It is hard to imagine that just two short weeks ago I had an eight hour open heart surgery. It is also hard to imagine just how much recovery I have accomplished and have yet to accomplish. Recovery takes time. And that time can be a curse or blessing.
In my first two weeks, I have watched a lot of television, spent quality time with my wife and daughter and made a few meals. I have also played video games and gone for walks around the neighborhood and in the house. I have a goal of taking more and more steps each day. I am up to 3500 steps daily. Steady and sure.
I have done some “work” as I have continued my education related to my profession via attending webinars and self study. I try to “work” each morning and I leave the afternoons to binging movies, watching new reality shows, playing video games, doze while watching tv and spending time with my animals. I slso complete my breathing exercises for lung strength and walk about the house in between shows and games and interactions with my dogs and cats.
I have found sleeping and showering easier with each passing day and the pain has subsided to dull breastbone pressure with the occasional shooting pain from my broken sternum. Although my ability to remain focus and concentrate for more than two hours still needs time to come back on line, I find that am not bored with the task rather fatigued mentally. Like my body needing time to heal so does my mind.
Three weeks yet to go, if I follow the plan designed to get me pretty much back to my “regularly scheduled life“. Tomorrow, I see my cardiologist and we will see if my experience and evaluation of my recovery matches theirs.
So I have this tree. Bought the tree a couple of years ago. Was it Home Depot with my wife. After a long Span in our marriage of great loss, death of two children, Financial bankruptcy and homelessness, and clawing our way back simply to Ground Zero, where we were prior to such that bank, took quite a while. Sometimes when I’m out and about I say to my wife today is a just say yesterday. Meaning we give ourselves whatever we want.
On that day, in that Home Depot, I saw a hibiscus tree. I looked at it, I walked around it, and I started to walk away when I heard the sweet and soft voice of my wife say, “Today, Bob, is ‘YES Day'”.
God love her! I picked up the small tree and put it in our basket. We checked out.
For the first several months of its life with us it lived on my back deck. Bathed in sunshine half the day, wrapped in the warmth of a Midwestern summer, the tree flourished. Then Fall came. We brought the tree inside, my wife treated it for some kind of insect-infestation and then slowly all of the leaves fell off of the damn thing. It had a true Charlie Brown moment.
I found that the following summer I would bring it back. And so in late spring and early summer of last year, I reported it and put it once again on the deck. It was once again bathed in sunshine and wrapped in the warm and sometimes human blanket of a Midwest summer.
It flourished! It flowered. All the leaves came back. Then Fall came but again. What did happen again? What that other shoe drop? Would like so many things in my life I’d have to go through a second set back after working so hard to re-establish, recalibrate, rebuild? I truly detest these moments in life when you have to once again risk everything you have worked for, Hope for, wanted and more.
The tree has been inside since the fall and as we enter early spring I can say, and as the picture shows, the tree is flourishing! It is grown, maintained its leaves, it has truly bounced back. Which gave me cause for pause to ask myself have I done the same?
Being the cynical son of a bitch that I am I sometimes wonder, “Have I?” Have I truly grown? Have I truly overcome, persevered, developed character, develop strength? Have I grown?
Being fair, balanced, making sure that I don’t intentionally beat the shit out of myself because it feels good, I say yes I have and there’s a long way yet to go. That’s the way it is for many of us. The road to Healing is long. It can be difficult. It can be arduous. But it can be glorious. It can be full of moments when we grow. The question is do you continue on the road when things get tough or do you stop?
An excerpt from my interview with Jack from Grumpy Gators Saloon.
Jack was reminiscing about another story that he heard from a patron at the Grumpy Gator Saloon. Jack is the bartender. And as a bartender he talks to a lot of people and hears a lot of interesting stories. The saloon has become, according to Jack, a kind of magical, mystical, existential place of healing. Hence my interest in speaking with Jack, the person with whom most of the lost souls gravitate toward upon entering. They don’t seem to gravitate toward each other. Jack appears to be the draw. Or at least that’s the impression I get from speaking with him.
Jack shared a narrative with me that was shared with him by a middle-aged, balding, African American man who had a very chaotic and at times lonely childhood. I was intrigued with Jack’s fascination and almost intoxication with an aspect of the man’s story that featured a rural backyard, trees and a broken down, somewhat dilapidated, swing set from the 1970s. You know the type of which I’m speaking. Metal, the slide off the side of the main frame of the set, a couple of plastic swing seats connected to the metal frame with chain link and of course the obligatory seesaw.
Jack told me the most memorable aspect of this interaction was the Man’s eyes. And then, how he used the swing set to escape his reality.
“His eyes told the whole story,” Jack muttered. “Dark, almost coal-like eyes, lit up and almost glisten when the man talked about his interactions with his swing set. A swing set that for some reason, somehow, became a whole other world for this guy. Allowing him to heal if but for an afternoon of solitary play.
Jack took a step back, gazed to his right almost as if he was trying to make sure that what he said next captured the essence of that moment and the essences of that man’s windows to the soul.
“He told me the swing set became his safe place, his travel machine. He would imagine that he was a pilot soaring high above the world, away from all the chaos covering the ground, as he would swing for hours pretending to fly around the world. His eyes widened, seemed to flicker as the man continued to tell me how he would picture different destinations throughout the world. A smile casually and occasionally crossed his face as he told vivid stories of what he would do in places like Paris, Casablanca, Bangkok and more. That guy really had a hell of an imagination. That swing set teleported him to remarkable places of which he never saw, experienced, or lived. Not sure if the guy ever did visit those places after his time here.”
Jack took a step back. Wiped his forehead with the towel that he was using to clean glasses. He gazed again to his right and a smile casually crossed his face. His eyes sparkled.
“He told me he would sit on the seesaw and rock back and forth. Imagining that he was on a great merchant ship sailing the seven seas. Like with his airplane travels he would spin tall tales of adventures in interesting Ports O’ Call. I asked him once why he never imagined himself as a pirate. He scorned and sternly told me he ‘never wanted to be anyone or anything that took or stole from another’. I found that fascinating. But I didn’t pry as I assumed loss is part of his pain.”
Another smile and a subtle head shake were the only indications I had that Jack was reliving that memory; almost as if he were living it in this very moment.
Jake turned to me and said, “The magic of a swing set, in a rural back yard with a forest of imagination framing that all time machine. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes, the places he went, the healing that occurred, the pain that dissipated because of that swing set and that man’s imagination. Imagination so powerful, so able to heal, so often never used by people in pain.”
Excerpts from my Interview with Jack from The Grumpy Gator Saloon.
“‘A wave of yellow leaves’. I will never forget that visual and the look on her face as she looked up and to her left as a crooked smile fade onto her face as she told me the story of how she survived her incredible childhood,” Jack said as he looked over my right shoulder at something at the back of the bar. He was mesmerized, almost in a trance as he recalled the memory.
Jack was sharing the narrative of a Grumpy Gator patron who shared with him her stories of surviving a childhood full of ups and downs. A childhood characterized by unconditional love, passionate and dedicated parents and home filled with hope and optimism. Sadly, that all turned to despair and doubt and loneliness after the death of the patron’s sister one afternoon as the family was camping at a national park.
Jack continued, “Jenny’s sister drowned while the family was on a canoe trip. Jenny’s father and her sister’s canoe tipped near a rocky outcropping as he and her sister paddled into a photo shoot op of some trees. As the canoe started to tie, he list his camera to the sudden swell of the river and tried to balance the craft, couldn’t and hit his head on rocks as the canoe rolled. He surfaced. Bloody. Unconscious. Her mom, who was in the rear of a canoe she shared with Jenny, said, ‘I am going to help your father paddle over to help your sister.'”
Jack’s trance deepened as he continued, “Jenny paddled toward the capsized canoe that once contained her father and sister and looked for her sister. She called out her sister’s name. When she couldn’t find her sister, she called to and looked for her mother. Her mother was focused on her father and his rescue. She called back, ‘You can do this Jenny.'”
“Jenny told me that she then saw the trees her father wanted to shoot and felt her canoe dup and roll. She almost drowned herself and was saved by another canoeist in the area who came to the family’s rescue after they too witnessed the acvident. Jenny’s sister was found several days later, down stream nearly 2 miles. She too had hit her head on a rocks. Tragic. “
Jack went on to share that Jenny, “when in therapy, often sat on the left side of an old and worn, black leather couch in the office of an elderly, nondescript, male counselor. She would religiously stare out of the old Victorian home/office window at a maturing maple with yellow leaves.” Those leaves, according to Jack, “memorized Jenny, who slowly shared her story with the therapist over time.” He also said that those leaves and the waves of yellow dancing in the wind were a comfort to her as she began to accept the plot twists of which her life took.
Leaves, I thought, amazing form of medication. Leaves that maybe had a yellow hue if just for a few weeks in the year helped a young, grieving sister and human share an unspeakable narrative when one day healing began.