It Wasn’t My Idea

After 9/11, David went to war.

From the Navy Reserves, he was activated for a year of anti-terrorism duty on a ship based in Japan. Away he went. I stayed home and coped.

One of my best coping mechanisms wasn’t planned. Actually, it embarrassed me. Every Sunday when I went to church, I stood for the first song, opened my mouth, and sang for about five seconds. Then I cried.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t cry and sing at the same time. So I sat down and wept throughout the music, recuperated during the sermon, and went home ready to deal with the week. It was amazingly effective.

Later, a friend who’d been deeply hurt by the church some 30 years earlier decided to give it another try. She loved being back but told me she was worried. “I don’t understand,” she said. “Every Sunday I cry during the music.”

She was finding healing as well.

Since David broke his neck, music touches him much more deeply. Because of that, he has something special going now. I want to give this full justice, so I’ll describe it next time.

Paddling

If your life has been trouble-free, I’d like to hear from you. Delusional people are always interesting.

In what I write here, I’m not looking for sympathy. This may sound odd, but one of my favorite Bible verses says, “As sparks fly upward, so man is born to trouble.” Everyone’s life takes major flipovers. Those are the times when both the sorrow and the beauty of life swell with such intensity, we’ll never be the same. That’s not necessarily bad.

I like to hear other people’s stories. We may be on different parts of the water, but we’re all in the same boat. 

The Bright-Dim Meltdown

As soon as I understood the seriousness of David’s injury, I shifted into a wartime mentality. Everything that needed to be done or endured, I faced with determination. Between that and the prayers and help of family, friends, and strangers, I made it almost a full year with no meltdowns.

Then I walked into the auto supply store.

A headlight on our then-Buick had gone kaput. I bought a replacement bulb, and David described how to find and remove the old one. I did that, but the new unit looked different and refused to fit. So, back to the auto supply store.

The clerk who waited on me spoke impatiently. “You need the bright bulb or the dim? You know they’re separate units. One goes in a ways back from the other.”

I didn’t know that, and I didn’t know which one I needed. He snorted and brushed aside the one I’d just returned. “Well, you’ll just have to find out and then come back.”

Though my ingratiating smile had long ago faded, what happened next took us all by surprise. I didn’t exactly shriek, but I certainly didn’t whisper. Heads turned as the words poured out. “My husband broke his neck, and I’m trying to handle everything, and you aren’t helping. I’m going someplace where they will!”

He called after me, “You need to get your money refunded.”

“I don’t want my money!” I shoved through the door.

Outside, I leaned against the Buick and sobbed. After a few minutes, I gathered my courage and went back in. The clerk’s eyes widened with alarm, but I had come to apologize for my tantrum. I’d never spoken to a salesperson like that before. He didn’t quite know what to do with the apology – I think he was more comfortable with the tantrum – but another clerk said, “Let me look at your car. Maybe I can help.”

He did. He located the problem, fetched the right part, and installed it. He also apologized for the other clerk’s rudeness. “This is retail, after all.”

Since then, I’ve heard story after story like mine – eventually all caregivers go up in flames. And it seems my episode came right on schedule, a year after the accident.

I went home and told David the whole story. “You’re burned out,” he said. “It’s time for other people to carry part of this. I’ll set up rides to work and therapy so you get some time off.”

Do you wonder why I love this guy?

I still haven’t been back to that store.

Clothing Maketh the Man

I’ve read that Colorado Springs ranks as one of the worst-dressed cities in America. Yesterday David and I did our bit to contribute.

We wanted to go to the morning farmers’ market, which meant no time for our usual getting-ready routine. Instead, David stayed in sweat pants and his pajama top, a desert-camouflage Navy t-shirt. I wore jeans and a top that reads, “Plain t-Shirt with no touristy stuff about Cairns or Australia on it. Blah blah blah.”

Instead of dealing with bedhead, which is impossible anyway without a shower, I plunked my gardening hat over my hair. David wore a Mueller Park ballcap with a dirty thumbprint on the bill. Beneath it, his stubbly chin glinted in the sun.

Nice!

As I pushed the wheelchair the eight blocks to the park, we both realized I’m stronger than when we went last year. That was good. But we also noticed something that puzzled us. People usually smile at us, say something pleasant, offer help when the pavement is rough or steep. This time, though, we seemed invisible. If people looked at us at all, their faces were wary and their gaze quickly shifted away. On the way home with our Palisade peaches, we stopped in a shop to buy a broad-brimmed hat for David, and the saleswomen were civil but far from warm. They seemed surprised when I pulled out a credit card and it actually went through.

Light dawned. When we left the shop, I told David, “We look dubious.”

In our twenties, we could get away with it. As we get older, though, casual turns into scruffy. Add a wheelchair to the mix, and people expect you to whip out a cardboard sign: “Homeless. Anything will help.”

That’s reality. Disability makes people uncomfortable, and David has already learned he needs to make an extra effort to smile and look friendly. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way. I don’t know. But hanging onto should and shouldn’t doesn’t get you anywhere.

Another lesson learned. Good thing for Colorado Springs’ reputation.

The Incomparable Jane

David is an amazingly adaptable person. Not long after we married, he decided any man who wanted to understand his wife should read Anne of Green Gables, or at least watch the movies.

Later, he added Jane Austen. He especially liked Sense and Sensibility, with steady Elinor and hyper-emotional Marianne who falls down a hill, sprains her ankle, and is rescued by the dashing and dastardly John Willoughby.

When he returned to work six months after breaking his neck, each day our drive to the office took us past the bike path. For the first few days we fell silent as we approached the spot where life had changed so abruptly. Then one morning, David broke the silence. “There I fell,” he intoned, exactly like Marianne. “And there I first saw Willoughly.”

Jane Austen would tell you that a good sense of humor is worth more than a fortune.

The Rock, Part 4

I collected my gear and spread it around the rock.

A thick plastic carpet protector that used to be under my desk chair. Two lengths of chain. A rope. Our drill with its biggest bit. The crowbars. Our Subaru, backed as close to the rock as I could get it.

I levered the hammock-enclosed rock up until it tipped over onto the plastic. Then I drilled two holes in the plastic and ran the rope through them and the metal rings on each end of the hammock. Crawling under the Subaru, I draped the chains over stout metal struts. The rope went through all four ends of the chain, drawing them together and attaching the rock.

Then I got into the car and moved forward a few feet. I got out to check. This was working beautifully.

With growing confidence, I drove across the yard, edging the car around a stone wall, across the driveway, up onto the front yard, and past the front steps until the rock lined up with its intended home. I undid the harness, fetched the crowbars, and spent another hour wrestling the rock sideways until it fell into place.

Success!

Another sweaty fifteen minutes got the Subaru backed out of its tight place and facing the right direction. Then I went to pick up David at work.

Short to write, long to do. Partly thanks to frequent ibuprofen breaks, this had been an all-day project. But I felt great. First I’d waited for someone else to move the rock. Then I’d tried to move it all by myself. Only when I shifted to teamwork did it happen. David’s suggestion, my muscles, God’s protection.

When the rock dropped into place, the frustration that had recently dogged almost every area of my life lifted. As a symbolic effort, I needed to do this. But not on my own.

The Rock, Part 3

The rock was symbolic of how I’d felt about my life lately.

Everywhere I turned, it seemed, something blocked me. In order to accomplish this, first I had to do that, but I couldn’t do that because something else was in the way….If you’ve been there, you know.

And that’s how I felt about the rock. If the rock had been gigantic, there would have been no question. Can’t do it. Give up or hire someone. But the rock seemed a reasonable size, something I should be able to handle. A friend offered to come with his teenage son, but he was busy and it would be a while.

Before David’s accident, of course, he would have made it happen. Now he suggested that I pull the rock into place with the car.

“I can’t do that. I can’t drive across the front yard, dragging that rock. The yard’s too narrow.”

But his suggestion stayed with me. After I drove him to work, I came home and studied the yard. I measured the narrowest point, where the front steps come down to the sidewalk. Then I measured the car.

It would fit, just barely. Hope stirred.

More later.