Saturday, January 23, 2010

Who'd Sign Up for This?

Can you hear me now?

I know it's been a while. But everything I've had to say the past couple of weeks has been so downbeat, I figured I'd give you a break.

And even though I appreciated the sweet comments from Anonymous on my Christmas Eve story, in which he compared my gesture of Peace, Goodwill Toward That Man, to Leonard Cohen lyrics, "...that's how the light gets in," I'm not feeling very illuminated right now.

The new decade has gotten off to a dark start -in the world and in my heart.

The magnitude of human suffering in Haiti makes 96% of our lame complaints seem trivial to the point of, anyone who's caught belly aching about routine hassles should be sent to Haiti to dig through the rubble with a spoon. Yet, all things being relative, the crisis that impacts us the most, is the one which hits closest to home. I have two good friends who've had family members narrowly escape death in recent days --the kind of thing that makes me rush home for a group hug with my kids and my dog.

One friend's step-dad was near the epicenter of the earthquake. He's Haitian, but has lived and practiced medicine in St. Louis for decades. He still goes to Haiti every year to take medicine and supplies to a small clinic he operates there. He was unaccounted for, of course, for some time after the earthquake, to the terror of his family here. When he was able to report that he was alive, he was far from well, as he had immediately turned his attention to administering aid to the injured, which must be like putting a turniquet on an elephant with its head chopped off. After several days, his relatives there insisted he get out of Haiti. With escaped prisoners roaming the countryside, they felt it unsafe for him at his remote clinic. He is 86.

Another good friend has been keeping a bedside vigil in the ICU, where his 23-year-old son remains in a coma from a terrible car accident. They believe he must have hit a patch of ice on the freeway, his car spun around and was hit head-on by another car. The impact pushed his vehicle up on the guard rail, where it teetered, dangling off the edge of the overpass, dangerously close to falling to the deck below. Can you imagine seeing that video over and over again on the TVs in the ER, where they'd been escorted by the police who came knocking at the door at 2:00 A.M.? But, thanks to God and medical miracles, he's making steady progress everyday. It will be a long and difficult recovery --with many issues yet to be revealed, much less, resolved.

Now, one might (emphasis on "might") argue that instead of bad luck, these people had good luck; the 86 year old doc survived the earthquake, the fact that the 23-year-old is still alive is nothing short of miraculous -- one could say they're lucky-- if they're feeling all spiritually jiggy with it.

But I'm not. Not this week, not right now. The bastards have got me down. (Don't even get me started on politics) Between my brother battling cancer and close friends who are going through so much pain and fear, the world just feels damn hateful. The dingy gray sky, which has doggedly hung, with fits and starts of misty rain and fog, over the St. Louis skyline for the past week is the same color as my mood: dingy gray.

I was driving to the movie Friday night, alone. I couldn't find anybody to go, so I went by myself. I do this more often than I care to admit, part of my schict you know, being impervious to feeling lonely. Besides, when you go by yourself, you can scarf down popcorn, you don't have to share it and you don't have to worry if the other person likes the movie or not. Of course, there's nobody to hold hands with either.

So, I'm driving along, quite literally shrouded in fog, and that narrow passage felt like my life, my path, my journey. Barely able to see five feet in front of me, there was darkness, misty rain, and danger all around. The local cops are like cockroaches along the baseboards and I had taken my glass of wine in a Dixie cup from the house. So I was on the lookout for the fuzz -- and praying. (Don't worry, I see the paradox here, but believe me, I was not intoxicated. I had stopped at home to change out of my work clothes and let the dog out. Who wants to throw out a perfectly good glass of wine?)

I'm driving and I'm praying. You know, that short one which goes; "please, please, please God."

I was praying for my friend's son, praying for the people of Haiti, praying for my own kids' safety, praying for my brother. But I felt like a hypocrite because I was praying from a place of fear -- a sniveling, cynical, weary, fearful blob of discouragement.

My mother would be ashamed of me.

Not that she was a holy roller, but because she had a backbone of steel. Right after Rick was arrested, when the enormity of the responsibility piled up on me, usually when I was folding a pile of laundry in the basement, I’d call my mom and ruin her day.

"So what's going on?" she'd ask.

A thousand miles away, we both knew she couldn’t fix what was wrong. She couldn’t fill in the empty spaces with a solution or a blank check or a cure, when I’d pause during the conversation and she knew my silence meant tears. I’d take a deep breath and attempt to disguise the sound of my snotty nose. No matter, the burden of what I was dealing with at that given moment traveled instantly across four states, like a pus-filled lump in the phone line. She couldn’t pop the blister and she couldn’t fill the void; her heart was simply broken for me, as mine was broken for my kids, having been dealt such a hurtful blow by their father. Hesitating, trying to hold back the tears, she'd nudge me, “go ahead, honey” and I’d keep talking. I'd say all the things to her that I could not say to anyone else, not anyone. And then, when I was emotionally spent, calmed down, my pressure valve relieved enough to make it through another day, she’d add, you can’t get tired now, baby.”

So, maybe that's it. She's not around anymore to allow me to vent and recover, to tell me "you just gotta keep on keeping on."

Who then will step in to cover my vent? It's times like these which remind me that "little Miss Impervious" ain't so tough. Wonder what dating site I'd go to, to find someone who'd understand?


  1. First of all, I don't believe for a moment that your mother would be ashamed of you. You loved her and she knew it. Her loss is something that will take you a long time to get over, and you never will completely. There are things I wish I had talked to my mother about, and my father. Questions I had, issues that were unresolved in my mind... but I let the opportunities pass. But that was yesterday. What about tomorrow? That's the only day you can do anything about, right? Which brings me to the subject of The World. It sucks. Whether it's a very sick friend a few blocks away, or a million people in Haiti, there's lots of grief and pain out there. Sometimes I think the bad guys are winning. Just a half hour in front of the tube on CNBC, Fox, MSNBC, etc etc and I'm on the verge of cashing it all in and moving to... where? Mexico? Portugal? Costa Rica? The Galapagos Islands? Then I wouldn't have to think about the idiots on the Supreme Court who are changing the name of our country to USA INC. Or about Ben Bernanke, or Rush or Pat Robertson or people without health care or jobs or hope. No more IED's and Al Queda and extremism and young men and women who are gone or will never be the same. So what to do? Besides not watch the news or read the paper? Well, Jean, you have a couple of solutions. Maybe more. You pray, ask God for help. Or at least have a spiritual shoulder to cry on. You vent (you're good at that). You write a blog. Whatever works for you. Personally I'm not a big believer in God stepping in and working things out for me. There are just too many good people who believed in him who aren't around anymore, having taken leave long before their time. So...keep on keepin' on, keep on writing, keep on pushing yourself and being out there. The decade has just begun. This brings my comments to a close. Any more and it will start to sound like an extended fortune cookie. Maybe it already does.

  2. Jean, when life gets you down, look up and find those cookies stashed on a high shelf or get the ice cream from your freezer. And don't hesitate to call me for a SHOW date. Life can be lonely and confusing. My mom's advice was, "You can't give up and you can't give in, not now anyway."
    Sending cheery thoughts and a burst of sunshine your way. Your loved ones are in my prayers.

  3. Jean,this is your brother Don.I'm trying to see if this works so I can comment as we go along. Ifeel pretty good except this week they upped my chemo and it knocked me for a loop, sounds a little like mom doesn't it? Any way I have been reading your stuff and it is good.A lot of your writing is revealing and I will reserve any judgement until we can get together. I have started writing memoirs. I'll send you a sample soon. It is very hard for me to type. My hands are shakey. Love Don.