CLICK Here for the link to my new nj.com piece on blame, grief, and compassion.
CLICK Here for the link to my new nj.com piece on blame, grief, and compassion.
A fews days ago I heard the unfortunate news that someone from town had passed away. Moments after hearing the shocking news, I picked up my phone to call my mom.
As quickly as I picked up the phone, I put it down. I sat there even a bit surprised at myself.
I can’t call my mom. She died in December. I am surprised that sometimes I still forget.
After months of her valiantly suffering, a long hospital stint, a wake, a funeral, sorting through her things, discussing her estate, and talking with my widowed dad every single day, I still sometimes forget.
Maybe it is because she was my Go-To Person. When I have an incredibly good day at work, when I have some exciting news about my writing, or when I have something funny to share about my daughters, I still pick up the phone.
Perhaps it is because we often think of loss as a date on a calendar. We think of death and the loss we experience as a moment in time on a certain day at a specific hour at a precise minute when a loved one left this world.
Loss really isn’t a thumbtack pricked through a calendar date. Loss is more of a thread that is stitched through our lives, sharply shredding through the fabric of our lives at a certain point in our existence then slipping below the surface and re-entering again.
The truth is that we don’t lose our loved ones on a set date. We lose them again each time we awake from a dream. We lose them every time we celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or a milestone that we had believed they would be a physical presence at. We lose them while strolling down the sidewalk at 3pm on that random weekday afternoon when a sudden bittersweet memory rushes to mind. We lose them each time we begin to place a call that cannot be answered in the way we had become accustomed to.
Maybe the realignment is much needed. Perhaps we need to pause and look at the still shot of life and ask what is part of the real picture and what is the negative.
The opportunity to look at what is real and what is an illusion is valuable. The chance to question what matters and what is backdrop is there for our taking. I suspect the things we often prize as priorities matter less, and as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry suggested, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Perhaps each death is actually a beam of light. Perhaps death and the sobering moments it carries with it are actually beams of light cracking through a stormy, charcoal clouded sky to let us know there really is a blue sky above. We just cannot see it.
It is peculiar how words and messages can work like beams too. They seem to have an energy. They have a idiosyncratic force behind them. They have a way of finding us through the thick storm clouds.
In the midst of my own storm this past week, I found myself sorting through a box full of mementos. I found a card that my mom had sent me several years ago. She had mailed it to me right after my first miscarriage after the birth of my second daughter. My mom was no stranger to miscarriage as well. We spoke little about it but I knew that she understood.
At the time, I don’t remember thinking much about the card. Perhaps I was too sorrowful. Perhaps life with two toddlers, three dogs, and work was just too busy.
Years later, like a thread stitching its way across the years, this note has re-entered the fabric of my life at the most peculiar of times. Its message resonates deeper now. It speaks on a unique level to her mortal life and my loss.
It gracefully answers the questions that I have thrown up to the heavens in the darkness of the night. It quells insecure thoughts. It softly hushes doubt. It brings with it a peace that inspires and persists.
Here is the card and her message below. May it speak to you too.
Front of card: “When you come to the edge of all the light you have known & are about to step into the darkness, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen…there will be something to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.”
Inside card, ” Dear Ann Marie, Been there, done that…and I can guarantee what this is saying on this card is true. God’s plan for us somehow eventually reveals itself. What would we do without faith? My heart, love and prayers are with you. As ever, Mom”
I love you Mom. I miss your voice even though you continue to speak to me, as ever.
Patricia Ann Jones O’Rourke
After dropping off our two oldest daughters at camp, my husband and I packed up our cooler and our two-year-old daughter and walked past the dunes out to the beach. That is what people do on vacation. They make an effort to relax.
Eight-hundred miles from home on a vast, vacant shore, we scooped up shells, built lopsided sandcastles, returned living sand dollars back into the sea, and swam with our daughter.
We floated in the calm seas under the balmy sun taking in the wild air. We were in paradise.
We were in paradise yet I was somewhere else. To the untrained observer, I was a mom peacefully floating along the Atlantic Ocean at low tide. Inside of myself though, there was a looming tempest swirling about.
I wasn’t floating in the calm, warm sea. I was re-living a week ago in my mind.
My husband and I recently had the experience of being deceived by someone we trusted – a person we trusted with our household, our rescue dogs, and our children. The feeling was awful.
I was angry. I do anger well. The letting go of anger part – not so well.
I was angry at being lied to. I was angry at being played for a fool. I was angry at myself for not trusting my gut and not confronting the lies earlier out of convenience or comfort. My head was bursting with shoulda-coulda-woulda’s. I replayed conversations in my mind and second-guessed events in my head. I was torturing myself.
Once the deceit was revealed, I had tried to take the high road. I just didn’t expect the high road to feel so low. I just couldn’t seem to let go of the anger and the hurt.
I then realized this: It is not about my response or the expected emotional outcomes of high and low roads. It is about forgiveness.
The thing about forgiveness is that it is noble in theory yet difficult in practice. In conceptualizing forgiveness and truly grasping what forgiveness is, it is perhaps best to acknowledge what forgiveness is not.
Forgiveness is not a free-pass. It does not mean we return to the same circumstances. Forgiveness does not mean we will trust that person again. We can learn from a moment and not return to it. We can forgive but not forget and that is acceptable. Forgiveness must not always accompany forgetfulness. Forgiveness, however, most always tends to precede forgetfulness. The memory, nonetheless, does not dissipate. We just must not wear our hurt around our necks, on our sleeves, and on our skin. We must acknowledge it and then tuck it away.
Forgiveness is not an eraser. It doesn’t wipe away the hurt. The practice of forgiveness doesn’t minimize what has happened.
Forgiveness is not a do-over. It doesn’t change the facts or alter the past but it does change every moment forward. It alters our future.
Forgiveness even alters our present. Forgiveness forces us to be present in the moment. Forgiveness releases us from reliving the past. It removes us from the future and our forethought into getting even or setting the matter straight. It returns us to the present which is the greatest and the only gift we have.
Forgiveness is not a one-time action. It is an attitude, a continual practice. Forgiveness is a state-of-mind. When you truly contemplate it, most all of our journeys in this life are adventures in forgiveness.
Forgiveness isn’t exclusively offered for those who are sorry. We must forgive others even when they aren’t remorseful – especially when they are not remorseful. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person’s acknowledgement of guilt or wrongdoing but about our ability to accept apologies we will never get and to move forward. In the words of Oprah Winfrey, “True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”
Perhaps experience is at the root of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness. Forgiving oneself may be the hardest type. Although guilt is one of the most purposeless emotions, it remains one of the most paralyzing. Yet in the midst of our own tempest of regret, we must look to the anchor of experience. Experience sheds meaning. Although we are powerless over the past, we are not powerless over our perspective.
Failures can be our greatest teachers. Our missteps can be some of the most important steps on our life journey. If we allow the anger of others to teach us forgiveness, the apathy of others to spark compassion, the cruelty of others to give way to kindness, the deception of others to ignite flames of truth, and the violence of others to birth peace, a greater transformation has occurred only on the other side of a struggle whose summit was marked by unbridled forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not for the weak-minded. It is so easy for most anyone to uphold a grudge and to hold on to anger. Anger ulcerates the soul. Holding onto anger is corrosive. Holding onto the hurt is paralyzing.
Anger is a sneaky thief – robbing us of present joy and stealing our precious time. Anger slams the door to hope. Anger constricts the senses cutting off our ability to perceive, to connect, and ultimately, to thrive.
Forgiveness is indeed an attribute of the brave. It is releasing yourself from the chains of hurt and allowing all that the universe has to offer you at the present in.
Forgiveness is abandonment of a past that could not be any different. It is the act of ceasing to re-read a chapter that will not read any differently no matter how hard we try. Forgiveness is about moving onto the next, new, unwritten chapter illuminated by hope, by potential, and by an unburdened perspective to allow the opportunities of the present into your soul.
In the calm seas of that August morning, I floated along with my arms outstretched and earnestly prayed to a forgiving God and an all-knowing universe to release the burden of failing to forgive and witness me in offering up my forgiveness fully.
In that moment of transformation, there was no parting of the sea, no tidal wave, no dark storm clouds, no lightening bolt from the sky, or burning bush in the dunes but I had magnanimously returned to the humble sea. No longer was I living in the past but I was right there in the water. I could taste the salt air. I could see the pelican overhead flying underneath a brilliant, open sky. I could feel the coarse sand of the ocean floor beneath my feet. I could hear the laughter of my husband and daughter’s chuckles flutter through the air. I could see paradise for what it was – not necessarily an external place but a state of peace within.
I play the clam shell game. I am sure you have heard of it. It is that age-old carnival game where there’s a coin under one of three or four shells. The player guesses which shell it is under. By the time the shell is lifted, the dealer has slyly moved the coin. It is about illusion and confusion. It is chaos and excitement and the probability of being right all spun into one.
The problem is no one ever wins.
I am the mom of three daughters, three rescue dogs, wife of one, and work full-time. I work at our own family-operated company so that we can afford a life for our family. Working with a spouse can be challenging at best, rewarding every so often, and maddening most of the time. Despite the uphill climb, there are wonderful freedoms. The liberty of staying home with my child when she is sick, the ability to attend a school function mid-day, and the pleasure of working with a small group of committed, inspiring people. These are liberties I do not take for granted.
I also work as a writer. This is the job that I work at all hours of the day and night. I plod forward constantly and steadily working towards the moment that I will be able to write always all the time. This is who I am in the pit of my soul. I write at 3am, accept all sorts of interviews and assignments.
I do this knowing that each opportunity is a preparation for the future. I do this knowing that you never know exactly where an opportunity will take you. I do this knowing that opportunity only comes to those that sign up and show up.
My best job is being a parent. Being a mom of three girls makes me a better, more thoughtful, deliberate person. Knowing I am their roadmap for a parent and for a person makes me want to accomplish more, love more deeply, and be more enlightened. The rate at which my children grow serves as a bittersweet reminder that time moves so rapidly and there are no do-overs. It reminds me to be present in the moment.
I have a problem. I keep moving the coin under each shell. It gets tricky but don’t be fooled. When my kitchen is clean and all coats are hung up and toys put away, I may look like I’ve got it together. You might say, “well Ann is getting organized.” What you don’t know is I have two massive piles of work, eleven voicemails to respond to, and eighty-four new emails in my inbox.
When dinner is cooked, dishes are washed, teeth are brushed, stories are read, and we lie on the floor together looking up at the stars on the ceiling from their projector, you mights say “Ann is really taking this parenting thing to heart. She’s got it together.” What you do not know is that I have about four loads of laundry to do, haven’t blogged in four days, and have two letters for work to send out.
When I work until 8:30pm and the sitter has put them to bed, my voicemail is back to empty and all issues are resolved for today yet I haven’t spoken to my mom in three days, you might say “Ann is balancing work and home quite well”. What you are unaware of is that the playroom is a minefield of legos and every room in my home looks like a playroom. I feel like Lucy on the assembly line with the chocolates and I forgot to go the gym again for the last two weeks. I am up another six pounds on the scale.
When I post a picture to Facebook of myself down eleven pounds on the scale, you might think “Ann has really gotten healthy”. What you don’t know is that I went to the gym for the last hour and a half and fed my kids processed chicken nuggets, skipped baths, bypassed story time, and put them in bed. And my weight loss formula? Anxiety.
This is the truth. So many of us play the clam shell game. No one has ever had a perfect score. And sadly, the game is not what it is about. Playing the game merely makes us fools wasting time at life’s carnival.
All of those voices remarking on “Ann” aren’t really everyone’s ideas on what they observe. They are the voices in my own head that I have assigned to others. They are the voices of insecurity that if I do more, I am more worthy. If I do more I am better. If things look better, they are better. This is all part of the illusion and the missing coin.
We need to stop the games and start thriving. We need to stop tricking ourselves. We need to be kind to other moms and to ourselves. The reason I most often don’t take issue with my spouse, friends, or others isn’t because they are perfect. It is not because I can’t find a problem or a weak spot. It is that it doesn’t matter. We need to be more forgiving especially to ourselves.
The problem with the shell game is that there are no winners. There never will be. We need to quit being the player and the dealer. We need to walk away from the carnival. A win is possible but not in this way.
We need to redefine what winning is. Winning is not a matter of ‘busy’ or intensity but a matter of moments. Winning is not in appearances. Winning is not in other people’s opinions of us or our own opinion of ourselves as reflected back in their eyes.
Winning is about seizing moments. Winning is sometimes about losing and taking the lesson. Winning is sometimes about losing with dignity. We need to taste sour to know the sweet. We need darkness to see the stars.
Winning is about cracking open the hard shell of failure and extrapolating that lesson of truth from within and ingesting it. It is about taking a dose of brave and standing up for what you want. Winning involves championing your priorities.
Winning is about building resistance and strength from falling down. Winning is always about getting back up. Winning is about treading through the fear not walking around it.
Winning is about assessment. We need to recognize the amount of life we are exchanging for things and deciding if its really worth it.
Winning comes in silencing the naysayers not because they have ceased to be loud and incessant but because you have found the silence and calm within and that calm drowns out all of the other noise.
Winning is about mindfulness. We need to be present at each precise moment or we lose. If we are washing dishes and dreaming of a meeting in two weeks, we have lost that moment. If we talk to our spouse before bed and are on our IPad answering emails, we are not really in that conversation with our loved-one. That moment is lost for eternity. These moments will eventually add up to a lifetime of loss.
With that in mind, winners sometimes quit. I am not quitting the work, the family, or what I work for. I quit the game. I have decided to leave the carnival and ride a bike.
I have decided to go through life’s journey and all of its beaten paths, downhill coasts, and uphill climbs on a bicycle. I am riding a bike to keep moving and keep balance. I am riding a bike to enjoy the scenery.
I may get there slower but with a more meaningful ride. It is the closest I will get to flying. It is celebration in motion. It is movement without excess or waste of anything. It is movement of the being and stillness of the soul in unison. There is progress is each revolution of the wheel.
I have decided to quit the games, cut my loses, and enjoy the ride. As Rumi points out, “life is a balance of holding on and letting go”. I choose balance over madness, movement over judgment, and to enjoy the ride of life.
In advance I ask you to pardon the state of my home and my appearance. I have pardoned myself and that is perhaps all that matters. Sometime things need to fall apart to be put back together correctly. Sometimes, we need to seize the day, the sunshine, and the wind. We need to remember that life is not a sprint. It is not a marathon either. It is a series of small races. Sometimes we fall and pick ourselves up. Sometimes we pick up a fallen friend, drape their arm over our shoulder, and finish the race together.
My ride begins in faith that I am where I need to be. Nature is a testimony to this. As Tzu taught, “Nature doesn’t hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” Slow down but keep moving. You will never enjoy the ride if you’re still at the carnival.
It was a year ago this week that I told a friend a secret. I told her that had been writing and I had written a novel. Looking back on it, it is seemingly strange to keep such a secret. At the same time, it is challenging to put ourselves out there. It requires grit and vulnerability to be transparent and real.
My friend and fellow author suggested I join the writing team at nj.com. She went to bat for me. Out of her suggestion a beautiful springboard appeared. It was a tremendous gift. A year later, I have authored fifty nj.com articles, started this site with another dozen posts, had a couple of articles published in The Star Ledger newspaper, and am a part of some extraordinary projects that will come to completion this year.
On all fronts it has been an amazing year not necessarily because of any accomplishment but rather because this journey has been transformative for my soul.
In pure writer’s irony, I am at a loss for words so I thought I would offer one big explanation and thank you in the words of famed poet Rumi:
I felt that there was something else calling me regarding my calling in life…
With three small children, three rescue dogs, a busy home, and a business to tend to, starting a new project did not make much sense on the outside. On the inside, not only did it make perfect sense, it resonated with who I am.
The most frightening part about setting forth on the journey is that failure suddenly became an option or so I reasoned.
I foolishly never realized that failure was the only option had I not stepped forward on this path.
With fortuitous opportunity presenting itself, it seemed like I owed it to the integrity of my soul to pursue what seemed to be calling me.
It seemed like what I had prayed for and secretly hoped for had found a way into my life.
It was now up to me to do the work.
I am eternally grateful for all of those who opened my wings a bit more…
I am grateful for my mom who has always emphasized the simple yet extraordinary fact that words change things. She has been a lifeboat, ladder, lamp, and shepherd.
I am blessed to have my sister, Mary, help me with hours upon hours of proof-reading. I recognize that the act of proof-reading is akin to withstanding the blistering heat of the netherworld. Mary, your work is not forgotten.
I am grateful for new inspirations and collaborations. Denise Constantino you are a talented soul and a gentle spirit. I have had such meaningful conversations and interactions with so many individuals, Senator Cory Booker, Maria Cuomo Cole, Stephen Powell, Paul Giampavolo, Mary Williams, and many others. These conversations have been so valuable in shaping perspective and affecting change.
I am thankful to my husband, Joe, a thousand times over that he supports my dreams which are not his dreams. Our individuality has brought greater appreciation for one another, our separateness has brought us closer together, and our gratefulness more appreciation for life.
I am grateful for my readers: new friends, old friends reconnected, cousins, relatives, coworkers, people in our community, and individuals seeking awareness and a brighter, more meaningful future. To my cousins, Noreen and Patrick, you never disappoint with your comments. To my extended family, Lisa, Cathy, Tricia, Diana, and Jay, you have always supported my writings and I am thankful for your positive vibes. To my friends, Dean, Marisa, Cathy, Fran, Judy, Heather, Joel, and Bob, I appreciate every time you share your thoughts and perspective. You inspire me to be a better writer.
The writing is not about being recognized but about being connected. In so many of our stories there is that common thread of bravery, of vulnerability, and respect. With this commonality, comes a flood of compassion, meaning, and action.
As an introvert, my writing has connected me to others in conversations I would never had had any other way. I am thankful for these exchanges, connections, and more meaningful relationships. In people knowing who I really am and what I think, it brings new connections closer and those who do not share any likemindedness to move on quicker without wasting time.
Whatever your own unique gift is, using our gifts shed light on darkness.
Using our talents empower us in a profound way.
It offers a deeper dimension of meaning and understanding to each moment.
It rids us of conventional nonsense that cluttered the way.
It forces us to put on our big girl pants, be brave, and act with grit.
It forces us to believe in ourselves and what we are saying while taking a risk immersed in faith.
It raises our expectations to higher, more extraordinary levels.
It excludes the unimportant.
It brings what is essential into focus.
And while we are not paying attention, it answers our questions.
It also reminds me that being a great writer is about listening long before it is about expression.
It is about observation before expression.
It is about understanding with humility and reverence both the temporal and timeless nature that exist within yourself and being able to feel both of those seemingly conflicting natures existing in harmonious unison.
I know the upcoming year holds mystery, challenge, and I hope to use those gifts to enlighten my journey and that of others. Thanks for the gift of attention and time and encouragement to get off of the ground. Best wishes to everyone who believes in the beauty of their dreams and has the courage to follow them.
An old farmer was working in his field with his only horse. Somehow, the horse broke free and ran away from the farm. The farmer could not find the horse anywhere.
In hearing of what happened, neighbors from the village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame. Now your only horse is gone. What bad luck. How will you live, work, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.
Less than a week later, the farmer’s horse returned. He returned to the farm with a pack of eight other wild horses. The farmer and his son corralled the horses.
The news traveled throughout the village. The neighbors came to visit the farmer. “You are fortunate!” they proclaimed. “What good luck.” Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”
The next morning the farmer’s only son set awoke to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. He quickly became sick with fever and pains. One by one villagers arrived to visit the sick son. “Oh, what a tragedy. What bad luck. You must be very sad”. they said. The farmer calmly answered, “Who knows? We shall see”
Across the country, a war began. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army. As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg and poor health. “What very good fortune you have!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You have good luck.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.
As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”! But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”
The war ended but the other young village boys had died in battle. The old farmer’s son was the only young man to have lived. The neighbors said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!”
In my own life, there are those days where everything seems to fall apart. Although I am aware that I leave little marginal room for error or adjustment in a tightly-packed schedule fully, the slightest shift in planning can ripple throughout the day.
Yesterday, I had a huge deadline and a few hours to accomplish my goal. I arrived at work with three hours to accomplish that work, about five hours of work ahead of me, and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. About forty-five minutes into my work, I get a text and a phone call. My sitter is sick. I have to return home to the kids.
Driving home I felt this sense of defeat. My defeat and negativism was wrapped firmly in a sense that I knew best. My day was crap. I hadn’t accomplished anything and I was feeling sorry for myself.
I arrived home. The sitter left. I began to wash dishes and reason inside my head that these things happen. About twenty minutes into my time at home, there was a horrendous noise. It sounded like twenty-toilets running at once coupled with a train approaching our house. A pipe had burst and began leaking down through three floors of our home. Water poured from the recessed light fixtures, out the air-conditioing vent, and down the brick fireplace.
I was able to shut off the water in our basement in less than ninety seconds from when the leak started. There was damage but not the catastrophic kind. It could have been worse, much worse. I had this overwhelming feeling of thankfulness that I was home. Had no one been home, the damage to our home and danger to our three dogs could have been significant. Had our sitter been home, she wouldn’t have known where the main water valve was and how to turn it off.
I shouldn’t have been home and yet I was. I couldn’t help but feel that someone or something was looking out for me. What I had foolishly thought was a curse (in having to return home early) was a blessing.
This blessing in disguise was a much needed kick in the pants to my ego. In this fast-paced, technology savvy world where we believe so much of life is within our control, this is not always the case. And perhaps this is a good thing. The day was a reminder of faith.
Although we can’t foresee what God or the universe has in store for our days ahead, it isn’t our job to be all knowing. In my life, concentrating on what will happen and what it all means robs me of joy in the presence. Having faith allows me to do my best in that moment.
What may seem like a curse may be our greatest blessings. And the inverse is sometimes true. Sometimes the universe saves us from ourselves and our own choices. Sometimes we walk down the wrong path of romantic partners, career choices, life choices, and the powers that be redeem us. We are spared from short-changing ourselves.
For me, not getting caught in the trap of interpretting that moment-to-moment significance in my own life is about relinquishing control. It is about falling back away into the safety net of faith.
Within that safety net, there is a plan. It would be maddening to attempt to try and figure out that plan. It would be impossible to understand all of its detailed connections and meanings but having faith that there is purpose in each event, seemingly bad or seemingly good, is key.Faith doesn’t mean we will be spared from suffering. It simply means that suffering is for a purpose and that purpose may be something we do not fully understand.
Life speaks to us in our blessings. Life shouts to us in our setbacks and tragedies. Sometimes things in our life are multi-faceted. They are both good and bad intertwined and infinitely joined but fully coated in purpose.
I recently listened to Amiira Ruotula-Behrendt speak about faith and the universe. She suggested what if the universe had three answers in store? And those answers to any of our prayers or questions were: 1) yes, 2) yes but not yet and 3) I have something better in mind for you.
In the year ahead may your sorrows be short lived and your joys be infinite and may you always have a sense of purpose to hold strong to and enjoy the present.
One of the few things that I find
myself certain of is my inability to tolerate uncertainty. I know, in essence, that life is always uncertain. Uncertainty contains the sweetness of risk and the power of potential. As I grow older, I recognize that patience with the unknown is a cornerstone of maturity. I fully realize that we aren’t granted tomorrow and we must live in the present to really grasp what life has to offer. In theory, I understand it. In practice though, I am still practicing.
Lately, it feels like I’ve entered a boot-camp for my discomfort with uncertainty. In all aspects of my life, I am deluged with change; flooded with so many unknowns and so few answers. All the while as I analyze and think, this voice within has been whispering that this may feel like the real struggle but is all preparation for things ahead. All of this exercise in discomfort is just practice for what is coming.
As often is the case, that little voice within was correct.
Two weeks ago Friday, I returned home with my three daughters from a week-long Boston trip. After driving five hours through Storm Andrea, that stormy Friday afternoon was all about mounds of piled mail, even bigger mounds of piled work, and the biggest mounds of piled laundry.
When putting my oldest daughter, Sonoma, to bed that night, I noticed a small cut on her wrist. It was about 1/10 of a inch. It was barely a scratch but I recall thinking I should put some more peroxide on it before she went to sleep. I left the room to grab the peroxide and a Band-Aid. As sometimes happens, something else caught my attention. I forgot. I had three dogs to tend to, clothes to move from the washer to the dryer, emails to send out with a deadline of midnight, and an infant to nurse.
That momentary forgetfulness would later haunt me.
In the morning, two of my three daughters awoke as they always do at 6:30am. 7:30 passed and Sonoma still slept. 8:30 passed, 9:00 passed – no Sonoma. Around 9:30am, Sonoma came downstairs and quietly said that she didn’t feel well. “Look Mom, my arm looks like a tennis ball.” It was yellowish, green and swollen. By 9:48am, I had all three of my daughters in the hospital emergency waiting room. They treated her and discharged her with some antibiotics. we were back home a little after 11:00am.
The day went on. Sonoma was in good spirits. During church services that night, Sonoma began to burn up with fever. She became listless and lethargic. We headed to the emergency room right after Mass. On the way to the hospital, she developed redness running up the center of her arm. At the hospital, they diagnosed it as cellulitis, a bacterial infection. The doctors told my husband, Joe, and I that it was serious.
The following hours were extremely difficult. She had a temperature of 104. They were able to reduce the fever with medication. I left the hospital at midnight to bring my infant daughter home and visit our two year old, Sienna, who was with Joe’s cousin. It took everything in me to leave her for the next few hours but I knew she was content with her dad sleeping in the chair next to her bedside.
When I texted Joe around 4:00 am to see how she was, I was told she had taken a turn for the worse. Her fever was back up to 104, her arm was red and swollen, and they were concerned. There were high fevers, periods of incessant vomiting, and uncertainty as to the trajectory of her illness. As someone who worked in a hospital for several years, I knew all the possibilities and I was terrified. I sat up in my bed sickened by the unknown. I was shaking. I had the chills. The clock read 4:03am. I called the doctor at the nurse’s station. I called her pediatrician. I asked questions trolling for certainty that i knew they couldn’t give me. I paced around the room. I threw up. The clock read 4:21am. Time was virtually standing still.
When I returned to the hospital in the morning, her condition improved. Hours later it became slightly worse. Slowly and steadily though, Sonoma became better each day. My husband slept in the chair next to her bed every night. In the day, I sat with her. We drew pictures, painted, and spent time with family.
Three days later, Sonoma was discharged. She remained in good spirits and has made a wonderful recovery.
This could easily be a cautionary story about the dangers of an infected cut. In all honesty, with three children ages four and under, my children get scratches and scrapes every single day. I do clean their cuts but not every single one. I grew up in a pre-bike helmet, pre-car seat, pre-antibacterial soap era and always silently reasoned that I survived. I now see the danger in what occurred and how serious something became so quickly. All I can say is to err on the side of caution and trust your parental gut.
This could be a story about the need to slow down. I was so busy tending to the little things that I forgot to tend to another little thing that was important. Responding to an email requesting a recipe or a Facebook comment can wait. So can that 3rd load of laundry. There will always be laundry and inbox messages. At the end of the day, children are just more important.
This could be a story about the power of prayer and positive energy. Immediately, friends and family asked what they could do. They offered to watch our daughters, watch our dogs, come to the hospital, or come to our home. There is power in love and in kindness. There is power in showing up for others in their time of need.
This could be a story about bravery. Our daughter was such a sweet, brave spirit. With every blood test and IV and medicine administered, she didn’t fuss but showed remarkable resilience and even smiled. Her ability to endure everything with grace was astounding. Sometimes we discount the ability of our children to understand what is going on. I was astounded at my daughter’s ability to process everything and handle it with such dignity.
This story could be about so many different things but this is a story about gratefulness. It is not just gratefulness for the fact that she is recovering and there is a happy ending to this story. It is a more enduring gratefulness based on perspective and the bigger picture.
Sonoma was on the Pediatric Unit of the hospital. It was a unit with children of various ages and illnesses. Often children were walking the halls with their parents and there was an art room for children that were healthy enough to meander over. During Sonoma’s hospitalization, we would see children who had received chemo and children who didn’t have the liberty to leave the hospital in 3 days, as we did.
When I think of that feeling of being despondent that night, that seemingly unbearable feeling was just for one night. There are parents who have to live with similar feelings of uncertainty about their child’s health for months and even years. These same parents who had been there with their child for many months were the same parents who held the door open for us. They smiled in the hallway at us and even offered to share their art supplies with us. That is true courage, kindness, and bravery.
Now that our somewhat hectic life has resumed, I was standing on line at Starbuck’s yesterday and the man in front of me online lambasted the Barista for getting his coffee order wrong. I found myself instantly thinking of that mom walking the hallway with her small sick, bald daughter and their IV on wheels and her smiling into Sonoma’s room when they passed by. With all that mother was dealing with, that mom took the time to show us a gesture of kindness.
Although we can’t control what we are dealt in life, we can control our reactions. In this sense, we hold the potential for growth, change, and healing within our own grasp.
The next time, I’m in the car flashing my lights for someone to speed up or honking to tell someone to slow down, maybe that person is on their way to the hospital or somewhere else just as important. Perhaps they’re not, and just an inconsiderate driver. Nonetheless, it is about being mindful. So many of us are fighting important, secret battles. It is essential to be kind.
Perspective. Making sure the things in our lives aren’t more important than the people in our lives. Making certain that we don’t allow the petty matters of daily life overshadow great and simple opportunities to express our love for others.
Perhaps the only certainties in life are those that we make certain to embrace and express, such as love and kindness. And perhaps certainty and resolution are highly overrated. Pema Chodron addresses this idea in her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times:
“As human beings, not only do we seek resolution, but we also feel that we deserve resolution. However, not only do we not deserve resolution, we suffer from resolution. We don’t deserve resolution; we deserve something better than that. We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.”
Life is too short to hold a grudge, also too long. ~Robert Brault
They say you should never go to bed angry. I am not exactly sure of who the “they” are but its apparently ancient wisdom from generations of Zen grandmothers or from other civilizations that predicted calamity and walked amongst alien visitors. I even saw this saying spelled out on an Etsy macramé wall hanging a few weeks back. I agree. You should always stay up and plot your revenge. At least that’s what my stubborn German-side tells me. Okay, not really. I wholeheartedly believe in letting go of your anger yet from time to time I am guilty of disobeying this. Monday night was one of those disobedient exceptions.
I aim for calm and collected but every so often I miss and land somewhere between sarcasm and the valley of the bitches. Fueled by lack of sleep and the demands of tending to our bus company and writing and raising children, I find that my husband and I can argue over the strangest things. A small quarrel about how to handle an issue at work metamorphosed into an argument about what the talking plastic lizard that sits atop our infant daughter’s bouncy seat was singing. I was certain it was repeatedly saying “red, yellow, and blue”. My husband, Joe, asserted with certainty that it was singing “red, yellow, I’m blue.” Maybe he thought the lizard was depressed. He said it was because parts of his Fisher Price plastic lizard-self are blue.
It was insane talk between adults at 11:05 at night. He retreated to bed. I stayed downstairs and started to wipe down the counters and put toys and other junk away. I then thought just leave it. I can clean it in the morning. Who will see my kitchen before sunrise anyway? Little did I know I would have detectives and police at my kitchen countertop in the next few hours.
I went upstairs. I began to fall asleep. It was the earliest I had been to bed in months. Fast-forward twenty-five minutes. We awoke to a noise outside our window. One of our dogs was growling at the window. We own a transportation company and it’s not unusual for drivers to be picking cars up at our home. It is unusual though when all assigned cars have already been picked up to hear someone in your driveway. My husband started down the stairs. I had the most suddenly horrid feeling deep in my stomach. I called to him to wait. We heard the screech of tires as our Escalade furiously sped away. He turned to me and said what we both already knew. Our truck was stolen.
We contacted the police. They found our other Escalade ransacked in the driveway. We soon learned that they had taken financial items and car keys. We wondered if they’d return. After dusting for fingerprints and collecting evidence and even tracking the car into Newark, we got an answer to our question. They did return.
Ever since this has happened I have been processing it. There’s a lot to take away. I’m not the overly optimistic type but I do acknowledge that within this chaotic tempest, there were some silver linings. There was the silver lining of kindness and accountability. There were people doing their jobs and doing them well. The West Caldwell Police Department went above and beyond to protect our family and stationed police in our driveway. Mayor Cory Booker reached out to us personally and interceded in getting our vehicle returned to us.
Most importantly, there was that thought of going to bed at night. I keep thinking back to when I went to wipe down the counter and that strong, clear thought that no one would see the kitchen before 6 am. I made a similar assumption in holding onto my anger at my husband as I went to bed. I assumed he’d be there in the morning to be angry at.
The truth is that we never know what can happen in the night or from one hour to the next. At that very moment that I pleaded with my husband not to go outside into our driveway, I thought of our fight from less than an hour ago. My anger seemed trivial and meaningless, and it was.
Sometimes seemingly bad things happen because there is peril in this world. Sometimes seemingly bad things happen and they put the good and important things in perspective. Cars and trucks are all replaceable but our spouses and are family are not. Anger and so many of our emotions and what we become fixated on is unimportant and so temporary. We know this and yet it’s so easy to lose this truth in our hurried lives.
So many of life’s answers remain within us but remain as disorganized as my kitchen at eleven o’clock at night and they become buried under the mundane and complexities of everyday life. Life has a curious way of re-organizing these truths and putting them back where you can find them.
Don’t go to bed angry. They say anger is one letter short of danger. There is truth in this. Anger is fear topped with madness. It remains corrosive to our souls. The small, miniscule things are the very things we need to take the time to repair keeping in mind that the smallest of leaks have sunk the greatest of ships.