Monday, March 20, 2006

Bittersweetness on a Stick

I learned today of the death of a little girl. She was a friend of a friend, unknown to me other than by description. That she was the same age as my daughter heightens my sadness. That she was a "special needs" child who apparently died resulting from something going wrong during or after an orthopedic operation is only part of the mystery and horror of it all.
I'm so proud of my friend for her ability to share her story with me, to make her real enough so that I can both celebrate her life as well as mourn it. I've thought about her, all day, and am reminded of another little girl I know who left the hospital worse than when she went in. I've thought about several aspects of the human condition, how we make things worse sometimes when we mean to do better. How we make mistakes, awful mistakes, more often than we'd like to admit. I see Challenger explode, and get angry every time at the stupidity that allowed it to happen. And it was right to try it again, and again, and we should not stop.
The truth is that we cannot stop trying. We cannot stop caring, and that's what's moved me all day long. I care about someone that I've never met today, their family, their friends, just because someone else led me to. We are all connected, whether or not we choose to be, and we do make it better by trying.
That second little girl I mentioned spoke volumes to me, one day, when I got to hold her in my arms. She could not speak, she could not even look me in the eye, or even hold me back, back then, but I sensed who she is, felt her heart beat, I can't fully explain it. She exists in a world of love and care, and she's slowly gained - she's trying and prevailing - some means to return that love and care. I delight in her accomplishments, because I've met her; I know what she's living with.
We live with death. We live with hope. We have each other. We have Love. These things I know. Today's been a practical application of them all. I mourn for a little girl I've never seen. I smile a bittersweet smile when I think of Mya. I'm hugging my Emma tighter, today. I just hope my connections bring more hope and Love than my mistakes don't. It's been quite a day.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Tick Tock

I just know it's coming. Any moment now, the queasy feeling, the over-salivation, the urge to purge. It's inevitable, like April 15 or another root canal.
I got home from work yesterday, and it was eerily quiet. Emma was nearly asleep in the Family Room, and when I poked my head into the office, I saw no one. Vicky was assisting Sam into bed. He'd come home from school at 10, and had more than emptied his stomach several times since then. A quick hug from us, and he went to sleep. Emma soon nodded off in the big chair, and Vicky headed out for more supplies, leaving me to computer nerddom for an hour or so.
About the time she got home, I was standing in the middle of the house, thinking to myself, "So this is what it'd be like to not have kids in the house. Sure, I could focus on what I was doing and, sure, the usual pounding in my head from layer upon layer of TV noise, shouting, feet pounding up and down the hallway, balls bouncing off walls wasn't there - but the vacuum-like silence was unnerving, too. I have these moments, from time to time, like the guy in "The Seven-Year Itch'' or probably more like Don Knotts in "The Reluctant Astronaut" - short fantasies about how life could've, would've been different. It didn't take more than a couple of instants to be glad that Sam wasn't usually in bed at this time of day.
Emma woke up just as I was bringing the plate of BBQ ribs in from the patio. She uncurled, then hurled on the chair, floor, and herself, mostly. Ahh, the smell of pork n' puke. We got her down the hall, cleaned up the mess(es), and put her to bed, so we could enjoy the sounds of her dry-heaving through dinner. Seriously, one of the hardest things about being Emma's Dad is watching her throw up and not be able to explain to her that it's going to be alright. She looks so worried and upset, I hate that look on her face. All you can do is talk to her and hold her, and hope she understands that it's going to get better.
Dinner's over, cleaned up, put away, and I settle into my chair for the purpose of napping before bedtime. What do I hear? Yes, that's it. The sound of a cat, just outside the patio door, heaving up whatever it was that it was heaving up. I took it as a sign. I know it's coming. I'm just not sure when.

Friday, March 03, 2006

What It's Like

It was just another moment.
Thursday evening, we went to school to see Sam and Emma both recieve their "Good Citizen" awards; Emma for January, Sam for February. No one has ever defined the criteria for this award for us - it seems to me that every student there without any outstanding warrants or restraining orders gets this award annually. In any event, this event is held in the auditorium, which seats 150 comfortably, but usually holds about 225. The awardees sit onstage in rows, and come down the steps to the stage when called to receive their certificate, bumper sticker, and ice cream coupoon, stand briefly while the parental papparazzi fiddle with their cameras, and then go outside, only to return to the stage to wait for the group photo at the end - assuring, of course, that the good citizen parents stay for the entire proceeding, so that the last kid called still has an audience. We live in such an ill-mannered society.
We had three, well, four options (and the nice part is that there was no one telling us what to do):
1) Put Emma up on stage and hope for the best - not really an option, just yet.
2) Put Emma up on stage next to Sam - not really fair to him.
3) Sit up on stage with Emma and 100 kids - not our idea of a good time.
4) Find a place near the front. That's what we did.
We sat through the obligatory PTA meeting, so that they could pad their attendance numbers and claim that we are all now well-informed, active participants in the process. We were actually sitting along the wall on a table, helping Emma fidget, which means that we were already in full view of all, with the requisite sidelong glances and smiles conveying all of the different messages that people display in Emma's direction. Emma got hard to handle, so I moved her to the doorway, and then back again. Then it was her turn. I slid us off the table, and we made our way up front. Emma froze. So I kinda pushed-carried her to the front, got her paperwork, and managed to get her back to our seat, not too long after the applause quit. Okay.
The event ended, and I started to move Emma toward the front, to join the group picture. A very nice woman, a teacher, I think, who had greeted Emma earlier brushed past us and said to me, "I bet you guys just can't wait to get out of here." Then she was gone. I cocked my head to one side, and kept moving. Sam (have I mentioned that I love my Son very much?) came down and sat next to his sister on the steps for the photo. When it was all over, we got a snack, and headed for the ice cream store.
Now, I'm not angry. As a human being and a preacher's kid, I've been subject to misplaced, well-intentioned commentary for some time now. She may have just been witness to the at-times wrestling match between myself and my angel. That's probably it. For me, at the time, I'm pretty sure that I didn't want "to get out of there" any more than anyone else over the age of 13 present. Handling Emma is what we do. But the whole comment just gnawed at me for the rest of the evening. I'm sure I took it the wrong way; already feeling self-conscious, on display, and guilty for feeling that way. I'm sure that the same comment would have been appropriate, for example, had Sam gotten nervous and upchucked on his shoes, or done his 'Elaine from Seinfeld' dance (don't tell him I said that) on stage. The point is that she pointed out to me that we were different. Guess what? I felt that way before Emma existed. I feel that way all of the time. The visceral effect of her message was "GET OUT!"
I'm old enough - some might call it maturity, but I'll never know for sure - to know that she's not responsible for that message. It was just a moment, and it's passed, but I think I have a better understanding of how subtly we can damage each other, sometimes, even when we're trying to do the opposite. I used to not understand things that were labeled 'racism', offers of social programs and things that turned out to be, in truth, segregation or worse - when explained from the discriminated races' perspective. It does depend on your perspective; "seeing" requires more than merely sight.
One of my favorite U2 lines, all by itself, is "to touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal" . . . it often reminds me that I don't want to be a thief. The majority of moments pass without notice. Some change our lives completely. Others shape who, where, and how we are. I'm hoping, more often, lately, to recognize and perhaps anticipate them a little better. I know I've stolen a lot of moments. Trouble is, you can't give them back.