pWdumaNjA-6CEEBhRoD5euxNETs When All This Actual Life Played Out: The day I didn't need

14 November 2012

The day I didn't need

Key Bridge
Washington, D.C.
13 October 2012

This morning, I sat in the doctor's office staring at a poster that read "When You're Healthy, Every Day is a Precious Gift."

I cannot deny this.

But the daughter was sitting beside me in a wheelchair, so the day wasn't feeling like much of a gift.

She'd called me at 9:15 am, her voice halting, on the verge of tears. Immediately I'd assumed she'd forgotten something, but no. Her knee had done something terrible during her belt exam in Taekwondo...

My mind spun back 6 years to her brother sitting in the nurse's office after dislocating his kneecap.

I thought carefully but quickly, told her exactly what I was going to do, how long it would take for me to reach her, and then did precisely as I told her.  In an earlier life, I'd have made a great triage nurse.

After exams and x-rays, the daughter was sent home with me on crutches, a brace to wear for the duration. Because of swelling and the difficulty of assessing soft tissue damage, it's too soon to know how quickly she'll mend.

I got her fed and filled with ibuprofen, set to study, and finally six hours after we began, I realized that I was exhausted. I told her that I was going to lie down for a few minutes. No sooner had I done so than the phone rang.

It was my mother, calling to tell me that unexpectedly, my uncle had died. He'd been ill, suffered from dementia for some time, but the end came quickly and without warning this afternoon.

H. was from hell, really. He'd terrified me when I was a child because all business was conducted at the top of his lungs. He was an Irishman, an Air Force helicopter pilot. He was angry and loud. I kept my distance.

Some years passed, and he was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. The tumor was removed, and the next time I saw him, he was still loud, but less angry.

When my grandmother died, I ended up stuck at my aunt and uncle's house for an extra day after the funeral. My aunt had to fly to Florida, so in reality I was stuck with H. for an extra day. He crankily suggested that I get on a bus and head into DC, but when I declined to do so, he suddenly decided to start talking to me. And not at the top of his lungs. We discussed...investing of all things. And politics. For the first time, he spoke to me as a peer (I was in my 20s by then), and I've long remembered that day as a time when I heard him speak without shouting and he was not impatient. He was interesting and almost kind.

A few years back, I was visiting the family at Easter. My aunt had long since died, and H. had declined dramatically.

"They told me you were coming," he said to me, and I was shocked at how diminished he was. He peered at me with something that looked like friendly and expectant confusion. "Do I know you?"

It broke my heart.

His death hasn't really sunk in. How does someone like that cease to exist?

In October, the son and I sat on the banks of the Potomac and ate sandwiches, enjoying the warm sun of a perfect autumn day. I told him how H. used to take us out on his boat and we'd travel along the river. The memory made me laugh.

Every day is a gift. Even the bad ones.

Tech stuff: Taken with my iPad. Have I convinced myself that today was a gift? No. Not even close.

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