trucks going around to pick up donated furniture and household items. I came home exhausted to messages of further donations, which I declined. The little old lady after church was a different story. My message that no further donations were needed was not welcome news. I felt the same about her insistence that I come retrieve a fiftieth set of dishes for our cause. I countered. She countered. Her dishes will probably be passed on to some other charity, but not before they land in my car. I went home feeling the impossibility of defending myself from old ladies who had set their minds to something.
That afternoon I dreamed of great lengths of silence. Perhaps the sound of wind or birds. Instead I heard the sound of children fighting. About the phone book of all things. One had the idea to count the number of Smiths. This set off the counting of several different names, disagreements about accurate tallies, and believe it or not, pushing and pulling over whose turn it was to hold the phone book.
I wasn’t at home tired from doing the wrong thing. I was at home tired from trying to do the right thing. But when you want to swear even at the memory of the wrinkled lady in the jaunty hat, it doesn’t feel that nice inside yourself. Love. Messy. Overwhelming. Uncalculated.
I feel incapable, inadequate, unequal to the tasks I see before me. I feel, I said to a friend, like Moses with a stutter being asked to speak. Like I’m sitting in a hall of dreams I believe in, not sure if I even know how to stand up.
Maybe it was Moses who had a word with me after that. At least a fuller version of his story came to me. Moses didn’t feel adequate for the task ahead. But it was his arm asked to hold the stick that parted the Red Sea. Adequacy is not a prerequisite for giving what we have. Love asks us, the inadequate (and we who are risk adverse) to gamble on the chance that what we have to offer can be used. To pay the cost without knowing if our gifts will be accepted. To trust in our smallest moments. In our caught by surprise, brimming over with fear and tears moments. To believe, in the midst of messy, overwhelming and unexpected, that love is big enough for all of it.
Me sharing my insights with interested parties.
I’ve been paying attention to Canada. The impending arrival of friends from a different culture has me looking for easy ways to break down societal basics. Last week at the gas station, I stumbled on to something.
Beautiful day, isn’t it? said the man at the cash.
Lovely, I said. And it’s been the nicest fall.
Hasn’t it? he said. He looked at his monitor and waited. The gas is still pumping, he apologized, You can’t pay yet.
That’s okay, I said. I just came in to stay warm while my husband pumps. No sense in two of us being cold out there.
Yeah, said the man. It’s just miserable out there today, isn’t it?
Dear friends from afar,
Canadians aren’t cold: they’re reserved. Except when they really are cold. Then you’ll find them quite warm. We bond here in bad weather. If you’re lucky your first winter, you’ll be to be trapped somewhere with a bunch of cold people. By the time you get out, you’ll be best friends with everybody.
Weather is the gold standard of Canadian verbal exchange. It works with hello, goodbye, nice to meet you, and hope I never see you again. Discussion of windchill, the chance of precipitation, and road conditions are appropriate when making friends, looking for a job, asking for directions, buying a hot dog, or offering condolences on the death of a loved one.
Think of conversations about weather as a kind of social interaction Band-Aid. The temperature on your porch when you got up at 3 in the morning can tidy up an awkward moment with ease.
You don’t have to speak coherently about the intermingling of warm and cold fronts. The points that matter are:
1. It’s cold. (Even if it’s not, just say it is. Being cold is part of what makes us superior to the country south of us. It doesn’t matter that they have areas typically colder than southern Ontario. #Americans have the film and music industries: we own the weather.)
2. It’s hot. (You only get to say this for one or two months so practice more on the part about cold.)
3. It’s snowing.
The most important thing to understand about weather is that it’s personal. Frost might have killed one person’s plants and only dusted another’s. People might know it was windy, but they don’t know how many branches fell on your yard. Snow banks are best measured in relatives. Your kindergarten son’s waist or your Aunt Myrtle’s head.
Whatever else they teach you in your ESL class (English as a second language), make sure they tell you what you need to know to talk about weather. When you first get here, people might try to tell you how long the winter is going to be, or how bad it was last year. People especially like to talk about the worst winter disasters they’ve lived through. If that happens, they’re not trying to scare you. What they’re trying to say is, welcome to Canada; you’re one of us now.
We’re a little more than halfway through this year’s birthday season. I’m limping a bit on the enthusiastic party zeal, but working hard to fake it. No one knows how many times I’ve fondly rememberd the conversation where Boy one said he didn’t want a birthday party this year. No one knows I shed tears wanting him immediately crowned my favourite child when I recall it.
I find strange comforts in the midst of afflictions. Girl two’s birthday party (not to be confused with her family birthday dinner – the math on this is 4 kids x 2 celebrations minus one party thanks to current favourite child = 7 events in just over two months) was an example of this. I didn’t use to serve lunch at parties but it’s a good time killer while you’re looking at your watch to see how many more minutes until the party your child looks forward to all year is over.
I went to buy hot dogs for the party, only to broadsided at the store by my North American-waste-panic, concurrent with my panic about nutrition vs. people eating what feels like fun to them. Illogically, I could deal with the hot dogs themselves, but the thought of white buns instead of whole wheat sent me over the edge. In went the whole wheat buns to my cart. A minute later I was back exchanging them for white. I got them in, then I took them out. After much deliberation, I resolved to buy precisely one package of 8 white buns, come back another day when I was stronger to finish the shopping, and make this the last time I ever bought them. Driving away I pictured future birthday parties and the possibility of blindfolding picky visitors until they had finished eating their proper brown buns.
Of course, I never made it back to the store. The party began. There were 6 children in attendance. Celebrations are about extravagance. I decide to gamble on eight hot dog buns anyway. Some people take chances on cards, some people take chances they can outmaneuver seven year olds. We all have our vices. I sweat, but I do not panic. There’s actually a strange kind of pleasure in the challenge.
I put some fries in the oven. I prepared the hot dogs and cut each one in half. I made a mountain of carrot sticks and apple slices. Each child got a plate with half a hot dog, some fries, and their choice of fruit or veggie. I poured milk and I served slowly. Everyone who asked for seconds was served. Eventually, I brought around seconds until everyone refused more and gave the leftovers to a stray sibling.
The white bread guilt is gone. Party weariness disappeared that day. I served 6 children as much as they wanted with a mere 8 hot dog buns, none of whose pasty whiteness remained on my counter. And yes, there’s a bit of an afterglow just remembering it again.
I liked everything about this video except the title. (I doubt this video will change our lives.) However, like the seemingly small kindnesses it documents, the video reminded me something. There is a mysterious beauty to the sum total of our tiny offerings of friendship and care for our fellow humans. We don’t always see it, but it’s there. Little acts of love matter.
image found at emaze.com
I go into the woods as myself. Grateful, uncertain, and whatever else I am that day. I am adept and used to ignoring questions from people who don’t want to know the answer anyway. But given a chance, the trees whisper strange things. I’m never quite ready. Always a little caught off guard by their boldness.
Why are you afraid to rest? Trees have a documented habit of never going anywhere. It’s hard to pretend they don’t have time to wait while I think their questions over.
Why are you afraid to need something? Why are people so afraid to not be okay? Their communication system is nothing if not sophisticated. When I don’t stop to consider and walk on ignoring them, their thirtieth cousin fourteen times removed takes up the conversation. An oak tree on the edge of a field asks me why I feel embarrassed at the idea of taking care of myself. I roll my eyes irritated with the stupidity of trees. I do not allow my steps to betray an interest in the question through slight pause or increased pace.
Three hundred yards later, a white pine asks why I think weakness is shameful. And what’s so noble about strength? asks the next tree beside it. A snot nosed little punk of a half dead wanna be excuse for a tree tries to tease out the subtle lines between strength and pretending.
A solemn clearly a woman tree, says something I’ve heard before. Not with emotion, but like a well known fact: true and bound to stay that way. My strength is made perfect in weakness. I hear it like a whisper on the wind but I don’t know what to do with it. It’s not one of the facts I completely understand. Every time the leaves rustle she says it again. If I’d been asked to play with the words a bit before they went to the publisher, I would have suggested some changes. Strength doesn’t mind weakness? Something like that, but it’s a little late now.
I don’t answer the trees that day. I go on a hike for Thanksgiving and take pictures. Afterwards I look at them. Broken trees, dead trees, falling down trees, crooked trees, mixed up together trees. I can’t find one that doesn’t seem beautiful. Or any that I wished hadn’t been there. Not a single one I thought should have looked like something other than what it was that day.
And there are supposed to be two or three more pictures here but for reasons unknown to me the program refused to allow this last night or this morning. Please thou therefore use thy imagination to flesh out the particulars and I’ll comfort myself with the fact that imagination trumps electronic representations of reality.
Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you all. We’re spending the time here together, working, playing, and hopefully hiking. Might have to write myself a grateful list and tack it on the wall for good measure.
This is either a painting called, “The Goldfish bowl,” by Walter Frederick Osborne (1900), or it is a picture of my guardian angels trying to decide what to do with me.
Meetings held at city hall in a board room are new to me. The first week I asked the clerk for directions to the board room. She went into a flutter about me getting buzzed in and how the security system would work since the meeting would end after hours. Yawn. In the midst of her nattering I managed to secure directions to the board room. Another yawn for uptight people.
For meeting number two, I knew my way and could gratefully avoid Ms. Nervous Nellie. What I couldn’t avoid was the time ticking by on my watch. I needed to leave in time to arrive home 20 minutes ahead of the two guests I’d invited for dinner. The meeting dragged unnecessarily, I thought. Finally, I decided that the agenda pertaining to me was covered. I waved a polite goodbye and slipped out later than hoped.
Down the stairs I trotted, past the closed offices of all the clerks, nervous Nellie included, down some more stairs, across more hallway, and into the foyer. I congratulated myself on my successful escape as I pushed at the door separating me from fresh air. The metal in the door made clicking sounds at me, but the door did not move. I tried again because obviously it was the door’s job to open when I pushed it. The chance to push it was in fact the entire reasons I was standing there.
When that didn’t work, I pushed the wheelchair button so electronics could take over and open the door for me. The door rattled more loudly but moved not. Frustrated, I turned to go back from whence I’d come but the door behind me was locked as well.
So there I was. In a glass foyer with locked doors on all four sides. Panic one was the dinner. Guests would be arriving at a home tornadoed by my family and without anyone in it. After ten minutes, panic two became the possibility that the people from my meeting might know a way out of the building that did not involve passing by my new glass cage.
Anytime the building creaked, I looked and banged something in case an errant clerk was working overtime. Otherwise I kept my eye on the frustratingly deserted sidewalk and shook my head that none of Nervous Nellie’s bosses had listened to her when she said there would be a problem with the security system if the meeting went after hours. I wrote a list of people’s names from the meeting to hold up to the glass. I didn’t know their cell numbers but maybe someone walking by would.
I watched glumly as 3 or 4 people finally came by. Why aren’t you trying to get their attention? I asked myself. Because they don’t look like they own a cell phone, I replied. I’m not sure by what algorithm I, who does not own a cell phone, was crossing off matches for potential rescuer. At last a woman sure to own a phone saw me and approached the door.
Are you closed? she wanted to know.
Yes, I yelled back through the glass. Everything is closed. I’m actually locked in here. Do you have a cell phone?
No, she said.
That’s okay, I yelled back smiling. Someone will come.
I must have been convincing. She nodded and left.
Twenty minutes later, the meeting I’d left in a hurry disbanded. I was found, blood pressure high and late for dinner. I arrived home just before my guests and did what you can do to undo a tornado in 90 seconds. In other words, not much. They were gracious, stayed in the kitchen, and never asked to use the bathroom. I kept my face responding appropriately to questions raised, while mightily distracted by meditations on fish bowls, glass cages, and how especially strange it is to be trapped where you can clearly see everything you want to get to.
The best representation I could find of the family this week . . .
I don’t know how someone thought to put the music in this second piece with the Peter Paul Rubens picture, but I’m glad they did. To me it captures the juxtaposition between the hundreds of dances we do and our profound longing for deeper meaning and reality. We engage in the here and now, and yet we sense something beyond us that is bigger and more beautiful. We reach for one another, twist and turn. Meanwhile in all the jostling, the shape of divine love walks among us whispering an invitation.
This last offering was a recommendation from my oldest who says it’s the beautiful piece out there.