Watching and Listening During My Recuperation
Comments from the Convalescent:
When I began this convalescence, I envisioned catching up on books I’ve been wanting to read in between naps. What I’ve learned, though, is that restoration is hard work. First come the sleepless nights when the anxiety of what might happen with my next breath overwhelms me. Then comes the depression in the midst of a flurry of calls to doctors and the insurance company A whole lotta hub-hub going on. Not to mention the three daily walks, fussing with cranky heart monitor electrodes, trying to get used to the weight of that contraption sliding around with me when I try to sleep. Mama, it’s hard to find a rhythm.
As the days go on and I approach the two-week anniversary of my stroke, I’m slowly feeling my way back to a routine that will work for me. I’m having to relearn how to spend my days, with my eye on returning to teaching next week. I’ve been watching and listening. Along the way, what feels right to me is that role of the observer that’s so familiar to the way I’ve always lived my life.
It’s Just Life Going on the Way It Does:
A man near me at my neurologist’s reception counter says, “I need to change my emergency contact. He’s going to jail.”
A young man smokes a cigarette while squatting on his heels outside the garage of the house where the night before I heard a woman screaming.
A boy’s bicycle has been along the curb on the main street into my subdivision overnight and all day.
My neurologist says to me, “I’m going to give you three words I want you to remember: “Tulip, “Umbrella,” “Fear.”
The speech therapist says to me in the hospital, “I’m going to give you three words I want you to remember: “Rose,” “Sweater,” “Hamburger.”
I wonder: Does every series of three words I’m to remember begin with a flower?
I tell my neighbor’s teenage daughter a joke: “Why did the groundhog cross the road?” “To show the chicken it was possible.”
My neighbor’s teenage daughter tells me a joke: “What did one waiter say to the other waiter?” “We’re both waiters.”
Love resides in the most unexpected places, even in corny jokes.
“What did Baby Corn say to Mama Corn?” “Where’s Pop Corn?”
My cousin brings me apples from the orchard: yellow delicious and pixie crunch. She tells me a story about how after her father died, my aunt said to her, “I don’t know what to do with these guns.” My aunt, the retired junior high teacher, tatter of lace, painter of landscapes, collector of music boxes. My uncle, former public relations man, gentle tender of bird feeders, congenial teller of jokes, gracious host. Who knew they’d been packing heat? My aunt’s rifle. My uncle’s pistol. Certainly not my cousin, who tells me the pistol was in a wooden box on a book shelf in her parents’ living room, lo these fifty-some years. I remember that handsome box. I always thought it was one of my aunt’s music boxes.
Surprises, surprises. When my uncle was dying, he came back to consciousness toward the end and said, “Peaches, peaches. There’s a hole in Santa’s breeches.” At another point, he asked my aunt, “Mildred, how to you spell orange?”
What were those three words? Either series.
I type them now from memory: “Tulip, Umbrella, Fear.” “Rose,” “Sweater,” “Hamburger.”
I don’t plan on forgetting. Six small words. I’ll never hear one of them again without remembering how when the neurologist and the speech therapist gave them to me, I held onto them as hard as I could. I held them as if they were my life.
Your words have always moved me, Lee. They continue to now. I can feel something amazing coming from this leg of your journey.
Sure hope you’re right about that, Bren. Thanks so much.
May you be in a healing space and cross the threshold into complete recovery soon.
Thank you, Maureen. Wishes such as yours certainly help.
“Tulip, umbrella, fear.” “Rose, sweater, hamburger.” Lee, these six words that you hold onto are the story, the narrative that you are writing here. You hold onto to them because they are more than recovery; they are your spirit reaching for the story they already tell here. You have included us an ongoing, changing effort—your deeply human experience. You have language and you have it in an inventive way, in your soul. The “word” as Emerson said, “if traced to its root, is found to be borrowed from some material appearance. ‘Right’ means ‘straight,’ ‘wrong’ means ‘twisted,’ ‘spirit’ primarily means ‘wind.’ The whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind,” he explains in Nature, Chapter IV, “Language.” You are writing your story and I am with you on the wind of the journey each time you speak here.
Mary, I’m glad to have you along for the ride. Thank you, dear friend.
Ditto what Mary says! This is definitely a journey and I’m glad you’re sharing it with you.
Question: has speed, specifically the feeling of slowing down, come into your awareness during this period? Whenever I’ve had to recuperate from surgeries and injuries, I remember having to accept that I would have to move very slowly for awhile. I remember walking through the mall in Central Park in autumn very slowly as I recovered from a bike racing crash. I was in pain, but was also grateful how beautiful it was outside and that I didn’t have to be anywhere else but in that step by step process. Then I sat on a bench and watched people all afternoon. I know you’re a runner who must now walk for awhile. What has that change in speed been like?
Great question, Sophronia! Yes, slowing down has definitely been a part of this journey, particularly the first week of my recovery, not just a physical slowing down, moving from running to walking, but also an emotional slowing down, not letting the mind or the heart get too far ahead of the present moment. There was a calming effect, for sure. In the second week, I’ve started to think ahead a bit more. I’m planning on teaching again next week, and that requires me to think of having to do this and that. Consequently, the world has sped back up a bit. I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing. I suppose I’ll find out.
Holding good thoughts for you, Lee. You continue to inspire my writing.
Thanks, Emile. Hope all is good on the left coast.
Lee, you are in our thoughts and prayers. You come from a long line of persevering ancestors and I hope you get additional strength from them too.
Mary said it all so eloquently above.
God grant you a speedy recovery, Lee.
Ruth Ann, thank you so much for reminding me to draw upon the strength of our ancestors.
Powerful stuff. Maybe not so easy to share. Thank you for reminding me to focus less on meeting deadlines and more on making memories.
Thanks, Debra. I’m still trying to find a balance. Take care.
Lee, your writings inspire me in such a resonant way with my literary sensibility, so much so that I feel like I’ve known you for long. I am a writer from Korea visiting OSU this semester as a writer-in-residence for the Korean Language and Literature Program. This particular essay evokes my sympathy with your way all the more, for I myself have been suffering from a rare desease last two years and only recently began to recuperate. Look forward to reading your latest book I ordered a few days ago, such A Life. Best Wishes!
Thank you so much and welcome to OSU! I’m glad to hear that you’re recuperating, and I hope you’re enjoying OSU and Columbus. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to meet while you’re here. I’m pasting in a link to our reading series. Some of the folks who have pieces in a new craft book and anthology of creative nonfiction will be reading on October 17 at 7pm in Denney Hall, Room 311. Thanks, again, for taking the time to comment. http://english.osu.edu/creative-writing/news-events/reading-series/visiting-writers
Yes, I was already planning to go to the reading. See you then!
Thank you for this progress report, Lee. You are healing, it is obvious, and this essay is a gift to the world.
Thank you, Richard. The plan is for me to be back in the classroom this week.
Lee, thank you for the inspiring and lovely words. It seems when life forces us to slow down, we fond our deepest inspiration in those small moments that comprise daily life. I see you have important work ahead as you share the story of your recovery. Best wishes and many blessings for a strong return to health.
Good to hear of your mindful presence and intentional recovery. How fragile life is, how stirring the images of the lives around you, how strong you are and are becoming. We will all celebrate with you when you are able to return to your students next week. One day at a time.
…and now I see I may be off a week! (calendars are not my friends) So does this mean you are back in the classroom…now? (as far as I know this is Wednesday 10.10.12, according to bottom right hand digital readout on my laptop…) I look forward to your reflection of the experience of re-entry–
Lee, I am reading these beautiful essays now… thank you for sharing such tenderness, careful observance and generous love. May your writing and life continue to grow in good health.
Thank you, Donna. Many blessing to you.
Getting caught up…. this is lovely. And I especially love this: “Love resides in the most unexpected places, even in corny jokes.”