I have several friends and family members who are experiencing chronic pain right now. As someone who lives with it myself, it hurts my heart to know what they are enduring. But I've also learned that pain has a cleansing element.
It makes us less self-reliant, less proud. And it gives us a small taste of what Jesus endured on our behalf. One nun who suffered two strokes and multiple other health issues, believed that every day she suffered near the end of her life was for God. In a way, she was offering her suffering up as a living sacrifice.
With that said, I'm all about doing whatever I can to help lessen someone's pain. One of the problems with pain is, it limits your ability to do what everybody else takes for granted, like going to the grocery store, renewing your driver's license, finding transportation to the doctor before and after procedures, replacing broken appliances and so much more.
People with chronic pain not only face medical restrictions, like not lifting more than ten pounds, but they also don't feel up to tasks everybody else takes for granted.
Last week, I was in a lot of pain after oral surgery and I was on my way to pick up my niece to take her to my mom's house for a visit. There's a stretch of road on the way that has 18 traffic lights. I'm pretty sure I hit at least 15 of them. By the time I arrived, I was a bear. My head was pounding and all I wanted to do was get out of the car so I could lie down somewhere.
That ailment is temporary. But I also have a permanent condition with one of my legs. Long story short, I had a blood clot after surgery in 1997 and it destroyed my leg. Every day, I have about three good hours (meaning, hours in which I don't necessarily have to elevate my leg before it starts to hurt) and I have to tell you, I'm thankful for those three hours because you can do so many activities in that time period - go to a movie, or out to eat, or to a coffee shop to meet with friends.
I walk with a slight limp and it always reminds me to be grateful for what I do have. I can still buy my own groceries, drive to my own doctor appointments, meet friends and family for dinner and attend worship. Of course, I know that a day is coming when that won't be true. It'll be true for most of us at some point. But I hope that when that day comes, I'll have the same attitude the nun had, knowing God is with me in each broken step and that I'll offer that brokenness up to God.
Until then, I'll walk with God. And I'll ask for help when I need it. And I'll offer help when others need it. Leaning on each other isn't a burden. It's the blessing of relationship.
"I've started the medicine, so you should be feeling happy soon."
"Sounds good." Fifteen seconds passed. "Whoa, I'm feeling it."
I woke up thirty minutes later with gauze in the side of my mouth and no pain, thankful to have a rotten tooth finally removed from my mouth. It's been giving me problems for six or seven years.
A nurse wheeled me out to my buddy's car and we were on our way to my mom's house. The oral surgeon's office was insistent that someone stay with me for twenty-four hours since I'd had anesthesia.
It seemed like overkill to me, but who was I to argue? I'm pretty sure I asked my buddy the same questions about my aftercare five times before I finally got to my mom's house.
I was still feeling the effects of the anesthesia when I stepped inside her house, but I was happy to have the procedure done with. I'd been dreading it for a couple of days.
You know how doctors or dentists speed through all of things that could go wrong before you undergo a procedure? Yeah, this one did that, too.
"You could experience a dry socket, excessive bleeding, require immediate medical attention, or even death."
I'm exaggerating a bit, but just a bit.
What choice do you have but to place a check mark next to each item that could spell your demise? He who writes the contract wins. So, after signing my life over, I sort of expected the worst, mostly because I usually fall into the supposed small percentage of people who experience problems post-surgery.
I ended up with a blood clot after having my right Achilles tendon surgically repaired. My nose currently has a deviated septum and a hole in the septum as a result of nasal surgery - something that requires plastic surgery if I ever want it to be repaired. And I've had countless other difficulties post-surgery.
I popped a couple of Percocets and hoped for the best.
I didn't feel much pain after that. Maybe it was the Percocet. Or maybe it was all of the Family Feud episodes I watched with my mom afterward. They were a nice distraction.
I know it's a man-thing, but being taken care of when you aren't feeling well is nice. Sure, I could have made my own macaroni cup that I somehow managed to slither down the right side of my mouth. But it probably tasted better because she made it. By the way, when you haven't eaten in fourteen hours, a microwaved macaroni cup tastes like filet mignon at the best steakhouse around. And that cold can of caffeine free Diet Pepsi that chased it down was to die for.
Mom's cat, Clanci (who I affectionately call the Clanc-meister), joined us as we watched TV. She didn't care that I was half zombie. She wanted me to pet her, so I obliged. She flip-flopped in her condo next to my chair as I rubbed her head, neck, and belly. Maybe it was the medicine talking, but I felt about as lucky and blessed as I guy could.
I had a good friend who was willing to take time out from his day off to drive me to my appointment, wait for me while I had the procedure done, and then drive me across town to my mom's house where she was ready to care for me.
When someone cares enough about you to go out of his or her way to tend to your needs, it means something. It means you matter more to that person than their immediate needs or wants. And that's pretty special.
One of the best ways I've found to connect with people is through their pets.
So, rather than just handing my mom a Mother's Day card for our belated celebration recently, I decided to also give her a card from her cat, Clanci (I call her Clanc-meister).
First, a little backstory.
Clanci chose my Mom ten years ago on an otherwise sad day. Mom had just lost her beloved cat of twenty years, Miss Kitty. I suggested that we go the Humane Society that same day – not to replace Miss Kitty, but to find another cat to establish new routines.
As we wandered past dozens of cats, one cat in particular followed Mom along the windowsill of a room she was housed in.
Like I said, Clanci chose my Mom, not the other way around. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
By all standards, Clanci is a spoiled cat. But when I visit Mom, I like to stick up for Clanci because it makes my mom laugh. Which brings us back to the Mother’s Day card Clanci "bought" for Mom.
On the outside, it says, “I’m one lucky cat.”
On the inside, it says, “You’re so good to me that I want to spend all nine lives with you!”
I got a little creative and spoke for Clanci in completing a list of suggested improvements. I typed it up, cut it out, and taped it inside the card.
Mom got quite the laugh out of it, and I suspect she'll return to the card again and again.
Here’s the list:
A Few Suggestions for Improvement:
1. Keep that kid [her great grandson] who visits on Saturdays quieter.
2. That tuna stuff you give me sometimes needs to happen more frequently. Morning. Noon. And night.
3. I'd like to have more food bowls around the house. In my bed and your bed would be two good places to start. The bathroom, maybe, too.
4. I need to be hand-fed. Surely, you can't expect me to bend over for my food like some common house cat.
5. You need to get home earlier from wherever you go every day so you can feed me.
6. Speaking of food, you need to get up earlier to feed me.
7. Stop covering my scratching post (I think you call it a "couch"). The blankets make it hard to get to.
8. My king-size bed has too much stuff on it. I especially despise the stuffed cat. Is this a joke? Or a threat, maybe?
9. Stop yelling at me when I tinkle around my domain. Don’t you understand that I have to mark my territory?
10. Not that I plan to ever eat another fly, but if I do, and the blasted thing is flying around in my mouth, you must come to my rescue and scoop it out!
Last night's episode of "Downward Dog" on ABC included a scene at the end that is resonating with people on social media, with good reason.
But first, if you didn't see it, let me set it up.
The dog, Martin, spent some time as a young pup as a "trash dog," which means pretty much what you think. He and his family foraged through people's trash, looking for food.
During this particular episode, he is tempted by a garbage truck and escapes from his owner's boyfriend (who is house sitting) to return to the trash, only to find out that it wasn't as satisfying as staying at home with his owner, Nan.
Here's what he concludes:
"Because I don't think it's all that hard to be happy. I think you just have to be grateful. Like, you have to remember to be grateful for what's right in front of you. Because me and Nan are really, really different. Like, we're like 60% compatible at best. I mean we have these huge issues we have to work out. But like, when you're always running around looking for what's wrong with everything, you just end up miserable. Yeah, like I'm a trash dog and she's like a fancy lady but we have each other and that's what important. We're not alone. And for that, for that, I'm honestly really truly grateful."
On a recent episode of the Wordslinger podcast with Kevin Tumlinson, he spoke briefly about shooting a video for a literacy promotion that Reedsy is doing. He was supposed to talk about why he writes.
I turned off the podcast and looked up the promotion. Don’t worry, Kevin. I’ll get back to your show. But this intrigued me to the point that I wanted to answer this question right now.
I write because …
I love to write about redemption.
Just this morning, I read about a local artist who transformed some of the concrete barriers around TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha (where the College World Series is about to begin) into works of art.
He decided that the barriers, which were erected for protection, would look better if they were painted blue, yellow, and green — transitioning them into works of art, rather than constant reminders of the state of our world. You can bet I’ll be writing about this.
It helps me understand myself.
I wrote an essay in my book Common Grounds: Contemplations, Confessions, and (Un)Expected Connections from the Coffee Shop in which I observed a gray-haired man who was wearing jorts and it made me consider the choices I make for my own wardrobe.
“I hope the jorts-wearer is blissfully ignorant about them being out of style for men,” I wrote. “At least that’s what I hear, and once I heard it, I tucked my own collection away in my basement. Why I care about such things at the age of forty-eight is beyond me, but as somebody who has always been overweight and a bit self-conscious, I do whatever I can to blend in.”
It helps me remember.
In my book, Sacred Grounds: First Loves, First Experiences, and First Favorites, I wrote the following paragraphs in an essay about my dream job (writing) and the sacrifices previous generations made so I could do it.
“Most people never get the luxury of chasing their dream job, so I feel fortunate to have done so. In fact, the HBO mini-series John Adams is always in the back of my mind. During the series, when Adams (portrayed by Paul Giamatti) arrived in Paris to ask the French for naval support of the American cause, he found a culture he was unfamiliar with—one that was much slower and engaged in the arts. Over a meal, he is asked about music, and his response is thought-provoking.
“I must study politics and war, you see, so that my sons will have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons must study navigation, commerce, and agriculture so that their children will have the right to study painting and poetry and music.
“It’s not lost on me that in my family, my generation is the one that gets to study painting, poetry, and music because of the sacrifices of the two generations ahead of mine … It seems to me that when a generation stops thinking about, appreciating, and building on the sacrifices of the previous generation, we become self-absorbed. But when we build on the sacrifices of previous generations, it gives us a chance to live beyond ourselves.”
Why do you write?