Tag Archives: Kindness

Courage at Twilight: How’s Your Dad?

At church I was besieged by men and women asking me “How’s your dad?” and asking Mom “How’s Nelson?” and the judgmental part of me—a too-big portion—wanted to say that if they really cared they would telephone personally (not text) or stop by the house, make some kind of effort, instead of waiting until we are sitting in church, preparing for the service, to dart in and nibble on the news like a tame piranha on a fried chicken leg. But I look into their eyes and see their love and sincerity, and I answer their questions—Dad is getting a little stronger and we hope to bring him home next weekend—and I ask my God and my Lord to both forgive me my trespasses.  After all, church is our social center, and our cultural conditioning makes us most comfortable making inquiries at church.  We tell them we have rearranged Dad’s office-library into a bedroom, and that the hospital bed is scheduled for delivery next Saturday morning, but we made room for one bookshelf with his favorite religion books and histories and biographies.  And I do not tell them (nor did I tell Mom or Dad) that the insurance company gave us notice they were going to release (evict) Dad yesterday, though he cannot yet care for himself at home, and that Sarah appealed the typical too-early discharge (eviction), and won the appeal and an extra week’s therapy and care.  I did not tell Mom and Dad because it would have upset them needlessly, what with the pending appeal becoming the approved appeal, mooting the whole question, the threatened early departure suddenly irrelevant.  Dad is still very unwell, and though he tells the world he is “marvelously well, thank you,” he whispers to us he is still so sick.  Mom will visit Dad today for the 18th consecutive day, and I am her driver, in her royal blue Subaru Legacy.  But first Burke has stopped by in his new BMW convertible to take Mom for a spin through the neighborhoods, the wind in her white hair, her hands raised high as they take off with a muscly roar down the street, and I feel grateful for the Burkes of the world, who look out for the little people, whether driving BMWs or Subarus or Fords.

(Pictured above, Dad’s office-library turned bedroom, awaiting the hospital bed, with room still for his computer desk and one very full bookshelf.)

Courage at Twilight: Being Useful

I made the mistake of characterizing Steven’s help as heroic.  With a look of alarm, he disclaimed any hint of heroism.  Even before his reaction, I realized that “heroic” was not the right word.  “You’re a hero” is a lazy cliché, and I should have made an effort to find more accurate words.  He supplied them for me: “I was just glad to have been useful.”  I had watched him use his own feet to move Dad’s feet up the stairs and across the room to the bathroom or bed.  I had watched him help Dad shower in the hospital, passing dallops of soap to Dad’s own hands, and washing Dad’s inaccessible extremities.  Nurse Chloe had gently adhered special heel bandages because Dad’s heels pressing into the mattress, hour upon hour, day after day, had begun to blister his skin, and we worried the tissue would die from insufficient circulation.  And she had wrapped his feet and ankles in foot-shaped pillows to further reduce diabetic risk.  And my brother had used sanitary wipes to scrub Dad’s soiled shoes clean and white and like new.  He certainly had been useful, indispensable even.  And that is what sons and daughters ought to be in their parents’ old age: not heroes, but servants.  Useful.  Doing what needs to be done.  Meaning well while acting in all their weakness.  And they were.  And I naturally thought of another servant who washed out the stains and washed the feet and set the example for us all.  Steven flew home today, a home far away—and when people tell me I’m heroic, now, I demur, and reply that I am just glad to have been useful.

Photo above: a fresh bouquet today for Mom from a neighbor Church member.

Courage at Twilight: Cabin Fever

“I have cabin fever,” Mom sighed as we finished our Sunday dinner of baked pork chops with mustard-cream sauce and cumin-seed cabbage. “Then let’s go for a ride,” I offered.  Mom would have been satisfied with a brief ride around the neighborhoods, but I drove the Mighty V8 toward Little Cottonwood Canyon, glacier gouged and gorgeous, boasting pine forests, enormous slabs of granite, and a cascading river.  We commented on the incomparable beauty of these mountains as we drove up the narrow winding road, and expressed our gratitude at having these scenes so close to home.  “That’s enough for me,” Mom said as we passed the Snowbird resort.  “I’m ready to go home.  I don’t have cabin fever anymore.”  Back at home, I pointed out how multiple consecutive triple-digit days, and some active hummingbirds, had emptied the hummingbirds’ sugar water quickly, and the feeder hung empty.  We watched a tiny Black-chinned hovering, testing, and not finding liquid food.  Google says the correct mix is four parts water to one part sugar—and not to add red dye—so I refilled the feeder and brought back the birds.  The doorbell rang, and Carolyn D’s daughter delivered a white Afghan, crocheted with time and love and tenderness, for Dad had compiled her husband’s World War II recollections before they died with him, just in time.  Like Dad, Carolyn can no longer walk well, scooting along laboriously with a walker.  But she can crochet.  An hour later a violent summer thunderstorm blew and spat, teasing us unkindly with scant muddy drops that streaked the windows brown.  Dad sat in his kitchen chair, watching the wind whip the trees, and hazarded to Mom, “If you were to wander over here, I would give you a hug.”  In other words, I want to hug you, so please come to me, since I cannot come to you.  In his hoped-for embrace, he expressed to Mom, “You’re such a wonderful person.  I just love you.”

Courage at Twilight: Here We Come A-Caroling

“Can we come around 7:00?” she asked.  “That would be lovely,” I answered.  And they came, on a very cold Tuesday night, a small group of church youth with their leaders—two young women and two young men.  “Merry Christmas!” they cheered.  Mom and Dad brought them into the living room, where the group sat visiting on the sofas.  The leaders sparked up a Christmas carol, and the youth sang in shy murmurs.  Until Mom joined, that is.  Though the youth came to serenade her, she jumped right in with her cheerful choral charisma and had the small group singing enthusiastically.  After half-an-hour of caroling, the group called again, “Merry Christmas!” and filed out the door, Mom and Dad waving, everyone happier for the visit.  “We had so much fun,” Mom beamed when I came home late from work.  The youth left a beautiful gift basket with a poinsettia, various fruits, a loaf of Great Harvest cinnamon-raisin bread, Stephen’s mint truffle hot cocoa mix, and two pair of warm winter socks.

You

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This poem is not an accusation of you, dear reader.  Consider this poem as asking the question, What kind of person do I consider myself to be?  Am I observant of my surroundings, or oblivious?  Am I attentive to the needs of others, or uncaring?  Do I hold the door for others, or do I go through first and let it shut behind me?  When friends tell me about their successes and their struggles, do I one-up them with my own, or listen with excitement and empathy?  Consider this poem as my quest, and my invitation, to live life showing more consideration, more kindness, greater courtesy, and more civility (as I’m sure you do, being readers and writers of poetry!).

YOU

You are the kind
that pisses on the toilet seat,
that unplugs your nose in the men’s shower,
that swerves slapdash through traffic without signal,
that leaves your soiled dishes on the table, swaggering off to your football.

You are that type,
the type that tramples the flowers
and does not see.

Across the Day

Each morning as I leave for work I cross paths with my children.  They each require a hug (or two or three) as I run out the door.  I am often late and anxious to get away.  Sometimes I protest, “Just let me go, guys” or “You already hugged me once” or “I’m just going to work.”  When I slow down and live more mindfully, I stop and put my briefcase on the floor to give them a genuine embrace and a smile and a kind word, perhaps “I love you” or “Have a great day”.  If I really pay attention to these moments of connection, I notice a subtle but distinct feeling of goodness and happiness, a sense that something in life has changed for the better.  This poem is about one of those moments when I suppressed my natural tendency to hurry on to the next task and allowed myself to slow down and see what really needing doing.  See the related Chapter 12: Worm Sign post of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.

ACROSS THE DAY

Down the stairs he stepped,
pulling up a pant leg
to expose to me
yesterday’s skinned knee
and today’s unabashed want
for tenderness.
“It still hurts,” he whimpered
as I flew toward the door
with my briefcase and bagel.
“And you forgot.”
With guilty remembrance, I stopped
and lifted him to a counter top.
With guilty haste I rummaged through a drawer
for a bandage and soothing ointment.
“It feels better already,” he sighed,
his smile following me
out the door, down the highway,
and across the day.

Chapter 12: Worm Sign

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–A sincere smile can change the world.–

The night’s rains have turned the hard-packed-dirt surface of Rabbit Lane into a thin slick of mud, with small pools in the valleys between washboard peaks.  Long earthworms, flushed from their deluged burrows, make their tedious way across the muddy film, seeming to wander without any sense of where they need to go.  Slight worm tracks criss-cross the slick: shallow smooth ruts, their directions and intersections chaotic, random, crossing over and following each other without discernible pattern.  They leave only faint signs of their humble existence. Continue reading

These Hands

Hands are the perfect metaphor for who we are, what we do, and what we hope to become.  Do I use my hands to lift or to strike down, to caress or to punish, to persuade or to coerce?  My hands with their fingers type the words formed in my mind, spoon soup for a grandmother, and tickle a toddler.  Hands.  Use them for kindness, gentleness, hard work, and love.  And to write a poem.

THESE HANDS

Look at these hands.
My hands.
They tell my life:
in groove and scar and callous;
in a knuckle torn by a chicken house nail;
in railroad lines from a childhood race through a glass door;
in black grease ground into coarse cracks and cuticles;
in blisters and blood on a westward handcart;
at times, thrust hiding in deep but empty pockets.
These hands:
that hold the hopes and dreams of a self-hewn future;
that have sought the secret softness of a soul mate;
that have led trusting toddlers over perilous paths;
that hoisted an enduring ancient from the place of his collapse.
These hands:
that have clasped tightly together in impassioned prayer;
that have suffered the sad sting of punishment;
that have bathed the infant and dressed the dead;
that have hooked a worm and thrown a ball.
These hands:
that have penned a paltry poem;
that have reached for the stars and grasped only earth;
that have blessed the sick and slaughtered swine;
that can seal a man’s fate with a waive and a gavel’s rap.
These hands:
that spared the rod, soothed a crying child, wiped away a tear, smoothed a stray lock;
that once were tiny and tender, that patted Grandpa’s drooping cheeks;
that bestowed a ring and received one in return;
that now are old and gnarled, resting folded and futile in my lap.
Touch my hands with your hands.
Bring my hands to your face, your eyes, your lips.
Feel the coarseness and tenderness of my hands.
Bring your hands to my face, my eyes, my lips.

 

Rita

Bill and Rita Stenner knew I loved small boat sailing.  I learned to sail small cat boats as a Boy Scout at Camp Liahona on Lake Seneca in up-state New York.  Of all my 35 Boy Scout merit badges, small boat sailing was my favorite.  Bill invited me to sail with him and Rita in his 19-foot sloop several times over several summers.  We put in at Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, and tacked toward the Hudson Bay, with the Twin Towers shooting above the barely-visible land of Manhattan Island.  Rita suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis, and sat crumpled and twisted in a wheelchair.  But floating in the water behind the cruising sloop freed her from her confinement.  She never complained in the chair, but she exulted from within the cool salt water as I steered and called “coming about!”  This poem, “Rita,” I wrote some 30 years later in reverent memory of these good, kind, quiet people.  Thanks Rita and Bill.  (See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse post, for reference to sailing with Bill and Rita.)

RITA

The old man was kind to me,
though I offered nothing but my youthful company,
which I made pleasant, for my gratitude,
on those summer days.

How we sailed!

From Sandy Hook toward Hudson’s kills,
Twin Towers rising like brother beacons
beckoning us to tack their way,
I on the rudder,
Bill on the main sheet and jib.

Oh—how we sailed!

He tethered his wife,
a cheerful lump of rheumatoid flesh,
and tossed her offhandedly overboard,
whence she giggled and squealed
for the cool and the salt, the jostling wake,
for her release from the chair.

Sailing in the salt breeze!

Ponderous thunderheads darkened abruptly,
and we hauled her in
like a troll-caught crab
and fled the flashes, knowing
how tall and conductive was the metal mast
and how helpless we would be
on the water.