Where the Heart Leads

My husband’s heart was broken. Not like the kind of broken where someone has wounded you, and you feel as if you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole and hide forever. His heart was literally broken. As in … not functioning.

On January 13, he told me he wasn’t feeling well. He had a cough that sounded big and wet. And he was anxious to the point of having a panic attack. We thought he had bronchitis. This all started at around midnight. Well, I suppose he had been having these symptoms for longer than that. Certainly, he had had them all day. And the cough had been a fixture for a couple of days, although he thought, at first, it was just a cold. Initially, he decided he would sleep in our recliner and go to an urgent care in the morning. He was tired and felt yucky and didn’t want to be poked and prodded. He just wanted to go to sleep and be done with the day. But his anxiety wouldn’t let him rest. It pawed at him and spurred him into snapping anger. Finally, I brought him his pants, keys, and wallet, and I told him to go to the ER. I wanted to drive him, but our daughter was already asleep. He didn’t want to wake her up and scare her like that. Once he got to the ER, he texted me that there was fluid in his lungs. But that it wasn’t because of bronchitis. It was because he had had a heart attack.

“I had a heart attack.”

That’s how he wrote it. Right there, in text form, blinking at me from the screen of my phone. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t feel real. And yet, it’s real. As real as a heart attack, as the ridiculous saying goes. In that moment, staring at my phone and feeling my breath catch in my throat, I knew our lives were never going to be the same. I didn’t know in that instant how they would change. Or if the change would be good or not. Or even if I would still have a husband by the end of that night. Or the next day. Or the day after that. I never thought I would be sitting in my own home, reading those words and feeling as if my entire world was crashing down on top of me.

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Of course, they admitted my husband to the hospital’s cardiac wing that night. The doctors ran tests and scans and poked and prodded and did all the things that doctors do. They determined that every artery going into his heart was blocked. Some with multiple blockages. And part of his heart was not functioning.

My husband’s heart. His beautiful heart that beats in time with mine and calms my fears. His loving heart that beat out with joy and made him smile as he held our little daughter in his arms for the first time. His generous heart that draws friends to him in the unlikeliest of places. The heart that I have laid next to for over twenty years, listening to it beating in the still silence of the night. The heart that I love more than anything else on this Earth.

How could this be? How could my husband’s heart be broken? How could I have to face the possibility of being in this world alone? It didn’t seem possible. Maybe they made some mistake. Maybe they were looking at pictures of another person’s heart. Because they don’t know my husband’s heart. They don’t know it like I do. And yet, it wasn’t a mistake. It was real, and they had the pictures to prove it.

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On January 18, my husband had open-heart surgery. We were lucky, in a way, that the doctors felt it was safe to wait for a few days before doing the surgery. At least, that’s what they all told us. We were lucky he had come into the ER that night. We were lucky that he was young. We were lucky that he was in relatively good health and in good physical shape. We were lucky that they felt able to give his heart time to calm down after the attack, instead of rushing him into surgery right away.

In the days before the operation, we didn’t feel lucky. I mean, in some ways … Yes, we did. My husband was alive. He had survived a heart attack — one that had come suddenly, without warning or symptoms. We were together. We could still laugh at things. We could still hold each other. But, in other ways … No. We did not feel lucky. We had to talk about death and wills and durable powers of attorney and health care directives and when I should pull the plug, if it came to that. We had to talk about finances and which bills I should pay off and how much life insurance he has and what my daughter and I would do if the worst happened. And the whole time, my own heart screamed out in protest. I did not want to talk about these things. I did not want to think about these things. I wanted to crawl into bed with him and feel safe and secure in his arms. But his arms were full of IVs, and I’m an adult. So, we talked about all the “important stuff”.

His surgery lasted for four and a half hours. I know, in terms of open-heart surgery, that is not a long time at all. It’s actually a fairly quick procedure. But for me, those were the longest four and a half hours I have ever spent. I can’t remember what I did during that time, other than wandering the waiting rooms and halls of the hospital, feeling lost. And hugging my daughter close to try and calm her fears. I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. I was numb.

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On January 23, my husband came home from the hospital. It was a good day. A happy day. But also a nerve-wracking day. Would I be able to care for him? Would he be able to continue his recovery? Would we know what to look for if another attack happened?

His heart isn’t broken any more. It is all fixed, good as new. Maybe even better than new. But now, our spirits are a little bit broken in its place. I think we had reached a place where we thought we had most things figured out. Things weren’t perfect, but it was a life we knew how to handle. Or, maybe we were just fooling ourselves. I’m not sure now, when I look back on the weeks and months leading up to all of this. But I do know this: The new life we have … We don’t know how to do this one, yet. I think we are both afraid and unsure. We don’t trust things. It’s almost like we are balancing on the edge, holding our breath, and waiting for the next bad thing to happen. There have been a lot of bad things lately. This is true. But it doesn’t mean there HAVE to be more bad things. This is also true. But, somehow, it’s harder to believe.

For now, my husband is home. He is getting better every day. And, at night, I can move in close to him and listen to the beat of his heart in the still silence. And I know: I am home, too. It’s enough.

A Little Puppy Love

I honestly can’t believe I’ve never shared this story here on my blog. I have had it written up for quite a while, but, somehow, I guess I never got around to posting it. I’ve searched my blog up and down without finding it. At first, after not finding it posted in here, I told myself I wouldn’t share it at all. Perhaps too much time had passed, and there is something about this memory that still feels raw and emotional to me. Raw and emotional in a good way, but still …

Anyhow, my anniversary is coming up soon. On Monday, I will have been married to my beloved husband for eighteen years. When I started thinking about that, my thoughts, naturally, turned toward how my husband makes me feel loved and special all the time. Not necessarily in giant ways, but in little ways. Don’t get me wrong. Giant shows of affection and love are wonderful. But I think it’s the little things upon which a strong marriage is built. This memory  is one of those “little” things. Once I realized that, I knew I had to share it. So, here goes …

Once upon a time, I was young and just starting out in life. This was before I had finished graduate school … or even college. It was before I had figured out who I was and who I wanted to be. Actually, I’m still trying to work that one out, but I suppose that’s a post for another time. This was before I was a mom. Or a wife. Back then, it was just my boyfriend and me, set adrift in a huge and exciting universe full of adventure and possibility. One day, of course, my boyfriend would become my fiancé. And then, my husband. But I didn’t know that back then. I hoped, but I didn’t know.

My sweetie bought me a puppy. He was my first English Springer Spaniel — a perfect bundle of cuteness, mischief, and energy all wrapped up in a furry package, complete with sweet puppy breath. I loved him from the first moment we met, and, through him, I fell head over heels for an entire breed. We named him Tex, and he was my “gateway dog”. He went to graduate school with me. He slept on my bed. He was there for me when I thought my whole world was horrible and wrong. He moved from place to place with me. When I thought I was the biggest failure in the world, he showed me that I was someone worthy of love. He was my child before I had a human child. He’s been gone for over 10 years now, and I still grieve for him.

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When Tex was a puppy, my husband (then-boyfriend) gave me a sweet, little, ceramic Springer Spaniel figure. It was tiny and so cute and perfect, even though it wasn’t the exact same color as my Tex. It was special to me because it represented my Tex Boy, and because my sweetheart gave it to me knowing I would love it. And, over time, it became even more sentimental and special to me. I carted this little figure all over Texas as I moved from one place to another. I moved it from Texas to Virginia with only minor damage. I had this figure for over twenty years. It always sat on my bookshelf, and, after Tex passed, it sat on top of the box containing his ashes. It seemed fitting, somehow.

Some time ago, I happened to be looking at my bookshelf, and I noticed that my little dog statue didn’t look quite right. Upon closer inspection, I realized my cleaning ladies had broken my little dog beyond repair. All four legs were gone and, of course, they didn’t bother gathering up the pieces so that I could repair it. I searched for them in my office and under the shelves, but I’m sure the legs were long gone, probably sucked up in the vacuum cleaner or tossed out with the trash. Because, really, how could the cleaning ladies know how important this little statue was? How could they know that, out of all the things I own in this world, this one, little, seemingly unimportant bit of ceramic and paint was irreplaceable?

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I was heartbroken. Just heartbroken. I sat at my desk, holding my little broken dog, and cried. I cried because there are parts of me that are still broken from losing my Tex, even after all these years. I cried because my little dog couldn’t be replaced and because it had felt as if so many of my memories were held within that one, little piece. I cried because I had so carefully moved this statue from place to place, and it had only taken my cleaning ladies one thoughtless moment to undo years of care. I cried because, even though I knew it was such a little thing, it all just seemed so damn unfair. I cried until I didn’t think I could cry any more. Until I thought I was all cried out, and I was able to remind myself how silly I was being. I took a deep breath, wiped my tears, and put my broken dog back on the shelf, on top of the little box holding Tex’s ashes.

That evening, my husband came home and realized I was upset over something. He asked what it was, and I told him. Even though I thought I had cried myself out earlier in the day … and even though I knew I was being silly about it … I started crying all over again as I explained to him about my little, broken dog. My husband held me and let me cry. He didn’t tell me I was being silly. He didn’t tell me it was “just a statue”. He didn’t tell me I shouldn’t be upset. He told me he was sorry and that he loved me.

A week or so later, a box arrived in the mail. It was addressed to me and covered with many stamps. I was curious and confused, as I knew I hadn’t ordered anything. My husband called and told me I should open it. And so, I did.

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Inside was a little, ceramic dog statue. Just like the one my cleaning ladies had broken. It was a perfect replica, right down to the funny little spot on the side of the dog’s nose. And, in the packing materials, there was a little Springer puppy, too. Unbeknownst to me, my husband had spent a few days online, tracking down a replacement for my broken dog. I gently removed it from the packing materials and set it on my shelf, next to the box that holds Tex’s ashes. I’m not sure I have ever felt more loved than in that moment. And, yes, I cried. But this time, they were happy tears.

Red

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Red were the words
That you said to me
Spoken in anger
When we didn’t agree.

Red were the things
I hurled back at you
Hurting and wounded
Wanting to strike you, too.

You have my heart
You are strong and true
Let us remember
Other things Red can do.

Red is feeling
The color of love
From you unto me
Precious gift from above.

Red is the love
I give back to you
Strong and eternal
My heart forever true.

The Thing About Love

I had a post all figured out in my head. I even started writing down a first draft of it on paper. I like to go “old school” like that, sometimes. There is something oddly liberating about it, even though I secretly miss the click-clacking of my keyboard even as I revel in the scratching of a pen bumbling across a pristine sheet of paper. I had planned that post as a kind of happy-go-lucky, hopeful feeling, uplifting thing. You know … a “post of loveliness”, as it were.

Sadly, I am in an extremely bad mood today. My day started off on the wrong foot with a late, mad dash to school and hasn’t improved much along the way. Neither has my mood. I am feeling dark and down and gray and hopeless. Good thing it’s pouring rain outside, too, as that seems to fit my mood perfectly. All in all, it’s a grumble-bum, bah-humbug of a day. If this day was on fire, I don’t think I would walk across the street to spit on it.

And so, naturally, my thoughts today turned toward “Love”. Because, really, where else would they turn when I’m in such a dark mood?

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My dear husband suffered a bit of a work set-back today. It’s been a few days in coming, and he was expecting it. But that doesn’t make it any easier or less painful. It hurts when you put a ton of work into something and, then, it doesn’t pan out. It especially hurts when this thing doesn’t pan out because of the scheming of people around you. It hurts when people on whom you relied for support toss you under the bus that’s suddenly careening around the corner toward you at high speed.

As I was talking to my husband about everything that’s happened, and as I was listening to his feelings and trying my best to figure out how to be the best support I could be for him, I felt … ANGRY. “Angry” doesn’t even come close to expressing what I felt, although it is the word that springs to mind. This was an emotion so dark and cruel and hateful and mean-spirited that it frightened me. It’s an emotion I could never, ever feel on my own behalf. But something about the idea of my husband getting screwed over really brings out the Mama Bear in me. The same thing happens when someone is mean to my kid. There is no escalation or build-up. We go right from zero to gloves-off-screaming-in-anger-scratching-out-eyeballs PISSED OFF. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Flapping Goose. Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

I used to think love was something soft and pretty. Or, maybe, it was nice and fluffy, surrounded by hearts and singing bluebirds carrying ribbons in their beaks. I thought it was the white dress and the perfect wedding and a nice house and a beautiful kid and two dogs. You know … some kind of fairy-tale version of the American Dream, whatever that is. I guess I was sheltered in my youth. Or, perhaps, I was naive and a little bit stupid.

But here’s the thing about love: It’s not that. I think we all want it to be that. The beauty and romance of it all paints a gloriously gorgeous picture.

Today, I realized “love” is the Mama Bear inside of me. Love is the thing that lives somewhere, deep down in my soul, that gives me the ability to go to the mat when one of my own is wronged. It’s the urge to rage all-out war on anyone who dares to step over the line with those I hold nearest to my heart. It’s scrabbling in the mud, cursing and screaming, gouging out eyes and pulling out hair nastiness. It’s being willing to stick it through to the bitter end of any situation, even if you sense everyone involved will go down in flames. If given the chance tomorrow, I would tear down each and every person who wronged my husband. I would do everything in my power to see they were utterly and completely destroyed. I don’t say this lightly, and I’m not proud of it. Nevertheless, it is real. I feel it, deep down in my soul, and it scares me to think I could become a personification of anger and revenge.

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Love isn’t soft or fluffy or romantic. It’s brutal and primitive. It’s instinct at the most pure. It’s a force that can make us more than who we are because it pushes us to step outside our own little concerns and limitations. And it has a stark, pure beauty that, really, is terrifying. How do I know I love my husband? How do I know I love my child? Because I would fight for them with everything in me. I would take on anyone and anything on their behalf, no matter the cost. And that, my friends, is scary, indeed.

Unexpected

My husband was out of town on business a couple of days ago, and he called for a quick chat in between meetings. Our “quick chat” ended up lasting almost an hour. Which is really funny (in an odd way, not in a ha-ha sort of way) because I don’t think we ever manage to sit down and talk to each other for an hour at a time when he’s home. We are too busy running in different directions to snatch more than twenty minutes or so together on most weeknights. He often works late, and my evening schedule is booked full with kiddo’s homework, dinner preparation, clean-up, bath time, and other various household chores. I quite miss talking to my husband. Before we moved to our current city and state and before our daughter was born, it seemed like we talked a lot. We talked so much about so many things that you would think we would have run out of words. But I guess that’s the way it is with the person you love most in the world: there is always more to say.

Anyhow, in our recent conversation, my husband mentioned that people had asked about my writing, and I told him how much I hate it when people ask me this. I’ve been struggling with depression for about three years or so at this point. And now, I’m struggling with PCOS, too. I feel overwhelmed and sad and stuck and hopeless a lot of the time. And any writing is sporadic, at best. Sometimes, I can only just manage to eke out a blog entry, provided I can find something positive and non-ranty about which to write. Lately, even blog entries have been few and far between. So, when people ask me about my writing, I feel like a failure. Worse than that, I feel like a fraud and a liar. Because it’s impossible to explain the “why” of all of it to them. And, even if I could explain it, should I? No one wants to hear it — not really.

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My husband said he has been talking to different people since my depression diagnosis. And he has been reading different articles about depression and, now, about PCOS. And he told me he realizes these things are not easy things to overcome. He reminded me that therapy has helped a lot, and he told me he’s here for me … that we can talk about what I might need in the future or, maybe, about different ways to help. I had no idea he had done any of these things.

And that’s when it hit me — unexpectedly, out of the blue — this feeling of LOVE. It was like a flash-bomb went off in my brain that said: This man loves me. He took the time to read articles, even with his busy work and travel schedule. He took the time to talk to people and to find out what depression means. He took the time to think about what I might be going through, to try and understand the emotional struggles that I, largely, try very hard to keep buried deep down inside of me.

This man LOVES me.

He has shown me this in hundreds of different ways over the years. He is a generous giver of gifts. He showers me with affection and, sometimes, flowers. He makes me laugh. He shows me the good in the worst situations. He gives me hope. He tells me I am beautiful, especially when I feel that I am not. He is a wonderful father. But, somehow, it was this unexpected, quiet, unspoken thing that really hit home for me. That made me feel the depth and hugeness and solidness of his love to the very core of my being. For a few moments, I couldn’t answer him; I was too busy choking back my tears.

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I have depression. I have PCOS. These things are true, and I can’t change them.

I am loved. I am blessed. These things are also true. And I wouldn’t want to change them.

 

Goin’ to the Chapel

Tonight, I am waxing a bit nostalgic about my wedding day. I pulled out our wedding album a few days ago to do a little photo shoot with my new rings set and ended up spending a couple of hours looking through the whole thing with my daughter. We no longer live in the same state as our extended families, so it seems the only way my daughter is going to “know” her aunts, uncles, and cousins is through pictures. And then, there are the very sentimental pictures of my husband’s grandfather, who passed away a few years ago.

It’s funny the things one remembers from such a long-ago day. I don’t remember the way the air smelled or what the weather was like (other than knowing it was nice, overall, because we had an outdoor reception). I don’t remember all the words that were said during the ceremony. I don’t remember every word of our vows, although I always thought I would remember that particular detail. I don’t even remember everyone who was there to share our big day with us.

wedding photo with ringsI remember feeling nervous, in spite of the fact that my husband and I had already been together for eight years at this point. I remember almost tripping over the hem of my dress as my dad and I started down the aisle. I remember my dad’s hand, placed so gently over mine in the crook of his arm, as if I were the greatest treasure he had ever possessed and he had to take the utmost care. I remember how, when we reached the front of the church, my dad held on for just a few moments longer than expected. Maybe he was reluctant to let go. I wonder if it was hard for him to turn away and sit down, knowing another man would now be so prominent in my life. I remember how uncomfortable my shoes were. I hated those shoes. My mother picked them out; I wanted to wear tennis shoes. No one would see them under my dress, anyhow, I reasoned. But she insisted I had to have “nice, ladylike” shoes. I remember thinking my hair was too tall. I still think that, looking back at these pictures, but, again, I didn’t pick out the “wedding day hairstyle”, either. I remember bubbles floating through the air, chased by laughter and funny stories during the reception. I remember beautiful sunshine and warm, golden-tinged thoughts of those I loved the most. I remember my husband’s hand shaking a little bit as he slipped the wedding band onto my finger.

wedding photo with ringsI remember standing there, in the dark entry of the church … feeling nervous and unsure … clinging to my daddy’s arm and looking at what seemed like the longest aisle in history laid out before me. I remember thinking to myself, “There’s no way I can do this. There’s no way I can make this walk in front of all these people.”

And then, my husband turned around. He saw me for the first time in my wedding dress, standing there. It was like time stood still for those few moments that we looked into each other’s eyes. As if he and I were the only two people in the universe. And he smiled — a smile that told me everything would be all right, as long as we were together … a smile that melted my heart and gave me butterflies all at the same time … a smile that didn’t promise perfection but spoke of years of laughter and love and good memories to come.

And that is my favorite memory of all.

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When I Said Yes

My husband and I have been together for about 23 years. We have been married for 16 of those. It never ceases to amaze me when I think about this. There’s something about thinking in terms of numbers. They feel irrefutable — cold, hard, and “just the facts”. Twenty-three years, at this point, is more than half my lifetime. I have now been with my husband for longer than I was without him. Maybe it’s silly, but it kind of blows my mind.

I am not a person who enjoys other people. I am happy by myself, and I enjoy the peace and quiet of alone time. I don’t make friends easily, mainly because I have trouble trusting others. I am introverted, and I don’t enjoy socializing with large groups of people. I can do it, but it always leaves me feeling emotionally drained and mentally exhausted. Before meeting my husband, I never thought I would find any person I could stand to be around for the better part of my life. I couldn’t fathom the possibility that someone I liked enough to spend that kind of time with might exist out there … somewhere in the universe. It’s not that I was sad about this. Or that I desperately wanted to get married but despaired of ever finding my match. On the contrary, I never thought about it at all. I never pictured myself engaged or married or having children.

my original engagement ring on a nesting letter NBut then, I met my husband. Actually, he picked me up at a football game when we were in college. I had gone to the game with one of my friends from the dorm, and he was also friends with this girl. I think, initially, he came over to our seats to ask my friend to go out with him, but she wasn’t around at the time. He stayed for a bit to wait for her, we talked, and he ended up asking me out, instead. I guess I was all right for a “second choice” at the time. We went out that night. And the next night. And the next. And even the next. And, basically, we have been together ever since. Ah … young love. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it.

I have so many memories of my husband. Memories of him as my husband. Memories of him before he was my husband, back when he was just a boy who, potentially, held all my dormant hopes and dreams in his hands. Did he know these things back then? Did he have any idea how fragile a girl’s heart can be? Or how she squirrels away her hopes and wants and dreams so that even she doesn’t know they exist? Did he know how my heart beat faster each time I saw him? How just thinking about him made me smile? How being with him was like the most fantastic dream ever, and I was constantly terrified of waking up to find out it was all just that — a dream and no more? Did he know that, when I saw him smile at me, it was like I could look into the future and see our children, laughing and calling to me from some distant place where they already existed and were just waiting for us to catch up to them? Did he know that, without my realizing it, he became the center of my universe? My beginning and my ending and everything in between. Did he know how absolutely terrifying that was?

my original engagement ring with a dragonI doubt it. He was a silly boy back then. He was full of laughter and fun and games. And he never seemed to take anything too seriously. He was everything I wasn’t, and he made me feel alive and wanted and loved. I don’t think he was trying to do these things, at least not at first. But this is the way he is. This is the man who is my husband. He is larger than life and playful and full of silly little jokes. He is impatient and stubborn. He is calm when I panic. He is safety when I feel afraid. He is strong and beautiful, inside and out. He is the person who always tells me the truth, even when I don’t want to hear it. Especially when I don’t want to hear it. He is my world. He was a boy that I knew … and then a boy that I loved … and then a man I wanted to marry … and now, he is my husband. What more can be said than that?

My favorite memory of my husband happened before we were even married. We dated for a long time before deciding to get engaged. But, once we decided to do it, we went to look at rings together. Neither of us knew what we were doing. We were young and goofy and in love. So, we went to a place a friend had recommended to us. We spent most of a day there, learning all about settings and diamonds and the “4Cs”. It was a bit overwhelming, and I’m sure my husband, at the time, felt more than a little shell-shocked by it all. We ended up buying a setting and a diamond, which surprised me. But it was all so exciting!

my original engagement ring on a bunny dish

When our ring was ready, we went back to pick it up. I can’t remember the name of this place where we bought the ring, but I remember it was in this sort of industrial-looking area. It was on an upper floor of the building, and we took the stairs up and down. As we were going down, after picking up the ring, my husband stopped me. Right there, in the middle of those stairs, with the sounds of doors clanging shut on the floors above us and the hard coldness of metal railings and peeling paint, he got down on one knee. I can still see him kneeling there, holding out that little box. Offering me the universe. Offering me the answer to all of my beautifully silly, girly dreams.

“Will you marry me?” he asked. “Will you marry me and make me the happiest man on Earth?”

It was a simple thing. There weren’t any flash mobs or photographers or big, elaborate plans or champagne or fancy desserts or balloon rides. Just me. And him. In a dingy stairwell. And those words. Those wonderful words that came from his heart. It couldn’t have been more beautiful or meaningful. It couldn’t have been more perfect.

And I said yes.

 

 

Randomly Selfishly Kind

It seems the internet world is all about random acts of kindness these days. I think there have been always been kind people out there, lurking around. I remember, even as a kid, doing kind things for others. And, sometimes — if I was super lucky — even being on the receiving end of an unexpected nicety. We didn’t call it a “random act of kindness” back then, of course. We just called it “being nice”, but I suppose we weren’t so great at making up snazzy-sounding names for things, particularly since my childhood happened before the internet and cat videos. We were less clever back then.

But I wonder: Is it possible for a “random act of kindness” to be selfish? And, if performed out of a selfish motive, is it still randomly kind? Is it kind at all? Or does it become randomly selfish? Randomly selfishly kind?

I ask this because today didn’t start out as a stellar day. My daughter got to bed much too late last night, the excitement of her first band and chorus concert proving too much for her to handle. Because of this, we were severely late for school — like, I had to call the school to tell them we would be late so they didn’t send a truant officer looking for me. Yeah, that type of “late”. My beautiful, loving child with the sunny disposition and cheerful outlook on life was none of these things this morning. Once I managed to get her out of bed and headed into her morning routine, she grumped her way through the morning and entered school with the type of downfallen expression that really should herald the existence of a black raincloud floating just above her head. If she were a cartoon person, I am certain there would have been steam shooting out of her ears. Today was rainy and cold, which didn’t help matters much at all. I didn’t sleep well last night, so I awoke with a headache. I got drenched in a sudden downpour while walking the child-unit into school. Oh, and I broke a nail when my hand slipped on my wet car door handle. This, of course, ruined the manicure on which I spent a couple of hours last night.

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So my litany of woe should give you some idea of the type of unhappy, miserable attitude I had as I pulled away from school this morning. I didn’t even have the energy to be mad at the universe. I felt tired and used up, and like none of this thing called “life” mattered any more. I decided to stop off at a favorite drive-through for some lunch on my way home, and I have to admit I spent most of my time waiting in line feeling pitiful and small. A gray mood to match a gray day.

As I pulled up to the window to pay, I told the employee, “I would like to pay for the person behind me, too. Would that be all right?” Honestly, I don’t know why I did it. I’m a very shy person. Interacting with strangers makes me feel awkward and afraid, which means a drive-through is a swampy mess of potentially horrible social interactions. I usually survive my drive-through anxiety by speaking as little as possible. And I never ask for anything unusual. I am too afraid of looking like a moron. Today, though, the words just came out.

As I was pulling away, after having paid for both meals, I glanced up, into the rearview mirror. I saw the employee who had helped me handing food to the woman in the car behind me. I saw her gesture toward my departing car, explaining, I suppose, that there was no charge. And, for just a moment, I saw the woman in that car smile.

sunflower in a blue sky

And I felt … warm. And happy. And hopeful, once again. I’m not saying it was a perfect day. But it went from a rotten, horrid, awful day to something cut from a kinder, gentler cloth.

To you, the lovely woman in the car behind me at the drive-through today, I would like to say thank you. I don’t know who you are or anything about you. I don’t know what kind of day you had. I don’t know if you woke up this morning in the most awful mood ever … if your car didn’t start … if you got stuck in traffic and were late to work … if your dog chewed up your favorite designer heels … if your coffee spilled on your favorite blouse. Or, maybe, you had the best day ever, with clear streets and an easy commute to a job you adore. But, I do know I was having a rotten, toad-sucker of a day. And you turned that around for me, just by being behind me in line at that moment in time. Just because I got to glance into my rearview mirror and see you smile. For that, I am blessed and more grateful than you can possibly ever know.

truth

smash book page, including poem.if i were a princess
high above the sea,
would you be my knight
and rescue me?

if i were a mermaid
in the ocean blue,
would you stand on shore
and sing me to you?

if i were a bird
in the sky so true,
would you use a wish
and grow wings, too?

if i were a dragon
thirsting for blood,
would you stay your sword
and teach me to love?

if i were these things,
would it still be true
that you love me
and i love you?

 

Tiny Heartbeats

I am sad today. It seems our hamster has cancer. I took him to an exotics vet today and got the bad news. He’s still doing fairly well, but this is the start of our long good-bye with this little creature, who has shared our house for the last two years. I’ve been in a bit of a funk ever since. And yes, the tears have been flowing.

“Our hamster has cancer” … It sounds like some kind of sick-o Dr. Seuss thing, doesn’t it? Seriously, some words should not be allowed to rhyme. Rhyming is for happy words or funny words or silly words. It shouldn’t be for words like “cancer”.

The weird thing is that none of us have ever particularly liked this hamster. He is a grouchy, grumpy, frumpy, grumbly, vile sort of creature. He is very territorial about his cage, so, if he’s in a bad mood, he will climb up the side bars and gnaw on them. He lays his ears back along his head and squints his eyes at us while he eats, so that it looks like he is scowling at the world. He is very grabby with food and treats. He digs a lot, and he likes to toss his stuffing about. He flings it with abandon, often outside of the cage when we are standing nearby, as if to show his complete and utter contempt for our existence. And he bites. Hard. He is not the kind of hamster one can pick up and cuddle or love. Or even pet. That is, unless one wants to lose a finger.

All of which is in stark contrast to our previous hamster, who was, without a doubt, the sweetest hamster in all of creation. Just to give you an idea of the contrast in their personalities, our first hamster was titled: “Harry Potter Hamster, the Sweetest Hamster in the World”, and our current hamster is called, simply: “Frownie Brownie”. Poor guy. It’s  not his fault that he had to follow in paw-steps that were so hard to fill.

harry potter hamsterSo why, then, am I feeling sad about the impending demise of this greedy, grumpy, grouchy hamster? That feeling of “ick” I had when the vet confirmed my worst fears, like a punch to the gut and a fist squeezing around my heart, took me completely by surprise. I was not expecting to cry for this critter. I was not expecting to feel anything, really, other than a bit of relief that I wouldn’t have to clean his cage any more. That makes me sound like the most horrible person, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing: Brownie may, in fact, be frowny. He may be grumpy and grouchy and all those other things, too. But he’s OUR frowny, grumpy, grouchy hamster. Over the course of the past two years, he’s wormed his way into our hearts, without us ever realizing it. Even though we can’t cuddle him, he comes up to the side of the cage to say hello when  he hears us. If he’s in a sunny sort of mood, he will take food from our fingers. He is very cute when he overstuffs his cheek pouches and makes his face pooch out at the sides. He has “Dr. Seuss” feet, which are adorable. And he does have a bit of a fluffy look about him, too. He might not let us hold him in our hands, but he steps bravely into his upturned igloo so that I can move him from his cage to his little carrier. Or even so that I can just lift him up to give him a better view of the world. He’s just a teeny little creature bravely facing a gigantic, often incomprehensible, world. And he’s doing it with gusto and bravado … just being the best hamster he knows how to be.

And, well, we got used to him. To the scrabbling sounds of him digging in his stuffing. To the rattle of his wheel at three in the morning. To the little thumping sound of him running through his tubes. To the way he rustles around in his food dish, trying to find the very tastiest pellet — which he will then either bury in his cage or leave on his wheel, where it will rattle around. I suppose, once he is gone, there will be a little, hamster-shaped void in our hearts and our lives. It’s hard to realize how much something means to you just when it’s time to say good-bye.

For what it’s worth, Frownie Brownie, you are a vile and unpleasant creature. You are loved. And, you will be missed. I suppose that’s all any of us can hope for, in the end.