Paper Prayer

Please, God, don’t let me become a paper snob.

Thank you for my expensive journals with paper that doesn’t bleed through, but remind me that words written on a napkin or the back of an envelope are no less important than those written in a Moleskine journal — just harder to keep track of.

I love that watercolor paper has both a rough and a smooth side, but let me not look down upon those who have yet to discover this wonder or on watercolor papers that lack this attribute.

Help me remember that the lesser grade papers are not lesser in importance, but may require gentler handling or may be suited for a different purpose.

The variety of paper in this world is astounding — paper towel, parchment paper, wrapping paper, newspaper, brown paper, filter paper, toilet paper, loose leaf paper, rag paper, wood pulp paper, even elephant poo paper. Thank you for each one, although I don’t ever see myself using the elephant poo paper.

I worry about becoming a pen snob, too, so tomorrow, can we talk about writing instruments?

Amen.

 

Surgery

Each member of the surgical team looped through the room.  An introduction. Name and date of birth requested. The why-are-you-here question.

My mother didn’t know the answers when I had sat in the same spot with her some years before. I helped.

My father knew — for the most part.

“Did you have anything to eat this morning?” the anesthesiologist asked.

“Not too much,” he answered.

“He had nothing,” I said.

“Has the surgeon marked on you yet?” a nurse asked.

“No, I don’t think so,” he answered.

“Yes, he did,” I replied.

“Can you tell me about your other surgeries?” the surgeon asked.

“It’s been years and years,” my father answered.

“Last August he had a VP shunt put in, and a few years before that he got a pacemaker,” I answered.

He knew his name. He knew his birthday. He knew what the surgery was.

All in all, I’d say he did pretty well.

A few weeks ago, he had had an episode of chest pain that landed him in the Emergency Room. They ask a different set of questions.

“Are you still a full-code?” the nurse had asked, but then she looked to me for the answer. It’s an uncomfortable question.

“Well, I’m not ready to cash in yet!” my father answered.

“Would you like to be placed on life support?” she asked.

“I’m not going to live forever, you know,” he replied.

His mixed responses were confusing, but he and my mother had both very clearly written out their wishes many years ago. I told his doctor and she asked that I bring in a copy to put in his chart. Just so it’s there.

Last night, I went for a walk. The fields were fifty shades of green. The timothy alone was a full palette of color — spring green, grass green, grey green, a whispery pale green at the very edges of the flower-head.

The fields whispered with the breeze, carrying along its little breaths like a melody passed around an orchestra. The meadow swayed and danced, and the only audience for this performance was the deer, the red-wing blackbirds, and me.

When the Bible talks about grass, it’s usually in reference to transience.

“The grass withers, the flower fades…” (Isaiah 40:8)

The comparison isn’t that man will last forever. We are just as transient.

A surgery day is a time to remember that.

It’s a time to pause. Even if we’re not ready to cash in, it’s okay to remember that we aren’t going to live forever either.

*****

The surgery went well. He’s already home. He’s not ready to cash in yet — and neither am I.

The Power of Hello

I go to the grocery store, on average 20-21 days every month.  That’s like going every single day for 3 weeks and then taking a week off.

My shopping frequency combined with my New Year’s Resolution to not use the self check-out has given me ample opportunity to get to know the people at my local store.

One cashier is coming up on her 50th high school reunion.

Another was at work shortly after surgery, telling me, “I can’t afford to take three weeks off. My family needs the money.”

A male cashier thanked me for shopping at Safeway — but I was at Price Chopper. His eyes widened and he put his hand over his mouth. “I can’t believe I said that. I haven’t worked at Safeway for over 10 years.” Plus, for the record, there are no Safeways in our area. He and I laughed about it. “Your secret is safe with me,” I told him — except, I guess, it wasn’t because I just told all of you.

One of the deli guys took up the challenge of slicing my swiss cheese thin. “Is that thin enough?” he asked, holding up an imaginary slice of cheese held between his forefinger and thumb. We both laughed.

Then there was the cashier with the sugar-daddy. (See “In the Parking Lot“)

I now recognize most of the people who work in the meat department, the flower shop, the service desk, and produce, and I try to greet them. It was an introvert hurdle — but I think I’ve gotten over it.

The other day, one of the produce guys greeted me. I had grabbed my bunch of bananas and was headed out when he said, “Are you Sally?”

“Yes,” I replied, wondering how he knew my name.

Then he asked again, this time adding my maiden name.

“Yes,” I said, “How did you…”

Before I could finish, he introduced himself. He had graduated with me from high school.

Boys can undergo a dramatic metamorphosis between high school and life. I doubt I would recognize many of the boys-turned-men with whom I graduated just on sight. He was no exception.

As soon as he said his name, of course, I remembered him. I remembered when his family moved to Cooperstown. They were from a strange place called Lon Guyland. In fact, it was always referred to as “down Lon Guyland.”

Besides my mother’s Boston that snuck into her speech every once in a while, and a local doctor who was decidedly southern, I couldn’t have identified any other American regional accents. Now I could add Long Island to the list.

That day in the grocery store, I was so happy that he said something to me. It was the day I wrote “Bleh” and was feeling just like that.

Discouraged.

A mess.

A failure.

And then someone reintroduced himself to me. As we caught up on each other’s lives, it turned my day around.

The power of a simple hello.

Last night, the local guy behind me in line said, “Remind me why we like Cooperstown in the summer.”

The store was crowded with tourists. The couple ahead of us in line, probably grandparents come to watch their grandson play at the Dreams Park, hadn’t noticed the Express Lane sign for the register — 15 items or less.  But all the registers were busy like that.

Cooperstown in the summer: Busy. Crowded. Baseball teams. Tour buses. No parking spots. Few familiar faces.

Across the store, I could see Mark putting out tomatoes in the produce section. I thought about how nice it is to live among people who have known my family for nearly half a century, and especially how nice it is to be recognized and greeted.

“Because it’s lovely,” I replied.

Red-Winged Blackbird

The red-winged blackbirds begin check-check-check-ing at me as I walk down the road.

With dog, without the dog — it doesn’t matter. I’m a threat and they need to let the world, or, at the very least, their fellow blackbirds know that danger approaches.

They sit on fenceposts, telephone wires, tree branches, cattails, and other tall weeds.

Red-winged blackbird speck

I have stopped on multiple occasions to try to snap pictures of them. I either end up with a tiny speck of a bird or empty wires, branches, etc.

They flee from the fenceposts when I stop walking. I can’t focus on taking a picture while walking. My phone is my camera, nothing fancy for zooming in. Walking pictures are a mess.

Frankly, I’ve given up on photographing them.

For me, the red-winged blackbirds must be enjoyed from a distance or in my periphery. As abundant as they are, they are also too elusive for me to photograph well.

Sometimes life is like that, don’t you think? It simply can’t be tackled head-on. We can’t stop and savor each little thing, but we can enjoy the brief moments as they pass.

Now the birds that have taken up residence in our birdhouse tease me in the same way. One tiny nondescript bird sits on the chimney of birdhouse, singing merrily, until I get out my phone/camera. I look to find the camera icon on my screen, look back up, and she’s gone. Either both birds in the pair are blasé brown, or I haven’t seen the mister.

Elusive

I need to improve my mental camera when I see them or my memory of their song or create some other method if I ever hope to identify these occupants.

Or, maybe I need to stop worrying about it and enjoy the moment.

Does everything have to have a name? Does everything have to be captured and held?

In our instant electronic gadgety techno age, we’ve lost the looking-out-of-windows and being-in-the-moment.

Sometimes I wonder if children riding in the car down the east coast of the United States even see the Pedro billboards. Or, in rural Nebraska or Iowa, if they see the monotony of corn fields. Or is that when they’re busy watching Frozen for the umpteenth time?

Because if they miss Pedro and the corn, they’ll most certainly miss the many red-winged blackbirds check-check-check-ing from the fencepost.

First Aid

I took a lot of first aid classes back in the day.

First Aid.

Advanced First Aid.

First Aid and CPR.

First Aid for lifeguards who work at camps in the middle of nowhere.

First Aid for ambulance dispatchers.

Okay, I may be making some of those up. But I WAS an ambulance dispatcher at one point in my life. And I worked as a lifeguard at more than one camp in the middle of nowhere. I think my title at one was lifeguard and the other was Aquatics Director, which sounded lofty and important, but I basically did the same job at both camps. Lifeguarded.

My grandmother came to visit me at one of the camps where I lifeguarded.

My one rescue in all my years of lifeguarding was at a camp. A little boy with Down Syndrome zipped past me while I unlocked the gate to the pool. He jumped right into the deep end. His eyes widened when he realized he couldn’t touch the bottom, and, as he floundered there, I reached in, grabbed his arm, and pulled him to the side. I actually didn’t need any lifeguarding classes to do what I did in that moment. It was all instinct. After that, his counselor made sure he had on his lifejacket before they headed to the pool.

Once, when I was coaching high school girls, I had a swimmer that had donated blood earlier in the day. Her puncture wound from donating opened while she was swimming and started bleeding. A lot.

“C’mon out,” I told her, and placed my hand firmly over the wound to apply pressure.

Meanwhile, another swimmer started feeling light-headed from the sight of the blood. “Stay at the wall,” I called over my shoulder to the woozy girl as I walked the bleeding swimmer to a bench. A couple of swimmers stayed with Woozy.

I wondered where the lifeguard was when I saw her hurrying toward me, pulling on latex gloves as she came. I looked at my hand on the girl’s arm. I was holding the arm up while she lay on the wooden bench. I had blood on my fingers. There was blood rivulets down her arm. A trail of blood drops led from the pool to the bench.

The lifeguard stopped. She blew her whistle and cleared the pool, helping Miss Light-Headed out and shepherded the girls away from all the blood.

My first First Aid classes had been pre-AIDS and pre-blood-borne-illness precautions. My instincts and early classes kicked in long before I thought about getting gloves on. Apply pressure and elevate.

I don’t know if that makes me a good responder or a bad one.

I guess I’m a gut responder.

Then I spend the next ten years second-guessing myself.


Back to Bleh — this morning I thought, I’m going to look at the Daily Prompt, and if I’m inspired, I’ll write. The prompt was “Puncture,” and I immediately thought of Sucking Chest Wounds — doesn’t everybody?

I had learned about them in First Aid a long time ago, and found them fascinating, although I always thought it a little silly to learn about them because they fell into the category of Probably-Information-I-Will-Never-Use.

The initial title for this post was “Sucking Chest Wounds,” but when I started writing, well, you see what came out. Nary a word about sucking chest wounds.

Bleh.

And no good conclusion.

Double bleh.

Bleh

“Everything I write is stupid,” I told the girls the other night. “I need to just stop.”

Of course they gave the obligatory, “No, Mom. We like it.”

But I was all phooey-on-everything.

Laurel said, “What if you just didn’t write every day?”

Now there’s a novel idea.

Some things feel a little wrong to write about — like my father’s decline. As cathartic as it was to write about my mother, the catharsis isn’t there this time. It documents, I suppose, like this morning’s conversation —

Dad: I had the strangest phone call this morning. I answered the phone and nobody was there.

Me: What phone did you answer?

Dad: The phone in my bedroom. It rang at 7 AM.

Me: You don’t have a phone in your bedroom.

Dad: Well, nobody was on the other end.

It’s such a sad documentation.

A lot of other things fall into the does-anyone-really-care-about-this category.

Like the indigo bunting that flew into the window the other day. While it lay stunned on the deck, I took this picture, so I could look it up to identify it. When the cat came trotting up the ramp, I ran out the door to shoo her into the house so she wouldn’t bother the bird. Then I picked up the bird and moved him to a safer place. He perched on my finger after I scooped my hand beneath, and he weighed about as much as popped popcorn. I placed him where I could see him from inside. About an hour later, he flew away. A fascinating story — with no point at all.

Sometimes writing feels so bleh.

A hiatus is in order.

Or, at the least, a taper.