Monday, April 21, 2008

The Other Day

Joe snuck his camera out to the beach when I surfed the other day. It was beautiful. I know you can't tell, you'll just have to trust that it's me. A big clue is that I don't stand up well...yet.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Good Man

Today I
Missed Pop
As I drove home by the sea.

It was my only break of the day
Between getting my lower extremity dopplers done at 5pm
And admitting patients all morning and afternoon
And writing notes all evening at home
Which I have just now finished
With the evil "convenience" of home access to the hospital computer system.

I miss him
Because I would have
Called him then.
As I drove home by the ocean full of surfers and waves
Where I wanted to be.

He would have said,
"Hello, Shawna!!
"How are you, Hon?"
"I'm good, Pop. How are you?"
"Oh, I'm doing okay.
You know, Bingo doesn't listen much anymore."
"I've just been out feeding the ol' hound dogs."
"My hips been bothering me."
"I'm feeling kind of punk lately."
"Colin and Becky made potatoes where Becky cuts them up real small.
"I like them real well. They're tasty!"
"What have you been up to?"

Oh, I'm just working.

Mom brought me and my team some of her homemade split pea soup the other day when we were on call. Gram and Uncle Bill came with her. Yeah, they came out to visit from Michigan; we had a great time; we watched these people fly gliders for a long time. But anyway, with the soup, the med students and I went out to get it and the rest of the party supplies from Mom. Everyone loved it. They couldn't believe that my mom had brought it all in. That plus a lot of other goodies for an "unbirthday" party I wanted to have for the team for boosting team morale and good bonding. You would have liked it. We had a chocolate cake, too. Not as good as mom's German chocolate cake or the lemon bars, but it was fun. (He listened even when I rambled; liked it even.)

"It sounds real nice, hon!
I'm sure you all had a good time.
You have to work thirty hours at a time, though?
Are you doing okay? Taking care of yourself? You're not too tired are you?"

I do my best.
I don't sleep well sometimes, but it's okay.
I love it down here. I watch the sunset when I can. Ride my bike to the beach. Surf.

(I don't want him to worry; and I am truly happy here; if tired, too.
Some of the veterans I admit that night remind me of him.
One is 87 and used to be a stunt double for John Wayne;
He used to be a cad, I think, too. That's not like Pop, who was always kind and true with everyone. But he smells like Pop did when he got sick; he has trouble leaning forward as I listen to his lungs.)

"Sounds like you're doing real well, hon."

Yeah, I do alright. When I was taking the rest of the split pea soup home at 1am when I finally finished my work (was supposed to get out at 10 pm) it spilt all across my trunk and in the bag mom had brought (I don't tell him it's because I was driving too fast on the empty highway hearing the wind whoosh through the bike/surf racks I just put back on my car; he worries enough about me anyway; he would tell me to slow down and be careful. I never drove over the speed limit when I'd drive him to Chico for his doctor's appointments where he'd brag about me and then take me to lunch afterwards).

When I got home (I won't tell him that I parked illegally in our apartment parking lot, knowing I'd have to turn right back around at 6 am before any cops came by to care if I were there or not), I cleaned up the soup--sort of. I used the bathroom sink which was a bad idea because then it got all clogged up and I had to get out the pliers you gave me from your cool old metal tool box and try to pry the stopper out but they were too big so I had to use one of my little medical tools to get some of the carrot and ham chunks out first. It was pretty gross but I was numb and tired and didn't really care. That didn't work that well either and I worried about waking up Joe downstairs so I found my liquid draino and that finally did the trick.

I tell him I wish he'd been there to help. He always fixed everything like that. Took care of the details. He might have been miffed that I'd done something so ridiculous, but he'd still help me fix it with a smile; and he'd have good ideas about what to do to fix it. He'd love me even if I came home at 1:30 in the morning with split pea soup splattered on the legs of my scrubs and then clogged up the sink and tried to clean it out while laughing resignedly at myself.

He'd love me no matter what I did. He'd be happy to talk to me whenever I'd call. He knew I was busy and wouldn't call often so he wouldn't disturb me. I saved messages he left on my voice mail. "Ha-hi Shawna! It's just ol' Pop," He'd chuckle as he said it, "Just wanted to see how you're doing, shug. I'm just sitting here watching the ol' boob toob. Give me a call if you get a chance. I know you're busy. I love you, hon. Bye bye for now."

I'm logistically okay without him. I have been taking care of myself for a while now. Mom might have it worse. She asked how often to get the tires changed; or the oil; or how to use the coupons at Costco. Pop always took care of that stuff for her. And for me when I was around. He brought our lunches at school when we'd forget. He never let us fall through the cracks. Never let us fall if he could help it.

He always made everyone he talked with so happy. He was like the sun that never expected anything from the earth. Just kept shining and giving without expecting anything in return. Look what can happen with a love like that.

I try to be like that. In the midst of the sometimes disgruntled work place, I try to remember Pop and smile and say I'm well even if I hurt. Making other people feel better takes away some of my own hurt, too. It all works out in the end. "It'll all be okay," he'd say. "Don't let it get to you, Shug" and he'd pat me a little roughly on the shoulder with his big calloused hands which were fading with age.

I miss talking with him about the little stories of our lives. The patients he would like to hear about. Or the stories about the dogs or the horses or the cats or the neighbors he would tell me about home. The day to day events. And the way he made me feel. Loved. I miss that.

He left me his box of treasures in his will. I'm not sure why. It's locked. The key is attached to a leather fob that mom made him as a little girl. It's not very good, she says, but he kept it all this time. And he kept my letters and his important papers in the steel box. I wish I could have gone through it with him. I think we did once. He'd get it out occasionally. He left my brothers his guns and me his box of treasures. I guess there wasn't much that he owned at the end. Just mementos from a long life. Not many things, but he sure had a hold on many hearts. And a place in many memories.

I get letters almost every day still from people who loved him or love those of us he touched so deeply contributing to his memorial fund. I'm going to find a bench for him. Maybe a cement one like the kind they have at the ocean here. Something were we can sit with him in the sun. It's going to go in the garden at the river he helped plant before he took to his "supervisory" role when his hip and his heart kept him from participating as much.

He wanted to do more to help than he could those last years and months. He still fed the dogs and watered the horses and did the dishes in the days before he died. He felt good to be home and good to contribute; good to feel needed. Colin told him how much he appreciated him a few weeks before he died. He went to him and shook his hand and told him. Pop never wanted to end up in a nursing home; he thrived surrounded by lives he helped touch and create and influence. Both of my brothers told me separately that they thought about the type of man Pop was and that they wanted to try to be as thoughtful and generous as him. It's a rare man who is like him.

Rare and precious.

And missed.

I thought of him when I drove home by the ocean.
And then a limo driver pulled next to me in the traffic as we waited for the light the change.
His windows in front were even tinted but I saw him
Turn pointedly at me
Out of the corner of my eye.

I ate the snap peas I was having for dinner on my way home after my blood draw and dopplers.
I looked over at him.
He made strangling joking motions toward the many cars in front of us and smiled.
I laughed out loud and nodded
And the light changed.
I had to hurry to get over three lanes and pulled behind him at the next light.

He blinked his brake lights several times at me as he drove away.
I laughed again.
I think it was Pop saying hi.
I want to think that, so I will.
Just flashing red lights on the back of a car
Randomly spreading cheer and connecting with strangers,
Making the world a less lonely place.
That's what Pop did, wherever we went.
Everyone loved him.

They could tell
He was a good man.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

It Lights the Whole Sky

I love surfing. When I fall asleep now, worried about starting work again tomorrow in a new supervisory role, the waves lull me to sleep.

Yesterday morning when I went out, I met Pop there. He was young and strong and wanted to join me. He told me all about how much he loved my grandmother. He never remarried. He never met another one to top her, or even come close. He told me he's happy to be back with her. He told me not to worry about work tomorrow. He thinks I'm a genius and that I'll be fine. "Don't let it get to you, Shug. You'll be fine, Sis." Today after reviewing the patients I'll be covering tomorrow and surfing again and putting things into perspective, I believe him.

I was the only one in the water yesterday morning; the waves were little and it was early. There was one fisherman on the beach. I sort of liked having the place to myself; plus the paddling and practice are good for me. I thought about the patience it takes to wait for the right wave. I thought about how recognizing it for me is intertwined with fearing it. If it is going to break right to be caught, my emotional reaction is a combination of excitement and fear. That is how I recognize the challenge. That is how I recognize the right wave.

Those were the stanzas in poems which always drew me in when I used to write about them. The opaque transitions or confusing parts. That challenge is what drew me to medicine also. It's not all the scientific challenge, either. It's an emotional opportunity for constant growth and examination of life and self.

During my bike ride errands yesterday, I also got a haircut for the first time since November 2006. Yep. The hair cut lady (beautician?) was kinda shocked, too. It just hasn't been a priority for me. She said the ends were a mess. Granted. She cut two inches off. It was wet from the ocean, probably with some seaweed in it, when I took it out of a bun for her to cut. "Did you just shampoo it?" she asked noticing my damp hair. Not exactly. So I followed her to the funny sink with the neck dip in it.

Later, another bike ride when my neighbors got home from work found Jane and Joe and me running out on the rocks at the jetty again. I scampered ahead of them, barefooted and concentrating on each next step. I stopped to sit and stare at the water lapping gently over the rocks while they exclaimed over sea stars and crabs. I want to be scattered in the ocean. For a moment, I even found myself wanting to drown a little.

I made risotto for the three of us when we got back. It feels good to be cooking more again. Good to be trying new recipes and flavors and expanding. I felt like a threatened pill bug since the lupus diagnosis. Now I feel like me again. I'm going to play in the sun.

I'm in and out of peace. I remember it and seek it but I can't always find it. I just have to trust that it remains. I practice loving the world, and forgiving its indiscretions and my own peace becomes easier to find. And the sun rises--everyday.

All this time
The sun never says to the earth

"You owe me."

What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the
Whole Sky.