Sunday, November 21, 2010

idle gatherings

Today--Sunday--I attended a four-hour Basic Life Support Course to brush up on my CPR skills. Interestingly, during my thirty-some years in practice, I never once used CPR on a patient in the office. Oh, we came close a couple of times all right…for example, when a patient collapsed with a heart attack in the parking lot but didn’t actually arrest. And then there was the gentleman who collapsed and died under my stethoscope as I was listening to his heart. Unfortunately, that was before AEDs so there was nothing we could do for him. Still everyone…and that means YOU…should know how to perform basic CPR. The training is easy and it doesn’t take long. It’s a tragedy to lose a victim when you could have saved his life.

So…I attended the course and I also packed my bags for a few days in Pittsburgh where we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year…meaning that I packed up all of the dog’s paraphernalia, most of the groceries we will need, and miscellaneous serving pieces and place settings, in addition to heavy sweaters, boots, coats, and rain gear. (It’s supposed to turn cold and rainy this week.) I packed up my laptop, manuscript, and agent queries in case I have time for that while I’m away. I vacuumed and mopped one last time, watered the house plants, and carted the trash out. I hate to come back to a mess.

So, I didn’t think I would find time to post this week. But in my last post, I mentioned sharing a short excerpt from The Bandaged Place so I thought I would take a chance with that.

In this scene, my protagonist, Dr. Kate Tilton, is recovering from a bilateral mastectomy for an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her daughter, Lauren, has come to help out and they have invited Kate’s two closest friends, Barbara and Sophia, over for lunch. Let me know what you think:

When I lived in the city, I passed a chic French café every day on my way to and from work. Outside were five or six small round cast iron tables with matching chairs and colorful umbrellas that served nicely to shield patrons from the sun and even the rain, if it were just a sprinkle. During the day, the patrons were usually women, three or four of them gathered over martinis or a carafe of wine. And, for that, I resented them. Truthfully, I envied them—the fact that they were entitled to a life of leisure and self-indulgence, that they could fritter away the afternoon with mindless chatter while the rest of us went to work. I comforted myself with the assumption that their lives must very empty if they had nothing better to do while the rest of us struggled to serve mankind.

But now I know better. Now I know why women gather like this, whether at a sidewalk café for a midday martini or around a campfire to toast marshmallows or around the kitchen table for a cup of tea. You can’t tell by looking at them whose daughter committed suicide for reasons no one could fathom, she was doing so well in school and she was so popular and she’d never given them any trouble at all. But you know who was there with her—who held her up at the funeral, who fed her for months, who pitched in to help her keep her job, and took care of the house— whatever she needed. Because even though it might have happened years ago, they still meet like this.

Nor can you tell by looking at them which one will go home to an alcoholic husband even though he holds down a good job and no one would ever guess because you can’t see the bruises on her arms.

Nor can you tell which one has had a mastectomy. Maybe they all have and that’s why they get together like this. Before it’s too late.

If they could see the four of us today around my dining table, laughing and chatting like this, they would never suspect that one of us divorced while she was still pregnant with her second baby—Lauren. Or that thirty-seven years ago, one of us buried her only child at Christmastime and still visits the gravesite every week—Barbara. That one of us defied her family’s authority and was disinherited when she converted—Sophia. That one of us lost both breasts at the hands of a trusted colleague and has no idea what lies ahead for her—me.

These seemingly idle gatherings are what draw women like us together and the forces that keep us connected are brute strength, self-sacrificing compassion, torrential tears, manifest wisdom, comfort food, and uncontrollable laughter which, when you think about it, should be impossible.
* * *
Those of us who are fortunate enough to be gathering around the table with friends and family this Thanksgiving should keep in mind what it is that draws us together and keeps us connected…the joys and sorrows we share, the triumphs we celebrate and defeats we endure, and the dreams we embrace for ourselves and for one another.

My wish for each of you is this: May the gifts of compassion, strength, wisdom, laughter, and of course, comfort food be shared at your table this Thanksgiving Day.
“The most visible joy can only reveal itself to us
when we’ve transformed it, within.”
--Rainer Maria Rilke—
I’ll have a few words to say about “rejection” in my next post. Happy Thanksgiving!

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