It really makes you think.

The drive to work was treacherous this morning. The roads were deceptively clear, looking dry but randomly blanketed with black ice. We were listening to the news on the radio as we inched along, and we heard a terrible story. A dive team was searching the Rock River for a man who went into the water as the result of a car crash. He witnessed an accident on a bridge and left his vehicle to help a victim from theirs…when he slipped off the bridge and into the icy river. By tonight, the divers were looking to recover his body, for there was no hope left that he would still be alive in those frigid waves.

That man got out of bed this morning, got dressed, and left his home for what was going to be an ordinary day. Maybe he didn’t wake his children before he left the house, but he’ll be back soon. Maybe he was going to work early because he works whenever he can, but he’ll slow down later. Maybe he had a fight with his girlfriend the night before, but he’ll make it up to her tonight.

Maybe none of these things are true.

Maybe all of them are…then all the plans he pushed to tomorrow will never come to be. We’re not in the habit of embracing mortality: there’s always more time.

But actually, there’s never enough.

He’ll never have another moment with his children. He’ll never slow down enough to enjoy life. He’ll never be able to comfort his girlfriend in the aftermath of their argument. He’s all out of chances, but who knew it would go that way? It was a day that started like any other…ordinary.

How perspective would change if we actually realized that any moment could really be our last…

The Christmas Shoes

I sent Nick off to bed as the last hours of Christmas day dwindled; his eyes had grown heavy while he rested on the couch. I was tired too, but I was feeling too anxious to sleep. I decided to watch a movie instead—I have watched very few this year. As The Christmas Shoes began to spin, I positioned the tissues close to my hand.

Now, it’s not all that common for a straight-to-DVD movie to be on my scroll of must-sees during the holidays. (It’s hard to stand up next to Jimmy Stewart, Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, and Danny Kaye, after all.) This movie, however, touches a nerve. It’s a story based on a song by the same name. A little boy’s mother is dying of heart failure, and he wants to buy her shoes to wear once she gets to heaven.

It’s sweetly innocent… and heavy (at least it is for me). It probably doesn’t help that it was around this time six years ago that I realized that my mother would be leaving. Soon. I dissolve whenever I hear a story about a child losing his or her parents…really, a story about anyone losing someone who they loved. I cannot help but be empathetic to that overwhelming sensation of loneliness, and I cry raw tears—as if it were only yesterday when Mom took her final breath. I don’t let myself reside in that place of despair, but the memories of those emotions are vivid and easily summoned.

The movie is incredibly touching, and I don’t think anyone is immune to the breadth of emotions it stirs. I seem to get caught on a different part of the goodbye every year. This year, it was her husband telling her that he and their son were going to be fine…that it was okay to go. I remember visiting her in the hospital on January 19, 2006.

My brother and I were in the hall outside her room when one of our aunts came out. With a hand on each of our shoulders, she told us that we needed to tell her to go.

Everybody else had already told her, but she continued to fight against the inevitable…so that left her children. Charlie and I couldn’t tell her that day. We hugged each other and cried because we knew we would have to find the strength to lie. We would have to tell her it was okay to go when it really wasn’t. It wasn’t okay at all. On that day, our tears would have betrayed us and our best attempts.

She came home on a Saturday. Hospice nurses came to our house and made the living room into a makeshift hospital room. We all kept vigil around her, not wanting her to feel alone when she left. On Sunday, my pastor took me and Charlie aside and reiterated that we needed to tell her to go. “She’s holding on for you,” he said. I remember his eyes shining with unshed tears as he swallowed hard and said, “I wouldn’t be able to leave my children either.”

She wasn’t herself by that stage. She was looking through us as though seeing something that we could not; her eyes did not focus on us as we leaned over her bed. Yet, there were words that everyone said we needed to say…words that felt sharp and jagged in my throat. Charlie went first.

After about three minutes, I heard the door slam from where I sat in the far south-eastern corner of the house. Everything seemed to rattle as my brother ran as fast and as hard as he could away from the house…the room…the bed…her. I was rattled too…by the strength and the violence of his feelings. Stumbling a bit, I made my way to her bedside.

I sat next to her and started talking. She was non-responsive, and I wasn’t sure that she could hear me or comprehend what I was saying. Nonetheless, I told her how she inspired me. I told her what her love meant to me. I told her that I wanted to live up to her example. And, on a sob, I told her that I was going to be okay. Suddenly, profoundly, she opened her eyes and pierced me with her gaze. I watched as twin tears gathered in her eyes, and we stared at each other for several seconds. I saw the question in her eyes. Will you really be okay? they asked. Slowly I nodded, realizing only at that second that it was true.

Then the moment was over. Her eyes closed, her head lolled to the side again, and her clenched fist loosened. I kissed her cheek and felt my heart break.

These images replayed in my mind as I watched that scene last night. When the story ended, my tears had not, so I watched the scene again (and again and again) until I was finally spent. I went up to bed feeling lighter and less burdened. For once, I fell into sleep immediately and did not wake for almost seven hours. I can’t remember the last time I slept so easily or for so long. I have so many hurts that still need to be soothed…but I keep forgetting that they are there. How many memories have I put on a shelf to deal with when I felt less vulnerable?

The cry felt good…cleansing…and afterward, love filled the void where the grief had been.

Off Topic

Today is the last day of work before my company closes for the holiday; I only had to work until 11:30. I was awesomely productive with desk work until 10:00 when I had a meeting scheduled. Of all my project teams, I was meeting with my favorite. We’ve worked together on our project for about two years now, and we have all become good friends. Our conversations steered away from our agenda almost immediately.

Karen started talking about her dog…her dog Max who goes to doggie day care every day. Apparently they gave him “dog nog” the other day (which I had never heard of but Google says it exists). Before I consulted with Google, I challenged the existence of the eggnog for dogs. Mona piped in that she’s heard of it, but some dogs are allergic.

Karen:
“Yeah, some dogs are sensitive to the whey…”

Mona:
“Isn’t whey in a lot of dog food too?” Karen nodded.

Karen (softly, almost singing):
“…eating her curds and whey!”

Mona:
“Hah! Yeah! Curds and whey!”

Then “whey” became a funny word for some reason, and Patty and Becky started to have an entire conversation using only that word and varied intonation.

Patty:
“Whey?”

Becky:
“Whey!”

Me (distracted by an email I was answering):
“I don’t like spiders.”

Now, I thought this was perfectly in line with the conversation because they were talking about Little Miss Muffet, weren’t they? And didn’t a spider come along and scare her away? Well, it would have scared me away too, and that’s reason enough to dislike spiders.

But apparently, they were not thinking of what scared Little Miss Muffet or Little Miss Muffet at all. They thought I was suffering some sort of psychotic break: why else would I randomly confess my dislike for spiders? The room was suddenly engulfed with laughter—and not just any laughter, but the kind of laughter that reduces you to tears and that you just can’t snap out of…the contagious kind that goes on long after the subject is forgotten.

Me (focused now and speaking in my best bored monotone):
“‘Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet, eating her curds and whey. Along came a SPIDER who sat down beside her, and frightened Miss Muffet away.’ You know, you really shouldn’t put someone down just because their brain works better than yours.”

I went back to my email before Karen started talking to me through hiccuping starts and stops.

Karen:
“You’re just like my husband. We were watching TV one night and he just up and says, ‘I hate snakes.'”

Mona:
“Can you imagine the conversation? She’d say, ‘I don’t like spiders.’ He’d say, ‘I hate snakes.’ One of them would say, ‘Will you be my friend?'”

Though I have no proof, I am sure that Karen’s husband was making perfect sense at the time. I bet he’d be an awesome friend who wouldn’t mistake my brilliance for idiocy like everyone else seems to!

Mount Crumpit

I have been working mostly from my company’s national headquarters building, but I try to organize meetings so that I can get back to the regional building at least once a week (and sometimes that works). I had a shock a couple of weeks ago when I walked in because there was tinsel and glitter everywhere. I work at the very end of the building, so I walked through rows and rows of merrymaking before I made it to my desk. Exasperated, I pointed behind me and said aloud to my row, “It looks like Christmas threw up!”

The techs that were there barely looked up from their laptops but nodded with vigor. The people who sit in my row are being stretched a little thin just now, and I think most of us are a step or two away from a full-on anxiety attack at the sheer volume of information that we need to retain. I am blaming this for my lackluster Christmas spirit this year—just like at work, I don’t have time to be merry.

Still on a roll (but it’s really just bitter jealousy that I’m not light of spirit just now and all of them are), I cried, “It’s Whoville back there!” I miss having fun at work (I used to).

My friend who sits across from me smirked. “I guess that makes us Mount Crumpit.” She took it from there and made signs to hang on the column that divides the two worlds…one with an arrow pointing to Whoville and the other branding our barren little section of office space. I looked high and low (actually, barely at all) for a Max, but this oldie was the closest I could find.

So I’m a Grinch. You got a problem with that? Yeah, I didn’t think so. (My upcoming days away from the office should make me a nice person again, don’t worry).

Sophie Sunday

We have a chewer. I don’t think we have a cord free of tooth marks in the entire place. I have tried just about everything I can think of to dissuade her, but nothing works. That cat just likes to gnaw, end of story.

The Christmas tree has been in jeopardy for weeks, but until recently she has saved her most passionate chewing for times when Nick and I are gone. Knowing she has the upper hand in our relationship, figuratively speaking of course, she’s no longer hiding her activities. Finally sick of having to be on guard and having to raise my voice, I went to my last resort: the bitter spray.

It’s a “no chew” formula that is supposed to taste just awful. The awfulness should send a message to little cat brains that chewing isn’t fun at all (because it tastes lousy, duh). I bought the spray earlier this year when I identified a risk with new wicker baskets. I hate (absolutely hate!) using it.

It’s not because I care about the poor plight of the cat. I have no sympathy for any discomfort she might experience while doing something she knows she shouldn’t be doing. It’s because when I use the spray, it somehow releases bitter particles around the entire room. Even though I didn’t chew anything, I can’t get the awful taste out of my mouth!

Meanwhile, Sophie is unaffected. She’s curious why I’m spraying things. She walks up to the tree after I douse the bottom branches and sniffs. I put my hands on my hips and watch her with an arched eyebrow, daring her to take a bite. Never breaking eye contact with me, I see her tongue inching out the side of her mouth to reach the closest branch.

Obstinance!

But the in-your-face defiance is the least of my irritation: she’s chewing the tree more now than she was before I sprayed the so called “no chew” formula. I felt a growl in my throat as I watched her and considered washing my own mouth out with soap.

I think that some conniving cat must have the patent on that bitter spray. They always frickin’ win. Always.