The Call

These past few months, I have been preoccupied with my rehabbing; looking for little milestones on my path towards full functioning of my hand and shoulder.

I will listen to the news regularly, but very few bits of information penetrate my bubble. I consider that I’ve become numb to the circus that has become our national political scene and have never much hung on lifestyle trends, no matter which celebrity may be involved.

But last Tuesday morning, while making tea and watching the morning news, I caught video of a developing story; another weather related tragedy that was just beginning.

Wild fires were ablaze in northern California. Black smoke filled the streets. Beautiful trees along rolling hills seemed to have been turned into kindling. Thousands of homes were being destroyed.

I was upset about the suffering in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, but this uncontrollable act of nature hit me personally. My best friend lives in Sonoma.

Lin moved from Chicago about ten years ago. She sold her Bucktown home and joined her husband to live in wine country.

We have managed to see each other almost every year and have enjoyed many Friday afternoon Happy Hours telephonically. At the end of our respective workweeks, we have clinked glasses in the area of our receivers before venting about current events in our lives.

She has put so much into her house; reconfiguring the kitchen and entranceway, overseeing the rooftop installation of solar panels, converting a barn into a guesthouse, and landscaping. It was hard to think about it being threatened. Then, I was slammed with a heavier thought.

Oh my God, Was she okay?

Immediately, I texted a short note to her.

After not hearing back all day, I left a message on her home answering machine. Late at night, her husband called me to acknowledge receipt of my message.

He reported that the town was full of smoke, that they could look out their windows and see flames only two miles away, that the nearby town of Glen Ellen and various vineyards and tasting rooms I had visited with them were hit hard.

He relayed that Lin had left the previous day and was staying with friends in San Francisco and that he planned to join her the following day.

Last Wednesday, I abruptly ended another phone conversation when I saw her cell phone number flash on my caller I.D.

She explained that the devastation was incredible, that she was in touch with her boss and was advised not to even think about coming in to work. She explained that her husband was going to join her and stay a few days at Jennifer’s and that they were also in touch with his brother in Palo Alto.

The conversation was short. I don’t know if all her words registered in my brain, but I heard her VOICE. That meant everything.

For the rest of the week, I watched for more news on the region, but it was not personally geared for my concerns. She called me on Sunday night. She was home. The fires were still very close, but firefighters were doing a better job of containment.

She said that she was tired but glad to be home.

I realize how vulnerable we all are; to natural disasters or to psychologically challenged people with guns. Literally, her safety and the preservation of her home depended on which way the wind blew.

I have never had children and have never been one to require a call from friends or family after a visit to announce their return trip ended in safe arrival.

I’ve heard the expression, No news is good news, and I don’t like to indulge in worry, but I cannot explain how much I changed when I heard her voice. There’s something about hearing the actual voice of someone you love telling you that they are safe that spells relief and comfort like nothing else.

Getting a call from a loved one and hearing, in their voice, only that they are home safe is no small thing.

Autumn Bloom

For some reason, here in the Midwest, it feels like spring happens overnight. Regardless of what the calendar says, one day, the muddy gray, rainy landscape turns lush and green. Crocuses seem to bloom and leaves fill out branches seemingly overnight.

Like when Dorothy steps out of her Kansas cabin, newly landed over the rainbow, everything goes from black and white to Technicolor.

Fall announces itself slowly. The leaves on trees start turning colors. The temperature goes back and forth between hot and dry to cool. People debate whether it’s time to remove and store window air conditioners or wait a little longer. Fall creeps up over weeks.

That’s somehow fitting. After all, we mark births by an exact day and hour. Dying or going into hibernation is a process.

One day last week, while I was walking home from my physical therapy appointment, I saw a small collection of sunflowers in front of the Bateman Elementary School.

A few blooms were low to the ground but several came up over four feet. Sunflowers, I read, tend to open up mid-summer or in the fall. Somehow, they seem especially suited to fall.

Their golden color seems to go with the changing colors of leaves; the burnt orange and blazing red or crackling brown.

Generally, one bloom comes out per stem. For me, spring and summer seem like more social times. Activities, like picnics or concerts, are enjoyed in groups. Fall seems to be more of a solitary season. In October, I might put some thought into what movies I want to include in my Netflix queue or what foods I might want to stock in my cabinets or freezer.  I expect to be at home more — alone.

And of course, sunflowers actually turn to face the sun during daylight hours. This so captures the mood of fall. Knowing that the sun will be scarcer to see and feel on my face and arms for months, I want to drink in sunlight now as much as I can.

It’s funny to think of the season as having a special bloom, and maybe it’s just my tendency to want to see what’s unique or special about things, but I have an unusual fondness for sunflowers.

I don’t even think about cutting them or buying a bunch at a farmer’s market and bringing them home to put in a vase.

They’re at their best when they out in the wild, when they’re overgrown and a little unruly, when they crown a fibrous and thick stem in such fullness it’s automatic to think they could topple the plant over; when they share their space but are not too close to each other. Maybe part of their beauty is that each sunflower seems to be a solo act.

So, I had to snap a picture of this sunflower in front of the playground of the Bateman School. It was about my height (5’4”) and perfectly imperfect.

The head or bloom of a sunflower is actually composed of many flowers. I stared at the small yellow petals, ray flowers, that fanned around the dark mysterious center, a mega-cluster of disk flowers that clung to each other as they turned towards the brightest spot in the sky and sought warmth.

Standing in front of a flower, face-to-face, is no small thing.

Café Seating

Okay, this past weekend was hotter than Hades. Here in Chicago, we broke records for consecutive ninety-degree days this late in the year.

But last weekend – well, it was perfect.

The temperature, the infinite deepness of the blue sky, not having obligations that needed quick attention, feeling that, although perhaps months away from recovery, I am actually making progress on the use of my arm and hand after my July accident – all these things led me to decide I needed to take myself out for breakfast.

I didn’t just want to go anywhere. I was in no mood for a quick bagel or Starbucks fix of sugar and caffeine. I wanted to go somewhere where I could sit under a big umbrella and watch the neighborhood enjoy the perfection of the September day. I wanted café seating and eggs cooked differently than I make them at home.

I took myself to Glen’s Diner. The sign over the awning claimed the honor of being the best diner in the world. I don’t know about that, but sitting under one of their giant umbrellas near the Montrose Avenue el stop seemed to be just what I needed.

I somehow remember the first time I heard the expression, al fresco.

I thought it referred to a man named Al Fresco. I assumed he liked to go out to eat a lot because I always heard his name in conjunction with a restaurant.

When I traveled in Europe, I enjoyed spending time in outdoor cafes. Whether for a glass of wine, cup of coffee, or a full meal, the people watching, the buzz of being OUT — was as important as the menu.

In Portugal and Spain, in France — it seemed that people took public transportation more often, regardless of their station in life, and they took special pleasure in communal life.

People filled the pubic squares and plazas. Going to a café was not just for slamming down food. It was about having a place to view the world, to experience life happening around you.

When I chose a table, I situated myself so that the umbrella would block out the sun’s rays from their most direct path.

I took a few deep breaths and took note of the other patrons; a few young couples, the men in long khaki shorts and the girls in light summer dresses. There was a fit, older man at a table near the street, the Sunday paper spread out up to his coffee mug, which was refilled frequently. Everyone seemed to relish the simple pleasures of Sunday breakfast out.

As I reviewed the menu, I remembered a friend telling me once that he didn’t care for the place. I realized that review might have kept me from trying Glen’s years ago. I decided to reserve judgment until I had my own experience.

I had a meatless version of a benedict; poached eggs with fresh tomato and fresh spinach, under pale gold hollandaise over an English muffin. They threw in one of their signature potato pancakes. A nice breakfast plate.

I enjoyed seeing my waitress bustle about, running between the kitchen and the outdoor seating section. No one chose to sit inside with the weather so perfect. She seemed happy and acted so graciously. Wearing a Rosie-the-Riveter tied bandana, jeans and black tee decorated with Glen’s logo, she obviously liked to answer menu questions and be of service.

I found myself amused by the condiments that were arranged in the middle of the table. Fifties style glass salt and pepper shakers with metal tops sat next to a molded plastic tray holding individual Smucker’s jelly packs. There was ketchup and tobacco sauce.

A single red carnation stood upright in a small bud vase, matching the color of the geraniums in large planters along the black wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the café seating section.

Someone came by regularly to top off water glasses.

I recall feeling in no hurry to leave. I felt I had everything I needed.

What a strange realization — that I could be so content by so simple a situation.

Eating outdoors, when the weather is perfect, and seeing your contentment reflected in the faces of your own neighbors, is no small thing.

Pull Me Up

My life seems to revolve around rehabbing my shoulder and hand.

I visit my chiropractor’s office a few times a week for treatments and have been going for physical and occupational therapy a couple times a week also. Of course, I have a home regimen.

Since being sent home from the ER, I take time each day to bend at my hips and let my right arm dangle. Like a pendulum, first, I’d swing my arm in a circle going one direction, then the other. I’ll do 20 reps of various motions with my right arm dangling three times a day.

I also practice touching my thumb to my index, middle, ring and pinkie tips then make fists and practice extending, straightening out, my very stiff fingers.

I use props for some exercises. Recently, I bought a simple pulley from Athletico and had a friend hang it on the back of the door to my guest bedroom.

Sitting on a dining chair in front of the door, I’ll place each of my hands on crescent shaped handles at the ends of each pulley cord and draw my left hand downward to pull up my right, my “affected,” hand.

The exercise provides a good stretch. I feel in control. I can set the pace and the height that I lift my right hand. From day to day, I can see progress. I can see how much farther I can move my arm over the previous week. That’s really important to me.

As I’ve reflected on my journey, my path from injury to normal functioning, I’ll think about how easy it is to get discouraged, to worry about how long rehabbing will take. I’ll ask myself whether my bone and joints are aligned and on track for me to resume my lifestyle.

I worry about whether I am making the best decisions for treatment and recovery. I worry about how to minimize my out of pocket expenses.

I have been going out more and more, but I still don’t drive. It’s easy to sink into periods where I feel isolated.

Having this injury, at this time, considering my situation in life, I’ve become especially aware of how much I miss having regular contact with a mate or close friend.

I’ve contemplated how nice it would be to have someone know about my little accomplishments and disappointments. I recognize that I have done myself a disservice by assuming, as I often have, that no one would care about the little details of my life or how I feel.

I have been considering who, among my existing network of friends, could transition into a role of greater intimacy. And I think the universe is supporting me in this exploration.

One of my gal pals from my book group had hand surgery about a week after my injury. When we found out about each other’s wounds and recoveries, she’s reached out a lot with offers to help.

She’s acted as a great sounding board when I’ve wanted to think through a decision about treatments and has started to call me every other day to make sure I’m doing my exercises and keeping up with my home therapy regimen.

I appreciate the gentle accountability her calls have added to my life. More importantly, I like to know someone’s thinking about me and wondering how I am doing.

While I sit in my chair under the pulley and use the mechanism to lift my arm, I’ll think about being able to provide a good report when Deb W. calls. I’ll also think about the Talking Heads song from the seventies.

 

I was complaining, I was down in the dumps
I feel so strong now ’cause you pulled me up!
Pull me up up up up up up up up!
I slipped, and I got pulled
Pulled up, I tripped, and then you pulled,
You pulled me up…
 

 

Getting regular calls from your accountability buddy is great. Getting a call or text from someone, with no other purpose than to show you they’re thinking about you, is no small thing.