“People love in their own way..”
It was a quiet rebuke. Seemingly defensive. Unmistakably disapproving. But quiet nonetheless. And being spoken to in such a manner has a powerful shock-to-the-system effect on me that must be very similar to what those who are in the throes of hysteria must feel when they are abruptly slapped across the face. It’s confounding.
Having been raised in a family of screamers, it’s quiet that speaks the loudest. Quiet that I don’t trust. Just as I was getting ready to croon the “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll go eat worms” chorus, a personal favorite, she continued. “Maybe it’s not be the way you want or the way you expect, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. We can’t expect everyone to do things the way we would do them. Sometimes people just don’t know what to say. There aren’t words. And this“, she gestured at my battered profile, “this is really hard to look at. I mean, it’s frightening.” Whoomp, there it was. The truth. Too bad I’d probably be completely healed by Halloween. I would clean UP.
It had only been a week since my potentially life threatening car wreck. A personal roller coaster ride complete with spinning and somersaulting, violent shaking, and a dramatic finish that left my world wrong side up and me, dangling from my harness, steadily pendulating as if trying to keep in time with the pounding of my heart. Though I was airborne for a second or two, I don’t think I had much fun.
Never been a huge fan of coasters. More a Pirates of the Caribbean than Space Mountain kind of girl.
It wasn’t long before it became clear to me that although I was sprained, fractured, bruised and concussed, it was my face, curiously causing the least amount of pain, that was going to look the angriest. Frightening. An apt description.
My blackened, blood clotted, puckered grimace was a distraction from my daily “to weigh or not to weigh” tug of war with my conscience, but was it relief? Really?
Or is it true that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t? Because no matter how often I scrutinized myself in the mirror, I could not recognize the woman staring back at me.
I spiraled into a dark place in the days after the accident. Initially, my family and I felt astonishment, then relief that naturally gave way to joy. That I walked (crutched) away from the remains of a sardine can, more or less unscathed,was no less than a genuine water-into-wine miracle.
Paramedics, doctors, nurses, they all made a point of telling me that I was “very, very lucky.” I made a point of telling them “It wasn’t luck. It was God.” Unfortunately, I was on a steady morphine drip at the time and my exaltation sounded a lot like, “Ih wush uhh. Ih wuh guuu.” The closest I’ll probably ever get to speaking in tongues. I think they understood.
Sadly, by the time I was discharged, my initial adrenaline (and subsequent pain medication) buzz had all but vanished. At home, I lay on my bed in a perfume cloud of “Get Well” bouquets, and skimmed my Facebook messages that offered X’s and O’s and homemade meals. I felt anxious. Unsettled. I should have been resting in the blessings. I should have been sleeping in stillness and serenity. But something wasn’t right. Greatly not right. But I didn’t know what it was. I wouldn’t for a while. A traumatic brain injury arrives as an unexpected and highly unwelcome house-guest. It arrives on your doorstep and settles in for a stay of indeterminate length. Before you’ve had a chance to remove your puke-green hospital slipper socks, your entire home-sweet-home with all its creature comforts has been wickedly upended.
The family is challenged with an unknown personality. A Tasmanian devil who ferociously and mercilessly tornadoes through your life leaving about just as much damage in its wake. The transformation is shocking to all, catching even the devil by surprise. The onset is abrupt. The onset is severe. All involved are ill-equipped.
I am beyond blessed to have a devoted circle of intimates who were ready to put an arm around my shoulder and tirelessly guide me through the blackest of my nights. Always with a smile, currents of grace still coursing through me long after they’d left. I’d needed it badly but would never have asked. The riotous shouting in my head came from unknown characters I couldn’t begin to tackle on my own.
It began a day or two following the fun of my brain knocking forcibly against my skull ( see, they’re really not meant to do that). Somewhere in my mind tiptoed the macabre hiss “You were supposed to die. You’re were SUPPOSED to die.” Understand, my head was already considerably muddled.
I lost entire conversations. I had difficulty accounting for large blocks of time. Speech became difficult. I couldn’t remember simple words. Couldn’t articulate them when I did. I’d always thought that the worst way to live was to be altogether lucid while living in a decrepit body. But now I had to consider the torment of being physically whole while recognizing that you’re gradually losing your mind.
I was terrified.
I slept during the day…or maybe I didn’t? At night I slept..or I didn’t.. I might have emailed friends..or I did it in my head and figured the end result would be the same. The narcotics helped arrest the herd of tap dancing elephants between my ears but not all effects were so discernibly beneficial. The drugs also inspired behaviors such as crying over imagined jeers from nonexistent visitors or writing terrible and detectably suicidal poetry at three in the morning.
“ The LED numbers stare at me unblinking Mocking me Challenging Nothing to be done
Not tonight I accept defeat The thickness of my head muffles the sound of metal dancing too closely with metal
But my eyelids, so delicate, don’t hide the image of glass..crystalline..like a snow globe..turned into countless little ice cubes that veer too close
The reminders that can’t be escaped have me ever shifting. Always twisting. The elevated foot that pulses uncomfortably, the face where one cheek and only that one cheek must remain firmly affixed to my pillow. The knee, the elbow, the ribs, easily forgotten in the dark shadows cast from the head.
Where lies everything that makes me who and what I am. Trouble has come. I am unsure and wrong-footed and thoughts are dark. Painful. Laborious.
Death as release. For those I love. For me. New thoughts. But persistent. The tack of fresh blood soothed only briefly. Now it is one more hurt. One more pain to keep me staring at the ceiling.
But the ceiling, with it’s clean canvas, shows me no ice crystals of glass. It’s coldness makes no grinding metallic crunch. I can lie here in safety, but not at all safe, and no one will tell me to get over it.
I’ll be fine.
No big deal. Because I don’t know that I will.
And it may not be. And it is. It really is.
If I could disappear, I would. Make myself so tiny that I could flatten myself against the wall, or curl into a petite little package and never be noticed.
A delicious prospect.
To bruise to bleed to swell to break to fear
To be confused in reading in writing in prayer
Oh to fly, To fly to escape, Or just to go home
People can thwart the will of God, can they not? What if What if I was meant to die?
And there it is
…..I know. Poetry hasn’t ever really been my thing but seriously? I forgive myself the obvious “woe is me” sentiment woven throughout because the words were born out of legitimate pain, but I’m still puzzled at the insinuation that my trauma was dismissed. Completely untrue. If anyone was discounting a brewing storm it was me and me alone. I adopted my usual droll banter and resolute attitude. Hastily stitched fig leaves meant to disguise my reprehensible humanity. The trouble with that?…
I was hurting. I was sad. And while most of the time the confidence I carried knowing that I was unquestionably loved was enough? This wasn’t most of the time. And the question now facing me was: Do I expect everyone to do things the way I would do them? Did I believe that the act of caring had to follow my personal outline in order to be heartfelt? Maybe.
Gradually, painfully, I acknowledged that I’d set pretty definitive criteria as to the “right” way one should show friendship during times of crisis and hardship. That being, naturally, what I would do. Oh. Also, ouch.
The realizations chug chugged to life and came quicker as they gathered steam. At the same time, I started thinking that the notion of everyone doing their own thing, going and loving their own way, couldn’t possibly be a panacea for those suffering.
There had to be way to weave together the best of these ideas but the “how” of it all left me stuck. Gnawed at me. Maybe neither she (previously mentioned), nor I were completely right nor completely wrong but I couldn’t articulate why. I wanted, as I always want but so seldom get, a very clear solution. A no shades of gray, let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’, tale as old as time; song as old as rhyme, “That’s it! Miss Scarlet with the lead pipe in the Conservatory!” answer. So far, no luck on that front. I still hope though.
just one month later..
a devastating tragedy.
A dear friend I had known from inpatient treatment committed suicide. None of us saw it coming. I guess nobody ever does, do they?
And it came.
“It may not be the way you want or the way you expect.”
I can accept that. I love big. I love with all I am and all I have. Often, it would seem, to my detriment. I can’t and don’t expect that in kind. And yet. Yet. We shouldn’t use our individual habits as excuses to rationalize disregard. Or apathy. I mean, I’ve done it. Plenty. You’ve probably done it.
“He/she knows I love them, I’m just so busy/tired/important. I’ll make it up to them later.” And we wait..and we wait.. for later to arrive. Sometimes later arrives too late.
I keep imagining what it must have been like for my friend Emily on the night she died. Bottles of pills standing at attention on her desk. Just..staring at her. Did she pause for a moment? Regard them? Did she take any time to reflect?
Did she wonder, “Why am I doing this? So many people love me? They’re showing it in their own way. Maybe with their thoughts? Could be in their prayers. Positive vibes? I’m sure they meant to call. To write. To stop by. I can’t expect people to care for me the way I care for them.”
Losing Emily (I’m writing about this now for a later post) showed me that sometimes loving our own way isn’t enough. Sometimes loving our own way isn’t necessarily God’s way. We might need to venture into what’s unfamiliar to soothe and strengthen, to knit the tears of the heart and reach for the hand of all who’ve lost the faith to walk upon the waves. Who tumble overboard and then panic. Flail. Sink.
In Mark 8:34, Jesus, speaking to a crowd, said, ” Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Though brief, it’s no easy directive. Servitude while thirsting for autonomy. Great personal sacrifice. Everyday. Even when it’s untimely. Even when it’s unpleasant. I don’t mean to suggest that an outward deluge of affection would have changed the road Emily had determined to go down. I’m thinking more of future Emilys. We can’t know who or where they are. How seldom does a person’s outside mirror what’s actually happening inside? That doesn’t mean an impact can’t be made. Ultimately it’s not about loving the way I would love or the way you would love. It’s all about how He loves.
“LOVE your neighbor as yourself.”*
“By this all will know that you are My disciples, that you have LOVE for one another.”
“These things I command you, that you LOVE one another.”
“Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly LOVE, in honor giving preference to one another..”
“Let all that you do be done with LOVE.”
“And walk in LOVE, as Christ also has LOVED us and given himself for us..”
Be kind to one another. Honor one another. Be devoted to one another. Love one another. LOVE. Love. Love.
Like I said, I was just on the receiving end of some pretty amazing love like that. I was reminded daily that God was near. Was looking out for me still. That I was precious to Him and precious to people on earth. I eventually did sleep in the stillness and serenity. Rest in the blessings. And as I drifted off, I was filled with warmth. Sent up a silent prayer of gratitude. I was very, very lucky. Funny. Now I was reminding myself: Ih wush uhh. Ih wuh guuu.
Ain’t it the truth..
*Leviticus 19:18, **John 13:35, ***John 15:17, ****Romans 12:10 *****1Corinthians 16:14, ******Ephesians 5:2