Shelter From the Storm

I have been making progress on rehabbing my arm and hand although recovery has been going slower than I hoped. I dislocated my right shoulder over six weeks ago.

I can now open flip top cans and turn handles on most water faucets. I can use my right hand well enough to log into my work computer (simultaneously pressing CONTROL-ALT-DELETE with one hand is pretty much impossible).

I still can’t change my bed linens myself, drive, or use cutlery.

Most improvements have happened after I started doing occupational and physical therapy. I decided to go twice a week for a while.

I walk about 1 mile to a nearby Athletico where Nancy B. sees me. Sometimes, the exercises I do make me feel like I’m in kindergarten (I will pound Silly Putty or attempt to hold a fistful of rice or marbles to retrain my grip). 

One day last week, shortly after I began to walk home after an appointment, it started raining. I was several blocks from the Athletico already but not even halfway home. At first, I thought it was just a summer rain and I could splash through it. Then I realized it would be a significant downpour.

I gazed down the street where I was walking and tried to identify trees or roofs overhanging porches, spots where I could stand for a few minutes and not feel the bullets of rain which were now increasing in size and intensity.

I saw a brown brick three-story building where the main doorway was nestled between two columns of apartments stacked on each side. It had only a small overhang, but it was out of the wind.

As the rain began to come down harder, I ran there, stepping up one short step and plastered my body as close to the door as possible.

I don’t know what compelled me to try, but I put my left hand around the knob and turned it. To my surprise, it wasn’t locked.

Conscious that I was intruding, but amazed at my good fortune, I stepped into the small square of hallway and got out of the rain.

I noticed discarded flyers for local pizza joints on the black and white tiled floor and looked at  the broken brass colored mailboxes on one wall. I think I smelled reefer coming from somewhere in the building. Definitely not an upscale residence.

I stared out the glass windows of the wooden door and watched the street and sidewalk quickly fill up with water. OMG, was I lucky!

I thought about Hurricane Harvey and the rain that had been falling on Houston without stop for days, with the expectation that more rainfall and flooding was still to come.

While trying to be extra quiet so as not to call attention to my presence, I almost cried. I thought about Texas flood victims and, since I was walking home from physical therapy, I thought about my injury.

I considered my good fortune, to find this dry spot for waiting the storm out, and I marveled at my own mind; how I was able to move between focused-thinking to a more wide-screen view of things, between reacting and planning.

When I fell in my kitchen six weeks ago, the first thing I did when I stood up was turn off the stove (which I was running to when I tripped). Then I reached for my cell phone and thought about who I could call. Which friends could drive me to the ER? Days and weeks later, I had to deal with my situation as long-term. This required a different way of thinking.

The day after my accident, I made arrangements for a neighbor to take care of my dog for a week. I created a small pool of friends who could drive me for treatments or to the store. I asked for help from people who could take out my garbage or help me shower. A few weeks later, I did research and made arrangements for physical therapy.

I know that my personal rehabbing will take a long time and understand that there’s no comparison to the loss and suffering experienced by flood refugees. Still, as I hear news reports on Harvey victims and as Floridians brace for Irma, I hope residents can take some comfort from the thoughts that filled my mind as I stared out the window of the mystery apartment building hallway I found myself in. I was reminded to:

  • Trust God; my subconscious and my intuition. I don’t know why I identified this building and turned the doorknob, but following these impulses kept me dry.
  • Feel connected and think of others. It’s easy to feel challenges and suffering are things that must be faced alone, but reaching out to others, with my needs or with my ability to help, made a difficult event a valuable part of my human experience.
  • Be patient. Be grateful for my good mind and its ability to react to what’s needed in the moment and to engage in long-term planning.

Being able to both navigate a long road to recovery and find immediate shelter from a storm is no small thing.

IT TAKES A COUNTY

ON SATURDAY NIGHT, JULY 15TH, I DIS-LOCATED MY RIGHT SHOULDER.

I’D LIKE TO SAY SOME HEROICS WERE INVOLVED, LIKE I HURLED MY BODY AGAINST A BUILDING IN ORDER TO SAVE A KITTEN FROM A CAR-JACKED, CRAZY, JOY-RIDING TEEN, BUT I ACTUALLY FELL IN MY KITCHEN.

I HAVE BEEN ASKED MANY TIMES, WHAT HAPPENED [I CAN’T TYPE A QUESTION MARK, OR EVEN STANDARD PARENTHESES AND CHANGING FROM UPPER TO LOWER CASE INVOLVES SO MUCH WORK, I HAVE CHOSEN TO FOREGO THE CONVENTION.]

I CAN ATTRIBUTE MY ACCIDENT TO MANY FACTORS THAT CONSPIRED TOGETHER AT 9;50 THAT EVENING. MY BALANCE IS NOT GOOD, TO BEGIN WITH. I HAD NOT PUT AWAY MY STEP LADDER FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE KITCHEN EVEN HOURS AFTER ITS LAST USE. I WAS RUNNING FROM MY OFFICE TO SHUT OFF A BURNER ON THE STOVE AFTER THE SMELL OF A SCORCHED POT REGISTERED IN MY BRAIN.

OH YES. I HAD GONE TO A WINE TASTING AT 4;00.

AFTER THE FALL, IN A MILD STATE OF SHOCK, I MANAGED TO GET UP AND TURN OFF THE LEFT FRONT BURNER. I WENT DOWN A FEW CARPETED HALLWAY STEPS TO SEE IF MY DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR WAS HOME, FORGETTING THAT SHE WAS AT WRIGLEY FIELD AT THE JIMMY BUFFET CONCERT. [OH, TO BE IN MARGARITAVILLE INSTEAD OF IN GREAT PAIN ON MY KITCHEN FLOOR.]

THEN, BEFORE THE SWELLING AND PAIN GOT SO BAD I COULDN’T THINK STRAIGHT, I SAT ON THE EDGE OF MY BED, CELL PHONE IN HAND, AND TRIED TO FIND A FRIEND WHO WOULD TAKE ME TO THE ER AT SWEDISH COVENANT, THE NEAREST HOSPITAL.

MY FRIEND VALERIE WAS HOME. A MASSAGE THERAPIST BY PROFESSION, NURTURING, GOOD-HUMORED AND PRACTCAL SHE WAS THE PERFECT PERSON FOR DRIVING MISS DEBBIE TO THE ER.

AFTER A LONG NIGHT IN THE ER; INCLUDING 2 SETS OF X-RAYS AND RE-SETTING MY ARM BONE IN THE JOINT IT WAS MEANT TO OCCUPY [AN EVENT THAT I WAS, THANKFULLY, UNCONSCIOUS FOR] AND COUNTLESS IBPROFEN, I FOUND MYSELF GRAPPLING WITH HOW I HAD TO LIVE DIFFERENTLY – AT LEAST, FOR A WHILE.

YES, I FELT EXTREMELY GRATEFUL FOR VALERIE’S QUICK RESPONSE TO MY CALL, GRATEFUL TO MY FRIEND PAT, WHO OFFERED SUCH GOOD ADVICE ON THE BEST COLD-PAKS TO BUY, AND WAS EVEN GRATEFUL TO MYSELF FOR NOT LOSING MY SENSE OF HUMOR AS I ENDURED A LOT OF PAIN. [IT WAS PRETTY FUNNY WHEN THE YOUNG MALE NURSE IN THE ER WAS FUMBLING UNDER MY TOP TO REMOVE THE ADHESIVE BACKED METAL MONITORS FROM MY CHEST AND BELLY, AND I TOLD HIM, ‘JUST LIKE WHEN YOU WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL ON A DATE.’]

ALL THIS WEEK, I’VE BEEN FEELING PRETTY HELPLESS. I’VE HAD TO ASK FOR A LOT OF HELP AND I’M NOT USED TO BEING IN THIS POSITION.

ALWAYS BIG ON NOTICING LITTLE THINGS, MY EYES HAVE BEEN OPENED TO THE MANY THINGS I MAY HAVE TAKEN FOR GRANTED JUST TO MANAGE EVERDAY ROUTINES. THESE THINGS ARE RIGHT IN MY FACE NOW THAT I AM DEPENDENT ON OTHERS.

MY DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR TOOK CARE OF MY DOG FOR THE WEEK FOLLOWING MY FALL. I’VE BEEN ABLE TO RE-DISTRIBUTE MOST OF MY PROJECT ASSIGNMENTS AMONG CO-WORKERS. MY FRIEND NICKI CAME OVER THIS PAST FRIDAY, BRINGING ME WONDERFUL HOMEMADE PULLED PORK, CHANGING MY BEDSHEETS AND CLEANING MY KITCHEN.

I’VE LINED UP SEVERAL DIFFERENT PEOPLE TO WALK MY DOG [WE WERE REUNITED 2 DAYS AGO]. INDIA TAKES WALKS THREE TIMES A DAY. I HAVE TAKEN A CAB ONCE, BUT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ARRANGE RIDES TO MY D.O. FOR THERAPY AND FOR GROCERY RUNS.

THANKS TO HILLARY, FOR RAISING A CHILD TOWARDS A HEALTHY, PRODCTIVE ADULTHOOD, WE HAVE THE EXPRESSION, ‘IT TAKES A VILLAGE.’ CONSIDERING HOW MANY PEOPLE GRACIOUSLY STEPPED FORWARD SO THAT I COULD SIMPLY HANDLE THE NEEDS OF MY DAILY LIFE, I MIGHT SAY, ‘IT TAKES A COUNTY.’

WE’RE NOT MEANT TO LIVE ALONE. WE ARE MEANT TO HELP EACH OTHER…AND MEANT TO RECEIVE HELP. WE’RE MEANT TO FEEL LOVED AS MUCH FOR OUR VULNERABILITIES AS WE MIGHT LONG TO FEEL ACKNOWLEDGED AND APPRECIATED FOR OUR TALENTS AND SERVICE.

I AM SO GRATEFUL TO SO MANY.

HAVING FRIENDS WHO WILL CUT YOUR VEGETABLES AND UNSCREW THE TOPS OF YOUR VITAMIN JARS IS NO SMALL THING.

 

Following the Footsteps

It’s Memorial Day, the unofficial beginning of summer. As a country, we take our folding lawn chairs and coolers out of storage and we gather at barbecues. Maybe we’ll mark the day by joining neighbors to line a street for a morning parade.

I know Memorial Day was created for us to consider sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, whose lives were lost in the service of our country. I have come to view the holiday in a broader context.

I want to take time to remember the lives of family members and strangers that have offered lessons to me or inspired me.

I don’t normally think of myself as sentimental and am not a history buff, but I can’t help but notice that my travels to all range of destinations have included a trip to a cemetery whose history is intertwined with the location.

During my trip to Buenos Aires a couple years ago, I walked between the elaborate tombs of Le Recoleta Cemetery to see the final resting spot of Eva Peron (her tomb is marked by her maiden name, Duarte).

After descending the narrow and steeply inclined streets of Monmartre, on a visit to Paris in 2012, I paid attention to the line winding around the entrance to Pere Lachaise, a cemetery whose inhabitants include Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde and Maria Callas, although it seemed that the biggest crowds gathered to spend a few moments at Jim Morrison’s grave.

A visit to New Orleans, a favorite destination, would be incomplete without a visit to the Lafayette Cemetery along Washington Street in the Garden District. During my 2015 trip to Memphis, besides Graceland and Stax Records, one of the places I made a point of stopping by was historic Elmwood cemetery.

A slow walk among the gravestones (when I was ten, I remember my sister referring to cemeteries as marble orchards), I felt as if I was walking through time. I looked at low gravestones and read the names out loud. There were Chinese names in two public lots, probably belonging to laborers who were brought over to pick cotton or to work on bridges or railroads or other big projects. Chinese families, in Memphis, I thought. Who knew?

Besides flagged markers over the graves of Confederate soldiers and the tall monuments of wealthy, high society families, I looked for the grave of the University of Alabama’s famed football coach, Bear Bryant, and the grave of Sun Ra who, in his own way, led a revolution in music.

Here, in Chicago, I might get a history lesson by visiting Graceland cemetery, where visionary industrialist Gorge Pullman is buried, supposedly in a lead-lined coffin and a steel vault to dissuade the left leaning population from desecrating his grave. Or, I could visit Waldheim (Forest Home) just west of the city, where laborers, martyrs of the Haymarket Riot, are buried.

In the Jewish side of Waldheim, it’s not uncommon to see small black and white photographs decorate the upper corner of granite gravestones. I remember looking at the pictures and considering the dates that bookended different life spans. I’d think about the immigrants who came here from Eastern Europe; children and parents, grandparents.

Many souls came here following a dream. Many lived long lives and others only a few years. Some faced special challenges and others just did their jobs. Some changed the world (or, at least their corner of it), and others just showed up.

This Memorial Day, I’m thinking about all of them. Not just soldiers.

I don’t think it’s SACRIFICE that leads me to check out cemeteries wherever I travel, although sacrifices were made. I’m touched by the COURAGE of individuals, expressed in the choices and actions that defined their lives.

It takes courage to fight in a war. It takes courage to raise a family. It takes courage to leave home and start over in a new town or a new country. It takes courage to be an artist. It takes courage to be a complete human being, to navigate between personal interests and supporting the family and community, which may support you.

Remembering, with love and respect, the courage of those who have walked on this earth before you, is no small thing.

 

The Third Bottle

I hosted book group this past Thursday.

Every 6 weeks or so, a group of my girlfriends get together to discuss a novel. Whoever picks out our book hosts the gathering and provides something to eat and yes, there’s wine (We’re girlfriends, aren’t we?).

The book I chose was a novel about a young woman with anorexia -– told from her lover’s point of view.

I made a hearty meal of daube Provencal (beef stew with, yes, more wine), a pear-gorgonzola salad, mini pastries, and freshly baked crescent rolls. Perversity rules! I wanted to enjoy simple pleasures that our book’s heroine wouldn’t allow herself.

Our group consists of four women. Occasionally, a guest will show up. Core members will often invite friends who appreciate reading and de-constructing but are reluctant to commit to showing up for every meeting.

I asked our friend, Shari, to join us. Member of another book discussion group some of us were in over 20 years ago, she had to drop out when family, moving to Munster, Indiana (40 miles away), and grad school came to demand more of her time.

Via brief emails, she warned me that she would be coming late, as she was teaching a class, but was looking forward to coming.

I opened up our first bottle of red to pour a cup into the Le Creuset enamel pot that was magically transforming cubes of everyday chuck into something special. It was a large bottle and lasted through dinner and our initial comments about the novel.

At about 7:30, when we were raising our voices about choices the author made, little things we liked about minor characters, when we thought elements were introduced in a sort of contrived way, Shari arrived. We quickly got her caught up.

A bowl of stew was filled for her, a glass of wine was poured, and everybody contributed a sentence to convey an idea that was already aired.

Shari quickly jumped in, throwing in her own comments about teaching foreign students (an experience she shared with the narrator), body image, and relationships.

We took turns, following trails of colored Post-It Notes, reading marked passages out loud.

We opened up our second bottle. In between remarks on control, intimacy, grief, illness, differences between sexes, and narrative voice, Shari declared how much she missed this kind of process and camaraderie.

When the formal discussion was over, we discussed who would host the next gathering and my lady friends started to leave.

Shari pulled out her cell phone and texted her boyfriend to come and pick her up; to leave the bar where he was killing time and actually come to my home. He picked her up from the class she was teaching and drove her to my door.

On his way over, the third bottle was opened. Shari and I talked about her children, about her teaching career, about the death of her husband four years ago, and about her new boyfriend. She confided that some of her old friends were not comfortable with him, or not comfortable with the idea of her having a new partner.

We talked about some of her challenges; going to school, raising teenagers on a modest income as a single parent, how she began seeing partnership potential with the man who would join us shortly.

We talked about some of my issues with sleep and balance, my impulse to write and my need to generate income another way.

I hadn’t talked with her in so long and, more than getting updated, it was great to be in such a non-judgmental presence.

Always uncommon, I remember her circus themed wedding that included jugglers and elephant rides, which took place in the parking lot of a forest preserve. She never worried about what others might see as odd or a contradiction.

Established as a Christian artist, she always displayed very liberal attitudes about exercising personal freedom. I would not normally see these things as going together, but they were very natural and honest expressions for her. She made no apologies about either.

A few minutes earlier, as our book discussion was drawing to a close, she reached into her purse and pulled out a salami from Hickory Farms to give to me. Not requiring refrigeration, it was in a layer of heavy-duty plastic skin, making it easy to pull off a grocery store shelf.

When it was presented to me, she laughed. We both laughed. I knew she wouldn’t be hurt if I didn’t want the cased sausage, but I understood her impulse never to go anywhere empty-handed.

After her boyfriend joined us, while we talked about hockey, her parents, and their upcoming vacation, she decided to gift me with tiny vials of essential oils, which made the trip from Indiana in her purse as well, probably next to salami. She had recently become a fan, using them for relaxation and mental clarity.

Generosity, transparency, self-acceptance, curiosity and resourcefulness, a great tenacity for solving problems tempered by respect for the mysterious, for the unknowable – Shari embodies all these things.

I think she provides a mirror for me. I can see some things in her that I can see in myself, and I can see some aspects of her character that I would like to shine through me more.

Getting to the third bottle (even if no wine is consumed), a place of complete honesty and vulnerability, is no small thing.