December 29, 2010

Good Riddance, but Thank You.

I cannot say I am sad to watch the old year wane into what will soon be, "remember that time last year?" -seeming so long ago.  In this year's edition of my annual Christmas letter that I send to about 30 friends and family members, I described the year as being like the little girl in the nursery rhyme with the curl right in the middle of her forehead:  'when she was good she was very, very good and when she was bad she was horrid'. This was not an easy, gentle year, the kind where one event blends seamlessly into the next like a harmoniously patterned quilt, not the kind of year one would describe as calm and uneventful, like a good summer road trip without traffic or delay.  2010 was as full of bumps and bruises as it was full of triumphs and good times with friends and family.  It was a year to turn the most prosaic of thinkers into a philosopher, and I think all of us have grown because of it.

My older daughter and I watched Planes, Trains and Automobiles the other day. That film could be a metaphor for our year. There were moments to laugh along with the characters and moments to laugh, painfully, at them. The two characters, polar opposites played by Steve Martin and John Candy (may he rest in peace), went through every delay and difficulty imaginable while they attempted to make their way home for Thanksgiving, but home they did finally arrive. Or rather, Steve Martin's character arrives home, realizing that John Candy's character is esentially homeless, and invites him in to stay for a while. Through all his trials, and his new relationship with Candy's lovable, generous, but clownish character, Martin's uptight, impatient, selfishly driven character realizes that he has been spending too little time at home and with family, and concentrating too much on work and ambition. He finally truly appreciates what he has, but it would not have happened had he not gone through the comedy of errors which made him look deeply into his heart and examine what he finds there.

Every member of my family took their turn to go through something difficult this year.  Whether it was a prolonged,  toxic social situation at school or a tough predicament at work, a decision to finally say 'no' to something expected of them or 'yes' to something unattractive but needed, a bout with the much hyped 'swine flu', or a sinus infection that went on and on, we all pushed through our troubles and came out the other side alive and kicking.  This year, one phrase passed my lips more often than any other:  'It could be worse.'  After all, all we were dealing with was what most other families deal with from time to time.  We didn't endure a Tsunami and lose loved ones, have our home shelled by enemy gunfire, lose our jobs to a giant global recession, or lose our home to fire, flood or devastating earthquake.  We are still here, carrying on together as before, which is a good place to be. 

One of the trials of 2010 happened just over a week ago.  My husband, on his day off and relaxing with our youngest while I took the others shopping, came down the stairs to help us bring up the groceries, when he felt two sharp pains in the left side of his chest and a numbing in his hand.  Like pneumonia or broken bones, chest pains are cause for concern and a visit to the doctor, so off we went at about 1:00 pm to the emergency ward of the closest hospital.  We were admitted straight away, but as soon as the nurse took my husband's blood pressure and temperature, which were normal, we were demoted to almost the bottom of a long list of waiting patients.  And wait we did.  Finally the doctor, a thin, youngish woman in high heels clicked her way over to us, examined my husband, and ordered some tests.  The tests were taken and we waited almost two hours for the results. The staff brought us a meal to share, and then I went off to phone our children and talk them through the making of their own supper.  When I returned my husband informed me the tests had come back negative but that we would have to wait until 11:30 when a second blood test  'just to make certain there was no damage to the heart' would be administered.  If it came back negative we would be able to go home.  By then it was dark outside and a few patients had been admitted to the ward for overnight observation.  As the hours went by, a little girl coughed and cried, coughed and cried, and the very ill gentleman beside us also coughed painfully and moaned for the nurse repeatedly.  I went to make another call home, and soothe my youngest daughter, who was crying over the phone.  When I returned I went up to the nurse's desk and said, did we really have to stay here another six hours if all the tests had come back negative the first time?  Yes, we did.  I began to feel like a caged animal and said so.  The nurses laughed and the doctor said they did sometimes, too.  I briefly considered making a fuss, but I knew that would be stupid.  We simply had to wait for the final test results.  I could have gone outside for a walk, but the hospital is in the middle of a dark wood and there is nowhere to go without walking a long way alone in an unfamiliar town, so I stayed with my husband who appreciated the company.  Fortunately, I had brought a book, so while he rested and slept, I read...and read, and when he was awake we talked.  We both knew by then he had not had a heart attack, but believed the chest pains were some kind of warning.  Finally, just after 1:00 am the night nurse, a tall, businesslike young woman, though not unkind, came in and gave us the 'all clear', with the promise from my husband that he would visit his own doctor as soon as possible to explore other explanations for the chest pains. We thanked her and went out into the silent darkness, where the lunar eclipse, the only one to occur on the Winter Solstice in 500 years, was ending and a thin, orange slice of moon peeked out from behind the dark circular shadow of the earth.  It occurred to me then that our eleven hours of waiting in the hospital were such a tiny speck in the vast universe.  We drove home accompanied by that lovely, unusual moon, and went, ever so gratefully, to bed.

The next morning, as soon as he was awake, our girls ran into the kitchen and hugged their dad fiercely.  He gained an extra day off out of the ordeal and went later to our own doctor, who told him it was all due to stress and that, though very healthy due to good eating and plenty of cycling, my husband would have to make some changes in his work/life balance.  This, of course, is much easier said than done for an awfully conscientious man during a record busy time at the hotel where he works, but hopefully, things will slow down a bit come the New Year as they usually do.  If they don't, well, we will have to make some decisions. 

So, we welcome the New Year, which will be "new with no mistakes in it yet" (Anne of Green Gables).  That is the gift of the seasonal, episodic nature of life.  All good things come to an end, but all bad things do, too.  What does not kill us makes us stronger, and hopefully, more sensible, more patient, and more generous toward others.  As I ended my annual Christmas letter: Bring on 2011...2010 you trained us well!


  1. What a scare. It seems we walk on a razor's edge between happiness and calamity. Daily we walk humbly and gratefully. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. wow. yeah my year would fit that metaphor as well...2011, i got a lot of hope for you...smiles.

  3. Wow...You have had your ups and downs. I'm glad your husband is doing better. That must have been a very scray night for all of you. Let's look forward to 2011 with positive thoughts and hopeful hearts : ) Happy New year to you and your family!

  4. It's so easy to pass the days so wrapped up in just your own trials and tribulations that you forget that others are experiencing the same in a miriad of different ways. Each of us faces those situations in our own way, hoping ofr the best and trying to do the right thing for ourselves and our families.

    Thanks for reminding me.

    All the very best to you and the family for 2011.


  5. What a thoughtful post Rebecca. I am glad to hear your husband is okay. Mine just went through that SAME scenario two weeks ago. Very scary. It makes one STOP and think of what is important.

    Thank you for sharing your year. I pray your 2011 will not be SO tumultuous but that should it be will handle it with the same grace and insight.

    Happy New Year!

  6. Paul: I read an interesting quote in a novel I started last night. The character is riding a train and is meditating on "Life with a capital L. A funny business," he says,"consisting in climbing painfully to the tops of ladders and falling even more painfully to the bottom of them again." I think perhaps I, like the character, need to lighten up :) And I will, but what you say is true.

    Brian: I hope 2011 is a good one...I'm hopeful too!

    LadyCat: Thanks so much. Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year, too.

    Alistair: It's great to hear from you. Wishing you all good things in 2011, and thanks for your thoughts, too!

    Jill: My goodness, I hope your husband is doing much better. What a coincidence! Life is truly a precious thing, and Christmas-time, with all its happy anticipation and joy can be a stressful time, too. I'm thinking of simplifying a bit next year. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  7. I am soooo glad that your husband is fine, that he will find more balance, and that you have taken this scare as a chance to get perspective.

    Does not speak highly of socialized medicine. (not trying to start some international incident, just saying.)

    Happy New Year!!!!!! I am going to use the Anne quote.

  8. Happy New Year Rebecca.

    I will come back next week and comment properly.

  9. To Tracey: Thanks, and Happy New Year to you, too!

    Vince: You too! and looking forward to the proper comment :)

  10. Hugest of hugs and best wishes for a year far better than this one for everyone.

  11. My, am I glad I didn't try for funny in my last comment.
    Is he OK.

    Was it something ya fed him ;).

  12. I'm so sorry to hear this. Is everything OK now?

    I love that movie so much, too. I always think of 'My Cousin Vinnie' as an analogy for my life...I'll need to rewatch Planes and rethink that!

    Sending prayers your way that everything is going alright.

    Sending wishes for a 2011 filled with joy and grace and good adventures!

  13. Thanks E.P.!

    Vince: He's OK - but it was a crazy Christmas season for him. And, ha ha.

    Jenny: everything is OK now, thank goodness. I haven't seen My Cousin Vinnie for years, but I remember liking it! And thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers. Everyone is so thoughtful.

  14. Oh! That was like a cliffhanger! So glad things turned out well.
    Blessings to you and the family. May your 2011 bring you wonderful surprises. :)

  15. Anita: And may your 2011 be full of wonderful surprises, too (I like that idea!)


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!