January 17, 2012 Haiku

Well, it’s May now, but on January 17 around this time, I submitted an entry to my niece Lori’s blog. It was Haiku Tuesday, according to Lori – or Lorelei, as I sometimes call her. So although I am positive my entries are not worthy of the name, I was, at that time, in the habit of throwing one in on Tuesdays. I love Lori.

So I took a little break and was silent at my desk at work for a moment. What I settled on was as follows:

*******************************************

Ambling along my way

while caverns yawn ahead.

Claire! Take care.

Don’t slip.

*******************************************

“That’s odd”, I thought. But it felt right so I stopped there. “That’s the one for today.”

A couple of hours later, I received a call from my spouse, Donald James. He was calling me from the middle of a street intersection in Apex. “Claire, I’ve been in an accident. The car is totaled.” I had trouble hearing him. He said, “I’m okay. Sorry if you can’t hear me. There are fire engines.”

Don was not okay. We found out later by looking at the police report that a woman at the wheel of a Chevy Suburban lost consciousness behind the wheel, her foot slipping to rest on the gas pedal. She hit the car in front of her, which sustained minor damage and pulled her way. She hit the car making a right turn into her street, knocking it off course. Then, still picking up speed, she ran the red light and came flying at Don, going about 55 mph, and hitting the front of his car at an angle, still demolishing the vehicle. Had he come through the green light even 1/2 a second sooner, she would have crashed right into his door. She continued on at a slower pace, stopped by the low brick wall near the gas station on the other side of the intersection. From what we know so far, Don was the only one with a serious injury.

But he was able to get out of the car and only thought his shoulder really hurt. His glasses were near the car and he pointed that out to a fireman, who retrieved his glasses for him. They were okay and he put them on. He was ushered to the side of the road, which is where I found him, with a policeman handing him back his license.

He told me our 2004 Prius had entirely sheered off the two front wheels of her Chevy Suburban at the axle. It was dragged on to the tow truck. So, of course, did our car.

We eventually discovered that he was not okay. He had two complete breaks of the C7 vertebra in his spine. That was when the fun really began. This kind of injury can easily cause paralysis or death at any point from the moment it happens until it’s repair, and during the repair as well. The surgery required was, as the surgeon we eventually settled on explained to us, “massive”, “carried serious risk” and “not routine for any surgeon”.

Don is a cautious person and no gambler. He had no good options, but he chose to try hard to give the bone a chance to heal on its own. This was boring and painful for him, and nerve-wracking and stressful for those around him. But hey, it wasn’t my neck! I supported his choice 100%.

He took almost no pain medicine, because he wanted to listen closely to his body and know how he was feeling. He wore first a rigid neck brace, later a heavier brace, covering both his chest and his back. He limited his activity to 4 hours of sitting at a time in the one chair we owned that he could tolerate, alternating with 2 hours of lying flat on his back in the bed he could tolerate, which is in our guest bedroom.

We went through three surgeons, eventually finding one who remains to us, an angel from heaven. An amazing man. He listened carefully to Don’s request for alternatives and brought to his attention a cervical stimulator – an electric device that has been proven to enhance bone growth. It’s more used post-surgery, to speed up healing, but Don was turning over every stone.

Based on what the surgeon explained, he knew it was unsafe to even lift a frying pan. He could not drive. On rare occasions that he had to be in a car, he rode in the back seat with the driver driving very carefully to avoid bumps. An air bag going off could kill him. He could not really walk outside much, because outside our house is a gravel driveway and uneven land. He could only remove the brace briefly to eat.

After almost 4 months of this, there was no significant change in his cat scans and x-rays. So he gave in to the inevitable and on May 8, he trusted Dr. Moe Lim, of the UNC Spine Center, to carry out a 7-hour surgery to re-stabilize his spine. As Dr. Lim reminded him, “It’s not really an elective surgery.” It took 13 screws, 2 rods, 2 connecting rods, bone grafts from his spine and from donor bone. He is now recuperating.

The effects of this accident on his life, but also on mine, and even the ripple effect on those closest to us,  have been massive. He can tell his own story and I hope he will. As for me, I am conspicuous in my absence, from the lives of my friends, and my children and my co-workers, due to both care giving, and to the ripple effect on my own health. I’ve been challenging a disease since 2005, and Don was before this, ‘the strong one’ that made it so I could mostly keep on keeping on with a busy job and a busy life.

But there have also been gifts – many I am sure are still to come and still in delivery. Most areas of life are getting a reboot. But we will save that for another day. It’s ongoing and still too soon to understand. Don is two weeks post-surgery and so far so good. He did well with it. Me: not so much. My health has taken some real hits and while I am out of work to help him, we have both needed help as, after several days of sustained high activity, I would become quite ill. I’m thankful my sister moved here a few years ago, to be close, and for my other friends. I am positive my health dips are temporary. And Don’s proving he is still his amazingly hardy self during recuperation.

I am grateful. I will always remember that haiku that came to me in that moment of reflection. “Claire, don’t slip.”

“Exams are coming. Do your best.” is how I take that now. And I have!

I find it reassuring to look back and remind myself that those words came to me as counsel. It encourages me to take what has unfolded and continues to unfold as something that I can make it through, will make it through, and above all, an event that can have a deeper significance.

I have the highest respect for the still small voice and try ever harder to hear it.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Folks that know me are probably sick of hearing my two fave sayings, one of which is: Normal is someone you don’t know well enough yet.

I am having a hard time right now. Sometimes, people have hard times. I’d be having a hard time regardless of the holidays. I’ll get over it. I’ll figure it out.

After reading my niece Lori’s post today, I am moved to share my evil perspective. Year round, we are pressured into at least halfheartedly attempting to emulate the contentment and satisfaction portrayed in the ridiculous phony TV world. The backdrop to the happy existence we are promised, if only we can make our lives normal enough – is consumption.

In the holiday season, this all works up to a feverish orgasm. In the quaint, but expensive TV holiday world, no one has to work TOO hard to make it happen.

There are folks only too happy to spend time preparing wonderful food, spending money they have put aside all year for just this special purpose, and showing the spirit of the baby Jesus by putting up with cranky mean Uncle Tom or lonely worried Aunt Mary. No one turned away, no one left out, and every child eye gleaming with the sparkle of that special wish fulfilled.

People start revving themselves up to have this mindset just before Thanksgiving – or at least to pretend they have it. It’s part of being a good citizen.

Swimming in this bizarre and emotional and soup, each and  every one of us MUST compare our individual quirky existences to this imaginary phantom ideal – even as, intellectually, we know it is ridiculous.

Fact is, all the same stuff is going on that goes on the rest of the year – but there is more to do, and everyone is completely out of the calming influence of the routine.

This is it, right now: the tip of the spear – for the next week or so. How do each one of us measure up?

Well, the holidays were a bad time for me growing up – profoundly bad – nothing but fearsome trouble with a capital T, family fights, big drama and heightened deprivation. So now, without a small child to take pity on, and make magic for, I am no big fan of any of this but the days off. It’s really not in any part of my history. You can say it: Bah, humbug. But I don’t really believe it. My eyes are clear. I can do good things for others year round. And I try to do so. This week is: a week.

And what if, during this week, we just happen to have genuine conflict or sadness – the kind that is only heightened by contrast with this ideal being shoved into our eyeballs and ears except during sleep – how well can we pull ourselves together to avoid calling attention to this inappropriate and embarrassing situation? We wouldn’t want to be ‘one of those’ who can’t get into the spirit! Chin up! Keep that twinkle going!

Life is life. It is beautiful it is awful, it is magic, it is sad, it is joyous, it is surprising, it is perplexing, it is infuriating, it is educational, it is rewarding, it is sometimes hard to bear, and sometimes too good to be true – year round. Each one of us is unique and in the midst of writing our own never-before-told story, if we allow space for that to be. It does not have to be written for us. Our calendar is our own. Love and peace to all, each and every moment of every day…especially to those who are sad for any reason. You have my heartfelt prayers for your strength, forbearance and progress.

Scott and Life on Other Planets

Today would have been, I believe, the 29th birthday of my cousin Phyllis’ (also passed) son Scott. He was hit by a drunk driver and killed when he was 19, not long before Christmas. He was at a red light, stopped, on his way home from one of his three part-time jobs. He was also an engineering student at Penn State, head of the engineering club and possessed of SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) bumper stickers in the trunk of his car. Someone came across a double yellow line from the other direction, smashed right into him and changed all of our lives forever – especially those of his immediate family. Naturally, the earthquake created cracks and jagged schisms in the world of everyone who loved him and loves them. The ramifications just go on and on and on in every conceivable way. Issues that would have had time to be sorted out and addressed are now frozen in time. But he is not forgotten and he made a tremendous difference. I pray for him each and every day, at least twice a day. And am still deeply involved, underneath the surface, with dealing with this surrealistic incident, its affect on his mother (and father and sister), his loss, and for me, the subsequent departure of his mom, with whom I was very very close. ANYWAY, I read his sister Lori’s great post about this topic and was inspired to make my first entry into my own blog. She has a wonderful WordPress blog called

UPHILL: Musings on life, learning, social justice, and judo. Mostly judo.

Happy Birthday Scott. I will copy Lori’s off-the-cuff muse and add my own:

Lori: Some things that were awesome about Scott:

1. His hair: Until my brother was in his late teens, he kept his hair short to hide his curly locks and avoid teasing. Then he decided to embrace his natural looks and let his grown into an electric shock of blond curls. It was amazing.

2. His trillion watt smile: My brother had the biggest and best smile of anyone I’ve ever met.

3. He was a big, giant weirdo: My brother had strange taste in clothing, conducted gross experiments with food, and was constantly trying to invent ways to save time that were extremely impractical.

4. He was a compulsive over-achiever: In the last year of his life, my brother was a full-time college student with three jobs, one of which was a teaching assistant. He was applying for internships on top of all that.

5. He loved what he did: My brother was an engineering student whose first love was physics. When he went to parties in college, his friends would realize he was missing, only to find him alone in a dark room with a flashlight and his text book.

6. He made everyone feel special: I don’t know how he did it, but he made everyone feel like he was their best friend. If you were Scott’s friend, he’d give you anything you wanted, listen to you for hours, and always find a way to make you laugh.

Of course that is a lovely tribute. I love #3 the best as I too am a big giant wierdo.
Me again: Alls I can say, and it’s no throwaway comment: I always liked and loved him and I think that was true on his end – largely because of his tremendous sincerity, unique qualities, forbearance, humanity and geekiness. There was alot to be proud of about him, but I am not his parent and so that was not my thing.

Living with my spouse, I have learned to let holidays and birthdays go by without recognition and focus on each day. Previous to our relationship, this  seemed like both a lofty and laughable goal – never an achievable one. One of the most amazing things about our life together is that with him its very doable. He really does try to focus on each day in a meaningful way. There is no need to do a big Make Up day at designated calendar points.

This is, trust me, a minor miracle. But it kind of puts me on a different planet than other humans. So what else is new?

I could go on, but this is Scott’s post.

Miss you Scott. Wish you were here as Scott, hey! I hope you are here as anybody. If you are hanging around, say hi. I will listen up.

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