Tag Archives: gratitude

Washing away

I was all set to do laundry on New Year’s Day. The baskets were loaded, the darks picked clean of stray white socks. Then I happened upon the superstition that if you do the wash on the first of the year, you may “wash away a loved one” in the process. I slow-cooked my pork and sauerkraut and waited for January 2.

Five people I knew passed in 2010. One man held me as a baby. One death ushered me into 40. Three more friends, acquaintances, members of my extended community, were gone in a grim flipbook of months or moments.

I make weekly visits to a woman who put her hand over my heart and lifted me last year, who has comforted me with Kleenex and new community and wise words like “go home and read everything you can about acceptance.” Now she is on a twisting journey through metastasized stage four pancreatic cancer and even when I see her under the auspices of showing up to help her, it’s me who gets the help.

I take her food stamp card out to pick up sockeye salmon, orange juice and grits. I walk her granddaughter into a doctor’s office where I am met with a raft of love and prayers and good wishes to take back to the little apartment she so loves because it is surrounded by trees and the walls are increasingly papered with get well cards. I learn how little a person can have and still give and give and light up the lives of other people. I relearn the importance of waking up early, holding my son’s face in my hands and telling him how grateful I am that his face is the first one I laid eyes on in 2011. As much as I want to shed the chaos and pain of the past year’s trail of loss, I also want to stay here, present in what it’s given me, for as long as I am.

I’m learning more than I ever imagined at my age about many ways that people get sick. About many ways that people die. About Jedi nutrition tricks, magical thinking and cold, dark, depressed spaces. I’m stretched thin along the hair’s distance between life and death, between health and a hard diagnosis.

In the days before 2010 expired, I found out there are other people I care about who are now doing their own dances with cancer. After learning her own fate, one gave me a strong symbol of her faith for Christmas, a bit of protection, a message that in the midst of fracturing family, certain things are not lost.  I’m wondering if it’s time to lose a few inches of hair again and offer it to cancer.

I couldn’t do the laundry on New Year’s Day. But not exactly because I am afraid of losing another person. I know that I will, and whether that happens in 2011 or 2021 is not in my hands. But there is not one thing, not one person, not one stain from the experiences of this (or any) tour around the sun that I want to see cleansed from my life.

The accidental Scrooge

Last night, my son told me he had something important to show me at school this morning. “A tree in the hallway,” he said, “with paper ornaments.”

That’s sweet, I thought.  While we’re still new to Kindergarten, we’ve now been at this long enough for me to start to get jaded over the number of paper creations and writings that come home. I try to celebrate each one, but they do stack up. I readied myself to show excitement over his latest effort, but had a hard time getting to “important.”

This morning he was slow to wake, and slower to get ready. I nudged him along, reminding him that he wanted me to see this tree thing, and that things always start on the dot on Fridays when he has music class. He couldn’t decide what he wanted for breakfast. Then I had to help him with his shoes. He tossed his gloves onto the floor when he came home from school yesterday, so we ended up having to grab a mismatched pair after searching around for more wasted minutes.

The later we leave in the morning, the worse the traffic is bound to be. So I groused at him a bit in the car, and scolded that we wouldn’t be able to see the tree because it had been so hard to get him moving.

We arrived to school about one minute late. He insisted again that we needed to visit the tree, even if it made us late to music class.

I gave in. I crank a lot about timeliness – mostly because it tends to be a better start to the day for all of us when we’re there on time, not because I’m a paragon of promptness or because his teachers are cops. But when my son feels strongly about something, I try to let him have that if I can.

We walked to his classroom, where another parent opened the door and confirmed that all the kids were gone, expecting us to turn straight around. Instead, Declan grabbed my hand and pulled me urgently past the dad, then turned me toward this paper tree that had three or four ornaments on it.

“I was worried these would all be gone,” he said. “We need to take one so I can buy something for the children who don’t have any clothes or food or toys like we do for Christmas. They don’t have anything, mom.”

He picked an ornament that committed us to getting a soft toy for a one-and-a-half-year-old boy and seemed genuinely relieved when I stuffed it in my purse and said that we’d do that this weekend.

I felt Scroogey for needling him on the way to school, only to find out his urgent need for me to see this tree was to make sure that he could do do something kind.

Sometimes the universe swats you on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper and gives you an an unexpected, after-school special-worthy moment. And I am grateful. I’m even looking forward to some Christmas shopping. And Hallmark be damned, I’m going to hug the stuffing out of my kid tonight.