I will be the first to admit that I have a fear of fire. I suppose that it came about from a time when I could not have been more than about four years old.… More
I began to feel quite ill, but it was December and I had to keep going with a flurry of activity to ensure that I would be ready to celebrate Christmas day with my family. I was decorating, shopping for gifts and holding classes for a group of kindergartners at my church. In spite of my efforts to keep going I was running out of steam with my energy level waning with each passing day. I ignored signs that all was not well until an encounter at the mall with my next door neighbor, Carol, who became gravely concerned when she noticed that my eyes had a yellow tinge.
Carol was perhaps ten years or so older than I was and so she was much like a big sister to me. She chided me when I admitted that I had not been feeling well and insisted that I go home and contact my doctor immediately. I told her that I would do as she had instructed even though I did not think that it was actually necessary to do so. I believed that if I rested for a day or so I would be back to my old indestructible self.
A day passed and I got a phone call from Carol asking me what my doctor had said. When I told her that I had decided not to contact him she became almost frantic, insisting that I take care of informing my doctor immediately or she would call his office herself. She believed that I was seriously ill and might be highly contagious. She emphasized how important it was for me to be responsible.
While I still thought that contacting my doctor was overkill I nonetheless made the phone call just so I might assuage Carol’s fears. The receptionist listened to my story and connected me to the clinic nurse who asked a number of questions about my symptoms, including the discoloration of my eyes. She directed me to come to the office immediately to consult with the doctor and have some lab work done.
I became a bit worried at the nurse’s unusually frantic response. I quickly found someone to watch my two little girls and drove to the clinic where I was immediately isolated from the rest of the patients waiting to be seen. The doctor looked at my skin and my eyes and asked a number of questions. Before even sending me for tests he made a diagnosis of hepatitis and explained that he would provide me with more directions once he had seen the results of my blood work.
That evening he called me to let me know that I did in fact have hepatitis. He insisted that I rest totally or he would have to send me to the hospital. He recommended that I avoid going places or having direct contact with anyone outside of my household. He then gave me more instructions for keeping the members of my family safe from contracting the disease from me. Little did I know that it was already too late.
Within a few days I was so ill that I literally began to wonder if I was going to die. By that time my skin had taken on a golden hue and the whites of my eyes were a brilliant yellow. I was nauseated and had a violent headache that made it painful to even sit upright. My mother came to rescue my daughters and care for them while I recuperated. Then my husband presented symptoms of hepatitis as well and was soon diagnosed with the same disease. So too did my mother-in-law also come down with the illness.
We joined forces by being together, taking turns resting and completing household duties. We theorized how we might have all become infected with the exception of my father-in-law and we narrowed down the possibilities to eating oysters on a visit to a seafood restaurant or being infected by a waiter at a Mexican restaurant who had looked so ill when he served us they my mother-in-law had actually complained to the manager. However it had happened we were quite the crew with various levels of the hepatitis.
Christmas was bleak that year. We missed all of the family gatherings and but somehow managed to be festive for our girls. Mostly though my mother and brothers provided them with a holiday that they never forgot. Soon both Mike and my mother-in-law were well as proven by blood tests, but my infection lingered on all the way through January and well into February with doctors worrying that I might have a chronic form of hepatitis.
I had become shockingly thin because the mere thought of eating was nauseating. My skin kept is bronzy glow and I had so little energy that I spent most of my days in bed. Perhaps the worst part was that I was quite isolated because few people wanted to somehow risk becoming ill from me. Those who did come wore make-shift masks or spoke with me from a safe distance on my front porch.
After enduring blood test after blood test for weeks and weeks and weeks I had all but given up on becoming well again. When I finally got a negative test I was elated, but so run down that I had no real desire to resume my life as it had been. It would take many more weeks before I once again felt a rush of energy propelling me to take my place among the living again.
I’ve drawn on that time during this pandemic. It taught me to have patience, to follow instructions from my doctors, to appreciate small joys, to know that one day things do get better. I learned that I had a circle of people who truly cared for me like Carol, my mother and brothers, my mother-in-law, and several friends who brought food to my home or even braved visits to keep me from feeling abandoned.
I became healthy again but I was changed. I would no longer be allowed to provide my blood to anyone because it was forever tainted by the hepatitis. I took even the smallest symptoms of illness much more seriously. I understood the importance of the loving people in my life.
Our economy, our jobs, our children’s educations are of incredible importance but if we ignore the sick among us or underplay the seriousness of Covid-19 we will surely dehumanize this terrible experience. We may be very tired of hearing about the virus or dealing with it, but we cannot simply pretend that it is not there. Facing it head on is the first step to healing our world. It’s well past time for all of us to work together to get and keep everyone well. It was science and love that got me back among the living. It is a formula that always works.
There has been some atrocious behavior this year, but I am a glass half full kind of person and I much prefer to focus on the good people that I have seen. In a very difficult time there will always be those who are uplifting, people who inspire us with their courage, humor, compassion or determination. Herewith are my nominees for the most wonderful folks of 2020:
- Without a doubt the doctors and nurses in our clinics and hospitals have been the superheroes of the 2020. For almost a year now they have been on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19. When others were complaining about sacrifices that they had been asked to make, the medical community never missed a beat. Their work was grueling and dangerous and yet day after day they have shown up all across the globe to be the soldiers in the battle for lives.
- Teachers have had to change and adjust to new ways of providing instruction in a moment’s notice. They have had to master the hybrid method of teaching face to face and remotely at the same time. They have donned gear more suitable for someone engaged in emergency medical care than for inspiring a classroom of students. They have faced uncertain conditions and compromised their own safety for the sake of their pupils. They have proven both their mettle and their dedication to our children.
- Students have had to carry on with their educations under difficult situations. Their routines have been upset and they have often lost precious relationships with their peers. It has been tough learning how to navigate technology and to overcome the feelings of isolation derived from remote learning situations. They have demonstrated their resilience again and again.
- Workers in manufacturing jobs have kept the supply chains filled even in times when their coworkers were falling ill around them. They have risked their own health to provide the necessary products that we need.
- Our farmers and those who work on farms have done their best to stock our grocery store shelves with grains, produce, milk, eggs, meat. They have fed us with the bounty of their hard work. Too often their efforts are unsung when they should instead become the stuff of ballads.
- The truckers and railroad engineers have moved supplies to where they are most needed. They have lived on the road, away from home in these troubled times, ready to clock thousands of miles to keep our pantries filled.
- Delivery people have brought packages to our doorsteps. They have shopped for our groceries. They have sometimes worked until the late hours of the night to get our orders delivered in a timely fashion.
- The managers and clerks and stockers have kept our grocery stores operating even in the midst of a lockdown. They work inside with hundreds of strangers potentially bringing the virus into their midst. Somehow they keep smiling, cleaning, insuring that we will have access to what we need.
- Entertainers have brought the gift of music and theater to our homes. They have found ways to make us laugh even when all we wanted to do is cry. They have demonstrated their talents for understanding our hearts and touching our emotions.
- Our first responders have been on duty every minute of every day. They have fought fires, rescued people from floods, lost their lives in the pursuit of keeping us safe. They have carried the critically ill to hospitals and stood watch over those exercising their right to protest in our city streets.
- Countless people have worked in offices to maintain the business of daily life that we do not often see, but miss when it is gone. They have sat behind computers at home making certain that the daily flow of commerce is not disrupted.
- Those who repair our homes, our cars, our appliances have kept things running. Sometimes they have had to enter places about which they knew little, potentially risking their health.
- Peaceful protesters have endured criticism and sometimes even injuries in order to voice concerns and to advocate for justice. They have been branded as looters, destroyers of property and unpatriotic traitors even when those epithets are not true of the overwhelming majority of them.
- Our military continues to serve throughout the world, quietly and valiantly keeping us safe and carrying out their pledge and duty to protect our Constitution.
- The media is too often unfairly criticized these days when, in truth, they keep us informed twenty four hours a day. They provide us with data on the virus. They alert us when a deadly storm is coming our way. They bring truth into our homes even when we sometimes prefer to believe the hoaxes of trolls.
- The scientists who are working to produce better treatments for Covid 19 as well as those who are attempting to develop a vaccine that will halt the spread of this virus are our greatest hope. We may never know who they are, but we will all benefit for their knowledge and inventiveness. Make no mistake, this vaccine will not have been the product of politicians, but of the genius of experts willing to burn midnight oil in search of anything that might halt the death and dying.
- Those who have demonstrated a sense of honor and respect for their fellow citizens by willingly wearing masks, keeping social distances, washing hands, and avoiding crowds and unnecessary gatherings are compassionate and caring. They have been willing to make sacrifices for the good of people that they may not even know. They have been cautious and they have shared their good fortune when able. They are people who realize that getting out and living does not mean partying, but caring for the most vulnerable and least fortunate among us.
The good people outnumber the evil many times over. They come in every shape and size. They are male and female, of varying sexualities, from different races and ethnicities. They represent every religious and non-religious belief. They are old and very young. They represent all that is best in the world and they somehow find ways to step up to do whatever needs to be done without regard for how they might be rewarded for their efforts. They are everyday people whose names we will never know and that is fine with them. They are not seeking fame or fortune. They simply want to do what is right. They are my heroes and it has been joyful watching them in action during this challenging year. They being me hope and put a smile on my face.
The truth is that I have never once cooked a Thanksgiving meal. I suppose you might say that I have been very spoiled over the years. My mother and mother-in-law accepted that duty for countless years and when they became too tired to continue my brother announced that he wanted to be the official Thanksgiving host. For all of my life I have simply dressed up and shown up at someone else’s home for the big feast. I usually make a couple of pumpkin pies and a side dish but I really have no idea how to make a juicy turkey or how to prepare the fabulous dressing that my brother creates. For that reason I panicked when my brother announced in October that he would not be cooking for a crowd this year due to Covid-19. I was on my own for the first time in my life.
My daughters and their families will be coming to my home. If the weather is nice we will set up tables in my backyard so that each household is able to eat together. The rest of the time we we be fully masked up and distanced for conversation and maybe a game or two. If the weather is inclement we will eat inside at separate tables based on households as well. One group will be in the kitchen, another will be in the dining room and Mike and I will be at a small table upstairs. Hopefully this will be enough caution to keep us all safe and not create a super spreader event.
That gets me to the problem of cooking food, something that terrified me so that I have ordered a family feast from Central Market that I will pick up on Wednesday afternoon. It includes enough turkey for sixteen people, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, green beans and rolls. I feel comfortable adding more side dishes like carrot salad, cranberry bacon brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, squash casserole and corn. I cook vegetables quite well and of course I’ll bake my pumpkin pies and maybe even attempt to reproduce my mother’s pecan pies. Those are in my comfort zone, but turkey and dressing, not so much.
My nephew Ryan has suggested that we have a Zoom conference sometime during the day. That will be nice but I doubt that it will be as crazy fun as our Thanksgiving after parties usually are. They get rather riotous and filled with laughter. In fact those moments are some of the ones for which I am the most thankful. Family has always been more important to me than anything else.
This year we are not only going to be separated due to the virus but we all know that we have had some big differences in our political thinking during this presidential election year. Some among us take things way more seriously than others and I suspect that feelings have been hurt along the way. I’m just grateful that we live in a country where it is acceptable to have a wide spectrum of views. At the end of the day I’m glad my guy won but I’ve lost enough times to know that one way or another I would have been okay anyway. I do not believe that we were going to be on the edge of Armageddon regardless of who had won. Our Founding Fathers set up a really smart system that seems hardy enough to weather even the worst political storms.
I am very thankful that my family has mostly stayed safe from the ill effects of the pandemic. The medical community has served us well and just as I believed would be the case it will ultimately be dedicated scientists, not politicians, who find a vaccine and lead us out of the dangers of the virus. It may still be awhile before that comes to fruition but I am hopeful that by next Thanksgiving we will be enjoying a mega feast and celebration with our big extended family at my brother’s home once again.
We have suffered as a nation and a world in the past many months but there is a beam of light calling us to the future. We are very fortunate in spite our our sacrifices and for this I am enormously grateful. I will be thinking of those who have lost much this year. Some have had to say goodbye to loved ones, others have watched their home and their property being destroyed by wind, rain, fire. This will be a very difficult holiday season for far too many. Hopefully they will have begun to heal when Thanksgiving 2021 rolls around next year.
If this year has taught me anything it is to never take anything for granted. None of us might have guessed what horrors we would witness when we lifted our glasses in gratitude only a year ago. Somehow in spite of it all we are still here, still able to express our thankfulness.
I celebrated my birthday this week. I turned 72, a number that boggles my mind and makes me wonder where the time has gone. It is a cliche but it is also true that I feel as though I am still quite young, perhaps no more than 32. In my mind I still have dewy wrinkle free skin, silky brown hair, and enough energy to tackle a mountain climb. In reality I no longer fool anyone with my age. I am an older lady, albeit one who is not yet ready to settle for a final journey. I still have enough zest to make the most of the hours in each of my days. I can still work for hours laboring even though I know that I will ache after my efforts. I intend to make the most of my journey on this planet for as long as I am able, but these days I do so with a kind of patience and slowing of pace that has eluded me for most of my life.
I now have the gift of time and it is a glorious thing. I was already enjoying the perks of retirement but my type A personality pushed me to fill my days with as much meaningful activity as possible. I was mostly on the go, measuring the worth of each rotation of the sun by the number of my accomplishments. I judged the success of another year of life on how full my calendar had been. All of that changed with the coming of the pandemic and with it so too did my attitude.
Had the seventy first year of my life gone as planned I would have traveled to Scotland, heard Elton John in concert, celebrated my nephew’s wedding, enjoyed gatherings with friends and family, visited loved ones who are sick, delighted in my Sunday mornings at church. In other words busily filled every hour of every day. I would have no doubt been quite content for that is my nature, but my now more isolated life has brought me a new outlook that is magnificent. My calendar shows a series of blank time slots that belong only to me. I am free to take my mind wherever I wish it to be, to consider thoughts and ideas and to immerse myself in simplicity.
My home is my Walden and like Thoreau I have learned how to embrace the beauty of simplicity. I hear and see birds that I did not know lived together with me. I gaze at my cup of tea and feel its warmth on my hands. I am filled with it’s aroma. I do not have to gulp it down because I have an appointment to which I must drive. I am able to linger and enjoy the filling of my senses, to think on things. It is as though scales have been lifted from my eyes, wax pulled from my ears.
I read. I pray. I study. I write. I learn. None of it is forced. It is all pleasurable. I have time to take the threads of existence and find their connections, the places where they are woven together. I see what is important and what is not. I appreciate even the tiniest moments, the drawing of each breath, something of particular importance in times of Covid-19 and George Floyd.
My age has given me the ability to live in this quiet way. It has allowed me to savor my isolation in a manner that would not have been possible in my younger days when I had children to nurture, responsibilities to fulfill. Being seventy two has its perks even as it signals that I am walking towards conclusion rather than a beginning, and yet I feel as though I am indeed starting over again with a new perspective about my role in this world and how I should choose to live.
When the time comes for “normalcy” again I do not think that I will be the same person that I was only a few months ago. I do not wish to keep myself so busy running around that I lose the ability to quiet my mind enough to see and hear what is most important. I want to continue to feel the joy of contemplation.
As I approached my seventy second birthday I became free of the superficialities of society. I walk in my bare feet most of the time now. I feel the grass on my lawn, the smoothness of the wood inside my house. I no longer fret over my hair which has grown long and natural. I have had no manicures or pedicures and yet my hands and feet seem healthier looking than they have in many years. My face is unadorned by make up, revealing the lines and dark circles that are my natural state. Amazingly I am more content with my appearance than ever. It is of less and less consequence each day. I have a glow of confidence that is most surely coming from within.
I have heard the cries of the suffering and understood their needs in ways that once baffled me. I have found the ability to open my mind to ideas that were once perplexing. It has been a journey more exciting than all of the unfulfilled plans that I had made before I knew that everything would change so dramatically. It has made being seventy two feel like one of the most wonderful times of my life.
I do not know where the coming days and weeks and months will lead me and the rest of the world but I do know that I have learned how to be content with little more than the sound of the wind or the cooing of a dove. I have simplified, simplified, simplified and it has been glorious.
When I was just a tad older than forty my husband and I decided to attempt a climb of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park along with our two daughters. We camped a little way up the trail and rose in the dark of the early morning hours to begin our trek. There was a silence between the four of us and our fellow adventurers who moved patiently up the mountain with only the illumination of flashlights to guide the way. Around five in the morning we stopped to gaze at the lights of the town of Estes Park far below where humanity was just waking up for a new day. It felt like looking at a little fairy village in a scene inside a snow globe.
By the time the sun rose above our heads we had reached the Boulder Field, an outcropping of massive rocks over which we would have to climb to get to the final stages of our journey. As I stood there with a brisk wind blowing across my face I looked all around and down below experiencing an other worldly sensation. It was as if I had somehow found a slice of heaven on earth, a vision that stays with me and soothes my soul to this very day.
I was unable to continue the trek to the summit because one of my daughters became quite ill with mountain sickness. I knew that I had to get her to a lower altitude where the air was more rich with oxygen. I might have been disappointed in coming that far and not being able to continue to the to the end of the trail but for the fact that I felt such serenity in the place that I had already encountered. I literally was aware of God’s presence in the world and it was not necessary to go any farther to feel a sense of divine ecstasy.
There have been other times when I believed that I was in a heavenly place and each of those moments were defined by the people with whom I had shared the experience and the magnificence of the scene before me. Last year I traveled to a quaint little town near York in England. It was called Robin Hood’s Bay and the combination of sharing fun times with my brothers and sisters-in-law along with a spectacular view made me once again feel as though heaven had somehow come to earth.
Robin Hood’s Bay is a seaside town rumored to have once been an outpost for pirates. It is now a sleepy fishing village with a passage to the North Sea and from there to distant shores like Norway. It is built on rugged cliffs and the wind seems to whisper the stories of the valiant people who once lived and worked. It’s main street features shops and buildings sitting precariously on steep hills that meander up and down while sea laden breezes fill the air. The whole place appears to have come from a fantasy with its quaintness, but in truth life was once very hard there. Somehow now the people have settled into a slow pace of living and being there was quite glorious. Sitting with the people I love while laughing and looking into the eternity of the horizon brought me a heavenly peace.
Heaven on earth has meant holding my babies, first my daughters and then my grandchildren. There is a hopefulness about being near little ones. Their innocence makes them seem like tiny cherubs. They remind me that there is still pure unadulterated goodness in the world. A baby sleeping on my chest brings me a calmness that only paradise itself might otherwise provide.
I have found heaven on earth in the most unexpected ways like sitting in the bough of a tree, watching the sunset in Grand Canyon, hearing the haunting cry of a loon. Sometimes relaxing in the quiet of my living room while listening to the laughter of the neighborhood children fills me with so much joy that I think this must surely be what heaven is like.
Each day I draw closer to the inevitable end of life here on earth that each of us will face. I sometimes wonder what heaven will actually be like. Will I get to choose what makes me happiest or is it so unimaginably special that my own images of it fall short of the reality? Will I once again see all of the people that I have known and loved? How will they appear? If I want to see Abraham Lincoln will that be possible? I’d like to believe that the contentment that I have felt on that mountain top and in that village will be mine for eternity but will it take a form that is more special even than my own thoughts?
Heaven is ethereal. How is it possible that we might get a glimpse of it even for a second here on earth? Somehow I believe that the glory of the best moments of my life will be magnified a thousand fold when I finally see my divine reward, but for now I am here and I want to find more of those times when the earth itself has felt so perfect. I think of a rainbow over the winding road of Glacier National Park, the first kiss from my husband, my mother’s smile, my father reading to me, my little girls kicking me from inside the womb. Surely heaven must be even more wonderful.