Saturday, September 30, 2006

The most beautiful time of year

I had spent most of one morning this week proofreading the Honor Roll of Donors - 56 pages of names set in 7 point type. I needed a break.

As I emerged from the basement, fresh air swirled around me. I walked across the quad, where some of the flower beds, after struggling in the summer heat, bloomed in a profusion of bright colors. The brush of cool weather has painted some of the trees with spots of red and gold. Today, a window would be most welcome, as the smell of the fresh air is just as beautiful as the colors it brings.

I reluctantly returned to my desk and the 56 pages and the 7 point type. My advice: take advantage of every opportunity to walk outside these next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Struck by an Angel

I was late for work the other day because as I was running down the stairs after getting dressed, I noticed that the huge bruise on my left forearm was sticking out from under my three-quarter-length sleeves. I ran back up and found another shirt to iron. Today, I didn't notice I had made the same mistake until someone asked me "what did you do to your arm?" in a surprised voice. It's a little embarrassing to walk into the offices with bruises all over one's arms and legs. I bruise quite easily, so often sport bruises that I don't even know how I got.

This week's bruise, however, was most definitely from an encounter with an angel. My mother and I went to an estate auction over the weekend. We were looking at the collection of tables, chairs, and lamps with soiled shades, when I spotted her standing next to an old butter churn. She was weathered and broken, but she struck me as beautiful in the way worn, unwanted things can. I pushed to the front when the bidding started. The auctioneer started at just $10. She was old, molded in heavy, rocky concrete. She had a mossy patina. No one bid. $5. No bids. No one even looked interested. So I waited. $1 he called and I held up my hand. Without allowing time for anyone esle to even give her a second look, he shouted "Sold, $1."

She was going to be perfect for the little cottage garden I am trying to start in front of my house. I rolled her onto a dollie and pushed her down the street to the car. Once there, I realized lifting her up into the back of the station wagon would be a problem. I should have waited until the end of the sale when one of the hands could help.

I very gently rested the dollie back down onto the pavement and wrapped my arms around her. I bent my knees and took a deep breath. As I stood up I realized she must weigh 80 pounds, much more than I am used to lifting. I'm sure my face was blue by the time I nestled her into the back. As I released her, she rolled back heavily onto my arm.

By the time I unloaded her at home, one of the wings, which had already been chipped, had broken into many pieces. Despite the beating both of us took in our journey to get her from her old home to mine, I enjoy seeing her in the garden each morning. I tucked her behind a large plant, so her left side looks not wingless but merely hidden from view.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9 11 5 yrs

I remember coming into work on 9 11 01. When I walked into the office, late, my coworkers were not at their desks. A donut with one missing bite sat on a napkin on the secretary's desk. I knew immediately something was wrong. I walked down the hall to the main office and found everyone gathered around the 12-inch television. It appeared that the World Trade Center was collapsing. Something terrible had happened. I got a cup of coffee and went back down the hall to my desk. I called my mother, who was sitting by my father's bed in the St. John's Hospital Hospice. "You should probably turn on the television," I told her. I couldn't explain, I just thought she should know. I turned to my computer and started working.

I couldn't stay down the hall and watch the news, I couldn't turn on the radio, I couldn't log on to CNN. I just wanted to work on the catalog, which was already late to the printer.

I had recently missed a few days of work. My father had been very ill. A few days ago one direct and plain-spoken doctor who was filling in for the weekend said we should move him from the hospital, where we had been trying to get answers from doctors and their throngs of residents, for the past week, to hospice. "His body is shutting down."

We agreed to stop trying to feed him. A neurologist was called in to prescribe IV meds to minimize his seizures. He received a morphine drip. The day they transported him to hospice, an ambulance came. They were not told to bring an oxygen tank. So, they unhooked him from the hospital oxygen supply and proceeded to the nurses' station to check him out. Some paperwork confusion ensued. His breathing became erratic and labored. "He needs oxygen," I screamed and wrapped my body around his head and torso as if I could provide it. The nurses and EMTs continued to discuss something. Finally they pushed him onto the elevator and two doctors got on at the next floor. "He needs oxygen," I said tearfully. No one seemed concerned.

Once in the ambulance, he was hooked up to a tank and I relaxed and started to cry as I held his hand and stroked his head.

On September 10, I left work early and drove from Peoria to Springfield to visit him. I had difficulty leaving and ended up spending the night at my parents' house. I had to go to work the next morning, so I got up early and, very sleepy, sipping dark coffee, I got behind the wheel and flipped between music and NPR news to stay awake. I think I heard something about a plane hitting the towers, but the announcer had no information, and I thought it was like a two-seater or something. I flipped back to my music CD and tried to stay awake.

Later, people talked about watching the image of the towers collapsing over and over again. I didn't watch the news. I saw this image only once or twice. I hardly turned on the radio. I had difficulty switching from my private pain to public tragedy. I couldn't do it.

So now, five years later, when so many people are focused on reliving the emotions of 9 11, I realize that I don't have that many emotions or memories. I see the donut on the desk. I remember realizing that I couldn't handle this terrible event. I feel a need to better understand the impact this event had on people.

This evening I went to a website on which you can hear 911 calls in New York on that day. On another, I watched footage of the towers collapsing and people screaming in the streets.

I remember standing in my apartment on Chestnut Street in Bloomington and listening to a radio report of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding. I experienced that moment fully and it haunts me. What haunts me most about 9 11 01 is the invasion of Iraq. I did experience that fully and the news reports of those first days are part of my emotional memory. I feel a sadness and emptiness knowing that emotionally I did not fully experience one of the most tragic days in our nation's history.