The Waiting Game

“Waiting for . . . the phone to ring, or the snow to snow or waiting around for a Yes or No. . . just waiting.” From Dr. Suess’ Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Terrifyingly, 
she lost consciousness 
in my arms and I
thank any and all 
gods attending us — 
for our Nurse Practitioner friend,
(now family) 
reviving her, and 
for Gigi
(also now family)
who had the presence of mind and 
free hands to 
call 911, and 
for the paramedics 
who arrived in minutes,
Amen.

They took her away 
for her second ambulance ride 
in as many weeks, and 
thus began the waiting, 
the longest day of my life.

Tears were cried,
hugs were given, and
received,
more prayers were prayed,
calls were made, 
and we waited. 
Six am until ten pm on that 
longest day’s ever night 
for a conversation
with the doctor — 
any doctor — 
for news on my girl.

She was 
so 
very 
very 
sick, 
the doctor said, and 
thank goodness 
they had her 
right where she needed to be, 
back in a hospital bed with 
tubes going in, and 
PICC lines coming out,
for the myriad medicines going in.

They said she would be 
staying 
for a long 
long while — 
for this infection 
consuming her lungs,
was waiting, too.

We can play 
(and win)
the waiting game,
we cried,
hunkered down
for a long 
winter’s month — 
warming up 
phone lines,
facetimes,
and bowls of soup
between us —
the distance always too far
for our waiting hearts.

Days and nights
became weeks
waiting
for the medicines 
to work,
for the chest tube 
to drain,
for the doctor’s calls
to be non-emergent,
for the hospital
to let me in,
for my tears
to stop,
for my fear 
to dissolve,
for our nightmare
to be a bad dream,
for permission
to go home.

The waiting
ended
(finally) and 
we drove away,
leaving the waiting,
(impossible to see)
behind us,
packed to the roof,
as we were,
with living.


Love More

My friend Margie died at 12:40 this morning. Thank you for indulging me and my broken heart by reading a little bit about this remarkable woman whose love for me, changed me. 

I met Margie when I was 21 years old and she was 63. We were roommates and missionary companions in Rostov, Russia, in 1994-1995. I was sent to Russia to preach the gospel, and Margie was sent to Russia because God knew I needed her. Also because she’s a registered nurse and healthcare workers were desperately needed. Margie volunteered her days in a nearby orphanage, where she held babies, talked to them, sang to them, and gave them (oftentimes the only) human touch we all need. 

Margie spoke not one word of Russian until she mastered the only words she ever learned: good, yes, thank you, and no. You’d be amazed at how far that handful of words, plus some well-timed non-verbal cues will take you in most interactions. 

How is your day? Good, thank you!
Would you like to sample this honey? Yes, oh it’s good!
Would you like to buy some? Yes, thank you!
Do you need a ride? No, thank you!
Do you speak Russian? No
I love you! Awwww, thank you! [hug]

Margie was tenacious and dedicated in her efforts to learn Russian. She never learned to speak more than the words and phrases I listed above, but her understanding of people surpassed language. Margie was fluent in loving. She never met a stranger, as the saying goes. And every single person who ever met Margie believed themselves to be her best friend.

She would come home every evening and regale me with stories of the ladies who worked with her at the orphanage. She knew the most intimate details of their lives, of their children’s lives, of their marriages, and of their husbands’ struggles with alcohol and employment. I regularly marveled out loud reminding Margie she doesn’t speak Russian, how can she possibly know these things? Yet she just knew. I had multiple opportunities to connect with and speak to her coworkers myself (in Russian) and Margie’s stories always checked off! She had understood every detail without skipping any nuance, either! And the ladies at work, just like everyone else, adored and loved Margie as a trusted friend.

I remember the day she came home bursting with excitement because she’d been invited to tea at her coworker’s home the following Saturday. “How are you going to get there?” I wondered out loud. “Oh, I have the address written right here,” and she handed me a scrap of paper with Svetlana’s name and address scribbled across it, but no phone number because most homes had no telephones at the time.

Like an anxious mother putting her five-year-old on the school bus for the very first time, I put Margie all by herself into a cab that Saturday morning, giving explicit instructions to the driver of where he was to take her. I wrote our address down in her notebook (plus our phone number just in case), trusting that Svetlana would give instruction to the cab driver on the return end of their luncheon. And that night when Margie was safely back home with me, I couldn’t stop beaming with pride at her adventurous achievements that day. 

Margie regularly went to the street market and purchased our daily food supplies. Grocery shopping in Russia in 1994 meant negotiating directly with the farmer on the product he/she was selling. She bartered (remember not in Russian) for our bread, honey, cabbage, tomatoes, butter, nuts, potatoes, and fresh-cut flowers (because gracing our table with beauty was a gift we got to give ourselves)! And then Margie would create the most amazing and delicious meals out of the simple ingredients she had found. I learned from her not only how to negotiate, but how to budget and stretch a dollar. Through her resourcefulness, Margie taught me how to cook and how to love feeding those you love, that food was simply a vehicle of expression, and ours was a table laden nightly with love.

I know I was a missionary and supposed to know all about love and compassion. In truth, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And only having the experience of living with Margie, of witnessing and watching her daily expressions of love — because that’s just how she lived her life — did I begin to comprehend the meaning of unconditional love, of generosity, and of kindness. Margie is the embodiment of loving out loud. She has been my greatest teacher.

Perhaps eight months into our time together, I became very sick and was diagnosed with pneumonia. Margie immediately quit her volunteer position at the orphanage in order to stay at home with me as my primary caretaker during my convalescence. She found the exact antibiotic I needed by calling every single young man in our mission, knowing at least one of them would have brought with him to Russia a two-year supply of the acne medication, Doxycycline.

Margie took me to every appointment, translated for me all the medical terms and procedures I didn’t understand, becoming my advocate in a medical world whose language I did not speak. She made me soups, monitored my temperature, listened to my lungs, administered my medications, and was the reason I was able to stay in Russia and complete my service as a missionary. 

Margie completed her time as a missionary with honor and it was my privilege to “send her home” with a hug and a promise that we would always stay in touch, that our friendship would be for forever. And we have kept that promise with each other. Margie attended my first wedding, met my young daughter when she and I were on our cross-country road trip after my divorce, shared countless phone conversations, commented on one another’s Facebook and Instagram posts, discussed our favorite books, swapped recipes, saw each other at her rehab center after she fell and broke something, and kept loving each other for always. Margie loved hearing all about and keeping up with my daughter as much as she loved keeping up with me. 

Two weeks ago I talked with Margie and told her that Dawna (another of our missionary companions) and I were coming to see her. I have never known Margie to be more happy and excited than in that moment on the phone. She kept crying/laughing, “I can’t believe it! I just can’t believe it! Oh, I’m so happy! You’re coming to see me! Oh, won’t that be the most wonderful thing! I just can’t believe it!” And she spent the next week and a half telling every single person in her life (her nurses, her activities coordinator, her friends in the nursing home, her daughters, her doctor) that “her missionaries” were coming. 

Two days later a surprise infection and a pneumonia diagnosis got to her before I did, but I didn’t change my travel plans. Dawna and I got to her bedside Saturday morning where her daughters graciously gave me time to say goodbye. I know she waited for me and I know she knows I was there. I kept my promise, and so did Margie. She decided this morning would be the right time to go home, and she went carrying the hugs and kisses from all of her best friends. I’ll keep on keeping my promise, to love her for forever. 

Margie’s life is reminding me that what matters is only ever the way we love, the people we feed, and the language we speak. Being generous with our hearts is what expands our world. 

I love you. For forever. 

Taking Up Space

I went for a run two hours after the call came from Curtis that his dad was gone. I covered familiar ground, sticking to the sidewalks through the neighborhood nearest the village library. I just learned (I read every single installment of the library e-newsletter, of course) a water pipe to the fire suppression system burst and released a large volume of water into the library. I have never heard of a fire suppression system, but mostly I am sad when I think about that wonderful building holding my heart on every single page on every single shelf. I don’t know what new and temporary location will hold space for us when we gather as lovers of words while we wait for repairs and replacements to be made. Recovery takes a long time and I’m still mentally preparing for and reminding myself of that truth. A couple of months ago, I gave my spare library card to Curtis for safekeeping because you never know when I might need him to run down the hill or swing by the village on my behalf: my library proxy.

Have you ever noticed how much space we humans take up? That space occupying was all I could feel, see and hear while running my library-adjacent route: the man walking three tethered-to-each-other dogs, the two women pushing double-wide strollers (coffee mugs in-hand, too consumed with their conversation with each other to notice me using the same sidewalk), the jumbo-sized SUVs in the morning school line (stretching endlessly-adjacent to the sidewalk I was running), the distracted drivers with no crosswalk awareness cruising straight through their right and left turns (completely oblivious to my permission-granted blinking light trajectory, swiftly dodging their swift deli meat slicer moves), the overly-cologned man leaving a trail for my nose to unwillingly follow (with the window of his truck cab down all the way), the wailing siren somewhere in the distance (unseen but felt in an instant in my heart — my sharp breath intake, breathe out a silent prayer for peace, for grace, for love), the laughter of a cluster of middle-schoolers making their way through the same crosswalk as me (but in opposite directions). Trapper Keepers took up more space in my backpack than their clever commercials promised, but I had to have one.

We’ve been walking Curt’s dad to his next adventure, Curtis and I, these past few months. Taking up space in his room, where he’s gradually occupied less and less of it: walker-assisted walking, to a fall that rendered him bedridden, to therapy to move that hip, to reassert dominance over a wheelchair, sitting upright with self-propelled mobility, to nursing station hangouts, filling that hallway with his jokes and quick retorts, inciting laughter and delight (both space taker-uppers), and then back to bed, curled up in the fetal position, refusing food and water because they take up too much internal space.

Love (and grief — because grief IS love) takes up space and moves between and among us, filling us all — all at the same time, with no limit to its capacity. It might be the great mediator among us, Love. While we wait for repairs and replacements to be made to our hearts, I remind myself that healing, if there is such a thing to be achieved, takes a long time. I’ve noticed that my dad, who’s been gone three years now, and that Curt’s dad, who’s been gone just eight days, are still tethered to us, taking up a lot of space inside of us, holding our hearts on every single page of this story we’re still living out loud and writing in real time.

Kalanchoe Vibes

I’m sitting at the quaint two-seater table on our back porch, a pot of recently-watered blooming yellow Kalanchoe in front of me, listening to a dozen different bird species greeting the morning (and each other) in full surround sound.

I love this start to our Monday morning and to our week with everything possible in front of us, like an advent calendar whose individual doors are hiding a surprise I can’t see until it’s just the right time.

We spent all of Saturday and Sunday sitting with Curt’s dad as he transitions; Hospice says it will be today. I wonder if there’s a word for this watching and waiting window, like sitting shiva, but before they’re gone. It’s certainly a sacred time of honoring, whether there’s a word for it or not. 

The call just came. He’s gone. Now the birds’ extra-buoyant  chatter makes more sense.

hell with a little heaven in it

“As I Lay Dying”
That’s what I’d call this chapter
His chapter
We’re just reading it
Out loud
As a group
Gathered
Witnesses
Heartbroken
Just go
Finish the chapter
Please
We’ll write the next bit
On your behalf
Grateful
So much material
Exists
With you

Knocking On Doors

Not to keep on about this
Door knocking and
Us opening said door

I hate to think it; let alone say it
But is it possible
You’re wearing out your welcome?

Not that we welcome you
Except when we do
Which of late is the case

House and heart guests can be wearying
Like fish, they say
But please, make yourself at home

We hear you banging
Beating repeatedly, incessantly
Coming heavy-hearted to the entry, or is it the exit? 

Opening to you
Closes us to him
The intersection of breath and death

By the way, we received your hostess gift:
Grief arrived before you
Barely visible beneath all that baggage

Dimentia

Our sweetest Easter
He doesn’t know it’s today
He always knows us.

Lotion on each hand
I gently massage his feet
Hours he will forget.

Who needs Easter eggs
We found joy in front of us
Spending time with him.

Being Human

Seen: the tears I can’t not cry whenever I speak my brother Peter’s name.
Unseen: the clinch that tightens around my throat with my tears’ falling.
Is this a cause and effect? or is it simply Grief’s calling card?

Seen: their 59th anniversary prompt on today’s calendar.
Unseen: the lump I swallow around, thinking if I swallow hard enough I won’t cry.
Is this going to happen every March 14 until I, too, am not here to swallow?

Seen: me hugging my almost 25-year-old daughter so hard.
Unseen: the internal argument I’m having with myself because I no longer have her all to and by myself.
Will I ever learn to share what is definitely my most precious thing ever? Do I have to?

Seen: the most amazing man loving me, walking with me and holding my hand all night long, every single night.
Unseen: the terrorizing thought gripping my chest that he will leave.
Do trauma triggers and PTSD ever go away?

Seen: shelves upon shelves of books behind and around me.
Unseen: my fear that I’m not smart enough yet so I rage read to wrack up more volumes finished.
There’s a reason I set a limit of 52 books per year. Maybe this year I’ll not exceed it. Not likely.

Seen: me holding the microphone and singing loudly, “Maybe This Time,” and “I Feel Lucky” in front of the room.
Unseen: my pounding heart that’s not pounding so heavy it blocks my throat like before and before and the time before that.
I hear me as I open my mouth, like there’s an Oreo sitting on my tongue. Just like that.

Seen: my friend is sad and says it’s hard for him to be with himself.
Unseen: my immediate walk back in time to all the times I struggled to be with myself, too.
That journey is hard and lonely. I know. And I know it will transform you. You will Become, just like the Skin Horse. And just like me.

Seen: documentaries, podcasts (heard) and news stories about Mormons, Fundamentalists, origin stories and current events.
Unseen: the weight of my emotional separation from my family and their rights, their wrongs, their moralities.
Who can ever say when the crushing wound will happen to you? Or how it will splay you open, exposed and vulnerable to the man behind the curtain. . . .

Seen: me living my best life, finally.
Unseen: me living my best life, finally.
Can I bottle this up and stock my own shelves with it? Self-Preservation is the gift that keeps on giving me my Life.

The Dark Side of the Moon

Years ago, and for many years, my brother and I were partners in business. We always joked we stayed in business for years longer than we wanted to be in that particular line of work because we loved being together every single day. Work was merely our vehicle for relishing and growing our friendship as brother and sister.

I could write an entire book on the escapades we shared growing up, the jokes we coordinated and played on our favorite teacher (#sorrynotsorryMrsOsborne), the fact I was even in that class as a sophomore alongside my senior brother, the locker we shared at his insistence — and the love notes he would leave for me reminding me every day how important I was to him and how happy he was to be my brother — the open arms and heart way he completely took me in to his life, to his friends’ circle, to his love of soccer and the NFL, the late nights we spent discussing politics and SNL as a commentary in the late 1990s, and the way he picked up the phone and took my call all the way from North Carolina while he was in the middle of South Korea. My brother was my best friend.

We worked primarily with middle managers and taught them the soft skills of leadership, the things no one teaches yet expects you to know when you find yourself in a position of management. There’s also a pretty big distinction between management and leadership, but that’s a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down right now. I’m only talking about this because I wanted to give you some context for what it is I want to tell you.

So during these monthly training sessions, we would often play games to engage everyone together at their tables to work together, you know soft skills in action. And one of the games we used was an exercise in deductive reasoning. We showed a clip from the gripping movie, “Apollo 13,” starring Tom Hanks — you remember the scene in which they realize they need a square peg to fit into a round hole in order to make it back through Earth’s atmosphere without burning up like a brisket on the barbecue? It’s tense. And it’s all about cooperation and truly coming together to create the solution that saved those astronauts’ lives.

Anyway, we gave everyone a piece of paper that included a list of 15 supplies on the space ship. The assignment (designed and used by NASA) is this:

Scenario: You are a member of a space crew originally scheduled to rendezvous with a mother ship on the lighted surface of the moon. However, due to mechanical difficulties, your ship was forced to land at a spot some 200 miles from the rendezvous point. During reentry and landing, much of the equipment aboard was damaged and, since survival depends on reaching the mother ship, the most critical items available must be chosen for the 200-mile trip. Below are listed the 15 items left intact and undamaged after landing. Your task is to rank order them in terms of their importance for your crew in allowing them to reach the rendezvous point. Place the number 1 by the most important item, the number 2 by the second most important, and so on through number 15 for the least important.

I’ll go ahead and tell you — yes this is a spoiler — but your numbers 1, 2 and 3 must be #1: two 100 lb. tanks of oxygen (remember there’s no gravity on the moon, so these aren’t going to weigh much at all and will be easily carried), #2: 20 litres of water (apparently you lose a LOT of liquid on the light side, so you’ll need this to replace what you’ve lost), and #3: is a stellar map (because obviously the stars are your only navigational tools in that location).

Next time you’re given this test of your mental agility, you can impress everyone with your celestial knowledge. You’re welcome.

But anyway, that was a lot of back story to tell you that I’ve been thinking about the dark side of the moon as a place that actually exists, and that you and I can’t exist there, at least not for long and not without the right supplies. And I was thinking about my brother, who loved facilitating this exercise; he would always get so excited talking about the possibility of being on the moon in the first place, and then showing the movie clip, which he illegally spliced together, seamless blends between the chopped-up scenes and portions of dialogue — he was always so proud of that compilation and made sure to tell me after class had ended and we were left alone cleaning up our supplies and laughing, how proud of that illegal clip he was, not because it was illegal, but because he’d made something without seams. He was like that with his driving, too — from the moment I started driving he demonstrated on repeat the importance of pressing the clutch and shifting the gears without anyone knowing or feeling it had happened. I think I’m such a good driver because of him.

Ever since his accident, the seamless bond that always existed between us got ripped. It can’t ever be repaired and that’s only the fault of the driver who ran the stop sign on that clear morning five years ago. My helmeted and lighted brother on his bicycle both went down as court evidence. Even now, and since then, I do feel like one of us is on the dark side of the moon — separated from the other, and no amount of oxygen, water or stellar maps will ever bring us safely back together.

This heart of mine aches for and misses my brother who traveled to death and back again. He’s physically here still, but forever changed. If I could take a trip backwards, I’d just use it to make a quick phone call. But I don’t think space ships or mushrooms as modes of transportation travel backwards, either one. We’re only always moving ahead in time and I’ll keep using my right now moments to close my eyes and remember all those hours we spent together imagining which supplies we would need to have when he and I get stranded on the dark side of the moon: laughter was our favorite one, every single time, and it’s not even on NASA’s approved list.