The Beginnings of Every Ordinary Day

“Holy cow!” my father said. “You must have gotten up early!”

I had just told him that I had already driven to the airport and back to pick up my husband from a business trip.

“No earlier than usual,” I told my father.

“What time do you get up?” he asked.

“5 o’clock,” I answered.

I didn’t tell him that he also gets up most mornings right around 5. I hear him on the monitor I have in my room because I worry about him falling or needing assistance.

He needs more and more assistance. The other day he called to me, “Sally? Sally?” with the door cracked open. When I checked on him, he was half-dressed and couldn’t think what to do next. But that was at 9 AM, around his usual time for getting dressed.

At 5 AM, on most days, I hear him get up to use the bathroom, but he goes back to bed. I get up, too, and go downstairs to make coffee.

The next 2 – 3 hours are blissfully mine.

Tuga and coffee in the pre-dawn

I read. My pile of books changes with the seasons.  Right now, I’m reading a Lenten devotional from She Reads Truth,

(rabbits not included)

The New Christian Year, daily readings following a liturgical calendar, compiled by Charles Williams, (my friend, Africa, who is learning to rebind books would be appalled at the white adhesive tape I used when it started falling apart on me),

Blaise Pascal’s Pensées (a pensée a day keeps the mind at play, I tell myself),

my Bible (5 Psalms and the chapter of Isaiah I’m memorizing),

and my prayer book. (Usually I have Lancelot Andrewes help me out here, but I’m giving him a break for Lent.)

I pray. The list grows longer and longer of the people I pray for by name. It’s rare when I cross someone off, but Antonin Scalia came off when he died, and Richard Hanna, my congressman, came off when he left office. Those girls kidnapped by Boko Haram? I chose one name off that list, and until I see her name in a follow-up story — and I frequently check — I’ll continue to pray for her and her family. Friends and family stay on my list forever. If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that your name is there.

I moodle. Brenda Ueland defines moodling as aimless dawdling. I find it essential for my mental health.

Something about letting thoughts swirl and settle sets everything right.

Lancelot Andrewes has a prayer that one commentator deemed incomplete, but I find it the perfect way to end my beginning every day.

In every imagination of my heart
In the words of my mouth
In the works of my hands
In the ways of my feet

I give it all over to Christ and ask His blessing on those things — my imaginations, my words, my works, my ways — and then head into another ordinary day.

Let Me Listen To Your Heart

Every time I see a copy of this book, Let Me Listen To Your Heart, in the thrift store or yard sale, I grab it so I can send it to someone who might appreciate it. This book of short writings by medical students in Cooperstown is poetic, poignant, and beautiful.

Some short excerpts* —

“So how are you today?”

What a stupid, stupid question. I know how you are — sick of freshmen like me practically giddy from my expensive education. You’ve seen me before….

Oh, yes, I have seen you before and put up the walls you describe your essay. But the young doctor goes on to describe finally connecting with the patient.

It’s a theme in the book. Listening. Moving beyond a list of memorized symptoms and linear diagnosis, to seeing a person. To hearing a person.

In another essay** the woman writer describes an ER patient being admitted for an overdose on a cold and rainy night. He had been referred to as a “scumbag”, which conjured up all sorts of images, before she actually met him.

[He was a]… scrawny little guy, with half-an-inch thick glasses and pretty bad acne…. I liked him immediately, almost instinctively — kind of the way you would like puppy that’s smaller and weaker than the others and has a really tough time getting its share of food.

We have so many preconceived ideas of what a patient should look like. She listened to his story, and concluded her essay with this:

The “scumbag” has long since drifted away, and I’m left sitting with a sad and lonely child. It’s raining again.

Another touching essay*** is about by a medical student who loves woodworking. By talking about curly maple, dowel joints, and cabinet-making, he finds a common bond with an otherwise obtuse patient. He ends his essay with this:

I was filled with the feeling that I had done something useful by finding the patient within the illness. And there to prove it, on the seat next to me, in the form of a hand plane, lay my first, unsolicited, fee.

My father came home with many such “fees” — fresh eggs, small paintings, handmade dolls for me and my sister.

When a doctor connects with his patient by seeing him or her as a flesh-and-blood person with history and future, who has a family, and work, and feelings, it can make all the difference.

I’m grateful that Bassett compiled this book back in 2002.

If you should see it somewhere, I suggest you grab it.

*”Getting Through” by Corey Magnell

**”Overdose” by Kristen Kalissaar Hunt

***”Fee” by Andrew Thomas

Lakefront Park

I clearly remember that morning.

I had tossed and turned all night. My thoughts were a twisting turning knot of turmoil.

Before dawn, I left the house and drove to the lake.

Water soothes me.

If I lived near the ocean, I’m sure I would have been at the beach, digging my toes into the sand. Instead, I was at Lakefront Park in Cooperstown, walking in dew-laden grass, looking out into the heavy fog that rested on the lake.

As the invisible sun rose and lent a little light, I took a few pictures. The lush green of summer was accentuated by the grayness of the fog.

The fog obscured the distance, but it helped me appreciate what was closest to me.

I haven’t forgotten that lesson.

Caregiver’s Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot do,

I can’t “fix” my loved one.

I can’t make him think more clearly.

I can’t make him understand.

I can’t go back in time, and mustn’t languish over how or what he was, because he is who he is now and that’s where we are.

Courage to do the things I can,

I can handle business affairs — writing checks, paying bills, scheduling appointments.

I can do laundry.

I can prepare meals and serve snacks.

I can answer the phone.

I can chauffeur.

I can explain things over and over and over and over, and set my exasperation aside.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

When I lay in bed at night, let me not angst over the battle, but, in the weariness of a hard-fought day, take my rest knowing that I did the best I could.

Few will see or know what I do.

My own loved one will never fully grasp the sacrifice that I, and my husband, and my children, are all making on his behalf.

But it is right and good.

And You know, o Lord.

Let that be enough.

Adapted from The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr.

In the Parking Lot

I never know what I’m going to see in the parking lot at the local grocery store.

In the village of Cooperstown, there is one — yes, only one — grocery store.

I go there often. My father’s refrigerator is small, and we go through perishables fairly quickly. I started keeping a chart of how often I go to the grocery because I felt like I was going every day. It turns out that out of 50 days, I only went 36 times.

I never know what I’m going to see there. Once, I saw Mrs. Claus pushing a shopping cart up the parking lot hill to her car.

Yesterday, I stood behind an elderly man at the check-out. He paid for his groceries and handed his change back to the cashier.

“I think I owe you this,” he said. She shook her head in protest and smiled at him.

As he headed for the door, he turned and said to her, “See you tomorrow.”

Another person who goes to the store nearly every day.

As soon as he was out of sight, she put the loose change he had just given her into the container at the checkout for the this month’s charity — I think it’s Muscular Dystrophy.

“I tell my boyfriend that I have a sugar-daddy,” she said to me. “He gives me quarters every day.”

We both laughed, and she told me how he comes in every day and goes through her line.

“Once he brought me a poem,” she said. “It was strange and I didn’t understand it.”

Poetry can be like that.

I thought about my father and the way he focuses on young women who smile and are friendly. With him, I get irritated about the whole thing. It’s a fixation that bothers me, but I know that it shouldn’t.

The man at the grocery store didn’t bother me in the least. I could see how lonely he was. And old. And slightly confused.

I paid for my groceries and headed out to the parking lot. The man was standing in the middle of it, a look of consternation on his face.

“I can’t find my car,” he said, and I could hear the panic in his voice.

“What kind of car do you have?” I asked him.

“It’s a blue Ford, but I can’t find it anywhere,” he said, one hand on his cart, the other fumbling with his keys.

“Well, let’s see,” I said, and I began to look around.

With minimal effort, I found a blue Taurus and pointed to it. “Is that your car?” I asked.

A huge smile broke out on his face. “Yes! Yes, that’s it,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

I watched him push his little cart to the car and was grateful I could help.

As I drove home, I hoped he could remember where he left his house.

I’ll have to ask the cashier about it when I see her today.

Theme Reveal

Today is the theme reveal day for the A to Z Blogging Challenge.

This will be my third time doing the challenge. (This morning I re-released the posts from the other two years.)

In 2015, I just gotten back from Laity Lodge in Texas and my posts more or less revolved around that experience.

In 2016, still grieving for my mother, I wrote posts about her, dementia, caregiving, and such.

For 2017, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, but struggled to find a label for it.

For some months now I have been playing with the art form of collage. I find children’s books that are in a state of disrepair, cut out the pictures, and make new pictures, mostly on cards.

I mailed a bunch out as cards to friends and family without scanning them to save the art, but now I scan what I make so I can remember.

At Christmas, I made a little picture for each family member that served as their place-card at the dinner table.

The more I do, the more I learn.

Cheap paints run. Note how blue Rabbit and the The Velveteen Rabbit are in their encounter in the lower right corner. The blue paint has just been a stinker for me. It ruined more pictures than I can say.

Cheap paper wrinkles when it’s glued. Some books have great pictures, but the paper is so cheap it’s almost not worth the time cutting the picture out.

Heavy glossy paper doesn’t glue well either. Pictures from pop-up books and the covers of coloring books just don’t want to stay stuck.

For April 2017, my A to Z Theme is Quirky Collage. A collage a day  — plus words, because I find them inescapable.

Hope you enjoy!

Pi Day

On Pi Day (3/14) I made pie: shepherd’s pie for dinner and lemon meringue pie for dessert. I forgot to take a picture of the shepherd’s pie at all, and I snapped a shot of the lemon meringue after we had already had some.

Today I was thinking about the Meal-on-Wheels controversy. Apparently Donald Trump proposed cutting funds that provide for that program.

At first I was horrified.

My father-in-law relied on Meals-on-Wheels. Of course, he didn’t always like the meals and let us know. He also saved up the little cans of juice that he got with the program and offered them as treats to his grandchildren. It turns out nobody really liked them.

If Meals-on-Wheels funding had been cut back when he was using it, what would have happened? I’m sure we would not have let my father-in-law go hungry. My first call would have been to his church and the next to other people in the community where he lived most of his life. It would have taken some work, but we would have figured something out.

It would have required something of me.

I thought about Meal-on-Wheels on Pi Day, because I know my father isn’t a huge shepherd’s pie fan. I comforted myself with the fact that he was getting a hot homemade meal — not because I’m part of a government program, but because I’m his daughter.

This morning I read this from Pascal:

Dost thou wish that it always cost Me the blood of My humanity, without thy shedding tears?

I fear that we, as a people, are reaching a point where we are always looking for someone else to pay the cost without us having to shed a single tear. Or make a meal for someone else. Or even help ourselves.

If governmental funding for Meals-on-Wheels is cut, we could still get to work and make sure our elderly are fed.

When the going gets tough, we need to look for ways to help.