- Years ago we were eating dinner and I glanced at my 10-year-old daughter’s plate. “Eat your vegetables, Michele,” I said, and she replied “Corn is a grain, Mom.” When we have children we get to be humbled and corrected by pint-sized authorities.
- We get to have primitive hand-drawn artwork to affix to our refrigerators with magnets.
- We acquire a collection of crude, primary-color ceramics to hold our keys and loose change.
- We support the magnet industry. (see #2 above)
- We learn what Hell is like, in time to change our ways so we don’t have to experience eternity at Chuck E. Cheese.
- We get to experience premature graying and recurring nightmares teaching a 16-year-old to drive.
- We learn humility. When Michele was in high school I told her, “If you do your homework and get a good education you’ll get a great job that pays good money.” To this priceless wisdom, she replied “Oh duh, Mom.” Mothers everywhere were hearing “Oh duh, Mom.”
- We learn that we are not as smart as we think we are. That in fact we’re not smart at all. After we struggle and click everywhere for hours when our computer misbehaves, our kid comes in, turns it off, unplugs the modem for a minute, plugs it back in and it works like a charm.
- We get to go to movies we secretly long to see when we go with our children. I loved the Goonies, swear words and all. My daughter is 35, and doesn’t have kids. I wish she did, I really want to see Captain Underpants.
- We learn how to qualify for the Indy 500 when we speed like Mario Andretti, scanning 360 degrees for cops as we race to pick up our kids at the daycare before it closes. At six they start charging $10 a minute. I exaggerate but only slightly.
- Yes, I know I said 10 reasons but I had forgotten the most important one. We learn that life is not fair. You’re diligent for a long, long time and then you forget about your birth control one time. Just ONE. That’s all it takes, and your life is changed forever. And when the fruit of your lapse is born, you fall more hopelessly and completely in love than you ever dreamed it was possible, for the rest of your life, which by the way is no longer yours.
Meditation wasn’t invented 30 years ago, when I was a single working parent. I know that’s not true, of course. It was invented, but instruction and information about it wasn’t nearly as available as it is today. Now it’s taught at gyms and studios and community centers, on YouTube, on TV, in countless books, everywhere.
Things might have gone much more smoothly if I had had the tool of meditation when Michele was a kid. Especially in junior high and high school. There would have been less anger and frustration, more calm communication, far fewer tantrums. My tantrums, I’m talking about. I was the one who had tantrums and got frustrated and bounced off the walls. Michele was pretty calm.
Well, I can’t do the past over but I can start from now. These days I meditate every morning for 30 minutes, and for an hour at my church on Wednesdays. I’ve been at it for a while, and I haven’t had a single tantrum for a long time. I’m a calmer, more patient and understanding person because of people like Deepak Chopra…Amma…Sri Sri…Nancy Guarnera, meditation guru at my church…. Thank you all.
Where were you guys 30 years ago?
The real question is, where was I? Too busy being a frazzled single working parent, I guess. Now I’m a more serene senior. Better late than never.
Plums from our backyard tree are incredibly sweet and juicy. I take them to church and put them in the kitchen, where we munch. If you stand outside the room you’d think they’re having an orgy in there. “Oooooh…ummmm…OMG this is sweet…ahhhhhh…just one more… ”
It sounds like they’re making love, but they’re just in the kitchen eating plums I hand picked. Actually, “pick” is too crude a word. I don’t just pick them, I caress them. I fondle them. I squeeze each one very gently and if there is a softness, I tug it ever so slightly, tenderly, away from the branch. If it doesn’t come off with this gentle grope, I leave it on the tree. It is not ripe.
My husband is annoyed by all this. Frank is a no-nonsense, just-get-it-done kind of guy. He goes out with his bag and just indiscriminately grabs every plum he sees hanging. He pulls them forcibly, with lightning speed. “You’re coming with me!” I can almost hear him say. He’s done in a jiffy, and comes in the house with a big bag of hard, slightly green plums.
It’s easy to tell whether people are eating plums that Frank picked or that I picked. When they’re eating Frank’s, it doesn’t sound like there’s an orgy going on.
They told me I was a great asset and it was nothing to do with me or my work, and then they laid me off. It was a big blow to my self-esteem. It’s real hard to view something as impersonal when it concerns yourself.
I was also scared. It was the 1990s and jobs weren’t growing on trees. I was getting older—mid-forties—and I felt undesirable in the workplace compared to younger people. On top of that, writing and graphic design were becoming computerized fast, and I wasn’t. Training to get up to date was expensive, not to mention the cost of a computer.
I had trouble getting up the motivation and gumption to look for work. I hid at home. I was depressed.
So I was drawing unemployment and floundering…and then I casually picked up a brochure one day in the unemployment office about the State of California’s retraining program. I perked up as I read. Miraculously I qualified because I was, as I found out, what they called a displaced worker. I had done writing and graphic design for years but all manually, and I was displaced by growing computer publications technology. It was racing along and leaving me in the dust.
I completed the course at a state-approved school that had great instructors, and leading-edge computers for students to use. I got $5,000 worth of training free. I could go in outside of class hours and use any computer that was free and practice with exercise books I bought.
After graduating I started over in my career, at the bottom because I was new, not at graphic design but at computer graphic design. Soon I found a better job and then a better one yet. And pretty soon I was doing well, working in biotechnology communications with a good salary, to-die-for benefits, stock options, and great work environment.
What did I learn? That what seems like an end can be a new beginning.
I was picking up fallen grapefruit from under our big beautiful tree one morning. When I was done and stood up from my crouching position, my head bumped a branch and I caught my ear on a nasty thorn. There was a lot of blood. I never knew how large a grapefruit tree thorn is until I looked at it after it attacked me. Huge! And nasty.
I washed, disinfected and bandaged the wound. A few days later I removed the bandage and it seemed fine. But over time I noticed little spots of blood on my bath towel after drying myself. Then it started seeping and I went to see my dermatologist. The doctor couldn’t take a biopsy of the sore because it was too contaminated with blood and ooze. (Sorry for the gore.) I was very careful not to wet or touch it for a few days and it dried out.
The doctor then did a biopsy, and it turned out that the source of the blood was a basal cell cancer growing under the skin where the thorn pricked me, tucked into and following the curve of my outside ear rim. It wasn’t yet visible to the naked eye.
Two weeks later a surgeon removed the cancer. He put it in a jar and showed it to me. It was more or less the size and shape of a medium-size garlic clove, although it was longer and more slender which was why it hadn’t been obvious.
If that thorn hadn’t snagged and wounded my ear, the cancer might have gone undetected until it grew large enough to be noticed. And then I would have been in trouble. A large part of my ear might have had to be removed.
In noble beauty, that tree has graced our backyard for 30 years. It has serenaded us when the wind rustles through its leaves, and yielded the lovely gift of its fruit to us. Now it has saved my ear from being ravaged by cancer.
I am deeply grateful. I thank the tree, I thank the thorn, I thank God, and I wear a hat and sunscreen when I’m outside.
I do an online aerobics routine on the British Institute of Health website. I turned on my computer, clicked on Chrome browser, waited…and what came up was “no internet service.” I restarted, went to Chrome again, got the same message. On my third try, the same thing happened so obviously it was not a temporary fluke. I was going to have to call my internet service provider technical help number, and spend a long time on hold then a long time doing the troubleshooting steps, but it would have to wait. I was barely awake. I couldn’t face computer troubleshooting without a shower and a cup of coffee.
I decided I would get my exercise in with a brisk walk. My neighborhood provides a good aerobic workout as there are some pretty steep uphill stretches. But when I looked out the window, I saw it was raining heavily. No walk today, I thought.
At a loss, I went into the kitchen and popped a Keurig pod into my coffee maker. Then I remembered I had a chocolate hazelnut croissant from Starbucks with my weekend treats in the freezer. Even though it wasn’t the weekend yet, I took it out and thawed it. I knew it contained 400 calories and 50 percent of my daily saturated fat allowance. I went for it anyway. I would double my aerobics routine when my computer was back up.
I added Italian sweet cream to my coffee and sat down at the table. Savoring the chocolate hazelnut decadence and sipping my coffee, I started to feel pretty great. What had started as a growing list of frustrating problems had turned into the perfect morning.
Grace: the freely given, unmerited favor of God.
Hernias are not usually thought of as being from heaven. They’re usually thought of as coming from the other place. But my husband’s was different. It saved his life.
Frank’s hernia showed up last year. He was 78. The hernia wasn’t very big and it wasn’t painful. The doctor said it might remain relatively harmless and that if Frank preferred, he could leave it be and they’d just keep an eye on it. But of course he could have it surgically repaired if he wanted.
Frank had never had surgery and found the prospect unpleasant. He was inclined to leave well enough alone. But the doctor went on to tell him if he did remove it he could do it laparoscopically, with a recovery time of only 1-2 weeks and much less pain than with open surgery. It’s all done with a thin scope and instruments inserted through very small incisions.
That made Frank was a lot more interested. He opted for the laparopscopic surgery.
Good thing. He had no idea then what an important decision that was.
Routine pre-surgery blood tests were done, and a high white blood cell count was discovered. So different tests were done to find out what was causing the abnormality and eventually they did a CT scan.
That’s when they saw the spot on Frank’s pancreas. It was biopsied and turned out to be very early-stage cancer. Three-quarters of pancreatic cancer patients die within a year of diagnosis. But because his cancer was small and confined to the head of the pancreas, Frank was among the small minority of patients eligible for a complex procedure to remove the tumor. It’s called a Whipple surgery.
The Whipple surgeon said the cancer was early-stage enough that Frank could have his hernia repaired first, so he did. It was a piece of cake. He recovered fully in about a week. Shortly after that, he had his Whipple surgery. That was not a piece of cake. It was a long operation—about seven hours—and a lengthy, difficult and painful recovery. But it was worth it. It beat the alternative, no contest. The outcome was very successful, because the cancer had not spread to surrounding vital arteries or organs. The prognosis looks good for Frank to have a good number of quality years ahead of him.
It would be quite a different story if Frank hadn’t had that hernia, and if he hadn’t opted for the hernia surgery with its pre-surgery tests.
Life is mysterious. So many times, things happen that seem negative but when you look back on them you see that they were actually gifts. Precious gifts. In Frank’s case, the gift of years of life. And all from a lousy hernia, imagine. That has to be one of God’s cleverest disguises for a gift, ever.