Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Thankful Heart

On February 11 of this year, they split my chest bone in two with a saw. They then found my heart underneath and stopped it, right after hooking me up to this machine which took over the job of my heart and my lungs. They then cut my heart open. Then, they froze me to trick my brain into not needing too much oxygen, and then, they cut off my ascending aorta right out of my chest. After 12 hours of more work on and around my heart, they made my heart beat again. After 12 hours, I came back amongst the living, with a beating heart. I was dead, really. And then, I came to life. To say I am thankful for this would be the grossest understatement. But I am.

Today is Thanksgiving . It seems like a great day to pause and write down just how grateful I am for this crazy roller coaster year.

Anything after February 11, each breath of air, each step, each warm shower, each bite of savory food, each soft paw of a kitty that I got to touch, each amazing sunset and sunrise, each hug of a loved one has been nothing short of amazing and each a bonus. It's like Christmas morning about 200 times a day, every day. I am thankful for that.

I am thankful for medicine and the progress we have made there to keep people like me alive. I am thankful for my amazing surgeon who knew how to kill me gently and bring me back to life, in more or less one functional piece. I am grateful for God for giving me the strength to take one day at a time and build myself back up from physical ruin.

I am grateful for my mom, who, in the midst of untreated COPD fits traveled 5000 miles to cook a pot of soup for me. I am grateful for my sister who took time off from work to wait for hour by hour updates about my surgery. She then came down to make sure “I move the same way she remembered”, once I was a bit better. Her thoughtfulness was healing. I am grateful for my friend, H., who stopped in the middle of her July 4th vacation to come and see me, to make sure I am OK. I am grateful to my mother-in-law who rallied up a group of strangers to me to form a prayer group. They prayed every week for my health. They still do. The benevolence of people humbles me. 

I am grateful for my customers, co-workers and friends who wrote, watched the emails closely to get updates on me, and sent cards and gifts. With each one, I felt a little bit less alone; a little bit more encouraged.

I am grateful for my nephews, and their facetime sessions. With each one, they give me a reason to live and push on. My family has been my rock. Without them cheering me on and listening to my crazy stories, I would have been a depressed puddle of mess.

I am grateful that my company allowed me to move into a job I have dreamed of all my life (I finally have “writer” in my job title), at a time when I needed it the most.

I am grateful for this … whatever it is … that keeps me going, one foot in front of the other every day. This drive, or lust, or meddlesomeness that drove me to see new and interesting things this year, even when I was ground bound: like Hemingway's last home town of Ketchum, ID, and two glorious National Parks that left me in awe, Canyonlands and Mesa Verde.

Through worry and tough days, I have learned to live (I am still learning) with my newly rewired heart, which is still taking its sweet time to find a rhythm inside of my newly put together chest. I am grateful I am sitting here, writing this, more than anything in the world. I am grateful for the promise of tomorrow, but more than that, I am grateful for the present. Every second of every day, every breath is a gift. All wrapped up in the most beautiful package you have seen. Small little gifts, seconds are.

Maybe more than for anything else in the world, more than for my own life, really, I am grateful for my husband. This man does not know the word “no” when it comes to me. He is the most loyal and loving and giving and selfless human being I have met. He washed me, fed me, massaged my numb arm, religiously, every night for nine months straight now, and allows me to lean on him, unconditionally, every day. He is my peaceful shore, where I rest when life gets too crazy, and life has won the crazy record this year, for damn sure. There are no words, really, to express the love, and breathless thankfulness I owe him, every day.

We have a saying in Romanian: “Sanatate. Ca-i mai buna decat toate.” It means “Health. Because it's better than everything else.” This should be the slogan of this past year. And for the fact that I have been given sickness to learn from and health to appreciate life, I am grateful.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

America's Better Half

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” (Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama)

I don't know about you, but this week's been hard for me. Ever since writing this blog, 8 years ago (, till just very recently, I believed we live in a tolerant, loving, open-minded country. Not the best in the world, by any means, but striving daily to do better. The past year or so have come to prove me wrong, and it all culminated with this week.

I have read things people said, that I could not believe that they would actually happened. And then, there was the vote – which divides us like no time I remember before.

I am not going to belabor the point, here, because this is a hot topic and all of you have your own opinions that I know could not be changed. I just wanted to share a couple of experiences with you that happened to me this past Friday. I will just leave them here for you, and I just hope it will make you at least think …

I will make one more caveat: I usually do not mention race when I tell a story about people. But I think, given this week and the years to come, I will this time. Again – do with it as you wish.

I went through three experiences this Friday which reminded me of the human kindness that still exists. It is not a feeble, shy or unsure character trait in some people around us; it is loud, vibrant, clear, unconditional kindness. If we only are speaking low enough to be able to hear it.

I went to Target, first. I picked up a few things, among which a hand towel in the bathroom area. I did not realize this, but there was no tag on the towel. I came to the cash register, and this little older, white lady (she was easily in her early 70's and I kept thinking she should be home cradling grand kids or cats, not working the register at Target) asked me “ Ma'am, do you know how much this was?”. I didn't, and I felt horrible. I apologized and I told her to ring up everything else and keep the towel, and I'll go check, stand in line again and come back to pay for it. She stopped me and said: “Well, that's all right. How's $2 for it? Would that be a fair price?” My mouth just dropped. I said, knowing full well that there is no towel to be bought under $5 if you're lucky to find a sale, even at Target. I said, still shocked: “Sure, of course, $2 is more than fair. Are you sure you want to do that?”. She did not waver – she did not want me to go back and through all that trouble and she just gave it to me for $2. I was buying a lot of other things, up to $100, but still.

Then, I went by the mall. I have this medical bracelet that just broke – the metal just snapped, for no reason at all. I have been trying to find a jewelry shop to have them fix it, but no one would fix it, because it's just stainless steel, no gold and silver jeweler would take the time. But I have kept on trying. So, I go to the mall, and head toward Kay Jewelers. This Filipino young woman greets me and I show her the bracelet and ask her if it can be fixed. She examines it, like others before, and she says: “Well, to be honest, I don't know for sure if we can fix it or not. I would have to ship it to our goldsmith and then he's going to evaluate it, and then I'd have to call you and see if you want it fixed for the price he'll quote me, if he can fix it... sooo, I am just going to tell you 'no', we cannot fix it, because this is a LOT of trouble.” I gasped, with a sigh – nothing I haven't heard before. “But,” she says,”there is this jewelry repair shop by the food court right here in the mall, so it would be worth asking them if they can fix it, because they can fix anything.” I was so surprised and shocked at her kindness: evidently, I was not going to buy from her. I did not even ask her for alternatives, but she just came out and offered a solution pro bono-like, if you will. Kindness goes a long way, and now, that I felt so obligated, I want to go back and do buy something from her. I had no idea that the jewelry repair shop existed in the mall, if it were not for her.

So, off I went to the jewelry repair shop by the food court. This middle-aged, Middle Eastern man was running the store. He was chatting with this Indian woman about her kids, as he was taking in her jewelry to be repaired. After finishing up with her and her husband, he addressed me, all smiles. I showed him the bracelet and I asked him whether he can fix it. He looked at it carefully and he said he has no idea how a piece of steel can just snap like that. I assured him I could not figure that one out, either. He put the bracelet under a microscope and after assessing it for a minute or two, he said that, yes, he could laser weld it for $30, which will also include one year warranty. I was sold, of course. Then, the really kind part follows: “Ma'am, right now, we have a 10 day wait for work like this. But since this is a medical bracelet, I will try to get it done by Tuesday (that's about 3 days, if you're doing the math). Will that be all right?” Of course, it would be all right, and thank you, kind man, for noticing that it was a medical bracelet.

Random kindness is out there. It may be muted, closeted, shy, or it may be screaming out at the top of its lungs. We cannot label the content it comes in, we cannot be choosy about how it comes packaged. We can only be grateful that it exists at all, and reciprocate wholeheartedly. We owe these people that much.