Last night he asked if I wanted to do a heart share. We learned this technique from a workshop we attended on the power of appreciation.
We sat across from each other in my bed. I set the timer for five minutes. He went first.
“I appreciate everythjng you done for me,” he said. “I appreciate how you are including me so much in your family. I appreciate that you’re taking me to the beach with them this summer. I never had that, growing up, those times when my family went on trips and played together. We never did things like that. I love feeling like I’m part of a family. I appreciate your strength in dealing with your situation, and your courage. I appreciate that we work through things when conflict comes up, that we don’t fight and get mean with each other. I appreciate your smile, and your warmth, and how you get me my coffee in the morning. I love you very much.”
Timer was up. My turn now.
I told him I was sorry for shutting him out, for turning away from him, from not having faith in him hanging with me through this sudden onset of relentless pain. A herniated disc, my doctor tells me.
“I appreciate your humor,” I said. “I appreciate you being here with me, helping me through this. I appreciate how much I’ve watched you grow up, and the man you have become. I appreciate your silliness, your spontaneity, your comic relief to my seriousness. I appreciate that you tell me you’re sorry when you’ve done something that hurts my feelings. And I love you very much.”
These are the times when the pain is bearable, when the sunlight streams into the window in the morning, and the dog sighs sleepily at the foot of the bed, and in this moment I’m surrounded with love. I thank God I’m still alive, and I feel hope again. And he’s here with me, sleeping, and I am grateful.
I’m thinking lately of this scripture, love is patient, love is kind….
I used to hear this, all the time, at weddings, I had it in my own wedding.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, when I grew up, I put away childish things.
Chronic pain will force you to put away childish things.
Chronic pain will make you realize what matters most.
Chronic pain will make you angry.
Chronic pain will make you think about giving up the things that don’t matter, the people who don’t matter.
Chronic pain cuts life down to essential questions, like who will hang with you, when you’re on the floor, screaming in pain, makeup off, defenses down, hope vanquished.
Chronic pain will cut the shards of life into fragments of seconds, one twist forward, one breath of fresh wind blowing against your cheeks, a singular thought of your babies born and growing, and the love that never leaves you.
When I was a child, I thought like a child, I spoke like a child.
I have given up childlike ways and the children I used to play with.
Chronic pain is a grown-up sport, and from now on I’m playing with the grownups.
I’m on muscle relaxers today for my sciatic nerve pain, which has come roaring back after taking a four-year hiatus. Intense pain makes a person lose their sense of humor, quickly. This physical pain seems to be an appropriate crescendo to the tragedies I’ve witnessed this past month to people around me. It’s as if their collective emotional pain has settled in my left leg as a reminder.
From my college friend’s sudden loss of her 16-year-old son, to my father’s brother who died a week ago, to my confidante and neighbor who has pancreatic cancer and may be dead by this summer, it seems like death is all around me lately.
And my own physical pain lingers with me all day, making me feel much older than I am.
Since I was raised in the church, I think about the story of Job in the Bible about human suffering, but the Job story isn’t helping me today, nor is the popular AA mantra “this too shall pass,” or the Buddhist notion of radical acceptance.
Nothing is helping me today, and it’s difficult right now to appreciate the tulip bulbs popping up in the front yard, or my giggling daughter while I curled her hair for the first time tonight, or the glorious sunrise over the Smoky Mountains yesterday, or the hot, steaming coffee I drank as I lay in bed this morning.
My favorite line in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is “I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.”
But, must we always notice the beauty? Must we always look on the bright side? Is it okay to just feel sad for a bit?
Because, today, people all around me are hurting, and my good friend is rapidly dying, and I’m not thinking of pretty flowers.
So I’m on a roll with this old magazines thing, and I’m thumbing through a 1964 Life Magazine issue, when I come across an ad for a “Flameless Clothes Dryer” made by Edison Electric. Here’s the copy:
A flameless electric clothes dryer is wonderfully convenient. Its action is so gentle, and it leaves no odor on your clothes. Because it’s flameless, it has fewer than half a dozen mechanical parts. And not needing any flue, it can be put wherever you want it. Talk to your local appliance dealer about a flameless electric clothes dryer. You’ll take an important step toward the joy of total electric living.
WTF? Flames in the clothes dryer? And a flue? I seriously didn’t know that clothes dryers were ever made with flames and flues. (And you didn’t either, so don’t act like you did.) What an incredibly stupid idea, who ever thought of this? (Hey, Mom, why are my clothes all charred and black? Sorry, honey, it was the flames. Those darn flames, they must have gotten out of the flue again.)
And did you know that, back then, when clothes dryers came with flames, people also had phones that actually plugged into walls, and you had to stick your pointer finger in a hole and turn it to a number to make a phone call?
Can you even imagine?
Listen up, girls, I know how much you all love to bowl. We all do! But if it’s one of “those days,” before you grab your Tory Burch bowling bag for a fun night out with the girls, you might want to read this advertisement for Modess napkins, circa 1951. As the doctors advise, let the others play while you keep score, I promise it’ll still be a real blast!
I’m not worried about this personally because I’ve been told that I’m not even the least bit funny.
I love perusing magazines to see what life was like in the good old days. I found some awesome letters from a January 1963 issue of Co-Ed Magazine, where high school girls and boys are asked to “sound off” on “woman’s place outside the home.” Here were the questions and comments from the magazine:
Where is woman’s place outside the home? Should women enter such fields as business, science, government, or politics? Your answers to this question indicate basic differences of opinion. Many of you maintain that a woman should devote full time and energy to her family and home; that she should leave outer space and the inner workings of politics and government to men. Others say a woman should utilize her talents in any field for which she’s qualified and in which she’s interested.
Here were some of the girls’ answers:
Women have minds and wills of their own. They have a great deal to offer the world; those who are dedicated to their work can make a fine contribution to any field. –G. D., Olympia High School, Columbia, SC
A woman’s place is in the home and nowhere else. There should be no women in government, space, business, or science unless the women are single. A married woman should stay athome where she is needed. I’m sure she can find enough things to keep herself occupied. –L.M., Immaculate Conception High School, Connellsville, PA
I see no reason why a woman can’t become anything she wants to be if she has the necessary qualifications. Women are just as smart as men and should be allowed to use their intelligence. I, myself, plan to become a scientist. –A.B., John Marshall, Jr. High School, South Bend, IN
The powers of a woman’s mind are virtually being wasted. A woman, as well as a man, should be placed in a position according to ability. Not only is the present system unreasonable and unfair, but it is robbing the country of valuable minds and of people who would be great assets to politics, science, and business. I am eagerly looking forward to the day when newspapers headline a story of the first woman astronaut, and I feel sure the time is near. –J.P., Evergreen High School, Seattle, WA]
If the woman has the necessary background and intelligence, she should run for President. Many improvements would be made if a woman held this office. –J.H., Damascus High School, MD
A married woman’s first duty is to her family. She has chosen this way of life and should not regret her decision. If a woman remains single, however, or has a grown family, she should have the opportunity to use her talent and experience in any field. S.D., Academy of Our Lady, Chicago, IL
I feel that a woman’s primary responsibility is to her home and her family. Therefore, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a woman astronaut or President or anything else, so long as a woman considers her family and the maintenance of a nice home of primary importance. Whenever a woman should choose to work, however, she must not lose her identity as a woman. She should take her femininity with her no matter where she goes. A woman’s career, ultimately, is to be a woman. –D.D., Washington Twp. High School, Centerville, OH
Here were some of the boys’ answers:
The best place in the world for a woman is at home with her family. If she has the ability and the desire to take part in world affairs, then she should not have a family. At this time, I don’t think the United States is ready for a woman president or astronaut. –C.H., Elkhorn High School, Nebraska
Intelligent women should not be held back because of their sex. Our country needs all the trained personnel it can find, whether they are men or women. I think too much is made of the fact that women are getting into professions held previously by men only. I agree that a mother with school-age children should remain at home, but otherwise it’s good that women are moving into new fields. This trend is going to continue, until we might even have a woman President. In time, professional women in politics will be accepted as readily as women teachers. –J.B., Winona Senior High Senior, Minnesota
It’s my opinion that the best place for women outside the home is in politics and science. Many girls are very intelligent and it seems a shame that they waste their talents when they grow into womanhood and get married. Science needs brain-power–male or female. An occupation in government, space exploration, or business takes extreme dedication and a special type of emotional stability and courage that is usually found more often in men than in women. Women can, however, be assets in any of these fields. –M.M., Cathedral High School, Detroit, MI
A woman’s place is in the home, leaving men’s jobs for men. Women might be allowed in important positions in government, science,and business, but never in the top echelons. –L.W., Belt Valley High School, Montana
Women should be active in politics. Women have a knack for talking and it seems to me that if world problems were discussed more, we might have less trouble with our allies. –W.E., North Syracuse Central High School
A woman’s place is any place where she can do her job best. Some women are best suited for housework and they should stay in the home. On the other hand, many women can do well in business or politics. There are many women doctors and teachers who are performing well at their tasks, although they do not always receive due admiration. –J.H.,Winona Senior High School, MN
A woman should do something besides housework. Most women stay home with no outside life and I think the world would be much better with more women workers. –M.C., Staley Jr. High School, Rome, NY
Opportunities and careers for women are expanding every day. The power of a woman cannot be underestimated and there is a growing demand for women trained in special skills. I think their talents should be utilized. –R.H., Lewiston High School, Minnesota