Posts Tagged ‘life lessons’

Life Is What Happens. . .

“I can’t believe we’re actually going to do this.”

It was Friday night. We were enjoying  a light dinner together at one of our favorite restaurants, talking about our plans for the upcoming week.  On the following  Thursday we would be flying to the Dominican Republic for Steve’s brother’s wedding.

We had spent the last month gathering appropriate wedding attire for a tropical beach ceremony.  Our travel plans were set.  We’d gotten out our passports, I was planning to brush up on my Spanish.  Mostly, we were looking forward to being with family, meeting our new sister-in-law, and making new friends.  At least, that was the plan.

But later that night, shortly after midnight, Steve woke me from a sound sleep.  “I’m sorry to wake you up, but I’ve been having chest pains for about an hour.”

In the span of a few hours, we exchanged wedding attire for hospital gowns, and passports for insurance cards.  Rather than Spanish, we were brushing up on  medical terms, and learning some new vocabulary:  troponin levels, EKG’s, cardiac catheterization, stent.   We still spent time talking with family–by phone– and made some wonderful new friends in the caregivers at the hospital.  Oh, and we even have pictures!  Before and after pictures of his heart, giving evidence of a once-blocked artery, now able to do its proper job.

The whole experience reminded me once again that life is what happens while we’re making other plans.

We’re not the first people on this earth whose plans have been upended.  The Bible is full of people who were rerouted on God’s highway.  Everyone from Joseph to Moses to the crippled beggar in front of the Beautiful Gate, suddenly found themselves on a different path than they’d set out upon. Through their experiences–detours and all–they gained a deeper level of trust and obedience.  They grew.  And we did, too.

I know that many good people experience difficult circumstances with sometimes devastating outcomes.  Why we were spared from what could have been far worse, I cannot say.  I only know this experience, and those of the past year, have caused us to appreciate so much more the family, friends, blessings, and opportunities that God has given us, by His grace and mercy.

Wedding or not, I think that’s the best gift anyone could receive.

Copyright 2013 Mary Egidio — Permission is granted to reproduce, but with attribution and not for commercial gain.

Body Language

My dad died of lung cancer in 1974, at the age of 63.  I was 19 years old. My mom was a Registered Nurse, so we kept him at home as much as possible, until the last hours of his life.  In his healthy days, he was six foot four, a robust 250 pounds or so – nicknamed ‘The Chief’.  At the end, he was down to 180 or less, looking more like a refugee. 

I was in college, living at home, studying at a ‘branch’ campus of a school I hadn’t planned on attending until the cancer changed my plans. I wasn’t too happy about the arrangement at first, but my mom needed the help, and I was the only one of my two siblings available. So I was elected.

Our lives got into a routine in those days.  I took care of the cleaning, while she took care of his personal needs, for the most part.  Eventually, the Cancer Society arranged for a part-time LPN to come in a few mornings a week to give some relief.  The nurse was at least ten years older than my dad, but was a hearty Scandinavian who had already spent hours putting up quarts of home-grown peaches or baking pies, and would leave our house to work the evening shift at the nursing home.

He taught me to cut his hair, while he coached, and eventually trusted me to shave him with a razor.  “So Frank, how did you go deaf?” he’d tease, as I’d hesitantly trim the hair that grew from his ears.

In my free time, Dad and I would play cribbage — of course, he taught me.  My last birthday gift to him was a new cribbage board, on which I’ve since taught my own children.  Or we would watch baseball together.  One of my last memories with him was watching the 74 World Series — the Oakland A’s with their handlebar mustaches and retro uniforms.

Toward the end, when he was mostly confined to his bed, I would help him walk down the hall, or eventually, stand up beside the bed on a walker and walk in place to prevent pneumonia.   While up, he’d peek out of his bedroom window and make some comment about the weather or the neighbor’s car.   We would massage his legs and push against his feet, to keep him from developing ‘drop foot.’  This man who had been a career army officer, and had marched his share of miles, was now unable to walk on his own.

I have to tell you that in his healthier days, my dad had problems with alcohol.  He spent most of his free time at the American Legion, and I can remember my mom making me call there and beg him to come home.  As I got older, I began to realize that every family didn’t have the fights and the yelling.  I learned to be ashamed, and I hated him for it.  In fact, I can remember wishing he would wrap his car around a tree.  Somehow, in the last months of the cancer, that all changed.   We talked, and laughed, and had fun together like normal people. And while the cancer was slowly eating away at his body, God was using it to heal my heart from the anger and hurt.

Ironically, one picture that is indelibly etched in my mind is my dad, every Christmas Eve, sitting in ‘his’ chair in the living room, opening the family Bible and reading the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke before we went to bed.  We were devout Catholics, and this was the only time of year I can remember the Bible ever being opened in our home, other than to enter a death or birth in the ‘family record’ pages.  Despite the annual Christmas ‘fight’ (anyone from an alcoholic family knows what I’m talking about), Christmas Eve was kept sacred.  “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world was to be taxed…”  A tear still comes to my eye when I hear those words each Christmas.

I can only remember one of his drinking buddies ever coming to see him.  Of course, he was shocked at Dad’s appearance and didn’t come back. We learned that cancer was a pretty lonely experience, at least in those days.

At some point, we called my brother in California and suggested he might want to come home.  The two of them spent hours talking, my brother sprawled out on my parents’ bed beside Dad.  Dave took a job as an aide at the local hospital and planned to stay around for a while.

Then one Friday, totally unannounced, an old family friend appeared at our door.  He was a Catholic priest who grew up with my mother.  My grandmother and his mother were the best of friends.  He lived miles away, in New York state, but here he was at our front door.  He came in, visited with my dad, heard his ‘confession’ and performed a home mass.  He didn’t just bring communion, he said mass.  After he left, my father wrote a letter to my sister, who lived a couple hours away in Buffalo.  He told her there were angels in his bedroom.

The following Monday evening, Dad took his last breath. Seeing him in the hospital bed, so still, we realized how frail he had become.

My dad taught me how to make a pie and fry a chicken, how to sew, and how to understand football. He instilled in me a love of good music, from ’50 Timeless Classics’ to the Mills Brothers to barbershop.  He gave me an understanding of human nature.  I carry with me his sense of humor, and the appreciation for a story well told. I’ve tried to pass these things, although not always successfully, to his grandchildren, whom he never knew.

Thanks, Dad. If it hadn’t been for your life, and your death, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

Creeping Away

So I parked my car at the office the other morning and went inside.  My co-worker was already there, and I had brought her a birthday present.  I gave her the gift and we chatted briefly, then I remembered that I hadn’t unlocked the office door. When I grabbed my keys and headed in that direction, I was shocked to discover that my car had backed nearly all the way out of it’s parking spot!  It was creeping — so slowly I almost couldn’t detect the motion.  It’s a manual transmission, and obviously, I’d forgotten to pull the hand brake.

“And where do you think you’re going?” I asked, as I opened the door and jumped in.  (Now you KNOW it was moving slowly)  Fortunately for me, the smaller size and weight of the car and the slant of the parking lot kept it from really taking off or causing any damage to itself or anything else. (it was actually turning parallel to the building)  I know my physics-minded friends could explain that, given time and the proper circumstances, it could have developed enough momentum to make it to Orlando, but I was spared having to chase it down the interstate, thank you very much.

Sometimes my life creeps away from me like that car.  I get distracted.  I get too busy.  I over-commit myself.  I get lazy.  I procrastinate.  And slowly, without realizing it, and without meaning to, I can get off-course.  I know what is really important, what I need to be doing, but I find myself doing something else instead.

My car got the creeps that day because I was distracted from my normal routine. Okay, I confess… I was signing the birthday card to go with my friend’s present.  This was not a bad thing… it just distracted me from the better thing… setting the parking brake.

It’s no wonder that Paul, throughout his letters to the early churches, repeatedly warns the new believers to be alert, self-controlled, and strong.   He tells the Ephesians,  “Be very careful, then, how you life — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17 (NIV)   He warns Timothy to ‘guard what has been entrusted to your care.’  1 Timothy 6:20  (NIV)  We generally believe he was referring to spiritual battles against sin and temptation.  He could just as easily have been referring to those seemingly ‘good’ things that distract us from doing what is best.

Maybe I need to check to see if any areas of my life might be slowly creeping in the wrong direction… what about you?

Copyright 2010 – Mary E. Egidio  Permission is granted to share this work, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.