I Smelled It

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Book Hangover–Kelly Corrigan’s TELL ME MORE

Whenever I finish a good book, I often feel out of sorts, a little heavy, worn out, peckish, hungover.  I never feel this way when I’ve finished a bad book although to be honest, I rarely finish a bad book these days. My attention span for bad writing is markedly small. It is interesting though, isn’t it. Why would a good book unsettle me?

I suspect it’s a sweet little concoction–a dollop of joy, a swirl of connection, and a healthy dose of fear that I will never myself write something so tender, honest, and moving.

Last weekend, I read the final pages of Kelly Corrigan‘s brave, giant-hearted, open exploration of what matters in a life, Tell Me More.

Gobsmacked. Agape. Enchanted.

Enchanted while reading and still when I shut the book Sunday afternoon. Agape a day later, when I started copying quotes into my quote journal. Gobsmacked. Yes Gobsmacked from the time I dove into Tell Me More until the moment I swam out, a little out of breath, a little disheveled, a little in love.

That’s how a good book works.

***

The impulse at the heart of Tell Me More’s 12 chapters is, I believe, a reckoning with love. I say reckoning because it is impossible to love deeply and to be deeply grateful for and invested in that love without also being deeply and wholly vulnerable to devastation and joy, hope and fear, grace and grief.

If we want to love and be loved we must reckon with imperfection–in ourselves, in those we love, in our families, in our relationships with others, in the whole damned world, damnit.

Brené Brown calls this being wholehearted and defines wholeheartedness as : The capacity to engage in our lives with authenticity, cultivate courage and compassion, and embrace — not in that self-helpy, motivational-seminar way, but really, deeply, profoundly embrace — the imperfections of who we really are.

Tell Me More is a book about wholehearted living. Corrigan embraces these truths–

I just showed my ass, and (not but) you still love me;

You died, and it hurts like hell, and (not but) I wouldn’t give up one measly minute of loving you;

Dogs eat shit from toilets and back yards, and (not but) still we hold them in our laps;

Life is short, and life is short, and life is short.

Tell Me More is a road map of sorts. Both an examination of and an assertion about what matters–and the answer is love. And if love is what matters, then the 12 hardest things Kelly Corrigan is learning to say are a guide to cultivating, celebrating, and accepting love exactly as it is and where it is offered.

***

28 years ago, I married my husband with very little knowledge of what marriage and parenting would require of us. I grew up in a loving household, and because my parents were skilled practitioners, I didn’t know how hard love could be. I’m still learning.

In the first chapter of Tell Me More, Corrigan writes about teenagers fighting, and beautiful clothes not fitting, and heads aching, and lives ending–loss. She asks, “Shouldn’t loss change a person, for the better, forever?”

Who knows? Right? What we do know is that loss doesn’t sting without love. As my good friend, Lia, would say, “It is what it is.”

Kelly Corrigan writes, “It’s like this,” when she writes about love and loss …

“It’s like this . . . This forgetting, this slide into smallness, this irritability and shame, this disorienting grief: It’s like this. Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.”

This one, I’m going to remember.

 

 

 

Why Walk–an Alphabet

I just returned home from an hour-long walk with my newly-retired husband, Eric. It’s a beautiful winter day–cold but sunshiney with little dark-eyed juncos hopping about beneath the bare-branched bushes and brambles.

Yes, I said newly-retired. My husband and I are navigating this new course hand-in-hand as well as alone. I’m taking on more regular writing work to sustain us in this new venture while he enjoys the freedom to follow his own creative pursuits while doing a bit more laundry, vacuuming, and grocery shopping.

We’re taking walks, watching movies, and spending a lot more time in conversation. He’s there when I wake up in the morning which is kinda nice and kinda weird. It’s a lesson in never-ending, always-changing swirl of the world. Everything changes and everything stays the same–who said that?

(I actually looked it up and the saying goes–the more things change, the more they stay the same, and it’s attributed to a French dude by the name of Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr writing in 1849)

Anyway, all of this to say I’ve been so busy negotiating this retirement deal that I’ve already broken my promise to write everyfreakingweek here at the 49th Year. There is; however, something to say for failing early. It’s liberating. I can see that the sky didn’t fall, the earth didn’t open up a big sink-hole and swallow me, the roof didn’t cave. I’m still here, dammit, and I can write a blog post this week EVEN IF I didn’t write one last week.

So there, committee!

***

I’ve been walking daily, thousands of steps–thanks Fitbit–for years. My writing life could take a tip from my walking life, so today I’m answering this question.

WHY WALK?

ASS–I walk for my ass–my biggest (and maybe most hardworking) body part. I walk to use it and I walk to reduce it.

BE–There is no better way to simply be, than to take a walk in your world.

CATS–I like these crazy creatures, and love to watch a stray cat skulk across a lawn or dart under a bush.

DARK-EYED JUNCOS–These little gray sparrows show up in Olney every winter and hop about until spring.

EMPATHY–Walk every day, and you will deepen your capacity to experience the vast wonder and mystery of the natural world.

FLICKERS–this list is bird-heavy, but if you ever scare one of these largish woodpeckers from the ground, you’ll gasp at the beautiful patterns on her wings.

GREEN/BLUE MOMENTS–My favorite author, the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal delightfully dubbed those moments when you look up at the blue sky through green leaves, green/blue moments. If it’s gray today, you can look through a gallery of these moments at textbookamykr.com.

HOUSES AT NIGHT–There is something intriguing and comforting about warm light shining through the window of a house on a dark night–if you see people moving about, all the better.

ICE CREAM–Stop in at your local ice cream parlor for a sweet treat on a hot day, and lick the ice cream off your fingers all the way home.

JOURNEY–If nothing else, walking illuminates the well-trod truth that the journey is more important than the destination.

KILLDEER–Memorize this bird with its black-banded neck running across a newly shorn cornfield.

LOVE–the green spring grass, the white streaky skies, the puddles and pine needles and Cardinals against the sticking snow, one leaf turning and falling and twisting in a slight breeze, the tap and slap of feet against wet concrete, the slurp and gurgle of an overflowing creek.

MISCHIEF–Keep your eyes on the squirrels.

NUMBING, NOTICING, and OBLIGATION–Walking aids in our obligation to notice the natural world. We only come alive when we begin to truly notice.

PLACE–I’ve been walking around the same block since I was 14 years old. What was it old Jean-Baptiste Karr said–the more things change, the more they stay the same.

QUIET–Except for the birds.

RHYTHM–Breathe, Step, Pause, Notice, Repeat.

SYCAMORE TREES–White branches against a blue or gray sky.

TREE TRUNKS–at eye level, gnarled or smooth or flaking away like paper, white, dark brown, covered in moss or lichen, cracked and oozing, struck by lightening, glistening in rain and bending in wind.

UNDER–rocks, branches, piles of leaves, clear-as-a-window ice, mown grass, wind-blown cattails.

VINES–twining around and dancing together to the very tops of trees.

WIND–breath for the trees’ songs.

X–look up, you’ll see one.

YELLOW–black-eyed susans and wisteria and dandelions and feverfew. Tickseed and goldenrod and Gingko leaves like gold coins in the fall. Daisies and moonbeam coreopsis and fennel and zoysiagrass and sunshine flickering through heavy clouds.

ZIGGING, ZAGGING, ZIPPING, ZITHERING–hummingbirds.

 

 

 

 

Spending the Day with Wonder

Wonder is my grandson. He is a running, talking, eating, sniffing, grabbing, singing, lunging, throwing, two-legged, two-handed, two-year-old with a seemingly boundless supply of both energy and curiosity coupled with a an imaginative and fearless questioning of everything.  I mean everything.

Spending the day with Wonder is an education in how to live. Everyone is his friend. He doesn’t know how the curly-headed little girl at the playground voted and he doesn’t care. He can create a rousing game of PJ Masks with almost everyone, and they are all on the same team–interconnecting to “save the day.” He delights in a Charms Blow Pop for lunch and left-over pumpkin pie for breakfast, but he also gobbles eggs, butter-topped bagels, and barbecued pork with equal vigor.

He notices everything, that one.

So yesterday morning, I noticed everything Wonder-style.

We sat on the sidewalk and traced orange stripes marking power lines. We slapped the corresponding orange and yellow flags on their spindly wire posts.

We threw sticks in the creek behind Pat’s house and kicked hundreds of leaves up into the air.

We ran. And ran. And ran. You see Wonder taught me yesterday that it doesn’t matter how dorky you look if you run, running feels good.

We pulled a thick dead branch from underneath the leaves and stood it up well over our heads and let it topple over the side of the creek.

We held hands. Wonder’s hands are small and warm.

We tossed squirrel-halved walnut shells into rippling water.

We sang silly made-up songs because that is a specialty of mine.

We talked about white cars and blue cars and Cat Boy (Wonder is a huge fan) and Po’s 1990s era red Ford Ranger and Christmas and the way leaves sound when you crunch them into the ground.

We noticed Cardinals and Robins and Dark-eyed Juncos and Sparrows, and did I mention the leaves–they were everywhere beneath our feet and in our hands and still floating down from the trees or hanging onto stark limbs waiting for a big wind.

We found a very old stone deer in a pile of leaves, and before I knew it, Wonder took a ride! Continue reading

Is hope the thing with feathers?

Yesterday morning, I sat outside while it was still cool and the air was full of song–I wish I could approximate the warbling trills, the notes and the way they quavered in the whispering trees. I sat there long enough that I began to see the birds, hopping from one slender limb to another in the still full lilac bushes.

It’s funny how that happens isn’t it. First you hear the song, full and expansive, and then you hear the single notes, and finally you begin to see. It takes a while. It takes a certain sort of stillness, an attention to the moment at hand.

Anyway, I had my eyes on a tiny little bird I thought might be a chipping sparrow. To tell the truth, a friend mentioned a chipping sparrow to me one day, and I fell madly in love with the name–chipping sparrow.  I love the sound of that word–chipping. And while I never looked the bird up, I imagined I saw her everywhere. Anytime I saw a little bird, I thought to myself–I wonder if that is a chipping sparrow.

So I watched this little bird flit around in the green of the lilac bushes and I thought over and over–chipping sparrow.  It’s likely that I even greeted her in my own sing-songy attempt at morning glory, “Well, hello chipping sparrow,” I probably said because I have taken to speaking to birds and trees and even rocks and cicadas and worms trying like hell to make their way across the massive concrete slabs we call sidewalks.

At some point during this birdsong/cool air/ sun-shining-through-the green-tops-of-pine-trees series of moments strung together in what almost seemed like a prayer, that little bird flew up from the lower branches of the lilac bush and lit on the chair directly across from me. I could have touched her.

I didn’t try. I still remember the day I ran around my grandmother’s yard with a salt shaker because my father told me if I could salt a bird’s tail, I could catch him. Let’s just pretend that only happened once.

“Look at me,” she seemed to be saying as she gingerly danced her teeny little bird feet on the chair’s back, giving me a full view of her chunky little body, her long beak, her warm cinnamon-colored back, “do I look like a chipping sparrow, lady?”

I’m not a birder, but I’ve had wrens in my hanging baskets before, and I knew this little chirper was a Carolina Wren. And as soon as, not a moment before, the knowledge came to me, as soon as I felt that delight and wonder at being able to name such a delicate and wild thing, Ms. Carolina Wren flew off (no, I do not know she was a she, but it’s my story). She didn’t fly far though. She flew to the ground beneath the lilac bushes, and she rustled around with a sister or two in the pine needles foraging for wren things, I suppose.

I sat there for a very long time or for a few minutes. Time slowed down or perhaps it sped up or maybe it did just what time does and kept marching on and soon I found myself mired in the day at hand.

And the day turned out to be a doozy. Last night, my daughter, Peanut, received some very sad news–two of her childhood friends were involved in a tragic accident. I sure would like to bring this essay around, to bring the little wren back, to illuminate the harsh wonder of the world we live in, but I can’t twist the story to my liking, can’t stitch it up all neat and fine.

All day long, after my encounter with the little wren, Emily Dickinson’s poem was in my head:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

 

*****

I have always loved that image–of hope being a winged thing–but this morning I am wondering if we do hope a disservice by imagining it thus. Hope isn’t ethereal at all. Hope is dogged and rough and resilient. Hope resides in the dimmest doorways and the darkest corners of our lives. Hope grows up from the disaster and the dirt, the fertile floor of grief.

Hope demands of us, we would-be-practitioners, determination. As Vaclav Havel wrote, “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.”

I would contend that hope is in that late night knock on my door. My daughter reaching out for comfort when there is none to be had. That’s where hope settles in, that is where hope begins the growing of wings.

Beckoning Lovely–St. Joseph School Style in Memory of Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I made a video.

Actually I compiled the hard work and love the staff and students of St. Joseph School shared with me and other folks who live in Olney, Illinois last May. So I made the video, but they made and then gave away beauty, love, and joy.  In other words, they “beckoned the lovely.”

Let me back up a minute. “The Beckoning of Lovely” is a project Amy Krouse Rosenthal initiated on 8/08/08. Hundreds of beckoners met Amy at Millennium Park’s Cloud Gate (the Bean) sculpture in Chicago and participated in an event where they made and beckoned the lovely. It resulted in this video and in subsequent events in later years.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal died this year of ovarian cancer on March 13, 2017. She left behind a loving family–read her New York Times “Modern Love Column.” If you have read my blog, you will know that even though I didn’t know Amy, I consider her a mentor. She continues to mentor me with the books she left behind.

Amy called herself a “person who likes to make things.” This is a simple way to describe a life of creativity, a life devoted to making and giving away beauty. In a world where good and bad people are devoting great chunks of their lives to the acquisition of stuff, I’d say that Amy’s way of being in the world was and can be revolutionary.

I don’t know what sort of revolutions are in our future (I fear that there might be one or two), but I know that this is one I can get behind. Make things, make beautiful things and give them away. When you do this, you “beckon lovely.”

***

So the video.

Well, here’s the story. Last May, the staff and the students of St. Joseph School in Olney honored Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s life by “beckoning the lovely.” They chalked messages of encouragement on the sidewalks in town. They painted stones and left them around as gifts. They created signs of love and encouragement and sat along the streets and waved them to passers-by. They created bird-feeders out of peanut butter and seeds because they didn’t want to forget out birdy friends. They walked to local business, singing on the way and then serenading employees. The littlest ones blew bubbles. Bubbles! I think that is genius! At the end of the week, they held a dance party/ band concert/ sing-along on a public lawn.

So yeah, I made a video with a little help from 200+ friends.

 

 

 

 

In Thanks For Teachers Who Start the New School Year with Smiling Faces and Open Hearts

This morning I had the great pleasure to spend 45 minutes with some of the best folks in town–a small dedicated group of teachers at St. Joseph School where my sister is principal. I have a long history with this little school I attended from 5th through 8th grade. It’s where I and my children learned to laugh and write and share and reason and love, and my grandchildren will know many of these same special people, walk these same wide and welcoming hallways.

I’ve written here before about two of my favorite authors, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Brian Doyle, and how both died this year way too early. I remain shocked and saddened by the loss–for their families and for the world at large. We need their big love, their creative gifting, their exuberance and unbridled joy now more than ever before.

Earlier this summer, I shared a couple of Prayers for Ordinary Things that my friend, Julie and I wrote one morning in a coffee shop. We modeled our prayers on the delightful, funny, heartfelt prayers Doyle wrote and collected in A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. Reading Doyle’s prayers and then writing my own lifted my heart still smarting not only from the disastrous election but from the rise of intolerance and hate. Sometimes it’s difficult to remember how lovely the world remains. It’s called cultivating gratitude, and it’s an essential practice for me these days.

So when my sister asked me if I would lead the teachers in writing their own prayers of gratitude as they enter the new school year, I said, “Yes,” even though I knew it would require me to stand up in front of people and admit, even espouse how much I love writing and reading and poetry. Why is this so hard?

It’s vulnerability, of course. Still at 50 years old, I don’t want to be seen as a dorky poetry geek, even though I am indeed a dorky poetry geek and not the least bit cool. It’s hard to share our hearts with others. And yet, it is the most important thing we can do. This morning those teachers and their writing blew the top of my head right off. They wrote the most beautiful poems/prayers and they read them with laughter and tears and a little shyness and tremendous vulnerability.

So as school resumes, I give thanks for teachers who start the new school year with smiling faces and open hearts, who will spend the next several months wiping noses and calling out bad behavior and shining light on good deeds and listening to ridiculous and silly stories; who will walk the perimeters of playgrounds holding small gloved hands; who will chase loiterers out of bathrooms and rouse sleepers at their desks; who will stay up late grading papers and creating accessible lessons and tests and assignments that will not only stimulate eager minds but also open them to bigger and wider possibilities; who will make the hardest tasks fun and the funnest activities meaningful; who will laugh with and cry over and sometimes yell the tiniest bit at the students who have burrowed their way like small wiggly worms into their unsuspecting hearts; who will foster friendships and cultivate collegiality and model restraint and passion and goodwill and hope and joy; who are the bravest of the brave for the love they offer again and again and again against all odds to our lucky children entrusted to their great and devoted care.

In Gratitude to Brian Doyle–Prayers for Ordinary Things

Brian Doyle, who penned two of my all-time favorite essays, Joyas Voladorousa tribute to the beating heart, and Leap, died at the end of May. I love Brian’s writing, especially his essays–they are exuberant and joyful and magnanimous and funny and thoughtful and always probing into the workings of what it means to be human in a world both bewildering and beautiful.

Brian Doyle wrote about being Catholic in a way that made me glad to be Catholic. His writing helps me appreciate both the mess and the glory of the church, makes me glad for the sacraments and the ritual, prods me to hold more than one truth in my trembling hands.

Brian Doyle wrote so many things in his way-too-short life–essays, fiction, poems, and prayers–oh how dearly I love his prayers. In fact, since his death, I have taken to carrying around a small but powerful book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary. This little book, published in 2014, is a miracle in itself–a reminder to cultivate gratitude. The titles of the small prayers are reason enough to pick it up. Here are a few:

Prayer in Thanks for Decent Shoes

Prayers for Cashiers and Checkout-Counter Folks

Prayer for Women Named Ethel and men Named Elmer, for We Wiill Not See Their Likes Again

Prayer of Thanks for Hoes & Scythes & Spatulas & Toothbrushes & Binoculars & the Myriad Other Tools & Instruments That Fit Our Hands So Gracefully & Allow Us to Work with a Semblance of Deftitude

Prayer of Bemused Appreciation for Handheld Mobile Devices

Prayer of Thanks for Suntan Lotion

***

Last Wednesday I visited my good friend and walking and writing partner, Julie, in New Harmony, Indiana where she was attending the West of the Moon Creative Retreat led by the equally fantastic Terry Price and Dave DeGolyer (known in literary circles as Lafayette Wattles). If you haven’t visited New Harmony, you are missing out. Lucky for me, I live an hour up the road, so when Julie invited me to visit, I said, “Hells Yes!”

I arrived in New Harmony in time for the West of the Moon Reading at Sara’s Harmony Way. The abundance of talent, spirit, and soul in that room blew me away. I love readings and the chance to hear original poetry, fiction, and essays in a small venue. Dave and Terry have created something spirited and soul-tending in their creative retreat.

After the reading, Julie and I got a bite to eat, and then we went back to the hotel where we started pulling books out of our bags, and guess what–we were both carrying the little book of prayers by Brian Doyle. It shouldn’t have surprised me as this sort of thing happens all the time with Julie–we are forever reading the same book at the same time without knowing it. We often have the same books in our to-read piles. Just two weeks ago, Julie sent me a book I had been wanting to read but had yet to buy.

We laughed sitting there in the small room holding the same small book in our hands.

The next morning, as we drank coffee and tea back at Sara’s Harmony Way, we decided to write our own little odes to Brian Doyle’s uncommon prayers. I thought I would share the exercise and our prayers here. It’s fun. If you give it a try and would like me to post your prayers, I would be delighted. I plan to write a few more myself.

Here are the instructions for writing Prayers in Thanks of Ordinary Objects:

  1. Set your timer for five minutes jot down a list of ordinary objects.
  2. Look over your list and choose one.
  3. Set your timer for ten minutes or as long as you like and write a prayer of thanks.

 

Here are the prayers we wrote that morning:

A Prayer of Gratitude for Cloth Napkins by Julie Stewart

Thank you for cloth napkins, the washed softness of them on my cheek when I wipe away the errant dab of mayo. For providing a home for my daughter’s outgrown calico dresses, so that each time I pick you up from your place at the table, I touch her childhood again, what she was wearing when we sat outside on a blanket sharing a bowl of popcorn and a grape popsicle, the meal that consoled us earlier that day I had thrown a sippy cup at the wall and popped off the top and spilled grape juice, staining the white wall purple. Thank you for being small enough that I could salvage the section of fabric that remained unstained. Thank you for folding yourself up, crisply ironed, so that each time I retrieve you, it is like starting again, a new day, a change to nourish myself and clean my face of any messes I leave behind. Thank you for nestling the knife and spoon, waiting to meet the fork that stands guard on the left. Thank you for being square, for having sharp edges and straight lines, when so much of life is complicated, for being able to be folded in half once and then again to make a neat rectangle, but when life gets fancy, for being able to become a flower or fan, for being both beautiful and useful, the true measure of thing’s value. Thank you for coming back to the table again and again, never letting yourself be tossed away because life got a little messy.

A Prayer in Thanks of Spoons by me

Thank you for spoons, for their slightly ovally cupping. For their perfection in soup and sauces, for the way they make tasting easy, the way they hold liquids aloft and towards your lips, for their scooping and stirring and scraping. For big spoons and wooden spoons and plastic spoons, for those tiny spoons covered in a soft material that changes colors when the food is too hot—imagine a chubby baby without a spoon in his little curled up fist–eyes poked out, food not eaten if there were no spoons. Wait, imagine ice cream, yogurt, creamy tomato soup, oatmeal, milk shakes, banana pudding without a spoon, imagine iced tea in need of a little sweetening without a long handled spoon. Think of hot gravy, steaming in its boat on Thanksgiving without a sweet ladle to puddle it onto mashed potatoes and corn. Oh good glory to spoons and the way they feed us. The way we take their image into our beds, the way we shape our bodies in their likeness to hold each other close. Oh spoons.

 

 

 

 

 

What Jimmy Kimmel Said

63 years ago, an 11-year old boy who loved baseball sat right next to his mother while a kindly old pediatrician explained to him–you have a hole in your heart. This meant for that young boy, no baseball, no track, no basketball.

I imagine this appointment broke that little guy’s heart, and his mother’s too. They didn’t have a lot of resources, and whatever disappointments they were handed, they took chin first. I have a picture of them in my mind, sun filtering through a high dusty window–dust motes flickering in the air. There were no tears.

Not quite 20 years later, my dad had open-heart surgery at The Cleveland Clinic to repair that hole in his heart. He had a scar that began at his belly button and traveled up almost to his collar bones. My mom remembers seeing him for the first time post-surgery, the breathing tube running into his throat–he looked like he’d been hit by a Mack truck. Family legend has it that her knees gave out and she sank to the floor right where she stood.

He survived the surgery (and another one 40 years later) and continues to live even though his heart still gives him the business. But his heart disease was a pre-existing condition. My parents spent the next 40 years, making sure that he had some sort of employee-sponsored insurance plan, and my dad worked his damn ass off–that’s for sure. But when he changed careers late in life, my mother went to work to make sure they had insurance. It wasn’t a given–not until they aged into Medicare.

 

***

30 years ago, a skinny college student with short hair, packed up her 1974 Dodge Gold Duster and drove home. Her parents were admitting her to a psych/eating disorders unit with her consent. She could no longer remember eating a meal that hadn’t been fraught–food was both enticing and frightening. She couldn’t eat with control like other people. The vomiting. The shame.

For close to 60 days, I lived on a split-third floor in a residential psych hospital. Half the floor housed mood disorders and half the floor housed eating disorders. There was overlap. I was not cured when they released me a few days before my 21st birthday, but the long stay did disrupt the cycle of binging and purging that marked the hours of my days.

There would be no more treatment. I now had a pre-existing mental health condition. Insurance companies could attach this nifty little thing called a rider to insurance policies. A rider excludes coverage for certain conditions. I aged out of my parents’ policy because I was no longer a student and I was 21, so insurance was out of the question until I was married and on my husband’s policy. I learned quickly to omit those 60 days from my health history.

***

In 2013, my 14-year-old daughter lost 25 pounds, drank a ton of water, and stopped menstruating. I thought she was following in Mom’s footsteps, but I could find no evidence that she was purging. In fact, it was weird, she was drinking sodas and gobbling down big bowls of Captain Crunch and Frosted Flakes. She had never been a sugar girl. She’d always preferred popcorn to Pop Tarts, peanuts to pie. I couldn’t figure this one out.

There was the strange issue about her smell though. She smelled like fingernail polish remover. I sniffed her. It drove her crazy. I sniffed her some more. She frowned and pouted and peed like mad. It took me a day or two of sniffing, but finally I looked it up–breath that smells like fingernail polish remover. And there it was–diabetic Ketoacidosis.

The nearest children’s hospital is almost three hours away. The ambulance was just the right size for the nurse and the IV delivering life-saving insulin and my daughter. I tried to climb in there with them, but there wasn’t enough room, so I had to travel with my husband. It was a quiet trip.

Insulin, test-strips, meters, needles–they aren’t cheap, but they cannot be done without. Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disorder. My daughter’s pancreas doesn’t produce insulin. There is no option for discontinuing treatment other than death. As we prepared to leave the hospital–to begin our post-diabetes life, the social worker told us–You are lucky the affordable health care act is in place. She was even a little scoldy, perhaps she was tired of arguing the ACA’s benefits–without Obamacare Type 1 Diabetes can be a nightmare for young people.

***

Just last week, while I sat in a hospital room with my dad who was soon to have his  heart shocked back into a sinus rhythm after a year of atrial fib, the House of Representatives voted to repeal and replace certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

While our president mouthed all over the place that pre-existing conditions would continue to be covered, the  new provisions allow states to apply for waivers that would let health insurance companies offer paltry policies. These policies wouldn’t be required to cover the 10 essential health benefits mandated in the ACA. States who wanted the waivers would have to set up so-called high-risk pools — to protect insurers from high-cost patients–like my sweet daughter.

My daughter, Peanut, and is 18. She graduates high school in one week. She can remain on our health insurance policy for 8  years. But what happens when she leaves our policy? What happens when she graduates college but finds a job that doesn’t offer employer-sponsored health care? She can’t go one day without insulin. How does she survive?

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Peanut on her way to Prom May 2017 (dad and Wonder photobombing in back left corner)

Here’s what a caring gal told me on FB about my concerns: if one of my four children was in a position where medical premiums or costs were incurred I would advise them to disconnect their internet, get a cheaper car or take the bus, and eliminate things that weren’t essential to take care of that responsibility.

I couldn’t respond to that.

How do you respond to that?

I guess this post is my response.

I’m going to leave you with Jimmy Kimmel who said it all so well.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning–On Love

51 years ago today, my parents were married. 25 years ago today, my oldest daughter, Isky was born. Two days ago, my husband’s mother, Grace, died after a long illness. I’ve been thinking about how the ways these three life events come together–how we can celebrate the whole of a lifetime by honoring the weave of love.

Here is a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that calls to that love.

Sonnet 43

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.