Our Final Day and a Deal With God

I wonder if she woke feeling any different that day, if she’d had any telltale dreams. We women have our sixth sense about things. But she probably had no inkling that it was her last dawn, at least on this earth. It was a sudden heart attack. Who did she greet on the way out of her building? Who got the last of her smiling gift? Who gave her her last hug, reminded her that she was loved? Susan Irene Fox is not the first blogger I’d known to have passed – she is, actually, the fourth on WordPress – but her death hits close to home. She reached out to me, put me on her prayer list three years ago, in response to a difficult post I put out. I just revisited our emails, the comments and the guest post Single At Sixty she left on this blog, a brave, humble confession of loneliness and the peace she claimed. She was a kind, giving person, one who had nothing to prove but the truth that had transformed her life.

I think of people hungry for life who dance on the edge of death. Adrenaline junkies, athletes, addicts of all stripes who run to meet Goliath and nearly die so they can live again. I am not so brazen. I have felt a generosity upon my life, knowing the ground can slip from under me any moment. I imagine that Susan, had she known, would’ve wanted more time. More time to do the many little wonderful things we choose to leave undone: forgive, hold, kiss, dance, linger. For me, I feel a greater urgency in the writing as I wonder how many hours remain in my ledger. I could travel more, see more of people and the world to say I’ve lived, but I would be just a consumer in the enterprise. I would rather leave something behind, namely, more poetry, which though I am just a vapor will endure until the sun should die. That is a marvelous thought. My breath on the page, a legible love and memories – a great honor.

Honey, if my brain ever ends up sustained by a machine, if you don’t see the tears and recognition in my eyes, if I can’t make your amaranth and tell Tennyson to do his math, you have lost me already. It’ll be just a ghost of me on that bed and I want you to pull the plug. Don’t extend me beyond my time only to leave me a burden, neither living nor dead, without my words. I pick my lane, the freeway stretching North. But in exchange for the Mexican wife you’ve said you would get, I ask for one final gift: my own little pine box. You are so good with your hands. I know, I know. I put you to work to the end. But you’ll be a free man after that. It should be perfectly within the rights of a man to dignify his wife with a final custom home and tuck her away in the mountains. While you’re at it, bury me with a book. I won’t be needing the Bible anymore. I’ll be in it, getting it 3D! It’s not like I can take this blog. How freaked out will my readers be if I wrote them from the Other Side? But I won’t disturb anyone, buried with my nose in a book. I’ll pick it out and put it in the master where you can grab it easily in the whirlwind preparations.

Dear God,

It’s me again. Remember, I’m the one who sends back her plate when it’s not done right. And though I know the cooking will be just right for Goldilocks there, I’m also the one who’ll be bothering all your best writers and asking that you not room me with a fellow Type A. Don’t forget that I’ll be looking for Eve. What a MESS that girl’s got us all into! So how about we make a deal? Give me just twenty more years so I might hold my grandchildren and make sure their mother doesn’t feed them junk, and I will turn my keys in, no questions asked. You are juggling so much at the moment: our presidency, North Korea, the refugees, not to mention the missionaries who’ve been asking for you. Why don’t you take a break from my small affairs, drop me from your radar for a bit. A thousand years is like a day unto the Lord. Why, I’ll be there in no time. And one last thing. Please tell Susan I said hi and bye, that I miss her – and she doesn’t need to save me that seat.

 

 

 

midnight in wonderland

we felt so grown up 
when we were kids
and now wonder that 
we are so old when 
we're not yet grown

we started losing 
our parents to 
time and frailty.

in the cycle of life 
things go upside 
down sometimes

you rush
d o w n
the
  rabbit hole
      into a world
above the logic of sorrow

and find you are so
small, but remember:
Mom's high ceiling, 
your sure ground.

see the sky and trees
in your pool of tears
they're the other side 
of life. how beautiful 
things are when they drown

how clear it is underwater.

you long to run 
to the garden 
beyond that door 
but you don't fit

life would feel deformed 
under the weight of loss 
if it weren't for the faith 
that was bigger than the 
life that shut down

she archived her fears and 
hopes in her kids, did
anyone hear the story 
in between, did
anyone  look?

hold fast 
your heirloom assurance

the midnight of your dreams
is really a new day.

for HJ &
anyone else
who would like it

I Think I Love My Body

My husband knew I was The One when he first saw me. I (with a roll of the eyes) chalked up what he called love at first sight to the way the clothes happened to flatter me that evening. He stopped me in my tracks, though, when he admitted for the first time after 10 years together, “But I wouldn’t have wanted to marry you if you were fat.”

Now, he’s one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate people I know but apparently all that’s besides the point when it comes to attraction and mate selection. And call him what you will but I wonder. Doesn’t he have the right to want what he wants in a wife? Who’s to judge our sweet palate? Here we plunge into the politically correct thicket. How many people are more attracted to overweight people than to those who’re thinner? Let me preempt the comments. I am not saying large – or can I say it? – fat people cannot be attractive. I know big people who are pretty. And yes, I do believe some men (some) do want “more to love” of a woman. Nor can I say that the large couple over there doesn’t enjoy romance and abiding love. Add to the mix of disclaimers the cultures that are less obsessed with the Barbies of the developed world. So I’m obviously brushing with broad strokes. But do slimmer people, among women especially, really do have a better chance at love?

“I know I’m supposed to hate my body,” the patient said according to Kerry Egan, hospice chaplain and author, in a CNN article What the Dying Really Regret.

“But why…?”

“Well, Kerry, ” she looked incredulous that I even asked and laughed. “Because I’m fat!”

“The world’s been telling for me for 75 years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat and then for being sick. But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them?”

Sometimes [what other people want them to believe is] based on their allegedly unattractive features. They might be ashamed of their weight, their body hair…It isn’t always the media and peer pressure that create this shame; sometimes it comes from lessons at home…Some women grow up thinking that their very existence in a body that might be sexually attractive…is cause for shame – that their bodies make bad things happen just by existing.

Clearly, we want to keep grounded in a sense of self that does not rely on our appearance and does not put too much premium on our effect on others (for better or worse). Not to withhold sympathy from this woman, but I don’t believe I am categorically lovely no matter how I look or how much I weigh. I just finished saying in The Obligation of Beauty that it’s a show of self-respect to take better care of oneself, and that means inside and out. But the self-love this article talks about turns a corner where it meets death.

There are many regrets and unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me in the months before they die. But the stories about the time they waste hating their bodies, abusing it or letting it be abused — the years people spend not appreciating their body until they are close to leaving it – are some of the saddest.

“I am going to miss this body so much,” a different patient, many decades younger, told me. “I’d never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through his world.”

It’s the very existence of being in a body, something you likely take for granted until faced with the reality that you won’t have a body soon. You will no longer be able to experience this world in this body, ever again.

So they talk about their favorite memories of their bodies. About how the apples they stole from the orchard on the way home from school tasted, and how their legs and lungs burned as they ran away. The feel of the water the first time they went skinny-dipping. The smell of their babies’ heads. And dancing. I’ve heard so many stories about dancing…I can’t count the number of times people — more men than women — have closed their eyes and said, “If I had only known, I would have danced more.”

Precious, isn’t it? Those drowning in the sea of mortality throw us pearls and we find their wisdom to be the simplest things. This one’s about love at last sight, so sad when the appreciation for self and breath and texture comes so late. The self-love we are encouraged toward isn’t a stout call to self-esteem but a fresh vision of beauty birthed by the anguished promise of loss. Recast in this light, the distinctions between thin and big people diminish. We all have a strong, strong chance at love.

Marriage: Expectations

While it’s true that my mother has given up more of her personal ambitions in marriage than my father ever did, she demands far more out of marriage than he ever will. He is far more accepting of her than she is of him. (“She’s the best Carole she can be,” he often says, while one gets the feeling that my mother believes her husband could be – maybe even should be –  a much better man.) She commands him at every turn. She’s subtle and graceful enough in her methods of control that you don’t always realize that she’s doing it, but trust me: Mom is always steering the boat.

So THAT’s it. Subtle. Graceful. Remember that, Diana. Subtle. Graceful.
*Mouths the words, trying to introduce them to her brain*

She comes by this trait honestly. All the women in her family do this. They take over every single aspect of their husbands’ lives and then, as my father loves to point out, they absolutely refuse to ever die. No man can outlive an Olson bride.

By this point, I was laughing so hard I could only nod in silence, shoulders shaking, when a man asked if he may take the chair near me. His eyes grew wide with the laughter he’d caught as he walked back to sit with his friends. Related post, If I Die.

My father once joked – not really joking – that my mother manages about 95 percent of his life. The wonder of it, he mused, is that she’s much more upset about the 5 percent of his life that he won’t relinquish than he is about the 95 percent that she utterly dominates.

Roar!!

Robert Frost wrote that “a man must partly give up being a man” in order to enter into marriage. Marriage is a harness of civilization, linking a man to a set of obligations and thereby containing his restless energies. Traditional societies have long recognized that nothing is more useless to a community than a whole bunch of single, childless young men…You need to convince these young men to put aside their childish things and take up the mantle of adulthood, to build homes and businesses and to cultivate an interest in their surroundings. It’s an ancient truism across countless different cultures that there is no better accountability-forging tool for an irresponsible young man than a good, solid wife.  ~ Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

I must add there is no greater impediment for a man than an unsupportive wife.

Mr. Wayfarer has said women look for a finished product before agreeing to marry but they don’t get that (most) men mature in marriage. Any thoughts?

Mrs. W: How much life insurance do I have on you again?
Mr: “$ —”
Mrs: That’s it?!
Mr: Yeah, better to keep me around. I’m worth more to you alive.

Mr: The pastor said a fish doesn’t know it needs water until it finds itself on land. I take you for granted because you’re always there. I’ve been thinking about how much I’d need you if you weren’t.
Mrs: Oh, honey…
Mr: I’m not just a drummer. I think too, you know.

I’m Not Ready to Die

Dear God,

You caught that I’m not feeling too great but please don’t seize the occasion to take me home. At least let me get my Valentine’s series out. It’s not like you need me. Far better writers over there. And once I’ve arrived, I won’t be going anywhere, right? No hurry, no hurry.

——————

Dear Reader,

I think I’ve bought some time. Please be patient. If it’s been a while, you know I’ll visit back. Comments closed so I don’t fall behind even more on those.

Love,
HW

If I Die

I remember watching my grandfather bury my grandmother’s ashes on our family’s farm twenty-five years ago. It was November, upstate New York, a cold winter’s evening. We…all walked behind my grandfather through the purple evening shadows across the familiar meadows, out to the sandy point by the river’s bend where he had decided to bury his wife’s remains. He carried a lantern in one hand and a shovel over his shoulder. The ground was covered with snow and the digging was hard work – even for such a small container as this urn, even for such a robust man as Grandpa Stanley. But he hung the lantern on a naked tree limb and steadily dug that hold – and then it was over. And that’s how it goes. You have somebody for a little while, and then that person is gone.

Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert

Honey, I realized that if I die first you’ll want to do a slide show. I’ll have to get together some childhood photos. You know which song to use, the one that makes me cry. Be sure to send the slide to my East Coast friends. Don’t lay me out for the viewing, okay? Close the box, please. I would appreciate some privacy. And you know me. Don’t even look at the first-class caskets. No sense in burying your money with your wife. I insist on traveling Economy. Oh gosh, the eulogy. Oh gosh, your grammar. Uh…why don’t we give the words over to our pastor? Or…or Jon? You’ll be busy with the preparations anyway. Let me leave you with at least this token of peace: you have my blessing to remarry. Someone who will love you better than I did and will make me look bad. I gotta let go my ego sometime – but ONLY if she is good to Tennyson and will mind my food blog for his meals. Gee, I hope she’s not A.D.D. I would approve if she has kids, if he can get instant siblings out of the deal. ‘S me, bargain-hunting through the end.

Don’t go crying too much, now. I mean that. You live while you can. But remember to hold our son when he spills those tears. Tell him Umma is happier than she’s ever been, that she’s finally had the reunion that burst her heart with joy. And that she asked the Lord for the dog-free section, the food’s organic, and there are no dishes. You always thought I was marketable, saw my name in literary lights. And here I probably leave you with no royalties or anything for all the writing you freed me up for. You’re right. You should’ve taken out the life insurance on me. But you’ll always have A Holistic Journey, one that never ends. I hope your wife’s not the jealous type. Just please make sure Tennyson reads this blog, my gift to him. Tell him the one thing I ask of him, the one thing I ask to redeem all my work with him, is the drumming. It would please me so much for him to get a college scholarship. I never planned to burden the boy, but what can he expect? Korean Mom. A little pressure doesn’t hurt. Save my rings for his wife.

Husband’s email yesterday: “Remember, if you die, I’m vaccinating him, putting him in public school, feeding him fast food, and putting him to bed without washing his hands after the bathroom.”

Dear God,
Tennyson’s on autopilot with the hand-washing but I still REFUSE to see you in the next ten years.

Love,
Bull-headed in California, aka Holistic Wayfarer

 

The Song:

The Land of the Living

March 2003, Journal

Friends were ready to call 911 this week.

Painfully sleep-deprived with glands really bad off, I attempted a home sauna. I didn’t realize it’d be too much after last week’s sauna at the gym. I drank at least a gallon this time but started seeing lights flash in the bathroom. My hands tingled. Things took a fast downturn the more I drank. I vomited myself completely out. Totally dehydrated, I went into shock.

I couldn’t move, lost sensation and perception of color. The few muscles I could still feel stiffened like wood. Lightheaded, I could hardly speak. Or crawl. I collapsed on the phone and managed to eke out a few words.

The wildest thing was the perfect succession of friends who came. After my doctor, the first friend I got a hold of was out on her lunch break right nearby. She made a bank deposit for me before the hour passed so the rent check wouldn’t bounce. Also went and picked up what I needed from my doctor’s to keep me out of the hospital.

She was stunned to see me like that but couldn’t stay. When she dropped off the goods, my roommate had just arrived. Roommie was indispensable. She held the phone to my ear because I couldn’t do even that and as I whispered back to the doctor, kept the paper bag over my mouth and swathed me in blankets. I later learned she happened to have dropped by that moment only to grab some medicine for a sick friend she had with her. By this point, I had called T for prayer. I couldn’t pick up his follow-up calls and then was disoriented and taken aback to hear him at the door. Two other friends entered on his heels. I didn’t want them there, felt so bad for being a bother when I didn’t know them as well, but later saw I would’ve had to call the ambulance if they hadn’t taken care of me that night.

—————————–

So two guys, one girl. They didn’t have enough hands. I was too nauseated and weak to move, to open my eyes, to sip water. Whatever I drank I promptly lost through both ends. I ran through the first remedy quickly and needed more. Friends spoke with the doctor and while one guy ran out to her office, I started regressing and losing feeling throughout my body again. I was limper than a rag doll (at least it has stuffing enough to sit up) that they had to push my chest and head up against the wall, keep the paper bag over my head, quickly lift it while one spooned me remedies every 40 seconds and pulled the bag back down.

It was so incredible we laughed. In his typical humor, T complained his hand was tired and hooked his elbow under my chin to keep my head up in a (gentle) wrestling choke. By the time they put me to bed at 11 pm, I hadn’t slept since three in the morning and my stomach was empty. What they had done was unbelievable. They had to work the next day but labored nonstop for seven hours to nurse an invalid back to life. I’d heard them pray.

It’s like…I’ve been in line forever at the DMV after an endless license suspension that’s kept me off the road, the land of the living. Just as I was making noticeable progress up the line, I found myself forced all the way to the end again. I’m looking out the window at the cars zooming past, sure I’ll never be able to join the world of normal again.

==================

December 2014

It is hard not to get emotional revisiting this chapter of the craziness I once called my life. I went on to rebuild from Ground Zero, to become stronger, to dance, marry and give birth to the child of my dreams. I went on to write and live all over again. There are many things about my blogging journey that have startled me – not only the growth of this readership but the depth. You don’t know what it is you do for me. Some days I hit publish. And your comfort is so deep, though I hadn’t sought it. Apparently, I’m not done needing angels. We all talk about the treasure of community we discovered in one another. It’s a familiar refrain on my lips because it’s a fresh wonder. I’ve come to genuinely care for many of you these 21 months, and to share in your happiness and sorrows. I wish I could make it better, that things will look up in the new year, that the sun will break through your grief and fears. I also learned to laugh with you. Now that’s living, isn’t it? I look back at these 11 years. Wow, I’ve come far. Thanks to those who would light my way back every time. Normal? I’ll never be normal. And this blog proves it. You are one extraordinary bunch, great minds with the biggest hearts, and I am so very fortunate to know your love, affection, and respect. As you’ve glimpsed, I’ve received a great deal over the years and if the candles I light should ever help you find your way and stay the course, I am so grateful to be able to pay it forward.


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