Growing up I watched a lot of movies and a lot of television. Choices back then were more limited and tended to be family-oriented for the most part. Seems like you watched the same ones over and over again. I often find myself thinking lines that came from the ones that stuck, either because of their dramatic power or more often, because of their humor. Having a partner who was so similar to me was great because we shared a lot of the same cultural influences and often spoke in code. I still remember when our kids figured out that a good portion of our conversations were lines stolen from movies. When Michael was teaching, he incorporated many of his favorites into lesson plans.
I don’t know what I want to do, what I need to do or what I should do. It’s kind of like freeze tag, the kids’ game when you get touched and have to hold your position. My position has been in my recliner lately. The facts of my life kind of belie that image. Objectively I’ve been doing a lot, some things by necessity and others by choice. But there’s an aimless quality about all the activities when taken together, as if they’re just reactive behaviors rather than part of a bigger plan. And I suppose that’s because I don’t really have a bigger plan, which was one of the essential ideas pounded into my head by my dad who repeated like a mantra, “you have to have a plan, you have to have a plan.”One sketch was from the famous Abbott and Costello, a comedic duo from the late 1940’s and 1950’s – “Who’s on First?” Through the use of pronouns they wind up with a hilarious dialogue about a fantasy baseball team that goes in circles and is laugh-out-loud funny. Michael and my daughter adapted it into a political skit about characters from the George W. Bush era and performed it each semester in his history class. A big hit, pun intended. I found myself thinking about it today because “I don’t know” played third base in the original skit and after the recent past, I feel like I’m on third. I don’t know. Usually I know a lot, certainly enough to keep ahead of most games. Lately, though, I’m getting stuck because of a seemingly relentless series of events that just feels like too much. My brain is still operational but emotionally I’m frequently feeling like I’m in a paralytic state. I’ve misplaced my mojo.
He didn’t mean an inflexible unchanging one but rather a central guideline to help you shape the direction of your life. How do you do that when so many different things, out of your control, just happen and don’t fit into the plan’s framework? I feel like more of shock troop member, getting sent in to respond to some unexpected situation, rather than someone who’s following a designed pathway. Or maybe like a firefighter, waiting for the bell to sound, announcing where the next emergency is and letting you know that it’s time to fly out the door and do your best. I don’t know. Certainly not much that’s happened in the past seven and a half years has been part of what I thought my plan was. Things just happened. And I’ve reacted.
First, there was Michael’s cancer and I reacted to that, along with him, for over five years until he finally succumbed to the disease. As I recovered from that, I had a plan, a plan for honoring him in a exhibition of his life, which took some months and turned out well. But in the midst of that planning, my daughter who is federal public defender, was assigned a tough and sensational murder case. Her job is to provide the best defense possible for all of her clients as is clearly stated in the Constitution. Even though we live in a state where the death penalty doesn’t exist, the attorney general assigned a death penalty to this federal case.
So suddenly, just months after Michael’s death, my kid was bearing the burden of being responsible for another person’s life. This much publicized case was a heavy load for our family to carry on the heels of our personal loss and everyone, from her own husband and children to her brother and me felt the weight of her job which went on until mid-July of this year, almost two years since she received the assignment. All of us hoped to find a way to some kind of “normal,” as we continued to adapt to a life without Michael, something none of us thought would happen when he was only 67, a good thirty years younger than the lifespans of his parents and virtually all the older members of his family. So we were recovering. Some weeks passed. My grandkids started school, the youngest beginning kindergarten. I was recovering well from my second knee surgery and started taking a few classes to give my days structure, to learn new things to enrich my life and begin a new regimen for myself.
The first week of my “plan” had begun when my five year old grandson began feeling sick. My kids took him to convenient care, ostensibly our first line of defense for garden variety illnesses which pop up unexpectedly. When the examining doctor said he couldn’t find any evidence of a physical illness, my daughter asked, “are you implying he might have something terrible like lymphoma, he implied that a very sizable swelling on the little one’s neck might indeed be indicative of a life-threatening disease. How terrifying and crazy is that? What ensued were several days of miscommunication with our little guy getting sicker and sicker until finally, he was hospitalized, placed on IV antibiotics and painkillers, and ultimately CT scanned.
What was unearthed was an abscess that required surgery. I’ll never know if the abscess would’ve gotten so large and scary had he only been prescribed antibiotics the first night he was examined. In these days of antibiotics as a last resort because of their having been over-prescribed in the past, now it seems that a logical bit of doctoring has become the proverbial baby thrown out with the bath water. He’s made it through his ordeal as have all the rest of us, but “plans” certainly were kicked to the curb as we all responded to the immediate need. Every family member here in our town tossed aside regular activities to do our part as we fearfully watched a healthy, active kid turn into an exhausted, feverish listless little person.
I don’t know. Standing here on third base. Now the crisis seems to be past us. But it’s our third test in two years, three months and fifteen days since Michael left us. What’s next? We’re all trying to do our things. There is school and there are jobs and projects to be done around our houses. The seasons are going to change soon and with that will come a variety of chores. Every day I look at my lists and my assignments and note how many I haven’t done a thing about in weeks. Still trying to get off third base. I can flee into nature. I have managed, despite the polar vortex of January and a strangely cold April, to create an environment in my garden which has drawn beautiful butterflies, moths and birds.
My biologist son gave me high praise by noting the variety of species appearing in the yard. We’ve had fledgling wrens, cardinals and robins this year. Also too many rabbits and squirrels who’ve eaten their way through most of my tomatoes, apples and pears. Still, the ground where Michael cultivated his vegetables and herbs, is now a place for pollinators to feast as they move through their life cycles. His perennial herbs remain and release heavenly scents although I rarely cook with them. Cooking has fallen to the bottom of my “plan” list.
I’m working with my rocks and placing them around my yard, labeled with the part of the world they came from. I’m replacing those plants that were lost to the deep freeze and hoping for a healthy return next spring. Sitting in my recliner will feel less like “I don’t know” when it’s cold outside. At least I hope so. I don’t want to be stuck on third base. I need a home run. Maybe if the world cuts my clan a little slack for awhile, I’ll get out of this old school comedy routine. There’s a lot going on in the world that’s pressing and more important than my little universe. But that’s easy to forget sometimes. I don’t ever want to get so self-involved that I ignore the big picture. Third base. Either someone bats me in or I find my mojo and steal home plate. Sometime soon.