Daily Braveries

More and more I understand what people do

I appreciate the daily braveries  clean white shirts

morning greetings between old men

 

Again I see how  once the boat tips   you never forget

the sensation of drowning

even if you sing yourself the familiar songs

 

from What People Do by Naomi Shihab Nye

PICEDITOR-AGE

I watched a movie several weeks back, about a small group of men who braved a storm off the coast of New England in 1952, to rescue the survivors of a tanker that had been split in two. It’s an inspiring true story of strength, bravery and skill in the face of almost certain death. I love stories like that, ones in which I see the best of what it means to be human put on display. I love happy endings: people rescued, wrongs righted and lives transformed and restored. We need those stories; we need to be reminded of what is good in the world, in us. We need to be reminded of what is possible, especially now, when stories of pain and brokenness come to us on every front and we are constantly made aware of all the ways in which we fail to make it right.

I came across the poem What People Do, a few days ago. In it the poet reflects on moments spent by her father’s bedside, as he waits ‘for his heart to mend’. Having spent time every day visiting my father, as he recovers from a recent stroke, I felt drawn to her words. And I started thinking about ‘daily braveries’. My father returned home on Saturday, after four weeks spent first in hospital and then in a care facility. There he started learning how to recover the use of his left arm, how to make new neural pathways from his brain to the hand that until so recently performed the intricate tasks I take so for granted. He must teach it again how to hold a fork, to know where it is in space.

Yesterday we went looking for something in his workshop and I thought about how just a few weeks ago he was at work with his power tools, making furniture. My father is a determined man, with a wonderful sense of humour. He is already formulating plans for how he can continue with his work, complete the projects he’s started: finish the cabinet for a friend, carve Percy the train’s face for his brother-in-law’s grandson. He is already engaging with the daily acts of courage he will need to move into a life that has changed.

I think of the daily struggles faced by so many, struggles that are often unseen and unknown even by those closest to them. People all around us are grieving the loss of family, or the loss of a life they thought would be different. Some are battling mental illness, physical illness or financial challenges.

I think of my own wrestling, sometimes with things I talk about, and sometimes with things I keep hidden in my heart. There are days when ‘clean white shirts’, or the simple act of getting out of bed is a victory. Some days, small accomplishments are the result of significant efforts of the will.

‘Be kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.’ It’s a popular quote, written by Philo of Alexandria (a philosopher who was born around 25 BC and died in 50 AD). I wonder how often we need these words for ourselves. Perhaps this week can be a moment for kindness and patience with our own hearts. And from that place of gentleness with ourselves, we can extend grace to the people around us.

(On the poetry page you will find a poem that I wrote about my father’s hands.)

Interruptions

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us , as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.

K. T. Jong

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It’s been a busy year, and not just on the outside. My days have been full of activity, but my mind and heart have been busy too, trying to make sense of this season of change and transition. I’ve been preoccupied with questions of where I’m going and how to get there. What do I want and what steps do I need to take? How do I honour God and serve the deep purposes for which I was created? How do I move forward with intention and initiative, without pushing too hard? These are important considerations, worthy of my time and attention. But a little over two weeks ago, an interruption brought me to a halt.

I knew when I heard my mother’s voice that something was wrong. The paramedics were at the house and they’d be on their way to the hospital soon. I said I’d meet them there. We waited in emergency for the neurologist to arrive. We made calls, let family know what was happening. I cancelled all my plans for the day. We went from emergency to radiology to ICU. He’d had a stroke and needed medication right away. They’d do more tests later. “He looks so small in the bed,” my mother said as we stood together. My dad’s sister arrived and we took turns around the bed as Dad drifted in and out of sleep.

My husband was with my mother and I the following morning, when another doctor arrived. He and the neurologist gathered us round the bed to say that they’d done more tests. The situation was worse than they’d thought and that surgery was strongly suggested. They spent an hour with us, drawing pictures and detailing risk factors. Their kindness and careful attention to explaining the complexities of the situation was astonishing.

The next few days were spent in and out of the ward, visiting together. My brother flew in from Johannesburg and my other brother called regularly from his home in France. There were no set visiting hours at the hospital, so we camped out there for much of the day. My dad recovered a lot of the movement, in his left arm, that he’d lost on the day of the stroke, but it was still uncoordinated. Dad took it all in his stride, laughing when he mistakenly hit his eye in an attempt to give a high five, or spilt food in his bed.

The night before the surgery, my aunt sent me a message that perfectly sums up those few days: “There has been so much love, connection and laughter that has made special new memories that will last and sustain us whatever happens. These days have been tough, intense and yet sweet.”

You can visit the poetry page to read a poem I wrote about the hours spent waiting outside the operating theater. It was hard going home after the operation. I wanted to stay and keep him company, hold his hand through the long hours of the night. I didn’t want him to be alone with the pain and vulnerability occasioned by the necessary violence of surgery.

The days following the surgery have reminded me again of my father’s determined spirit, positive outlook and sense of mischief. (“I only dropped my fork twice at breakfast!”) He moved to a rehabilitation facility some days ago and is having various therapies to help prepare him to return home.

My life has been redesigned for me these past two weeks. I am conscious that it has been rearranged for the future too. My parents will need help and support, and I will need to be there to give it. But there has been another kind of realignment. Jong, in the quote above, mentions that life reveals truth in whispers, knocking on our hearts’ doors. An interruption like the one I’ve just experienced is more like a shout than a whisper, and it strikes down the door without knocking first. I’ve been given an opportunity to put my questions into perspective and to be reminded again of what matters most.