Friday, August 17, 2007

...and you'll know we have washed the sheets.

Here we go again. Things are piling up in the living room. Things with a message. A pile I hate worse than piles of dust or mail or bills or trash. The Magic Bullet, a George Foreman grill, miniature refrigerator, mattress pad, pillow, reversible comforter, collapsible hamper, desk light, and the sheets. Dorm supplies. I do know we still have time because he'll want the sheets washed to soften them up and will wait until the last minute to do that.
I finally got the courage to suggest we shop for his college stuff but waited until I thought I could speak the words with all the enthusiasm he deserves. It will take a while to forget the image of my 6'5" son knees bent, body doubled over and torso aimed toward the floor of our linen store. Neck crooked so his head and face could test out a new pillow on the only hard surface available, the floor. "You have to test it on a flat surface with your head." You can't just feel it with your hands I guess unless of course its a pillow for your hands. If it's for your head it only makes sense to test it that way! How did I not just know that?
So the pile sits there like it is accessorizing our home. I am trying so hard NOT to get used to it. I am trying so hard to think it represents a mess that should be cleaned up. But the truth is the emptiness we'll see when the pile is gone, will represent the new empty-nest our home is becoming. Isn't it interesting that the word emptiness looks and sounds so much like empty nest! I just hate it. There is nothing else to say. We'll be ok, but will things ever be as good? Youth brings life and laughter to adult worlds. (Dann is always funny and I am often immature, but that's not the same.)
You would think we'd be prepared. This is number three! You'd think we'd be looking forward to all the freedom others have bragged about. Freedom to do what? There isn't much we do that isn't better with the kids along! Someone once told me that once the kids leave you can walk around the house naked if you want to. Are you kidding me? By the time my kids leave home we are both avoiding mirrors for our own mental health let alone parading around the house with "granny fanny" and "love handles".
Freedom from what? Laundry? Yes what I have grumbled about in the past I am cherishing in these remaining weeks. It would have been weird to caress a pair of jeans and lift a unwashed t shirt to my nose last year. Today I am desperate to divide the loads just to drag out the amazing privilege of washing his clothes.
He must start making his bed everyday. This I know. As it stands now, he does not. So each day in the past 18 years, I have walked past his room, seen the bed unmade and thought... "note to self...find a new way to motivate son in daily bed making". Today I walk by and think "he's still at home"- hallelujah! But I know once he's gone I will eventually go in and make it. Then walk by it each day, see it straightened and know that he is not still home. The worst would be if he makes it on the day he leaves. I would walk by each day after looking at the neatness and know that he left, go in and mess it up myself. I would have to live the next years looking at the wrinkled mess doubly miserable.
I will still keep protein powder in the cupboard, lots of cereal boxes and granola bars in the pantry and maybe even steal a few pieces of laundry to display in a pile next to the bed. Coping mechanisms I guess.
The days count down. I know we still have time because the sheets are still in their package, unwashed. But if in the days ahead, walking through the linen store aisles you find me cart full of replacement accessories, doubled over with my tear stained face pressed against a new pillow on the only hard surface available, you will know...we have washed the sheets.

Monday, May 07, 2007

"The likes of me..."

John Murray has been my friend now for about a month. I can call him that because we are gaining all the necessary ingrediants for such a relationship. We are becoming familiar with one another. I know more about him than I did last month and he knows more about me. I know he likes steak and hates soup. Early in the day he likes his coffee black, but later he often prefers cream and sugar. He's never been married, though he's met several women worthy. He has no children and smokes Pall Mall Light cigarettes. "Caffeine and Nicotine" are what gets him by, he says. He takes off and puts on a jacket in a unique way because of a shoulder injury from falling out of his wheelchair. The police are good to him. He trusts me to do his laundry and to see where he keeps the money he's collected. Pancakes on a Sunday morning make him very happy and he'll use all the butter "thank you very much!" He's ingenious in preserving a plate when a meal requires glass rather than paper. He knows exactly where it can be hidden and stored for easy pick up later and doesn't forget to remind me to get it. He says he's a "God fearing man", though he believes no church wants anything to do with "the likes of me". He recognizes my voice and lifts his head when I call to him. He knows to expect something more than a visit most of the time and it is probably homemade. He knows I can surprise him and show up anywhere, even find him when he's saved enough for a night at Motel 6. He knows I won't buy him cigarettes, but I will listen to him talk. I know rubbing cream on his diseased foot doesn't make it better, but having someone touch it doesn't hurt it either. He is easily agitated and quickly calmed. He has an active imagination. To some it could be considered mental illness except that if it were me in his chair, homeless and alone, I would think such imaginings might preserve the mind and would certainly be preferable to reality. The adventures he recounts are extensive. I don't think I care whether he really did the things he's told me about. I think its quite fun to talk about "the boat he took to Vietnam to have coffee once". I am amazed right along with him, that when he played on the New York Jets football team in 1965 "when steel cleats were legal, that they only killed 10 guys that year." I don't care that the Jets roster we found on the internet didn't include his can't always trust the internet. I think it's courageous of him to want to "join the Mexican army" especially since he's in a wheelchair! But, I am afraid his mental confusion has created something between us that my words can't get through. I want him to know Jesus. I wanted him to come to church just to hear the music. I want to explain that God can make him a perfect and new body in heaven, but his imagination seems to get in the way. What I struggle with now, is what God is calling me to do with my new friend, John Murray. His need seems so great and yet he seems so content. I want his foot healed miraculously so that he can see God's glory. Perhaps God leaves his foot just the way it is so that John sees that glory in the many people who help him. Does he realize God sends people or does he think it is by chance? Maybe his disability is what saves his life and provides food and shelter for him. Some would say that God is using John Murray to teach me something. With all due respect, I want to give to John Murray not the other way around. So God, if you must choose, please choose him. I have so much already. This is a different kind of "light to my path." I really can only see clear to the next visit. That is all the vision God has given me. Shouldn't there be a goal, an aim, a purpose higher than small physical provisions and a little conversation. I had envisioned deep theological exchanges by now; heart to heart talks. So I guess God is teaching me to trust. To take one step at a time and trust him for the spiritual needs of my new friend. I guess with John Murray its another example of follow the leader. I just wish that he knew Him too. I would love to believe that when I get out of the car and call out his name, that God whispers in his ear..."Here she comes, John, one of the ones I've sent to help. I love you John Murray and that is why I send them. She'd never do it on her own, but if I keep after her, she will keep coming. She's not the first one I sent on your behalf. My son was first. She knows Him and one of these days she'll tell you all about Him. In the meantime, trust me John Murray because I love you."

Monday, April 09, 2007

The man of my dreams.

Easter Sunday I met a man. I had seen him several times before and knew who I was looking for. He has a distinct look and I can spot him from quite a distance. His gray, nearly white head is like my husband, though he wears his hair much longer. His beard is thin, and days old. Like the rest of us, he's got a few handicaps. Mine are more easily hidden and easier to deny, his wheelchair gives him away at first glance. One foot healthy and covered in a shoe. The other swollen and uncovered except by weathered skin.
He wears layers like I do. His are clothing dusted by the outdoors, that cover his body and protect it from the elements. This morning mine are make-up, root-booster, hairspray, jewelry, pink Easter-ish blouse and boots. Holiday appropriate covering, but a covering just the same.
I knew his neighborhood and wanted to invite him this Sunday morning to church. I had prayed about him and for him and dreamt about him. Those kind of dreams that you have when you aren't really asleep. The ones where the world is perfect so you can follow your heart and act on an idea that in the real world seems irrational or ridiculous. He was the man of these recent dreams .
I thought since he is usually close to our building, it would be simple to convince him to come in. So I drove the area looking. He would be easy to spot in his steel seat and halo of white fur. But after several attempts behind and inside of the few places that might protect him from the morning mist, I realized he just might not be found. My heart sank. This was my Easter morning agenda. I looked forward to finding him, more than the service I anticipated we would share side by side. But knowing God's plan is perfect I decided to combat my disappointment by praising God aloud and repeating "Your will be done, Lord. Your will be done." After about 100 of those I turned my last corner and there he was. "Thank you Lord, your will be done."
He sat. Head hanging. Foot exposed. Layers intact. I parked. As I got out of my car the guys at the gas station thought I would be getting my car washed. Probably because in my excitement I parked and blocked the line headed in for a wash and polish! As they approached I told them I was just stopping to talk to a friend and gestured in the direction of my Easter plan. Their faces were a mix of irritation, confusion and repulsion. I pray they read mine as hopeful, loving and compassionate as I turned and introduced myself. He lifted his head slowly and smiled. I suppose many feet approach his direction and go right by, so maybe he's learned to wait for a greeting before assuming he has a visitor. His face was as weathered as his foot, eyes blue like my Swedish grandpa's and my tiny grandson's. The man of my dreams wore an adventurous story on a face full of lines and creases.
I asked how he was and if he was hungry. "Fine" and "No, I'm alright". I asked if he would like to go to church this Easter morning. "No thank you, I don't look too good". (I thought neither do I except I have a better cover today) "We don't care about that." I guessed that he gets a lot of looks that have convinced him otherwise. "I could push you". "No, I'm ok". "You could come just for the music at the beginning and then I would take you out, if you'd rather". "No, I don't think so".
Ok then, Lord your will be done I reminded myself.
By this time, I knew today we would be simply visitors of one another. I asked as many questions as I thought was appropriate for a first time visit. Where he was from-Florida. What was wrong with his foot-an infection following a snake bite. If he had medicine for it-yes. Where he went in the rain-a few different covered areas. Where his family was-Florida. What brought him to California-getting away from a reputation with the sheriff in Florida. (I've wanted to run away from a few reputations I thought to myself.) I got more details about a hiking accident and a boat that was sold out from under him. A sail boat long ago that cost less than the sail did.
I invited him to our home for an afternoon with our family and friends, but he declined that too. That's ok, I was a stranger and he should be cautious. While we talked, he sat while I kneeled on the sidewalk, a lady came up and handed me several dollars all folded up. "Make sure to get him something to eat". "Ok" I said as I looked at him. She didn't look his direction or speak to him. She didn't hand him the money, but assumed I should be his financial guardian I guess. It may have meant more to him had she addressed him even without the money, rather than feel invisible and have a fist full of dollar bills. I handed it over to him as soon as she left.
My head said it was probably time for church and that I didn't want to wear out my welcome. So I stood and asked his name. "John, John Murray". "Can I hug you John Murray?" "Sure". So I gave him a two armed, chin on his shoulder hug. Yep, he smelled. Smelled like my Swedish grandpa used to when he would forget to shower for a couple of days. Not terrible, but kind of comforting in a familiar sort of way. I haven't hugged that long in a while or meant it quite the same way.
"God Bless you John Murray, Happy Easter".