Wednesday, September 28, 2011

For Better or Worse


Her greatest challenge lies ahead of her still.  The cancer, the divorce, the tumors, the death of spouses, the trauma of a daughter – those pains, while tearing at the very fabric of her existence still had a degree of control running in the background.  Now, nearly immobilized in an assisted care facility with limited function to the point of not being able to even ask for help, even the idea of control has been taken from her.

Her constant in all those trials has always been her faith in Jesus, her greatest weapon of reason – little more than a relationship with the God of creation.  That relationship bore fruit, much fruit.  She has a direct line with Christ, they talk, and He listens.  He talks, and she hears.  Today however, that relationship seems to have gone cold.  The visible evidence of a loving communication path is not so evident and I have to believe it is still there, running at a frequency that I’m not privileged to; not in this life anyway.

What appears to me as a lonely existence held captive in a failing clay jar is perhaps the most abundant life possible to her?  I can only see a small portion of the plan and I believe that in her silence and confusion, the mysteries of life are already being shared.  Her friend, the one who carried her through trials unimaginable, still carries that burden, still calms her fears, and still assures her that her work will continue to bear much fruit.

I don’t know how Sherry manages to balance all this, her depth of compassion, her sorrow, anger and joy all befuddled by the challenges of both a special daughter and now a most special mother.  Its truly a task of selfless love and I stand amazed at the woman who married me, who remains married to me, and who promises to remain married to me for better or worse.  Perhaps she’s learning yet another ironic lesson from God that nestled in that marriage vow the idea of “worse” is in actuality the essence of the idea of “better”.  It’s through “worse” that “better” receives its glory like through evil, good may exist.  For mom, it’s through this silent helpless period that certain greatness is being displayed, not one we can see with our eyes but perhaps one we can see with our heart.

Her greatest challenge lies ahead of her and this time she has no control.  This time however, she does not need to be brave or strong or even confident.  This time she need only follow.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Screen and the Gift of Apathy


I replaced the screen in the back door for the 20th time today.  It seems big fun for Bethany to occasionally take a good swing at it – send her fist through it or at least get it to tear a bit.  She’s learned that if she can’t get through it in one punch, several follow-up visits usually does the trick.

She seems to love hearing me say, “dammit, knock it off”, must be music to her ears because she keeps doing it.  If not the back door, then its the screen in her bedroom.  She’ll leave it intact just long enough for you to think your safe, and then around midnight you hear this terrible crashing noise followed by a deep, sinister laugh.  Once she manages to rip it out of the window casing, she tosses it over the top of her half-height, bedroom door and down the stairs.  Again, the deep laugh.

I’ve gotten pretty good at repairing them, stitching tears, smoothing bulges, grafting new skin on old screens.  The door itself is over 20 years old and has been carefully patched, not unlike the corpse of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.  His body’s been on display in Moscow since he died in 1924, no doubt the guy that occasionally has to “patch” him had an autistic daughter as well – where else could one become so skilled at seamlessly repairing old things so they look unscathed?

Today when I came around the corner and saw the mangled screen hanging from the frame, torn and twisted – I knew it was time to head to the hardware store.  I knew that I should have bought bulk screen in 30 or 40 foot rolls, but I keep imaging that one day she’ll simply stop punching them out.  I know the entire stock of the local hardware store; size, color, material.  I know when’s the best time to use fiberglass, when is metal preferred.  I know how much of an impact with be visible with bright aluminum and where black works best.  I know what tools work, and which ones are marketed to people who don’t replace screens.  I’ve watched as various screen manufacturers began to shift their marketing efforts from selling mesh with children in mind to a more lucrative sell, the pet-owner market.  Nothing’s too good for Fido.

The best part about today’s task was the luxurious ride in the MGB on the way to the hardware store.  A bright, sunny Saturday – our helper was here to take care of B so time was not of the essence.  I drove to and then past the store, headed out into the country well below the posted speed limit.  Didn’t care that people passed on both the left and right, didn’t care that they had soccer matches to get to, didn’t care if they tailgated, didn’t care if they had pet-proof screens at home.  For 30 wonderful minutes, I didn’t care about much more than the road, the sun and the simple fact that I’d not gone insane. 

I was tired and he gave me rest, hungry and he supplied a helper.  Broken and he provided screen, emotionally naked and he provided me autumnal clothing – warm sunshine, turning colors, and oblivion to the drivers hurrying past.

I got the screen I needed, eventually.  Even bought one of those “pet screens” that used to be marketed to keep your kid from running through the lower part of your screen door – I just mounted it in a scientific manner, I had B come and take a swing at the door so I knew where her hand typically landed and then put the big, expanded aluminum section right there at fist level.  The door looks like something from an inner-city convenience store, designed to keep looters out in case of a riot.  I believe that in some small way I won this one, I had to destroy the village to save it but in this war it’s more important to win than to be right so I’m ok with the looks.

Best part of it all though was that 30 minutes of driving past my objective, bathed in the glorious gift of indifference.  I’d have never imagined that God would use apathy as a gift for survival.  Today, it worked wonders.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Built a Bicycle


I built a bicycle. 

Not just any bike, but one modeled after a Dutch “bakfiet” which in the Netherlands is kinda like the station wagon of bicycles.  Its about eight feet long and has a large wooden cradle in front of the person doing the pedaling.  The bike was built so that I could take Bethany for bike rides with her sitting ahead of me rather than behind, stuffed into a Burley that had a weight limit we’d surpassed about two years ago.  Her fascination with spinning things, like bicycle tires, made for a dangerous ride for both of us.

The bike is quite an oddity; long and low with the steering located mid-ship.  The proportions, nearly as bizarre as those of a camel and in many ways, not at all unlike the people riding her.  We get two kinds of reaction: big smiles and waves or absolute blank stares, devoid of emotion, context or comprehension.  Bethany’s favorite thing to do while riding is to simply, loudly, scream.  Blood-curdling yet happy, her screams are heard long in advance of our approach, which gives small children plenty of time to run to the street to see what the commotion is all about.  I’ve taken to adding bouquets of colorful, plastic flowers to the cradle portion of the bike and on the front headset, a sizeable plastic eagle.  It’s the hood ornament on my station wagon bicycle.  Needless to say, every day is parade day while riding this beauty.

At first Bethany was a little hesitant about getting in but once she realized that she could hold my hand while we pedaled around the neighborhood, acceptance was gained.  Bear in mind that at age 15, Bethany weighs upwards of 100lbs.  That’s a lot of Korean to hustle around on a bike while holding hands.

The beauty of all of this is that when we ride - there is no dignity, no control, little semblance of order and absolutely no selfish pride.  When we ride, we’re the most socially vulnerable people on earth; open to the judgment of all yet beholden to none and the freedom from concern is the most liberating thing in my life.  If she screams, throws food overboard, rips her diaper and stuffs her deflated ball on the top of her head…it simply doesn’t matter.  If I, at a moments notice hop on the bike with her, I care not how I look, smell or present myself, as there is neither selfishness nor gain to be had.

Together we ride, enjoying the view, smiling at the cars while screaming at the top of our lungs.  This letting go, lying back in the water of life and releasing the grip I think I have on my destiny affords me a freedom that few ever experience; the freedom from self.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Wind Passes Over It, And Its Gone


A quiet repose
A moment in time that the wind blows through my heart
The memory of time gone by, soothing my tired mind
Warm grasses, blown in sweeping patterns across the fields swirl in patterns like water
Like a thousand years before me and thousands after
It continues its dance, in spite of me

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dancing in the Kitchen; A Size 14 Sock


I was dancing with my daughter this morning, lurching left and right with my arms around her waist and her hands on my forearms.  I hummed the tune to an old “Sesame Street” song that she always seems to find delight in:

 “La, la, la, lamppost,
  La, la, la, la, lullaby,
  La, la, la, la light bulb,
  La, la, la, la, lumps in my oatmeal”…

She closes her eyes and squeals with delight as I hammer out the tune and swirl her around in circles across the kitchen.  These few moments seemed wonderful as we wait for the bus to come rumbling down our driveway.

I imagine that for any father of a 15 year old, dancing with his daughter is a special occasion to be cherished for a lifetime.  For me it’s more of a blessed respite.  The last few weeks have been some of the most trying days in our lives and we’ve been stretched to the point where returning to what we were, is physically impossible.  We’re size 9 socks with size 14 feet shoved into them; we’ll never be size 9 again.  To dance happily with my special needs daughter, to hear her laugh is more than an emotional episode – it’s a divine revelation, its Noah’s rainbow after two years on a filthy boat, it’s the sound of songbirds after a long winter.

Bethany was ill and the only way she can process the concept of pain is to inflict yet more pain, illogical to you and I but very logical to her.  The eye doctor said that her one good eye was “still in marvelous shape”, a big surprise given the beating she'd given herself over that last couple of weeks. Two full weeks that I'd much rather repress into the dark recesses of my brain than ever face again.

The final report card from that two week event nets me a D- in both Citizenship and English. I failed, I lost my head, I did everything wrong.  I guess that’s part of stretching beyond your current shape – about the time we reached “size 10”, I had nothing to base my reactions on so every response was emotional, not rational.  Size 11 and 12 had me cursing the God I loved. Size 13 and 14 put me to the point where I wished she’d end it all and kindly put us all out of her misery. At this point our marriage is at risk, our health, marginal and the safety of all, questionable – the teapot was about to explode.

Now, dancing with delight in the kitchen to music poorly offered by a tired and still confused father, delight takes center stage.  Happiness, for the moment is one thing we share and for the first time in a month I find myself hoping that the bus comes late.