December 29, 2010
Good Riddance, but Thank You.
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!