I woke up this morning with a gospel song playing in my head. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer…”
I’ve been in a bad mood this week. My natural state is calibrated well toward the joy end of the dial; happiness usually comes easily. But something has been bothering me all week, some shadow standing between me and the sun, and I haven’t been able either to figure it out or to walk out of its shade.
Sometimes in the morning when I write, I find myself following random trails, bouncing from memory to story to inane prattle about my day. I might do that for a week or two, until one morning I wake up in a bad mood with a gospel song in my head and realize that for the past two weeks I’ve been writing about need.
November 10. I’m writing about how much work and how little time I have. Mid-thought I stop whining long enough to ask, what do I have enough of?
November 20. I’ve been thinking about something that happened at least ten years ago. I was in a public restroom in a mall in Lubbock when a woman in a wheelchair asked me if I could come into the handicapped stall with her to help her.
I had no idea what she needed or how to help, and some part of me that is too well trained in fear wondered for a moment if this were some new kind of scam, and if I were about to be mugged. Fortunately, more developed parts of my brain prevailed, and I smiled and said sure. I followed her in, did what she asked, and in a few minutes we were both washing our hands, exchanging pleasantries, and leaving each other’s lives forever.
It was an unexpected intimacy, and I thought about it for a long time. I wondered what sort of courage it takes to ask a stranger to help you use the bathroom in a shopping mall. I wondered what sort of grace had let me be chosen.
November 22. Thinking about the woman in Lubbock has me thinking about my mother-in-law. In 2007 when Ann was dying in our downstairs bedroom, I grew adept at helping with bathroom details. The hospice worker told me what to do and somehow my mother-in-law and I managed.
Late one morning the doorbell rang. It was Mary, the hospice social worker. I had just made a pot of coffee, so we all sat down at the kitchen table. Fred and Mary talked about how my mother-in-law was doing and what the doctor had said most recently and about the nurse who had been by earlier.
Then, this woman I had never met turned to me, looked into my eyes, right at the spot that was hurting, and said, “And how are you?”
We had moved my mother-in-law back into our house on the day we got home from my father’s funeral in Pittsburgh. We should have done it sooner; that day we drove straight from the airport to her house and brought her home with us. She had stopped bathing some time before, we learned, and for the first few weeks she wouldn’t move out of a chair in the living room. We had taken to opening windows in November and lighting scented candles before it finally occurred to us to call Hospice.
Hospice is an amazing thing. Strangers flooded our house, helped us manage things we couldn’t possibly manage: personal care assistants coaxed Ann into the shower, a doctor diagnosed her illness and dispensed medicine she didn’t want to take and oxygen she refused to use, nurses applied salves and showed me how to help her in the bathroom. There was even a social worker who stopped by from time to just to make sure we were all still keeping it together.
I hadn’t met Mary until that morning when we had coffee. I fled the house early each day, happy to escape to work, a place where everyone showered regularly and no one was dying. If you’d have asked me then, in those months right after my father died while my mother-in-law was dying, how I was doing, I would have told you I was fine.
And then this woman I didn’t know asked me over a casual cup of coffee if I was ok, and I didn’t tell her I was fine, and it felt good, weeping at my kitchen table, to say “I’m not ok,” and to let this stranger help.
November 28. I’m thinking about how long it has been since I’ve posted an essay on my blog and having a quiet Thanksgiving. Family comes Friday evening, so we’re saving the big meal for Saturday. I made a pot roast today, and I’ll be baking pies tomorrow when everyone else is eating leftovers. I have to say I’m sort of enjoying the extra days of anticipation.
My dad used to tell this story about having enough. One time, he said, he was complaining to his brother. “There’s never any extra,” he told my uncle. “Just when you get the dryer paid off the dishwasher goes on the fritz. When the dishwasher is paid off, the car needs work. There’s always just exactly enough.” My dad would pause here before relating my uncle’s response. Apparently Uncle Larry looked at my dad for a minute, considering his words. “That’s neat,” he said.
November days are getting shorter, but these aren’t dark days. I still haven’t really figured out why I was in such a bad mood this week, or why this gospel song keeps dogging me. Walking the dog late in the afternoon I’m thinking about apple pie and my Aunt Ann’s cranberry orange relish; I’m thinking about need and about abundance. I’m thinking about how maybe all of us are broken and glued back together, and about the odd beauty in all those cracks and jagged edges.
As the dog and I turn the corner, the sun darkens. Two crows are chasing each other across the sky. They swoop and dive and jabber, their bodies turning the sun on and off as they fly in and out of its path. I look up and watch them dance. I don’t notice that I’m humming, or that my shoulders are softening, or that the glue in my cracks is growing firm again, but the dog does, and he’s not about to stand around and watch while a couple of crows have all the fun. He’s all wag and bustle; he pants and prances; his whole body is shouting JoyJoyJoy or maybe it’s NeedNeedNeed–it’s all the same big blur of fur, and it’s tugging on the leash right now, pulling hard for home.