This Elton John ad. I can’t stop watching it. And I can’t stop crying. Wow! Happy Thanksgiving!
On Facebook and Instagram and even on Twitter, people are giving thanks and sharing their gratitude for supremely wonderful lives. Autumn sort of does that to people with its show-offy color–Gingko leaves like flecks of gold leaf under the bare trees while the perfect red and orange and yellow stars of the Sweet Gum create reverse shadows on the wet sidewalks. And then there’s Thanksgiving with all that gratitude built right into the word.
I sound a little snippy don’t I. Sometimes I’m a wee-bit jaded. I roll my eyes at pictures of Gratitude Jars (even though I have one) and gratitude worksheets and lists and pictures. Not because they’re bad, but because sometimes I’m all shriveled up inside like the Grinch, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong–in all honesty, I think it’s a good idea to take a time-out from the constant hustling of 21st century life, to breathe in nice and slowly, get quiet and take stock, to ask the question, “What am I thankful for?”
If we don’t, then how do we know?
Oh sure, some people are just good at gratitude. Born with a grateful-o-meter built in. Often, these folks are highly annoying when you first get to know them. After all, you want to bitch about the tasteless cookies, the long line at the store, the neighbor who hoards unicycles, lawn chairs, and tires in her falling down carport; after all, that’s a lot more fun.
That is until Ms. (or Mr.) Gratitude gets her grateful tentacles under your skin. You realize that she isn’t all Pollyanna Sunshine. That he’s not blowing magic smoke up your ass. And they’re thankful anyway.
You know who I’m talking about–the assholes who make you want to be a better person. I think Brené Brown refers to these folks as wholehearted people. I’m not talking about the sunny-side-up optimists, or the prosperity gospel converts who believe their financial well-being is a manifestation of God’s will and their adherence to positivity and right donations. Nor am I talking about the Secret people who’ll tell you if you believe in abundance, the universe will reward you with abundance. That really is annoying.
(No offense to the Secret people or to the prosperity gospel folks who are, I’m certain, as nice as everyone else. I just worry that your philosophies of abundance are really great for the person doing well. But for the man just diagnosed with cancer or the single mom working two jobs, the belief that your attitude or faith will keep you safe and attract abundance can be a real downer.)
I’m talking about the hope-filled. Those folks who do the right thing not to gain extra points with the entity that doles out reward, but because it’s good. I’m talking about the weirdos who see life as it truly is, all messy and muddy, bright and beautiful at the same time. Not because they haven’t seen hard times, but because hard times are part of the deal. And they accept life on life’s terms.
You know who you are!
And in honor of you, the magnificently and unabashedly thankful, I am going to tell my own gratitude/thankfulness story.
Every night, I stand before the mirror in my bathroom and wash my face. I have never figured out how not to get my sleeves wet when I do this, and this is aggravating, but for the most part, washing my face is just another activity I’ve been engaging in nightly for about 38 years (before then I was heavily invested in not washing my face).
However, the other night I noticed an especially soft and supple patch of skin just below my left eye–my favorite eye because it doesn’t droop a bit like old righty. I ran my soapy finger over the smoothness while wondering–why is this skin so honey-caramel-colored and soft? Where did this beautiful skin come from because it sure as shit does not match the rest of my face?
Then I remembered the gruesome injury I incurred when I drunkenly face-planted in my sister’s back yard the night before my daughter was scheduled to take her SAT. I resurfaced my cheek when I tripped, twirled, and arms swinging, slid face-long across the non-skid surface that surrounds my sister’s back yard pool. Micro-dermabrasion via too much red wine and concrete.
Oh, woe was me. My niece, Evie, reminded me, just last night, that the first thing I said was, “I’m hideous.” She’s kind of right. I’m sure it’s the first thing I said when I looked in the mirror my sister-in-law kindly offered. The first thing I really said to my brother-in-law who saw the entire beautiful ballet was, “I’m not getting up.”
My face, for a couple of weeks, was a weepy, scabby, bruised mess. You couldn’t look at me without gasping. I was embarrassed. I felt guilty because Audrey had a big test the next day and no kid likes it when her mother comes home all banged up reeking of wine (even if I was just at my sister’s house). And you know, it’s a small town.
But . . .
no one looked all judgey when I told the story. And more than a few people, shook their heads knowingly and told me a similar story of embarrassment and guilt. Everywhere I went, people were nice. Falling down and scraping the hell out of my face taught me something–falling down doesn’t have to be embarrassing. It’s just human. I’m human.
It was a big lesson, and one I keep learning although thankfully I haven’t fallen on my face in the past couple of years–at least not physically. And the new skin, the soft, smooth, beautiful scar that’s appeared over time; well, that’s a real benefit.
Every time I look in the mirror, that little patch of face reminds me to be thankful for life and its micro-dermabrative properties–a little scuffing up can be a good thing.
So thank you to my grateful friends who courageously remind us eye rollers that gratitude isn’t for sissies, it’s for the brave.
Two elections in the past 18 years didn’t break my heart into a million little pieces. In 2008 and 2012, we elected and re-elected Barack Obama for president. I can’t help but speculate, two years after we elected donald trump, that white people just got scared. But that sort of lets white people off the hook, doesn’t it. To just say we’re scared. We got scared that a black man was the face of the US.
And now, we’re scared of a group of brown-skinned men, women, and children who are fleeing unsafe conditions in Central America. I’m not going to pretend that I know very much about immigration. I am woefully ignorant of the difficulties migrant families face in their countries of origin or of what they will face when they make it to the US border.
Here’s the thing. While I don’t have all the knowledge I should have–it’s my fault I don’t–about immigration, I don’t watch FOX news. Ever. So I’m not afraid of the migrant families trying to make it to the US for asylum, for a better life, for protection, food, the alleviation of grinding poverty.
In fact, I want to help. I believe that is what we’re called to do. As citizens of the world and as citizens of the United States and as citizens of our states and as citizens of our communities. We’re human, for God’s sake.
I’ve got a LOVE MORE sign in my front yard. And you know what that means to me? That I love those people moving towards the United States. People who understand that our president doesn’t want them and, in fact, is sending troops to the border–and they’re still coming. Because, I suppose, they believe in our better angels. Our better angels, folks.
I live in a small, very Christian, very white community in Southern Illinois. That LOVE MORE sign in my front yard–I see it all over town, and I believe people mean it.
So what’s the problem?
It’s the resolution on tomorrow’s ballot here in Richland County. It’s the gun sanctuary resolution:
“Shall Richland County become a sanctuary county for law abiding gun owners to protect them from unconstitutional gun laws passed by the Illinois General Assembly?“
What it means is that if our general assembly passed laws prohibiting in any way our “god-given” gun rights, Richland County would welcome all persecuted gun owners in for safety and protection.
It doesn’t mean a damned thing. A resolution is a piece of paper. Being a gun sanctuary county is just a way of saying, “We Love Our Guns.”
I’m going to be blunt here, I think it’s dumb, but whatever.
I just think it’s ironic, that in Richland County people believe it’s important to protect gun owners while at the same time our president is going out of his way to do the opposite to a group of people who are in great need of sanctuary. Why the hell else would you travel on foot to the US border? N. E. E. D.
Breaks my heart and makes me mad.
You see, I want to believe in tomorrow–that people will vote. I want to believe in the so many people who’ve already voted. I want to believe that we can undo some of the horror (yes, horror) implicit in donald trump’s election.
But I’m worried. Because I never, for one minute, thought he would win. It didn’t occur to me that he could win. People were too decent.
I’m worried, friends. I’m worried about tomorrow. I’m worried that too many people of color, too many people without addresses, too many people working minimum wage jobs while trying to secure decent housing, too many people won’t vote–because we’ve made it too hard, because because we’ve made it impossible, because they don’t have the time or don’t believe it matters because it’s never made a difference in their lives.
I’m worried that the voting machines are rigged.
I’m worried that even if Democrats win, the government will step in and invalidate the elections.
I’m worried we won’t win enough seats to make a difference.
I’m worried that so many of the people I love are going to keep voting for lies and cruelty.
It’s been a long, hard journey with my eyes on LOVE MORE. Because that night in 2016 when I realized donald trump was going to be president–well, it destroyed, a little bit, my faith in people.
I’m working to build it back up.
I hope tomorrow helps.
It’s a beautiful fall day. The leaves are finally turning. Were you wondering, like I was, why the leaves were still green so late into October? I guess it has something to do with the hot dry autumn. But now they’re turning, and the bursts of red and yellow and orange in the tree tops make me glad.
I got to babysit for G this morning.
Housekeeping note: If you are a reader of this blog, you know that in the first couple of years, I gave my children and grandchildren pseudonyms, so as to protect their privacy, but I’m done with all that. Except for the grandchildren who will be referred to by first letter of their names. G is my fifteen-month old granddaughter. L is my three-year old grandson, and B is my 8 year-old granddaughter.
G and I watched Shrek; ate cheese sticks, raspberries, and bananas; and played peek-a-boo and tickletickletickle. Nothing like spending time with a sticky and giggling baby to help you forget for a minute that the US government is denying the brutal murder of an American citizen by the Saudis and that transgender people exist.
I’ve written a lot about hope on this blog. Mostly because it seems so ridiculous to have any, and yet we seem to have a bottomless capacity for hope. Like the sun and the array of colors across the tree tops, this capacity makes me glad. In spite of all the bullshit and the fact that we also have a seemingly bottomless capacity for cruelty.
Walking home from G’s house, I thought about this blog. I thought about missing two weeks, and how it was likely that I was going to miss this week too because I had nothing to write about, when it struck me. I had to begin again. Shit, I was always beginning again.
But the concept of having to begin again grated.
I didn’t have to begin again. I got to begin again.
I get to begin again.
I have a seemingly bottomless capacity for beginning again.
For now anyway . . .
A few years ago, my husband was visiting his parents in the assisted living apartment they shared. His mother, who had always been an avid cleaner, was sweeping in the small kitchen while Eric visited with his dad.
Eric said to her, “Mom, why don’t you come sit down with us.”
“I have to get done, Eric,” she said.
“I don’t know, Mom. What comes after done?” Eric said.
It was one of those moments that stick with you. Eric came home and told me the story. He was always trying to get done too. And he couldn’t get over the revelation that when you get done, you’re really done. Life isn’t about getting done.
It’s about beginning again, right.
Living is about beginning, again and again and again.
I’ve been meditating since January. I’ve tried my entire adult life to start a meditation practice, and just this past January it stuck. Who knows why.
I have a lot to learn, and meditation wants to teach me.
Meditation is about beginning again. It’s not about transcendence–at least not for me. I’m not transcending anything when I sit on the floor for fifteen minutes and try to follow my breath. Instead, I’m getting a nice fifteen or twenty minute lesson on beginning again. Every time my mind wanders, I get to bring it back to my breath.
Every time I put a load of laundry away, I get to begin again because there’s always dirty laundry around here.
Every time I sweep the floor, or make the beds, or mow the yard, I get to begin again because dogs keep shedding, and people keep sleeping, and grass keeps growing.
Every time I finish a blog, I get to begin again because Monday keeps showing up.
I won’t remember this. I never do.
I have a seemingly bottomless capacity for forgetting.
A couple of remarkable things happened last week. Yes, I’m talking about the heated, contested, and often disheartening confirmation battle concerning Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
A friend of mine suggested that hope is blooming in the midst of this clusterfuck. I wonder. I have to admit, that I felt very little hope on Thursday as I listened to white men explain that they believed “something had happened to Dr. Blasey Ford,” but that there wasn’t enough corroborating evidence to indict Brett Kavanaugh.
It certainly isn’t necessary for me to cover the variety of ways these statements laid bare the republican senators’ craven determination to confirm Kavanaugh. That an indictment isn’t necessary in a job interview is only one of the ways they sought to cloud the issue at hand which is simply this–he lied.
Last week, as the confirmation battle heated up, I began reading Rebecca Solnit’s new book, Call Them By Their True Names. Solnit writes, “Language can erase, distort, point in the wrong direction, throw out decoys and distractions. It can bury the bodies or uncover them.”
I like to read with a pencil in my hand because I can underline and circle and star words, sentences, or passages that strike me. This is one I circled, underlined, and starred.
Solnit’s assertion about language and the nefarious ways we use it drives a stake into the republican’s and Kavanugh’s attempt to not only side-step, but to confuse the issue.
Kavanuagh lied in a variety of large and small ways. That lying coupled with his outrageous and partisan opening statements and his utter disregard–no, his complete contempt–for the democrat senators on the committee disqualify him for a job of such magnitude.
So where’s that hope?
I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Because I want to find it.
Back in 2004, still smarting from the election that found George W. Bush continuing to occupy the White House (do you remember the scream that canned Howard Dean’s nomination–boy those were the days), I picked up Paul Rogat Loeb’s The Impossible Will Take a Little While. It’s a thick book of essays subtitled, A Citizen’s Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear.
The book includes a short excerpt from a longer work by Václav Havel. Havel’s words are where I found the definition of hope that rings most true. It’s the “hope” I cling to.
Hope . . . is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. The more unpropitious the situation in which we demonstrate hope, the deeper that hope is. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Each time I recopy these words, I’m buoyed by the idea that hope isn’t optimism. I want to remember that. And when I do, I can make out the hope my friend was speaking of.
Dr. Blasey Ford’s testimony epitomizes this sort of hope. She did the right thing, not because it would turn out well, but because it made sense–sense in her worldview of what is right and what is wrong.
Those women who confronted Jeff Flake. They gave their testimony in a public place because it was right that their voices be heard.
The women who blew up Chris Coons’s phone. They stood to gain nothing from sharing, but they shared because information is important.
That’s where I see hope.
Not so much in the necessary bi-partisan maneuverings of Flake and Coons. Sure, they did the right thing, but I’m tired of the optics–two white guys saving the day.
I don’t intend to downplay the importance of their actions. I’m grateful as hell. If nothing else, the FBI investigation offers a slight reprieve. But, and it’s a big but, there would have been no action without the concerted effort of women determined to be heard.
Not just Dr. Blasey Ford, although her testimony blew me the fuck away. But all the women who’ve been speaking truth to power. Their refusal to shut up is contagious. Their voices rise as I write.
May the cacophony continue!
Weird accounting aside, here I am Monday morning, ass in chair, writing. It’s wet, gray and autumn-ish except for a late-summer lingering mugginess. I’m looking out my window (yep, I am an old-school typist) at the fattest cardinal I have ever seen.
In fact, it doesn’t look like a cardinal at all–sort of pale colored with a bright gray beak and reddish tail feathers. In fact, I probably would have mis-identified if a spectacularly red parent weren’t a few branches above mirroring the small fat bird’s every move. It has to be a fledgling.
The back yard cardinals, hopping from one thin honeysuckle-entwined branch to another in the tangle of burning bushes along the fencerow, remind me on this news-addled Monday morning that there are indeed many things to be thankful for.
Sometimes I forget. Just a quick example:
When a woman comes forward with accusations of sexual assault against a man who is seeking a lifetime appointment on the highest court in our judicial system, accusations that will forever change the course of not only her life, but also the life of her family, and she is vilified and called a liar by the President of the United States, I forget to be thankful.
When I see a group of Republican women on TV discussing the allegations, and one of the women claims that all 17 year old boys act that way, I forget to be thankful.
Some days it takes a lot of reminding.
I’m going to be honest here, sometimes reminding myself that there’s a lot to be thankful for seems like a luxury, an indulgence I can’t afford. And then I read some Emily Dickinson–Find ecstasy in life–the mere sense of living is enough–and realize that being thankful is not a luxury at all. It’s a necessity.
So that’s where I’m headed this Monday morning in this winding and meandering–looking out the window at the still yellow honeysuckle blooming, and the still green grass growing, and one really fat cardinal, and tiny chipmunks, and a single green pepper plant that refuses to quit–essay.
The world outside the window, just what I can see from my desk, gives me plenty to be thankful for.
An Abecedarian, from where I sit,
Angles of grey light through branches of the white pine trees, and the Breeze ruffling leaves, and my iced Coffee with simple syrup and soy milk, and those tenacious Dandelions refusing to give up, and the squared off Edges of pallets from Sydni’s wedding now a Fence covered with trumpet vines, and the box Garden my dad crafted from treated lumber and filled with Humus and manure and topsoil, and the Honeysuckle I can’t help but love, and even the poison Ivy (well not the poison Ivy, but I need an I), and the Jangle of wind chimes my neighbor brought back from the Philippines, and Kindness and Love and Memory and Notepads with lists and reminders and wishes, and Oscillating fans for their whispery sound and wind, and Pencils and Pens and Paper and Prayers, and the Quizzical turn of a pug dog’s head.
Should I go on?
How about the Red crested feathers of the cardinal, or the air Swollen with cricket and cicada Song?
How about the Ta-wheee of the killdeer, the Usefulness of the garden hoe leaning against the pallet fence, the Whistle of the car wheels against the Wet pavement.
I’m skipping X and Z, but I will say that I’m grateful to, thankful for, and wildly in love with Yellow–Yellow leaves, Yellow mums, the Yellow beach shovel lying atop the dirt pile, and the old Yellow bee swing hanging on the chipped black swing frame we bought and never used.
Listen, I know it’s a bit contrived–this ABC thing–and still I love it. I love the shape it. I love the broad yet constrictive form. I love the exercise of fitting my thoughts into something already created. And doing this particular exercise–giving thanks–forces me to acknowledge how fucking small we and our problems are. The world is so big and so beautiful.
A couple of weeks ago I began my post with a quote from Emily Dickinson. This week, I am going to end with the one that got me started today.
Find ecstasy in life–the mere sense of living is joy enough.
Yes, I missed a week–two actually. However, this blog post will count for last week (in a slightly twisted form of blog post accounting I am allowed to use because it’s my blog) if I post this coming weekend too.
It’s slightly difficult to post a blog when you are experiencing fun-filled weekends away from home, unless you are more disciplined than I–and by that I mean disciplined.
That said–lots has happened in the past two weeks.
by train to Chicago and by car to Lexington.
I scarfed down:
a wide variety of sushi (plum sushi is the bomb), Brussel sprouts roasted in butter and brown sugar, wilted kale salad, a huge piece of pizza by a kick-ass fountain, sweet black grapes in a plastic cup by the sickly blue waters of the Chicago River, steak and eggs glazed with a light and earthy pesto, salty, crunchy stove popcorn in the kitchen of a tiny house with good friends, and a hummus/veggie wrap with an illicitly brought-aboard can of sparkling rosé on a evening train ride to Chicago.
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo. There will be more on this later. IT’s a call to action, and I believe we must take it if we truly want to live in a just society. READ IT and let’s have a conversation about it.
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. I have been listening to this book for the past several month. I’m not a big audio book person, so I listen mainly when I drive. If you are so inclined, I highly recommend listening as Noah is both funny and earnest. Noah’s story is illuminating and crazy and hopeful and so filled with love it hurts.
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. This book is hard to read. The evil acted upon the Osage in the 1920s is impossible to understand and terrifying to comprehend. This book and the history it relates will break your heart–it did mine.
Right now I’m reading John Hodgman’s Vacationland: Stories from Painful Beaches. You might remember Hodgman’s billionaire act from The Daily Show. I got the rec from Ann Handley’s newsletter–and I have to tell you, I love it. This book is exactly what I needed after the heavy and necessary reading above. Hodgman is funny–I’m laughing out loud while I read it, smart, questioning, and slyly subversive. Comedy at its best.
So to summarize: I haven’t written because I’ve been traveling, eating, and reading. I’ve also been knitting. I started this new thing that I’m calling #yearofrags. I started it the way I begin most things–with an overabundance of confidence and a plan to do way more than someone with my lack of discipline can accomplish. So what began as an intention to knit a dish rag or wash cloth sort of square a day, has morphed into more achievable plan to knit a dish rag or wash cloth sort of square as often as possible. As of this Monday, I’ve knitted 17 of these rags, and I plan to carry on this task for a year. We’ll see how I do. If you are interested in this endeavor, you can check it out on instagram. I’m bridgettmckinney there and the hashtag is #yearofrags.
One more thing–A cool thing that happened.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about Loving More and featuring the wonderful signs from the Love More group located in Whiteland, Indiana. And now the Love More signs are all over Olney. It’s pretty cool and the work of a great group called The Unity Project and some other neat folks. Anyway, if you have one, or if you see one, post it on my facebook page, or here under my blog.
And with that–I’m off to knit a rag and take a long walk.
“To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.”
Sometimes the answer to the question–the one you weren’t quite aware you were asking–comes in the mail. At least that’s what happened to me on Friday.
Let me backtrack a bit. I have this new plan to blog once a week. Well, it’s actually an old plan, renewed. But new or old the plan is to blog once a week.
N.O. M.A.T.T.E.R. W.H.A.T.
So I sat down Friday with little more than an idea in my head about continuing this business of trying to love more. In a grand mood, I was home from a haircut with Robbin. She’s magic, that one. I’m always a bit hipper and prettier when I leave her shop.
And yet, even in my I-look-pretty-awesome mood, I was grousing around because on my walk home I noticed and avoided a lot of
dog poop on the sidewalk.
Hold on dog lovers, it wasn’t like one dog shit on the sidewalks. It was more like every dog in town pooped on the sidewalk. And the truth, while I’m not a super complainy- type person, I am a rabid hater of dog poop on sidewalks.
I don’t understand why dogs can’t relieve themselves in the grass–isn’t it more pleasant there? Hell, I don’t even care if dog walkers neglect to retrieve their dog’s poop, bag it, and throw it away. As long as it’s in the grass, I can imagine it decomposing and making its way back into the soil. Go Nature!
I don’t; however, like to see the decomposing poop on the sidewalk. I don’t like to almost step in it or worse to step in it and have to scrape it from the treads in my tennis shoes. I hate having to train my eyes on the path instead of the sky which on Friday was full of huge white clouds quilted with thin streaks of blue. I don’t like to almost miss the doe and her two babies making their way through the ball park as if they were late for a game because I’m worried about stepping in a big pile of poop.
So when I began my blog post about loving more, it immediately devolved into a blog post/rant concerning the treachery of dog poop.
Enter Ms. Dickinson. Here’s how it goes most days–after writing for a minute or two, I get up. Writing for a minute or two affects me that way–I just gotta move–run a rag over the kitchen countertops, toss a load of towels into the washer, make sure I have enough salt or flour or milk for lunch, let the dogs out. You name it, if there’s a distraction, I’ll ferret that sucker out. On Friday, mail was the distraction of choice.
And in the mail–a letter from a friend. Handwritten on the envelope, this Emily Dickinson quote taken from a letter she wrote to T. W. Higginson in the 1870s. It was, perhaps, the truest thing I’d read all week.
To Live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else.
Yes, dog poop on the sidewalk is startling, but so are sky-quilted clouds and meandering deer and the way early morning sun glints off the million beads of dew on shaggy late summer grass.
It’s not hard to love more, is it, when you wake to the sound of your husband lifting a fallen nest of baby robins, and you open the curtains, just as he places the nest full of gape-mouthed babies in the hydrangea bush outside your window.
To love more is to allow yourself to be startled.
Wait, I think I can say that better. To love more is to say enough with the resistance–go ahead and startle me world! I may not be ready for it, but I sure as hell don’t want to miss it, any of it. It’s about acknowledging and accepting that uncertainty is the norm. It’s to remember, as Nina Riggs wrote beautifully in her memoir, The Bright Hour that:
living with a terminal disease is like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss. But that living without disease is also like walking on a tightrope over an insanely scary abyss, only with some fog or cloud cover obscuring the depths a bit more — sometimes the wind blowing it off a little, sometimes a nice dense cover.”
To be startled is to know we are always on that tightrope.
To accept that the whole damned enterprise of living is a tightrope.
We resist being startled to our peril, and goddess knows it’s hard not to resist it. How much news about passports taken away from Latino US citizens can you take? How often do you have to read that the Secretary of Education wants to protect the rights for those accused of sexual abuse on college campuses while reducing liability of colleges? How many times can you bear to hear the president say the press is the enemy of the people?
It’s startling. And when I get startled, sometimes I get scared. So resistance kicks in, doesn’t it. Who wants to be startled all the time?
Like Emily Dickinson contends–it’s hard to get anything else done.
And yet, I am calling on myself, and you too, if you’re interested, to resist shutting down. To go ahead and say to the whole damned world–keep startling me. Because I’m beginning to believe it–to live is so startling.
In my back yard, the honeysuckle is fierce. Every year, I pull some of it down, and still it comes back and it climbs and weaves and clings its way up through the lilac and the burning bushes. And the crepe myrtle is just now bursting fuchsia. Right now. Right outside the window!
It’s startling, isn’t it. The tenacity of the honeysuckle, the grand display of the crepe myrtle. It’s startling, isn’t it. The baby girl grandchild who calls you “Gigi” for the first time. The 19 year old who cries at the possibility of a cure for Type 1 Diabetes. Life is startling, people. Every fucking minute of it.
A friend of mine has a pre-schooler who asked her the other day, “Mom, do you think president trump will get peached?”
She answered, “I hope so buddy.”
A few minutes later her son asked again, perhaps with a bit more urgency, “I really hope president trump gets peached this week.”
I love this story for a couple of reasons:
One, it makes my heart glad that pre-schoolers see the necessity of impeaching our president.
And two–what if we just peached the fuckers? I mean, isn’t that the essence of loving more? Peaching those we disagree with?
I’d love to sew this up neatly. I’d love to make all the stories come together. That’s what a writer does, right?
Maybe so, maybe not.
Maybe right now our job (writers, parents, dog owners, politicians, bakers and artists and conductors and vets) is to accept that “to live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else”
and to act accordingly.
I smelled it.
Every time I got close to my daughter, Audrey, I smelled fingernail polish remover.
I smelled it for a week, on her breath and on her skin. I sniffed her for a week while she slept—and she was sleeping a lot—while she ate, while she watched TV. Every time she turned around, there I was with my nose in her hair, or trying to get a whiff of her breath.
I knew something was wrong.
There were other symptoms, sure. She was dropping baby fat which could be explained away by her age—14. Maybe she was hormonal. Maybe her body was changing. Maybe things were shifting as she grew taller. She ate strange things like Frosted Flakes and Snickers bars, and she started gluting soda and lots and lots and lots of water. She peed all the time.
Of course, I attributed the peeing to the water drinking and I attributed the water drinking to the weight loss—I thought it was a strategy, one I had used my entire life; drink more water in order to fill up, in order to eat less food.
It wasn’t a strategy.
The night before the diagnosis, the fingernail polish remover smell rippled around Audrey like a gas leak, and so I asked a others to smell Audrey’s breath and still no one smelled it. Normally the lack of accord would have consoled; however, it did not console because I COULD smell it; at this point, I could see it.
I didn’t sleep that night because I was busy shuffling into Audrey’s room to smell her. Did I really smell it? Each time I leaned in for another sniff, I answered the question. Yes, I still smell it. In the morning before I woke her, I smelled her again, and knew I would have to do something. I woke her, took her to school, and then googled this: “Breath that smells like fingernail polish remover.”
And there was Dr. Oz. Dr. Oz and diabetes.
Now most of the time, I’m okay with Oz. He’s familiar, a friend of Oprah’s a purveyor good health! But the doctor had bad news. He warned that the fingernail polish remover smell was ketones, and ketones might mean diabetes.
I called the pediatrician, related to the receptionist my Google sleuthing and that I suspected, but wasn’t sure, of course, that Audrey’s blood sugar might be high. “Could she have a glucose test,” I asked. She’d get back to me, she answered.
And then I took a walk. You see, there was a part of me that knew Audrey had diabetes and there was a part of me that refused to believe it. Disbelieving Bridgett went out for a nice walk and saw some things that seemed like omens–a couple of big crows, a sky smudged gray, and a tree full of starlings.
I walked for a bit, and soon my phone jangled and the receptionist encouraged me to retrieve Audrey from her 8th grade classroom and bring her in for a blood test.
I called ahead to the school.
Audrey sat pale and drawn in the school office. I explained that we were going to rule out diabetes. Or maybe I didn’t say diabetes at all. I was toying with the slight chance that I was a worrywart with a tumor that caused me to smell strange scents on other people. Can’t tumors cause you to smell strange scents?
At the clinic, a lab tech drew blood, and then Audrey and I went out for lunch before I dropped her off at school. Within ten minutes the doctor called.
“Audrey has diabetes,” he said.
“Her blood sugar is over 300,” he said.
“We will need to transfer her to Children’s hospital in St. Louis,” he said.
“Okay,” I answered.
That’s when he paused, “Bridgett,” he said, “go get Audrey right now, take her to the ER, so they can stabilize her for the ambulance ride to St. Louis.”
“Stabilize her.” he said.
I remained calm, but I repeated his words.
I said to my husband who was home for lunch. “Go get finished up at work while I pick Audrey up and take her to the hospital, so they can stabilize her.”
I called my parents, “I’m taking Audrey to the hospital. She has diabetes, and they need to stabilize her.”
I called the principal and told her, “Get Audrey out of class, I’m on my way to get her. We have to go to the hospital, so they can stabilize her.”
Stabilize her scared the shit out of me. Stabilize her is not something you want others to have to do to your daughter.
It took four hours to stabilize Audrey, and when they did, they rolled her into the back of an ambulance, and my husband and I got into our van and drove to St. Louis.
The nice people at children’s hospital told us we were lucky Audrey was diagnosed on a Friday because diabetes education was unavailable on Sundays. We’d have one extra day to learn about taking blood sugars and giving injections and dangerous lows and Diabetic Ketoacidosis. And when we left on Monday afternoon after finishing our education, we didn’t think we were lucky, we didn’t think we knew enough, and we were very worried all the time.
Five years later, that hasn’t changed.
You know, people, as far as I can tell, like a good illness narrative where the main characters learn big lessons about life, love, and living. I can’t say it doesn’t happen. In fact, I’m sure it does, but mostly diabetes stole Audrey’s childhood and robbed me of the handy delusion that I could keep her safe.
As delusions go—it was a hard one to lose.
Today it’s been five years. We’ll mark it the way we always do—with story-telling. I tell Audrey’s story because stories connect us. We tell them to make sense of what we do not understand—and even when understanding remains elusive, we keep trying.