Personal Essay: Our Time

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I’d written this awhile back for “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.  I’d written it in response to the popular saying (by many of the Christian persuasion, of which I am) that everything happens for a reason, which I do not believe.  Sometimes things just happen.  And in those instances, we can choose to find meaning in what happened, or make something meaningful come out of the experience.

Taking an ethics/philosophy class has made me think a little more deeply about abstract things, but that’s what higher learning is supposed to do–make you think, not tell you what to think or how to think.

Now here is my story, though few stories are truly ours, and ours alone to tell.  Sometimes, we just happen to be the messengers.

It was 1981, the year of my birth, when my parents were robbed at gunpoint. They were managers of a cinema in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and two men they fired had broken in. The whole episode must’ve had an effect on me in utero, for as a baby, whenever a light was turned on, I’d hold up my hands like I was part of a stick-up.

I literally dodged the bullet on that one.

When we were living in Rota, Spain, I contracted spinal meningitis at the age of six, losing all hearing in my left ear. When my mother was told by the doctor that most children die within 24 hours without treatment (I’d had it for three days before being diagnosed), I realize how lucky I was, and I wonder why me, instead of why not me? That is a question to which I haven’t sought an answer, thinking perhaps someday, the answer will come to me.

It wouldn’t be until years later that another medical miracle would occur in my family.

It was in February, a few years ago now, that my dad got real sick.

The first hospital he went to, he was told to go home and take a Motrin. He did so, but he only got worse.

He then went to our family doctor, who saw how ill he was. She called an ambulance for him, and he was taken to a second hospital. They kept him for a couple of days, then released him in a wheelchair, too weak to walk on his own, because they needed the bed.

My brother and I had a conversation with him during his stay that he doesn’t recall (which we found eerie), though he did remember a black minister coming to his room and telling him he was going to be all right.

A nurse, who showed up at our house the next day to check on him, told us to take him back to the hospital immediately. So we called another ambulance, where he was taken to yet a different hospital. Dad was diagnosed with pneumonia and a lung infection, including a blood clot on his lung. For five days, he was put into an induced coma in ICU.

Had that nurse not come, Dad would’ve surely died.

Dad’s near-death experience changed our lives in profound, and not so profound ways. He told our family dentist that he knew he was better because we were all mean to him again. My mom, dealing with the stress of not having enough money coming in, quit smoking just like that, and hasn’t smoked a cigarette since. I do believe we all become closer when these things happen, but then the awe and wonder that we have lived to love another day fades and life goes on again.

One can only guess why some things happen. I wanted to go into the military, but my handicap prevented that. Why did my dad have to get so sick, when it wasn’t his time to go? Maybe his getting sick, which led my mom to quit smoking prevented her from getting lung cancer in the future. Maybe my not getting into the Navy kept me from dying too soon.

We will never know.

I’m not one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason, but I do believe we can either find something good to come out of the chaotic events in our lives, or make something good come from them.

Relaxing at the Park on a Thursday Afternoon

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A getabout town always refreshes me, and improves my mood and performance for the remains of the day.  It was a sunny, but cool day in Northwest Florida, and I wasn’t going to waste it.

My husband and I went to Books-A-Million for a lookaround (my term for “window shopping”) with our daughter, who pretty much goes wherever we go, or stays at home with one of us.  Somehow, I think this is very important.

Walking into a bookstore is like a walking into a literary paradise–instead of a plethora of colors like the Crayola 64-pack, it’s 26 letters, all in different orders, not one the same.  Books, to me, are “unique and wonderfully created”.  Standing in the midst of it all, I realize how little time I have to read, how few books I have truly read.  I scarce can take it all in.

I use my husband’s cameraphone to take pictures of the covers of all the books I want to buy for less than half the price at Amazon, as I will never remember them.  I have quite a faulty memory–perhaps that is why I write,  why I take so many pictures.  I don’t ever want to forget how I felt when Hannah was born, how she looked when she first came out, or her incredible laugh that is contagious.  I want her to know someday what she cannot remember now.

Hannah got her first ride on a rocking horse today, and as I gaze around it, I see it is endless what we can learn, what we can teach.  The wheels of imagination are already turning, and I have to catch myself, to remind myself to enjoy this moment with her, as she is now.  There will be plenty of time to teach her how to make friendship bracelets.

We pass by the Dr. Seuss section while I think how I’d love to have my own section like that someday, but I ask myself, is Sarah Richards too plain, not memorable enough?  Should it be Dr. Something, like Dr. Yess (as opposed to Dr. No)?

We stop for coffee on the way to the park.  Sometimes I swing on the swings, but I was a bit of a grown-up today, finding myself telling my husband about rare genetic and mental disorders.  (Being a health major, I like to share my knowledge.)

We always put Hannah on the baby swing, her face away from the sun, and I was suddenly struck by the sun.  She was silhouetted, and I thought how this was a perfect day (reminding me of that Richard Paul Evans novel) encapsulated into one moment–a snapshot.  We try to cherish it, but we blink, and the moment has passed.

We’d passed by a man on the way to the swings, completely covered in a hoodie and sweatpants, his face indistinct, just sitting on a bench.  A little breeze came while Hannah was in motion, and then when I looked back, he was gone.

I do not trust men sitting alone in parks, seemingly disengaged from the scene before him.

So in thought was I over this, I thought nothing of the man behind me, near the tower of ropes.  I caught my husband staring at him, this man wearing sunglasses, who seemed removed from the scene, but watching the kids, another man a little ways back, looking at his cell phone.  The man in the glasses wasn’t interacting with the kids, and we wondered if any of them even belonged to him. When I turned to face him, I realized my perception was my reality.  I grew up watching crime shows with my mom, and I still catch a yet unseen episode of “Law and Order:  SVU” whenever I can.  I am always aware, always on alert.

The park was as bright as noonday, and yet, there was a darkness, like charcoal dust that still hung in the air.  Even though I might be happier not always seeing the dark side of things, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I remember years ago, Oprah talked about “the gift of fear”, and how fear is good, because it protects us.

There was a time I thought I didn’t want kids, because I knew from then on, I would no longer ever be free from worry.  Now I know that the peace of mind I have sacrificed is worth it, because she is.  I knew when I found out I was going to become a mother, life was never going to be the same.  It wouldn’t be quite as tidy, that sometimes, I would have to stop in the middle of what I was doing to tend to her.  A part of me feared I would be too selfish, but I find myself sacrificing time and money I would have otherwise spent on myself, simply because I want to.

One doesn’t change themselves because they become a mother, they are changed because they become a mother.  At least that was how it was with me.  I like to say that one never truly understands how much their parents loved them till they have a child of their own.