What Else Are You Gonna Do?

As I sat there tonight across from my dear Heartfriend from years past, I looked at her beautiful face that hasn’t changed one bit in the twenty-three years since we spent almost every day together.  The kindness, the wit, the heart–all still there.  But there was something else.  In her smile.

There was peace.

We were catching up on untold stories and laughing over shared memories.  Only this was no ordinary visit.  We were speaking in quieter tones than normal, so as not to disturb her resting husband.  From time to time medical staff came to his bedside to run tests, check numbers, and ask questions.

A hospital.

She’s no stranger to them.  She and her sweet Fella have been here before.  Several times.

And yet she had a smile on her face.  Same as all those years ago.

This girl was the kind of friend who came out with a baseball bat, swinging, “Where are they?  I got this.”  (Seriously.  I have stories to prove it.)  And she still is.

As she shared with me the ins and outs of all that is going on right now, and none of it is easy, I was amazed.  I finally had to say something.

“And yet you’re still smiling,” I said, half-questioning, pretty much amazed.

She shrugged and smiled again.  “What else are you gonna do?  It is what it is.”

Y’all.

What else are you gonna do?  Indeed.  How about wallow in it?  Throw stuff around?  Walk around so bogged down in all that is going on in your life right now that you just can’t get past it?  Yell at God, shake your fists, and ask why?

But not this beautiful person, not my friend.

In the case of better or bitter, my sweet Heartfriend has chosen better.  And I see it on her face.  She has peace.  Is she concerned?  I am sure.  Worn out.  I’m thinking that’s an affirmative.  But is she angry?  Borrowing trouble?  Making excuses? Cutting people off in traffic and making everyone around her pay for what she’s going through? Absolutely not.

That’s not how she is.

What else are you gonna do?  How about use your gifts and talents to bless those around you?  Plan for the future by crocheting for a baby that’s coming soon?  Laugh about the funny little things, find joy in the lives of those around you, and share stories and listen and ask “why didn’t you tell me sooner? I would have been there.”

This looking outward and loving those around her when she has every right to be focused inward on what is going on in her own life?

That right there.

I want to be just like her when I grow up.  (She is after all, I believe, six months older than me minus a day.)

Tonight I am thankful for the visit with my friend, despite the circumstances.  I give thanks for hers and her husband’s smiles and I am praying/fingers crossed/hoping that the doctors will figure out how to make him better soon, so they can grow to be the “old couple that walks through Wal-Mart holding hands as they walk along slowly” that she dreams of them being.  I’m thankful our paths intertwined all those years ago, the day I walked into an office that had been hers alone, and instead of turning away, she slid over, made room, and changed my life and blessed my heart forever.   Bottom line, I am thankful for her.  My Heartfriend.  Because in the wise words of a rather small fella:

From A. A. Milne's "Winnie the Pooh"

From A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh”

Amen.

Scars and Second Chances

I find the most amazing life-changing thoughts and wisdom in some of the craziest places.

Remember when I told you about finding Henry Van Dyke (prolific author, clergyman, and educator) through watching a Christmas episode of Ally McBeal?  I started watching the series all over again on Netflix when Mama was in the hospital in August of 2012.  While she rested, I plugged in my headphones and zoned out, escaping the reality that I didn’t want to accept.  And revisited an old friend, Ally McBeal.

Recently I was strongly encouraged to try watching a new show.  I don’t get a lot of TV time that is unsupervised by the six to nine age group, so Netflix is a nice way, a la headphones, for me to catch a show here and there, sometimes just a few minutes at a times.

The show is “Parks and Recreation.”  I literally laugh out loud at least once during every episode.  Which makes watching it under the covers after everyone is asleep a little counterproductive–trying not to wake anyone else up while you are holding back a full snort laugh–yeah.  Hard to do.

But I digress.

Let’s see.  Parks and Rec.  Life-changing thoughts.

Ah yes.

In season three, the main character Leslie Knope quotes Mary Pickford.  I’ve heard the name, but thank you Leslie for introducing me to her and her wisdom.  Mary Pickford, born in 1892, was a silent film star known as “America’s Sweetheart.”  She felt that adding sound to film “was like putting rouge on the Venus de Milo.”  She helped establish United Artists along with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith.  Amazing.  She was the first actress to get a percentage of a film’s revenue, AND she was the first to have her name in marquee lights.  This woman paved the way, didn’t she?

And she had some sense.

She once said, “If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, there is always
another chance for you. And supposing you have tried and failed again and again, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

The quote I first heard on "Parks and Recreation."  Wisdom can come from the strangest of places, if only we are ready to hear.

The quote I first heard on “Parks and Recreation.” Wisdom can come from the strangest of places, if only we are ready to hear.

What beautiful truth and grace I hear in these words.

Tonight I’m thankful for the winding down time and the goofy shows that accompany me there.  I am especially grateful that these words caught my ear, so I would look them up and learn about a very strong woman who also believed in second and third and twelfth chances.  I needed her encouraging words tonight.

Reminds me of a song from my past written over a hundred years after Miss Pickford was born.  “Get Back Up” by Toby Mac.  I think she would have recognized the message as something she once said and loved it too.  “Get up, get up, You gonna shine again.”

For those in my life who have been knocked down and are hurting, I share this song tonight.  There’s bound to be scars “when you fall that far,” but I found this quote from a character on Criminal Minds and I like it.  (No, I don’t watch that one, but the internet is a wealth of information, isn’t it?)

“Scars show us where we have been, they do not dictate where we are going.”

–David Rossi, played by Joe Mantegna, Criminal Minds

Amen.

Keep the faith, my friends.  Call me if you need help getting back up.  I’ve got experience.  And the scars to prove it.  Love to all.

Just Because You Can

Today’s bit of Wednesday wisdom is something my parents told me many times over the years.  This is brought to you by the headache I’ve been fighting for a few days.  These words have echoed in my head all day long.  (Perhaps contributing to the headache?)

We often tell our children and ourselves that we should do something even if we don’t want to, but somehow we tend to forget this other message. Sometimes we see things we want and have a few extra dollars in our pockets or we have the fixings for something decadent and our sweet tooth is calling out–but maybe it’s not always the right thing to do.

20140122-222914.jpg

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a grownup I think.

Speaking of hard lessons for grownups, here’s a story that you have to read.

http://www.redletterchristians.org/folks-live-outside-need-hugh-hollowell-red-carpet/

If you read nothing else today, please make time for this one.  It is powerful.  Hugh Hollowell, one of my heroes, was interviewed and his answers speak the truth.  “There should be no ‘others’.”  The “Not taking Jesus seriously” problem in the church.  Well said and challenging.  As we sit and watch the temperatures drop yet again over the next few days and children wish for snow and piles of it, our hearts to Mac and his friends and all of those whose names we don’t know who are sleeping on the cold ground with the wind howling around their blankets and sleeping bags.  The first light of morning, the coldest hours of the night, come upon them like a big sigh of relief.  They have made it.  The day shelter and warmth are just a couple of hours away.

If you pray, please keep them in your prayers the next few days.  And keep us, those who can make a choice, those who have the power to make a difference with our hearts and hands, in your prayers too.  Sometimes, every now and then, just because we can, we SHOULD.

Reading Between the Aisles

We are in trouble.

It might be obvious to all of you, but it hit me in the head like a brick the other day, and instead of seeing stars, a light bulb came on.

I get it now.

We just think we run our own lives.

Our lives are actually being run by the grocery stores.

Oh, but you probably already knew that, didn’t you?

I shop at the same few stores each time I go.  I know that the five pound bag of frozen broccoli florets can only be found at this store, where I also buy our favorite rice, because it’s cheapest there.  Another store has the best produce, and I prefer to purchase frozen vegetables at another.  It’s the third one that I am most familiar with.  It’s on the main drag to and from just about anywhere else I go, so I shop there the most.  I used to know it almost as well as the back of my hand.

Until they moved everything around a month or so back.  I’m still learning where some things are.  No, they didn’t bring in anything new, not sure what all the moving around was about.

So perhaps it’s the fact I’m having to watch things more carefully so I don’t miss something on my list the first time around, but I found myself paying closer attention when I was there last Friday. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m having to change my eating habits almost completely, and I find myself searching for non-processed foods that I can eat and stay within the confines of this new diet.

Either way.  I saw the light.

It started in the produce section.  Lovely apples, bananas, carrots, lettuce, and so on.  But there right in the midst of it?

A slushy machine.  I kid you not.

It’s so bright and colorful that it never fails to capture the attention of my littles.  I always say no, and they are always disappointed.  I just wonder at the wisdom of placing that there.  Maybe they–the powers that be–figure we’ll all be feeling so good and healthy about the fresh fruits and veggies we’re buying that we’ll figure we deserve a sweet treat?

I have no idea.

About a fifth of the back aisles in the store are reserved for cookware, utensils, aprons, towels, etc.  All this is saying is you don’t have enough, you are ill prepared, what are you thinking, just assuming you still have that dish to cook in tonight?  Buy ME. I really do wonder at why so much space is devoted to things that could not represent a significant portion of their sales.  Could it?

I love that the red meat is on display on shelves, but the chicken I have to practically stand on my head to get it out of the refrigerated bins in the middle.  Wait.  No I don’t.

But the real discovery was in the freezer section. I was looking for some berries and some vegetables, and yes, they’ve moved stuff around in the freezer cases as well.  As I walked down the aisle with the “Vegetables” sign hanging overhead, I realized at least 2/3 of it was variation on frozen potatoes and bread.  The last 1/3 toward the back of the store did have small bags of frozen broccoli, cauliflower, peas, okra, and so on.  I was blown away.  Imagine how much healthier we could be eating if they increased their vegetable selection to at least 50% of the space or more!  Instead, it looked as if the healthier choices had been thrown in as an afterthought.  And those of us who don’t know any better could happily throw in the fries, tater tots, and hash browns and pat ourselves on the back for filling up our cart with vegetables.

As I searched for the frozen fruit, I walked up and down the aisle more than once until I found them.  One little pitiful section of frozen berries.  At the end of the ice cream aisle.  Subliminal messaging, anyone?

And speaking of which, what about the checkout lanes?  It’s like a conference for sugar and dyes and salts and fats all in one place, have you noticed?  They’re looking for a place to party, and most of the time, I would love to oblige them.  (But most of the time I don’t.)

It makes me sad.  It took me having to change how and what I eat for me to step outside the comfort zone of what I cook and shop for.  And when I did, I became aware of how much the grocery stores affect how and what we eat by what they offer, how they offer it, and the ease with which we can find it.  I was searching for something called Arrowroot powder.  I looked for a few minutes in the organic section and then in the baking section.  I didn’t know where else to look, and I didn’t make the time to ask someone at the customer service counter.  And so I left not being able to make a new recipe that would be a healthy dessert for us.  And that is just one example.

It seems that the grocery stores are offering us their “opinions” in the form of their options.  And we, as consumers, must do our thinking for ourselves–much as we do when we read the policies and beliefs of politicians before voting.  Only in this case we vote with our shopping dollar.  If we refuse to purchase the sugar-laden, full of dye, and unreadable ingredient products, maybe one day they will take them off the shelves.

And fill them with healthier choices.

I’m not trying to tell you how to shop or what to eat.  Just because I’ve been told to cut out all sugars and wheat and dairy, and just because all of this can make me more than a little grumpy, it doesn’t mean that I think everyone should have to join me in this new way of eating.  (Although misery does love company. But alas, there are no cookies.)  However, I do think we need to get real and recognize the power these businesses have in affecting our choices–if they spend much of their store space offering processed, high in unhealthy ingredients foods, then what other choice do we have?  Health food stores are not readily available or affordable to everyone everywhere.  Most folks have to make do with what is right there in their immediate area.

Which is another thing that makes me sad about my friends who are in need in Macon.  Many of them live closer to a “Food Mart” than they do a grocery store.  Without the transportation to get to and from a real grocery store with somewhat healthier options, it’s just not going to happen.  But that’s another soapbox I’ll step off of.  For now.

I’m just one person.  Maybe it doesn’t matter to anyone else.  But if it does–if you would rather have more healthy choices in your local grocery store, don’t be afraid to speak up.  Let them know what your preferences are.  (I once got Red Diamond Decaffeinated tea bags restocked in a store many years ago.  Long story, but suffice to say, your voice does count. And yes, they are the best.)

Our health is a very precarious and sometimes seemingly fickle thing.  We have to protect it and guard it at all costs.  Don’t listen to what the stores are trying to tell you.  What they give the most space to is not necessarily the best for you.  Neither are the things that are easiest to grab.  Step up and educate yourself, and then vote with your shopping dollars.  One day your body will thank you.

Skating Parties and Time Machines

Saturday I got in a time machine and pressed the button for my elementary and junior high years.

Yep, it was my littles’ first skating party.

At the same skating rink that the popular children hung out at when I was in school.  (I was not one of them.)

I remember the first time I was invited to a birthday skating party.  I was in what is now called middle school.  It was a “scandalous” party, as both boys and girls were invited.  A first for many of us. There was much discussion that there would be something called “Couple Skate.”  I didn’t know what it was.  I just knew life would never be the same again.

The funny thing is I don’t remember the party itself–just the anticipation, buildup, excitement, and worry BEFORE the party.  I don’t even remember whose party it was.

On Saturday we arrived and the littles had their hands stamped.  Memory–check.  We walked around to the party area and met their friends.  All of them were so excited–it was downright cute.  Our Princess couldn’t wait to get some skates on her feet and try it.  The only other time she has skated has been in our driveway.  With much help.  Cooter has never had skates on his feet.  We barely had his shoes on his feet, and our Princess was heading out to the skate floor.  She and one of our neighborfriends joined hands and started off around the oval path everyone else was following.  They were so precious.  I wasn’t sure which girl was more likely to fall at that point.  But they got it together.

I figured we would have to get skates for either me or my Fella (oh please volunteer *fingers crossed*), so we could help Cooter get his legs under him.  But wonder of wonders, Mamas and Daddies were out there in their tennis shoes, etc. walking around with their beginner skaters.  They even had a special area in the middle reserved especially for them.  As I got over my worries about how to handle my new skaters, I started to look around and take it all in.

Oh.  My.  Word.

It was 1980 all over again. Seriously.

Girls were decked out like Cyndi Lauper with the tutu skirts and colorful socks and hairbands.  They flew around the skating rink like they’d been born with skates on their feet.  The smell of popcorn and sweaty feet blended together in a scent called “Reminiscent.”  And then I started listening, really listening, to the music.  Much of it was from my youth.

I seriously think somehow I did hop in a time machine.

I was standing at the side of the rink, watching my littles having a blast.  “Ghostbusters” was playing.  My little guy was out there trying to dance his little heart out (he loves him some music with a good beat).  With.  Skates.  On.

Oh my stars the cuteness.  Off the chart.

His poor Daddy.  It was like trying to wrangle an octopus.  He was trying to keep Cooter from falling over or worse, pulling him over, as the little guy’s hips were giving Elvis some serious competition and his blonde hair was flying as his head bobbed with the beat.

The song ended, and my laughter gradually subsided.  As the next song started, it only took about three seconds for me to “name that tune.”

What time was it?

Hammer time.

Again, with the skate dancing.  As I was watching Cooter and checking our Princess’ progress, I heard someone behind me doing a great job of singing the song right along with MC Hammer.  I looked back and got real tickled.  There was this older guy singing his heart out.  He knew every single part, including the fast parts.  Wow.  How funny was that?

Oh wait.

As the song came to an end, I looked at the guy again.

Oh good gracious, this man was my age.  Or maybe even <gulp> a few years younger.

So much for time travel.

I saw his teenager come up and tease him about his singing.  His pre-teen child walked by and waved.  This guy, rocking out to Hammer Time and telling all those around him, very emphatically, “Can’t touch this!”–he really was around my age.

What a wake-up call.  That brought me back to 2014 very quickly.

Y’all I have my days that I feel as old as Methuselah.  And act like it too, I’m sure.  But some days, and especially that day, it’s like I never aged out of my teens, and that young girl is aching to get out and dance her heart out like she never had the courage to do the first time around.  I was there on Saturday.  I felt young and wished, for a moment or twelve, that they had a dance floor adjacent to the skating rink.  How much fun would that be?  For just a little while I was young.  Until that old guy started singing, and I looked and saw myself.

I felt my age again really fast.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  I like a lot about this age.  When I turned 30, I felt like the world started taking me just a little bit more seriously.  As 40 rolled around, I found I stopped taking myself quite so seriously.  How freeing was that?  Not wishing away the years, but I’m curious what 50 will bring when it gets here.  What all of this on Saturday reiterated for me was an age old truth.

Age is in our heads.  You’re only as old as you feel.  And it can change.  Some days I feel every bit of my years, and some days my heart and mind are so heavy, they age me even further.  But on some special days, when the music takes me back or the weather is as beautiful as my favorite spring day from childhood or there is the smell of fresh-cut grass in the air, I am ten again–with nearly all my life ahead of me and a heart filled with hope and a mind that couldn’t yet comprehend the wonders and heartbreaks ahead of me.

I think the mind is the ultimate time machine, isn’t it?  So thankful for my trip back on Saturday.

The littles have asked to go back again.  You know, I think we might just do it.  For the children, of course.  😉  Every single one of us.

 

In honor of my dancing boy and the song that stirred the pot this weekend, here’s a Star Wars Legos version of “Can’t Touch This.”  May it bring the child in you great delight. 

 

 

 

Just because a cat has her kittens in the oven…..

Friday morning I took the Zoo Crew on the road for a field trip.

Whoo hoo!

Since we are studying the Revolutionary War, we popped “Liberty’s Kids” in the DVD player and made the trek to Perry to the Go Fish Education Center.  My two split their time between talking and asking questions about the program and trying to figure out where we were headed.

That’s how I roll.  I rarely tell them where we are going ahead of time.  Just makes life easier when things don’t work out.  It also keeps them guessing and living the adventure.  But mostly it’s for expectation management–if something doesn’t happen, it lessens the disappointment to just mine.

Friday our instructor/ranger friend talked about the native animals in our area.  Before going out to play a game about bears and food and hibernating, the children were invited to either pet or hold (their choice) a toad, a box turtle, and an indigo snake.  It was fun watching all of the children’s expressions and seeing their fear be conquered by curiosity.  The instructor/ranger is a great teacher.  She has more patience than a little bit.  I learned a lot in our time there–most importantly, that all snakes are protected in the state of Georgia.  That’s right, it is illegal to kill any snake, including the poisonous ones.  Seriously?  Someone asked her to clarify that, and yes, that is the case.  Wow.  Not even sure what to do with that one.

After she passed around the turtle, she took a huge shell from their display and showed the children the interior of the shell and how it is formed.  Amazing actually.  She handed it to a grandfather who was there with his granddaughters, and they began to pass it around.  I watched the delight dance across Cooter’s face.  And then I noticed the wheels were turning.  He is much like his older sister–you can read his emotions in his face.  He was thinking.  And sure enough, when it was his turn, he started trying to put the shell behind his back.  Our Princess thought he was passing it to her around his back and moved to take it from him, whispering, “Don’t pass it that way.”  But no, he wasn’t trying to pass it to her.  He was literally trying to put it on his back.

Are y’all familiar with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

I am.  Very well.  All the way back to my first little guy who loved them twenty years ago.  I used to remember their names by their colors but I’d need a refresher course now.
I have a feeling I’ll be getting one soon.

Cooter had his mind on these special turtles because his friend was having a birthday party, and the friend loves the Ninja Turtles.   My little guy has become fascinated with them of late.  Especially as we were shopping for a gift for his friend–he saw all of the “wonderful” toys and games and books and clothes made especially for Ninja Turtle fans.  *sigh*  Not something else, please.  Let’s just stick with Legos, shall we? (Oh they make those in Ninja Turtles too, never fear!)

My little guy, wanting so hard to be a Ninja Turtle.

My little guy, wanting so much to be a Ninja Turtle.

As we were leaving for the game outside, we picked up the shell and I helped him pose.  He was so thrilled to look like a Ninja Turtle, I think he thought he’d turned into one.  (They love pizza almost as much as he does, you know.)

Alas, no, baby boy.  A shell on your back does not a Ninja Turtle make.

It reminded me of the day I moved into Persons 323 at Wesleyan College at the beginning of my freshman year. My Mama was there helping me move in.  My Rosey roommate had her Mama and Daddy there with her.  Our parents were getting along so well, you’d have thought they were thrilled to be moving us out of their homes rather than suffering from the devastated emotions I am sure they were actually feeling.  Ahem.

Rosey’s Dad was talking about being born in Kentucky I think, but he assured Mama that they were not Northerners.  Mama nodded and said, “Well, just because a cat has her kittens in an oven, that doesn’t make them muffins.”

Oh my.

I shuddered, wondering what my roommate was thinking.  But they all laughed about it, and she and I did as well over the next few years.  Mama.  Seriously?  But yes, that’s just who she was.

And she was right.  Being born in an oven doesn’t make you a muffin.  Wearing a shell on your back doesn’t make you a Ninja Turtle.  Having to wear hand-me-downs and eat leftovers doesn’t make you poor.  Earning a diploma doesn’t make you a smart person. Or a nice one.

It’s what’s inside that counts.  Deep down.  Masks and facades and turtle shells aside, it’s the heart and soul and mind that make us who we are.

Not outward appearances or where we come from or how much money we have in the bank or what papers we have on a wall.  It’s our hearts.

Not a bad lesson to be reminded of by a six-year-old Ninja Turtle Wannabe.  Tonight I’m thankful for that.

Cowabunga, dudes!  And love to all.

Thank you to all of those keeping Aub’s friend Miss K in your thoughts and prayers.  She is doing well.  She has been walking some, doing physical therapy, and went outside for the first time yesterday.  What joy it brings me to be able to share that good report with you all.  Please continue to think of her and her continued healing. 

The Cup of Coffee

I didn’t want to write about this tonight.

Seriously, I’ve spent much of today debating myself about it.  So much so that I have a headache (which could be non-related, but still).  I have other things to share.  80’s music at a skate rink and a turtle shell-inspired story. Good stuff, right?

But my heart says no.  Tomorrow those other stories will still be here.  This one has to be written.  Tonight.  So I can let it go.

And so I begin.

A year ago I spent the day at the hospital in Warner Robins with Mama.  There was all kind of discussion about moving her to Macon, that they had specialists there who could help her.  Once the decision was made (and Mama had to be convinced too y’all, not an easy task), we had to wait on transport.  All.  Day.  Long.  I understand, looking back at the big picture.  But in the moment, I hope you’ll understand when I say there was a bit of impatience on our part.  They told us she would be moved and then we waited for HOURS.  In the meantime, the Fella brought Aub to come get my car, so she could get to and from work the next day.  I waved at my children from the window.  Mama’s pastor came by and made Mama feel so much better with his presence and prayers.  He lit a fire under her faith with his gentle words and she felt much better, at least mentally and spiritually.  Physically she was still in a lot of pain.

Finally the crew arrived to take her to Macon.  I had been asking all afternoon if I would be allowed to ride with her.  I had only heard from one source that I would be able to, so I had been a bit nervous about letting my only means of transportation go.  When the male and female ambulance EMT’s arrived, I asked once again.  I was told it would be okay.  (insert huge sigh of relief here)  They moved Mama to a stretcher which caused her to tense up and pinch her mouth to keep from crying out.  We went down hallways and through doors with special admission only and around to the back of the hospital.  The man led me to the ambulance, and they loaded Mama in the back.  The woman sat in the back with her.  When I thought we were about to leave, the man said he’d be right back, and he went back in the hospital.  I sat there, listening to the movement of the EMT in the back as she hooked up the necessary equipment.  I heard Mama’s muffled voice.  I couldn’t really see what was going on through the opening, so I chose to trust that Mama was okay.  Anything else would have made me crazy.

Finally, the EMT came out with a Styrofoam cup.  He placed it in his cupholder and cranked up.  The radio station blared music from a classic rock station.  Oh.  My.  Word.  When I say “blared,” I am not exaggerating.  If I weren’t already so far over my stress threshold, that would have sent me there in one drum beat.  LOUD.  He said, “I just wanted a cup of coffee before we leave.”  Umm.  Okay?  I mean, I guess he’s allowed.  I don’t want to tell him he can’t have a cup of coffee, but I hope you will understand that this whole thing had us wishing for a sense of urgency on EVERYONE’s part.

We left the hospital, heading west on Watson to pick up 247.  An interesting choice of route.  (I don’t know why, I guess because I have my Daddy’s sense of direction–a good one thankfully–but I find myself constantly calculating the best route or re-routing in my head.)  When he turned on 247 and passed the base, I decided to try for conversation.  I can’t help it, it’s what I do.  (That, I got from my Mama.)

Somehow the subject of coffee came up.  I asked him if he’d ever been to our favorite coffeehouse.

“Um yeah, once,” he said.  “I don’t like all that fancy coffee.  I just like it simple.”

Okay. Strike two.

Please forgive me, but I had already cut him some slack when we had to wait for them to arrive to begin with, and then again when he went back in for coffee.  But then he blares music that there was NO WAY my Mama was enjoying, and he slams my favorite coffeehouse that specializes in sharing light in the world?

Puh-lease.

We talked a little about his recipe for chicken salad, his family, I think, and the fact that he also works at a firehouse part-time.  This I learned when he rolled down the window and talked/hollered with the guy in the firetruck next to us at the light.  Um, no I’m not kidding.

He did swing me back in his favor just a little when he explained his choice of route without me asking.  “We’re going to take Broadway in. The interstate bumps too much and will be more uncomfortable for her.”

Okay.  We’ll take it.

When we got to the hospital, I saw Mama’s face.  She was in pain and holding it in.  We parked in what I think must have been UNDER the hospital, barely eking out a place for the ambulance.  It was packed on that Friday around six in the evening.  They wheeled Mama around the other ambulances, exhaust blowing from the still running engines, and all I could think was, “How sanitary is this?”  But I guess, at that point, it doesn’t really matter, does it?

We wound through the patients in the hallway of the emergency room.  Bless all those poor sick souls.  They all looked miserable.  Yet several gazed upon us with sympathy in their eyes.  We went through more secret special doors and headed up to the fourth floor.  A room with a couch (oh thank you Lord!).  Mama had to be moved once more from the stretcher to the bed.  The two EMT’s were more gentle this time.  Mama couldn’t help it.  She moaned a little.  The female EMT stepped back to the door, as the man paused.  He looked at Mama.  “I hope you feel better soon, Mrs. Joyner.”  He nodded, looked over at me, and headed out the door.

The whole thing was very surreal.  Mama was literally slipped in through the back door.  She didn’t get admission papers taken care of until much later.  As we sat wondering if anyone even knew she was in the room, we wondered where the bathroom was.  And we eventually decided, as we laughed nervously, that this must be one of the special rooms without one.  (We did see it later–it was behind the door to the hallway that had been open the whole time.)

All of this was before they moved her to the CVICU around 10 that night–a room that would be her home for the next two weeks (after which they moved her to the STICU).  It was before the doctor came in, complaining that she had been calling the Warner Robins hospital all day long wanting to know when Mama would arrive.  Before we comprehended the sense of urgency that Mama’s condition caused amongst the hospital staff.  It was before the doctor said that she didn’t have the really bad life-threatening condition (just a highly contagious one), an opinion that was reversed just twenty-four hours later, followed quickly by the first of three emergency surgeries. This was before all that.  A day that began with me feeding my children breakfast and heading out the door ended with me sitting in an ICU waiting area, waiting to hear if Mama was okay and to ask why the rush to move her to ICU.

And when I’ve thought back on that day today, all day long the thing that pops into my head immediately and stays there is that cup of coffee sitting in the cupholder.

It was such a simple, mundane thing for him to do.  Get a cup of coffee before he hits the road again.  Just as a businessperson might grab one before tackling the next report.  Or a student might grab an espresso before beginning work on a ten-page paper.  We all do it, right?  Take a moment before the next thing.

Only in this case, the next thing was my Mama.  The situation and she herself were at the top of my priority list.  In those moments I couldn’t care less if he were as thirsty as a man crossing the desert.  Getting my Mama well was all I had on my mind.

It’s a wonder all I did was think ugly things.  I’m surprised I didn’t say them.  But then again, that was before Mama died, and I still had a little bit of a filter.  He wouldn’t be so lucky these days, I’m afraid.

As I rode in the car home from a birthday party this afternoon, I thought about how many times I “stop for a cup of coffee,” not appreciating the situation those around me might be in.  I stand daydreaming in the line at the grocery store, not aware that the woman behind me might be in a rush because she’s been at work all day and has a sick child at home.  Or that the cashier might just need to hear a kind word from somebody because she had her heart broken the night before.  So many times each day, I just keep on going to the next thing. 

For me that cup of coffee stands for more than a thirst or even a caffeine addiction.  It represents the importance of being aware of what’s going on around me and shifting my priorities as needed.  If he had taken the time to turn off the radio or ask if the station was okay or just turned it down, what a difference that would have made in my attitude.  As it was, I felt like Mama was “just another body” to carry up the road to him.  One more checkmark on the list until he could get off and go home later that night.  And no one, not on my watch, was allowed to treat my Mama any way other than the special person she was.  Especially in the hospital.  She was so sick, the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen her in my whole life.  To treat her as someone who could wait on a cup of coffee or not even have a choice about the music or volume…..that broke my heart.

And maybe he got it.  I saw something shift in him as he left us in that room that evening.  Maybe he finally saw her as a woman, a person, a Mama.  And maybe, just maybe, he realized that no one’s life is worth putting on the back burner…..not even for a cup of coffee.

A good lesson for us all to remember, I think.  Especially me.

Dear God, please don’t let me get so bogged down in my own needs and wants and grief that I don’t even see that there are those around me hurting and needing to be loved and respected and heard.  Amen. 

Amen.