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Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Rear window view...sort of..."

I have read books (Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelanzy) and seen films (one of which is nearly plagiarized by the title of this post, my apologies Mr. Hitchcock) that address this theme. Imagine your world being reduced to mundane, intrusive, and irregular excursions supporting care that you cannot give yourself. Your world reduced to what others allow you to see. I don’t have to strain my brain very hard to imagine that as I have witnessed it daily for several weeks watching KaSandra (KK to her friends) deal with the confinement and confusion imposed upon someone with a serious illness like cancer. I try not to stare at her but I do, and sometimes she catches me looking at her. I’m certain that must annoy her to no end and it makes me feel guilty every time it happens. However, I can’t seem to help myself. I am curious about what she is thinking, and I wonder what I would be thinking in her place.

As I write this post, trying hard to be extra quiet and light fingered typing across the keyboard of my laptop; I am stealing glances of her going in and out of consciousness, trying to nap. The TV is tuned to the CARE station playing soft instrumentals and rolling peaceful pictures of panoramic views of nature mixed with close encounters with flora, fauna, and various critters, woodland, aquatic, and airborne. Her mother is in the chair beside her bed, peacefully grabbing a rare opportunity to rest. I listen to the soft sounds of their breathing mixed with the constant humming and ticking of the machines that nourish her, poison her, and monitor her. The sunlight shines in from the window and illuminates her face while casting a shadow across her pillow. She opens her eyes and catches me, again! I look down quickly and tick off a few more words before I steal another glance, she is sleeping, I think/hope.

The window has caught my eye and my attention. This window is her main outlet to what is happening in the world outside this room. The Jacaranda trees that fill most of the viewing space are beautiful in their green and purple splendor, and if you block out the cars in the parking lot, the red brick architecture of the building makes a nice border for the picture she sees each and every day. The random elements of this daily picture are the time of day, the weather, and the people that walk through it at any given moment. That can be fertile ground for an active imagination, and I believe that she certainly has one. I wonder what she conjures up in her mind as she watches the world pass in and out of her line of sight. It’s a little like Paul Simon’s vision described in his lyric to “Homeward Bound” where he and his traveling companion are people watching and “imagine the man in the gabardine suit is a spy.” Makes me wonder, where do you go when you dream? Answer, anywhere!

And so, inspired to wonder out loud, I am imagining myself in her place, in that little bed looking out the picture window. Why, there must be at least a bazillion stories walking by this window. How hard could it be to capture one or two? Next post, chapter one of “KK Undercover – The Cookie Caper”

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"you say its your birthday, its my birthday too, yeah"...john lennon the white album

Today, Sunday June 7th, was supposed to be a special day, a bright day of celebration. But the light went out of it before the sun even came up. Although special became tragic, at day’s end it turned out to be special after all, at least to did for me. Instead of giving a present today, I received a present, one that will last a lifetime and beyond. Certainly happy birthday plans turned into a day of vigilance and prayer. And yet, in the midst of an unfolding tragedy I experienced something unusual, something I’ve never experienced before, possibly a miracle?

Now, as a male I understand that I can never experience the joy of giving birth. I’ll miss the experience of actual labor, actual pain, very real terror, and the total elation of bringing a new life into the world. Truth be told, I’m not exactly all busted up about that. Those privileges belong to women alone. They are a woman’s cross to bear, her connection to God Almighty and His creation. These are facts of life pure and simple; facts that we’ve all grow up with. However, today I discovered a new fact. Apparently there is a similar birthing process associated with the end of life. The pain can be as great, perhaps even greater. The difference being that at this birth the pain is is felt by all, by everyone connected by varying degree to the life ebbing toward an uncertain future, a life at the crossroads that separates Heaven and Earth.

That pain brings grief so profound that you feel as if your heart is being ripped from your chest. That grief brings frustration so intense that words are meaningless, and you are reduced to primal screams or wailing to express yourself. That frustration brings an uncontrolable anger that threatens to consume you as it turns your heart to stone. That anger, mercifully, is soothed by faith through prayer, your prayers and those of others. And that mercy begets hope which softens your hard heart, and allows you to continue to continue. From one uncertain week to the next, one uncertain day to the next, one uncertain hour to the next, you continue to continue.

And so, here I am staring up at the window in this small room. The sun is beginning to rise. I notice that there are three vertical blinds missing on the end of the row. All of the other blinds are turned toward the wall, directing the sunlight away from the bedside. I don’t know what made me focus on such a trivial anomaly. Perhaps a need to be useful, to do something besides sit there and wonder what was to happen next. At first I feel compelled to find a way to cover the open space made by the missing blinds. I even stand up from my seat on the edge of the bed across the aisle. But before I take a step my eyes are drawn again to the missing blinds. I notice the light creeping across the floor, slowly making its way toward the bedside.

I sit back down and watch the trail of light inch closer and closer. My eyes alternate between the missing window blinds and the steady march of the sunbeam. Each time I look up at the window my mind focuses on the missing blinds, 1-2-3. The light is at the edge of the pillow now and she turns her head to meet it. Sightless and speechless it must be the warmth that attracts her attention I rationalize. I look back to the window, again at the blinds, 1-2-3, curious? The sun is up now, and her face is awash in the ray of sunshine that I’ve been tracking for twenty some minutes. There is an aura of intense concentration in the air, in direct conflict with the blank expression on her face. As I wonder about that I suddenly realize the significance of the three missing blinds, perfectly placed in the exact spot where the mornings first light would bathe her in healing sunshine, 1-2-3, three missing blinds, Father-Son-Holy Ghost. It was a prayer answered before it had even materialized in my mind. I believe that I was gently told in those moments to stand down, to be still, that this child whom I love dearly was in His hands now, and that whatever was to be would be right and good for her.

Garth Brooks, the country singer songwriter wrote that “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” I’ve wondered about that line many times in my life. It’s a good answer to hard “tell me why” questions, but truly I don’t believe it. I’ve also read that all prayers are answered, every one of them. And that it is our inclination to hear only what we want to hear that prevents us from understanding that. The older I get the more I’m convinced that there is power in prayer. And I don’t think that belief in God or membership in a religion is a prerequisite to being heard. If there is a God and I truly believe that there is, then God exists for all. And sooner or later everyone turns to Him consciously or unconsciously in a moment of quiet desperation hoping to be heard.

Today was a special day for me. Today my heart was opened to the true meaning of scripture, specifically 1st Corinthians 13:13, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Today I saw three missing blinds,
1-2-3. To my mind, they represented the Father-Son-Holy Spirit. They embodied scripture, faith-hope-love.

Today I witnessed the birth of an angel. No matter which path is chosen for her at the crossroads where she waits, she will be forever changed. Touched by the hand of God she is special beyond imagination and we are blessed to be near her.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Its a hard knock life

I love baseball, always have, always will. Having a catch (whoops, curse you Field of Dreams), I mean playing catch with my Da, brothers, and my friends are fond childhood memories. Hell, we still play catch off and on, only now we’ve included sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and a tomboy wife or two.

I remember sandlot games between neighborhood pick-up teams. I remember choosing sides by tossing a bat into the air, catching it before it hit the ground, and the opposing captains racing fist over fist to the end to determine who chose first. Of course then there was the elation of being chose first, the agony of being chose last, and the relief of being anywhere in between! Good times…

I always go back to those times whenever I’m stressed, angry, scared or confused. Baseball’s slow familiar pace comforts me. And I find peace in knowing that it rarely if ever changes. Peace and comfort, yeppers, that’s what I get from my sandlot memories of days gone by. I can’t count how many times I’ve gone there to ease the pain or pressures that life brings intermittently to us all. They say that life ebbs and flows, that it oscillates if you will, and it’s true enough. So what?

So, here I am again at my sandlot altar, calling upon these memories like old friends to help me cope with another of life’s curveballs (there is a baseball metaphor for EVERYTHING). In my last post I wrote a poem for a child, not my own, but one whom I’ve grown to love as my own. I wrote about the challenge that life has fated her with. It is perhaps life’s greatest challenge, survival. It is a big challenge for such a little girl and in the face of seemingly untenable and definitely unfair odds. Only by the grace of God have you and I avoided a similar fate.

When I was told of her illness of her challenge, I was shocked, scared, and then angry. It’s not hard to understand the compulsion toward anger and bitterness. But these are shallow reactions of one who insists on understanding the reasons for God’s will (for those of a faith) or the natural order of things (for those who are not). Admittedly I am one of the former, and succumbed to those base emotions, instantly demanding to know WHY! And I brought that bad attitude with me to hospital that first night, not sure if it would explode in a grief inspired tirade or remain dormant inside me, simmering into bitterness.

Imagine my surprise when in a nanosecond all of that was washed away as I sat by her bedside and looked at her face. It was the face of an angel. She lay there quietly breathing, doing her part to recover from surgery, mankind’s first pass at miracle working. Surrounded by doctors, nurses, social workers, machines, family, friends, and well wishers, she seemed to me to be the only person at peace in the room. Oblivious to the chaos around her she lay in quiet repose, beyond REM, in a place where only those on the brink are allowed to visit.

In that short period of time my attitude changed. It was as if someone had erased a blackboard. And, over the next few hours calmness washed over me and I felt my hard heart soften, the anger and bitterness turning to peaceful acceptance. I imagined that I heard voices and I wondered if someone were speaking to her. I strained to listen but the voices were faint and low. Whatever was being said was meant for her ears alone. I imagined that they were tender words, words of encouragement perhaps, but from where from who? Perhaps from loved ones passed, perhaps her father, perhaps God? Who’s to say, it mattered only to her.

The coming days brought good and not so good news. As she continued to recover, every new day brought a new challenge, a new hill to climb, each one a little steeper than the one before. ALL of them met with a strength that I had not seen in her before now. Terms that I would not have used to describe her, like stoic, determined, focused, and brave were now written all over her face, shielding her beyond her natural abilities. These were the characteristics of the baseball giants that I idolized in my youth, whom I still idolize to this day. These were the traits that defined my heroes. This child before me was walking along side them now, and I am in awe of her.

Today I am sweating over a hot BBQ, cooking up burgers and dogs for her tenth birthday party. I am watching her out of the corner of my eye holding court at a table surrounded by her friends and her family. She is happy and smiling as if she didn’t have a care in the world, as if none of what she is dealing with is worth tears or fears. She is living in the moment and she is an inspiration to me.

As I reminisce at the foot of my sandlot altar I am introducing my past to my new hero. Her name is Truc Han or KaSandra, and I ask you, all of you, to keep her in your prayers.

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